The OOBE brand journey: Good guys don’t finish last

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Tom Merritt (left) and Mike Pereyo (right) began their business at an old body shop in Easley 23 years ago. Now, their new line, OOBE Brand 161 King Street, will be sold through Bloomingdale's in store and online. Photo provided.

By Amanda Long, Senior Account Director, Hughes Agency

Many people have heard the OOBE story. Two friends who met at Clemson University founded an outdoor apparel company out of an old body shop in Easley without knowing a thing about making clothes. Through tenacity and divine intervention, co-founders Tom Merritt and Mike Pereyo took OOBE from selling 40 T-shirts at a time to managing major employee-branded apparel programs for companies like Verizon and Disney. At Endeavor’s monthly professional development speaker series, the pair shared key takeaways from their brand’s 23-year journey — from humble beginnings and detours to major wins that led them to today.

Lesson 1: Desperation can lead to breakthroughs

Author J.K. Rowling wrote, “Anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” During desperate times, Merritt broke out from calling on outdoor stores to calling on dive shops. Their T-shirts that read, “I dive. What on Earth are you doing?” became such a hit that Merritt and Pereyo took a chance and exhibited at the International Dive Show, which pushed them through the next decade. “We wrote six figures in one show, which provided us the opportunity to continue to fuel OOBE,” Pereyo said.

Lesson 2: Your reputation really does proceed you

When the CEO of FILA asked OOBE to relaunch their golf collection worldwide, they thought it was a joke. However, his call was based on the recommendation from a former OOBE client, stating he would be able to sleep well at night if he did business with them. “We were seen as being trustworthy. All these other brands started contacting us to utilize our supply chain and designers when they launched. It was a very exciting time and allowed us to get our footing and determine what we are the best in the world in,” Pereyo said.

Lesson 3: Why doing the right thing is always the right thing

When going up against major companies to vie for Chick-fil-A’s branded apparel business, the process was intentionally very stressful. Following the presentation, models hired by Chick-fil-A to showcase each competitor’s merchandise were asked which company treated them with honor, dignity, and respect when no one was looking. Hands down, the models chose OOBE. Then Chick-fil-A did, too. This catalyst moment opened doors for OOBE. “They aren’t just entrusting their brand with us. They are entrusting their people with us,” Pereyo said. “This was where we started to get a real footing for a blueprint for OOBE… and defining our purpose.”

Lesson 4: Be the favorite

OOBE’s vision statement is “to be the favorite company of our customers, employees, and vendor partners by living our core values.” “As the complexity of your business grows, in the absence of information, what do you look to? Be the favorite — to each other first. If you can’t do it inside your organization, you certainly can’t do it outside,” Pereyo said. “Just as important as being the favorite of the people who write you checks is being the favorite of those who you write checks to. It’s loving the people who came alongside us. They will be the ones to set you up for success.”

Summing it up: A jumping off point. And another.

In February, the team unveiled OOBE Brand 161 King Street, a retail store in Charleston featuring a small-batch, highly crafted men’s clothing line and accessories. “It’s all about story. It’s about sourcing and who makes that shirt,” Merritt said.

Merritt announced for the first time that the creation of OOBE Brand 161 King Street spurred Bloomingdale’s to seek them out to sell the new line in stores and online, another milestone for the company. “We’re still trying to figure out where this brand lands,” Merritt said. “We will see where it goes. It wasn’t anything we were looking for. We were just trying to be excellent.”

Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands like Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.

Next Collaborators & Cocktails

Presentation by David Oakley, co-founder and chief creative officer, BooneOakley

Oct. 18, 5–7:15 p.m.

Members: Free

Pre-registered Guests: $30

Email Endeavor@EndeavorGreenville.com for info

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