MMA Interview with Ranger Up Apparel CEO Nick Palmisciano, and T-Shirt Giveaway!

Nick Caron@@nicholascaronAnalyst IMarch 25, 2011

The MMA world is full of apparel companies that have come and gone. Having great designs on your shirts is a great way to get noticed, however when it’s not promoted correctly or when fans see the company in a negative light, it’s practically impossible to be successful.

Ranger Up has taken those two ideas and molded them with the idea that their product would not only be “cool,” but would also be one that has a true meaning behind it.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to talk with Ranger Up’s CEO, Nick Palmisciano. Nick explained how the company started, the unique ways they have jump-started their growth, and what he believes it means to be “Ranger Up” material.

The story of Ranger Up began after Nick left the military in 2003 and began attending classes at Duke University. Though attending this prestigious school is something that many dream of, it wasn’t a place where Nick felt he fit in.

“I went from being with awesome, hardcore guys that look at life and assessed other people based on accomplishment and merit to a society where people felt that they were entitled to a great deal,” he described.

Nick stayed involved in the military by volunteering with the ROTC where he taught Army Combatives.

While he was there, other military members often complained about the lack of military-focused apparel.

“How come if you’re anti-military, there are 2,000 websites you can to and get mocking it?,” Nick recalled them asking. “But if you’re in the military, the only thing that’s available for you is a skull with like 'Death From Above' on it. It’s cheesy and over-the-top.”

So in 2006, Nick decided to take up the hobby of creating pro-military apparel while working a job for a Fortune 50 company. He kept working on the hobby, seeing some growth over the next year before he met MMA fighter and fellow military member, Tim Kennedy. The two men quickly became great friends and Tim is now an owner of the Ranger Up corporation.

Nick and Tim met Kelly Crigger, now of Alchemist Management, at Tim’s second all-Army Combatives Tournament. As a Lieutenant Colonel in the military himself, Crigger was impressed and excited about what Ranger Up was doing for the troops. He worked to get the company placed in the military’s largest publication, the Military Times. With that placement, Ranger Up quickly grew four times bigger.

But what has helped the company grow in recent years has been their use of Facebook as both a marketing tool and a way of communicating with their end-user.

“We are the most aggressive Facebook entity, anywhere in MMA,” Nick boasted.

“We really let our fans run the design process. We put the design out there on the site and a lot of times, that design will do a 180 degree turn, based on feedback we get. By the time we’re done with something, we are delivering a product that our customers, our fans, believe in.”

It started as a small community, but they knew that the company would be significantly more successful if they were able to get out to a bigger audience on Facebook.

“At the very beginning of January [2010], I said, “We’re going to have 20,000 people on Facebook by the end of this year. That’s what we’re going to do.”

This change has impacted the sales of the company’s merchandise in dramatic ways. The Ranger Up Facebook page now has over 23,000 friends and continues to grow at a rapid pace.

“Just to put it into perspective, we had 1,100 Facebook friends on our page at the end of 2009,” Nick added.

Facebook has truly become this company’s go-to form of communication with its community.

“The thing that’s crazy about our Facebook page is we have 23,000 fans, we have 19,500+ 'active' fans. If you look at most groups that have like a ka-gillion fans, almost nobody is active. They don’t look at the page, they don’t read the posts,” Nick said. “Our fans, if they “liked” us, with 90-something percent probability, our fans are always looking at the page, always making comments.”

Although gaining fans was the initial goal, Ranger Up understands that they must also stay in touch with those fans to remain relevant.

“People will post things that are really arbitrary like, 'What do you think of this?' and we’ll answer them on our Facebook page, we’ll answer them on our Twitter,” Nick continued. “We personally answer them. It’s the guys running the company, not our customer service reps.”

However, while Facebook and Twitter are both social networking tools, Palmisciano understands that they are also very different.

“Facebook is where you can have meaningful interaction. Twitter is for sort of getting a pulse of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “Twitter is for information. Facebook is for interaction and for revenue.”

Staying connected with fellow members of the military using Facebook is also an important task for Nick and the Ranger Up corporation. He described a time when he used Facebook to help support promoter Monica Sanford in her effort to hold the first professional MMA event inside a combat zone.

But it was a friend of Nick’s from the military who he had not seen in years that really helped push the event into action. When this friend found out that the event was going to be taking place in Mosul, Iraq, he knew that as the General’s Aide, he could help make sure the event happened.

“We had all this additional support coming from his end in terms of how certain things were going to happen, and who was going to be there, and it was just great,” he recalled. “It was an incredible aide for Monica and it all happened because of Facebook interaction.”

Though Ranger Up has focused on its military background both as a cause and as a niche, the brand is not only for members of the military.

“Even now, over half of our customers have never served, which people find shocking,” Palmisciano informed. “You have this impression that there’s a lot of anti-military, anti-troop sentiment out there, but I’d say the majority of the country is pro-troop. They might dislike a conflict, a political decision, but on the whole, I think Americans are very proud of the armed services.”

Supporting the troops always has been and will continue to be the primary focus of Ranger Up.

“Everything we do really does have a purpose. That’s what makes the company special for us. Other people can scoff at that, but for us, that’s what makes it special,” he declared. “We use that Facebook page to help out anybody that’s trying to help out the troops.”

Although the company has made a successful push into sponsoring MMA fighters, Palmisciano admits that it has not been a driving force in the company’s success.

“Sponsoring a guy does not do anything for you,” he asserted. “It’s sponsoring people, over time, that you believe in, that share your values, that are going to represent the brand well. Taking care of them, they will take care of you. It’s building something that has substance. No one event is going to make you a successful company.”

“Early on, I was guilty of the very same things,” Nick revealed. “I was like, 'Oh we’ll sponsor this athlete and things we’re going to grow so fast because everybody’s going to see this guy wearing our logo!' But the fact of the matter is that, and this is not what those other brands want to hear, but it doesn’t do anything.”

But Ranger Up changed the way they did things. While they may have sponsored a few fighters who they later deemed to be not quite “Ranger Up” material in the past, things have changed into Ranger Up becoming more like a family.

“We very rapidly changed our outlook and said, 'If we’re going to sponsor somebody, we’re going to sponsor somebody that we believe in personally,' because we focus on helping the guy,” Palmisciano explained.

Ranger Up has primarily worked with mixed martial artists, but they have also branched into other areas of athletics.

“We sponsor athletes that embody the warrior spirit,” Palmisciano declared. “We determine if we believe in this person and what they’re doing.”

One example of the company’s willingness to branch out into other sports is their sponsorship of disabled endurance athlete and former Survivor contestant, Kelly Bruno. Kelly is the world record holder for amputees in the 200m and 800m distances, and was the 2008 New York Triathlon gold medal winner in the amputee division.

“She’s just a complete and total stud,” Nick bragged as he recalled a team marathon he competed in with her. “It was marathon through the New Mexico desert that is almost entirely uphill, wearing a 55 pound rucksack. She was running circles around all of us and we are all 200 pound, former Army Rangers. We won the event and she was like, 'Let’s do it again!'"

To be a Ranger Up athlete, one must be more than an athlete. He or she must truly personify everything that Ranger Up stands for.

“It makes everything so much better. It provides absolute clarity,” Palmisciano continued. “We’re going to sponsor [a] guy because he is a great human being who shares our values who we care about. If he loses, then we feel bad that our friend just lost, and if there’s anything we can do to help our friend, then we will. It’s not a business transaction.”

The business transformation has not only been good for Ranger Up’s mission of helping the troops, but also for revenue.

“We’re having incredible growth. Most of the projects that Ranger Up is building have a lot to do with our integration with non-profits. In particular, Soldier’s Angels and Brian Stann’s Hire Heroes. We are focusing on building those things, building our relationships there.”

Ranger Up is truly a company built on doing great things for its community.

“We have never, from day one, considered ourselves a t-shirt company,” Palmisciano concluded. “T-shirts are just the means to do the things we want to do in our community. Over the next few years, you should be hearing a whole lot more from us.”

With the incredible people in charge and the way the business has transformed to stay ahead of the ever-changing Internet community, Ranger Up should only continue to meet and exceed its goals.

Now is your chance to help promote and show your support for the troops and the Ranger Up brand.

Nick Palmisciano has generously offered to give away five (5) t-shirts to fans.

To enter the contest, check out RangerUp.com and find your favorite t-shirt. Then post a comment on this article with the name of the shirt.

Five comments will be randomly chosen and each winner will receive his or her favorite Ranger Up t-shirt, free of charge! Winners will be chosen on April 1, 2011 and notified shortly after.

Thank you again to Nick Palmisciano and Ranger Up for their tireless efforts in supporting our armed forces, as well as for hosting this contest!

Please support Ranger Up by becoming a fan on Facebook, following them on Twitter, and subscribing on YouTube!

Ranger Up on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/RangerUpFanPage

Ranger Up on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/#!/Ranger_Up

Ranger Up on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/user/RangerUpVideo

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