“I never wrote a business plan,” Lili Hall admits. Ten years after founding Knock, her Minneapolis design, merchandising, and marketing agency, she now can say, “I’m pretty glad that I didn’t.”
A business plan might have narrowed Hall’s opportunities. Knock’s list of capabilities includes in-store design, print, promotions, packaging, identity, and 3-D space visualization. Its clients range from smaller, Twin Cities–based enterprises including East African Bakery and Chocolate Bonavita to bigger names like New Balance and Luxottica. One of its recent projects was the in-store signage and related promotional materials for Target’s PFresh concept, a grocery department that’s smaller than those in SuperTargets. PFresh sections are now being rolled out at 350 stores per year.
Hall may not have had a plan, but she does have broad interests and experience. Growing up in Chicago, Brazil, and Minnesota, she was torn between several career options, including architecture, fashion design, and international relations. She also had plenty of connections, thanks to her 12 years working as a Midwest account executive for apparel firms B.U.M. Equipment and Adidas. Besides managing the companies’ standard lines, Hall helped create products that were specific to a retailer, whether Dayton’s in Minnesota or Younkers in Iowa. Looking for a fresh challenge, she struck out on her own in 2001.
Knock began as a retail strategy firm, with Hall as its only employee. It was a scary time to start a business. “There wasn’t much access to capital, it was a recession, and then there was all the uncertainty after 9/11,” she recalls. But within a few weeks of starting, Hall was contacted by a friend at Target, a call that quickly led to a project creating holiday-season packaging for the retailer. Hall was soon hiring, and Target would become one of Knock’s biggest clients. Knock now has 47 employees, annual billings of $10 million, outposts in Chicago and New York, and stylish, open-plan digs just west of downtown designed by local firm Julie Snow Architects.
In building her agency, Hall says that “I didn’t want to be put in a corner.” From her work in several aspects of retail, she saw that the various parts—package design, marketing, in-store fixtures and signage—needed to interconnect to present a unified message.
Liwanag Ojala, president of Mankato-based Pear Tree Greetings, first worked with Knock when she was president of online supermarket SimonDelivers (now CobornsDelivers). After seeing Knock’s design work on one of its vendors’ packaging, Minneapolis natural foods line Upper Crust, SimonDelivers enlisted Knock to refresh its marketing materials. When Ojala moved to Pear Tree, where she set out to shift its catalog-oriented greeting card business to an online one, she once again was knocking on Knock’s door.
“They’re not just creative executioners—they’re strategic thinkers,” Ojala says. “As an agency, they have great ideas, they have great creative output. But the earlier part of the process, where they help build the strategy and bring the strategy to life, was the part that really got me excited about them.”