It took moving out east for Mike Draper to realize the benefits of the local business climate for entrepreneurs in Des Moines. Mike’s endeavor, SMASH, is part retail T-shirt merchandiser, part screen printer and part web designer.
Mike came back to Des Moines and opened the doors at SMASH in 2005. He’s grown his operation from a one-man shop to the current staff of 10; all sides of the business are continuing to grow especially in-store retail sales which are up 120% this year alone.
Their often humorous, sometimes controversial and almost universally Iowa-themed T-shirts and other retail merchandise are their most well known offering. In discussing his signature shirt designs, such as Des Moines: Hell Yes and Des Moines: Greatest City in the World, Mike talks about the self deprecating niche that SMASH has found, “It wouldn’t be as funny to see a shirt that says, New York: Hell Yes, ’cause you would think that person is serious, but to see someone in New York with a Des Moines: Hell Yes shirt…even people outside of that can find the humor in it.”
He believes that his designs are a bit “silly” but that is part of their charm. Mike notes, “I think we kind of walk the line of, you know, mocking Des Moines but also actual Des Moines pride – ’cause we’re all still here.” He continued, “we obviously like [Des Moines] because we all live in the city.”
Mike strategically chose Des Moines as his locale for SMASH for a variety of reasons, such as the lack of market saturation and encouraging environment for young entrepreneurs in places like the East Village, but also for a more lofty goal:
“I think it’s important to do something like this to kind of demonstrate to the people that are gone that, hey, you know you kind of left for the same reason I did, to find opportunity elsewhere, but the place you left had so much more potential than the places, you know the hubs like New York or LA, that you’re going to…depending on what you want to do.”
Mike is definitely an innovator in our community and has been recognized for his work in ReadyMade magazine and on HuffingtonPost.com, as well as numerous local publications and blogs. SMASH has even earned a mention in the New York Times. In the video below, Mike talks with SPN about his pride in Des Moines, not taking yourself too seriously, the benefits of national publicity for his small business and his ideas on the importance of knowing the great things that we have here.