Humanity has a beautiful way of banding together in times of turmoil – the more fortunate helping the needy, the overworked, the disadvantaged. While it’s easy to get lost in the daily COVID-19 headlines and statistics, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of good going on in the world.
I’m proud to present Insperity’s new blog series, Good Business, showcasing companies that have adapted to meet the needs of this uncertain time and to give back to their communities. Let these stories be a beacon of compassion, hope and optimism that together we will persevere and work toward a brighter tomorrow. – Larry Shaffer, senior vice president of marketing and business development
It was March 2020, and Chris Arranaga and his team worked to fulfill orders for a client list Gorilla Marketing had serviced and grown for more than 40 years. His business was booming.
As the reality set in that the COVID-19 pandemic had come to the United States, his clients canceled large events for which he produced branded promotional materials – think t-shirts, key chains, mugs and other corporate apparel and tradeshow collateral.
Then the lockdowns took effect.
Over the course of a week, orders were canceled, revenue took a nosedive, he could no longer pay all 35 of his employees and the prospects for this once-thriving family business – like many companies the world over – were dire.
“We had to furlough nonessential employees – about 75 percent of the Gorilla Marketing team. At one point, our staff was down to four managers – all of whom had taken a pay cut of 25 percent while putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week – and a few essential employees,” Arranaga said.
Yet companies don’t reach their fifth decade of operations by rolling over in the face of adversity.
As the pandemic’s impact on businesses nationwide grew, Arranaga’s survival instinct kicked in and he reverted to the elements of Gorilla Marketing that were monumental to its success:
- A well-documented history of ingenuity and creativity
- A long-time commitment to treating employees and customers as if they’re family
- A well-established supply chain and decades-long business relationships
By leveraging the advantages associated with his company’s core values and experience, Arranaga was determined for his business to make it – and maybe even do some good for the larger community, too.
Hooded ponchos: an origin story
Arranaga grew up in Southern California in the ‘60s and ‘70s, where he and his friends frequented the Los Angeles-area beaches. In those days, woven, hooded ponchos imported from Mexico were coveted attire for anyone in the beach communities. But first, you had to get your hands on one.
That’s when Arranaga, a then-enterprising UCLA freshman, saw a business opportunity in 1978.
He and five friends drove to Tijuana, walked across the U.S.-Mexico border and procured the coveted hoodies for resale. As he predicted, the ponchos were a hit, earning him and his friends a healthy profit.
“Before too long, my resident advisor asked me to produce screen-printed t-shirts for the dorm floor,” Arranaga said. “Then the entire dormitory – as well as other campus residence halls – wanted one.”
UCLA fraternities and sororities began requesting branded apparel and glassware. Demand even spread to other nearby universities.
Soon, Arranaga’s dorm-room side hustle was a booming, successful business – one that proved to have staying power.
Following the completion of an undergrad and MBA from UCLA, Arranaga opened his first office in Irvine in 1985. Twenty years later, he moved his company to its current 12,000-square-foot location in Riverside.
A family with strong core values
Although Arranaga’s client roster has expanded to include several prominent brands, many of his initial customers – including more than 30 universities – remain partnered with Gorilla Marketing today.
One reason: the company’s enduring, bold creativity.
For many years, Arranaga showed up at office buildings to distribute product samples and client-appreciation gifts dressed as a gorilla – complete with a banana bag full of goodies.
“You wouldn’t believe how many corporate boardrooms I was able to get into dressed as a gorilla versus showing up in a suit,” Arranaga said. “It became a fun thing that people looked forward to. It got so popular that we had to dress up another salesperson in a second gorilla costume.”
But the main reason for clients’ long-term loyalty is the company’s strong values and unique approach to customer service.
“Whenever we engage with a client, we treat them like they’re a family member or our best friend,” Arranaga said.
This attitude is reinforced by the company’s 20 core values. Each week, the team meets to discuss one of the values and role play a customer scenario. After 20 weeks, the team repeats the process, continually practicing and reinforcing these values.
Exemplifying “the T-Rex Rule”
Arranaga thinks one core vale, above all else, prepared the Gorilla Marketing team for the 2020 pandemic.
The “T-Rex Rule” states:
Be able to switch gears and adapt to change quickly and nimbly, or risk irrelevance or extinction. Be open to new ideas and don’t panic when things don’t go according to plan. Change is a necessary part of our days.
After the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., orders were canceled, sales plummeted and much of the employees were furloughed. But with their commitment to adaptability, the team was determined to survive this crisis.
It was their shared belief in doing right by people that helped them find an alternative path forward.
“We should all be able to say that we do right by people, every time,” Arranaga said. “At the end of the day, how you treat others defines you.”
Immediate pivot into a new business
Throughout February, Gorilla Marketing ordered higher-than-normal amounts of hand sanitizer.
The team knew the product well. They had an established supply chain, and it was already on their warehouse shelves. More importantly, they predicted an increased demand based on ominous news reports about the virus spreading around the world.
What few had anticipated – including Arranaga and his team – was how hard it would be to get masks.
By mid-March 2020, scared consumers had snapped up masks from store shelves. Many sellers took advantage of the panic by price gouging. The cost of available masks became prohibitively expensive.
Soon, inquiries came rolling in from Gorilla Marketing clients in the healthcare industry. In search of three-ply, disposable surgical masks, they came to Arranaga for help.
Within a matter of days, Gorilla Marketing had a new, immediate objective: Get masks and hand sanitizer to people who need them, at reasonable prices.
Through broker connections, Arranaga identified and personally visited warehouses in various locations. With a fierce commitment to meeting a rising need, he purchased 50,000 to 100,000 masks at a time.
“Some of these warehouses were in dangerous areas. I’d be driving around with an envelope full of cash that I’d withdrawn from the bank and a baseball bat sitting next to me in the passenger seat,” Arranaga recalled.
But that’s the length he was willing to go to help people and save his business.
Upon returning to the Gorilla Marketing warehouse with his haul of masks, Arranaga’s remaining on-site employees confirmed the integrity of the masks, their packaging and certificates of origin. Then, they re-packaged the masks for distribution.
At first, Arranaga’s team sold masks and hand sanitizer exclusively to first responders and healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals. As the supply chain caught up, they expanded sales to companies in other industries and individuals.
“[Gorilla Marketing’s] assistance with procedure masks and N95 masks are vital to helping protect our healthcare workers as they care for ill patients in our UCLA Hospitals,” Don Parks, director of procurement and strategic sourcing for UCLA Health, said in an email. “Please know that [Gorilla Marketing’s] services are essential to us being able to maintain the high level of services expected at UCLA.”
Eventually, Gorilla Marketing switched from selling disposable surgical masks to selling three-ply cloth masks – which allow for the addition of a filter – to give customers a more budget-friendly, environmentally conscious option.
“Do we have to make money on the masks we sell? Yes. But can we do good for the community while we fight to stay in business? Absolutely,” Arranaga said. “We’re proud to offer people an effective and affordable face covering that helps reduce the chances of them unknowingly transmitting this virus to others.
To date, the company has distributed more than 2 million disposable surgical masks, 1 million cloth masks and 500,000 units of hand sanitizer to its clients and throughout the larger community.
Arranaga sets aside 10 percent of masks in his inventory for donation to charitable organizations. When these organizations need a quantity of masks in excess of what’s available for donation, Gorilla Marketing sells the additional masks at a generous discount.
Rewards of adapting to a crisis
May 8, 2020 was an emotional day that marked an important milestone: The return of every Gorilla Marketing employee to work.
“Of everything we’ve done, I’m most proud that we were able to bring our whole team back,” Arranaga said. “Despite the unprecedented circumstances, we’ve been able to thrive while remaining true to our core values and taking care of the people closest to us as well as our fellow human beings.”
There are also signs of emerging normalcy. Clients have begun placing gift- and event-related orders again. In fact, many customers have requested branded masks as part of their “welcome back” gift packages for employees and clients.
For the foreseeable future, masks will be a fixture of Gorilla Marketing’s inventory and ultimately an additional revenue stream.
One of Arranaga’s recent mask-finding expeditions took him across the U.S.-Mexico border to a factory that’s able to produce superior-quality masks at competitive prices. As he trekked back to the U.S. with a bag full of masks, Arranaga reflected on how his professional life had come full circle.
“What I did more than 40 years ago to start my business is now what’s been helping me to save my business.”
To read more stories about Insperity clients making a difference in their communities – like how Gorilla Market’s core values helped them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic – please visit our Community Heroes page.