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5 Businesses Dads Will Love

June 15, 2012 | Laurie Kulikowski

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Considering the creative small businesses marketing gifts this Father's Day, consumers shouldn't settle on buying the first tie they see.

Consumers will spend about $12.7 billion this year on gifts for dad, according to the National Retail Federation. The average person will spend $117.14, which is 10% more than last year and closing the gap with Mother's Day (for which consumers will spend an average $152, the NRF says).

According to the NRF's survey, people plan to treat dad by spending the most on special outings such as golfing, eating out or a sporting event. Of course electronics, apparel, gift cards and sporting goods will be bought as well.

George Carey, CEO of The Family Room, a Norwalk, Conn., market-research consulting firm that specializes in family demographics, says for small businesses looking to cater to dads, shoppers should let go of the stereotypes of past decades.

"Dads are increasingly playing a greater role in supporting the family at home, where moms used to reign. They are turning to a wide range of brands that can bring their family together and offer even a few precious minutes of time to connect," Carey said in a statement. "The remarkable growth of brands like Disney(DIS_), McDonald's(MCD_) and Wii has given us an abundance of evidence that the greatest gift you can give dad is a shared family experience everyone can enjoy together."

Small businesses are certainly in the running to take advantage of Father's Day spending by playing up a niche and strong customer service, as well as unique promotions via social media and offline.

  1. Dollar Shave Club Los Angeles
    Michael Dubin didn't want to waste time buying refills for one of the most regular and mundane parts of a person's day — shaving. He also didn't see the need to buy razors with vibrating handles or LEDs. He just wanted a simple, inexpensive razor. Sound familiar?

    Dubin's struggles inspired him to start a service that saved men money and the time spent shopping for razors or replacement blades, launching in March the Dollar Shave Club with a humorous homepage video that has fueled its popularity.

    It's a membership-based website that delivers high-quality replacement blades to customers who pay a few dollars per month, depending on the package they choose, the company says.

    Dollar Shave Club offers three models to customers, including (plus shipping and handling):
    • "The Humble Twin," a two-blade razor ($1/month)
    • "The 4X", a four-blade razor ($6/month)
    • "The Executive," a six-blade model for a luxury shave ($9/month).

    Dollar Shave Club will be launching a women's line and other products in coming months, the company says.
  2. Underground Signs Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Underground Signs makes and sells New York, Boston and Chicago subway and transit station signs as art for those who want to own a part of the city in their home or office.

    Customers for Underground Signs are commonly men — those who feel a connection to a particular station or ball field such as for the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs or White Sox.

    Founder Trevor MacDermid says he was having a conversation with a friend about how well "branded" certain cities' transit systems were when he formed the idea for the business. He thought there would be a market that would appreciate the replicas and the ability to customize them.

    "I've had been… a freelance consultant doing a lot of design work and content work for Web development companies and I was enjoying being a freelance guy, but the specific line of work that I was in in 2009, when the market turned bad my work was harder and hard to come by," MacDermid says.

    "I really needed to find something new, and frankly the timing seemed somewhat appropriate. I felt a little bit burned out anyway. I needed to do something to keep myself busy, and so what began as just a project became a viable business," he says.

    MacDermid sells mainly to consumers. He sells directly through his website and at a handful of transit museums, boutiques and the flash sale site He plans to expand his offerings to more cities and offer more sizes of signs at different price points (the price is $299 for a five-foot sign).

    "Nostalgia is really the key to it all, because people are identifying with a great city and their own relationship to it," he says.
  3. Abt Electronics Glenview, Ill.
    Abt Electronics was started by CEO Jon Abt's grandmother in 1936.

    The story goes that Grandma Jewel started the business with her husband and $800 after she was thrown out of her family's grocery business for being a woman, Abt says. The store started with just three employees in a Chicago neighborhood and has grown to become one of the largest independent single-store electronics retailers in the country, sprawled over 37 acres in Glenview, Ill., and employing a staff of 1,100, the company says.

    As the name suggests, Abt Electronics sells electronics products — some 12,000 lines of TVs, stereos and computers, but also outdoor grills and grilling accessories, among other things. Basically a paradise for men.

    The store has morphed into its own mini-mall. The showroom is 100,000 square feet and has "boutique" shops for Apple(AAPL_), Sony(SNE_) and others. It also features a 7,500-gallon saltwater aquarium that's used to demonstrate the image quality of the store's wide selection of cameras and camcorders, and has an atrium with a large fountain in the middle.

    Abt says it's a great place to bring the family; the store has interactive displays for kids, and other activities. "It keeps the kids distracted so the parents can shop," he says.

    The staff's technical expertise — acknowledged by many manufacturers — and strong customer service add to its appeal.

    "We put a lot of attention into this store, and that's what makes it successful. It's a unique shopping experience," Abt says. And while he says one day he might consider expanding, for now the company is happy with a single store.

    "We don't want to dilute what we've got going," he says. Instead, the company has expanded online and with product offerings.
  4. Mohan's Custom Tailors New York, N.Y.
    Mohan's Custom Tailors has been designing custom suits and formalwear for more than 30 years. Its owner, Mohan "Michael" Ramchandani, grew up in India, where he learned the value and skills of his trade through his family's cotton business.

    It was while he worked with his brothers in a tailoring factory in Hong Kong in the late 1960s that he noticed an interesting trend: Americans were coming to Hong Kong to buy made-to-order suits and shirts that sold for a fraction of department store costs. An idea formed.

    Ramchandani opened a small New York showroom in 1972. Over the years, the showroom moved three times to meet the expanding selection and demand for his products.

    Mohan's now offers customers the ability to choose from 14,000 fine fabrics from England and Italy, more than 40 suit styles, 16 shirt cuff styles and 20 collar styles to craft a garment unique for their body and personal style, the company says. Yet prices are affordable.

    "One of four specialty on-site veteran tailors takes over 20 detailed measurements for suits and 18 detailed measurements for shirts to intricately construct the foundation of the garment. Within a four to six week timeframe, the client walks away with a perfectly tailored piece," the company says.

    It is this level of detail and customer care that keeps customers coming back, says K.J. Singh, Mohan's sales manager.

    "When somebody wears a suit which fits them fine [vs. one that] fits them perfectly, they will never go off the rack again," Singh says.

    Mohan's has also seen more than a few celebrity customers. Those reputed to have passed through Mohan's doors include sports legends such as Walt Frazier, Patrick Ewing, Bernie Williams, Jose Reyes, as well as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.

    Mohan's wares can now include pockets for smartphones, iPods and even an iPad pocket.
  5. Virgin Digital Help United Kingdom/U.S. headquarters: New York, N.Y.
    Virgin Digital Help, a subsidiary of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, was formed by the division's co-founder and director, Mustafa Khanbhai, who got the idea for a subscription service that would give consumers and small businesses immediate help for tech problems.

    For $15 per month (or $30 per transaction), Virgin Digital Help can fix Web and email issues, computers, smartphones, viruses, cameras, game consoles — anything digital. Dad basically gets his own tech guy at his disposal.

    The service was started in the U.K. in 2009. Now Virgin Digital is expanding to the U.S. and has developed partnerships with several retailers, tech companies and others to expand the reach and exposure of the service. This includes the technology that enables technicians to be available immediately online or over the phone 24/7 to troubleshoot and fix technology issues remotely.

    One partner is Sears(SHLD_). Virgin Digital is the go-to resource for Sears customers that have bought gadgets at the retailer.

© Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company