Thinking outside the box(er): Max Boxxer rebrands for the future

After two decades in business, Max Boxxer founder Richard Crisler says that he's ready to revitalize the brand and capitalize on web commerce. Photo: Sanjay Suchak After two decades in business, Max Boxxer founder Richard Crisler says that he’s ready to revitalize the brand and capitalize on web commerce. Photo: Sanjay Suchak

Entrepreneur and Max Boxxer founder Richard Crisler is a man for all seasons, but summer might suit him best.

His first business endeavor was Yo Wear, launched at Duke University when he was a student, which produced Duke- and fraternity-themed boxer shorts that sold on campus and through fraternal organization magazines. “After I graduated and moved to Charlottesville, I opened a shop on the mall [where the Spectacle Shop is now],” says Crisler, “and made all kinds of clothing.” He had to learn the retail storefront business on the fly, and as he puts it, “it was absolute torture.”

Seeking a more profitable path, he closed the shop after a year and pivoted to focus solely on selling colorful “vintage’ boxers and Hawaiian-style aloha shirts and tees via wholesale to retail stores and mail-order catalogs. “I had two boxer dogs, and man’s best friend and dependable clothing are both good connotations,” he says. His brand, dubbed Max Boxxer, moved to the head of the pack in 1988. The first 10 years boomed as sales grew to $1 million, with a staff of 13 who produced the garments in Crisler’s long, low-slung warehouse on River Road.

Like the weather, however, changes in the business climate are inevitable. “Due to market forces and just plain inexperience on my part, it all began to slow down,” says Crisler. When sales trailed off, finally crashing along with the 2008 market, Crisler pivoted again, this time to solar panel installation with a new venture called SunDay Solar, and Max Boxxer went dormant. “By 2010 we had given up the wholesale but kept the retail direct to consumers via catalogs,” he says. “We’ve kept some residual customers all along, and now we’re looking to revitalize our brand and improve our internet business.”

Photo: Sanjay Suchak

Enter Stephanie Lugus, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, fashion major, and Max Boxxer intern. “What Stephanie has done is to create a sense of organization on our website,” says Crisler, “where before it was a hodgepodge.” Earlier iterations allowed customers to order clothing à la carte, choosing any fabric/garment combination, and sizing was not always standardized across old and new lines.

Lugus, who has particular affinities for branding and digital marketing, tackled the problems at the root. “We went deeply into product development,” she says, “and figured out sizing that fits,” as opposed to the large, boxy styles that used to be en vogue. “Originally, the print collection was based on gift market and holiday wear, but now we have more of an everyday line, including lots of super fun boxers,” with themes from “jungle birds mix” to “spicy hot chilies” and many more.

“The original Boxxer mascot was based on drawings by Doug Payne that feature a very cool, collected, expat dog sporting a suit and top hat, but underneath he’s wearing fun boxers, and that’s what we want people to relate to,” says Lugus. The company is focused on revamping its online presence to streamline the consumer experience, boost marketing, and increase social media exposure. “One struggle is that we don’t yet have any analytics,” she says, “but once we start getting numbers from the new website, we can identify our buyers and go from there.”

The Max Boxxer crew is optimistic heading into the holidays, and plans to launch a women’s line in the spring. Unique selling points include combed cotton fibers, coconut buttons, and hand-stitching all done locally in an entirely solar-powered facility. “This building has 262 solar panels on it,” says Crisler of his production warehouse. “Even the A/C and heating are powered by the sun.” That seems fitting for Crisler, who likes life on the sunny side.