It All Started Trying to Pay Some Extra Bills

DannyRosin7.08-Rocket-HandShadow1Danny Rosin is the founder and co-owner of Brand Fuel Promotions, a company which provides corporate product promotional items with a flair. Brand Fuel, which opened in 1998, crafts a public message for its clients using tailored approaches such as product launches, incentive programs and customer appreciation campaigns. Clients parlay Brand Fuel’s promotional products into use with recruitment, employee retention, sales generation, online merchandising and surveying.

Rosin got his entrepreneurial start very young. As a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, he was looking for a way to pay some extra bills. He came up with a screen printed “Anti-Duke” t-shirt idea that soon caught on. This seed grew to become the foundation of Brand Fuel.

“I loved the idea of learning a trade and eventually sold thousands of shirts on campus and turned it into a little bit of a business,” says Rosin. “I had some salespeople working with me through some of the teams, raising money for the organizations, and then went to corporate markets. Instead of knocking on dorm room doors, I was knocking on corporate doors.” The autonomy of this role fit Rosin well, and he knew he’d found a niche worth pursuing.

“I started in college my senior year and then took it to a professional full-time career, using my sense of design, my interest in guerrilla marketing and having some fun with a career,” he explains. “I wanted a career where I could bring my dog to work and not necessarily wear a tie, but get in and do some great things for companies and help them brand themselves.”

Rosin had a lot of confidence with his budding business and right out of school began pursuing large corporations that were headquartered locally, yet national in scope. Sony-Erickson was one of his first large accounts, soon followed by IBM.

Today, Brand Fuel has twenty-seven employees and two offices located in Norfolk,Virginia, and Morrisville. The company also has a fulfillment center in Durham where products are pulled, packed and shipped for large clients. Rosin says that currently his company targets more medium-to-large size companies.

“Medium-to-large size companies to us aren’t based necessarily on revenues,” he says. “What we’re looking for in terms of a target audience would be a client that has multiple locations, possibly a large sales force and has a difficult time reigning in their brand. Maybe they have a lot of rogue spending and a marketing department that’s very focused on growing but also hard to contain the brand.”

Brand Fuel creates promotional products which Rosin describes as “any type of giveaway that you can slap a logo on or a design element that would be connected to a brand.” These promotional products are used to thank clients for purchasing, to entice prospects to buy and to recognize employees.

Brand Fuel is a name that operates on several layers, says Rosin.  “The name definitely has a coolness factor to it, but the idea of Brand Fuel is really twofold,” he explains. “The sort of easy one is that we sell brands. We sell Igloo and Nike and all these great brands that are out there at Hanes and American Apparel. We get access to those brands on the wholesale level and have our factories decorate them, whether it’s screen printing, embroidery, embossing, debossing, laser etching, or whatever it may be to those products on behalf of our clients so we can purchase that stuff in volume. Then there’s that component of fueling our clients’ brands. We have a product that we fuel, and we feel like it’s very, very valuable to the end user.”

It’s important to Rosin that his company produces quality products that have a little more meaning than the average giveaway. “Our goal is to make sure that the product doesn’t end up in the landfill, he says. “If any of our salespeople sell a stress ball, they will get fired. What’s the purpose of a squeezy stress ball? Okay, granted that if it’s ergonomic, and it’s going to be something for an arthritis organization, we give them the green light there, but if you’re selling a banana shaped stress ball, you know that’s going to end up in the landfill. You better come up with something a heck of a lot more purposeful, functional and tie it in with an appropriate message.”

Rosin also stands out from his competition by caring about what goes into his company’s products and changing the reputation of the field.
“We are focused on green initiatives through and through, and it’s easy in this industry because there’s a lot of, to be honest with you, crap. I mean it’s known as a trinkets and trash industry. Our goal is to change that moniker, to disrupt the industry, and we’ve done that by coming up with some services and experiences that none of our 26,000 competitors have.”

A little known fact, says Rosin, is that Brand Fuel is a seriously technology-driven organization. The company is on its fourth iteration of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems and continues to invest money into its technology infrastructure. Brand Fuels’ Kitting Program focuses on sales, marketing and HR, as well as affinity groups for which the company will put together packages and ship them out for on-boarding new employees.

“Red Hat has a great one because they’re hiring all these new people, and they communicate effectively to everyone the same thing” says Rosin. “We put their forms in there, their new business cards, ‘Welcome to Red Hat’ with the journal book, the t-shirt and brand guidelines.”

The culture at Brand Fuel has a laid back vibe, with a casual environment and potluck theme parties that periodically bring the office together throughout the year. At Halloween the team dresses in costumes and has lunch at Waffle House, where the restaurant staff then votes for best costume.

“We are proud of our culture and our team,” says Rosin. “I think I learned a long time ago that my advice for business owners is certainly to find some purpose and some soul in what you do. And I think you attract the right challenge and retain talent there as well. We’ve won multiple best-places-to-work awards, nationally and locally, and we’re really proud of that. We’re constantly trying to find that balance between working hard and having a good time, goofing off and doing some crazy zany things because we only live once.”
Rosin values honesty in the workplace as much as he does fun. He explains that he follows the model he’s seen his business partner, Robert Fiveash, set.

Fiveash is the Acting President of Brand Fuel, and he and Rosin go back thirty-seven years to being childhood friends and sport teammates.

“He’s the most ethical person I’ve ever been around in all my life,” says Rosin. “The idea behind being honest, even if it costs you, is really something that we’ve worked on together as a team, but he is someone who has given me that advice early on. We had choices to make and there’s always gray area with choices, but he always made it very black and white.”

Giving back to the community has been a priority for Brand Fuel. Rosin and several friends started a non-profit organization called Band Together, which Brand Fuel has helped sponsor for the last ten years. Band Together’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for select non-profits through events that showcase and support musical talent.

“We devote the majority of our efforts, cash, time, talent and treasure into the Band Together effort, where we pick a different non-profit in the community,” he explains. “We write a big check and all year round we’re donating space to a new Executive Director, and we also donate product and volunteer hours.”
Every year Brand Fuel picks a different quote or mantra for the entire team to wrap their thoughts and efforts around. This year’s is “Be Relevant.”

“It’s about really stopping and thinking about what you’re doing and taking the time to really understand the decision that you’re making and asking those around you,” he says. “Make decisions not quickly, but smartly.”

Rosin knows that business can be all consuming, and he wants his team to take the time to maintain focus. “I think what happens is in the life cycle of the business is you get so busy, scrambling to sell more, or you’re busy because you’re successful,” he explains. “It’s hard to just stop, take the time to prepare and make sure that you are doing everything you need to, in order to make sure you’re successful, and that approach has worked really well for us. Our entire sales team has learned to just breathe and take a step back, focus on top level clients and issues and priorities.”

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