WASHINGTON — When Army drill sergeant Dan Alarik left Fort Benning he didn’t realize he would create a successful brand veterans would come to know and love.
“I literally Googled ‘what is business’ when I started GruntStyle,” Alarik said in a recent interview with CBS Radio’s Connecting Vets. “I wasn’t a business person at all … I joined the military because I didn’t want to work in business.”
Alarik lived in his car selling his T-shirts before making it. What got him through? Discipline.
“My last job was as a drill sergeant, so my job was to instill discipline. So I used discipline to get things done. Disciplining yourself to just go forward and try everything. Repeat what works, and stop what doesn’t,” he says. “That discipline is going to make you successful.”
Alarik enlisted in 2000, and spent more than 15 years in the Army, National Guard and Reserves, with two deployments post-Sept. 11, and then finishing up as a drill sergeant at Fort Benning. After the birth of his first child, his wife urged him to get out and come home.
The question was: what to do next?
So he worked several jobs to learn.
“Something that the military doesn’t teach you how to do is sell. It’s a very foreign concept.”
And yet his advice to anyone getting out: If you’re outgoing and like people, consider sales.
“If you’re a veteran and just want a job, I would go into some form of sales. You can make the most amount of money with the least amount of business experience,” he says. “Find a product or culture that you like, and get into sales.”
“Sales qualifies a mission. You can qualify an accomplishment,” suggesting it’s a perfect fit for veterans who are mission-oriented.
If you’re an entrepreneur, he suggests getting educated.
“Learn from other people’s mistakes. Pick up a book or audio book. I listened to four, five, six, seven books a month. There’s a ton of great content out there,” he says.
Alarik and his wife weren’t sure they were going to make it. He’d been at it for months, and they were barely scraping by. They were booked at a trade show and promised themselves that if they made $6,000 in sales, they’d stick with it. Anything less and they’d quit. They stayed at a cheap hotel, walked to the trade show and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the whole weekend.
Their take that weekend: $6,300.
“It was so depressing,” he remembers. “Why is business so hard?”
But he stuck with it. He made a list of everyone who was doing “something better than me.” And then he researched what they were doing right.
“Social media. They posted five times a day, I posted once. Okay, engagement. I can do that,” he figured. “Launching a new product. They launched several. I can do that once a month. Don’t think you’re smarter than everyone. You’re not. Follow the winners.”
By the end of that year, he made $64,000 in monthly sales — 10 times the amount from the trade show.
“If someone’s better than you, do what they’re doing,” was the lesson.
GruntStyle and Alpha Outpost have over 230 employees and half of those are veterans. Alarik says he’d love to hire every veteran who applies, but he just can’t. What he can do is offer every veteran with a good DD214 an interview.
He knows that veterans have a tough time selling themselves in resumes and interviews.
“Vets are going to have a lot of qualifications you don’t normally see on resumes. Veterans don’t interview well historically because they don’t have to. They haven’t had to interview for anything,” he says.
Get in the door, he suggests, and then “bust your butt.” He says most of his guys are promoted from within.
He knows, too, that GruntStyle’s success is not all his own making.
“We’re a team. A unit,” he declares with pride. “Everyone’s contributing.”