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Entrepreneur Q&A: Brian Penn

Entrepreneur Q&A: Brian Penn

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The smallest scuff will make the average shoe fanatic just about lose their mind. We’ve all been there, right? You might find yourself spending countless hours trying to get that annoying stain out of a fresh pair of Air Force 1’s, Air Max’s, or Yeezy’s with a trusted magic eraser. We get it. We’ve been there. Maybe a time too many to be honest. 

Brian Penn, founder of clean kicks has found himself in those same shoes, literally, a time or two again. Which is why it should come as no surprise really that clean kicks is his way of blending his love of the sneaker community with his nostalgic joy of making sure his kicks are always clean. He has since translated this joy doing what he loves into helping other sneakerheads keep their outdated or fresh new kicks looking brand new for years to come. 

1. Name: Brian Penn

2. Business: clean kicks

3. Describe your business: 

Using all-natural ingredients, clean kicks is Columbus’ #1 Premium Sneaker Service. We offer three treatments including standard, premium, and same-day, as well as pickup and delivery. We’re for sneakerheads, trendy hipsters, cool parents who like their kicks fresh and up to date, health and fitness enthusiasts, and more.

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4. Everyone in business has that moment when they know this is what they’re supposed to do. When and what was yours?

Quite truthfully, I’ve continued to trust my gut. I’m a Personal Trainer at Avenue X Fitness in Grandview and one of our clients always complimented my shoes. She asked how I keep them so clean and I explained I’d been cleaning my shoes since I was a teenager. She asked me to clean her shoes and I agreed. She delivered them to my house on a Saturday and left them on my porch. The concept of clean kicks hit me that day. A pickup and delivery sneaker cleaning service located in Columbus Ohio. I knew it didn’t exist. I cleaned her shoes and delivered them back the following Monday. Tuesday morning, she asked me if she could share pictures of her “brand new kicks” on social media. I quickly created a logo, posted a few pictures, and sent a group text to 100 friends to have them follow the Instagram page. clean kicks was born that day somewhat by accident. I simply decided to “Act on Inspired Thought,” my best friend and long time business partner Zak’s business value. It’s been organically falling into place from there.

5. What were the first five action steps you took to turn your dream into a reality? 

That’s a very good question. First, I called my friend Kyle, of Forefront Web. They focus on web development, Google Analytics, social media management, and more. I told him my concept of clean kicks and he loved it so much he sent me a link to create a free website via Shopify. For three weeks, we sat in his dining room, working on the website, and finalizing our Google My Business page. “If you’re not on Google, you don’t exist,” he said. 

From there, I checked the SBA website to ensure “clean kicks” wasn’t an established company in the state of Ohio. Somehow, it was available so I registered the name and made it official. 

I also continued to clean kicks. I had friends give me different types of shoes to ensure I could clean them to the level of our standards. I also took pictures of the shoes in various places to work on the visual concepts of the clean kicks brand. 

Before launching, I conducted a case study to have individuals deliver feedback on our logo and website as well as our company verbiage and visual content. It was an open forum and all feedback was welcome. Luckily, the study delivered a few minor updates and changes Once they were made, I knew we were ready

6. When did you know you had something special that people loved?

I have a team of seven or eight people who I call when I have an idea. It’s a mix of family, friends, and business associates who I know will tell me the absolute truth. We as entrepreneurs have a new idea every 17 seconds so it’s important to have people tell us when you need to reel it back in some. If I get four or five of them to like the concept of an idea, I usually run with it. clean kicks was the first concept that every person on my team said is a winner. Perfect eight for eight. That was my magic moment.

The first time I cleaned a stranger’s shoes was a phenomenal experience, as well. The look on his face when he got them back was utter joy and happiness. For some reason, it feels different when it’s a stranger as opposed to a friend or family member. The approval from a person who didn’t know me was somewhat validating for my business model. Every time I’ve cleaned a pair of shoes since I’ve felt the same internal satisfaction and excitement. The look on people’s faces when they get them back makes it worth it every time.

7. What current company or entrepreneur do you admire?

I have a couple/few businesses and entrepreneurs I follow and admire. I’m currently reading “Shoe Dog,” by Phil Knight, founder of Nike. It’s been an eye-opening experience and as a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, I’ve always been a Nike snob. To see a brand, started by a teenager, based on nonstop work ethic, a desire to be better, an athletic temperament, a somewhat crazy mindstate, and a love for shoes, fascinates me. 

Their brand recognition is 2nd to none. Their selection of variants, color waves, and styles are incredible. Their marketing tactics and commercials are perfectly complex while being brilliantly simple at the same time. They stand behind their athletes, they pay attention to social issues and they utilize their platform to speak up when they see fit; whether vocally or through a campaign ad. I’m a huge fan of the Nike Brand. 

Secondly, I’d have to say Claire Coder and her Columbus based company, Aunt Flow. Claire is a downright go-getter. I’ve had the pleasure of watching the developmental growth of Aunt Flow from the front row and it’s been an inspiration daily. Not only does she epitomize an entrepreneurial spirit, but she’s always willing to lend an open ear to her fellow business owners. I’ve called her numerous times asking for guidance on a business development project or to calm me down when I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. She continues to create methods ensuring young ladies are taken care of menstrually while showing them the endless possibilities of a woman’s tenacity, drive, and ability to run a company of their own someday.

8. What are your plans for future growth?

Short term goals include cleaning more kicks, developing recurring clientele, and creating more variants to expand the brand. Overall brand recognition and growth are the focus in the immediate future. We also just launched “donate kicks” which is our donation program. We’ve partnered with Compassion’s Way, a non-profit organization working to empower and inspire hope to the homeless and underprivileged communities, located in Columbus Ohio. Individuals can donate their kicks, we’ll give them a Standard Treatment, and deliver them to Compassion’s Way headquarters to ensure they’re delivered to a person and/or family in need. It’s one of the things we’re most excited about as a brand.

Long term goals are to open a brick and mortar shop based in Columbus. All of my fellow entrepreneurs tell me I’m crazy, but it’s the vision.  I’d like to create an environment for people to come to and feel comfortable. The sneakerhead community is intelligent, stylish, creative, and extremely diverse. I’d love to create a melting pot “hang out spot” for sneaker enthusiasts. Whether you’re working on your computer and drinking a coffee while your kicks get cleaned or you’re just stopping in to say hi to “your people,” it’s important to me that we’re connected to the local community. The excitement of a brick and mortar keeps me awake at night. That’s how I know I’m supposed to do it; Act on Inspired Thought. 

9. What are the top five things you keep on your desk?

A cup of coffee, a bottle of water, my Macbook laptop, a picture of my daughters (Breyona and Kyiah), and my cell phone. This was by far the easiest answer. 

10. Behind every entrepreneur are people who support them and help them get where they are: who are your people?

My best friend and business partner, Zak Siddons. There isn’t a business concept that gets passed without his complete confidence and approval. My daughters, Breyona, and Kyiah. They’re 20 and 18 years old. I bounce ideas off of them as they’re the upcoming generation. They know what people their age are into. Secondly, I like to stimulate their minds with questions about branding, marketing, and business development. It allows them to think out of the box and challenge themselves. My girlfriend, Brittany, is such a fantastic support system as well as a phenomenal creative. It’s great to have a partner willing to help you when it’s rough while being able to assist in concepts and ideas within the development of the brand. 

Claire Coder is definitely one of my people. We’ve spent countless hours helping one another navigate the life of an entrepreneur and business owner. 

Lindsey Musser is an irreplaceable friend and team member. We’ve been friends for almost ten years and she knows me very well. Her calming demeanor and even keel temperament assist me in maintaining balance. 

Michael Rist, a dear friend, and drummer of my band is part of my team and support system. He’s my “Baby Bro.” 

My friend, Joe Mosic, has been with me for almost 20 years. He’s a very well rounded thinker, he has an eclectic style and knows a great deal about a variety of topics. He’s one of the people I bounce my ideas and concepts off of. 

Lastly, my brother, Zachariah, and my mommy, Teej. I don’t make a single (business or personal) decision without them. They know me better and I value their opinions more than anyone. We’re a very close family and I don’t know where I’d be without them.

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