Mark Jefcoat grew up in Flowood, went to college and then traveled a lot as a sales manager for a big company out of Laurel for 12 years. While he found great success in the corporate world, he got tired spending so much time on airplanes. He also became a father, and wanted to spend more time around his daughter, Mollee, who is now 5.
So, he decided to look into business opportunities back home.
“I came back here and was studying franchises and didn’t like the franchise opportunities I found,” Jefcoat said. “Then I looked at the Dogwood Center, which is two million square feet of retail built in 2007. There wasn’t an outfitter in any of the development. Being from here, I felt like I knew what the guys are like and what they like to wear. I developed a business plan to open Cozy Outfitters (www.cozyoutfitters.com) and took it from there.”
One plus he took into the venture was that while working in corporate sales, he was able to experience hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation all over the country. He also had the background from childhood.
“I grew up with four brothers and my dad always kept us in the woods or by the water,” Jefcoat said.
“It is something I’ve always loved. Another plus was that in my previous job, I sold to grocery stores. So, I learned a lot talking to grocers across the country about how they do their business. It was funny how the two worlds collided, the love for the outdoors and my experience working with retail. Retail is retail whether eggs or pants. I was able to take my experiences and combine them. So, it made perfect sense.”
Cozy Outfitters, which is located at 160 Market St., Flowood, will celebrate its fourth anniversary in September. Jefcoat said they have been able to be successful by operating as a specialty shop.
“We are trying to provide something you can’t get at one of those big box stores,” Jefcoat said. “We have to be different. We have to be special. When we look at brands, we always try to see if provide our guests (we don’t call them customers) something unique. Our clothing is built for outdoor use by rock climbers and such. But it also translates well to activities like four-wheel riding and construction.”
One of their most popular offerings is pants made by a company in Salt Lake City called KÜHL USA.
“The company has been around for about 15 years,” Jefcoat said. “They are primarily a pant company. They do a really great job with their quality and their selection.”
Jefcoat said the cooler business has been really good for them, and their selection of nice, military grade watches from Suunto and Luminox are also popular. They also carry a large section of collegiate gear.
“The guys in Rankin County, most of them hunt and fish and like college football and baseball,” he said. “So, we provide that, as well. We also offer kids’ clothing if little brother and sister want to look like dad and big brother.”
Like most retailers, Christmas is a big time for sales. Cozy Outfitters does 25-30 percent of its sales during a 30-day period around the holidays.
Jefcoat looked at other locations with less expensive rent. But he opted to be in a high traffic area.
“So we don’t spend a ton of money on marketing,” Jefcoat said. “Most of our marketing is in our rent. We felt this location gave us the best market for our clientele. We had to pay for it. For marketing, we focus a lot on social media via Facebook and Instagram, just like everyone else.”
Jefcoat got a SBA loan and SBA counseling from James Bennett at Hinds Community College. Bennett, a retired banker, helped Jefcoat hone his business plan.
“He had been through the process a million times and knows what to look for,” Jefcoat said. “He was very helpful.”
Jefcoat’s advice to others who want to start their own business is to forecast and budget. He said his biggest mistake early on was becoming too revenue driven.
“I was trying to get revenues and sales up as quickly and as high as possible, and basically didn’t manage my cash flow as I should have,” he said. “In my pursuit of revenue, I drove my inventory up to a point where it was hamstringing me on cash. Every small business owner I’ve talked to goes through that process. It is a challenge. You just have to learn and manage to keep the cash available and let the revenue come as you grow. Don’t force it.”
Jefcoat said their mission at Cozy Outfitters is to be the premiere outdoor specialty store in the market while encouraging their guests to get off the couch, get dirty, and experience the excitement and relaxation of the outdoors.
“People are getting a little overwhelmed with technology and the Internet,” he said. “They recognize the outdoors as a good outlet for stress relief. It is just a nice way to relax and get out of the hustle and bustle of our technology world. I know that is what I do.”
Internet sales have been a big concern for some brick and mortar retailers. But Jefcoat said they are an apparel-driven retailer.
“The good thing about apparel is most people still want to touch it, feel it, and try it on,” he said. “I don’t see that changing.”