Delivering Experience: Starting Out, Growing Up (or Maybe Not) and Making Something Great in Promo
February 1998. We were just four young, sweaty guys in a small office next to a Domino’s. We shared a “community” computer and ate a lot of pizza. Our first piece of marketing collateral was a photo of us hanging off the second story banister. On the back of the photo, we printed a “5% off of first order” coupon and suggested customers to “HANG with us for all of their promotional product needs.” That stunt garnered some buzz but netted only a couple of orders.
In that cramped space, we listened to a boombox filled with Ramones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis and The Clash. We all answered phones and took handwritten messages on pink “While You Were Out” pads. We got super excited when we were capable of placing an animated GIF on our website.
Our “fulfillment center” was in a cramped A-frame attic. We delivered orders from our first online store in person because we were too cheap to set up a UPS account. We pulled 70-hour work-weeks and rarely took vacations. We were then, as we are now, very committed.
As business increased, we found ourselves moving five times in the first seven years to accommodate growth. And then we expanded from North Carolina into Virginia, and then South Carolina, Massachusetts and even the UK.
When we look back, it feels as if our baby is “all growed up.” But we realize there is so much ahead for Brand Fuel and this amazing industry—despite the threats in our SWOT analysis. Alibaba, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Costco, Pete The Promo Peddler—we exist because we realize we are what they aren’t. Differentiation is a part of our DNA. We sold one of the industry’s first e-commerce corporate storefronts, created survey enhancement tools, birthed concepts like “Virtual Swag” and developed original, memorable experiences connected to the delivery of our medium. Remember our Swag Lottery Machine, Test of Bravery and Kindness Container?
And we are not finished creating. We may not have the exact skill sets of accountants or lawyers—we perform our work more like artists and musicians.
And we all know that running a great business starts with great culture. This is what keeps your most important assets, your staff, sticking around. Our staff has been with us for an average of 11 years, and that is probably the thing we are most proud of. They are amazing. The word “love” comes to mind. And through the years, we have learned to create an environment that is less “command and control” and more “inspire and empower.” Because anything less is just another day at the office.
We celebrate the days when return on investment meant doing something we’d never forget. Like when we tapped our toes on the gymnasium floor and wondered, hoped, and prayed the smile coming from the shy face across the room was an invitation. So, we walked over to find out. We remember when doing something worthwhile meant making a move, taking a stand and living, learning, fighting toward a dream. We remember being young and daring. And because we remember, we haven’t yet grown all the way up.
Of course, we’re businesspeople now. We have checkbooks to balance, mortgages to pay. Some of us even have kids who will soon conceal a wild heart under a gifted corsage. But at Brand Fuel, we refuse to lose sight of the days when a memory was a win and a “yes,” and success was an impenetrable moat surrounding a six-foot sandcastle.
That’s why we’ve built a company dead-set on helping deliver on experience. We know it is emotion that drives decisions—the meaningful ones—and it is the bold strides that elicit the strongest rewards.
We set out each day to unite all of the senses and forge a feeling that audiences will never forget. We can all perform the simple, the routine. But we will tap our toes to the rhythm in the floorboards and set out, together, and chase ideas that defy ordinary—that inspire.
Sure, the music has changed over the years, as have we. Corsages were long ago replaced with sweaty Ramones T-shirts and torn jeans, outfits that now hide in attics above pink rooms full of stuffed animals and giggling kids. Our vision remains as we cling to the notion that making something great—something that lasts—starts with the warm spark of emotion.