Today we’re talking with Rita Alvy-Teeter of Zazzle store Drive Industries about her journey of building her online business with her husband Brian Teeter, and the exciting debut of their fun Hawaiian tie designs on national television.
Tell us a little about you!
I live and work in Irvine, California. I’ve traveled extensively worldwide for business. Of all the places I’ve visited, Hawaii is my favorite. It’s shaped my life. My husband and I plan to retire on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We love animals and are involved with animal charities, and we’re avid baseball fans. And of course, we’re also fans of all things Hawaiian: the sights, the sounds, the music, fresh fruit and amazing flowers.
What is your background in art/design? How did you get started creating?
I’m an apparel and textile designer. I started my career in retail, where I worked as a men’s suit and tie buyer as well as fashion coordinator for some of the largest department stores in California. Later, I transitioned to working for apparel manufacturers, particularly the surf wear industry, where I was a merchandiser and design director for several major brands for many years. I then launched Drive Industries Design Group, a design studio specializing in the surf and action sports industries. As time went on, we expanded our clients to include the home furnishings industry.
That led me to apply all that I had learned to become an expert with an Apple Macintosh, Adobe software and design/CAD software systems. I’ve used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for many years, and have developed a considerable expertise using them for textile and apparel design.
What got you started as a Designer on Zazzle?
In 2009, my insane marketing guru husband discovered Zazzle, and immediately suggested that I take advantage of the tons of unused artwork my team created to start a Zazzle store of our own. That made perfect sense. The print-on-demand method used by Zazzle allows us to create a huge line of products without having to worry about inventory. For a small business like ours, that’s an enormous benefit.
We were so excited to see your ties in action on TV! Could you tell us how the anchors for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team ended up styled in your tie designs? What inspired you to reach out?
Being Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball fans, we jumped when my husband (who has a background in corporate marketing and PR and now writes the Healthy Trekking travel guide books) heard the team was going to have a Hawaiian Week promotion this past season. As our Zazzle store is exclusively focused on Hawaiian and surf-themed products, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to promote our products on television. We knew their TV broadcast team on Fox Sports West are fun-loving, and thought that sending them a set of our Hawaiian style neckties would be a perfect fit for their television promotion.
We ordered a set of our ties from Zazzle, packaged them in nice gift boxes (wrapped in our Hawaiian print, Zazzle-made gift wrapping paper) for each of their television and radio broadcasters, which include game broadcasters Victor Rojas and former MLB All-Star Mark Gubicza, along with their post-game team of José Mota; Patrick O’Neal, son of actor Ryan O’Neal; and former Angels’ star Tim Salmon. We included them with a cover letter about us, and a request that they wear their ties on the air during Hawaiian week.
We drove the ties to the Angels’ executive offices at Anaheim Stadium. Biting our lips, we also made sure to send tweets to the broadcasters who are active on Twitter, to let them know what we did. Being the all-around good guys they are, Victor, Mark, José, and Patrick each responded to confirm they got their neckties, even tweeting photographs of them. They were totally stoked at receiving them, and good to their promise, they proudly wore Zazzle-made neckties on TV over two nights of the Angels’ Hawaiian Week promotion.
On the first night, game broadcasters Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza opened their telecast thanking us for the ties and took time to proudly show them off. We were speechless, knowing that the Angels games are broadcast to over 50,000 households in Southern California, Nevada and Hawaii. Mark Gubicza is known for wearing crazy and fun ties, and often gets jokes about them on Twitter; apparently, he loved his. The next night, the pre/post-game broadcast team took their turn to show off their Zazzle Hawaiian neckties, and kindly mentioned them on the air. In fact, the other broadcasters poked fun at fan favorite Tim Salmon (known for being a very conservative dresser, even though he is a surfer as well) for his flashy Hawaiian tie.
How do you think this experience has helped you as a Designer and a store owner on Zazzle? Do you have any “lessons” or takeaways that you think would be helpful for other Zazzle Designers?
When you are a small business like mine, you have to use your imagination to generate publicity. That’s easy for a large corporation to do, but for a small business, it’s much harder to get attention. Today, thanks to Zazzle, even a small design studio like ours can do things we never dreamed of just a few years ago, and create amazing products that will impress even the critical eye of a broadcast television team.
The trick is using your imagination to promote your Zazzle store. We have always focused on a niche—Hawaiian, tropical and surf-themed designs—in our main Zazzle store. That focus helps us determine potential opportunities for promotion. With social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, it’s easier to reach celebrities, broadcasters and powers-that-be than ever before.
With so many great Zazzle stores, along with tons of other ads, promotions and media overload competing for the customer’s attention, it’s up to us to shout from the rooftops. We promote our Zazzle stores through our own websites, social media and opt-in email every day. Recently, we promoted our Zazzle stores with a booth we set up at a local Hawaiian festival, something we’ll do more of in the future.
It seems like the team behind Drive Industries has a great understanding of the business side of having a Zazzle store of designs. Do you have any advice on how you follow trends for your designs or pursue promotion for your products and store?
From the beginning, we decided to focus on what we do best: design products with a Hawaiian, tropical and surfing vibe. If we created a store that didn’t have a specific point of view, our customers would not grasp what makes our offerings stand out. It’s hard to be all things to all people, and having a specialty can establish to your customers what you can offer. Not every shopper will want a Hawaiian print iPhone case, but when they do, they’ll remember our Zazzle store. That helps our products stand out in the Zazzle marketplace and in Google search results.
We also have ridiculously high standards that we set for our designs. We’re used to working with extremely picky customers at major surf, skateboard, snowboard, golf, home decor and other companies, and we apply these standards for our Zazzle products. We’re Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator experts, have years of experience in color management and designing repeat patterns for large textiles like tablecloths. We produce artwork specifically designed and sized for each product we create on Zazzle, for anything from a phone case to a shower curtain, to make sure the color and resolution is an exact fit.
This isn’t a hobby for us. We treat our Zazzle store like we would a brick-and-mortar operation: like a business. That helps us focus, set high standards, and approach our marketing and promotion from a professional point of view. In such a competitive world, we believe that’s a must.
We’re constantly on the prowl for other PR opportunities like our Los Angeles Angels major league baseball Hawaiian Week promotion. Using public relations promotion is a low-cost way to generate a ton of attention, and drive visitor traffic to our websites and Zazzle stores. We’re also budgeting for Google Adwords and Facebook ads in 2016. Advertising can cost a lot. The trick is determining the specific niche for your Zazzle store, so that you can advertise in categories where your ads will be near the top results for a specific search.
A tip for other Designers is to become skilled with the amazing software design tools available today. It’s tempting to use Quick Create to publish in bulk, but the better you can make your artwork look for each specific Zazzle product, the more your customers will take note. I recommend taking classes on lynda.com and fashionclassroom.com. Both websites are outstanding resources for learning how to become an expert with software like Photoshop, and to learn the principles of fashion and textile design.
We also buy samples of many of the new products we design, especially the phone cases manufactured by the various suppliers to Zazzle, to make sure we’re designing to fit their parameters. We don’t cut corners on making sure every product we produce for Zazzle is as good as you would find on a major brand. The good news is that with Zazzle and today’s software, it’s possible for almost anyone to do.