Couple turns political logos into T-shirts

Monday, February 11, 2008
Neil and Julie Swanson were seen Jan. 29 in Kansas City, Mo. The Swansons started an enterprise called RetroPresident, an online store that sells apparel with reproductions of classic political logos. (Eric Keith ~ St. Joseph News-Press)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Neil and Julie Swanson admit to some impulsive leanings. With barely a notion of buying a house, they went out one day to look around and made an offer on a property within two hours.

That turned out fine, with escalating real estate prices around Washington, D.C., doubling their investment in just five years.

So it proved no surprise to either when Julie, driving to her native Gower, Mo., had a brainstorm about going to New Hampshire to promote the family's latest business venture. She called Neil to consult.

"Most husbands would say, 'OK, no, bad idea,'" she said. Instead, Neil called Kinko's to inquire about business-logo magnets to affix to the family van. Thirteen hours later, they had the four children loaded in the vehicle and half-a-country's drive ahead.

What can you say? They know an adventure, and a good idea, when they see one.

The Swansons started an enterprise called RetroPresident, an online store at www.retropresident.com that sells clothing with reproductions of classic political logos.

Think "All The Way With Adlai" and "I Like Ike."

Try "Nixon: Now More Than Ever" and "Take Hart '84."

For the Swansons, it marries their interests in history and politics to a home business they can work on together.

For buyers, it taps into nostalgia. People buy throwback jerseys of sporting teams. Here's the same thing, only for the Chris Matthews crowd.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, where they went to spread the RetroPresident word among the political commentariat gathered for the presidential contests, people reacted to the shirts and their vintage messages.

One man saw the Barry Goldwater logo and told the Swansons of his work on the candidate's campaign. "You could see that look in his eye like he was back in 1964," Julie said.

When people are young and idealistic, Neil added, they become attached to candidates they believe might change the world. And those people carry the memory.

"This is significant and it shapes and reflects on a certain time in your life," he said. "It's like an old song from high school coming on the radio."

Based on the early success, and with limited capital risk, the Swansons now face the classic entrepreneurial question: How do you grow the business while keeping the passion of the original idea? In short, how do make more money and still have fun?

"It's been fun to put your toe into something you really don't know anything about," Julie said. "I'm a social worker. What do I know about marketing? Turns out I know a little bit."

Whatever happens with RetroPresident, the Swansons plan to trust their instincts.

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