Richland’s Antonio Lopez-Ibarra runs a relatively new dental practice, Tri-City Dental Care, in the Southridge area.
The 32-year-old dentist also has a wife and three children.
And the busy entrepreneur runs a small necktie company with his nephew, Noel Lopez.
Called Town+Co, the business started in July 2015.
Lopez-Ibarra and his nephew sell neckties featuring woven iconic images from several countries and states: the France tie features a tiny Eiffel Tower, the Brazil tie boasts an image of the Christ The Redeemer statue, the red-white-and-blue USA tie has the Statue of Liberty and the Mexico tie features the Pyramid of Kukulkan.
The idea for the polyester ties emerged after the two men were talking a few years ago.
They knew ties could serve as conversation starters to break down barriers.
Both Lopez-Ibarra and his nephew, Noel Lopez, served their Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints missions. Lopez-Ibarra served the Spanish-speaking community in Cleveland and his nephew in Uruguay.
They noticed fellow missionaries returning from Uruguay with a souvenir tie featuring the country’s soccer logo on it.
“We wondered what we could do to target LDS missionaries,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “So we thought of different countries’ symbols. I’ve learned a lot about business over the years. The biggest thing is to start with a niche. For us, that’s the LDS missionaries. We understand that niche.”
It took the pair eight months from idea to actual product to sales.
“We had to contact manufacturers, get some prototypes,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “It’s hard to find good quality.”
They finally found a company in China that met their standards.
Coming up with an icon for a country can be tough, they said.
“It’s not easy,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “A lot of countries don’t have a big icon. We could have gone with national birds or flowers, but we wanted to pick out the most important icon.”
Sometimes, Lopez said, “we go through six or seven designs before we decide on one.”
Recently, they added a few states, including Washington and Utah.
“Some are easy,” said Noel. “For Washington, we had green and blue (Seahawks colors), and the Space Needle. But Idaho was tough. At one time we’d thought about the potato. But we set it aside for a while. Eventually we came up with a salmon because of the Salmon River.”
They’re also trying to get into the university market. They have a contract with Utah Valley University, where Noel attends as a digital marketing major. He also works another job and is married.
“Licensing is probably the biggest obstacle with universities,” Lopez-Ibarra said.
The geographical distance between the two men hasn’t been a problem for the business.
“I would say we spend at least an hour a day on the phone,” Lopez said.
“My nephew is 24, so we’re more like brothers,” Lopez-Ibarra said.
“Antonio is the youngest of five brothers,” Lopez said. “He was closer to the kids our age. So he hung out with us.”
When the men connect on phone or via FaceTime, they “go over designs. We get prototypes. If we don’t like something, we change it,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “When Noel comes up here, we spend a lot of time together. We find the time to carve out throughout the day.”
Tie sales have been strong.
While neither man would reveal exact revenue figures, Lopez said the company sold roughly 1,000 ties the first year.
“But we’ve sold about 7,500 this year,” he said.
The ties retail for about $25 each, Lopez-Ibarra said.
It’s helped that Lopez-Ibarra was able to get Town+Co’s foot in the door with retail store ExOfficio. Town+Co ties are sold in Ex-Officio airport stores at SeaTac, JFK in New York, and in Atlanta.
In addition, their ties are sold in every Deseret Book store, which numbers 44 strong in nine different states.
The ties can be bought locally at Fountain Books in Kennewick at 8508 W. Gage Blvd. C-103 or online at thetownandco.com.
“Our best response has been from the missionaries, their girlfriends and families,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “The biggest sellers are Argentina, Brazil and Peru.”
For Lopez-Ibarra, the Mexico and United States ties are his favorites.
“I’m a U.S. citizen, but I’m Mexican by blood,” he said.
The uncle-nephew team want to take the company to a new level.
“Right now we’re doing new designs,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “About every four months new ones come out. Next, our big push is to try to get into big retail stores, like Nordstrom’s and Macy’s.”
In addition, Noel is planning a trip to Italy in August, when he’ll visit a number of factories to find one to help Town+Co develop a higher-end necktie.
Lopez-Ibarra can’t go to Italy with his nephew as the dentist will be working at his new Kennewick clinic.
“It’s a passion for us,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “We want people to express how they feel about their nationality and identity.”
The tie venture also has allowed Lopez-Ibarra and his nephew to express their creativity together.
“I always have known Noel was going to do something great,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “I want to surround myself with people like that. We’re family, and we can do it.”
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