12 Sep Episode #2: Monkey from Wrecords by Monkey
How Monkey breathed life into his brand.
Today I’ll be talking to Monkey founder of Wrecords in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Monkey has created a successful brand (and products) from one source: recycled vinyl.
He shared with me how growing up in an industrial area of the country and his love for skating let him here, and his natural talent of selling his product by being absolutely authentic and fun to talk to.
Every time you’re learning something. You’re like “Oh, did we grow? Did we learn something? Financially, maybe we didn’t get what we wanted out of it because problem solving and nothing is ever as easy as it seems when it comes to manufacturing your own products.
Words from Monkey:
Jennifer Dopazo: Hey, Monkey. I read that you used to be a skater kid, basically your childhood. Does that influence …
Monkey: I still ride a skateboard to work. I try it a couple of days a week.
Jennifer Dopazo: Do you think that was something that really …
Monkey: Skater culture especially in the 90s was such an Indy thing that I do think that it influenced creatively. I’m trying to think how skateboarding would have influenced me, but it is a subculture that now is personified as this new American baseball sort of. It’s interesting to see it grow and to see everything around us, whether it’s design, culture, counter-culture, is really effected by the whole 90’s skater mentality and personified into pop culture, not identifying it completely, but more of it’s interesting to be surrounded by what you were made fun of growing up and sort of picked on, sort of the be the American sport of this century. It’s more blowing me away that everyone wants to have a skateboard and little record these days. That’s sort of what’s changing.
Jennifer Dopazo: Great.
Monkey: You know what it is? I just like talking to people, and in the end, I don’t think about the business. When I go into a meeting, I’m there to inspire people to have their own ideas and believe in what we’re doing.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Monkey: I tend to just inspire people through talking. It’s all about that one on one conversation. I tend to break people down in a unique way where they can sort of feel like they can let go and have this creative outlet through our company or me independently in the meeting that we’re having.
Also, when I use sales to sell, wholesale as well as market sells. My personality is what I really think. It’s about not doing a cold sell. It’s about asking people a little bit about themselves. I love to have conversations about anything. I’d love to talk about dirt if there’s a lot to talk about. A good conversation is something to …
Jennifer Dopazo: If there’s any influence, like people come in here to talk to you.
Monkey: People, in general, I’ve been on … For example, I’ve been on Glee, and that led to a random conversation. I can go back and travel through all of my great achievements and probably have came from some random conversation that wasn’t about the company, wasn’t about sales maybe, but let through that because of being open and being a part of a conversation that just isn’t about the cold sell and just about a good conversation. You know what I mean?
Jennifer Dopazo: Which is something that people normally will feel very uncomfortable with, a cold sell.
Monkey: It’s more genuine. You know what I mean? For me, I’m just being myself. My mom gave me the gift of gab. I like to talk. I’m working on being a better listener, but I can tell you that talking isn’t a bad thing especially when you’re trying to be creative, it’s the best thing for it.
Jennifer Dopazo: I read that you were raised in upstate New York in a very industrial city. Do you think that whole industrial context where you were raised that was around you, do you think [inaudible 00:03:02] very industrial? Do you think you bring in some of that to the field?
Monkey: It’s interesting that I come from Watertown, New York, which is the hub of the 20th century and the manufacturing capital.
They invented the cast iron stove, the safety pen, the car fresheners. The little tree was invented in Watertown and made in Watertown. I know it’s weird, but then, I live in Bushwick, which is in the old manufacturing hub of War World I and War World II where all the manufacturing and metal work was done out here. It’s just interesting to be in this manufacturing neighborhood and then reflect back on how to appreciate where I came from and how all these things were built there. Moving to New York, I really fell in love with manufacturing and not as much as design, whether it’s architecture and products and things like that, where in Watertown, I don’t
thing I really took it all in, like why I was there.
Jennifer Dopazo: What’s behind the name of your business?
Monkey: Records by Monkey. Pretty much W Records. I had a speech impediment when I was a kid, saying Wrecords. Even though it sounds like wrecking, it really is because I had a speech impediment growing up.
Jennifer Dopazo: I thought it came from wrecking.
Monkey: It can be, but really, come on. I went to speech therapy for 7 years and all of my R’s sound like W whether it’s Wobbie or Wock and Woll or whatever you wanted to say, they all had a W in there. When I came up with the name, it was cute and funny. It used to just be W Records or Wrecords.
Jennifer Dopazo: Which is how I used to call it before, maybe a week ago.
Monkey: It’s pretty much silent at that point. Everyone thinks it’s W Records, and it’s just sort of silent because I wanted to make it … Is it Wrecking Records, but if you really know me, you’d know the story behind it.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Monkey: The By Monkey, I never attached that until about 2007.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Monkey: I was Wrecords for so long, maybe 2 or 3 years,and everything, but until I started putting the Monkey on the back of all the bracelets and I added Wrecords by Monkey, which is my childhood nickname, it gave this life to the whole brand that it was missing. People relate to 1) being a DJ and 2) my dad and I used to have the nickname Monkey. It represents that youthful energy and people associate that with my personality.
Wrecords by Monkey was birthed completely through my childhood.
Jennifer Dopazo: It also brings this whole idea of the artist behind it somehow.
Monkey: Exactly, and that there’s a person behind it. Even though, Will, my senior designer, I’m the creative director now. At least you know where this company came from. It’s gotten so far where it’s not just Wrecords by Monkey. There’s a whole team of us that are making these amazing things, but the company has this basis of coming directly from childhood.
Jennifer Dopazo: Which is basically like Monkey spirit, then.
Monkey: Exactly, or the energy, that crazy hyper energy of a monkey running around the trees.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love it. That’s …
Monkey: Literally, when I started selling these bracelets, the most common thing was “Oh my God, my boyfriend is a DJ, and my nicknames is Monkey, or someone called me Monkey.” It’s just a popular name as well. I feel like [00:06:00] people relate to that.
Jennifer Dopazo: You work with clients of all sizes and shapes. I’m just wondering if this was planned? Which was the first group that you really wanted to work with, how did this all happen?
Monkey: I started the brand, Wrecords by Monkey. My bracelets are my niche product, and that’s what I’ve been doing forever. Originally, I was always creating custom bracelets for smaller companies, even bigger companies, and for events, and all types of things. The bracelet was my first promotional tool that I created. Really, I just naturally …
My first product, obviously, I was like let’s customize it. With that, Warner Brothers … I’ve had other, MTV before that, and Hard Rock and other things, but really Warner Brothers is where I created the best relationship. We have ongoing business from them. The same with Sony and Universal now and Barclay Center. It’s like we’ve created this ongoing business where before it’s … Oh, we get one job from this person, and you don’t hear from them, one job from this person. Now, I’ve really created a separate tear for promotional. Now, I have something to offer these clients. I have relationships with the companies, where now when they have a project they reach out to us. They’re like “Hey, we want to do awards. We want to do these notebooks. We want to do something.”, and they’ll be like “Monkey can do it.” It’s like if someone is going to make something for the music industries out of records, I’m going to get a call. It’s just what happens, whether we just did that project for Jack White for his new record, or if we did the coasters for Warner Brothers or a record display from Universal. You never know what they want, but if they want it to be music inspired and made out of recycled records or something to do with the record industry, I tend to get the phone call or email.
Jennifer Dopazo: Basically, you’ve been doing this work since the beginning?
Monkey: I started in 2004, and I’ve been doing … My first private label was probably in 2006. J Shoes was actually one of the biggest. They’ve probably commissioned a couple thousand bracelets off of us. That was for when they just started. I don’t know if you know them, but they’re in Macy’s. They’re everywhere. [00:08:00] J Shoes has really prevailed in the last 10 years, and we originally made a couple thousand bracelets for them for the trade show, which trickled into the market. Then, we did a bunch of last night’s part and all these local Indy brands and bands and everything in that. Really like I said, once we started doing Warner Brothers and Sony and Universal …
Jennifer Dopazo: It was just …
Monkey: … I just started having good relationships with my clients. That’s really what changed, I think. Same thing I said about me talking, it’s about being yourself. When you just have good friends and you create good friends, even they’re business relationships, that’s when the best business happens.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, building a relationship with your customers.
Monkey: They’re all my friends. I consider all of them my friends because we’ve gotten to that point where years have gone by and you’re talking to them on the phone and you can be so honest. You know what’s going on in each others life.
Jennifer Dopazo: Which is also a great way because basically, you’re cultivating that relationship. It’s like a transactional …
Monkey: Exactly. It’s all about figuring out how to just be yourself and still maximize. Really, my brand or the promotional sector of my brand has targeted that more and more. Whether it’s value ads to hit a lower price point or doing interior design so they can do their offices and stuff. Really, I’ve transcended my brand and my promotional to cater towards my clients. If Wrecords by Monkey comes up with a new product or a new idea, it usually affects the private label so that my client has something new to think about in their imagination. My goal is that I just keep throwing shit until it sticks, and they keep having ideas.
Jennifer Dopazo: That makes sense.
Jennifer Dopazo: What do you think will be the biggest lesson you’ve got from your clients?
Monkey: Failure is the most important part. Definitely, don’t be let down when the job doesn’t go through and you put your heart into it because that’s the most important part of success is a little bit of failure, whether it’s getting those 10% of jobs to go through and you put all you have into it, as long as you … I’m trying to mess up. As long as the journey was good, the job is not lost.
Jennifer Dopazo: Basically, take a lesson from the journey.
Monkey: Every time you’re learning something. You’re like “Oh, did we grow? Did we learn something? Financially, maybe we didn’t get what we wanted out of it because problem solving [00:10:00] and nothing is ever as easy as it seems when it comes to manufacturing your own products.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah.
Monkey: I learned that … You know the big guys, it’s hard for them to realize the small guy. I do have clients that really respect the small business but some people, they just think that you’re just like the big guy and that you have all the time in the world. I’ve learned that giving them restrictions and really creating more order and allowing them that, whether it’s charging them hourly for design and the complete setup, and really getting them to realize that we create products, and because of that, we actually have to design this whole thing and create this concept, and the product is only as good as the design. If you don’t want to pay for the design, then we need to have re-talked this conversation. Our goal is to get the client to realize that design is just as important as the product, and you have to put that time in the design to get that product.
Jennifer Dopazo: The process is as important, and that’s why …
Monkey: There’s all these restrictions. You’re coming to me because you want this unique, locally recycled made product, but you’re used to ordering from China, so it’s hard for you to see the whole picture. It’s my job to realize. I’m like “Hey, we’re designers as much as we’re manufacturers, so you need to pay for design.”
Jennifer Dopazo: There’s a little bit of education there.
Monkey: Yeah, and it’s hard. It’s hard for people to realize what we realize. We make stuff. It’s all about material cost and everything, and them, they just want it to hold 12 facings and da da da da or whatever they need. I just wanted to be as articulate and professional as possible, and that’s really gotten us to where we need. It’s just about putting it out there.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. It’s just like putting your foot down.
Monkey: Exactly especially when it comes to design. You’re like “Oh, this costs me $1000 in design, but I only made $3000 profit. How is that good?” Let’s figure out how to create a design cost and fee and even a separate company that we’re doing, like it’s records design, so that you realize that Wrecords by Monkey manufacturers it but Records Design is who you’re paying to design it, really helping that customer realize [00:12:00] there’s 2 different departments involved into every project.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that because that’s the main mistake somehow …
Monkey: I talk to all my friends, they’ve run million dollar companies, they’ve run half a million dollar companies, and everyone has mistaken that. It’s hard to get the client to realize the bigger picture and that there’s so many more details involved in the project.
Jennifer Dopazo: Just breaking those cycles of going back and forth.
Monkey: Once you put yourself out there as one way, that’s sort of how business is running. You better be careful on how you first articulate yourself.
Jennifer Dopazo: You are not only working with vinyl?
Monkey: I also have another company that is called Build Your Block Pillows, which you can build block on your bed or you couch. It’s like pillow urban planters. They are little buildings that are shaped, little pillows shaped like buildings, and you can lay your heads in the street on your bed or your couch, and you can have little minis and you can buy Bed Stuy or Williamsburg or the Lower East Side.
Jennifer Dopazo: You can create your own neighborhood?
Monkey: Yeah. It’s taking that kid and adult sort of … that design adult feeling with color blacking and décor pillows and mixing it with this urban planning for kids toys and stuff.
Jennifer Dopazo: When did you start that?
Monkey: I started that in 2010, and originally, it was supposed to be … I was obsessed with the hand-painted grocery deli signs.
They were coming down int eh neighborhood. They were taking down all the deli signs and replacing them with the neon ones. I started photographing all the hand-painted deli signs. That book was already old before it came out. I decided to do a pillow company, which was amazing. I released it as if it was Wrecords by Monkey, the same type of concept, and from the get go, it got an amazing feedback showing up in magazines and getting an amazing distribution. It’s great. Now, it’s a separate thing. The best thing about Build your Block, is 1) we can expand into every city. We can do San Francisco. We can do an old New York. New York is the only one we’ll break down into neighborhoods, where you can by Bed Stuy ones. Every other city is it’s niche architecture [00:14:00] in one pillow collection.
Jennifer Dopazo: You could buy the collections, right?
Monkey: I sell them in neighborhoods and commercial spaces. If you want Williamsburg and then you want to buy your pizza shop and your bar separate, you can do that. Then, I do a pillow case in the background that’s one 60″, it’s 2 pillow cases that make one 60″ cityscape, so you can even have a background image. I do it so you build background, pillows in the mid ground, and I do a mini set that you can buy fire hydrants and garbage cans and stop signs and really build that 3D pillow village.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a very fun building blocks kind of …
Monkey: You’ll see the thing that ties this to Wrecords by Monkey is out interior design business, I feel like. It’s because Wrecords by Monkey is getting so many more interior design jobs that offering digital printed pillows, custom pillows, building inspired pillows ans mixing that with digital fabrics is really building another sector for Wrecords by Monkey and sort of giving us a bigger ability to step outside just the vinyl records for our client but still bring in their target music, neighborhood or whatever they need. That’s the best part is Build you Block is an amazing and simple company. There’s not too many products. You get it when you see it. You read the name, Build you Block building shaped pillows.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s what it is.
Monkey: You don’t need a bigger. Wrecords by Monkey takes a whole conversation to be like “Hey, this is Wrecords by Monkey. The bracelets are a niche product but we do everything under the sun.”
Jennifer Dopazo: The pillows, it is [inaudible 00:15:23] because it’s your blocks of your city. That’s how you basically …
Monkey: We have a plan to be able to grow. Exactly. It’s like we do San Francisco …
Jennifer Dopazo: You don’t have to grow it into many other products. You could just stay with that for now.
Monkey: That’s the goal of that is never just limiting that. Wrecords by Monkey is awesome because music [inaudible 00:15:38] language. Once piece of this in your environment in a hundred different ways makes sense, but doing the pillows, Build you Block really stays strong by only doing building shaped pillows for different neighborhoods and different cities and stuff like that, but really tying those two together is what builds our interior portfolio and really gives us a broader market for our private label and interior clients.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love it. I love the pillows.
Monkey: Yeah, the pillows are awesome, and you can lay your head in the streets of New York. That’s the best part. I know we’re a little young, but I say that to the people that lived during the 60s, that you can finally lay your head in the streets of New York if you haven’t already, one drunk night.
Jennifer Dopazo: I just want to ask you, what’s your favorite anecdote as an artist through this whole dream?
Monkey: What’s an anecdote?
Jennifer Dopazo: Something that you remember, a story that you always love to share. What’s your favorite story of any project that you’ve been on? I know you might have a list but something that you really, if you have one minute that you want to share. What would that be?
Monkey: I mean … I don’t know. I feel more than thankful and blessed that I have an amazing team. On the other side of this camera is George and Will, and pretty much, they make Wrecords by Monkey. Just having those stars aligned to find the right people are the most important thing to me right now and as well as people that believe in the image and people that believe in the brand and taking it to the next level. Other than that, I have the best wife, the most beautiful wife in the world, so what else do I need.
Jennifer Dopazo: It’s a supportive environment.
Monkey: I’ve always … I’m big on memories and nostalgic, but I have an awesome wife and great group of friends and team.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great.
Monkey: I feel like that’s that most important thing. We’ve been on TV shows, and we’ve had everyone wear it from Nora Jones and having it on Glee to being in the [inaudible 00:17:26] to doing amazing things to being in a hundred magazines and on all these different things, but really at the end of the day, I’m thankful for the people that have surrounded me and that continue to support me and number one being my significant other and my team.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. You’re a lucky guy.
Monkey: That’s my inspiration. Every day I wake up for those guys and trying to get to the next stage.
Jennifer Dopazo: It’s been amazing sharing this time with you. I just, for all the curious people that are getting to know you and listening more about your journey, I was just wondering if you have any advice to build them up.
Monkey: Of course. I have one big piece of advice. If you’re not happy, jump ship. You’ve got to be happy. Basically, the number one thing is that you’re in control of your own future and especially if you’re running your own business, you need to be happy. That’s the most important thing. The second I would say is failure is a part of success, just like I said before. Much like skateboarding, you got to have a couple scraped knees and elbows to really achieve your goals. I feel like that’s just like in a business. You really have to fall down a bunch because every time you know what to do next, you know what to change, how to either offer more or how to increase your productivity.
Failure is the most important part of success, so if you’re messing up it only means you’re going to be doing better things in the future and learning what not to do. I feel like people get down on themselves from the get go because nothing ever works out, where staying focused, staying passionate, and just keeping at it is what you can do because failure is the only thing that’s going to help you.
Jennifer Dopazo: Great. Thank you.
Monkey: No problem. Thank you. That’s how you got to end it, with a hug.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s true.
Monkey: It’s true.