Co-Founder of Saintwoods
Interviewed on December 29, 2017
Saintwoods, co-founded by Zach Macklovitch and Nathan Gannage in Montreal in 2011, is a multifaceted creative agency. It has its roots in nightlife and event production and promotion, but now also manages artists, offers its namesake clothing line, and is a partner in Montreal restaurants and venues SuWu, Apt 200, and École Privée. Saintwoods has been ever expanding its presence outside of Montreal with a second Apt 200 location in Toronto and more projects in major cities on the way.
What is your background before co-founding Saintwoods?
I first started working in nightlife when I was really young. It was how I paid my way through school. I tried to work at malls and have other “normal” jobs, but nobody would ever hire me because I had a bit too much of a big personality. I also started a clothing company called Myron’s Fine Garments when I was 19 and still in CEGEP, which is a junior college in Quebec that people attend between high school and university. I spent more time there than I should have and stayed for an extra year and half because that was when I first started making money at clubs. I didn’t care about school. I thought school was so lame, and I was going to make money, but then reality sunk, and I realized I was only 19.
So I started Myron’s Fine Garments and did two full collections. Everything was made in Montreal, and I presented it during Montreal Fashion Week, did a few pop-ups, and got into a couple retailers. I learned a lot, but I was funding that business through a credit card that I ended up maxing out, so I essentially ran out of capital. I made some mistakes because I was so young and I was doing it all on my own. One of the biggest mistakes was overproduction. I was a little disorganized, so certain aspects of the manufacturing process messed up, and I ended up wasting a bunch of fabrics that I spent a lot of money on. I also had a couple of my key designs copied. It taught me a lot about being an independent clothing designer and an entrepreneur, which is worth more than every penny that I lost, but it wasn’t easy, and it definitely put me back. Thankfully I started it so young, so it was caught up early.
I have always wanted to start my own business. At the age of 13, I was hiring my friends to do chores for me around the house and paying them $5 an hour. When I wanted a new video game system, I sold my old one at the garage sale along a bunch of bikes as well. I guess I was always entrepreneurial in that sense. When I was around 21 and 22, I met Nathan Gannage. He had already started Saintwoods while he was at McGill with three other guys, who had left and moved on to other things, so Nate was running the company by himself. I had the marketing contract with this club called Time, and Nathan had thrown some big events there. We met and thought we would work together well. I told him I wanted to be a part of Saintwoods not just Zach Macklovitch the promoter, so I ended up giving him half the contract of Time for the company.
How did you come up with the name?
Nathan came up with it. Saintwoods is named after a corner in Toronto where he grew up, which is Saint Clair and Oakwood.
Tell me more about your branding process. Where did you get your inspirations from?
Everything is a discussion and evolution. We like tasteful branding. We want our brand to feel authentic and organic and not like it’s being copied anywhere else. It is being influenced by something else but still independent to that. We have inspirations from everywhere. We look at interior designs, other logos, and ideas just grow out of other ideas.
Saintwoods started as an event production and promotion company, but now has its hands on fashion, music, and many other creative aspects. How did you and Nathan develop Saintwoods and turn it into the company it is today?
Montreal nightlife had two separate universes, or at least it used to have, now it’s more intermixed. There were the university scene and the local scene. Saintwoods under Nathan was still a university centric promotion company when I met him, while I had done most of the nightlife promotions in the local scene, so Nathan and I were thriving to bring the two scenes together when we started working together. Then we realized we had a lot of the same interests, goals, and philosophies. We are interested in all different things, so we are able to develop Saintwoods into the multifaceted company that it is today. We have always been interested in the intersection between art, music, fashion, nightlife, and the culture that comes out of it.
What were the first few projects that you did after you started working with Nathan?
We first started throwing these massive university parties with around 500 people at Time. Then we started throwing deep house parties at another venue called Velvet. Both Time and Velvet are classic Montreal establishments. Then we started throwing hip hop concerts. We always tried to do events that we would call them "social experiments". For example, we would do underground music at a high end venue, or really rowdy music at a supper club, or a rap party with a mix of different groups of people, so it wasn’t just your typical rap party.
How did you get involved in SuWu, Apt 200, and École Privée?
We were starting to find moderate success as indie promoters. Our current partners bought a spot and tried to do a small flip and didn’t work, and they were looking to bring on partners to promote it and keep it going. We met and told them that we were not interested in taking over what was Cafeteria, but if they lent us the money, because we didn’t have any savings, we would make it into something amazing, so they lent us money to turn that into SuWu. It ended up doing well. Six months later, they bought a second property which was Ballroom, and we turned that into Apt 200. With the same partners two years later, we opened École Privée and Apt 200 in Toronto. This year we are looking to open Apt 200 in LA and Miami, so that would be the continuation of our hospitality projects.
How did you conceptualize them?
It is always about filling a void and identifying a need. We listen to each other, and we are able to develop a project by bringing different ideas. We build good conversations about the project and do a deep dive of what that space could offer and what our community would really need.
How do you evaluate your business partners?
I make sure to find common goals with them. There isn’t an easy way to pick business partners to invest in a project. Some would stay with you forever, but some would not. I have made some good decisions and some bad ones. You never know what would happen until after you start working together.
How did you decide which new market to enter?
When it comes to Apt 200, the need for this kind of experience exists in every major market, so we could put it in every major market. I had been going to Toronto a lot for years and always loved it, and Nathan is from Toronto, so it was a good location to test the water to see if this idea could work in a market where we hadn’t been throwing parties. Thankfully Apt 200 has seen a lot of success there, and the reason why we want to open one in LA is because people from LA come to Montreal and always say they need it in LA.
Tell me more about the other projects that you are working on at Saintwoods.
We have been managing this artist Ryan Playground for four years now. We have been working on a vodka for three years and hope to see commercial availability by the end of next year. The clothing side of our business is starting to expand, and we have found some retailers who would pick up our collections, and we also have some really big collaborations coming up. Because of the success of our bars and restaurants and our clothing line, we are getting reached out by major brands and artists to do events, so we started our creative agency, and that’s been the fastest growing side of our business. We want to keep growing.
BUILDING THE TEAM
How big is your team right now? What is everyone’s role?
We have a small team. Nathan and I are the partners. We have four full time designers, one of whom is our art director Thomas Pilgrim. We have Phil who runs the agency side with me. He’s an amazing designer who also got his own thing called Moto Made. We brought him on this year. Pierrick, who has been with us for two years now, manages the clothing aspect. We need people in charge of each division as Nathan and I work on growing the business. We have Miranda who helps us with office management, and we normally have an intern.
Who is the first person you hired and how did you find that person?
The person who has been with us the longest would be Thomas. We found him through the artist Black Atlass, who is an amazing R&B singer. I had been a huge fan of Alex of Black Atlass since when he was signed to Fool’s Gold. I would go to his shows as a straight up fan boy, and we ended up becoming friends. We were at lunch one day, a year and half since Nathan and I started working together. We had this graphic designer who was a headache. He was partying way too much and wouldn’t show up to work for days at the time, and no one could reach him. I told Alex that I didn’t know what to do because this guy was driving me crazy, and he said he had these three friends. They go by the collective of Geneviève, and Thomas is in that group. Actually his brother Scott is also in the group and works with us part time. He’s a photographer. So Alex introduced me to Thomas, Scott, and this other guy Cameron Morse, who is an accomplished artist as well. His personal artist name is Beyonce Torrent, and he’s also in a duo called Little Baby Angel. Thomas, who also DJs, really just fell in love with the brand and decided to become a full time member and hasn’t left since, and I couldn’t be happier. Scott and Cameron both have their own career on the side, but they are focusing more on us now.
What were you looking for when you hired them? How did you know that they have the same vision?
I didn’t know for sure. I know that overtime. I don’t think we hired because of vision. I don’t want people to have the exact vision as us. I want them to bring their own vision and mentality. I look for good work ethics, perseverance, and desire to find success. They must be excited about the brand and can push the envelope. For example, I don’t want someone who just loves rap music. I want someone who likes all kinds of music, and they like art, and fashion, and we can have a conversation about everything. I don’t want a designer who can just design you know?
How do you know when to bring on more people?
Neither Nathan and I are trained designers, so we always need a designer. After that we just became too busy. The workload just got too much that we couldn’t do this on our own anymore. Having opened and closed a couple of projects as an independent entrepreneur, I learned one thing is that you are either being too busy and not hiring someone and playing catch up or wanting to hire a lot of people and don’t have the money to pay them. If you are not sure, then you should probably just work harder until you know you need someone.
How do you know how much to pay them?
Everything is a learning process. I try to pay them a fair amount based on where the business stands and how much money we have, and hopefully they are so good that they can grow into bigger roles within the company.
How did you finance the company?
We borrowed from friends and family. I could have very easily lost relationships with these people whom I was really close, but I was a man on a mission.
What are some of the hidden costs that most people wouldn’t realize when you organize an event?
Security. Insurance. Rent. The insane cost of talent. Promoters. Designers. Lights. DJ equipment. A lot of expenses. If you are not doing it at a show venue, you need a sound system. Security is very important. It is the biggest expense. People don’t realize that a lot. Cost of alcohol. Are you selling your own liquor or is someone selling it for you? Are your bartenders stealing from you? Is the person at the door stealing from you? Is the venue stealing from you? The event business is a tough business.
How did you get people to come to your parties?
Both Nathan and I had been throwing parties separately for five years before we met, and by doing that, we just learned. Nathan would personally hand out flyers at the McGill gate, and I would get everyone’s number on my phone and text people savagely. When we started working together, promoting on Facebook was the big thing. It was a very different scene back then. Now people are so educated and informed about what’s around them, it’s a matter of providing good music and experience, and making sure your branding and images are on point.
For the clothing line, you did drops of limited amount of merchandise, which always ended up being sold out after a few days. Why was that the sales strategy?
I lost a lot of money on Myron’s, so this time I make sure not to over manufacture. We don’t want to produce too much, but just enough so there wouldn’t be any leftover stock, and everyone can have what they want.
How do you manage the competition with similar companies and stay relevant?
We never commit to any one scene or genre completely, and we stay relevant by being able to change and grow with trends and set trends.
A lot of trials and errors. Nathan and I have worked pretty much all the horrible jobs you could imagine. Being a flyer promoter is the worst job ever especially when it’s -30 degrees outside. When we opened our first restaurant on Boulevard Saint Laurent, we had been promoting and throwing parties on Saint Laurent for six years. I knew who would be there on a Friday night. As for the clothing line, I learned the business by losing a lot of money.
It was really hard as a struggling entrepreneur. We didn’t have the money, nobody wanted to work with us, and the brand didn’t mean anything. That was the reality.
There will be haters in everything you do. Don’t let people dissuade you from following your dream. If you are good and have the confidence, bet on yourself.
As someone who’s lived the ups and downs, I want to warn people about the reality of the business. I found success after ten years, but it took seven years before everything really started catching. Make sure being an entrepreneur is what you really want. Can you handle stress well? If the answer is no, then don’t. You need to be aware of the real fiscal, emotional, and social stress that comes with launching a business. Until you are successful, being an entrepreneur is a part time job. So many people would work on their own company while having an actual job. You would be working double the hours, and the first money that needs to feed is not you, it’s the company.