Founded in 2007, HOMAGE turns back the clock with shout-outs to eclectic moments and personalities in sports, music, politics, and popular culture. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Larry Bird, our clothing tells stories of triumph, individualism and hustle, preserving the old school and creating new legacies. Pay homage. The National Center for the Middle Market had the opportunity to speak with Matthew Moore, Director of Merchandising at HOMAGE.

Tell us a little bit about the background of HOMAGE and how the company got started.

HOMAGE is really like the classic entrepreneurial story. Ryan Vesler founded the company about ten years ago. He identified an opportunity in the market when it came to the vintage t-shirt space to not only have the right fit and the right fabric to make the t-shirt comfortable, which is ultimately what we stand for, but also something that is telling the right story from a demographic perspective. He envisioned a company that understood what the story behind the vintage t-shirt says, and that emotional connection that a customer has to a t-shirt that they know and love. Everyone has their favorite t-shirt, right? Our goal at HOMAGE, and Ryan’s goal when he started the company, is to take that connection that every person has and try to recreate that across our entire assortment. He went from selling vintage shirts on eBay, and understanding what the product was and the emotional connection that people had with these t-shirts, then identifying that as an opportunity to start a brand. So he started the brand in his parents’ basement, housed inventory down there, ran inventory in cardboard boxes to local boutique shops in Columbus, and sold them right out of the box. From there, the switch flipped and he never looked back. 

Where are most of your stores located?

Most of our stores are located in Ohio. We have two stores each in Columbus and Cincinnati, and we have one store each in Cleveland and Detroit, which was our first store outside of Ohio. Ten years later, we are about to open our seventh store. We just opened in Pittsburgh, which is very exciting for everyone here. We have wanted to get to Pittsburgh for a while now, and the right opportunity presented itself, and we opened our Pittsburgh store last month. We’d like to have another store by the end of the year as well, location TBD. We are working on a number of different opportunities, and we are hopeful that will happen. By the end of HOMAGE’s tenth year, we’ll have eight total stores, as well as a significant online business that continues to grow. What we have been able to do is stay passionate about our work. We all feel very connected to our brand and we love what it represents. We take great pride in delivering a product that our customer loves.

How do you come up with your geographical strategy?

We have two store models. The first is what we call the Neighborhood Store, so we look for a thriving, urban neighborhood that usually has a strong presence of arts and culture, shopping, and then restaurants and bars. We feel like that is a core piece of the HOMAGE brand to resonate authenticity, which is something that we pride ourselves on. We believe that authenticity is a crucial part of our retail strategy because we are able to weave ourselves into the fabric of the community. Our second model is outdoor life malls. Our strategy with that is to be a part of a large shopping center that is thriving and is a place where people like to shop. From a city perspective, we’re looking at our audience, and who our customer is. We look for cities that have a rich cultural history, as well as a rich collegiate university history in athletics, and professional sports teams. We’re always looking at new perspective candidate stores, and how they align with our customer data. 

Talk to us a little bit about the culture at HOMAGE and what it’s like to work there.

We’re a group of very passionate people. Most of us have come to this company because we fell in love with the brand, and wanted an opportunity to work here. We’re passionate about the product, the content we make, our customers, and the stories that we tell. It’s a very dynamic workplace. We’re growing all of the time. Because we have a group of motivated, driven, and passionate people, we’re able to achieve some amazing things. The common thread among the workers is that we love the brand because of what it is and what it represents. We’re here because we love HOMAGE, and we want to find a way to let more people know about it. 

How do you use social media to market your product?

It’s so important as a middle market company to utilize social media. One, because it such an authentic way to reach your customers, and also to meet new ones. We use social media in a couple of different ways. We use it to offer what we call “Legendary Customer Service.” Our internal customer service representatives and our in-store customer associates are our All-Stars, because they individually interact with our customers. They make sure that the customers are always happy with their experience; because if it weren’t for our customers, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Customers can use Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to address an issue and we will make sure that we take the appropriate steps to get them in touch with the right people to resolve whatever they need. Another thing we use social media for is to drive home that authenticity factor to tell the story of the brand. We want to make sure our current followers are up to date on HOMAGE’s newest ideas. We’re very active on social media daily to interact with our customers as much as possible. We care about our customers more than anything, and we want them to know that they are our first priority.

What kind of community outreach do you do? How does that affect the brand?

A huge pillar of the HOMAGE brand is philanthropy. We’ve taken steps over the past year to try and formalize this, and we’ve launched HOMAGE Works. Once a month, we take initiative for an organization we’re passionate about, as a brand, and give back to that. Recently we’ve partnered with Dress for Success to do t-shirts for the Give Kindness campaign. Also in the last few weeks, we’ve highlighted Dan Vaccaro’s experiences on our social media and worked with our partners at WWE to arrange some special moments for him. Dan is a guy with a great personality who goes by the name “The Danimal,” and we were able to get him ringside seats, as well as backstage passes to meet some of his favorite WWE stars. Through our relationship with Dan and WWE, we released a t-shirt in his honor, and all of the proceeds will benefit the Worthington Special Olympics. These experiences mean everything to us, and our company gets so excited to be able to connect with our customers on this level. Authenticity is a huge piece of what HOMAGE stands for, and we want to give back to what’s important to us.

What’s next for HOMAGE? What are you most excited for?

We’re excited for our new store and being able to connect with new customers. This is going to be a great opportunity for us. There is a huge story to tell and a lot of new people to market our product to.  We also want to expand our business on the web. Before we can open a new store, we need to establish a strong product on the internet. We’ve expanded from a t-shirt brand, but ultimately want to be a head-to-toe look. As a middle market company, there’s always a lot of challenges, but we are going to focus on the tools to help us grow and scale our brand. We want to continue to take up more closet space.