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Before assembling a group of talented creatives, Garrett Deiter spent his early days growing up amongst surfers and skaters in the Bay Area. Being immersed in this style-driven extreme sports space between Santa Cruz and San Jose attracted him to art branding at an early age. By the time college rolled around, he moved to the Central Coast to pursue arts and design.
“Connecting with the culture and community of the Central Coast really made me fall in love with the region,” he said. Majoring in design, he met his now-wife, Sarah, who majored in fine art. Their post-collegiate years in the commercial world left them wanting more, and when their side projects got more time consuming, they went all-in on their own company.
Word of mouth spurred their early success, from there their growth elevated them from local craft winemakers to working with beer brewers and spirits distillers around the country. They noticed that while wine and spirits producers were doing exciting things in their discipline, their design often left much to be desired.
“Go to a grocery store and you’ll see one or two full aisles of alcohol bottles from top to bottom,” Garrett said. “All are at different price points. There’s no other product in the store with that much diversity in competition and we thought that a lack of unique design was a missed opportunity for many of the brands we saw on the shelf.”
As Makers & Allies began to quickly grow an early reputation, the Deiters decided to turn down other work and fully dedicate their efforts to the beverage industry. They understood the nuances of what made a great brand and knew that success in the alcohol branding industry meant learning how to translate the passion of the producers into a story their audience could imbibe with ease.
“We really wanted to push design outside of traditional norms to make the brands we work with break away from the pack on the shelf,” Garrett said of their first clients. “The ‘traditional’ way isn’t always good for growing a brand. In the early days, we created a lot of wild designs to stand out, and as we continued to grow, we started growing an understanding for not only how to get brands to stand out but how they can connect with their audiences on a deeper level and stand for something that is uniquely their own identity.”
Perhaps one of the best examples of their growth is in their company headquarters itself. Makers & Allies has called one location home: a 1952 industrial building. Garrett and co-founder Sarah saw potential in its great bones, despite its decrepit facade and hideous interior design leftover from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“The building owner rolled the dice on us and allowed us to restore its original charm,” he said. “Now we have this fully-restored three-story headquarters that reflects who we are. Renovating this building really helped us develop a sense of identity for Makers & Allies and it literally allows us to invite clients into our world.”
Drink in more of Makers & Allies award-winning design and branding studio and you’ll find no shortage of success. They’ve worked with notable vintners throughout world renown wine regions such as Napa Valley – they’ve even been called on by the Napa Valley Vintners, the collective of 400+ producers, to rebrand the Napa Valley Region itself. Beyond that, Garrett’s team has worked with major celebrities recently creating the branding for The Chicks’ first wine, Gaslighter – and the iconic country music band called out Makers & Allies publicly to thank them for their creative work in a recent interview.
Proud moments without a doubt, but moments that Garrett only fleetingly mentioned. The success story he chose to tell in full was not a stellar campaign launch or an accolade achieved in this highly competitive industry.
It was the story of hiring one of Makers & Allies’ first employees.
“Hiring your first employee is a big leap,” he said, remembering how exciting yet scary the prospect seemed at the time. “When you’re committing to someone else’s livelihood, you realize that this business is real now. You’re building something bigger than yourself.”
Garrett confesses that he focuses more on personality and character traits when interviewing candidates since these are the aspects that shape the culture of the company. His growing team – soon to be twenty later this year – all started by taking the leap in hiring the first few team members, one he recalls on specifically: a coffee shop barista who did design work on the side.
“He really wanted to work with us so we assigned him a test project,” Garrett said. “Most people would bring in their finished product and hope it would speak for itself. He didn’t; he came in with a notebook full of sketches showing every stage of his process. He showed us ideas he didn’t use, the struggles he worked through, and opened up about why he didn’t use them.”
Garrett said that the barista’s willingness to show his entire creative process, mishaps and all, demonstrated how comfortable he felt not only in his abilities, but of his uncertainties.
“In this industry, it’s important to really be personally invested in your projects, but not personally attached to the work,” Garrett explained. “We needed someone who was comfortable enough to accept critique and to abandon ideas that don’t work. We hired him and he still works for us today, leading his own team of creatives on major projects.”
Devoting the entirety of this article to Garrett’s praise for his team would be effortless. He’s thrilled that some of his earliest team members are leading creative processes that shape the future of his company. Every personal message a client sends praising the team’s work is more important to him than any pat on his own back.
“It brings me personal joy to know how dedicated our team is to what we are doing as a company and I see it as a testament to our ability to create a thriving place for creatives to grow. I’ve always wanted to build something bigger than myself and seeing others grow and embrace our company culture is a big part of bringing that to fruition.”
When it comes to success, Makers & Allies seems to have it on tap. They’re ready to uncork a huge project for a major name in the wine region just as easily as they’re primed to help a small town distillery design a label that’ll make their hometown patrons proud.
As far as Garrett is concerned, it doesn’t matter where on the shelf the bottle sits. He’s ready to give his all to the community of clients and creatives he serves.
“Our goal is to be one of the most influential design and branding companies in the alcohol beverage industry.”
Which is why we raise a glass to Garrett Deiter: a self-made man who’s always the first to toast to his team and the last to fill his cup.
Are there any challenges to running a company with a business partner who is also your personal partner?
Sarah and I have always been comfortable with creative critique conversations so that wasn’t a challenge for us both as designers. What was an adjustment, though, was which roles we wanted to play as founders of Makers & Allies as the company grew. I’ve decided to take on more of a CEO role leading the company now while Sarah has decided to take a more detailed focus leading select projects. We had to learn how to support each other in these roles as best as possible. And we tried not to talk about work at home – but that didn’t last long. We don’t separate work and home life; it’s intertwined because we love it. I think if you’d do your job in your freetime, then that’s a sign that you’re doing the right thing for you.
Your business is built around creativity – how do you handle rejection from clients, especially when you work really hard on ideas you personally love?
The whole process – not just in creativity but in business in general – is being able to put yourself out there, handle your ideas getting knocked down, and being ready to get back up and try again. You develop tough skin as you go along and I think it’s important to embrace the value of those rejections. Those are the things that’ll help you improve. You can have the greatest idea, but the only way that idea will come to life is based on how well you present it and how well you execute it. Most great ideas are lost in execution, which is why we have such a big focus at Makers & Allies on our ability to present ideas well and execute them even better.
What’s the best mistake you’ve made in business?
Sometimes, I don’t think you know what your best mistakes are. From my perspective, early on I used to get stressed thinking about choosing the “right” decision. At the time, I wanted all of the information possible before I made a decision, but that’s unrealistic. Entrepreneurs need to get comfortable with making quick decisions without having all of the information. Most big decisions are actually reversible so all you’re doing is making a decision to see what happens next. The information that you get from the results of your decisions constantly compounds. Entrepreneurs probably learn more from their bad decisions than the good ones. I don’t think of them as “mistakes” either. As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly pushed to become different versions of yourself at each stage of your growth and these learning opportunities are key in helping you grow to that next level.
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