Melanie O’Neil – Co-Founder, Rustic Marlin

Melanie has 20+ years of experience developing and implementing successful marketing strategies and managing operational functions for large global brands, including Reebok, to innovative start-ups including IdeaPaint. She now brings her passion for building brands and growing companies to her own business, Rustic Marlin Designs, which she founded in 2012 with her husband, Brian.

Melanie is a graduate of Stonehill College and earned her Master’s from Boston College. She is also the recipient of the 2015 South Shore Young Professionals Foundation Grant. Inc. Magazine ranked Rustic Marlin #366 on its 2018 annual list of fastest-growing companies in America. Rustic Marlin has also been named to the 2016 Entrepreneur 360™ list recognizing founders that expertly balance impact, innovation, growth, and leadership within their business.

How did the concept for Rustic Marlin come about?
Rustic Marlin started as a love story in 2012 when we were getting married. After looking for meaningful gifts, we decided to create our own. We started to receive requests from friends for custom signs and then tested them at a farmer’s market and boutique store. Now, we have licenses with major sports leagues and sell to national accounts.

What was your marketing strategy?
When we first started, and even still, all dollars are invested into production and inventory. At the beginning, the best marketing was ourselves. We met our customers, created items they were asking for, and interacted with them on social media and in person. Word of mouth became our best marketing tool and people loved us and our products which lead to repeat and referred business. We even received some of our biggest accounts, such as The Paper Store, through word of mouth. Even today, this “free marketing” approach takes sweat equity but no dollars and works to help us grow. This week, we were on a Channel 5 news feature and I was on the cover of my college alumni publication. The best advice is to be passionate and create relationships through social media and to have your products relate to customers.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our business grew so quick that we sold $1 million out of our home in one year!

How do you define success?
I am still working to figure this one out! We always say to be a profitable and sustainable business that allows us some time off – weekends to start! But we are still striving to determine what success is and sometimes need to remember to celebrate our accomplishments instead of always looking forward to what is next!

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Eye on the ball – my dad used to say this to me growing up. It is true for softball but also for life.”

“Eat, breathe, sleep sawdust.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When our manufacturing production was not able to meet customer demand. As a response to this hurdle, we used Yankee ingenuity to develop a proprietary technique which we now like to call the Secret Sauce!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Our employees are the most valuable asset we have. We could not do this without their talent and dedication. When faced with adversity, their livelihoods push us to keep moving forward.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Everybody is busy and works a lot, but an entrepreneur is similar to being a parent. This is not time off. You must be passionate and dedicated. You will miss many personal commitments for business and you have to be prepared for the sacrifice – but you also have to love it!

Jason Navallo

Jason Navallo is the author of five books: American Dream, Thrive, Never Give Up, Success, and Driven to Succeed. He has an M.B.A. in Human Resource Management from Louisiana State University and lives in NYC.