Business offers brief encounter Underwear by mail: Two entrepreneurs join forces to offer novely boxer shorts by mail order.

January 23, 1996|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jim Miller and Bill Clark are selling something they hope many will buy but few may see: G-rated, novelty boxer shorts that arrive in the mail each month.

The 29-year-old former college friends are owners of the Bad Boy Boxer Club, a mail-order business based in Mr. Miller's home in east Columbia's Long Reach village.

For $14.95 a pair, a gift-giving consumer can enroll a friend, husband, father or brother in a three-, six- or 12-month "membership" that entitles the recipient to a pair of boxer shorts once a month, many with whimsical, family-oriented designs tied to the season.

The year-old business includes 50 memberships, 85 percent of which have been purchased by female customers.

"Typically, guys don't buy their own underwear," said Mr. Clark, a technical sales representative who lives in Clarksville.

The business partners, who graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1989, came up with the idea a year ago after reading about two young men who had started a successful beer-of-the-month club.

Mr. Clark and Mr. Miller originally considered a beer club but abandoned the idea because of the legalities involving beer distribution. They remained interested in some sort of mail-order business, however.

"I was driving my car one day when 'boxer shorts' just popped into my head," said Mr. Miller, owner of a marketing company whose customers are heating and air-conditioning contractors.

Buoyed by the popularity of boxer shorts among younger men -- and encouraged by the use of boxers in such TV situation comedies as "Frasier" and "Seinfeld" -- they decided to form a boxer-shorts-of-the-month club.

In April, after lining up a supply of boxer shorts from a national distributor, the men marketed their product, handing out brochures at college campuses only to discover that students rarely buy their own underwear.

These days, the two entrepreneurs say, about 10 percent of their business comes from parents who buy underwear for their sons, usually college students. Women make up the majority of their purchasers; only 5 percent of the business is from male customers.

The two have sold at least $10,000 worth of shorts. They estimate that they spend 10 to 20 hours a week in Mr. Miller's office, printing labels, filling orders and entering membership data into the computer.

They are putting their own money into the business and have not yet reaped a profit, but they remain optimistic.

"We have learned a lot and had no idea in February of last year what we were doing," said Mr. Miller, whose wife, Linda, is expecting their first child.

One satisfied consumer, Sharon Stinnett, a 35-year-old Columbia resident, bought a three-month supply of shorts for her boyfriend's 29th birthday last May. When the membership expired, she purchased an additional six months' worth.

"I think it's absolutely great because I have always shopped for a fun pair of boxers as a gift for special occasions," said Ms. Stinnett. "During Thanksgiving, my boyfriend showed his Halloween boxers to everyone."

Those Halloween shorts include a button near the waistband that, when pushed, triggers a witch's cackle.

Mr. Clark and Mr. Miller see a lot of potential for their product and are considering the possibility of marketing flannel shorts in addition to the basic 100 percent cotton and silk shorts that were sent out last February. Eventually, they hope to branch into other products such as a coffee or cigar of-the-month-club.

"We want to be in business 20 years from now," Mr. Clark said.

One benefit of being in the business is that they no longer need to worry about buying underwear. But who bought their boxers before they started the club?

"I did," replied Mr. Clark, a bachelor.

"My wife, of course," Mr. Miller said.

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