Established in 1988 and based in Bolingbrook, Illinois, S&S Activewear is a national wholesale distributor specializing in blank sportswear, corporate attire, and accessories for the imprintable apparel and uniform industry. The company boasts a vast selection of over 60 brands including well-known names like Adidas and Champion, offering a range from basic items to cutting-edge fashion.
Marc Vitulli is the Vice President of Marketing at S&S Activewear and has been a part of the company for three years. His journey to the top of a billion-dollar organization is far from typical. Vitulli began his career as a Certified Public Accountant at a large, national firm. Later, he ventured into the startup world by joining a digital marketing agency in Los Angeles. After selling the agency five years later, he transitioned to a full-time consulting role. 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, 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.
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.
Vitulli believes that S&S stands out from its competitors through its trendsetting approach both in its product offerings and its marketing strategies. The company differentiates itself by emphasizing creative branding and high-quality design, areas that many business-to-business (B2B) companies often overlook.The Challenge
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 recognized that their current pace was unsustainable for continued growth. Knouse, understanding the crux of the issue, identified that they needed assistance most urgently in developing campaigns for their brands. In addition to their regular workload, they produce approximately 8-10 campaigns each month, each comprising an email, a landing page, and frequently additional elements like a banner or promotion.
S&S has traditionally hired internally, but Vitulli recognized the need for help from outside the company to meet the growing and varied design demands. Simply adding one more designer to the team wouldn't address the breadth of skills needed or the workload. Vitulli was also cautious about quickly committing to a conventional 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 60% 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 deep-dive. And both social media design and motion design are currently in the works!
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.