Renya Nelson knew she had hit her limit when, six years ago, she called her mom in the middle of the night from a bodega in New York City, jet-lagged after a long day of travel for work.
As the national events manager for a major marketing agency, the then 26-year-old was working a breathless 60-plus hours a week for a job with little personal satisfaction. “I was losing it," she said. Her mom's advice? Quit.
Brand Aid founder Renya Nelson
Three months later, Nelson emailed her resignation, explaining to a colleague she was going into manufacturing.
“I really, really wanted to know about manufacturing products," she says. So much so, that when her former employer called her a few months after she left with an order for 18,000 lanyards, she said yes.
—Renya Nelson, founder, Brand Aid
The result was Brand Aid, her Salt Lake City-based firm. “It's been 100 percent referral ever since," she says, a fact she attributes to the company's ability to merge creativity with a fanatic attention to detail in order to anticipate clients' needs.
Case in point: The company is currently working with a marketing agency tasked with an upcoming anniversary of a high-end car company to be held in New York this fall. When the client first called in, they were looking for a single, uniform giveaway. That changed the more Nelson learned about the event.
Brand Aid's office is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“The giveaways at the activation around the 1957 [model] are going to be vastly different from the giveaways for the [models] that came out in 2016," Nelson explained to her client. The woman's response: “Oh, you're right." From there, Nelson expanded the conversation to the brand managers themselves. “Will they be in different uniforms that pertain to those decades?" she wanted to know. The woman thought about this. “Yes."
“Don't ask me for one thing," Nelson said, now speaking generally. “We have to tell a story."
Nelson speaks with executive assistant Nate Cantor.
It's this kind of holistic approach that has earned her the attention of her peers. In June, she appeared on the cover of Counselor, a trade magazine for the promotional products industry. It was an exciting milestone for Nelson, who hasn't forgotten how close Brand Aid's debut came to doubling as its finale.
“I was just feeling really insecure about my business," Nelson says of the early days of the company, back before she had employees or an office space. “I could have just closed the doors and a few people would have asked me what was going on but not enough that it would have rippled too much."
Nelson with Dane Negrey, chief of operations.
That's when another order came in, again from her former employer. They had just landed a major new client and were in need of a little less than 1 million items ranging from tote bags to sunglasses and frisbees. Again, she said yes, and for the second time in her career found herself “losing it." Only this time, she was on her own, with no one but herself to blame if things went south. And south they nearly went, when just 17 days to go before the order was due she found herself $200,000 short.
“I'm risking everything in the world for frisbees right now, because I might get sued if they come back a dark green instead of a lime green," she says of that time in her life. “I called my bank and two other banks. All of them said no. Finally, my last resort was my dad. I told him what was going on and I asked, 'Do you trust me?'"
Nelson with some of the products her company has produced.
The answer: Yes. There was just one problem. To access the money, her dad would have to reach into his retirement account, which meant an extra 5 percent on top of the $200,000. Nelson agreed to pay him back in full and he overnighted the check.
“I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep." Instead, she waited and watched as the money first hit her bank, then her factories, just in the nick of time. “I did it," Nelson says, throwing her hands into the air. “I paid my dad back in 17 days. It was the biggest moment of my whole career."
Nelson prides herself on her attention to detail and her willingness to work hard for her clients.
And herein lies Brand Aid's secret weapon: Nelson's unwillingness to disappoint. “If things get messed up with a client I take that very, very seriously," she says. It's a kind of discipline she requires of herself and her team each and every day, and that resonates with the world's most prestigious brands.
Ironically, it's this same trait that represents one of the company's greatest challenges going forward.
Nelson with her team during a staff meeting.
“How do I grow with that kind of level of service? I don't know." Still, Nelson remains equally optimistic and determined. “It'll happen."