Enterprising Senior Sells Style And Customization
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
While University of Miami student Jason Shuman sat in a fraternity chapter meeting one Sunday night two years ago, two observations struck him: One, the items being pitched to him and his brothers by sales representatives were overpriced and of subpar quality. Two, nearly everyone in the room was wearing the exact same shoes: Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes.
Upon considering these facts further, Shuman, then a sophomore, realized that he was stumbling across a market niche that had not been filled before: customized boat shoes made specifically for fraternities, bearing their Greek letters. He immediately contacted his four best friends from his childhood in the Boston area, including Greg Karelitz, A&S ’13, and shared his idea.
After collaborating with shoe manufacturers and working through nearly 10 prototypes, the five men formed Category 5 Boat Shoes in 2011, now recognized as the first and only manufacturer of customizable boat shoes with officially licensed fraternity branding. Launching on over 80 college campuses this fall and expanding to over 200 schools by next semester, Cat 5’s signature shoe, The Yachtsman, is available customized or non-branded through on-campus representatives, as well as through their website.
For Karelitz, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, responsible for numerous aspects of operations, management, and marketing, the theory behind Cat 5 is simple: class meets custom. Those qualities, however, are not limited to shoes just for fraternities.
“Our whole baseline to the company is custom. Custom, class … and we don’t want to leave any groups out of it, because it’s essentially a canvas for any logo or artwork or anything like that,” he said. “Greek life is just one part of the puzzle. We don’t want to stop there.”
This versatility has made it easier to market the shoes on campuses without Greek life, such as Boston College. Organizations from BC, including a cappella groups and club sports teams, have already approached Karelitz about creating a custom product for their members.
Cat 5 is looking to expand even further beyond The Yachtsman in the immediate future, with a women’s shoe and sorority branding coming this January and collegiate logo licensing in the works for next fall. The company has also been approached by a handful of professional athletes who have requested personalized boat shoes, and the possibilities for delving into professional licensing are out there.
According to Karelitz, as the only company to offer custom boat shoes with any logo, Cat 5 follows the concept of Nike ID shoes (custom sneakers that can be made with embroidered initials), but bumps it up a notch with a new take on custom, as well as high quality and competitive pricing.
Foreseeing the challenges of getting the shoes onto college campuses and competing with well-known brands such as Sperry, Cat 5 reached out to potential campus representatives before their website launched to spread the word about the brand’s main competitive advantages. After receiving well over 300 applications, the company contracted over 85 campus representatives on over 60 campuses nationwide during their first test phase. Even more will join Cat 5 this fall as part of the Class Meets Custom Campus Takeover campaign, which officially launches the brand’s on-campus sales.
A computer science major, Karelitz says CTO is the perfect title for him, as it forges a connection between programming and artistic design, two strengths that he put to use when creating the company’s logo and website.
Since his days of building websites and selling handmade wooden pens in high school, Karelitz, despite his major in A&S and not CSOM, has “always been an entrepreneur,” with a love for talking about new ideas and trying to execute them.
“I don’t believe that people necessarily define themselves as their major. I like to ask people, ‘what are you about?’ rather than ‘what is your major?’” he said. “I think it’s valuable to understand that it doesn’t matter necessarily what you study, but how you practice and evolve into things you like to do.”
This semester, Karelitz faces a new challenge: managing his BC coursework with a full time position in an up-and-coming company. He is only taking four courses, one of which is a marketing class that he says he is taking “for fun.” He will also be able to utilize his out-of-class venture as a basis for one of his assignments, a Facebook project for which he will use Cat 5 as a topic.
Overall, Karelitz says he would love to help expand the Cat 5 brand’s recognition even further.
“My goal is that I want to see somebody on the other side of the country, other side of the world wearing my boat shoes. That’s the satisfaction I’m looking for,” he said.
As for his post-graduation plans, he hopes to continue working with Cat 5, but will also be applying for jobs “along the lines of what [he is] doing now.”
“I do see Category 5 as a future endeavor, with business as well,” he said. “I would like it to be my primary job, if it gets there, and right now it’s looking good.”