1.25.2009

Interview With Tony Palazzo of ToeZup Fight Gear


The first time I saw a member of Team Xtreme (out of Cincy MMA and Fitness) fight, I noticed a logo for a company I'd never seen before. The logo kept popping up on all the Team Xtreme members' shirts and shorts and I remember being impressed at the unified front they presented. I remain impressed with the uniformity that the Team Xtreme guys present in their dedication to the fight game and a professional appearance.

When I was completing their team profile, I inquired about ToeZup, the company that sponsors Chad Hinton and provides gear for their team. He quickly put me in touch with Tony Palazzo, Managing Member and Founder of ToeZup. Tony agreed to this interview and graciously agreed to sponsor an awesome giveaway on FightTicker for UFC 94.

Tony offered up a wealth of information on fighter sponsorship and it is clear to see that he and ToeZup bring a fresh perspective to the MMA clothing scene.

Check after the jump for the full interview - as with some interviews I've done before, because I did this is in my role as a FightTicker blogger, any time you see "FightTicker" or "FT", that's me.


FightTicker: Tell us a little bit about yourself.


Tony Palazzo: My name is Tony Palazzo. I’m 28 years old and I founded ToeZup exactly a year ago in Jan of 08’. I have been a fan of mma since around 1996 when I started working. I finally had money to buy the pay-per-views. My first event was UFC 10 when they went tournament style. I’m also a big fan of modifying cars and I have this thing for hockey.


FT: Tell us a little bit about ToeZup. What made you want to start the company? How did you decide on that name?

TP: I started the company because I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford to start a company and I had no 2nd thoughts about that company being mma related some how, some way. It seemed like clothing and gear would be the best bet. Especially with all of the over priced clothing out there. Plus the clientele consists of mma fans, you get to give to the fighters and just help the mma community overall while creating a successful business. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

As far as the name goes I was mowing over a few different names, I think Laid-Out was one of them and ToeZup just stuck. Like a song that you can’t get out of your head. I just love the simplicity of the name and also what it stands for. The term Toes up is well known already, more for being drunk or wasted but I wanted to build on that name knowing it has a good chance of catching on being that people have heard Toes up before.

So when I went to buy the domain name Toes Up with an S was taken. The website is a family pictorial website I found out. So I checked ToeZup with a Z, it was available and that was that. I also wanted a simple logo because simplicity is good. Look at Nike’s swoosh, the 3 lines of Addidas, the tree of Timberland etc. ToeZup seemed to have it all to me.


FT: In a time where we see clothing companies popping up (and often failing) every day, what makes ToeZup one of the companies that’s going to last? What kinds of things is ToeZup doing to ensure its long-term success?

TP: That is an awesome question. You are so right about clothing companies popping up left and right. ToeZup is very very different. We are hands on with the fans and fighters. We are always right there in the mix with them. We are in the mma forums holding mma trivia and graphics contests for prizes, giving away tee shirts at fight nights, posting as much mma news as we can to keep the fans informed, giving everyone the inside scoop when we hear something from a fighter or agent. We have over 20 fighters that we sponsor and all of them get free gear along with sponsorship money. Our main focus is to be as close to the fans and fighters as possible. I see a lot of people trying to sell their clothing but I don’t see them giving back. We are the first mma clothing company that the fans can be a part of. As a matter of fact we held a tee shirt design contest not too long ago where the winner’s design gets printed and becomes the next ToeZup tee shirt just so we can get the fans truly involved in mma. Get an mma fan’s idea on the mma market, we love that stuff.

Now the key to long term success is easy. Go slow, build the best relationships that you can with your customers, fans and fighters and sell good quality clothing that is not over priced. Also build relationships with your local gyms and training centers. It’s all about hard work and relationships. If it means driving a last minute gym order an hour away because they really need it then so be it because you just made a friend for life so. Relationships, that is the key.



FT: What were some of the challenges you faced when getting started?

One big challenge is winning over the mma community because there are so many companies. When I say community I truly mean that. Gaining respect only comes with actions and time and that’s why I say go slow when starting out. It’s going to take years to truly become a big part of the mma community and catch on with the huge fan base mma has. Getting the name out there is easy if you have $2,000 a fight per fighter but that still doesn’t separate you from the pack. The fans want unique. Every other company bases their uniqueness on whose skulls look more badass while we are basing our uniqueness on what the company stands for the real actions it takes and the price to quality ratio of the clothing. By the way the new line will be released in the spring and it’s as real as it gets. That’s all I can say about it.


FT: Who was the first fighter you ever sponsored?

TP: The first fighter we ever sponsored was Pete Spratt for his fight at MFC 15 against Ryan Ford in Feb of 08’, 3 weeks after the business was officially opened. Great fight by the way. We received a lot of exposure right off the bat because the fight was so controversial.


FT: Approximately how many fighters would you say you sponsor?

TP: Right now we sponsor a little over 20 fighters not including amateurs. We get a ton of requests from amateur fighters and try to at least dress them. Fight shorts and rash guards you know what I mean?


FT: Can you tell us about a typical sponsorship deal ToeZup would have with an mma fighter?

TP: We try and make the sponsorships as easy as possible for the fighters. They definitely have other things on their mind besides getting that hat on after a tough fight. So we don’t put stipulations in our contracts and never will. Things like if you don’t get that hat on TV then you lose ‘x’ amount of money. I never liked that practice but so many do it. Our contracts usually consist of a time frame a clothing layout and a dollar amount.

All we ask for are the photos from the events and the rights to them so we can help get our fighters more exposure and use the media in our advertisements to keep things as real as possible. We have had fights ranging from $250.00 to $2,000.00 a fight and the whole layout is set before the contract is signed. For example we get 2- 6”x6” logos on the tee shirt, 1- 10”x10” logo on the leg of the shorts and 1- 20”x20” logo on the banner and it’s going to be $1,000.00 for the fight. That is pretty much what our contracts consist of. We sign almost every fighter to multiple fights. It gives them more piece of mind and security as well.



FT: What are some of the promotions in which ToeZup gear has appeared?

TP: Our gear has been seen in the WEC, Elite XC, HDNet fights, Ring of Combat and many smaller promotions like Battle Cage, Maximum Fighting Championship and MMA Bigshow. It’s also been on Inside MMA, ESPN’s MMA Live and the TapouT show oddly enough.


FT: What do you consider to be the first big victory for ToeZup?

TP: The first big victory was hooking up with The Lion’s Den here in Connecticut. We do things like dress their fighters, sponsorships and team outfits for them.


FT: In the recent years, MMA has seen a rise in mainstream society. As the sport has gotten more popular, have you seen a rise in the amount of business you do?

TP: Yes definitely. After each event things pick up a little more. It’s like every event creates more fans who hop on the net to either learn more about the sport, buy some clothing to show their love for the sport or even find a way to become part of the sport. It’s amazing to watch.


FT: Is your business based mostly online, or do you also send reps to regional shows?

TP: I would say about 60% is online and 40% comes from shows. I go to the shows and set up shop myself. I bring one employee but I like to have my hands on everything. I want to make sure everything is done right. Nobody will take care of what’s in your hands like you, right?


FT: What kinds of challenges do you face running a company like ToeZup?

TP: The only real challenge is budgeting the money correctly. Making sure the future commitments and sponsorships are covered, picking the right events and pretty much putting our eggs in the right baskets. It’s very easy to give too much. I already found that out. The normal order processing and daily duties of ToeZup are a pleasure.


FT: What is your day-to-day role in the company?

TP: Well like I said I have to have my hands in everything so I will check for orders, process them and box them up for pick up. I get on the phone with the agents and venue reps depending on what events are going on at the time. I answer the phones as much as possible too. I like being the one the customer talks to but it’s not possible all the time so our secretary Paulina fills in sometimes. I pretty much cover all of the operations and my partner takes care of a lot of the accounting.


FT: What do you like most about your role with ToeZup?

TP: I just love the fact that I am the one running the operations because I know it will be done right. My role is to work hard and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus I get to hang with the fighters and go to mma events all the time. It’s my dream come true.


FT: What do you want to see happen with ToeZup in the future?

TP: I want ToeZup to be huge. I know it can be and I know what it will take to get it there. I want ToeZup to be synonymous with mma, a household name if you will. ToeZup will be known as the 1st mma clothing company truly and deeply involved with the mma community. I want ToeZup to be the icon of what an mma clothing and gear company should be.


FT: The ToeZup website states that “ToeZup is owned and operated by genuine fight fans who always love a good match.” As a fight fan yourself, who are some of the fighters you like to watch?

TP: All of our fighters of course and I’ll also include Leonard Garcia, Kenny Florian, Jeremy Stephens, Wanderlei Silva and Joachim Hansen. They are very passionate fighters and that’s what it’s all about.


FT: Thanks for your willingness to talk to me, Tony – and thanks for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway here on FightTicker. Is there anyone you’d like to take some time to thank?

TP: I would like to thank you and FightTicker for the great interview, all of our fighters and their agents for looking out for us and every single mma fan out there. Thank you.


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Palazzo was a great guy to interview and talk with. When I asked him how soon he thought it would be before ToeZup got some exposure in the UFC, he said that Jon Jones had been scheduled to wear their gear, but that Full Contact Fighter also sponsors Jones, and they demanded exclusive exposure for the upcoming UFC 94, that FCF always has exclusive sponsorship deals.

When I inquired about whether he'd like to see ToeZup in a major retailer like Wal-Mart, Palazzo stated he'd rather not go that way. He feels that you can still make a living and run a fun company without going that route.

Palazzo struck me as a great guy to have in charge of a company like ToeZup. He spoke with admiration on both his fighters' skills in the cage and the relationship he has with them. He clearly has a great respect for the fight game and the issues fighters deal with trying to get sponsored. I think he's done great things with ToeZup in their first year and I'm looking forward to see what 2009 has in store for them.

-PreView

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