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Rediff.com  » Business » Life Is (very) Good for these brothers

Life Is (very) Good for these brothers

August 27, 2005 16:45 IST

Bert and John Jacobs have those dream jobs that the rest of us, well, dream about. They wear shorts, sandals and T-shirts to work and take midday breaks to play Ultimate Frisbee.

They brainstorm over beer and sandwiches, and their idea of marketing is throwing an outdoor festival that exposes people to their brand. Oh, and they make millions.

So it's no wonder that their business, Life is Good, carries the trademark slogan "Do what you like, like what you do" and its logo is a happy-go-lucky stick figure with a big smile.

"We just wanted to have a good time, make some money and, it sounds corny, but spread good vibes," Bert said. "It's pretty cool that so far it's worked out."

So far, life's been very good for these brothers from the Boston suburb of Needham who started out selling T-shirts from the back of a van and now run a multimillion-dollar outdoor clothing company.

The Jacobses forgo advertising, instead relying on word-of-mouth and the several charity festivals they host in New England each year.

"We're delighted at the success, but honestly not surprised at Jake's popularity," John said. "He makes you feel good."

Jake is the company's free-thinking, active, outdoorsy mascot who is featured on brightly coloured T-shirts, hats and other apparel doing everything from hiking and playing tennis to eating watermelon and lounging in an Adirondack chair with a cold one at his side.

He was born 11 years ago and takes his name from the nickname that both Bert, 40, and John, 37, had in high school -- a play on their surname.

"Jake is our leader!" wailed Bert during a recent interview at the company's new creative headquarters on Tony Newbury Street in Boston.

Before Jake, the brothers spent five years hawking T-shirts on college campuses. They would go out for about six weeks at a time, getting by on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleeping on T-shirts stacked in the back on their Plymouth Voyager.

"It was fun, but not terribly sustainable," said Bert, who majored in communications at Villanova University.

Between road trips, the pair would return to the Boston area, throw a keg party for their friends and brainstorm about the next idea. "We had nothing but $78 in the bank after five years of road trips," Bert said. "We either figured this out or had to get real jobs."

The brothers looked to businesses like Nike, with its swoosh, and Ralph Lauren, with its polo player, as models of clothing companies selling a lifestyle, not just a product.

John, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts with degrees in art and English, came up with Jake and designed him as a symbol of an outdoorsy culture and the simple life.

When Jake, with the saying "Life is good" underneath his image, was put onto T-shirts for a test run at a street fair in the fall of 1994, the shirts were gone within hours.

"We knew we had stumbled onto something," Bert said. "We'd then take them to Cape Cod and people would ask, 'Does Jake eat ice cream? Does he Rollerblade?' We were getting so much feedback. It was awesome."

Consumers identify with brands that make them feel good, said Greg Kahn, marketing research director for Ashton Brand Group in Charlotte, N.C.

"Depression doesn't sell unless you're Pfizer," Kahn said. "Everybody wants to feel better and they'll buy things that they think will make them feel better."

Since Life Is Good started in 1994, sales have risen from $80,000 a year to a projected $55 million this year, and the number of employees has increased from three to 170.

Items are sold at retailers nationwide and last year the company created an international division and sells clothes in 10 countries, including Greece, Japan, Mexico and Germany.

As their company grows, the brothers vow not to go the way of another New England duo that was all about spreading good cheer: Ben and Jerry. The ice cream makers sold their Vermont company to Unilever.

"We won't lose our focus," Bert said. "Jake will never be found sitting on a couch with a remote control."
Brooke Donald in Boston
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