After the A-list: Businesses pursuing celebrity clients

R. Kelly performs in Los Angeles. He’s reportedly a fan of 5001 Flavors, which started out selling custom-made clothes to rap and R&B musicians.

It’s a dream for many small-business owners: A-list celebrity clients.

The owners of 5001 Flavors knew when they started the company 23 years ago they wanted to sell custom-made clothes to rap and R&B musicians. They sought out artists and record company executives at parties and music industry events. They looked for up-and-coming artists. Now, musicians like R. Kelly and Kid Rock are among their fans.

“We were able to really work with a lot of artists and help them go from obscurity to fame,” says Sharene Wood, CEO of N.Y.-based 5001 Flavors.

Some businesses court celebrities because they want to be part of the excitement of the entertainment industry or sports, and perhaps become well-known themselves. For other businesses, a famous client can bring publicity and a bump up in overall sales. Just one or two celebrity clients can help a small business build a high-profile customer base.

“Once you’re ‘in’, a lot of it takes care of itself,” says Brian Menickella, a financial adviser in King of Prussia, Pa., who works with professional athletes including Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout.

Menickella, co-owner of The Beacon Group, networked his way into advising athletes, attending baseball tournaments and befriending college coaches and sports agents.

5001 Flavors launched in the early 1990s, when the hip-hop music industry was thriving and artists needed unique looks for CD album covers and videos, CEO Wood says. 5001 Flavors’ designs included leather jackets, hats, shirts and accessories. The company’s designs, strategy and timing were right, Wood says.

Some of the artists eventually started their own record labels and brought more singers to the company’s list of celebrity clients. Because 5001 Flavors is well-known in the music industry, athletes and actors have also bought its clothes.

“One client can turn into 10. Ten can turn into a 100 in a year,” Wood says.

NorthStar Moving Co. began getting celebrity clients soon after the Los Angeles-based company was founded 20 years ago, owner Laura McHolm says. It has done work for production companies, and that has helped bring it many clients in entertainment; McHolm estimates 15 percent of NorthStar’s work comes from the industry.

Its reputation for discretion has also helped build its celebrity clientele, including Angelina Jolie and singer Nick Carter.

“We have decoy trucks. If someone’s being hounded by the paparazzi, we will have trucks go off in different directions,” McHolm says. NorthStar will also do middle-of-the-night moves.

“We’ve done celebrity breakups, when they didn’t want the press to know they were breaking up,” McHolm says.

Less than a year after Paul Trible and Paul Watson started their shirtmaker, Ledbury, they sent some of their styles to Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. Geist became a customer, and has mentioned Ledbury on air occasionally.

James Corden, host of “The Late, Late Show” on CBS is another customer for the shirts that are priced up to $195 apiece.

Trible and Watson were selective about who they pursued. “Instead of rock stars and musicians ... the focus became on media,” Trible said.