How We Hustled Our Goods Back From a Scammer
In the early days of our streetwear startup Winter Lotus, we encountered an embroidery company that tried to steal our inventory and deposit. Here’s how we got our inventory back.
hus·tle. (the entrepreneur’s definition)
- Gaming a system to your advantage.
- Using outside the box thinking to solve problems.
#THEHUSTLE is a column featuring our best stories of hustle & hustlers.
One day my co-founder came to me and said, “F*CK. I think we just got scammed…”
We were just about to release our new hats, but the manufacturer we had contracted wouldn’t return our calls.
The hats were for the first release of our brand new streetwear brand Winter Lotus (shout out to my homie Will), and we considered it one of the integral pieces.
We reached out through multiple ways to the owner of Premium, (let’s call him) Fred, over the next week. We probably emailed, called, and texted him over a dozen times.
That’s when we started panicking a bit.
My co-founder Will had given Fred all of our hat blanks (which we paid for) and also a 50% deposit. At the time this was a sizable amount of money/inventory for a new startup like ours.
We never worried about the legitimacy of the company, since we were referred to them by a t-shirt printer that we routinely worked with.
After getting no response from Fred, we reached out to the guy that referred us, JD. He was our usual t-shirt printer at the time.
When we told him about what happened, he said that Fred had merely purchased a screen printing machine from him once. They weren’t close friends, and he had no way of helping us.
We dug deeper to figure out who we were dealing with.
On further research, we realized how shady the company was. They didn’t have a website, but they had an Instagram with 20,000 followers (which looked like they were fake since their account had little engagement).
At that point, we had strong suspicions that we may never see our money or hats again.
We called the police to see if there was anything they could do.
We hoped that we could get a police escort to join us for a confrontation at Premium’s warehouse, but the police told us there was nothing they could do in this kind of dispute.
Dejected, my co-founder Will decided the best option was to warn future customers so at least we could kill their business. He started posting multiple comments on Premium’s Instagram account mentioning that they had scammed us.
That’s when I came up with an interesting hail mary solution.
I had a Google Voice number that I barely used. I also had an email address that I barely used.
First thing we wanted to do was find out if the company was truly scamming us or if there was some kind of misunderstanding (like Fred had died or something).
So we sent out an email under a made-up alias “Ronny King,” and asked for a quote for 1,000 hats.
If they were still alive, they would definitely respond to this email.
About 10 minutes later, we got an email response. This is after we had been emailing/calling/texting these guys for DAYS with no response.
That’s when we realized. F*ck you guys.
We decided on a grand scheme that would help us get our hats & money back.
The rest of our correspondence was through my Google Voice text number.
At this point, one option we thought was we’d meet them in person and demand that they give us our product & deposit back. This is why I asked them to meet at their manufacturing shop.
Of course, they didn’t want to meet there.
So I added there was a possibility of 3,000 – 4,000 more if the hats were found to be good quality. I wanted to up the stakes of this deal as much as possible for them.
After making it seem like they almost had our business, we reneged, saying we saw their Instagram and that their Instagram had warnings about their business (the warnings that my co-founder Will wrote).
So we pretended that we had contacted “Winter Lotus” (aka our company‘s warnings) and that we’d only make our order if we found out that Winter Lotus had gotten their order.
The Premium guys instantly agreed to the demands. They also mentioned that Will was already in contact with their “other” rep.
Lo and behold.
My co-founder Will finally got a response from them and that our hats were going to be made asap.
Of course we still didn’t really know how this would play out, but at least we got a response from them.
I was feeling pretty OG.
Meanwhile, with our fake account we kept telling Premium that we would wait until we received word from Winter Lotus that their order was placed before we would decide to work with them or not. I made a story about how my boss was still talking to me about the designs and other random BS.
Funny thing was they became so accommodating to us after the whole debacle. It was really quite funny how much of a 180 they did just because of our fake “Ronny King” alias.
After a few days, Premium messaged Will and said he could come pick up the items. He met up with Fred and retrieved our goods, which were actually pretty good quality. Fred even said we didn’t have to pay the rest of the 50% deposit.
The lotus snapback ended up being one of our best-selling items.
Turns out Premium was a real hat embroidery company, but they just had really shitty customer service and didn’t give a crap about us and our agreed-upon deadlines.
Obviously, they never heard from us again afterwards.
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