Grunt Style founder and CEO shares how seeing a goal through is the key to success in online retail, business and life.

There is not one thing that’s made Grunt Style successful, but rather, a lot of little things, said Grunt Style founder and CEO Dan Alarik at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition @ RetailX in Chicago today.

GruntStyle.com is a patriotic apparel retailer that has more than $100 million in sales to date. In his keynote address, Alarik detailed Grunt Style’s path to success, near demise and the road back to a healthy business.

As his career as a military drill sergeant was coming to a close, Alarik drove around the U.S. and started selling patriotic T-shirts at festivals, flea markets and concerts for two-and-a-half years. Although he was generating $20,000 in sales, costs totaled $21,000, before he could pay himself.

Alarik decided to set a goal to determine if he should continue this business or pull the plug: At a conference in Las Vegas, he aimed to sell $6,000 worth of merchandise. He sold just enough—$6,200—to meet that goal. Disappointed that he didn’t blow his goal out of the water, Alarik decided to refocus and look to what successful online retailers were doing as a model.

“Company A was releasing two new products every week,” Alarik said. “I couldn’t afford that, but I could do twice a month. Company B was posting three times a day on Facebook. I could do that, Facebook is free, and I was only doing it two times a week.”

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After creating a list of successful tactics, Alarik set a plan for himself and went to work. It was a simple plan, but it was good enough, Alarik said. The key was developing a quantifiable, measurable goal and plan, and then following through with it. “That is 100% the difference between success and failure,” he said.

By staying true to his plan, he generated $64,000 in sales by December 2012, up from only $8,000 in January.

From there, Grunt Style hired more employees—many of them having some sort of military involvement—and began to grow its business with the simple tactic of creating a plan and sticking to it. For example, for the company’s marketing team, for every $1 it puts into a program, its return should be a minimum of $5. If the program wouldn’t achieve these results, they shouldn’t pursue it. Sales continued to grow 50-110% year over year, every year following this strategy, he said.

Then, Grunt Style “got drunk” on its success, Alarik said. The retailer started signing deals and partnerships with high-profile celebrities and wasn’t disciplined about the return it would get on the programs. While the programs were cool and generated more sales and brand exposure, costs skyrocketed, he said.

“In just six months, we went from the golden child to, ‘we might not make it through this,’” he said.

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With 300 employees’ jobs hanging in the balance, Grunt Style had to change course quickly. Alarik went back to the fundamental, disciplined approach, created a plan with measurable goals and stuck to it. In six months, the retailer was able to right its ship and get back to a healthy state, he said.

Alarik advised attendees to “stop waiting for the perfect plan, stop waiting for the perfect organization chart, the perfect algorithm for your A-B test, the perfect financial plan. You need discipline. A good plan with discipline will win every single day.”

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