While other teenagers were sneaking out to go to parties, Sean Gailey was climbing out of his bedroom window in the middle of the night to program computers.
Gailey, a self-described geek, has taken his passion for computer gaming and tapped into an apparel market that until now has been virtually untouched by other U.S. companies.
Just as skaters and surfers have their own style of clothing, Gailey and his business partners, Tim Norris and Jason Kraus, have created a line of apparel specifically for gamers, geeks and hackers.
The trio’s company, Jinx , their corporate logo uses the trendy spelling J!NX , carries more than 200 designs, including T-shirts, sweat shirts, backpacks and stickers, and has become a popular brand among gaming geeks and computer nerds.
The designs hone in on the gaming culture, with T-shirts emblazoned with inside gaming jokes and geek pride sayings.
“The whole geek lifestyle is changing,” said Gailey, 31. “We advertise our products as a lifestyle people are proud of.”
The Sorrento Valley-based company’s origin dates back to 1999, when Gailey, who was working as a computer programmer, took a black marker and wrote on a T-shirt the word “hacker.”
The response from friends and co-workers was phenomenal, prompting Gailey and his friends to create a basic Web page selling several T-shirt designs while still working full time as computer consultants.
Realizing the business was more than a side job, the trio left in 2003 to focus all their energies on Jinx.
The company reached $1 million in sales in 2004 and looks to double that in 2005. Gamers apparently are responding to the lifestyle apparel, as the company has increased its business by 200 percent from 2002 to 2003 and a whopping 800 percent from 2003 to 2004.
“Everyone says you need to do something you are passionate about,” said Norris, the president of Jinx. “We were not going to play games all day (for a job).”
While they don’t get paid for playing games, they still log an average of three hours a day on video games.
“We are hard-core gamers,” said Norris, 31. “I was up until 1 a.m. last night playing a game. We feel it is important for us to relate to our customers in that way, since we are our own customers.”
A Way Of Life
The video game lifestyle is a way of life for many self-described geeks as well as legions of youngsters and teens. But it also appeals to such diverse demographics as stay-at-home moms and the button-down businesspeople.
Millions of people around the globe compete for hours every day with each other online on such games as EverQuest and Halo. What was once a nerdy subculture is rapidly gaining market share, with a proliferation of new games as well as magazines that track both the industry and provide gaming tips and trends to users.
Half of all Americans age 6 and older play video games on a regular basis, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association, a national trade group that serves the business and public affairs needs of video and computer gaming companies. And in 2004, computer and video game sales reached $7.3 billion, doubling industry software sales since 1996, according to the NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm that follows the gaming industry.
“Because we do it ourselves we can understand the passion behind it. Because you like games doesn’t make you uncool. The idea behind Jinx is that we appreciate that lifestyle,” Norris said.
The company is focusing on its marketing plan, placing ads in trade magazines, gaming oriented cable stations, as well as ramping up its public relations efforts.
The gaming industry has a larger presence in San Diego as the area is home to many game development and publishing companies such as High Moon Studios, formerly known as Sammy Studios, Inc., San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment Inc., and Midway Games Inc., a public company based in Chicago that has an office in San Diego.
“California is big in game development and it’s a growing area,” said David Cole, the president of DFC Intelligence, a San Diego-based market research firm that tracks the gaming industry. “The game industry is becoming a part of the culture. Twenty years ago there were lots of kids that would play. It has always been a part of kids’ culture and now they have grown into adults (who play).”
The popularity of gaming has caused ancillary markets such as lifestyle apparel to occur, he said. “It has spread into other mediums such as movies and music.”
Ron Eagle, a representative with the local division of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said as gaming becomes more mainstream, businesses are realizing that there are niches to be filled.
“Video games have been an accepted form of entertainment for a while now,” Eagle said. “People are beginning to understand that there’s money to be made.”
Frank Kaufman, a business assurance partner with the Irvine office of Moss Adams, LLP, a public accounting firm that specializes in the apparel industry, said that lifestyle apparel is a growing market as people like to wear clothing that represents who they are.
“It’s all about being associated with a lifestyle,” Kaufman said. “It’s a whole culture, and if you want to be associated with the culture, you wear the clothing.”
Kaufman said lifestyle clothing has been around Southern California for many years and continues to blossom.
“It’s about a $10 billion industry,” he said, adding that Southern California is home to many lifestyle apparel companies. “It’s really about , from an apparel standpoint , being proud of what you’re into and showing it off to the world.”
Gailey, who designs the majority of the apparel, says he introduces six new designs every month.
“There are a lot of people that do these kinds of things and it is cool,” Gailey said of the industry’s popularity. “There are no leaders, no followers, everybody just is.”
Jinx, which has five employees, does everything in house except the manufacturing of the products, which is outsourced.
Jinx sells 95 percent of its product through its Web site and recently upgraded its ordering capabilities to handle up to 600 orders a day; the company received 26,000 orders in 2004, he said. Jinx is on track to handle 36,000 orders this year if they maintain their current pace of 3,000 orders a month.
In addition to its Web site, Jinx products are sold on Amazon.com, eBay and at 13 independent gaming stores throughout the United States and Canada.
And while reading the finicky tastes of gamers and geeks is crucial to Jinx’s success, its business plan has been the key to making a profit.
The company, which recently moved from a cramped 350-square-foot office in Kearny Mesa to a 3,300-square-foot warehouse in Sorrento Valley, has partnered with others in the industry, such as the Apache Software Foundation, the DefCon Conference and SpyBot.