A difficulty some people have when starting a new company is coming up with a name. After all that name is the first impression and more often than not, the domain is likely taken. And trying to get that perfect name can sometimes be a struggle. But not for Blayne Barlow of CTRL Industries. And his company’s name CTRL, short for control, likely has more meaning for him than even he realizes.
To tell the story of CTRL and where it all came about one has to go back to 1997. Yes the company was formed in 2011, some fourteen years later, but the true origin of the story dates back to the late nineties. Back then, Barlow and his brothers were just messing around and training. They were introduced to jiu jitsu from their cousin who showed them UFC 2. They watched in awe as Royce Gracie just dismantled fighter after fighter, all with nothing more than controlling where the fight was and where his opponent was.
So the brothers set out to train, but unfortunately the combination of the small town and lack of jiu jitsu schools lead them to the one place that was always open; their living room. They would just practice doing what Gracie did for hours on end. While it didn’t teach them a lot about jiu jitsu, it did teach them enough of the basics.
In 2005 Barlow joined a gym and fell in love with the sport even more. Since then he has been to the gym at least three times a week, sometimes as much as eight times when time and life permitted and was recently rewarded with his brown belt.
To hear Barlow tell the story of the name it is all focused on control in not just jiu jitsu, but martial arts in general. “There wasn’t really any heavy thought into any other names. It was CTRL. I kind of came up with it early on, and I settled on it because it was so relevant to any fighting arts. First with jiu jitsu. My passion’s with jiu jitsu, so with jiu jitsu everything is about control. You’ve gotta control the grips, you gotta control the space between you and your opponent, you gotta have control on your passing, you gotta have control on your sweeping, when you’re submitting. I think it was Damien Meyer who said once, “If you have five hundred attacks in jiu jitsu, but If you don’t have the proper control, you’re not going to finish any of them.” I thought that was kind of a cool quote that was so relevant to what we were doing. If you think about it, everything comes back to how much control you can get, and I thought it was so relevant and so perfect for what we were doing. And I used the abbreviation CTRL: it’s like computer geek for control, and it’s something that people know. People are familiar with that abbreviation. But I use it in a different context. I used it towards fighting, MMA, jiu jitsu, and even with boxing. When you’re boxing you’ve got to control the distance. With muay thai you gotta control the clinch. I think that pretty much everything comes back to how well you control the situation you’re in. That’s why the name works out so well for the brand.”
But that isn’t the full story of the company. It might be the story of the name, but there is more than just coming up with the name. What lead Barlow to create the jiu jitsu brand was life throwing him a curve ball. His wife became severely sick so much so that she was required to stay in a hospital while she recovered. The time off from her job lead to her losing her job while she was still recovering. It isn’t unreasonable to think that a family in this situation would have gotten angry and thrown in the towel, but Barlow decided that this was an opportunity for the two of them.
With his background in artistic design and his passion for jiu jitsu, he wanted to launch his own jiu jitsu brand. And with his wife out of work, he approached her and laid out the game plan on how the company would move forward. It all hinged on her being up for it as he knew that he couldn’t focus 100% on it but she could. She went for it and she was able to devote her energy into the company full time while Barlow focused on the designs outside of his regular job. What he did, was he took control of a bad situation and made it a good one.
Moving forward with the company Barlow had an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how one looks at things in the fact that there is a cross over from jiu jitsu into MMA both with practitioners and with fans. Barlow sees it as both and works hard to overcome the obstacle.
“I think the guys that are strictly MMA brand have a huge advantage over jiu jitsu brands. Because, with the MMA market, the actual consumer maybe 90-95% of the time they don’t practice any martial art. They’re more of fans that watch MMA. They’re more followers of MMA than actual practitioners of MMA. So they’re able to market to people that don’t actually train. And with jiu jitsu, it’s like all of our stuff has to be so much geared toward the practitioner. And it has to be geared and relevant to the things the practitioner understands. So we have things, like I have shirts that only a jiu jitsu guy would get, you know? A lot of times only something that a jiu jitsu guy would understand. They have a major advantage in that way, but I still think we’re kind of a niche market.We’re kind of, I guess you could say, a little bit underground because the consumer is actually the practitioner. So it’s kind of an almost exclusive market. The exclusivity is kind of nice for the consumer, but not so much for business.”
That niche market maybe smaller, but there is no doubt that the fans are talking about his product. And because it has been built by fans of jiu jitsu, social media has been a huge deal for Barlow. He has advertised in many different spaces ranging from print magazines to social media, but he feels that social media has created his brand’s awareness. It allows people to see the product and some potential designs before it goes to market. He can get feedback from the fans and make changes. All in a matter of real time. And because of that his favorite marketing technique is using social media and running contests to give back.
“I do a lot of contests on Facebook. I think that’s one of them. Some of them, I try to put a twist on, to make them unique. There’s a lot of other companies doing contests too, but I think it helps a lot. When people see free stuff up for grabs, they always want to jump in and try to get at it. That’s one of the things we’ve done is try to give away a lot of things. It’s partially for our own promotion but also to give back to all the people that support us, all the people that follow our pages on Facebook and Twitter and all these things.”
Again, it goes back to controlling what he can. Putting product in people’s hands, letting them realize the quality of the product, having fans take pictures and post them with the product, it all helps.
One thing that has helped him was getting the support of Renzo Gracie. Barlow a huge fan of Renzo reached out on twitter. The two were able to share stories as Barlow is from the Relson Gracie team and Renzo immediately showed support. Barlow repaid the favor by creating a “Renzo Knows” shirt and it is in that spirit that many of the shirts have been created.
But at the end of the day it goes back to control and how much you have over everything. As Barlow says, without the fans, he wouldn’t be here and as such, he focuses a lot of his time on the customers.
“I think is real important is the people, the customers. The followers, the fans. I think they’re pretty much the main focus of everything, and that’s what I try to do. I try to be on top of my customer service. I always try to be involved, whether it’s their purchasing process, whether there’s a problem. I try to go above and beyond the problem, go above and beyond correcting it the best I can. I try to interact with them because interaction with them really helps a lot to tailor a product to their needs. And being a practitioner of jiu jitsu I know there’s a million body types out there, so you gotta design a million different sizes of gis. And I haven’t really expanded into that, but I’m working on it. So there’s things like that. I think the main thing of any business is the consumer, and that’s what I try to do is focus on them a lot and give them what they want and satisfy them. That’s the main thing I try to do above anything else.”