Q&A with USITT Exhibitor and Gig Gear Founder and President, Daniel Shatzkes
How did you get your start in the industry?
I’m a musician first and foremost. I started playing piano when I was 6, and then I branched out over the course of my childhood and teenage years into a slew of other instruments. I’ve been gigging and performing in all different capacities my entire life.
With regard specifically to theatre and the theatre tech industry, I worked as a music director primarily. I really fell into theatre by way of music, but in all that time I never considered myself “working in theatre.”
I got involved with USITT and theatre tech once I started Gig Gear. I was exhibiting at a different tradeshow and [USITT Expo Director] Ron Procopio was attending and he saw our product and the association of what we were making not only with regard to music, touring, and the concert industry, but how that related to theatre tech. He invited me to exhibit at the USITT 2016. Our reception at that show was huge. I realized, clearly, we were filling a need that was missing.
From the reception, feedback, questions, and comments we got from attendees at USITT 2016, we could further improve our products, refine them, and come up with new products that we could integrate into theatre tech instead of just making them blanket for every industry.
Tell me about your company, Gig Gear
Gig Gear is a company I started and incorporated in the summer of 2014. First, we were market testing a product to see if it would be viable. This product stemmed from an event I was working as a sound engineer. At the end of the show, one of the band members was loading out and showing another band member a pair of gloves he had purchased at a big box hardware store. He was saying, “These are great! Now, I don’t have to worry about hurting my hands.” I looked at the gloves he was wearing and I was surprised because they offered practically no protection whatsoever. They were a very thin pair of gloves. The only good thing about them was that they had grips on them.
That put an idea in my head that I also had always been using gloves to set up, tear down, and load in and out. I always had to take those gloves off for a lot of those things I had to do. This lightbulb moment went off in my head that all those gloves were designed for other things like construction and gardening. People in music touring, concerts, and production were going to these hardware stores to buy gloves that were designed for other things.
How did Gig Gloves come to fruition?
When I realized the industry didn’t have its own gloves, I put that on my list that I always keep of product ideas that would be great for somebody else to come out with one day because I never saw myself as a manufacturer. While there are a lot of things on that list that I was hoping somebody would come out with one day, I couldn’t get the gloves idea out of my head. I said, “Wow, there really must be an opportunity here.”
I started researching and considering all different kinds of gloves. From different types that I had used over the years to ones that other people were using on different jobs and gigs. I started looking at a template to design a new glove that would incorporate all the features I believed best to be able to keep the gloves on your hands when doing productions and live event work.
And then, Gig Gloves were born. I did about a year’s worth of research from 2013-2014. In 2014, I incorporated and worked with a manufacturer overseas to design a prototype. Once we went through a few iterations of those we landed on something that I believed would be a great start. Initially I had 100 pairs made to test the market. Those arrived in October 2014 and sold out at the beginning of January 2015. We ordered about 1,000 more to continue testing the market, and those sold out very quickly also.
We realized there’s a real opportunity here and expanded the company by growing the Gig Glove line. Initially that was our only product, but now we are introducing other products that I also had on that list.
When people visit the Gig Gear booth, what do you want them to walk away with?
We exhibit a lot at different tradeshows and we market our products to multiple disciplines within production industries. All those industries and disciplines tend to be very high-tech, especially the expos and trade shows. A lot of the focus goes to the new high-tech products, and granted they are very exciting, but what I like to focus on is the human being.
There’s always a person who has to be doing the work behind the technology. New tech products can make shows and events flashier and more exciting, and they can create things that we’ve never seen before, but there still has to be people involved that put that in place. The mission of Gig Gear is to create products and solutions that make the job of production for professionals safer, easier, more efficient, and more fun. That’s our goal with our product.
Up until now, that’s not going to translate into high-tech products, rather, high-value products. It’s going to make someone’s job easier when they do it. I think people realize the value of what we offer: a product that’s going to make their jobs getting high-tech products working more efficient, safer, easier, and fun. That’s what I want people to walk away with and I think they do.
What value do you find in USITT?
I started attending tradeshows in our industry back when I was in graduate school. I saw the value of being able to talk to the people at these companies whose products I had been using. Before then, I always felt a disconnect from being able to interface with a manufacturer’s product. Being able to talk to them about their products and what the decisions were behind the making of the products, I loved it. I see real value in that as a former attendee.
I love the fact that I can be on the other side of it and have people come to our booth and see the products we make and be able to explain the thought process behind it and the value of using our products. USITT is great because the attendees are anywhere from high school, college, and graduate students all the way up to the professionals using it, stretching to the retailers and supply companies who supply the theatres with these products. We get to speak to all of them and show them why our products are great for them to use and great for them to have available.
I see incredible value in being able to introduce our products to so many younger attendees who have their entire careers ahead of them. If we can get our products in their hands from this stage in their career, hopefully they like the product and continue to use it. We can potentially make them lifelong consumers and grow our business that way. The value of attending a show while the returns monetarily in the short term may not be easily identifiable, the long term value of getting customers and retaining them could be immeasurable.