Ryan Vesler collects and is inspired by sports and other memorabilia.
The Homage headquarters is unremarkable on the outside, but inside it’s a trove of vintage memorabilia. Once the apparel retailer grew out of its offices that were scattered all over an office park (with two offices on one side of the park and three on the other), it chose to move to an office and warehouse in the John Glenn International Airport business park. Upon entrance, a visitor is greeted by a wall of T-shirt designs chosen as favorites by employees, each with a blurb explaining why. A kitchen to the right houses an NBA Jam arcade machine, one just like the machines found in each of the seven Homage retail stores. Founder and CEO Ryan Vesler says that if any of the machines were to break, he isn’t sure what he’d do.
“The guys who own 16-Bit [Bar + Arcade] have a mechanic, but they kind of keep the mechanic close to the vest,” he says. “If I got desperate enough I might ask if they could send the mechanic over.”
Some of Vesler’s time is spent surfing the web for memorabilia that eventually can become décor in a new store. The office vibe goes beyond sports memorabilia, which is what Homage is known for. Vesler says he chooses vintage decorations that are quirky and different.
In fact, the company is constantly expanding on the themes of its offerings. For example, a Grateful Dead or national park tee. “It’s all traced to our desire to be more national,” says Vesler. “What are themes that resonate with people beyond just Columbus, Ohio, pride? You can pay homage to a lot of things. I didn’t want to anchor the business to one theme.”
The warehouse is home to both ecommerce and store inventories, making it different from the usual retail operation, which often will separate them. As Homage grows, it may need to change its fulfillment plan, but for now, it works. Vesler says his team is small but mighty. “If you think about how many products we ship out and how many designs we make and then zoom out it’s like, ‘Wow.’ [For example], our marketing team is five people and the design team is four people,” he says. His small-but-mighty team creates over 1,000 unique designs and ships over 150,000 orders per year. The warehouse has a space for taking product photos and an area for storing old designs. The design storage is not as sophisticated as it could be—“It’s funny, we’re a company that explores archives and we didn’t think to keep an exact archive of our own,” says Vesler.
Out back is Homage’s “vehicle fleet,” which includes an old VW bus and a limousine. The limo was purchased from a Cleveland bar owner and has been redecorated in Cleveland Browns colors with a graphic of a bulldog in a football helmet. It’s called the “Executive Dawg.” Vesler says he paid for it in $1 bills, just to be funny. It isn’t currently running. “I want somebody else to pay for this,” he says. “Maybe if you run it in the magazine we can find someone.”
Employees sit based on their function in the workspace. The space is relaxed and desks are filled with trinkets and personal touches. It feels a little cluttered, but that’s because there are projects in progress throughout, and rows of apparel hang around the perimeter. Vesler is a self-admitted packrat, but he also puts the vintage items he purchases to good use as store decorations or inspiration for new designs.
Vesler knows this space also will be outgrown at some point, but not yet. His wish list for the eventual new space includes gym, salad bar and bowling alley. He tried to include one lane of bowling in the current space, but it was too expensive.
A few employees and Alfred the dog sit and chat in a private space with a glass front in the desk area. Vesler and his team named the space the “Bezness Lounge” after Homage’s longest-tenured employee, Ben Jones-White, Homage's business (Bezness) manager. It used to be Vesler’s office, but he wanted to give his employees a space to hang out and he felt isolated behind closed doors. “I’d rather see what people are working on, contribute—and bother them. All the stuff that a boss is supposed to do,” he says.
Chloe Teasley is staff writer.