When opportunity knocks

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October 10, 2011
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
A closer look at a thriving 
branding agency on Glenwood

The advertising and design shop KNOCK has been turning heads for its fast growth.

The company headquartered on Glenwood Avenue recently made Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. The company experienced a 151 percent growth in revenue between 2007 and 2010 — jumping from $4.7 million in annual revenue to  $11.9 million, according to the magazine.

Lili Hall, CEO and president of KNOCK, founded the firm in 2001 at the age of 36, shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. She never wrote a business plan and said she barely slept her first year in business.

“This is wonderful recognition for everyone at KNOCK who work so hard and go above and beyond to deliver on our clients’ needs each day,” Hall said of making Inc.’s fast-growing list. “We expect growth and momentum to continue.”

Todd Paulson, chief creative officer at KNOCK, attributed the company culture to the retail branding agency’s success. “Lili and I are very collaborative,” he said. “We share the same office. … Everyone’s voice can be heard here. We work hard and play hard.”

Company meetings are often lightened up with humor and offbeat ideas are embraced. Some of the zaniest suggestions have turned into great marketing campaigns, he said.

Target Corp. is KNOCK’s largest client. It works on both large-scale and smaller projects for the downtown-based retailer, including the PFresh grocery concept — a new section in many Target stores.

Another high-profile project for KNOCK has been working with a dozen other partners on a new store for New Balance in New York City’s Flatiron District. It’s the athletic brand’s first North American Experience Store.

KNOCK worked on designing the store’s creative look and feel 
— a 4,000-square-foot space outfitted with a running track and DNA strip on the store’s ceiling that traces the brand’s history and looks forward to the future. Creating a unique shopping experience, like the one for New Balance, is one of KNOCK’s signatures.

Besides high-profile work for large companies, the agency often collaborates with smaller retailers and community groups closer to its home at 1315 Glenwood Ave. The company moved into the 10,000-square-foot space designed by Julie Snow Architects Inc. in 2010. The renovation project involved transforming a former food distribution center into a vibrant and open office space designed to suit the needs of the creative agency.

KNOCK has done pro-bono design work for a new bike/walk center down the road called Venture North. The center at 1830 Glenwood Ave. is a hub for information about biking and walking programs in the area.

The company has also volunteered to do branding work for Francesco O’Ryan of the East African Bakery in St. Paul. He’s been in business for 11 years and specializes in East African flatbread. KNOCK has helped develop a new logo for the bakery and other marketing materials. “I believe it’s going to be a big boost,” O’Ryan said. “I really appreciate what they have done for me.”

Uri Camarena, a business consultant at the Downtown-based Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA), had high praise for KNOCK. MEDA works with minority entrepreneurs.

“The clients that KNOCK has helped cannot afford to pay top notch services that KNOCK has so generously provided at no charge to them,” Camarena said. “Countless hours, resources and effort have been dedicated to them and their small businesses. These services and resources that Lili Hall and her team of professionals at KNOCK have provided have been invaluable to my clients.”

As for advice for budding entrepreneurs, Hall encouraged people to be bold and confident.

“Don’t wait to have it all figured out,” she said, noting she operated on the assumption that failure was not an option. “And ask for help all of the time.”

Ernst & Young LLP honored her as one of its 2010 Entrepreneurial Winning Women. Winners have to be CEOs that have founded companies within the last decade and hit at least $1 million in revenue each of the past two years.

Hall is also working on an international masters of practicing management — a program co-founded by Lancaster University in the United Kingdom and McGill University in Montreal. The program takes place in five places all over the world — United Kingdom, Canada, China, India and Brazil.

When the ambitious globetrotter was asked what satisfied her the most at work, she talked about her team: “Impacting our clients business by doing innovative work and delivering great design. Having a happy staff that respects each other; we live for collaboration.”