Ryan Barkan on success of Pro Wrestling Tees: "When you have 800 wrestlers promoting the site, it leads to a crazy amount of traffic."
Wrestling T-shirts, now more than ever, are extremely popular with wrestling fans.
A big reason for the growth in popularity—and in actual shirts—is thanks to Pro Wrestling Tees in Chicago, Illinois.
The owner, Ryan Barkan, first opened his One Hour Tees shop in 2008. Pro Wrestling Tees was created somewhat serendipitously in the heat of the summer of 2010 when CM Punk needed a custom T-shirt to wear on SmackDown that said, “I Broke Big Show’s Hand”.
Colt Cabana, who is also from Chicago, knew of Barkan’s nearby One Hour Tees store, and he and Punk were thrilled when the shirt was made. Cabana asked Barkan if he could print a stack of “I Star Colt” T-shirts for him to sell at indie shows.
The 35-year-old Barkan, who is from Chicago-suburb Buffalo Grove, started his Pro Wrestling Tees website by featuring shirts from a gamut of independent wrestlers.
“Then I met ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page at a convention, and he signed up with me,” said Barkan. “Then came guys like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, then Jim Ross, and Jim then introduced us to Steve Austin. That’s when I knew this was getting kind of big.”
Pro Wrestling Tees now offers a blend of the entire industry, with shirts from 200 different WWE legends, over 800 different wrestlers, and over 100 different wrestling promotions, including their top sellers from New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“I never expected it to be this big,” admitted Barkan. “We started this site to help wrestlers make extra money. Some of the wrestlers now depend on the website to pay rent.”
After costs of goods and production, Pro WrestlinJg Tees and the wrestlers share approximately a 50-50 split. Since its inception, Pro Wrestling Tees has paid out over $3.5 million in royalties from the website.
“When you have 800 wrestlers promoting the site, it leads to a crazy amount of traffic,” said Barkan. “Now people can get an indie shirt from the Young Bucks and Marty Scurll, with a shirt from legends such as Steve Austin and the Macho Man at the same time.”
The company grew so large over the past four years that Barkan decided to create his own Pro Wrestling Tees brick and mortar store in Chicago.
“Wrestling fans come from all over the world to Chicago, and they’ll come into our One Hour Tees shop to see the wrestling shirts,” said Barkan. “But we don’t have wrestling shirts on display, so people would be disappointed. We always thought it would be cool to give the wrestling fans a store where they can go when they’re in Chicago. That’s why we decided to turn the front of the new building into a wrestling T-shirt store.”
Barkan also runs Pro Wrestling Crate, which is a subscription crate filled up with an assortment of T-shirts, figures, DVDs, and autographs. That was also operating out of his One Hour Tees shop, but he was quickly running out of space after exponential growth in the past year.
“Luckily, the building next door became available, and I bought that building to turn it into the Pro Wrestling Crate production facility,” explained Barkan. “Now we have a conveyor belt and can do everything out of there, plus an extra 3,000 square feet but we only needed 2,000 of that for the crates. That extra space is now the Pro Wrestling Tees store.”
The store is also home to exclusives, like the Bullet Club Chicago shirt, adorned with the Chicago flag, which is the first shirt people see upon walking through the door, as well as special events, like a meet and greet yesterday with Jim Ross.
“We didn’t open up the store to increase business,” said Barkan. “We’re still an online business, but the store has been really busy. We really opened up the store to give wrestling fans a place to come to see the wrestling shirts, save on shipping, and get the shirts the day we release them.”