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A sketch of an ear-to-ear grinning Eskimo and his slobbering dog, Buffy, is the nationally renowned trademark of a 35-year-old college town company whose sales now gross more than $18 million with about 550 employees, thanks in part to the U.S. Small Business Administration. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without SBA,” said Stan Clark, owner of Eskimo Joe’s headquartered in Stillwater, Okla.
In July 1975, two months after college graduation, Clark and a childhood friend had an idea to open a bar in the ground floor of a two story building next to Oklahoma State University. Clark used his life savings of $1,200 to help finance the venture. A freshman art student used a magic marker to sketch the now famous company logo on a large art pad.
They had the logo transferred to some t-shirts and opened for business selling ice-cold 10 cent draws and playing red-hot music on a pieced-together stereo. By the end of the first week end, the t-shirts featuring the company logo were sold out.
In the fall of 1983, Oklahoma legislation increased the drinking age from 18 to 21, dramatically impacting Eskimo Joe’s target market. The company expanded to add food to the mix and extend their hours of operations. “What at first seemed to be life-threatening proved to be the greatest change we could ever imagine,” said Clark. "I was thrilled to find out that more people eat everyday than drink everyday!"
After selling hundreds of thousands of t-shirts over the bar inside Eskimo Joe’s from 1975 to 1987, Clark opened a free standing retail store next to the bar in September, 1987. They began direct marketing Joe’s Clothes via catalogs and Joe's toothy grin was sent all over the world.
In 1985, Clark received a $500,000 SBA loan. The loan was used to consolidate many smaller loans. “This loan was certainly significant at the time,” said Clark. “Without the SBA guarantee, we’d likely not secured the financing at all.”
Today Eskimo Joe’s employs roughly 550 people, owns and operates three full-service bar/restaurants: Eskimo Joe’s, Mexico Joe’s, and Joseppi’s Italian Kitchen. Clark also owns 3 retail clothing stores, all selling the Eskimo Joe’s branded products.