Catching Up: TJ Callaway of Onward Reserve

TJ Callaway, the fearless leader of the Onward Reserve empire has been busy over the last few years. He and his team have been busy growing their storefronts, their brand influence all over the Southeast. With the growing popularity of their seasonal old school, hard copy catalog, Onward Reserve is now a national brand.

We caught up with TJ to drink some bourbon and have a chat about this growth and his success:

Describe what Onward Reserve’s growth has been like over the last couple years?  Very exciting. Ambitious. While I am never really satisfied, I have to say I am pleased with the momentum that we have been able to sustain. I never feel like we are moving fast enough. However, when I look back and think about the fact that Onward Reserve didn’t exist 2.5 years ago it is pretty remarkable how far we have come in such a short amount of time.

The First Onward Reserve store in Athens, GA

What strategic moves have you made that have paid off?  I have made so many moves, I couldn’t begin to decide. I have failed 20 times for every 1 time I have succeeded. I believe that is the difference between successful people and everyone else. Just the drive to keep going through it all. There have been a lot of things that have worked out for me though. The sum of those little victories is what makes up any success I have found so far. Perhaps more important are the lessons I have learned from all my failures.

What have been the biggest surprises?  Most of the surprises, positive and negative have to do with people. People are the hardest part of all of this. The good ones more than make up for the bad ones, but you have to watch out for the bad ones. If we could just all be good people, the world would be a lot easier place to live and do business in.

Athens, GA Onward Reserve Store

What are the business lessons you have learned from running Onward Reserve?  If you want to learn how the business world works, get into a fast growing retail start-up. I would say any start-up, but retail just has so many facets. I have experienced and can have meaningful conversations about: merchandising, inventory management, product design, customer acquisition, customer service, customer retention, licensing, law, marketing, advertising, interior design, construction, PR, finance, photography, publishing, entrepreneurship, real estate, web design, web maintenance, fulfillment, logistics, insurance, management, management compensation, employee retention, banking, credit card processing, investment banking, private equity and the list goes on…   Most people never get to dabble in that many areas of the business world and that is a shame because it is really enlightening to be able to spend time in that many different buckets. Most people are just stuck in one of them. I used to work for SunTrust here in Atlanta. I loved it, but it was easy to forget that there is a world outside of the bank. A big world, with lots of people doing lots of different things.

What advice would you give the pre-Onward Reserve version of TJ?  Hold on tight, it is going to be one CRAZY. ASS. RIDE. You won’t regret a minute of it, though. If anything I would tell him to leave the bank sooner because time is of the essence.

Buckhead Onward Reserve Store

What is your favorite item from your catalog?  One of the most exciting moments for me was this Fall when I saw one of our catalog covers and everything the model was wearing from head to toe was designed by our team. I am really proud of what we are accomplishing with the Onward Reserve label. We will never abandon the key brands that make us a specialty retailer, but the catalog is going to be more focused on our designs and we will continue to expand the Onward Reserve collection.

What would you say is your biggest success to date?  Hiring and keeping some absolute rockstars. We have some of the hardest working and most passionate young people in the fashion industry and I am honored to work with them everyday.

Looking into the future, what are you most excited about?  There is something new to be excited about most every week so the “future” is a relative term. The annual warehouse sale later this month is a lot of fun and the Spring catalog will launch in February. We will likely open a couple more stores in 2016 (none to announce just yet) and will basically just continue to raise the bar in all aspects of our business.

Be sure to follow Onward Reserve on Instagram…it’s a rockin’ good time.


1 Comment

  1. Brad
    04/11/2016 / 3:39 PM

    Great piece. He answered every question honestly. No BS. I like that.

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