Alumni-owned barber wear startup SLCKR experiences growth in 2022
Penn State College of Engineering alumnus Tyler Tracy developed a passion for cutting hair his senior year of high school and continued to cut hair throughout college. However, he consistently struggled with keeping his tools organized.
“With men’s haircuts especially, you are going back and forth with a lot of tools, so I would have a lot of clutter start to build,” Tracy said. “I started thinking that if I had a system where every tool had a place to live, that would really help me out with organization.”
Around the same time, Tracy also started to get more in tune with the social media scene of barbering, where he noticed a huge overlap in the industry with an interest in fashion.
“All barber’s tools are very basic, and a lot of the stuff hadn’t been changed for a long period of time,” Tracy said. “So I decided, let’s take the most frequently used tools and give them a place to live, and make that place something rooted in designer fashion.”
Tracy launched elevated barber wear startup SLCKR in January 2021 alongside his co-founder and fellow Penn State alumnus Ben Johnson. Their flagship product, The Rig, allows barbers to keep a clean and organized station by storing their most frequently used tools close to their chest with a fashionably designed wearable rig.
Tracy and Johnson met during their sophomore and senior year at Penn State, respectively. Johnson, an economics major in the College of Liberal Arts with a passion for business, knew that there was something special about the barbering industry.
“I grew up going to barbershops and had spent a lot of my youth talking with barbers,” Johnson said. “When Tyler mentioned ideas that were different from the rest, I knew he was someone I wanted to work with.”
Johnson was working in business development during his first year out of college when Tracy approached him with the original idea for The Rig.
Two years later, SLCKR ended 2022 with over $140,000 in sales, which they achieved all while Tracy worked a part-time job and Johnson a full-time job. They also have over 1,000 users of the Rig across 13 countries.
Tracy began developing his business idea through his business management class with Jeanette Miller as part of his Entrepreneurship & Innovation (ENTI) minor at Penn State. Miller, Associate Director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, encouraged him to apply for Invent Penn State’s Summer Founders Program, which gives startups with at least one Penn State student founder a $15,000 grant to work on their startup, social good, or nonprofit idea over the summer.
“Summer Founders was great for us,” Johnson said. “The advisers gave us a good framework for how to look at our long-term objectives, and then boil those down into achievable week-to-week and month- to-month steps. They were also just great to bounce ideas off of, since they’re all very experienced founders themselves.”
Tracy added that the $15,000 stipend makes that initial leap for college startups a lot less risky. He said without the worry of needing an internship or a summer job to cover costs of living, they could focus full-time on seeing what it was like to go all in on their business.
“Part of the goal of the Summer Founders Program is to ‘pour gas on the fires’ of student startups,” said Ben Nason, Idea Catalyst at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. “It’s amazing to see how $15,000, in the hands of motivated and hardworking students, can really level up a business.”
This year, in an effort to make their products more accessible in large barber markets, the Rig will be available for purchase abroad in the UK, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
SLCKR will continue to release new color options for The Rig and begin selling additional wearable accessories, including a shop T-shirt repellent to hair stick, to expand their customer reach. The team hopes to move to a new studio location in Philadelphia where they can create content for their website and social media channels, develop new products, and test the waters for a physical retail location.
“My advice to Penn State students looking to start a business is to just start,” Tracy said. “It’s easy to have a great idea, it’s harder to actually act on it. In six months, we were able to get $20,000 in funding to work on our business idea as students – that’s insane. Literally just start and talk to the people you have access to, because Penn State has an incredible ecosystem for entrepreneurship.”
Tyler and Ben said students interested in connecting can contact them at email@example.com.
About the Summer Founders Program
The Summer Founders Program is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and is provided in partnership with Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. Startup funding is made possible through the donations of successful alumni entrepreneurs interested in supporting new student ventures. To learn more about supporting student startups at Penn State through a philanthropic gift, contact Heather Winfield, director of strategic initiatives in University Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.