We had a call scheduled for 2:00 p.m. with The Barn President and Creative Director Nick Matarese. We spoke a few minutes ahead, but he asked that we call back in five. Why? The dude needed a minute.
Matarese is busy. Right now, he’s the only full-time employee at his creative design agency, The Barn. He told us that he like to keep his team lean, and he hires contractors as bigger jobs and clients approach to meet demand.
And The Barn is in demand right now. Matarese told us that they’ve had a waitlist for new clients and work that goes back to January of this year.
“These are champagne problems,” he later told us.
Right now, The Barn is working with a big client: GK Elite, whom Matarese explained is practically the Nike of the gymnastics world. It works with the entire US Olympic gymnastics team. The Barn is in the process of designing two different catalogs for the company.
We asked Matarese how The Barn managed to bag GK Elite, and he told us it comes down to never burning bridges.
“The marketing manager there used to be my old boss at Adidas,” he explained. The two switched companies, moved around, “and when she landed this gig, she looked at her catalogs and thought of us.” Lesson learned: don’t ever burn your bridges.
The client is huge for The Barn, and that exceptionally lean staff saw its designer count increase by two to deal with the weight of the work. We profiled one of these new designers and rising stars last week.
And that only covers one of their clients. Matarese told us that The Barn’s handled the rebranding of McGowan’s HVAC in Jacksonville, Fla., and they’ve since become the company’s agency of record. They’re also rebranding the athletics department of the Conrad School of Sciences here in Delaware. They’re even handling the ecommerce website for Adidas’ swim division.
“Success is stretching the business a little bit thin,” Matarese admitted, “but in a positive way. It’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
Which brought us to what we consider a reasonable line of questioning: Why not grow the agency? Bring on more employees? Spread the work to a larger team?
Matarese says he likes things small. He’s worked at large, global companies like Adidas. Then, for a short stint, he found himself at a company called Hanlon Creative. He told us the agency was only eight or 10 people big, and everyone there was happy and making incredible work. He pointed back to those massive agencies and called out the huge overhead they have thanks to their staff size. If they don’t land that multimillion dollar client, they’re laying off half their staff. He doesn’t want to go there, so he’s run a small, clean company.
“It completely changed my mindset on what you need to be to be successful,” he said. Matarese explained that at Hanlon, he liked that everyone knew everyone. Everyone knew the owner, barbecued on weekends and babysat one another’s kids. He loved that, citing that “it makes for more open dialogue.”
Matarese said that at Hanlon, “No one’s afraid to step on toes. They’ll say, ‘No, I’m gonna call this guy’s bluff’ when the design isn’t good enough.”
Matarese said he’s a perfectionist who wants to have his hand in a little bit of everything, and yet, he knows it’s important to trust your colleagues.
“If there isn’t that open dialogue between everyone on staff,” he said, “I think you’re doomed for failure.”