You know the magic that happens when you work with awesome people? We think it’s everything, and we love working with folks who bring that kind of chemistry into our days. As often as possible, we sit down with one of these execs to talk about startups, the future of their industries and whatever other topics pop up.
In the hot seat today:
Marketing veteran Kevin Gaertner has had an interesting and rewarding professional challenge over the past three years. As marketing director for Knotty Tie, custom tie manufacturer, his innovative ideas have been driving awareness and sales for a company that’s redefining an industry.
By taking traditional styles into a fun, creative realm of colors and patterns that most people wouldn’t dare to try, not only has the company’s reputation grown rapidly, so has its product line and success.
1. Who has influenced you and how?
The answer isn’t a “who” but the overarching influence of competition in the industry. I look for which competitors are doing well and analyze their visual strategies and approaches. I’ll also research successful marketing companies, focusing on those that are being progressive and differentiating themselves, particularly in direct to consumer e-commerce. There’s a group of about 10 or so companies I follow more than others, a couple of examples being Goodr and MeUndies. Aside from that, my team influences me every day by inspiring and supporting each other to do their best work possible.
2. When and where did you start out and how did that experience shape you?
After graduating from college, my good friend and I used our business and entrepreneurial studies, as well as practical experiences, to start our own marketing consultancy. For four years, we focused on helping small businesses in the New Jersey area expand their online presence and grow. This hands-on, intimate work - as well as the experience of being a business owner - provided me with many important lessons.
3. What do you believe are the most important qualities to possess as a successful marketer?
In this business, you have to constantly push yourself, strategically, visually and in producing results. One size fits all and dated approaches aren’t effective - you need to constantly think outside the box.
Visually, it helps to have an “in your face” attitude; as a relative newcomer in this industry, we can’t be boring and expect to sell a ton of neckties. Sure, retail giants might be able to manage that way but that’s not our goal. We want to not only look different but feel different than other brands, while strategically expanding both our company and scope of offerings to keep things fresh.
4. What's your favorite success story?
I prefer not to use the word success due to the unprecedented circumstances, but our expansion into face masks was gratifying. When COVID-19 hit, we were able to quickly pivot and within a time frame of six weeks deliver a high quality, attractive product. We had to remodel our website, create an e-commerce strategy, set up manufacturing and more. We also wanted to make sure our masks portrayed the symbolic ethos of our company. When we launched, it only took a few hours to exceed projected sales. It helped that at the time we were featured on the Colorado Mask Project partners website which the Governor had been directing people to in a press conference. Additionally, KUSA, the Denver NBC-affiliated television station aired a story about our business and also published an article that was syndicated.
Prior to that, it was our move into custom branded apparel. We expanded from individual ties and mostly wedding packages to recurring, large corporate customers. To handle this, we invested in new manufacturing equipment to incorporate company logos and unique artwork into subtle tie designs. We also adjusted our pricing structure and revamped sections on our website. This shift resulted in increased revenue and the ability to sustain sales throughout the year. It was a breakthrough moment.
5. What are you most excited about in the future?
There are a lot of ideas in the pipeline, but overall, Knotty Tie is focusing on developing a new aesthetic, brand feel and additional categories. We also plan to build on what defines us - social responsibility and sustainability. We want to impact more lives and inspire more people to recycle goods. We hope this will encourage other companies to do the same.
6. Knotty Tie recently began designing and selling neck gaiters. It seems you’re always launching new products or iterations of existing ones. What are the top three things marketers should keep in mind when doing this in e-commerce?
Generally speaking, aim to keep it simple in order to reduce headaches and hassle. For us, we have some leeway in that department since our production is done in Denver, allowing us to have complete control. Still, we specifically seek simplicity when it comes to keeping our personalization angle a priority.
Balance goes hand-in-hand with simplicity and is key to ensuring all aspects run smoothly. Although this is important, you have to remember it’s critical to set yourself apart from your competition and be able to adapt and respond to market changes quickly.
Finally, be innovative and tech-savvy. Look for ways to deliver a better customer experience (CX) and focus on providing exactly what they want. We pride ourselves on offering a wide selection of colors, fabrics, designs and product segments. This variety adds value to the CX by enabling shoppers to personalize their look.
As for technology, the right tools can streamline processes, speed up distribution, control inventory, allow advanced marketing and more. However, there can be a lot of hype around new tech, so make sure what you’re investing in will provide real value, is proven to deliver results, and that it’s from an established vendor who will be around to support it in the future.
7. What is your favorite rule to break?
My personal favorite in this industry is going against the grain of typical design methods. We take old school apparel and inject life and energy into it with unique design treatments. We find a balance between a traditional garment and fun, nontraditional designs, creating products that are fresh and appealing.
Our president and co-founder, Jeremy Priest, was in the Navy and witnessed the plight of refugees across the world. That would one day be his future inspiration for the company and a source of employees. After returning home to Denver, he began working with nonprofits, his secondary inspiration, where he helped teach female refugees how to sew at the African Community Center in Denver, noting the abundance of skills they possessed.
He recognized the great talents the people had - especially given the right training - to produce a high quality garment. Unfortunately, a lot of companies do not give these individuals the chance to demonstrate their skills. So, Jeremy decided to create a company that would be economically viable and give these refugees a chance of employment.
They have become some of our longest, most dedicated employees. They’re helping with product development, pattern design - some are becoming graphic designers. With their help, we’ve been able to not only construct new products but elevate the company as a whole. We wouldn’t be where we are today, or enjoy our work nearly as much, without their energy and ability to make a super high quality product.