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Industry Innovators 2024: John Vo

The founder of WHOOPLA is on a mission to banish boring swag.

Industry Innovators 2024: John Vo
For last year's Super Bowl, Ole Henriksen tasked WHOOPLA with sending 12-packs of Cold Plunge Pore Masks, standing upright in ice to mimic an ice chest of beer.
Photo: Courtesy of WHOOPLA

Industry Innovators 2024: John VoPhoto: Courtesy of John VoJohn Vo is a self-described "swag addict" and the founder of WHOOPLA, a Los Angeles-based custom swag company that has worked with clients like Fenty, Google, NYX Professional Makeup, and Red Bull.  

How he got his start: "In the '90s, I used to work in IT (information technology). While on a much-needed break, I started helping my sister with her custom-decorated apparel business. One day, a client asked for pens and mugs with their company logo on them. This introduced us to the promotional products industry, and I fell in love with swag (or branded merch, if you prefer). Fast-forward a couple of decades—and I still love what I do."

Industry Innovators 2024: John Vo"We focus on the results our clients want to achieve, and use our creativity and experience in sourcing and custom manufacturing to provide fun and memorable solutions," explains Vo.Photo: Courtesy of WHOOPLAWhat sets his company apart: "I believe what sets WHOOPLA apart from others is we do not limit ourselves to the branded merch our clients initially request. Instead, we focus on the results our clients want to achieve, and use our creativity and experience in sourcing and custom manufacturing to provide fun and memorable solutions. 'Your Logo Here' on off-the-shelf merch is boring—and our motto is 'We Don’t Do Boring!''"

What innovation means to him: "To me, innovation means staying on top of the latest and greatest in all things branded merch, which includes new products, decoration/manufacturing methods, or even new materials in textiles/fabrication. Innovation can also mean taking something ‘old’ and re-imagining or repositioning it into something relevant for today. (Stanley tumblers, anyone?) There are so many companies in the promotional products space that if you don’t stay ahead of the curve, you will get lost in the crowd."

Memorable moments: "For Super Bowl LVII in 2023, our client Ole Henriksen asked us to send out ice chests containing a 12-pack to some of their VIP influencers. However, instead of a 12-pack of beer, the ice chests would contain a 12-pack of their Cold Plunge Pore Masks, standing upright in ice. The challenge was twofold: How do we keep the product from falling over and getting lost in the ice during transit, while also keeping the weight of the 54-quart cooler manageable? (Ice is heavy!)

Our solution was to build a foam tray with custom cutouts to keep the product tubes upright at different angles. The tray was also positioned in the upper area of the cooler, reducing the amount of ice needed from 50 pounds to less than 10 pounds while maintaining the same visual effect. It turned out to be a fantastic piece, and the client was thrilled." Industry Innovators 2024: John VoWHOOPLA created a custom backpack (left) for client NVIDIA that was inspired by the geometric design of its headquarters (right).Photo: Courtesy of WHOOPLA

His biggest hope for the event industry: "For swag/merch companies to sit at the table during the ideation/concept stage so we can help guide the discussion on merch. Many fantastic ideas never come to fruition because insufficient lead time is allocated for production. Total heartbreaker!"

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