By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Thomas DeSernia was poised to be a dentist. Until a fishing product he patented sent his career goals spiraling from teeth to T-shirts.
The Boca resident and business owner went from a dental school student to an e-commerce leader almost overnight.
His business SA Company has 1 million followers on Instagram, he was just named a top 30 under 30 business leader by Forbes and he has sent his products to just about every country on the map.
“The American dream is still very alive,” he said. “You can be successful if you want to grow.”
The company headquarters are located in two warehouses buildings in Boca Raton. Inside, you are greeted by wall art that fills the space from floor to ceiling. Walking through the spaces there are people creating graphics, editing video, producing marketing materials, fulfilling orders, taking inventory and answering customer service questions.
SA Company creates outdoor apparel and products with both fishing, SA Fishing, and military-themed outdoor wear, Alpha Defense Gear.
Nearly all operations are run from the warehouses from order fulfillment to live customer service chat assistance.
As DeSernia walks through all the different departments, he points out that everyone that works for him is either family or a friend. That is because that is how his brand was built, from the help of family and friends. The entire operation began in his parent’s West Boca home.
DeSernia was in dental school at Nova University. He had spent years shadowing a dentist and he had plans to take over his office one day. That is until he went to an event where the featured speaker was talking about how to prevent your dental office from closing. He said that moment sent his career path careening in a different direction.
While in dental school, around the same time, he came up with an idea for a product called a gimbal cover. The cover is something that fishermen use to protect their boat from getting destroyed by the end of a rod. The idea came to him after he scarred the deck of a boat while sword fishing one night.
He created a mold of the cover, which would protect the boat by covering the rod, and went to his parents with the idea. They helped him find a trademark and patent attorney and his business, Salt Armour was born. The original name of the company led to a suit by Under Armour. His name was protected, but the decision ultimately was made to change the name to SA Company.
The cover was being sold in local tackle shops, but he said he didn’t know much about running a business and what goes into selling a product. He was still focusing on dental school and using this as a side project.
His girlfriend at the time, who is now his fiancé, told him to post the product on Instagram to get it out there. So he did along with photos of fishing and outdoor activities. He began to build a following and decided to post a T-shirt he designed for sale.
Nearly instantly, he had 10 orders for the $30 shirt. He figured out he could tap into other people’s followers by asking them to post about his products. So, he began taking advantage of what is now known as influencer marketing before the phrase was coined.
In 2013, he had $120,000 of sales just from Instagram.
So, he decided to take what he had been doing and replicate it on different platforms like Facebook and Google.
“I started learning about e-commerce,” he said. “I remember I Googled how to make $1 million online.”
He taught himself how to do Facebook advertising to match the sales he was already generating off of Instagram.
And at this point, he said he knew he had something and he told his parents he was dropping out of dental school.
“I was selling thousands of shirts a week,” he said.
To fulfill the orders, he would order pizzas and invite his friends over to his parents house to fold the shirts. Finally, he said his parents told him they couldn’t take the T-shirt take over of their home and they found a warehouse.
They kept growing and also launched Alpha Defense Gear, which is a military themed line of apparel and gear.
Now, they produce products that have to do with being outdoors, everything from bathing suits, shirts and sweatshirts to bandanas, headbands and straw hats. The products line shelves of the warehouse and inventory is shipped out multiple times a day to countries across the globe.
“Haiti was the coolest place to get an order from,” he said.
Then, other businesses began to take notice of what DeSernia was doing and asked for help. So, he started a marketing division within the company.
Now, he is working on creating an incubator inside his space where up and coming entrepreneurs can work and have access to help from his team.
“Investing in companies is the next pivot,” he said.
For more information, visit https://safishing.com