Will and Robert Brunner find their own pipeline to success in golf clothing line.
by Rachel Stowe Master
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Topics: Alumni,how i got here
by Rachel Stowe Master
Will Brunner ’03 and Robert Brunner ’11 followed in their father’s footsteps. The brothers attended the same junior high, high school and college as their dad, Robin Brunner ’78. They joined the same fraternity and even worked in the oil and gas industry.
Will, an entrepreneurial management major, started off working for a company that provided automotive protection technology. When he and his wife, Claire Hart Brunner ’03, were expecting their first child, they wanted to live in Fort Worth to raise their family. He moved into oil and gas — the industry he grew up with — as a landman.
Younger brother Robert, a geology major, landed a job as a junior geologist at home in Midland, Texas. But six months later, he realized he was living someone else’s dream.
“I saw my life flash before my eyes,” Robert said. “I was always interested in clothes and always sketching out clothes and dreaming of that, but oil and gas was kind of what I was supposed to do. Then I had a revelation one day, and I didn’t see myself wanting to do the same path as my father. That’s his passion. But it wasn’t my dream.”
On a whim, Robert applied to fashion school but kept that decision to himself. He was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles but didn’t tell his family until about a week before he needed to head west.
Robert started unveiling his plan to his mother, Katy Snead Brunner ’77. “She was so excited and asked if I had told my dad yet. And I said, ‘No, I wasn’t really planning on it. I figured I would move and then if Dad asked where I was, you could tell him.’ She said that wasn’t how this was going to work.”
Remembering how excited his father was that he studied geology, Robert waited another couple of days to share his news. “It took me awhile to build the courage and tell him. He was definitely taken aback when I first told him. But then he kind of gave in when he saw where my heart was and he was extremely supportive.”
With an associate of arts degree in merchandise product development, Robert spotted an opportunity in the golf industry, but he needed his brother’s help.
“We’ve always grown up with golf being a big part of the family,” Will said. “My brother realized there wasn’t a lot happening in golf that lined up with men’s fashion. That was his entry into clothing. He was going to design something more fashion-forward with a better fit.”
With an entrepreneurial management background, Will became his brother’s source for business expertise.
“He [Robert] came to me and asked if I would help him put together a business plan,” Will said. “And I said sure. After I did that, he asked if I could help him raise money. And I said sure and helped him do that. Then he said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this with me?’ And I said, ‘I would love to.’ ”
“This was something completely new,” Will said. “It was different from the family business. We had zero contacts, zero relationships. It was great.”
Wanting to anchor the fledgling business name to family, the brothers looked to their always-stylish grandmother, Devereux Smith Brunner.
“She’s this cool old lady who just turned 93. She’s an inspiration to our whole family,” Robert said. “We just kind of wanted to give her a nod that we appreciate who she is and her sense of style that’s so unique.”
Devereux began with golf shirts in 2014. “When we started, we were going to use our own contacts and go out and start drumming up business — and then realized our 10 contacts weren’t going to take us very far,” Will said.
The brothers searched for a director of sales and met with a high-ranking staffer for an apparel company who gave them good contacts. They hired a former vice president from Tommy Hilfiger Golf, and that decision opened many doors.
Three years later, Devereux has five employees, about 20 independent sales reps across the nation and several New York-based consultants. Robert is the designer and creative director, while Will is director of operations.
“Robert handles all creative aspects. He has the vision for Devereux — how he wants the brand to be perceived and how he wants to go about putting it out there and taking it to customers,” Will said. “I more or less manage the business and do all the accounting and financing.”
Robert and the company are based in Scottsdale, Arizona — a haven of golf courses and resorts — while Will and a warehouse are located in Fort Worth. But with 300 retail accounts across the country and manufacturers in Peru, Portugal, South Korea and China, both brothers spend much of their time traveling.
While building on the success of golf shirts — the “gothic grape” polo in their 2015 Paris @ Night collection was especially popular and a nod to their Horned Frog ties — Will and Robert are careful not to get pigeonholed in golf apparel. They also sell sweaters, hats, pants and new hybrid shorts — good for swimming and dry enough in 10 minutes for a round of golf. Devereux has expanded into an upscale casual resort lifestyle brand. The line is also sold at high-end resorts, country clubs and specialty stores as well as online (dvrxthreads.com).
“We’re building a whole clothing line that is more fashion than just polo shirts and on-course apparel,” Robert said. “We are building apparel for that guy who’s on the go and who also shares that passion for golf with us. We do golf as a lifestyle.”
The Brunner brothers are disciplined and purposeful about business expansion.
“We are more of a boutique brand right now,” Will said. “The next step is to dive in more to men’s specialty stores, grow men’s resorts and golf destinations, and, when the time is right, dive into Nordstrom’s and Neiman’s — but then we would have to give up boutique.”
Devereux has invested in a mobile retail trailer, similar to a food truck, to take its Proper Threads — the company’s tag line — to customers at resorts, country clubs and special events.
“We are really on a good path right now,” Will said. “We are growing, but we are trying not to grow too fast because it can be detrimental because you have to hire so fast and there’s so much you have to keep up with.”
The brothers agree that sharing the entrepreneurial journey has been rewarding.
“It’s fun when we achieve certain goals to have someone to celebrate that with. We are so close, and we have the same dreams and aspirations, and we are accomplishing that together,” Will said. “But at the same time, it’s your brother, so you butt heads. We both run the company, and he wants to do it this way and I want to do it that way, but we always find a compromise.”
“We’ve learned over the years to separate brotherhood and how you would treat each other in your house versus the office,” Robert said. “Working with him is great. It’s really special having someone that not only is my brother but also is my friend to share this with.”
Together, the brothers have enjoyed building a business. “Having no relationships or contacts at all and doing it with my brother has been very rewarding,” Will said. “This is really my brother and I jumping completely off the deep end. We jumped away from the nest a little late, but we jumped really far.”
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