How did we get here? A story of love, basketball, and marketing.
ABOUT FOUNDER, TERRY JENSEN
THE BIG 3 - FAMILY, MARKETING, BASKETBALL
Marketing was a part of my life before I even knew what the word meant, literally since I was in grade school. I started working in my Grandma's grocery store at 8 years old, so I learned the value in customer appreciation early. From that time forward, I was driven to understand a valuable product or service and how to market it in a meaningful way to the customer. It's a passion, almost to a fault - I never get tired of it.
That unrelenting passion is largely devoted to a small handful of things, but it never stopped me from learning something I didn't know. At the top of the list, there is my family, a lovely and devoted wife of over 20 years and two handsome boys finding their way out of the teenage years and into adulthood. Two other passions keep me awake at night, heart swollen with pride and motivation to continue the pursuit of excellence, and they are marketing and basketball.
An odd pairing? Maybe for you. For me, they are seamless at times and combined with the mutual support that exists within my family, all three are incredibly fulfilling. I love competition and I know all too well that for any goal to be achieved, it takes a team. My years of playing basketball competitively merged simultaneously with coaching the game after high school. I found teaching the game and its fundamentals was wildly satisfying, as much or more than playing. A couple of decades of coaching anyone willing to learn and dedicate themselves to improving (and winning), earned me the nickname 'Coach T' from my players and a long history of compelling stories, wonderful relationships, and championships.
THE GRANDVIEW MARKET(ING) VISION
Like I mentioned above, my earliest recognition of marketing began in my beloved grandmother's store, Grandview Market. It was a small corner grocery and convenience store set near the railroad tracks in a low income neighborhood. When I first learned to use the cash register, I had to stand on a milk crate just to see over the counter. But it didn't stop me from greeting each customer, asking how their day was going, all while trying to stay laser focused on the transaction so that I entered the prices and made change correctly.
The more comical story was in the way customers looked at me. At the time, I did not think it odd. But can you imagine walking into a convenience store today to purchase a 6-pack of your favorite brewed, alcoholic beverage, a pack or two of the preferred cigarette, and a ready-to-eat polish sausage hot dog... from a 9 year old kid? Yes, it seems funny to me too thinking about it now. But the point is, I have never been afraid to dive in head first to learn a new skill. And, my Grandma trusted me to get the job done correctly. That is good medicine for anyone looking to prove themselves.
For several years, in fact, up until about a month after my 16th birthday when my Grandma passed away, I would stay over weekends and summers whenever I could and work in the store. I was so unbelievably fascinated with the art of merchandising various products neatly onto a shelf or display and coupling it with a sign or shelf-talker that conveyed why the customer was doing the right thing by making a purchase. Feedback from regular customers on items in the store taught me how to accurately inform other customers, and of course, an ear-to-ear smile would adorn my face any time a display I built had sold through. Each new day was a challenge, there were always new products, new flavors, new packaging, and a new opportunity to promote and sell through. Yep... marketing.
You might imagine (correctly) by reading this now, that love of marketing never left me. Fast forward a couple decades or so, and I can look back on so many years of experience using my passion infused skill set. Most importantly however, I listened (to everyone) and learned (from anybody willing to let go of secrets). The marketing game is ever-changing. In fact, it is changing right now as you read this. Every metamorphosis is a chance to use the fundamental skills in a new way.
ONE GOOD TEAM, TWO GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS
It all takes drive, self-motivation, anything to bolster the constant need to push forward. Another moment in time that shaped me in that way was my senior year in high school on the Varsity Basketball team. We were a solid group, devoid of any superstars, but not necessarily a team anyone was concerned with. Except us, that is, we believed in our team. The school had never won a league or section title in boys basketball, never even sniffed a title really. So, that was our goal. It was a bumpy road early on, we finished pre-league play even on wins and losses. Our coach was a fiery, passionate man, not universally liked by parents and administrators but he had our love and commitment and it was mutual. After a tough loss just before opening league, the team nearly crumbled. Our Coach was under fire, our team was looking like another busted attempt at winning a title, and even the closest of those around our team were beginning to doubt.
It was at that low point, that something happened. It was no miracle really, just a commitment to each other that no matter what happened going into league play, we would stick to our goals with undivided focus. And we did. And we won, a lot. We ripped off 10 consecutive wins to finish league play undefeated, capturing the first ever league title for our school. Entering the Section tournament, doubters still thought maybe it was a fluke, but we just kept going as if we didn't care or know any different. We won 3 more games, including the first ever Section Championship for our school. 13 games in a row, not bad for a group of guys whose greatest attribute on the court was simply believing it was possible. In 40 years of school history, our record and titles have never been matched. Sure, I smile when I say that. But it will, there is always another group of players willing to do anything for their team. Someday, they will do what we did and more, and I will smile once again.
When you witness a team, whether in sports or business, accomplish great things largely because of their will, blood, sweat, and tears, it is a beautiful sight. So my goal is to accomplish that as many times as possible, by offering my company to others with a commitment to being great teammates. Over the years, I have consulted hundreds of businesses in more trades and sectors than you probably care to read through. I have owned businesses, helped develop start-ups, and spent my fair share of time working from the bottom up in companies too.
RIDING THE COCA-COLA® WAVE
As a young man after graduating high school, I worked for Coca-Cola for a number of years. Admittedly, I really enjoyed working to promote such an iconic brand and the world's best selling and most preferred soft drink (although Mountain Dew was always my favorite soda... it's our secret). My tenure there was a very interesting time in beverage and brand strength. When I started, the company maintained something to the tune of 20 SKU's, the likes of Diet Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and of course the flagship brand, Coca-Cola, all in limited packaging. At that time in 1992 though, the corporation was only 7 years past a debacle widely regarded as the worst branding decision of all time, simply known as New Coke. Losing sales and taste preference challenges to rival Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola brass did the unthinkable and changed the gold-standard cola formula. It was a disaster, and 3 months later the original formula was re-launched under the name Coca-Cola Classic. By the time I left my job at Coca-Cola to continue developing my own business, the company maintained something to the tune of 200 SKU's (900% increase in just 12 years). Lessons, lessons, lessons, learned.
THE IP IN RIPSTIK IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Leading up to my departure from Coca-Cola in the mid-2000's, I caught the Internet bug and had dabbled in online sales and websites. In order to combine my new found interest in the world wide web with my long-standing love of sports, I developed a casual sports-infused apparel line called RIPSTIK. It was such a fun and creative experience in brand building, and it was a time that rivals as the most fulfilling and most anxiety-filled times in my life. I trademarked the brand, and marketed it by sponsoring athletes in a wide range of sports including softball and basketball and extending out to fringe extreme sports like skateboarding and arm wrestling. We even supported local bands and worked tirelessly to marry them all under one common name, RIPSTIK. Our hats and T-shirts were popular, I sold them in clunky but functional online stores that I had built.
But I made a lot of mistakes, I admit. It was hard to stay focused on core business, because those 200 SKU's from Coca-Cola kept rattling around in my head. I tried to cover too much loose ground before paving a solid starting block. Another yin and yang moment for the brand was the time my friends and I recognized a supply and customer service gap in our city for a sport that was gaining huge momentum, paintball. It is funny to admit now but I had never even played paintball before, yet after a few trips into the woods to play, I opened a sporting goods store featuring none other than paintball gear and supplies. I saw it as an ideal opportunity to brand it as RIPSTIK, and continue to promote and market my clothing line. It was wildly successful, for awhile.
Our first year in business, the store was doubling its sales consistently month over month. It was great. The other shops in town were stopping by secretly to see why we were so popular, and they were shocked once inside to find that our store looked more like a national franchise than a hole-in-the-wall sporting goods store. Truth be told, I opened the store from scratch on about $2500. Needless to say, we had to be creative.
But then, in year two, there was a little glitch. A giant softball complex in town finished construction and opened for business. Like the blink of an eye, people all over the city were trading in the paintball guns for softball bats and our run was over. From white-hot to might-not, might not survive in business that is! So, I downsized, sold off all the paintball inventory, and finally pinned RIPSTIK down to its core business - premium hats and T-shirts adorning our trademarks sold online and by local retailers.
Then the truly unthinkable happened. I got a phone call from a friend asking when my brand made it into Wal-Mart. Wishful thinking at the time, I laughed it off as a common mistaken identity situation. But it wasn't. In all its glory, there was my brand shimmering atop the hottest, new toy debuted that year. It was the Ripstik Casterboard (an inline, self-propelled skateboard) brought to you by Razor USA, LLC who also manufactured the insanely popular Razor Kick Scooter. My heart sank.
It wasn't all bad, all parties walked away satisfied (eventually). But I never would have imagined taking a crash course in intellectual property law at that time in my life. It was wild. There were days where a single 24 hour period would find me laboring as a licensed contractor, actively taking on attorneys and CEO's as the lead negotiator in an IP deal, and mellowing out by writing code for a new website and honing the latest piece of artwork for our brand. Razor USA, LLC and my company came to a satisfactory agreement after several months, and we closed the sales transaction of my intellectual property to them. Fortunately for all, their investment of goodwill and innovation into (my) brand name was immensely popular and successful.
HEY, YOU GUYS NEED SOME HELP?
One day during the latter years of the RIPSTIK era, I had the notion to go help a couple buddies with their landscape curbing business. I don't really even know why, but it sounded like fun so why not? After a few times out installing this concrete curbing, and sensing the demise of paintball, I decided to buy in. The funniest part? Remember the softball park I mentioned earlier? Well, I threw my own money in and used the curbing company's name, Kurbmaster, to sponsor a couple softball teams. We were the Kurbmaster Disaster (indeed).
As partnerships sometimes go, the venture was relatively short-lived, but not because of any ill-will. These were great guys, still close friends today. They went in different directions for employment, so I decided to spinoff into a full blown landscaping company. Once again, diving into something new with the challenge of becoming a competitive company in town. Accent Landscaping was born, and we grew fast. From tiny sprinkler repair jobs, we grew into a 4-6 man crew building high level hardscape projects in the tens of thousands of dollars. I had passed the contractors license exam in the early years, and took any opportunity to license up, train, and develop a legitimate contender in the landscape game.
As any contractor knows, it is hard work. Hard, heavy, long work. Tough on the body, that is for sure. And one day without so much as even a warning, I started noticing some tingling in my left leg. Then it was pain. Then it was both feet numb. Then it was intense pain, something worse than I had ever felt. Then, after only 3 months, it was back surgery. I had a herniated disc and it needed a careful hand and scalpel. The surgery was an incredible success, unlike so many I know, I am relatively pain free today and still able to lift heavy objects (carefully, mind you).
SURVIVAL BY BASKETBALL, FOR REAL
I was still playing and coaching basketball every second I could too. I sponsored, coached, and played city league basketball for nearly two decades. During that time, I started coaching junior high basketball at a school on the west end of the city. Afterward, I coached in just about every youth association in town and eventually got a job coaching at Mountain View Middle School in 2010. That time frame, from 2010 to about 2013 was the most rewarding and simultaneously most challenging stretches I have been through.
Despite the housing crisis that walloped millions of people at the end of the first decade in the 2000's, and recovering from back surgery in 2011, my business was still hanging in there. My wife Kelly and my Mom co-owned a very successful medical transcription business at the time which had recently peaked with a couple year run of an impressive $1M gross annual revenue employing nearly 30 people. But like so many people across America during that time who had been burned in the sub-prime loan scandals, dark financial times lay ahead for us too. In an unfortunate and ironic twist, Kelly's business lost nearly 60% of its revenue in one month when a couple key accounts were forced to leave by corporations seeking to slash overhead expenses. At the same time, I was nursing a back surgery with instruction to lift no more than 10 pounds for up to 6 months. I was a contractor, so you can imagine the frustration. It was a rough time financially, the worst our family had ever known.
Through many tough times in my life, especially in my youth, I always found solace and peace in the game of basketball. Any time in the gym, on that court, meant it could not possibly be a bad day. That became a mantra of mine, so to speak, throughout my years coaching. My immediate family has always been intensely close to the game, although my wife might tell you she could do just fine without the near-insane devotion I have. My boys, like me, have the passion in their blood. It isn't taught, it is just innate.
On my darkest days, when those feelings of inadequacy and doubt would sneak in, I was always able to shed them and restore supreme confidence while working with the young men I was coaching. We prepared each day for war, but learned to respect the game that had always been so good to me. We learned about sportsmanship, selflessness, and passion. We learned to win, and to lose, both with dignity. Sometimes there were tears of joy when we won, tears of agony when we lost, but their confident grins in the face of adversity warmed my heart. The supreme reward was that singular moment, when I would see the switch flip for a player. That time when they realized all their hard work meant something, that they were capable of feats greater than they had understood before, and when they also realized the game was far more than just a game. It was life, played out on a basketball court.
The game literally forced me to keep on keeping on during those years. Glimpses of memories in my mind give me chill bumps to this day. I was so proud to coach so many wonderful players and so thankful they were willing to go all-in with me each season. From 2011 on, I coached school ball and AAU, often resulting in 9-10 month long stretches of seemingly non-stop basketball where I might coach as many as 60-80 games per year. I even played city league basketball during a few seasons too! My love for the game seems crazy to some, incomprehensible to others, but it has kept me alive and kicking. And that tenacity is much like what fuels me in business.
GET DOWN AND STARTUP
Sometimes opportunity shows up in the strangest places. In 2012 I decided it was time to sell my landscape contracting business, and go in a new direction. A year earlier in 2011, I scraped together a few bucks from selling some aging A/V electronics and formed a new Limited Liability Company called Mamoing. I know, funny name. But the word Mamoing was my attempt as a baby to say Grandma, it was what I called her. She loved it and reminded me how cute she thought it was, especially as I was becoming a teenager. When she passed away in 1990, I never let go of those fond memories of her. And since it was my Grandma who taught me about marketing from the beginning, I wanted to honor her with the name of my own business.
I dabbled with a number of ideas after creating Mamoing, LLC. I never really intended it to be one thing, but hoped it could be many things. There are a number of business plans stored in the Mamoing vault, some I'm still aching to develop and launch. In due time. In the meantime, I had been looking through classified ads for something unique to do. Like many treasures are discovered, I found it on Craigslist.
It was a job posting for a sales person for a new company in town that manufactured landscape products called TechniSoil. I called and got an interview scheduled, and a few days later I had the job. The financial opportunity was barely an opportunity at all. It was laughable, but it made sense for a 2 year old fledgling startup company. However, when I get that feeling, that hunch, I am like a runaway freight train. I took the position knowing there was no way I could make a decent living. In fact, I worked full time for 60 days and never made a dime! Yep, 2 months, no pay. I am fairly certain my wife thought I had completely lost my mind.
I knew that first day when I interviewed with the owner of company that this was something I could sink my teeth into, something I could build upon, and quickly. He was around the same age as me, easy going, but remarkably bright. He explained the business plan, that they were finding some success, but needed help pioneering in areas all across the United States. There was no handbook, no training courses, and not much help from the handful of employees except to say that a select few saw fractioned glimmers of what-might-be, much like the blue sky I could see.
Over the next 5 years, I tore the place apart. I learned about anything and everything I could get my hands on. Within months I became a go-to employee for IT, product knowledge, and organizational ideas. Within a year, I became the sales manager. Within 2 years, I took over the marketing department. Within 3 years I was the lead person in product R&D. I consolidated, streamlined, expanded, dominated, and learned. Our company president was an incredible mentor and leader. He did not hide behind his knowledge, he was free-wheeling, moving and thinking at a frenetic pace that was impossible to match but fun to experience. TechniSoil is something I am truly grateful for, I felt like it needed me just as much as I needed it and the reciprocity has been sweet since that day in 2012. The timing was as brilliant as it was serendipitous.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Life is cyclical. This is perhaps the most empowered and appreciative I have ever been, speaking with you now about BridgeHouse Marketing. Standing in the kitchen one evening, discussing the world and beyond with my wife, it all came together. She smiled, then looked at me seriously, and asked if I saw the common thread. All that I have done, all that I want to do, it was sitting right there in front of me. That thing I willingly dive head-first into any time a friend, family member, or complete stranger needs help. Marketing. How do you look away from the one thing your most skilled and passionate about? Well, not any more. This is my company, and we are here serving you and your business. We are BridgeHouse Marketing. Are you ready? Let's get started.