INTERVIEW: TANKFARM & CO.

John of Tankfarm
John of Tankfarm

Tankfarm & Co. has a very special place in our hearts here at Zeus. The OC-based men’s supply store was one of the first retailers to carry Zeus, and local to our Newport Beach, CA headquarters. Founded by brothers John and Mike Anderson in 2003, Tankfarm is not only a store, but also a sick hangout spot (you’ll catch customers frequently chatting up the owners at the bar) and screen printing workshop.

After the success of their first shop in Seal Beach, the brothers opened up their second location in 2016 in Huntington Beach.

Tankfarm is the brothers’ entry into a lineage of screen printers – their grandfather and father both owned printing companies back in the day. So that fitted vintage tee or patchwork snapback you’re eyeing? Designed onsite and often made locally. A tight collection of staples (think plaid button-ups) and graphic tees that hit the floor almost weekly sit neatly next to brands carefully selected by John and Mike to satisfy the modern gent’s styling needs.

On one fall afternoon we visited John at his flagship store in Seal Beach to learn about how Tankfarm actually started off as a band, the shop location’s cool, long history, and what it’s like to work next door to your S.O.

Tankfarm interior

Let’s start from the beginning. How did Tankfarm begin?

Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. We love Zeus. We have customers who come from all over Orange County and L.A. County just to get your beard oil. The candles have been awesome. Everything you guys do is great quality, and we love the fact you’re from Newport Beach, the OC. It’s always good to work with our neighbors.

We started as a record label in 2001. We were all musicians who played in bands. My two brothers and I had a band together, and we put out a few different records, but no one was buying our music. It was right at that time when Napster was big. We made independent rock music, and we loved it.

But we’re third generation printers. My dad started a printing company in the 1980s, and our grandfather started a printing press company in the 1970s. We’ve been around printing our whole lives. We say we have ink in the blood. We decided to make some t-shirts for our record label. called Tankfarm. People loved the t-shirts, and before we knew it we sold our t-shirts wholesale, and got a couple accounts. Our first accounts were Fred Segal in Santa Monica and Urban Outfitters.

We were the best selling t-shirt in Urban Outfitters, so they put us in every store. Then, a year later, we were in every Nordstrom. We were in Nordstrom for about 10 years, and in the meantime we were signed to Bloomingdale’s and some of the best boutiques across the country. In 2008, when the economy was really struggling, we decided to open our own retail store and not focus so much on these other retailers.

Our vision was to have Tankfarm and bring in some of our favorite brands, like Zeus. Now we sell at least 70 other brands in our stores. We have a store here in Seal Beach, and one in Huntington Beach. 

Your grandfather and your father were printers. Did you and your brother always knew eventually you would head that way?

It was a chain of events. The plan wasn’t to do this. We thought maybe we’d work with our dad someday, but it wasn’t in our big picture. It all came together. This is what we know how to do. It takes 10,000 hours to really become an expert. Now we’ve been around so long we are the experts. It’s exciting when we design something cool, put it in our stores, and it sells out. That’s the best feeling.

A shelf featuring Zeus!

Tankfarm interior

A Triumph motorcycle overlooks a curated selection of goods

Since opening your store you’ve expanded to denim, knits, hats. Are there any new types of products we can expect from you guys?

Totally. Every other week we come up with new graphic tees. We have patches, and sherpa-lined corduroy jackets that came out this year called the Eastwood. Our denim program has been doing very well for us. We make custom shorts and trunks out here in Orange County. We’re constantly doing new button-ups and jackets. We have this one jacket that’s a flannel, but we added a zipper to it. We invented that. It’s still one of our number-one sellers.

Tell us more about the layout of the store. You have a cool bar area and vintage pieces.

It really grew organically. We came in here and had half the store. It was a long, narrow store and there was a wall right in the middle, all the way down to the front of the store. Back in the ‘30s this used to be a masonic lodge for men. So it was almost supposed to happen, right?

We came in here and got one side. After the first month we realized this was really great. There was an old lady’s shop right next to us and we weren’t the right fit to be neighbors. We played our music a little too loudly and we had a different scene. They wanted to move, so we told our landlord we’d take the whole building. That was five years ago.

We tore down the wall in the middle and made it our vision. We made the bar because half the time we’re hanging out with each other. It’s nice on a Friday afternoon to crack open great local craft beers and spend with friends while getting to know some of our customers.

Tankfarm bar

The bar area

A selection of spirits at TankfarmHow do you decide which brands you carry?

It comes down to categories. So if we’re making great t-shirts and hats and button ups, that’s not something I’m going out looking for. But I’m never going to make beard oil as good as Zeus. So I might as well buy the best one, which is Zeus. We love the beard oil and I’m excited to try the new hair conditioner. Your shampoo’s been awesome.

We look for watch brands, or rings, or Red Wing boots, or new denim companies. We have toothpicks dipped in whiskey. A local coffee maker called Humble Maker makes an incredible cold brew that we carry. We have socks from Richer Poorer, and underwear from Contenders.

When a guy comes in here, he’s able to get what he needs. If he’s going to Hawaii and needs trunks and flip flops, we’ve got him covered. Or let’s say he’s going to L.A. to see a band play and needs denim and a lightweight jacket, we’ve got him covered. Or maybe he’s got a special event and wants to make his beard look and smell good. We’ve got Zeus.

What is the design process of a new Tankfarm t-shirt?

We are a screenprint shop. When we think of something we like, we can have a shirt on the floor in 5 days. It happens very quickly. Sometimes we’ll have designs on the wall for 2 months and we’ll finally do it. It’s about inspiration and pulling the trigger to make it happen.

Tankfarm t-shirts

A selection of graphic tees and shirts designed onsite

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I would say we like the classics: old Westerns, movies with Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash, bands like Morrissey and The Smiths. Then we also like new stuff. So I’d say inspiration from music, movies, and surroundings.

Your wife’s shop is next door. How do you like having her that close? How do you maintain work-life balance?

It’s awesome. It’s nice to be able to walk down the street and grab a coffee with my wife. We have our little kids, a 6-year-old and 9-year-old, and they go to school here in Seal Beach. We pick them up and they come here and color or do their homework.

My brother’s wife has a store across the street also, called Stitch & Feather. So he gets to see her often. Sometimes it’s a little too close for comfort because we’re surrounded by each other. But I’d say 9 times out of 10 it’s a wonderful thing. It makes for a comfortable, homey feel.

What are a few key pieces a guy should invest in for fall/winter?

Great question. Two things a man needs: a good pair of boots (I suggest Red Wings) and a nice watch. It tells something about the person, about their style. If you have nice shoes and a watch, and you wear those with a basic t-shirt and blue jeans, it still shows your personality.

Also, you can never go wrong with a great jacket. Sports coat if that’s the environment you’re in, or a nice outerwear piece. You can throw it on a t-shirt and look ready to go out to dinner.

Tankfarm interior

 

Shop Tankfarm at Tankfarmco.com

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