X

Meet the Man Behind the SUPPLY.com Brand

At midnight on November 19th, we flipped the switch and officially became SUPPLY.com. To anyone outside the company, the overnight rebrand looked like magic. But as anyone who’s been a part of a successful rebranding project knows, pulling it off required months of strategic planning, clear communication, and extensive documentation. One of the most critical aspects of the transition from National Builder Supply was the way the new brand needed to look and feel. In order to create a brand we’re proud of, we brought on a Senior Designer with not only seriously sick pedigree, but also working knowledge of our business and industry. In September, the wildly talented Justin Jackson joined our team and wasted no time in doing what he does best. I recently sat down with the SUPPLY.com Swag Czar to learn more about his background, the design process, and his advice for anyone else undertaking such an enormous project.

The Early Years

A Metro Atlanta native, Jackson was intrigued by art and drawing at a young age. “Honestly, watching a lot of cartoons inspired me to follow my creative side when I was young. I was really interested in the line work and the bright colors. I started out by mimicking and drawing some of my favorite characters,” he recalls. I found friends and other family members who could draw, looked at their stuff, and leaned on them for some techniques. Finding out that my great grandfather was also an artist really inspired me. He did these intricate oil paintings and sketches and had a dedicated art room with giant murals on the walls. I imagine that’s where I get my creative gene because my parents can’t draw.”

When he started at Georgia Southern, Justin wasn’t really sure what he wanted to study. Through word of mouth, he heard about small major with only 30 students and 3 professors. “It was called Graphic Communications Management and I thought it sounded pretty cool. I declared that major in 2007, and became immersed in the print world, photography, and desktop publishing,” he says. “I started to say, ‘Okay, I think there could be a future in print, whether I was going to be an art director or a print manager.’ I did a couple of internships and landed my first job out of college in 2009.”

A Career in Design

“I started working for Printed Specialties, Inc. in Carrollton. While there, I started getting an itch for being involved in more creative work. I knew I wanted to work in in web design at an agency. For a year and a half, I hunkered down and taught myself how to make a portfolio based based on blogs, tutorials, and how-to’s online. Over time, that type of work started spilling into my day-to-day at Printed,” adds Jackson. “I was doing some of their art direction, writing for their blog, updating their website, and eventually, felt ready to move on. After 3 years there, I left and joined EYStudios in Kennesaw.”

“I wanted what I designed to matter…”

-Justin Jackson

“I was really on the ground floor and it was an incredibly fast-paced environment. I had never been in an environment like that before. Having to churn out so many things the same week or the same day prompted me to grow so fast. Creating assets like big banners and marketing materials, as well as helping to build out full e-commerce websites, gave me my first taste of big project work and time management. I learned what makes a good e-commerce site, what makes a bad one, which trends to look out for, and over the years, I started getting really good,” he continues. “But, I really wanted to get more into the analytics and doing data driven designed instead of just cranking out assets. I wanted what I designed to matter, essentially, instead of just handing what I did off to Client A and beginning work for Client B.”

How Justin and SUPPLY.com’s Paths Collided

Jackson’s foray with SUPPLY.com started in 2008 following a digital summit conference on social media design in Cobb County. “I went into a UX panel and sat down at a table with Matt Hobbs, who was working at THINK (now LiquidHub) at that point in time. We exchanged Twitter handles and kept in touch over the years. Our shared love for Death Cab was definitely a mutual interest,” he remembers. “About 2 years ago, we caught up again via LinkedIn and he told me that his new company, National Builder Supply, needed some help with asset design for promotions and social stuff. He asked me, ‘Is this something you’d be interested in?’ I told him, ‘Absolutely!’ It started as one small project a month and then evolved to where I was working on six projects a month sometimes.”

“Earlier this year, Matt approached me and said that there was an opportunity for a Senior Designer position. At that time, I wasn’t really feeling it just yet. I had been at EY for two and a half years and wasn’t quite ready to leave. However, in late July, Matt reached back out to me and said, ‘Hey, something big is about to drop. Our sales are going through the roof and we’re looking to rebrand. Now’s the time to join if you want to get in on the ground floor.’ That really perked up my ears, so I met Matt and Marcus for lunch in Kennesaw,” continues Jackson. “We began talking about the transition from National Builder Supply to SUPPLY.com and what that meant. They told me how they needed someone who knows the brand, is familiar with the marketplace, and has worked with Nick and Mike Owens on different projects.”

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In the lab with Justin Jackson

“At that meeting, I had no idea that Marcus was the CEO, which allowed me to be very comfortable. I didn’t realize it until my first week and said to myself, ‘Oh, snap! That was the CEO I just met so cavalierly. I hope I didn’t make an ass of myself,’” Justin jokes. “After that lunch, I came in for an interview, checked out the space, and Matt made me my first cup of pour over coffee. I liked how open the space was and how different the environment felt. After that interview, I decided to get on the rocket ship.”

Rebranding a Company of 100+ People

Prior to joining the SUPPLY.com team, Justin had experience with rebranding several different businesses, but says most were on the smaller scale. “That was pretty much our bread and butter at EY – we would redo their logo, update their color scheme, all that stuff. Rebranding and branding in general is a real passion of mine,” he asserts. “Learning of the magnitude of this redesign and knowing that I’d have to own it 100% really lit a fire beneath me to really bring my best foot forward. I knew the new SUPPLY.com brand really had to be on point.”

Not only did the new branding have to be on point, but it had to be finalized in advance of November 19th. This left Jackson with the daunting task of redesigning a $72M company in less than two months. Needless to say, he hit the ground running. “I started the process by immediately interviewing the co-founders. I asked them, ‘What industry are we in and what industry are we looking break into? Who’s our current target audience? Who are we looking to go after next?’, as well as some of the major themes and the things that the rebrand needs to communicate. I was able to get similar themes from all three of them and it was nice to get their individual inputs,” says Jackson.

“We were looking to communicate: relationships, inventory, service, trustworthy, technology, strong, and data.”

-Justin Jackson

“I then went straight to sketching and creating word clouds by researching the industry, the environment, our competitors, and other areas we could grow into to find power words to draw from. We were looking to communicate: relationships, inventory, service, trustworthy, technology, strong, and data,” he continues. “Word clouding really helps to narrow down and focus on what the ultimate iconography and logo needs to evoke.”

“With any kind of logo, there’s an evolution. You build upon ideas that keep growing and compounding until you land on, ‘Yes! That’s exactly what we’ve been searching for this whole time!’ Going from 23 characters of National Builder Supply down to the 6 characters of ‘Supply’ gave me a wide open range of spatial things to work with,” conveys Jackson. “One thing we wanted to look at was, ‘Should it be all lowercase? Should it be title case? Should it be all caps?’ What we ultimately decided was that all caps totally encapsulates strength and sturdiness. It’s something that’s timeless, essentially.”

Stopped by GO: the Turkish Gas Station Fiasco

As the design process moved forward, Jackson landed on a logo that he felt ticked all the boxes. “I knew right off the bat that our logo would have some kind of icon shape paired with the text of SUPPLY.com. Figuring out an icon that went with the word cloud we did was one of the harder things in this process,” explains Jackson. “The first logo we made (see below) had no box, SUPPLY in all caps, and in the negative space, an upward, right pointing, rounded edge triangle that we were going to set in green. It was known as ‘the talisman,’ as dubbed by Mike Owens, and we were going to use it as a special, magical icon throughout the site.”

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The original SUPPLY.com logo, featuring the talisman

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The GO branding, also featuring the talisman

“It was like the emergency brakes had just been pulled.”

-Justin Jackson

However, just as Justin began to feel confident about his new creation, a wrench was thrown into the works by way of Anatolia. “I was pursuing a site that I look at pretty frequently, looking for branding ideas from other companies’ brand books. I found this Turkish gas station called GO and my jaw dropped – the color scheme was essentially the same and the way they used the talisman was exactly how I envisioned using it. It was like the emergency brakes had just been pulled. We had to stop dead in our tracks and re-think everything we’d done. Luckily, it wasn’t scorched earth due to all the work leading up to this logo. But, I was forced to ask myself, ‘Okay, what made this one successful? Where can we take this and evolve it a little bit more?’ We liked how the text was working, so we started, and it was back again to the drawing board.”

Rising from the Ashes: The Concentragon

Determined to come up with an even more powerful logo, Justin and Matt began playing with triangles and different line strokes. “We landed on a house-like shape and our first one looked like a gazebo or a pinecone. We took that idea, deconstructed it a little more, and landed on the ‘concentragon’ shape, which was just a funny word we came up with. It’s essentially a hexagon that’s cut in half so you can only see 4 sides of it. We then shrunk it down into a different shape and Matt said something to the effect of, ‘It’s a concentric hexagon.’ I responded, ‘Like a concentragon?’ We were both blown away and said, ‘That’s it! CONCENTRAGON!’,” reveals Jackson. “We cut it down the middle, added another color to the other side to give it some depth and dimensionality, and put it inside that box off to the left of the SUPPLY.com text (see below). Putting the logo inside of a rectangular shape further solidifies the overall rigidity of it, again, playing up to the strength factor. Housing it inside that shape helps it stand alone on its own and gives it a little bit more authority. It’s not just two disconnected pieces of icon and text floating in space.”

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The final SUPPLY.com logo, featuring the concentragon

“Concerning color, due to the preliminary interviews with the founders, we didn’t want to stray too far from the color scheme National Builder Supply had already established. Consequently, I knew we wanted to stay in the green/gray neighborhood. I wanted to tilt the primary green to more of a primary color instead of leaning towards the yellow end of the spectrum. I paired it with the darker color to set it off as well as the charcoal black. I think we came up with this simple, elegant color scheme that translates well across all mediums,” he affirms. “Regarding font, we knew we wanted the font to be a modern, chunky, thick sans serif font. I went through a number of unique fonts and found ‘Mark Pro Bold,’ which is a strong, super awesome font. I gave it a little more love by adjusting stems, curves, and angles, which was a process in and of itself too. All in all, I think we nailed it.”

Lessons Learned & Advice for Other Designers

Looking back, Justin appreciates all that he learned throughout the process and is thankful for the massive opportunity. “When I was at the agency, we worked on super tight deadlines and as a result, I had to find the best idea I could, as fast as I could, and run with it. Whereas with this project, I could take my time, dig in, explore a little bit more,” he says. “I definitely relearned to leave no stone unturned and to never be afraid of failure. When rebranding, there’s no rabbit hole that’s not worth exploring because you never know where that’s going to lead you.”

“Also, unexpected things can happen like uncovering the Turkish gas station, which encourages you to dig a little deeper and look for something else. Going back to the drawing board definitely informed some of the certain design decisions we’ve landed on now,” continues Jackson. “Although we felt pretty strong about that first design, I love the one we landed on. I’ll stand behind this thing and will fight for it tooth and nail. I put a lot of care into this and did a lot of research. I think our current design is miles ahead of where we were.”

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The evolution of the SUPPLY.com logo

For other designers undertaking a colossal rebranding project, Jackson offered three pieces of advice:

  • “Do your research. Being able to ask the founders face to face and get their in-depth input was a privilege. Gather as much information as you can. Be a sponge. Look at where the trends are heading without being overly trendy. Look at it from every which way. Thinking of it in every kind of setting. What does it look like upside down? What does it look like on a shirt? What does it look like from far away? Keep a higher perspective as to where it’s going to go.”
  • “When you’re rebranding, you need to future proof it a little bit. You have to think ahead about, ‘What are the business cards going to look like? What are the web fonts that are going to be used?’ Once we landed on the final logo, we were able to run with the other stuff, but there was this nice building block process along the way to think of those other things as well.”
  • “Don’t fear simplicity because sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.”

Want to read about other heroes like Justin? Check out more profiles here. Interested in getting on a rocket ship and witnessing your career grow faster than Rick Bobby’s Wonder Bread car on the Talladega asphalt? Check out our Careers page or send an email to work@supply.com.

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