CAMERA FLASHES POP DURING A PHOTO SHOOT IN an intimate studio located in downtown New York City. Shane and Shawn Ward, the twin brothers who own Detny by SHANE&SHAWN, a hip and contemporary shoe company, are the main attraction. The pair is having fun, striking poses as if they were professional models. These two rising stars in the footwear industry are comfortable working together and it shows.
It would seem that a business partnership would be a natural fit for these identical twins. The two have shared just about everything in their lives, including the same alma mater, an interest in drawing, and a passion for entrepreneurship. But for these young business owners, teaming up wasn't so obvious--at least not at first.
"What was really weird was that we never really thought about working with each other because when we were in school, we studied two opposite ends of the spectrum," says Shane, who is just five minutes older than his brother. "Shawn was doing mechanical engineering and I was doing the fine arts thing with the design work, so we just always looked at ourselves as kind of separate professionally," he says.
In the beginning, the two traveled different paths. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1996 with a degree in industrial design, Shane moved to Oregon and began working for Adidas. He designed shoes for athletes such as NFL stars Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George. Meanwhile, Shawn stayed in Detroit to work on automotive programs for DaimlerChrysler.
After five years of working for other footwear companies, Shane was ready to live out his entrepreneurial aspirations. "I was actually looking at other people in the industry to maybe partner with," he says. "It never crossed my mind that someone who could be my ideal partner was right in front of my face. Even though our skill sets were different, we said 'Let's take advantage of it and complement each other.'"
So in 2003, the 33-year-old twins obtained a $250,000 line of credit from their bank and threw in another $150,000 of their own money to debut their first collection. Shane handled the design while Shawn tackled all aspects of running the operation.
Today, the footwear designers have two collections for men and women: Detny by SHANE&SHAWN (www.detny.com), a casual line that retails for $110 to $130 a pair, and SHANE&SHAWN, a dressier line of shoes that ranges from $140 to $200. The shoes are sold nationwide in 75 independent boutiques, Nordstrom's, DSW, and Macy's, as well as online distributors such as Zappos.com, Shoes.com, and ShoeMall.com. The lines are also distributed in New Zealand and Canada. The five-employee company earned $1.5 million in revenues last year, and the designers project $3.2 million this year.
There are many reasons why would-be entrepreneurs choose to set up a partnership. Some join forces because of a shared vision. Others rally the troops because it affords the opportunity to build a business without incurring the costs or risks associated with going it alone. "I think business owners form partnerships because they look at the added value of what a person can bring to their company," says Brenda Hopper, state director for the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers Network.
Whatever the reason for teaming up, building a solid partnership is not easy. What you intend to be a positive experience can quickly morph into a relationship...