Photo: Rick Crossman
Jim C is a real good example of people in the industry who have worked their way up. Originally starting his career out with Kink as a sponsored rider in 1998 and then joining a few other sponsors over the next years like Odyssey as a professional. As time progressed, he became more and more familiar with how the industry ran, and then in 2005 an opportunity of a lifetime came about; brand manager for a new brand titled “Sunday“. Since then, Sunday has become a worldwide brand, its office has moved from New York to Austin, Texas and more responsibilities have come with the opportunity. I figured it would be a good time to find out a little bit about how Jim landed what many of us would call a dream job and to find out a little bit more about what exactly he does as a “Brand Manager”. Let’s take a look at what he had to say…
Name: Jim Cielencki
Location: Austin, TX
Years riding: 29 years strong
Years as brand manager for Sunday: Right from the very start, April 1st, 2005.
All right, so maybe we should start with your background a bit. When did you first get sponsored? What are the brands you have rode for over the years?
It was never really about getting sponsored for me. This is mostly because they weren’t available and seemed totally impossible to get. In 1998, I ended up getting sponsored by Kink Bicycles which happened to be located an hour from my home in Buffalo. It was fun and a great learning experience.
My best opportunity came in the spring of 2001, when I got ask to join Odyssey. At the time, I was very unsure because Odyssey’s image did not even come close to the image they have today. I nervously spoke with Chris Cotsonas about the intent of the company and their future product ideas. We spoke for over an hour and by the end I knew they were going in the same direction I was going. Odyssey has been so open-minded, creative, progressive and forward thinking. You walk into the office and cannot help to be excited by seeing all the new products, ideas, colors and things that never came out. It feels that way even today.
There were some other sponsorships from Duffs Footwear, UGP and Beloe Footwear which were a lot of fun. I even had a shoe called the Motto on Beloe. It was so sick to be able to pick the colorways and design a shoe that I thought was cool. I owned a BMX/Skate shop at the time and I looked at shoes every day. I would love to do it again.
When did the idea for Sunday come about? Was this something you were working on or did the guys at Odyssey approach you with the idea?
The idea for Sunday sprung from a Christmas time meeting at a Starbucks in Rochester, NY. Chris Cotsonas is from the area and we would always meet up during his home visits to talk ideas. At previous meetings, he showed me the first 41-Thermal Crank samples and 3-D drawings of my first pedal. This time, I expressed how I had reached the limits of what I could do with features on my current frame. It was a mutual project in the sense that we were both looking at the possibility, but it didn’t happen until someone mentioned it. I swear it naturally fell into place.
At the first frame meetings during the Last Call tradeshow, there were so many ideas flowing. Hollow dropouts, built-in chain tensioners and even Wave tubing was discussed. We didn’t have the wave idea yet just some sort of shaped tube to help prevent denting. This meeting made me feel like we were onto something special. The original Sunday frame was one of the strongest frames ever built that was below 5.5 lbs which was light at the time. Light and strong are words that do not go together. They are still being ridden today over 5 years after they first came out.
Photo: Brett Carlsen
Prior to Sunday, you were living the pro life of riding, traveling, filming, chilling, etc. Did you have any prior education towards business or anything like this? Do you feel like college would play a key part in preparing somebody for running a BMX brand?
It was definitely the life, Haha! It’s not all that people imagine. I was definitely lucky to have had some really good sponsors that paid me enough to survive without having to really work. I got to travel and ride all over the USA. The best times were riding both the Metro Jam and Backyard Jam contests. I loved those events. It really felt like they allowed all styles of riding to be judged fairly. I even made finals a few times.
College was a good thing in my view. I basically rediscovered how to learn and it helped me open up to new ideas and views. Although with the cost of college today, I would not go to school right out of high school. I would go figure out my life and what I want to do, then go. There’s no need to get so into debt trying to figure things out. Riding and traveling have taught me many things that college never will. I’m lucky to have had both opportunities.
What were some of your biggest challenges when the brand first got its start? I feel like there’s a pretty hefty learning curve for everything involved from organizing a team, budgets, all the way down to product design and promotion.
There is definitely a hefty learning curve. I did a lot of stuff when I was with Kink from product design, video promo tours, filming trips and planning promo trips. A funny memory is doing all the drawing for my signature frame, the Freebird and Defender frame by hand. Kink never had an official TM, but I definitely played that role starting in 2001. From that experience, I had a good understanding of what I was going to be doing, but it is different when you do it for yourself.
What’s a typical day in the office like for you? Do you get much of a “typical” day or do you generally cycle through different projects throughout the week or time of year?
Well, the day starts and ends with emails. Lots of emails. That’s the most typical thing about it. Besides that, there’s nothing typical. As we’ve taken on complete bikes and developing a better softgoods program, certain projects start to happen at certain times of the year. It’s good because you get to stop thinking about one thing and move on to the next. It’s always refreshing that way.
What are some of the tools you use to do your job? (Word, Excel, Final Cut, Photoshop, Illustrator, WordPress, Computers, cameras, etc. etc.)
It’s all those and more. You can add programs like Quickbooks and Lightroom. Just as important is all the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram and whatever else that is the next interesting way to connect with people. You get to have great interaction with our fans and you are better able to help them with their concerns, issues and questions. There’s a lot of time devoted to that right now.
If you had to pick the best parts of the job, what would they be? Do you have any sort of perks that you didn’t expect?
There’s a few things that I like the most. Obviously traveling is one of the best perks of the job. There are so many places that I never would’ve gone to and I will never get to go again because of Sunday and riding. Another great aspect of the job is seeing kids get stoked on BMX while riding one of our bikes. As they start to understand and get better, you can see this light come on that will be lit for a long time. I’ve gone through the same beginning and my light is still shining. I’m still stoked on BMX even after 28 years.
As for perks, the best and most random one was that I had a cupcake named after me. There’s a guy up in Wisconsin that does super gourmet cupcakes and asked me about doing a signature cupcake. If you know me then you know I like cupcakes, just check my instagram.
What are the most frustrating parts of the job? I’d imagine team related things like letting a rider go is tough?
Besides emails? Nah, emails are good, it’s just that you never actually finish one because there will be another one later on. I’m lucky to have been on both sides of the coin. I was a pro rider and now I work in the industry. Straddling both sides of the line is the most difficult part. There’s no black or white just a lot of gray.
What does the exact title of “brand manager” mean? Is it more of a “I manage the entire the company, but still do everything from answering phones to managing the team and scrubbing the toilets”?
I guess, a brand manager is suppose to guide the direction of the company’s future endeavors. This brand manager also wears many hats from part time Full Factory phone guy and Fairdale warehouse manager to team manager and social media contact. There’s also product design, softgoods coordination, office duties, sales rep, new product development, filmer, travel agent and just about anything else that needs to get done. It’s a small operation, so you tend to take on a lot of jobs.
What kind of time do you put into this? Is it a 9-5 kind of thing or a wake up and work until I’m delirious kind of job?
Our office ours are 10-6, but it doesn’t stop really. You can work your office hours then go ride the skatepark and end up working there as well.
How many people do you work with on a regular basis in the office?
I’m the only person that is strictly working on Sunday right now. There are four other people in the Austin office who share duties between Sunday, Odyssey, Fairdale, G-sport, Flatware and Full Factory. There’s more people in California that are doing the same thing.
Photo: Rick Crossman
I’d imagine being so busy has cut down on riding time a bit. Do you still get the daily sessions in? Do you ever get burned out on BMX after talking about it all day long?
My riding has definitely been cut down. To be honest though, when I was pro I would ride later in the day anyway, so I just work during the hours that I would be sitting around. The hardest thing is you can’t be spontaneous about your riding times like you would when you’re a pro. Now, my riding plan is to ride full tilt from the very beginning of the session. I don’t get much time, so I have to take full advantage of it.
Care to give us some hints at projects you are working on with the team, products, and brand itself for 2012?
New frames, new parts, more bikes and more clothes. Lots of great things from the team too, obviously. You’ll see soon enough.
Now that Sunday is available worldwide and a well established name in BMX, is the job easier?
Not quite, some of the things are easier, but we have to constantly refresh people on Sunday. There’s all sorts of new riders that have no clue why we make Wave tubing or do hollow dropouts. We have to constantly make people aware of all our features and the reasoning for them. It’s something you have to do every year and in the latest way of interaction with customers. Magazines were originally the only way, but now you have multiple social media outlets, our own website, magazines, videos and tours.
What kind of advice do you have for people out there looking to get into the industry? What about being a brand manager specifically?
The best advice is to give yourself a broad range of experience and knowledge to draw from. This will give you the ability to make better decisions and have a more creative brand. Picture BMX as a balloon and bringing in new idea expands the BMX balloon more allowing new people to experience it. Redoing the same ideas or copying other sports ideas just doesn’t make BMX bigger.
Could you ever see yourself doing anything else?
I’ve definitely thought about doing other stuff in the past. I earned a degree in geology, so I wanted to do that at one point. I moved into the city and became really interested in urban planning. I can see myself being into something like that later on in life. I will always be riding a BMX bike. It would be a very sad day when I don’t have one. Sunday has been my dream since the 1991 and I’d like to keep dreaming for as long as I can.
Do you have anything I missed you would like to say?
Not too much, just want to say thanks for the interview and thanks to everyone who is into Sunday.