Where Craft Meets Convenience
Rener Gracie, CEO of supplier Quikflip Apparel in Torrance, California, was entirely new to promotional products when he entered the industry, but with the charisma and gusto of a true marketing pro, and a knack for making people laugh, others quickly took notice. It was a strategy that Gracie planned, having designed a multifunctional product that solves a common problem, and one that, he felt, many other people could relate to. With several of his videos shared to social media garnering millions of views, it turns out Gracie was right.
Gracie created the first prototype of his company’s signature product, the Hero Hoodie, on December 27, 2016. The Hero Hoodie is an outerwear garment that can be converted, in seconds, to a drawstring bag, and vice versa, eliminating the need to toss a hoodie over one’s shoulder when it isn’t being worn—which is what Gracie was doing when his sweatshirt slid off and into the wet grass and mud, caused by rain the night before. On this day, Gracie had taken his young son to the park, and although he wore his favorite hoodie there, he took it off as the day warmed up. “I took off my hoodie and started to tie it around my waist, before I realized I didn’t want to be ‘that guy,’” he said. Realizing the inconvenience posed by having to carry a hoodie and the lack of options, he got to work with his hoodie, paperclips, shoe strings, scissors and some duct tape, and 30 minutes later, he had his first prototype. It was the first of 15 prototypes that he’d make over the next eight months as he perfected the product.
Gracie’s tenacity to find a solution to this small, albeit frustrating and ever-so common problem is in his nature; it’s something he does on a daily basis as a third-generation jiu-jitsu master. Gracie has long dedicated himself to the art of “studying the most effective ways to neutralize violent aggressors in the context of real fights,” he says, and it’s a perfected skill that’s as engrained in his family as it is in him. Gracie’s grandfather, Hélio Gracie, brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the United States, and his father, Rorion Gracie, founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Together, the family owns jiu-jitsu gyms across the U.S. that follow the Gracie style, which emphasizes self-defense, and Gracie is also the co-creator of Gracie University, an online resource for people interested in studying Gracie-style jiu-jitsu. Whenever Gracie dedicates himself to solving problems, he calls on the same discipline and dedication he applies in jiu-jitsu. “After becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of ways to carry an unworn hoodie, I finally decided to apply my multi-generational problem-solving DNA to my hoodie dilemma, and it worked!” he says.
Some would say that luck has been on Gracie’s side, because in addition to a well-received product, several of his product videos have gone viral. This past summer, Gracie was doing a sales pitch at a Fort Worth trade show that was recorded and uploaded online by a distributor. The video hit one million views by close of show and has since exceeded 7.5 million views. “My approach was simple,” he says. “Explain the problem, demonstrate the solution and let everyone know that if they weren’t the first ones to show Quikflip to their clients, then someone else would.”
Earlier, when Gracie first launched his brand and was focused on the direct-to-consumer market, he used a gorilla marketing strategy and walked California’s Venice Beach asking people about the best way to carry an unworn sweatshirt. The video, which showed people’s genuine reactions to the Quikflip conversion technology—now a patented product—went viral with more than 17 million views, causing the company to sell out of product within just a few months. But along with the perks of going viral came interest from companies looking to put their logo on both the hoodie and its companion backpack—and so Quikflip Apparel entered the promotional market.
Working on growing the range of products available to include jackets and shirts, Gracie appeared on an episode of Shark Tank that aired in May 2019. Gracie brought his fervor for the product and company, and tapped into his “jiu-jitsu confidence” to test his marketing skills before five renowned business magnets. “I knew I had to control the conversation, otherwise I would get eaten alive, so all I kept telling myself internally was ‘smile and sell, smile and sell, smile and sell,’ and it worked,” he says. Gracie made a deal with Lori Greiner, the “Queen of QVC,” who, he says, understands the long-term vision of Quikflip Apparel. But the needle really started moving when the show aired. “Orders flooded in, new distributors started seeking us out to set up wholesale accounts, organizations contacted us to get custom swag created for their employees and the momentum is still rolling hard to this day.”
In promo, Quikflip Apparel products have been customized for team gifts, event swag and branded gear. Warner Brothers recently gave Hero Hoodies as gifts to their worldwide executives, says Gracie, and Universal Studios is currently selling a number of designs at various attractions in its theme parks. Google, he says, has also given customized apparel to employees as gifts, and Intel and Dolby have distributed branded hoodies during industry events. Most recently, he says, the National Guard has started giving them to new recruits. “Once you’re in the family, you’ll never look at regular, non-converting outerwear the same. Every time you see someone with a sweatshirt tied around their waist, the only thing you can think is, ‘if they only knew.’”
Gracie is intent on continuing to grow the Quikflip Apparel brand with the innovation of new products and myriad styles and colors. During the first quarter of 2020, he says, the company is launching version 2.0 of the Dryflip Rain Jacket, the new Dryflip Windbreaker and the Hero Hoodie Lite in full zip and pullover. “We won’t stop until all outerwear is convertible,” he says.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.