Joseph Tantillo has big ideas. They often come to him in
unusual places and ways. Some, he files away for future reference;
others, he acts on immediately.
Take Tantillo's idea for an e-business Web site. It came
to him "on a whim," he says, in the waiting room
of his wife's obstetrician. It was May 1999, and Tantillo
was waiting to learn whether his wife, Jill, was pregnant.
To pass the time, he picked up a magazine and happened on
an article about starting an online store.
Turns out, that visit to the doctor's office signaled the
start of something big in more ways than one.
Tantillo now has a 4-year-old daughter, Grace. He's also
the founder and sole owner of Express Design Group Inc. --
the parent company of five online stores, including www.greekgear.com,
Together, they attracted more than 3 million customers to
"From being in a fraternity in college, I knew what
kinds of Greek items they bought," he said. "I'd
always had a list of things I wanted to do. One of the ideas
was to sell Greek merchandise myself, so when I got home from
the doctor's office, I started working on designing the greekgear.com
The company's growth has been nothing short of phenomenal.
In its first month of operation in May 1999, Tantillo said
greekgear.com had two customers. His first order, for a Phi
Gamma Delta hat, still sits on his desk.
Less than five years later, Tantillo said greekgear.com now
ranks as the largest online source of fraternity and sorority
merchandise. Items available include everything from custom-printed
shirts, shorts, hats and other apparel, to afghans, pillows,
license plate frames, flip- flops, jewelry, and party favors,
Greekgear.com and the other online stores Tantillo subsequently
created now attract some 3 million visitors a year. Last year,
those visitors ordered 70,000 items from Tantillo's five Web
sites. The guidogear.com Web site specializes in Italian gift
items, such as logoed sweatshirts and other apparel, party
favors, mugs and signs. Likewise, mychristiangear.com features
religious and Christian wearables, stickers and other merchandise.
Tantillo is quick to point out that his success isn't merely
a stroke of good luck. Rather, he credits his prior experience
in the sales promotion industry and his background in communications
Tantillo attended William Paterson University in New Jersey,
where he grew up. After graduating in 1992 with a degree in
communications, Tantillo started a sales promotion company
in Ridgewood, N.J., (a suburb of the New York City area) with
Michael Gray, one of his Phi Kappa Tau fraternity brothers.
"We did mostly corporate work," Tantillo said. "Back
then, we were doing about $500,000 (in sales) a year. We had
good clients, like Revlon and Chiquita Banana."
In 1994, Tantillo sold his interest in the business to Gray
and moved to Orlando, Fla., where his family had relocated.
He worked in sales for the family's commercial printing business
there. A year later, Tantillo met his future wife, Jill, who
had settled in Orlando after college and a Disney internship
to work in special events and fund raising for the March of
Dimes. The couple married in 1996.
The Tantillos moved to the St. Louis area in January 1999
so Jill could get involved with her families business. She
runs its country restaurant, bakery and custard shop.
Joseph Tantillo, meanwhile, quickly immersed himself in the
online commerce industry.
At first, Tantillo operated Express Design Group out of a
spare bedroom at home. "It was slow going at first,"
he said. "But I had been in the promotions industry since
I graduated college and had contacts with vendors I could
turn to when I was first setting up the business."
Once the orders started flowing in, Tantillo said he quickly
realized the importance of owning his own screen-printing
equipment. "That enabled us to handle some of the production
and have control over quality and turnaround time," Tantillo
Express Design Group has its own embroidery, screen-printing
and engraving machines for customizing wearable items; other
items are manufactured by outside suppliers and shipped to
Express Design Group for final distribution to online customers.
The company employs eight people full time.
Tantillo said the ability to order just one item and have
it shipped quickly, usually within 24 hours, makes his online
stores particularly appealing to individual customers. "We
can make one of just about anything," he said.
The key to his success involves the ability to identify niche
markets, Tantillo said. His goal is to open a new online store
each year. "I want to stay focused and stick with our
plan. It's limitless at this point."