Americans love their sports teams, and they love showing it. Dedicated fans use branded clothes, accessories, and more to support their teams. Sports branded bags are one of the most versatile ways for fans to show off their favorite teams wherever they go.
MOJO Licensing is here to make shopping for team paraphernalia even easier. The company makes official NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA, and PGA Tour branded backpacks and luggage. MOJO Licensing currently sells through Amazon, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Goods, Home Depot, and team stores. We reached out to founder Mario Simonson to learn what brought MOJO Licensing to crowdfunding and how it plans to market in the future.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
MOJO has the sports bag market cornered. MOJO sells NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA (top 150 schools), Team USA Olympics, and PGA Tour branded backpacks, duffels, and luggage.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
I’m a big sports fan, and I love to travel. I always wondered why there wasn’t sport-branded luggage. It shows where you’re from, it makes identifying your bags easy, and it’s a great conversation starter.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
I have previously founded and successfully sold two multimillion dollar companies. One of them was Denco Sports Luggage. That’s when I first secured the licenses for luggage. Denco sold NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA (select schools) luggage. Denco was sold to Concept One Accessories within two years of inception. Two years later, I was able to buy back Denco (which by then included the NFL license) when Concept One sold its entire team sports bag business as I had a First Right of Refusal clause in my sale terms. At that point, Denco was folded into a newly founded umbrella company, MOJO Licensing.
Between my time at Denco and MOJO, I served as vice president of Aminco International USA. Aminco sells NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and NCAA branded emblematic jewelry and accessories such as lapel pins, keychains, lanyards, zipper pulls, magnets, bag tags, and fashion jewelry. Through my past work experience, I have gained an in-depth knowledge of the sports licensing industry, competitive landscape, and retail distribution channels. I know how to take a product idea from inception to market, then to market dominance, and finally, to sale.
Prior to Denco, I founded my first company, Superior Vending, when I was 20 years old. I bought three vending machines on a credit card. Eventually, I grew Superior to become one of the largest vending companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. We had more than 4,000 vending machines and more than 50 employees. Simultaneously, I started three other spin-off companies: a moving company, a vending distributorship company, and a cash and carry company. The vending distributorship company helped other entrepreneurs start their own vending businesses. The cash and carry company was a supply store that sold vending machines and goods to smaller business owners. All four companies were sold. The vending company was sold to the largest vending services company in the world — Canteen, now owned by Compass Group North America.
People often tell me that my biggest strengths are being able to find opportunities and negotiate. I know the meaning of hard work as I come from humble beginnings and had to work my way up. I’m also a people person. I have strong relationships with the people I work with, both within and beyond MOJO.
How were you able to acquire licenses from all the major sports leagues?
It is very difficult, if not almost impossible, to obtain licenses from all the major sports leagues. Through the contacts I built during my first company, Superior Vending, I was able to connect with and obtain my first license with the NCAA. However, my NCAA license was limited to only a few schools in the beginning. Over time, I was able to build up that license to the top 150 schools we have today. As we built our sales with the NCAA, I was able to get my foot in the door and eventually obtain the licenses for the NBA, MLB, and NHL while at Denco. The NFL license came after my buyback of Denco under the newly formed umbrella company, MOJO. Over time, I was able to expand my product offering under each league to include backpacks, our biggest-selling item now. We have also added pet carriers, tool bags, and a fashion-focused ladies’ bag line to our product line up. Now that we have a presence in the sports licensing world, licensors approach MOJO, and as such, we were able to acquire the Team USA Olympics and PGA Tour licenses (which includes golf bags).
What is your marketing effort and strategy promoting behind licensed brands?
Up until now, MOJO’s marketing efforts have been limited to discounts through third-party retailers. In addition, our products are buried within third-party websites. People don’t even know that they can buy a 49ers luggage. We need to implement a strategic marketing plan to take this company to the next level. Five years from now, we want people to think of MOJO the same way everyone thinks of Lids when they want to buy a sports cap. We want people to immediately think of MOJO and log onto mojosportsbag.com when they want to buy a sports bag.
Our marketing plan has three goals: 1) build awareness 2) be known as THE sports bag company, and 3) drive direct-to-consumer sales to double our margins.
To achieve these goals, we will implement a three-pronged marketing strategy: 1) digital marketing through paid targeted advertising on Facebook/Instagram 2) consistent customer engagement to build brand following, and 3) website enhancements including legitimizing our site, improving user experience, and using lifestyle photos and product descriptions that elicit emotional response.
What is the relationship between denco and mojo licensing?
MOJO owns Denco.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
I see the sports licensing industry growing. Fan following in sports is growing, so the sports licensing industry will continue to grow. However, I think the number of companies operating in this space will shrink as bigger companies buy out smaller companies. The sports industry is big business, and there are some very large players out there who want to dominate the entire market.
In terms of products, I think more and more people want products that really reflect who they are. There will be more customizations. There will be more brand collaborations and cross-product category marketing.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Adrian De Groot is a board member of MOJO who is responsible for overseeing the strategic growth of the company. Prior to MOJO, Adrian served as COO of Aminco International USA, Inc. for more than 20 years. Before Aminco, Adrian ran his own sports marketing company that managed sports marketing programs for the professional sports leagues and major corporations. Prior to that, Adrian was president of NBA Properties, where he developed its properties division which included licensing, sponsorship, team services, and NBA Entertainment. Adrian and I met at Aminco.
Ryan Norrie heads e-commerce sales at MOJO. Ryan previously spearheaded all e-commerce activities for a small online retail brand that grew into a multimillion dollar category leader over five years. Ryan and I met at MOJO when he joined the company at its inception.
Bonnie Bellingham heads corporate sales. Bonnie has 20 years of corporate sales experience in the sports industry (NFL, NBA, MLB, and Olympics). Bonnie and I met at MOJO when she joined the company at its inception.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
MOJO has very limited competition. FOCO offers NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, and NCAA branded clothing, accessories, shoes, and bags (limited selection). The only product overlap with MOJO are NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and NCAA branded backpacks (no laptop sleeve) as well as NCAA (select schools) duffels. However, FOCO’s products are lower price point products.
Dooney & Bourke offers NFL (select teams), MLB (select teams), and NCAA (select schools) branded women’s fashion bags and wallets. Dooney & Bourke offers limited teams/schools, has higher prices, and is focused on the women’s high fashion market.
We are the only company that has licenses from all the major sports leagues for luggage, wheeled bags, premium backpacks, tool bags and pet carriers, fashion focused ladies’ bags, and the PGA Tour golf bag.
What does your business model look like?
We contract-manufacture our products in low-cost countries overseas as well as manufacture some select products in the US. Products are shipped to our more than 25,000 SF warehouse in Santa Ana, CA. We are in stock 100% of the time on more than 7,000 SKUs because our products are finished stateside. We are fully EDI-integrated with our retail partners, so products are drop-shipped from our warehouse to customers within 24 hours of order placement. All inventory tracking, invoice generation, and payment tracking is automated. We distribute our products through third-party, online, and brick-and-mortar stores. Our distribution channels include Amazon, Fanatics, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Kohl’s, more than 600 college bookstores nationwide, airport stores, and league stores.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Up until this point, we have not obtained any external funding. However, when we realized that we needed to invest in marketing in a big way to launch sales, we evaluated various external financing options. We decided to go with equity crowdfunding because it’s a streamlined way to open the doors and engage with a wide base of potential investors. Our potential investors include customers, business partners, family and friends, angel investors, and others. Our past customers may not only want to buy our products but also want an opportunity to invest in our company. Vice versa, crowdfunding could lead investors to become future customers. Essentially, we would be able to raise funds and drive sales simultaneously. Lastly, we felt that crowdfunding would be a more efficient and cost-effective way to raise external funds. Our crowdfunding platform has the processes in place, template agreements, and an in-house team to facilitate our fundraising campaign. Thus far, the journey has been incredibly rewarding. It’s been so great to be able to talk to so many of our investors, big and small. Some have offered great advice. Others have been my cheerleaders. The crowdfunding community has moved me with their support and motivated me to work even harder for everyone.
We intend to use the majority of the money raised for marketing and inventory. Depending on how much we raise, we may allocate additional funds to working capital to further optimize the business.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
I want all my potential investors to know that MOJO is a company I am incredibly proud of and believe in. We have licenses from ALL the major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, Team USA Olympics, and PGA Tour) for backpacks, duffels, and luggage. Our production process allows us to be 100% in stock on more than 7,000 SKUs without having to carry an unfathomable amount of inventory because we finish our product in our California warehouse. Our automated infrastructure is set up to do 10 times the current sales volume without a material increase in operating expenses. We compete in a highly lucrative market with very limited competition and extremely high barriers to entry. MOJO is set up for success. All we need to do now is to invest in marketing to take this company to the next level. Be a part of our growth. Help us establish MOJO as THE sports bag company by investing in us.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
We plan to capitalize on our brands and maximize sales to sell the company in three-to-five years. Once we establish MOJO as THE sports bag company, we believe the heavyweights looking to dominate the sports licensing industry will be knocking on our doors. Bag/luggage companies looking to expand into sports may also be interested in acquiring MOJO. Given that the sports merchandise and travel goods industries are both multi-billion dollar industries and projected to grow over the next few years, MOJO should be able to garner an attractive return upon sale.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Mario and his team take the company. MOJO Licensing is currently raising on Wefunder.