Celebrate Arkansas – Wearing His Heart on Your Sleeve (Business Profile)
With a combination of entrepreneurial spirit and a true belief in the mission of his company, Vic Kennett, President and CEO of Kerusso, has seen his company grow from part-time business venture to becoming the go-to source for Christian apparel, jewelry and accessories. Under his direction, Kerusso is celebrating 25 years of proclaiming the good news to the world.
Kennett launched Kerusso in 1987. While working in construction full-time in order to pay the bills, Kennett was inspired to evangelize the message of Christianity to the world as his own walk with the Lord was deepening.
With $1,000 borrowed from his brother and the idea of “t-shirt evangelism,” Kennett was able to get Kerusso off the ground as a small mail-order company with just three different t-shirt designs advertised directly to the public in Campus Life Magazine. After the initial interest in the shirts died down, Kennett made the crucial decision to sell the shirts wholesale to Christian bookstores in order to garner larger orders.
His faithfulness and determination paid off with his first wholesale order to the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs. Soon after, business began to pick up and Kennett was able to pursue his passion full-time. “I put the hammer down and picked up the squeegee,” he shares. From their humble beginnings, Kerusso has grown to become a worldwide supplier of Christian-themed apparel, jewelry and accessories.
“I look back at how we started and it really is amazing that we’re here today. It really is by the grace of God,” admits Kennett. A college dropout without a business plan, 25 years later he leads one of the top employers in Berryville, providing jobs to over 100 people. Since the beginning, Kennett’s passion of changing the world through apparel and other products was clear and it is what continues to inspire him today. “[It is] my strong belief in the mission of what our products are designed to do—help someone share their faith in Jesus Christ. A strong conviction that that was my mission kept me going,” he explains.
With a steady demand for their products over the years, Kerusso has sold more than 14 million shirts to date. Kennett views the 14 million shirts in terms of what it means for his original vision of the company. “Even if [each shirt is viewed] just 100 times, we’ve potentially preached a message of love, forgiveness and hope more than a billion times,” he explains.
Today, this message is shared through a variety of products including apparel, jewelry, accessories, novelty items and gift items. Kerusso products are available to a wide selection of customers through different channels and brands the company has created in order to tap into a variety of markets. The Kerusso brand can be found at Christian bookstores and retail outlets in more than 100 countries, while another brand, Tru Witness, is sold exclusively at convenience stores, travel centers, pharmacies and grocery stores across the nation. There is also the potential of another brand designed for big box retailers to hit shelves in the future.
Much like other retail and fashion companies, Kerusso continues to deliver quality products that are on trend and appeal to a wide variety of customers. Kennett and his staff understand the importance of providing a product that customers are going to want to wear in order to more effectively spread their message. “You can put truth out there, but if you do it in an unattractive way, you’re not going to get it out there as much,” he explains.
In recent years, Kerusso has begun partnering with Christian media to provide apparel items for successful books and movies. “We’ve been blessed to be the go-to apparel partner for big Christian media licenses,” shares Kennett. “When the mission of [the project] aligns with our mission and it can be a great design, then that’s when it’s something to consider.” Kerusso has produced exclusive apparel items for projects such as the bestselling book “Heaven is For Real,” the highly successful feature length films Courageous and Soul Surfer, several titles with author Max Lucado, the Left Behind movies series and many others.
Part of the benefit of these thriving business ventures for Kennett is the ability to give back across the world. “If you don’t do business well, if you don’t make a profit, or if you aren’t being sharp in your business, then you don’t have anything left over to give,” explains Kennett. By his standards, Kerusso’s ability to give back proves the overwhelming success of the company.
To date, Kerusso has donated more than 150,000 pieces of apparel and other items with a retail value of almost $2 million to churches, shelters and disaster-stricken areas. Most recently, after the devastating tornados in Joplin and other areas of the south, Kerusso responded by sending truckloads of t-shirts to hard hit areas and victims of the disasters. In addition, Kerusso has implemented various campaigns over the years, such as the Live for Him Campaign, which raised funds for Compassion International, one of the largest children’s relief organizations around the world. With an array of products sold as a part of the Campaign, such as a special silicone wristband, Kerusso donated a portion of each sale to the organization. Since 2005, the company has contributed over $360,000 to Compassion International.
In the 25 years since Kennett was working construction and pursuing his newfound passion on the side, his company has truly flourished. Throughout new product lines, new ventures and ample opportunities to give back, Kerusso has consistently remained true to its mission of proclaiming the good news to the world through products about Jesus. Perhaps Kerusso’s steadfast loyalty of sharing its message with over a billion people for the past 25 years is due to Kennett, but this self-made entrepreneur is quick to point out that it’s been a team effort from the start. “I know I didn’t get here on my own,” Kennett agrees. “All the glory belongs to God, and I owe my employees, family, pastor, the retailers, and people who have supported me over the years a lot.
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