Bachelor of Science in Business Administration | 2007
MBA Finance | 2009
Tony Madalone was born an entrepreneur. As a youngster he sold old items on the corner. Later, in his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, where he grew up with his mother and grandparents, he caddied for 12 years. While caddying, he started his own landscaping company, taking care of three properties and also roofing periodically on the weekends.
When he wasn't working, Madalone was on the basketball court. With aspirations of being an NBA superstar, he spent countless hours in the gym. While he didn't quite make the NBA, he did lead his high school team to the state final four and played four years at Division II Ashland University.
"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 on the AU campus. 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. 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 2009 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.
He has continued to build the Fresh Brewed Tees brand, acquiring an NFLPA license in 2011, opening a seasonal mall location in 2012 and launching Cleveland's first retail truck in the spring of 2013. To take advantage of his talent for marketing, in 2012 Madalone founded The Social Dudes, a marketing and social media company. The Social Dudes work with professional athletes, brands and small businesses to help them solidify their brands and establish an online presence.
All of this has led to much media coverage, as Madalone has appeared on ESPN, TMZ, ABC News, FOXSports and various news affiliates as well as in the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Inc., BuzzFeed and Crain’s Cleveland Business.
Today, Freshed Brewed Tees is one of only 21 companies licensed to sell official apparel by NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the only company in Ohio licensed by both the NFLPA and MLBPA. In November of 2014, he became the first brick and mortar store in the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
While Fresh Brewed Tees started creating clothes simply revolving around Cleveland sports, it has now started making shirts for other sports franchises, such as the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl T-shirts and NFL sweaters based on a popular trend, the ugly Christmas sweater. Fresh Brewed Tees has reached great success with many of its popular items listed below:
The “FOR6IVEN” T-shirt was the idea of one of Madalone’s employees, Billy Jelenic, who serves as the POTO – President of Truck Operations. This idea was developed responding to new different things: the famous “Decision” held by Lebron James when he announced his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his latest decision to return to the Cavaliers. Madalone obviously knew that the Cleveland population had major issues with the first decision that Lebron James decided to make, and once he made the decision to come back, he knew right away that he could make an amazing T-shirt design that would be popular among Cavalier fans. Also, Madalone never showed disdain towards Lebron for his decision in the first place and wanted to express this for the T-shirt as well. “Forgiveness is the first step towards healing,” Madalone said. “It's something that's necessary even if he isn't deserving. It's an action we control.” Once the shirts were created and on the market, it became one of Fresh Brewed Tees top selling T-shirts of all time, selling thousands of them.
Johnny Manziel “Money”
When the Cleveland Browns selected Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL draft, the Browns and the NFL had to continuously work just to produce Manziel gear to meet consumer demand. Manziel jerseys began flying off the shelves, and this sparked an idea for Madalone and Fresh Brewed Tees. Fresh Brewed Tees began creating shirts simply for Manziel due to the high demand for shirts correlating Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns. Madalone said the company is on the second printing of its orange Manziel T-shirt, which goes for $25.99. On Wednesday, May 14, Madalone received approval from the NFLPA to print a gray T-shirt he teased on Twitter after the draft. The front of the shirt features Manziel making the money gesture. On the back is “JOHNNY” with a big “2” on the back. With the grey Manziel shirt with the “money maker” gesture on the front being tweeted out on their Twitter, Fresh Brewed Tees had received almost 400 retweets, nearly 270 favorites and 600 likes on Instagram, simply because of the one shirt.
Ugly NFL Christmas Sweaters
During the holiday season, one of the biggest trends throughout the country is the ugly Christmas sweater trend. Every store tries to create them and price them at top dollar to make the money off the trend. Understanding the popularity of the trend, Madalone wanted to follow the trend as well but put his own twist on the ugly Christmas sweater. Fresh Brewed Tees created ugly Christmas sweaters, but along with them representing Christmas, also represent the NFL. There are many different variations of these sweaters as well, such as the Peyton Manning “Omaha” sweater, the Johnny Manziel “money” sweater, the Colin Kaepernick “St. Kaepernick” sweater and the Richard Sherman “Sherman Greetings” sweater.
Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Tee
The Superbowl in the NFL is one of the most watched shows in television every year. Because of this, when the Seattle Seahawks made the Superbowl in 2014, Madalone took advantage of this. Madalone witnessed the Seattle Seahawks' famed home crowd — popularly dubbed the 12th Man as an extension of the 11 players on the field — in person at a January 2014 playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Because of the Seahawks making the Superbowl once again, Madalone temporarily moved his business to the west coast with an apparel bus that was covered in Seahawks logos and graffiti. Because of the passionate fans in Seattle, Madalone knew he could make a big profit in this location.
While there continues to be a lot on his plate, Madalone is most passionate about giving back to the community and making Cleveland a better place to live. Madalone serves as co-director of Ohio Homecoming and co-chair of Cleveland Rocks New Year’s Eve on Public Square. Along with a team of community-minded young people, Ohio Homecoming looks for opportunities to promote and revitalize the city.
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."