A Q&A with Rod Call
This is exciting. What you are about to read is the first installment in our “This is Working” series. What we’ve set out to do with the series is highlight entrepreneurs and their businesses. We’re not just looking to feature anyone with a tax ID number. Ideally, these are business owners who have something that really gets us excited here at SOZO / PIVOTAL. Our first featured company does exactly that!
Snoloha is a lifestyle brand launched by Rod Call back in 2007. The brand successfully depicts the connection between the islands and the arctic and what better place for Call to set up shop and develop his brand than near the 45th parallel in Traverse City, Michigan. It all came into focus one day after driving past a road sign stating that he was crossing the halfway point between the north pole and the equator. The following interview is a look into what goes through the mind of an entrepreneur as he developed his company’s brand and turned it not only into a real business, but something that has attracted many fans across the country and globe— across nearly every parallel.
We hope you enjoy the interview. For more information on Snoloha, please visit their site at www.snoloha.com. Read a few of their blog posts, check out their Twitter and Facebook pages, and shop the clothing line — it won’t take long before you get into a relaxed Snoloha state of mind!
I often tell my clients that the story and idea and energy behind their company has to come from them, we can only help them refine it and get it out there. You have a marketing background, how much of that experience led you to this and helped you form the Snoloha brand story? Or was it just a passion and vision that’s been part of you all along?
Mostly, it was the vision and the passion. But the experience working in the outdoor retail world for 9 years did help me understand the marketing and merchandising.
You always hear people who have moved from Michigan say something like “I miss the four seasons.” That is something pretty unique to this area. Did that type of thinking play a role in your idea development?
The four seasons continue to be inspiration for the brand, especially living here in Traverse City. The idea came to me after returning to a late Michigan snow storm from the Virgin Islands, driving by the 45th Parallel Sign and scribbling on a Rolling Stone Magazine “Somewhere between the islands and the arctic”. The entire concept of the brand is to incorporate all the seasons and accompanying activities and lifestyles into one word and one design. The name is a marriage of Snow + Aloha. The logo is a SnowFlake Palm Tree. The designs, like the Palm Tree Chair Lift, can’t really happen, but make all the sense in the world to those that “GET” Snoloha.
So how did you start? Launching a retail brand from scratch is daunting. How did you pay the bills at first, if you don’t mind me asking?
I had a modest savings. Beyond that, it was a wing and a prayer. Being naïve goes a long way. It’s much more daunting look in the rear view mirror…because launching it, I really didn’t know how difficult the process would be.
A lot of people fail to realize that it’s difficult to create something that people will not only wear, but pay to wear and promote the brand. Did you create the whole Snoloha identity package, the brand standards and all the products?
It’s been collaboration. I’ve done some, but I’ve also had the help of a friend who is a talented freelance designer. In my head, it’s a very clear vision, and he’s done a nice job of understating what it is I’m trying to convey if it’s something I can’t quite get out myself.
How did you first get Snoloha products into retailers? Did you pick up the phone and just start cold-calling surf shops and ski resorts? Or did you send them sample products?
Pounding the pavement and picking up the phone…cold calling.
You’ve drawn inspiration from some big outdoor lifestyle brands like Jimmy Buffett and Jeep. Are there any brands or entrepreneurs outside of your category that you’ve learned from by how they position themselves and tell their story?
Believe it or not…Howard Stern. I admire how he’s grown this fan base throughout his LONG career. Not everyone likes him, and that’s ok. I’ve learned you can’t please everyone, but if you can please your ‘Tribe’, that’s what matters most. Same goes with Buffett. And Apple.
It’s obvious that you live and breathe this brand. It’s really your brand just as much as it’s your company’s brand, right? How do you handle the critics? (if there are any)?
Yes, Snoloha is really a reflection of who I am. That was not deliberate when starting out, but through the years, all the blogging and the designs really do represent my values, interests and passions. As a result, most of my customers have similar interests.
I stopped listening to the critics a long time ago. I’ve learned that there are way too many armchair quarterbacks out there who say “You should be doing this”…yet they’ve never created anything themselves. I use to let it affect me. Now, I don’t even notice it.
Has there been a big break that took you to another level?
My first year in business I was fortunate to be featured on the homepage of MSN.com, win Startupnations’s award for “Most Slacker Friendly” business and was a finalist for Surf Expo’s LAUNCH contest. That exposure led to a shot in the arm for that first year.
What’s been the biggest challenge for Snoloha?
It’s such a unique brand, that merchandising and ‘telling the Snoloha story’ at the retail level is a big challenge. Snoloha is not a simple brand in that you just take a quick look and it makes sense. There’s another “level” to the brand. It takes a bit more for people to “get it”, but once they do, the emotional connection to the brand is very powerful. If the Snoloha POP is not used and the brand is not merchandised properly, or the sales staff doesn’t ‘get it’, then the brand can suffer at the retail level.
Snoloha is a brilliant name. Since it’s totally made up it’s easy to own and create 100% recognition. And, it rolls off the tongue in three easy syllables. That’s huge. Were there any other names you considered for this brand?
Initially, the brand was going to be called “H2Sno”, and ‘Snoloha’ was going to just be one design. After much deliberation, I decided to brand Snoloha. H2Sno is the LLC that Snoloha operates under.
You have a lot of testimonials on your website. Because of the nature of your brand is it easy to get those? Are people willing to just share stories and photos?
That’s one of the most fulfilling parts of this roller-coaster ride…most of them are sent to me via email because they love the brand so much. I’ve also posed the question “What does Snoloha mean to you?” and I always get great responses. It’s very, very humbling to know how this brand is thought of. How important it is to people.
What does the typical Snoloha day look like for you?
It’s more ‘atypical’. Right now I’m working on establishing a licensing program, continuing to search for new reps, considering a Snoloha branded store, working on a cross promo with 2 other companies, preparing for a SUP (standup paddle board) event in Traverse City where Snoloha will be exhibiting, running a pre-order special on a SUP design that will be released at the same show, preparing for the Unslated Sailing Flotilla (Snoloha is a sponsor)…and the list goes on.
I’ve seen you mention that you work from your boat at times. What are some essential business tools you couldn’t live without?
I’m pretty simple when it comes to technology and tools. I use a good old-fashioned pen and notebook for creative ideas and blog post topics, a Mac laptop and an iPhone. Simple.
What does vacation look like?
The last one was in November – sailing in the British Virgin Islands. Disconnected. That’s how it should look like. But I’m lucky, I live in Traverse City, 2 blocks from the beach and our sailboat, so I get ‘mini-vacations’ all the time.
So what’s better, snow or sun?
Depends on the time of year! How’s that for a political ‘non-answer’?
Are you getting anywhere with Jimmy Buffett penning a Snoloha tune or Jeep producing a Snoloha Wrangler? The author John Locke has coined a term called loyalty transfer. As a Buffett fan and a former Wrangler owner, I understand the brand loyalty of both. How has putting those licensing ideas out there built the Snoloha audience?
I’ve not gotten anywhere with that…yet. The licensing end of things is new, un-chartered waters for me. I’ve had a few great conversations with folks in that industry, and the consensus is that Snoloha is the perfect brand for licensing, but it’s like anything…easier said than done.
Where do you see Snoloha in three years? What’s on the horizon?
In 3 years I’d like to see a handful of successful licensing programs in place, a stronger presence on the west coast and a Snoloha branded store here in Traverse City.
How has that vision you had when you left your marketing position become a reality today?
It’s a reality when you share it with the world, instead of waiting until the time is right (that means never). It’s reality when you have people willing to pay you for what you’ve created.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with people who have started their own company or are looking to jump into the entrepreneurial waters?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is believe in what you are doing and enjoy it. It is all encompassing. It is a 24/7 brain never shuts off roller-coaster ride full of ups and downs. But, most importantly…stop waiting.