Business gets ugly: Gilbert couple turn holiday sweater trend into biz

A bauble here or a bell there isn't going to cut it for a holiday "ugly sweater" party.

At least, that's what Gilbert residents Clarissa and George Trujillo discovered when they lived in Chicago.

On the hunt for an ugly sweater in 2007, the pair searched through thrift stores, only to come up empty handed. Then they looked online, to no avail.

That sparked an idea.

"We realized there was an untapped opportunity. We decided to jump at that opportunity," Clarissa Trujillo, 31, said.

So the couple started their own online business – uglysweaterstore.com . At first, they drove to thrift stores and stuffed the inventory into their Chicago condo. Then they moved it to an office space.

Last year, George Trujillo's job moved him to Arizona. They kept the business with a small staff of trusted employees in Chicago, but moved it to a Tempe warehouse this season.

"It's just been growing exponentially, along with the trend for ugly sweaters," Clarissa said. "This season we have several thousand sweaters. We've sold so many so quickly, I don't know how many we have remaining. It's been our best business year, yet."

In fact, Clarissa said they are shipping out hundreds of sweaters a day.

Clarissa and George, 33, still work their "day jobs." She is in public relations and he works in construction management. So a staff of four now operates the Tempe warehouse, including their business manager who moved to the Valley this year from Chicago.

The business is completely online. Racks of sweaters fill the warehouse. After sweaters are washed and sorted, as orders come in, the staff boxes them up to ship around the globe.

And there's no more thrift-store hunting for the Trujillos. They found an ugly sweater wholesaler to fill their inventory.

"It's very seasonal," Trujillo said. "Really, it's October through January that's our high time. This last summer, we sold a bunch to folks in Australia because it was their winter. They were having ‘Christmas in July' parties. We sell ugly sweaters around the world, really."

The Trujillos apparently like to keep things seasonal. They're expecting their first children — twins — in the next two weeks.

"I find myself lucky — due with twins any time now. This season we have a director of operations managing it every day. She puts in 15 hours a day. There's never really a minute to spare," Clarissa said.

But are there sweaters for the new babies?

"We have ugly sweaters for kids online. I haven't pulled two to save for the kids coming. We'll have new models next year," she said.

There is one sweater, though, that Clarissa said she couldn't part with.

"It's a sweater covered with other ugly sweaters. It's the epitome of what we do," she said. "The gaudier with more bling they have, the faster they sell. It's fun to see which ones get ordered."

To see some of the world's ugliest sweaters, you can visit their website .

For more East Valley stories, visit EastValleyTribune.com

 

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