Founded in 1988, S&S Activewear is a national wholesaler to the imprintable apparel and uniform market, headquartered in Bolingbrook, IL. S&S offers more than 60 brands, such as Adidas and Champion, specializing in blank sportswear, corporate apparel and accessories. This includes anything from basic garments to fashion-forward styles and features the best selection the industry has to offer.
Meet Marc Vitulli, VP of marketing at S&S. Though he’s been with S&S for over three years now, Vitulli’s path to becoming a marketing leader at a billion dollar company was anything from ordinary. Starting out his career as a CPA in a big corporate national accounting firm, Vitulli left to join a startup digital marketing agency in LA before selling it five years later and becoming a full-time consultant. Oh, and during that time he was also a professional DJ, too. After consulting for S&S for almost two years, Vitulli decided to join the team full-time.
On the other hand, Nicci Knouse, graphic and web design manager at S&S, actually began her career in the culinary arts as a chef in South Africa, where she was born and raised. After moving to the US, Knouse went to school for graphic design and landed her first creative job at S&S. When Knouse started, the marketing department was only five people. Now, seven years later, the team is close to 25.
To handle the large volume of work coming from both internal and brand accounts, the S&S marketing department is split into three main teams. “First, we have our creative team, which focuses on all types of content creation and social media. This is also where Nicci’s web and graphic design team is situated. Second, we have our digital marketing team that takes care of our advertising, e-commerce and data oriented efforts. Third, we have what we call our traditional marketing team, who lead catalog production, trade shows and so on,” says Vitulli.
The S&S marketing team is always switched on, pumping out creative and strategy to help the business grow. Along with their primary marketing tasks, the S&S creative arm also acts as an internal agency that creates standout designs for their brands, such as Oakley, Champion, Adidas, Columbia and Dri-Duck, to name a few.
To Vitulli, what makes S&S different from their competitors is their ability to really set the trend, not only in the product they carry, but the way that they market the business. They’ve differentiated themselves by putting focus on creative branding and great design, something that many B2B companies push aside.
Clearly, the marketing team at S&S knows what it’s like to be busy—really busy. So naturally, their main challenges are around both scale and volume.
Knouse manages a team of three designers who support an 80+ sales team with design assets, act as an in-house agency for their 60+ brands and somehow also find time to create content for S&S. Her team was suffering from a classic design bottleneck—too much to do, and not enough hands to do it.
“Between servicing our outside sales reps, building this big internal marketing agency and program, creating branding and content for just S&S, and continuing to grow within our industry, we have a tremendous amount of creative and graphic design needs.” - Vitulli
Vitulli realized that at the rate they were going, it just wasn’t possible to keep up while continuing to grow. And Knouse knew that what she needed help with the most was creating campaigns for their brands. Ontop of all the other work that they do, they pump out around 8-10 campaigns a month, which include an email, landing page and often a banner or promo as well.
At S&S they’ve traditionally hired internally, but Vitulli knew that he and his team needed outside help. One design hire just wouldn’t be able to provide the wide range of expertise, let alone the time, to keep up with their design needs. What he didn’t want to do, though, was rush into signing up with a traditional agency. He was looking for something different — something that was flexible, elastic and could scale up or down with their team's needs.
“Honestly, I was looking for agencies for about six months,” says Vitulli. “Traditional type agencies, email design agencies and so on. Superside popped up one late night, and it just seemed to be the exact model that we were looking for. Someone who could help us scale and bring a lot of professional talent, too.”
Now, having been working with Superside since late 2019, Knouse and her team have been able to produce work at a faster rate and tackle projects that were just outside of her team’s scope. From speed, to quality, to price, they couldn’t be happier with their decision to hire externally.
Starting with two designs per month to help support their brand work, Knouse now submits 10+ projects on average. Though her team started off with email design exclusively, their requests now include landing page design, catalogue refreshers and even a brand deepdive. And both social media design and motion design are currently in the works!
“From messaging and imagery to actual campaigns, some of our brands needed a revamp. When you look at the same thing all the time, it’s easy to run out of ways to make it look exciting and fresh. But then I’d give it to you guys [Superside] and it just gets this breath of fresh life. It shows our team, ‘Oh, I can do that with a brand that I typically thought didn't have that much potential,’” says Knouse. Working with Superside has given her designers the time to really explore their creativity, versus rushing through something to keep up with the demand.
Knouse also expressed how working with Superside makes it feel like they’ve added people to the team. Vitulli emphasizes this point; ”I would say maybe it's been the equivalent of two to four graphic designers in some context, however you want to look at it.” So, instead of hiring one talented individual to bring onto their team, they’re able to tap into the talents of many to help get work done at scale.