Dorm Room to Board Room: How Detroiter Andrew Jacob defined an industry

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The national leader of Law Enforcement support products, Thin Blue Line USA, boasts an impressive and robust resume. Thin Blue Line USA brought the Thin Blue Line American Flag to market; popularizing the proud symbol of American Law Enforcement that is flown from coast to coast. They supply the industry’s highest quality products and are sponsors of numerous law enforcement foundations and departments across the country. They begin meaningful fundraisers that support the families of every officer killed in the line of duty; donating over $160,000 so far in 2017 alone. And, looking ahead, president and founder Andrew Jacob has even more ambitious goals.

Andrew Jacob has been hard at work, but in a way quite unique to most business owners. Jacob began Thin Blue Line USA while he was still in college, designing and producing the first Thin Blue Line American Flag out of his dorm room at the University of Michigan. With a worldwide release of the police flag on Amazon in 2015, Jacob saw the overwhelming response from the law enforcement community. In May of 2016, as Jacob finished his Junior year of college, he launched Thin Blue Line USA, a law enforcement brand, inspiring a national shift in law enforcement support.

From the left: TBL USA Vice President Pete Forhan and President Andrew Jacob; Photo by Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

A growing company

“The response was immediate,” said Jacob. “Families and officers across the country had been patiently waiting for a national symbol of law enforcement unity.” Within weeks, Thin Blue Line USA was selling thousands of flags, shirts, pins, out of a small office in Canton Michigan. Jacob relied on several employees to keep up with demand, particularly Mike Lipsky, who today manages the complete warehouse and fulfillment operations of the growing company.

Warehouse manager Mike Lipsky, 23, of Ann Arbor; Photo by Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

“Mike joined Thin Blue Line USA at the start and taught me the importance of hiring smart, capable individuals and his work in managing the fulfillment network in the summer of 2016 gave me the opportunity to look beyond the day-to-day operations,” said Jacob. “The chance to focus on business growth and community involvement came at an important and challenging time in the history of American Law enforcement.”

“The attacks on the Dallas Police Officers in July of 2016 were a turning point for Thin Blue Line USA because I realized that we had people looking at us to provide a response to the tragic killings.” Within days of the attack, Thin Blue Line USA began a national fundraiser to support the families of the officers that had been killed, raising over $20,000 in just a few weeks. “We were amazed by the support the country provided for these men, and I fully understood how important it was to continue this dedicated involvement to our communities,” said Jacob.

With the summer coming to an end and his last year of college approaching, Jacob had many crucial decisions to make. “I understood the importance of completing my college education, but the rapid growth of Thin Blue Line USA demanded nearly all of my attention,” he told Ambassador. Through interviews and personal connections, Jacob added three more critical people to his team. Kelleigh Lamb became the voice of Thin Blue Line USA, managing customer relations, wholesale accounts and social media. Jon Paul Gaffke assisted Lipsky in order fulfillment and managing the new warehouse. And Vice President Peter Forhan, a fellow Michigan Student, who helped develop new products and campaigns.

“It was very difficult at first to balance college and the management of the company,” Jacob recalled. “But the team exceeded my expectations and the rapid growth and development of Thin Blue Line USA continued unhindered.” The 6,000 square foot warehouse, managed by Michigan grad Mike Lipsky, based just twelve minutes out of Ann Arbor, fulfilled every order made on the website. “A few months earlier, I was just helping an old friend make t-shirts in his basement and now we were in a new space, with a new website, and a slew of new products,” said Lipsky. “As the website took off, I took on more roles around the warehouse. This was the beginning of a new chapter, and I had no idea where it was headed.”

From left, law enforcement liaison, Jacob Bouchard, 20, talks with vice president Pete Forhan, 21 and president Andrew Jacob 22; Photo by Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

Socially conscious entrepreneurs

With holidays, and the large ecommerce traffic that comes with it, Jacob and Forhan were prepared for the large influx of new customers. But on Wednesday November 23, 2016, a single phone call changed how the company would respond to disasters.

“I still remember everything that happened that day,” Jacob recalled. “Colin Rose, a local officer, was shot and killed.” Karen Rose, the mother of fallen officer Colin Rose, had called Thin Blue Line USA with a simple request: Thin Blue Line custom bracelets inscribed with Colin’s end of watch date. Thin Blue Line USA not only donated every bracelet that Karen had requested, but began a fundraiser to raise money for her family with the extra bracelets. Within days, thousands of dollars were raised and Thin Blue Line USA added a new promise to their mission. “We would begin a fundraiser for every family that loses an officer in the line of duty. This became a priority within the company,” said Jacob.

With the rush of holiday sales and looming final exams, Jacob and Forhan worked long nights to ensure they had the inventory and manpower to handle to the demand. New temporary workers were hired, as well as part-time Michigan students, to keep up with the order volume. Forhan, a junior in the engineering school, recalls, “we would often work late nights after class, putting off homework and projects to focus on the business, and we loved every minute of it. (Jacob’s) work habits complemented mine perfectly and we pushed each other to keep the growth going.” By the end of 2016, Jacob made donations totaling over $70,000 to scholarships, law enforcement non-profits on behalf of Thin Blue Line USA.

An expanding business gains national attention

When the dust of gifting season had settled, Jacob and Forhan focused on design, expansion, and community involvement. Jacob said his favorite aspects of business is working directly with factories and sourcing new products. “In the winter of 2017, we designed, manufactured, and released over 150 new products on the website,” recounted Jacob. The incredible growth, vast production network, and product designs, earned Andrew the BBA Entrepreneur of the Year from the University of Michigan, even though he was not a BBA student.

New TBL USA products are released routinely at www.thinbluelineusa.com. Photo by Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

The national impact of Thin Blue Line USA began to take shape in the spring of 2017. “We continued our fallen officer fundraisers, now formally called Give Blue, into 2017”, said Forhan. “We worked with departments and families that had suffered a loss and sold a Thin Blue Line Bracelet to local supporters that wanted to help the family.” On March 27th, Officer Justin Terney, 22, of Oklahoma, was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. The news of Justin’s death had a significant impact on Thin Blue Line’s company because this particular officer was the same age as Andrew Jacob. Andrew recounts, “Every loss is tragic but he was the same age as us and lost his life while providing for his community.”

The fundraiser for Officer Terney swept through the country, generating over $26,000 of donations and countless Thin Blue Line bracelets for supporters to show their unity. After the fundraiser was completed, Jacob and Forhan travelled to Oklahoma to present the donation personally to the family. “It was important for us to pay our personal respects to the family,” said Forhan. Local media outlets from Oklahoma City attended the event and were surprised to see the donation coming from college students.

At the end of April, Andrew Jacob graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in information and a minor in business. Without the commitments that come with school, Thin Blue Line USA was propelled to new a level, employing a total of twelve full-time employees less than a year after the launch of the website. Jacob, with seven other Thin Blue Line USA staff, attended National Police Week; a five-day event hosted in Washington D.C. to honor fallen officers.

The company was a premier vendor, processing thousands of orders and collecting patches from hundreds of departments across the country as a show of national unity.

Andrew Jacob donates $25,000 to Officer Justin Terney’s Mother in Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

From Washington, D.C. to Detroit

Just a few days after returning from D.C. Jacob and Forhan made a trip out to their hometown police department, West Bloomfield, to present the second annual $10,000 Thin Blue Line USA scholarship to the children of active officers. Jacob is passionate about providing this scholarship, citing the following mantra his dad had instilled in him from an early age: “Give back and do good business.” Soon after the scholarship presentation, the Detroit News wrote a feature on Thin Blue Line USA and Jacob’s success, garnering attention from many Detroit based startups.

Thin Blue Line USA team attends National Police Week in Washington, D.C.

In the middle of summer, Jacob signed a lease for office space in Detroit. Jacob was excited with the decision, saying, “I knew I wanted to move our front-end officer to Detroit early on in the company. The environment and the people are electric and buzzing with energy. I wanted to go back to being in a new and exciting place, much in the same way the first few years of Ann Arbor felt to me.”

Today, just over one year since the launch of the website, Jacob has built a foundation for continued success. Over $220,000 has been donated to charities, non-profit, and family funds. He employs eleven employees and contracts over 25 factories. The company is in the top 1% of fastest growing ecommerce businesses and has over 100,000 followers on Facebook.

A promising future

To top it all off, the company has turned a significant profit without ever taking on an investor. But they have no plans to rest on their laurels. “We have big plans for the future”, said Jacob. “With the success of Thin Blue Line USA, we are in a exciting position in which we can invest in ourselves, creating new products, brands, and even companies.” Forhan added. “We have laid this strong independent foundation in which we can now take a step back from Thin Blue Line USA and start again at the ground floor; creating new startups with the incredible and practical knowledge gained from this experience.”

Within this short-time, Thin Blue Line USA has made its name known across the country. The national police flag has been incorporated into nearly all law enforcement gear and apparel, creating an unprecedented period of American police unity. Jacob reflects, “we continue to work to create unifying community in which families, supporters, and officers alike worked together to make our country a safer place.”

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