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Success Story: Drawbox, Experiential Marketing Business

Mike Di Carlo and Ashley Hassard are entrepreneurs, models, former athletes, and self-confessed nerds. Their innate desire for innovation led them to start Drawbox, an event and marketing design and fabrication studio, which they founded in 2019 with Ownr. The two co-founders talk to us about experiential marketing and how they straddle business with creativity every day.

What is Drawbox?

Mike: At Drawbox we specialize in trade show booths, retail displays, and experiential marketing (or XM) events. Through brand strategy and design, we craft experiences that help brands stand out, as well as stand for something. We specialize in design-led brand communication and digital innovation and, thanks to some fantastic partnerships over the years, we’ve earned a reputation for doing great work across multiple categories.

Ashley: Essentially we’re the Willy Wonka of the marketing world, taking brands’ big ideas, and finding ways to make them happen.

What made you decide to become entrepreneurs and start your own experiential marketing business?

Ashley: Our roots are grounded in experiential marketing, retail, entertainment, sports and digital lifestyle. So, working with partners and connecting with their audience really came naturally to us.

Mike: While we’ve both worked for some incredible companies in the past, we knew that together, our talents, vision, integrity, and work ethic could really offer something unique to potential clients, and so, we decided to create something that was truly our own.

What do you remember about the initial days of your marketing design business, and the first few challenges you had to tackle?

Ashley: *Laughing*. The initial days of Drawbox were a total and complete blur.

Mike: She’s right, it definitely did happen fast, but, that being said, Drawbox was the product of over a decade worth of experience and connections that came to fruition. Getting everything moving in a fast, efficient, and organized manner was definitely one of the biggest challenges we had to tackle first.

Ashley: We had to hit the ground running, and put in a lot of sleepless nights to ensure that everything was structured accordingly.

A 3D rendering of a trade show booth by Drawbox
Trade show booth designed by Drawbox.

What has been the most difficult thing about running your events marketing business thus far?

Mike: One of the most difficult things we’ve learned is about pacing ourselves.

Ashley: It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of everything when you start to receive some interest. But here at Drawbox, we really like to focus on maintaining quality, hands-on relationships. We really had to step back and ensure that our key business was taken care of before taking on too many projects.

Mike: Quality over quantity, every single time.

What does a typical work day look like for you as co-founders?

Mike:  With an office in Downtown Toronto, and our commercial shop just north of the city, we try to spend the first few hours of a day concentrating on new business and design work. Once we get to the shop, that’s when the real magic happens.

Ashley: We know our way around trade shows, retail environments, and commercial spaces, as well as custom fixture installations, boardroom tables, and office spaces. So, the scope of our day can really vary quite a bit.

A 3D studio rendering of a table by Drawbox
Custom steel and concrete boardroom table by Drawbox.

Was there anything you wish you knew before launching your business?

Ashley: We always knew we had an incredibly strong and supportive community around us, but we never anticipated just how helpful and welcoming they’d actually be to our concept.

Mike: I think had we known that, we would have started this business a whole lot sooner.

Are there any tips you would like to share with other entrepreneurs?

Ashley: I would say, enjoy the ride. This is going to be a big journey,  I mean, you’re literally creating your legacy, so take your time, and really take in everything. It’s a lot, but it’s so worth it.

Mike: Also, be prepared for this to consume your life, so make sure it’s something you’re passionate about.

Where can people learn more about Drawbox?

Mike: If you’re looking to find us, you can head to the Drawbox website or check us out on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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