From Paper Clip to Profit: An Interview with Jonathan Boos, Founder of Würkin Stiffs

Würkin Stiffs founder Jonathan Boos is a self-made man who has created and earned everything around him. And it all started with a paper clip.

Everyone imagines inventing a product that the world will embrace. A product that is simple, makes sense, and will not only yield success in the business world but also a lifetime of verbal pats on the back in the form of “You invented that? Awesome!”.

It’s a nice fantasy. Unfortunately, most people (myself included) ultimately abandon these dreams once they realize they don’t have any good ideas and/or the ambition to earnestly pursue them.

Jonathan Boos is not most people. He is the creator of Würkin Stiffs, a men’s fashion brand founded on his ingenious Power Stays™ invention, a magnetic collar stay design that does what flimsy pieces of plastic and endless amounts of starch never could: keep your collar exactly where you want it. In addition to being a successful inventor and designer whose handiwork received attention from men’s fashion publications like GQ, Uncrate, and Men’s Journal, Boos is also someone who can say he’s a self-made man who has created and earned everything around him.

And it all started with a paper clip.

PRIMER: The motivation behind someone coming up with a product like Würkin Stiffs is obvious – you wanted to create something that would flawlessly control a collar. But what inspired its creation?

JONATHAN BOOS: The idea of creating a magnetic collar stay happened instantly in the mirror, while I was getting dressed to meet my family and friends for dinner. I literally made a makeshift prototype with a paper clip and refrigerator magnet five minutes before I left my front door that very evening. If it wasn’t for my wife purchasing that three-inch collared sportswear shirt, giving it to me to wear that evening, and the collar looking like I had Saturday Night Fever… this idea would have never taken place. So, I owe the inspiration all to my wife (at least that’s what she says).

PRIMER: There are countless people out there who aspire to do with their own concept what you’ve done with the Power Stays™, only they aren’t sure how to move past square one. Can you articulate the process that took you from the initial idea to the existence of a brand and business?

JB: The first thing I did was keep my mouth shut (which is a hard thing for me to do, as those close to me can attest). Since my idea was a product, I did an extensive patent search on uspto.gov. After that, I applied for a Provisional Patent through Legal Zoom, which is a quick and inexpensive way to start protecting your idea. From there, I visited many local small companies, seeking manufactured prototypes. These prototypes were not 100% but they were better than a paper clip and refrigerator magnet. I was able to give those initial prototypes to extended family and friends without telling them it was a product I was developing, which gave me an honest reaction. Once it was determined that this seemed to be viable, I did a lot of research (phone calls, emails, etc.) and found someone to help manufacture the product and packaging — this was about the time when I hired patent attorneys.

I purchased 12,000 units, using my own money to fund the whole thing. I started selling one box per day (online) for about two weeks. Then a blog wrote about Würkin Stiffs and we sold almost 300 boxes within 24 hours. That got the ball rolling. Two months later, I quit my day job and jumped into the deep-end with both feet. From there, it was literally my wife Amie, my then-one-year old son Aiden, and me going from men’s store to men’s store, knocking on doors. I sent my wife in while Aiden and I stayed in the car (smart, huh?). Amie was selling like a champ and it was very exciting!

The biggest question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to commit 200% (and then some) to what I am trying to accomplish?” If you really have something you believe in, it’s proving to sell, and failure is not an option… then I say jump in and start swimming. It is a lot of hard work and persistence. Those who are only looking for quick and easy money will be disappointed. It is my experience that you will work harder and longer than you have ever worked before. In my opinion, it’s the ones who love every minute of it that become successful.

PRIMER: Clearly there’s work involved every step of the way but when it comes to establishing a business platform, what sort of challenges did you encounter that you didn’t anticipate? Conversely, was there anything about the process that turned out to be simpler than you expected?

JB: Banks will not hand over money and/or loans to a business that is not established and profitable, especially in the current economy we are in; obtaining a business loan never happened for me. So, I realized quickly that the new challenge was that I had to rely on my own income, savings, nest eggs, and home equity to make this happen. The only “simple” thing that happened was coming up with the idea of a magnetic collar stay — everything else was tougher than expected, in one way or another. If it was simple, everyone would be doing it!

PRIMER: Aside from the fact that the product is really smart and universally useful, what would you say was the single most important part of establishing Würkin Stuffs as an extremely successful business?

JB: I had a clear understanding, about four months into launching, that Würkin Stiffs was not going to survive with only “one smart product.” The path I really wanted to take involved creating an innovative brand within an industry that is naturally very conservative. I knew I would have obstacles. I had to align myself with certain stores that would help make Würkin Stiffs successful, which also means knowing when to say “no” to certain stores who want to buy your product, as they are not the proper fit.

PRIMER: Is there any single moment – reading a certain article about your company, arranging a specific deal with a retailer, appearing on a certain television show, etc. – when you had to step back and say “wow, this is really taking off” to yourself?

JB: We’ve been growing Würkin Stiffs organically and there has been steady growth since going to market in late 2006. However, there have been two prominent moments in which I had the “Wow Moment.” The first was when I was contacted out of the blue by the senior producer of The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on CNBC to sit on the couch with Donny. Würkin Stiffs was the first featured guest during a brand new segment called “My Idea Will Make Millions,” in 2007. I could not believe I was talking with Donny Deutsch and yes, I was extremely nervous (the clip is on my site — see for yourself). The second and most recent “Wow Moment” was getting my product into Nordstrom stores and seeing the “sell-thru” rates (the rate at which a product is selling off the sales floor). We had an 80-100% sell-thru rate in most Nordstrom stores, in the very first week Würkin Stiffs products were on the shelves. Needless to say, Nordstrom and I were (and continue to be) very, very happy with Würkin Stiffs! It had been a goal of mine for over a year to be in Nordstrom. Long story short: it was not my persistence that made it happen, it happened totally organically!

PRIMER: Were you always involved and interested with creating products, in some fashion? Or was this a bolt of lightning that sliced through a relatively normal life? What was going on in your world before Würkin Stiffs?

JB: I always had different ideas and concepts of products, since I was a young boy. When I think about it, my passion has always been designing products, creating new ideas and making things happen. However, I never went to college or attended an art school that directed me in the design direction. I actually went to school for automotive collision and naturally started fabricating and designing paint schemes for automobiles and motorcycles. As I got older, I became an automotive appraiser in the insurance industry by day and would design for fun, at night. Through all my ideas over the years, magnetic collar stays were the simplest “bolt of lightning” idea that I could not pass up creating and bringing to market.

PRIMER: What’s an average day like for you now? Is it all glamor and magnets?

JB: Far from it. I’m the main Würkin Stiff, who seems to würk more than ever but for the greater good of all collars everywhere! Würkin Stiffs is currently in another growth spurt. I design, create and develop products almost on a daily basis to keep building upon the brand.  In addition, I run the day-to-day business, travel to stores all over the United States telling my story and gathering new stores to sell my products, etc. while also trying to maintain a successful family life. I have a small Würkin Stiffs crew and I am currently looking for my Robin (a superstar sidekick) to make my days more glamorous, like Bruce Wayne’s!

PRIMER: I’m always interested in the origin stories behind brand names that utilize nontraditional spelling; what made you choose “Würkin”? Were you at all tempted to use your first or last name in the product’s title?

JB: I was tempted to use my name, but ultimately decided against it. My twin brother (yes, we are identical) and I were coming up with different names for the product. We were laughing and having a good time throwing names out on a pad of paper, one of which was “Working Stiffs” (as, in Europe, collar stays are called “collar stiffeners”). That name kept popping up and so I decided to make the ‘o’ into a ‘u’ and added an umlaut, due to our German heritage and because everyone loves umlauts. I dropped the “g” to make it less formal, which seemed to würk, because everyone loves the name! It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, which defines my personality perfectly. The name “Würkin Stiffs” originally applied to the product as well as the larger company but we eventually broke it up and the product became “Power Stays™” while the brand remained “Würkin Stiffs,” to cover the additional products being designed and developed.

PRIMER: Speaking of additional products, Würkin Stiffs has a lot more going on than just the magnetic collar stays (Knotz, most notably). Can you talk about the other products in development, or is it all top secret?

JB: A lot more is going on behind the scenes than people really know. This October, we will launch our overhauled website along with additional products like one-piece cufflinks with double-sided resin, resin Power Stays™, Travel Wallets, and many more interesting, never-before-seen products are coming within the next six months. And yes, the Polo Stays™ will be coming out very soon as well (I kinda spilled the beans about that product way too early). I’ve learned to keep my lips sealed so that’s all I’m revealing, right now.

PRIMER: Was the “Superheroes” collection of Knotz your idea or does the credit go to someone else? Can I expect to see a Norrin Radd edition any time soon?

JB: The entire Knotz™ concept and collections are totally my brainchild! Silk knots have been around since the 1800s but I could not stand the drab color choices, ugly packaging, and overall thoughtlessness behind what could be a very cool product. Knotz™ are packaged individually, cleverly branded in an awesome glass vial, and are another great gift item for men. We are adding the Collegiate Collection (our ninth collection) this holiday season and we are NOW officially expanding the Superheroes Collection, starting with the addition of Norrin Radd, for which we will be giving you full credit! Everyone has an alter-ego and the Knotz™ Superheroes Collection is a huge crowd-pleaser.

PRIMER: If you had your choice of any actor, musician, athlete, business mogul, or politician (living or dead) to serve as an official spokesman for Würkin Stiffs, who would be your pick?

JB: I say let’s do one of each:

  • Ben Stiller – Perfect for Derek Zoolander and Ben’s red carpet events. Call me, Ben!
  • Elvis Presley – Collar… self-explanatory, it was the 70′s! We also have great accessories for every jumpsuit’s needs.
  • Tiger Woods – Polo Stays are coming to a golf course near you! Having Tiger’s collar not curl would be grrrrreat!
  • Donald Trump – Everything he touches turns to gold. I would hire The Donald.
  • Bill Clinton – “Workin’ stiff” is what he was famous for, while in office. Need I say anything else?

Würkin Stiffs products are available through their website and at many retailers nationwide.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.