How I Got Here: Rob Kessler

Current Position: Rob Kessler, 41, is the inventor of the world’s first and only placket stay and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar, LLC.

The Company: Based in Manhattan Beach, California, Kessler officially launched Million Dollar Collar (MDC) with his business partner Steve Farina in January 2016. “He does all the graphics, has gotten us some of our biggest meetings and has been there from the beginning,” Kessler said of MDC’s co-owner and co-founder.

Million Dollar Collar is a permanently installed and patented placket stay. The product is designed to reinforce the placket, which is the actual focal point of a casually worn dress shirt. MDC was solely created to keep a shirt’s collar looking sharp when not being worn with a tie. Its patented design is permanently sewn into a shirt’s placket to support the collar, resulting in a clean and symmetrical appearance. Once sewn in, MDC is precisely engineered to withstand the rigors of wear and care for the shirt’s lifetime.

Aha Moment: Kessler got married in February 2013 on the beach in Jamaica. With his photographer there for the destination wedding, Kessler had the luxury of viewing some of the special occasion’s captured moments the very next day. “I instantly noticed a glaring problem,” said Kessler. “My brand new, freshly pressed shirt was a crumbled sloppy mess, and I looked like a beach bum in my wedding photos!” He admits that this fashion dilemma always had nagged him in the past, but this time he had enough.

After “looking like a slob” at his casual beach wedding, Kessler embarked on a mission to find a cure for sloppy collars. He quickly learned that the problem wasn’t the collar, but the placket (the two-layered part down the front of every shirt that holds the buttons and the holes). Kessler argues that “dress shirts were never designed to be worn without a tie.” Hence the reason there is no structure in that part of the shirt. “Nearly 90% of dress shirts, most of the time, are worn tie-less,” Kessler claimed. “And they always end up looking sloppy no matter how much you starch or iron.”

Finding the Solution: As soon as Kessler and his new bride returned from Jamaica, he buckled down and went to work. He googled everything he could to see if there was something to reinforce the front part of the shirt, but his efforts were futile. “So, I cut open a dress shirt, shoved a piece of cardboard down the front and put it on to show my new wife,” he said. “She saw it right away and said, ‘now I see what you have been talking about all these years!’”

 Knowing that cardboard wouldn’t last in a shirt, Kessler began his quest to discover the perfect material but kept coming up empty. “The heat of flash-pressing during the dry cleaners’ laundering process caused every standard and high-heat plastic on the market to fail,” lamented Kessler. “So, after 2 ½ years and nearly 100 ruined shirts, I partnered with an international plastics company to create the perfect material.”

Partnering with Dry Cleaners: Kessler said that MDC is “one of the only products on the planet that you order one place then have to go somewhere else just to use it.” MDC works closely with dry cleaners to get them to offer the product to its clientele. “For the guys who have given us a chance, it has been great for us, them and the end consumer,” boasted Kessler. “We sell 200-300 sets of Million Dollar Collar per day, and those clients, who on average order 17 sets, are looking for a place to get their shirts upgraded. We direct those customers to our known installer partners; it’s free money for those guys.”

“Since dry cleaners have thousands of clients and many see thousands of dress shirts per week, we feel like it is the perfect opportunity to introduce the product to their clients,” an optimistic Kessler said of MDC. “The big challenge is getting consumers to try MDC for the first time; once they do, they are hooked and will never look at a dress shirt the same way again.”

Back in the Day: A native of Wisconsin, Kessler grew up in Milwaukee. He was always curious about business, and because he broke many things when he was a kid, Kessler learned how to fix things quickly so he would be less likely to get into trouble. His ability to see an item, take it apart, understand its construction and put it back together has helped Kessler with MDC.

An early, favorite childhood memory for Kessler occurred at age eight when he won the 1986 Wisconsin BMX State Championship in his age group. “I was a highly competitive athlete growing up, and that still holds today, which is great when I need the internal motivation to keep going,” he said.

Before MDC: The first one in his family to earn a college diploma, Kessler graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in marketing.

Before he started MDC, Kessler worked in several industries. “I sold the three biggest things most people will buy: houses, cars and diamonds,” he said.

When the real estate market took a downturn toward the end of the previous decade, Kessler began looking for other sources of income. “Graphic t-shirts were pretty popular, so I started a small screen printing, embroidery business in the basement out of my house, which ended up growing to a 6,000 square foot building,” said Kessler.

Going West: Every time Kessler and his wife would do their annual visit to California, they would return home feeling refreshed, revived, inspired and invigorated. Together they committed to going all-in on the move to the west coast of sunny Southern California on October 2015.

“We sold everything we owned and decided to start all over,” said an incredulous Kessler. “We sold the screen printing business; we sold the house that we lived in and started over from scratch.” It took them ten days to drive across the country from The Badger State to their new home in The Golden State.

Under Their Influence: When asked who deserves the credit for the success he is currently experiencing, he was quick to point to his better half. “Mostly my wife,” he beamed. “She allowed me to take our honeymoon money to follow this dream, and if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Kessler’s dad grew a very successful jewelry business. Though now retired, the life and business lessons the elder Kessler passed on to Rob still resonate loud and clear. “His core principle was ‘serve the customer better than anybody,’” Kessler recalled. “My parents have also been hugely supportive, and that has been awesome.”

Definition of Success: “Success to me is balance,” said Kessler. “I come from a family of successful entrepreneurs, so I know what financial success looks like.”

 “I also know that the more money people make, the more real they become, and it isn’t always pretty,” he mused. “I’ve always liked to have fun and will set aside the grueling long hours to have a drink with friends most of the time; I know that life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Personal Creed: “Over Promise AND Over Deliver! That is my motto.”

Can-Do Attitude: “I never give up; that is one of the hardest things to do,” said Kessler. “In the face of uncertainty, when it looks bleak, keep going, and keep going and keep going.” He believes it’s that persevering spirit that gets all successful people to their goals. “I work too hard to fail,” Kessler said of his no-quit work ethic.

Best Advice: Finding a mentor is something that Kessler firmly believes. He reasons that “someone has been where you are and where you want to be.”

 “Listen to them and take the actions they suggest,” he said. “Do not waste their time listening and taking no action.”

 For the mentor, time is of the essence. That’s why Kessler is careful to heed the advice of trusted mentors and implement the action prescribed as well. “To these guys, time is precious, and if you waste it by not listening and taking action on their wisdom, they will not give you more time.”

Hard Work + Luck = Proud Moments: “Luck is being in the right place and being able to take advantage of an opportunity,” said Kessler. “The world will give you what you ask for if you are willing to work for it.”

Kessler and his wife owned two commercial properties. They were both bought low, and much hard work was put into it. Both properties sold for significantly more than what was paid for them. “That was awesome,” Kessler boasted. “And at Million Dollar Collar, we are having conversations with people I would have never imagined talking to, and that is pretty amazing.”

Staying Sharp: Just thinking about reading causes Kessler to yawn. He would rather listen to podcasts or Audible to feed his mind and soul. His daily favorites are Gary V and Grant Cardone.

Looking Forward: According to Kessler, 5 billion dress shirts are hanging in men’s closets throughout the United States, and he is adamant that “no one is wearing ties anymore.” Kessler anticipates that there will be copycats of his MDC brand but contends it will be challenging to compete with his patent. “Forming strong, successful relationships with our dry cleaner/installer partners will make everyone more successful,” said Kessler. “A dress shirt is a man’s go-to clothing item if they want to look good, and Million Dollar Collar makes every dress shirt look better when worn tie-less.”

Personal: Going on over 6 ½ years since their eye-opening nuptials, Rob and wife Linda call Manhattan Beach home with Diesel, their 130-pound Rottweiler. Linda is a Hollywood stunt woman and spends much time with a product she recently invented. Together they also own a yacht and a charter business. “We take guests out to Paradise Cove, Catalina Island, sunset cruises and trips around the marina.”

When they are not working hard, building their businesses, or pursuing exciting endeavors, Linda and Rob enjoy playing volleyball, hiking and spending time with special friends.

About John Leano

John Leano can be reached by e-mail: Leano@BryansCleaners.com or Twitter: @JohnLeano or www.facebook.com/johngleano