This is part one of a three-part series about meeting Dennis James, introducing him to Atlas Menswear, and being a vendor at his bodybuilding show.
In the early days of Atlas Menswear, I knew it would be important to get some well-known influencers to help market my clothing brand. I’ve learned there are many parts to a complete marketing plan for an online company and influencer marketing is an important part. Knowing this, I made a list of people who I considered to be in line with the Atlas brand identity and began trying to contact them. I sent emails, Instagram messages, Facebook messages and even commented on their posts. Like many things in business, it’s a numbers game and most of these efforts went unnoticed. Unfortunately, a lot of the people I did get in touch with, ended up being a big disappointment. I would offer to send them a free shirt and in return I asked for a simple post on their social media account and some feedback on the shirts. I would follow up after they received the shirt and everyone sent back glowing reviews. They would tell me they loved them, and they were excited to find something that fit their muscular bodies. Then: silence. They would completely drop off the face of the earth. They would stop responding, they never put up a social media post, and wouldn’t follow through with anything they said they would do. They got a free, high quality dress shirt and that would be it. I’ve been around long enough to understand that most humans are, unfortunately unreliable but this was still a tough lesson for me. I certainly wasn’t naïve. I’ve spent time in the corporate world, and I know most people are a disappointment when they are exposed. It’s just disheartening when I’m reminded of the sad fact that most people are not going to follow through with what they say. I even had a face-to-face conversation with a well-known social media personality at the 2020 Mr. Olympia. He tried on a shirt and loved it. I told him I would be willing to give it to him for free if he would help me out with spreading brand awareness. He accepted the shirt, looked me in the eye and said he would “take care of me”. He went home with one of our best shirts and then, you guessed it – crickets.
Amid all the negative interactions with some very well-known people, there have been a few men who I gained a lot of respect for. Men who honorably followed through with everything they said they would do, and even more. One of these men is bodybuilding legend Dennis James.
The first opportunity I had to talk to Dennis was on one of his regular Instagram livestreams. During his livestreams, he invites people on his stream to ask questions about bodybuilding, seek advice on diet and even ask for a critique on
As a Dennis James fan, I had seen his livestream a lot of times but I never requested to get on and talk with him. I was content to be entertained by watching others take their shirts off and have Dennis give his opinion. Dennis is always brutally, but refreshingly, honest. After I started Atlas Menswear, I began requesting to be on the stream with him. Dennis has over a million followers and there can be hundreds of people on each livestream, each wanting a chance to talk with him, so it can be difficult to get on. One morning as I was working in my home office, I sent a request to be on the stream. You can imagine my excitement when I saw the pop-up message on my phone that said he accepted my request and was bringing me on.
I knew I was not going to be one of his typical guests who ask him questions like how many carbs I should eat or why my upper pecs won’t develop. (Dennis always says, “incline everything!”). This was a business-to-business discussion. I know his goal is to make his streams interesting, so he can get as many viewers as possible, and in turn, grow his social media influence. I had to keep his goal in mind as I talked, or I knew my time would be very short. I wanted to tell him
I had to give him my “elevator pitch”. If you don’t know what that is, an elevator pitch is a short description of your business that captures the attention of your listener and should get them excited about what you do. Imagine being in an office building and finding yourself in an elevator with a big investor. You only have the time it takes to get to his floor to get him excited about what you do. That’s why it’s called an elevator pitch; it’s short, to the point, and effective. Everyone who owns a business should have an elevator pitch rehearsed and ready to go.
After I described my business to Dennis, he seemed genuinely interested. Atlas is unique in the industry and, being an astute businessman himself, he recognized that I potentially had the beginnings of a very successful business. At the end of the conversation, I offered to send him a shirt and he accepted. Of course, this was my first interaction with Dennis so I didn’t know if this would just be another lost shirt or if he would be more engaged than that.
I sent Dennis the shirt and after a few days went by I received a message on my Instagram. It was from “@bigdjames”. Dennis reached out to me and asked me to call him. Obviously, I was ecstatic to see he wanted me to give him a call. I immediately called him and we talked about the shirt and went more in depth about the business. I could tell he was probing to see what kind of man I was and that I was serious about growing the business. Dennis has little patience for someone he can’t trust or respect. He is careful to not associate with someone until he knows they can live up to the standards he sets for himself. Towards the end of our conversation, he said he would help me spread the word about Atlas Menswear in the bodybuilding world. I humbly thanked him, and anxiously waited to see what would transpire.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Dennis posted a picture of himself wearing one of our Atlas shirts. He tagged my account and the response his post got was great. Comments rolled in with people telling him he looked great and how much they liked the shirt. People were asking questions about the shirt, and I was trying to respond to all of them. Unfortunately, I was responding to comments on Dennis’s post, not my own, and the dreaded Instagram algorithm saw that as being spammy, so I got shut down from comment threads for 24 hours. It was frustrating to see so many people asking about the shirt while I was helpless to answer their questions. Sure, it was inconvenient, but it was a minor bump in an otherwise fantastic situation.
In the tough times of starting a business, it can sometimes feel like the wins come too few and far between. Getting a big win like this certainly boosted my confidence and gave me a big push down the road to success.
In part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about how I began working more with Dennis, and how one of my shirts ended up on the reigning Mr. Olympia!