How This Entrepreneur Went from the White House to the Runway

How This Entrepreneur Went from the White House to the Runway

Ron Carson is a former presidential aide and current founder of Cool Action Suit, a company that makes business suits from moisture-wicking material. The Cool Action Suit helps wearers cut down on perspiration and overheating. It’s also wrinkle-free, so perfect for travel.

“Being an entrepreneur goes hand in hand with my experience as a political logistical professional because you have to think quickly on your feet, you have to be prepared for the unknown, and you have to anticipate things that are going to happen before they happen,” Carson said. “That’s much like being a business owner because there are so many pitfalls that come your way that you have to be prepared for.”

Starting Out

Why did you start your company?

I’ve worked for close to 20 years in politics, most recently as a presidential appointee for President Obama. I’ve worked for a couple presidents, a couple secretaries of state, and other cabinet-level officials. For all intents and purposes, I’m an advance man. What that basically means is that I’ve traveled around the world in advance of the President and other officials to handle all logistics from A to Z, so they can just get off the plane and I tell them where they’re going, what they’re doing, who they’re meeting with, and how they’re getting there.

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In that capacity, I would travel around the world with law enforcement officers, namely the United States Secret Service. One day, on a tarmac in New Dehli, India, we were waiting for the President to land and we were just perspiring profusely through our business suits. We all looked at each other and I said to one of the Secret Service agents, “There’s got to be a better way!” As a fan of performance-based fabrics in athletic clothing, I thought, “It would be great if we could incorporate those types of fabrics into a traditional business suit.” So, I did it!

I got together with some friends who owned textile factories and some other fabric experts. The great thing about working for leaders of the free world is that you have a global Rolodex! It enabled me to put all those contacts together to create the first prototype. I then gave some prototypes to some Secret Service agents I had worked with. They said, “This is great, but it could really use an extra pocket.” Or, “I wish it was wrinkle-free, so when we travel, I can put it in my backpack and not have to find a dry cleaner or a steamer.” We incorporated their feedback and the Cool Action Suit was born. The original audience for the suit was law enforcement officers who have to perform at a high level and maintain a professional appearance at the same time.

After President Obama left office in January, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to go all in with the Cool Action Suit. I’d been running the business in addition to my full-time job since 2011. It’s really been liberating.

How did you finance the company?

I had saved over the years for my future. It’s my thought that everyone gets one great idea in life. This is my one great idea. I believed in it so much that I put all my savings in. In the future, I know the opportunity will present itself when I’ll need to take out loans and credit.

What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?

Initially, I underestimated the success of my business. I had some reservations about how well the idea would go over because it was unchartered territory. I only got enough fabric for a couple hundred suits. But, the initial demand was through the roof. We didn’t have enough fabric to make all the suits we needed, so they were on backorder at first.

What’s the smartest thing you did in the company’s early days?

The smartest thing I did was play to my strengths. My strengths are my relationships with the Secret Service and law enforcement officers. What I did was to create partnerships with the associations that govern those groups: The Fraternal Order of Police and The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. I knew that I knew that audience and the key personnel in that arena. I made sure that I networked with them and got their attention.

Managing the Business

How do you manage cash flow for the company?

In my past career, I was responsible for budgets for different events we would do all across the world. I’ve taken the same approach with my business. We look a year in advance and see how many suits we anticipate selling. We’ll set aside a certain amount of money for the fabric necessary to make those suits, pay the manufacturer, and pay for advertising to sell more suits.

What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?

The unknown. It’s not knowing how many suits we’re going to need. It’s wondering once we sell suits to our target audience, which other audiences are going to be key? It’s not knowing what we’ll need to market to that audience. Or if our website will need maintenance. There are so many unknowns with owning your own business that make it difficult not only from a monetary perspective, but also from a targeting perspective.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?

The most rewarding thing is seeing people in your suit with your name on it: The Cool Action Suit by Carson. It’s like having a child! Also, not having to punch a clock or have a boss – you can’t put a price tag on that! It’s really satisfying.

What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

You’re going to have some days when you second-guess yourself, but never give up and always believe in yourself. You have to be your own cheerleader and always believe that you are going to be successful. There are going to be some times that you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but never give up!

The Future

What’s next for Cool Action Suit?

We are going to branch out into the funeral industry. That’s an industry that I never imagined. But, as I have been traveling across the country trying to get this business going, more and more people have said, “You know, you should think about the funeral industry.” It sounds off the beaten path, but they are always moving in their suits. It’s a high-performance job. They’re always carrying things – going up, going down. They’re always outside, in the heat. There was just a huge conference I attended for the industry in Boston, and really everyone wears a suit in that industry. I’m really excited about that in the future. I know that’s an oxymoron, to be excited about the funeral industry, but I’m really excited about the prospects.

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