Bachelor of Science in Business Administration | 2007
MBA Finance | 2009
Tony Madalone was born an entrepreneur. As a youngster he sold old stuff on the corner. Later, in his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, where he grew up with his mother and grandparents, he caddied for 12 years and started his own landscaping business. "I've just always figured out a way to make money," he says with a smile. By the time Madalone got to Ashland University, he already had years of work experience behind him, and a burning desire to do more.
It wasn't long before he had started a business in his dorm room in Clayton Hall. At Nine Fourteen Clayton - the company named for his dorm address - he sold vintage T-shirts that he and his girlfriend snatched up at thrift stores while driving around the country on school breaks. While running his college business as a sideline, Madalone was planning on a career on Wall Street. But a trip to New York made him realize it wasn't the right move for him. "I just couldn't do it," he says. "My heart wasn't in it. I didn't even distribute a resume." Instead, Madalone turned to the two things he was passionate about: T-shirts and Cleveland. "I just wanted to do what I liked," he says, "and I know Cleveland better than anyone. It's one of the few American cities that is crazy proud."
With his new goal clearly in focus, Madalone opened Fresh Brewed Tees in Lakewood, Ohio, in November of 2009. Today as founder, president and CEO, he's making his mark creating some of the coolest T-shirts Cleveland has ever seen. Although he originally considered making accessories out of recycled T-shirts, he soon realized that T-shirts made of recycled materials was a smarter business model. All of the shirts made by Fresh Brewed Tees are made from organic cotton and recycled polyester. "We have to be current and in the now to be successful because there's a new T-shirt company started every day," he says. "We found our niche; we're all about relevant ideas, high-quality designs, and organic and recycled materials."
Madalone comes up with nearly all of Fresh Brewed Tees' slogans and nearly all of them are Cleveland related. One of his first shirts featured the line "Pay Cribbs" and was printed in protest of the Cleveland Browns' refusal to renegotiate Joshua Cribbs' contract at the '09 season end. As soon as the shirt came out, it hit Twitter, and quickly found its way to an ESPN interview. Not only was it great publicity for the company, it also proved what Madalone knew instinctively - that social media was key to his success. In fact, Fresh Brewed Tees does all of its advertising via Facebook and Twitter, and also uses the sites to stay in close touch with fans.
"Whenever we have an idea for a new shirt, we ask our Facebook fans whether or not we should print it," says Madalone. He, however, makes the final decision according to his most important criteria. "I won't print anything I wouldn't wear," he states.
Nearly 80 percent of Fresh Brewed Tees' shirts are sports related, including the famous "Quitness" shirt printed as a riff on Lebron James' Nike Witness campaign when the Cavs player announced he'd be taking his talents elsewhere.
With a strong belief that giving back and making a difference is one of the most important parts of his job, Madalone makes sure $1 from every Fresh Brewed Tees' sale goes to Cleveland's City Mission, which provides people in need with the assistance they need to get back on their feet and sustain themselves. Madalone muses, "I believe that I have a purpose on earth that goes deeper than material things. There are so many people in need."
In another effort to give back, Madalone was inspired by Nick Gilbert – the 14-year-old son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert - who suffers from neurofibromatosis. During an interview with ESPN during the NBA draft lottery, Nick was asked why anyone would want to come to Cleveland. Nick's response of "What's not to like?" quickly made it on to a Fresh Brewed Tees shirt. Today $5 from the sale of every TEAM NICK Tee goes to the Children's Tumor Foundation. For Madalone, the definition of success is the ability to make a difference. "When my business succeeds," he says, " it allows me to help lots of people make a living. And it enables me to help people who have hit upon hard times." It also allows him to make the state of Ohio a better place. When he's not running his company, he's using his business smarts in his role as co-director at Ohio Homecoming – a group of young professionals committed to changing the face of Ohio.
When asked what words of wisdom he has for other would-be entrepreneurs, his advice is short and sweet. "Pay attention. Stay focused. Stay in touch. And even if you're not an entrepreneur, have a goal."