Former Marine builds 'Born on Parris Island' business, brand
The (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) Island Packet
"Born on Parris Island" is a line most Marines who have gone through boot camp in the Lowcountry know.
The phrase, from an old Marine Corps cadence, invokes the training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island -- or, as the cadence puts it, "the land that God forgot."
For former Marine Jay Joseph, "Born on Parris Island" became something else: a marketing opportunity.
Joseph, who served in the Marine Corps from 1994 to 1998, hopes to turn that short phrase into a brand geared toward his fellow Marines, with plans to sell clothing, alcohol and even video games under the "Born on Parris Island" line.
A Philadelphia resident, Joseph spent most of his service career at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, after completing basic training at Parris Island. Joseph said the phrase was "spinning in his head" through most of his service.
"My father was also a Marine who trained there," he said. "He always said the phrase. It's something that all Marines know. I thought that there was a marketing idea there, so I trademarked it. I wanted it to be like Walmart, selling everything."
After working for a little more than a decade as a professional drummer (using experience he gained performing in a cover band around Beaufort) and a private investigator, Joseph and fellow Marine Matt Nodine founded Born on Parris Island on Nov. 10, 2010, the 235th birthday of the Marine Corps. Joseph said he pitched the idea to Nodine, a major and Marine Corps lawyer, who was immediately on board.
"He said, 'This is the most amazing thing,' and wired money to get the company off the ground," Joseph said.
Joseph said Born on Parris Island started off selling challenge coins -- small coins with an organization's logo -- that quickly sold and started a groundswell of support.
"Once we announced them, they got eaten up," he said. "I was shipping them by hand, 100 at a time. They just grew and grew. Word-of-mouth is like a snowball effect in the Marines."
As the challenge coins began to sell, Joseph put another plan into action: trying to license the Marine Corps logo. But that didn't pan out.
"I wanted to use the eagle, globe and anchor for the "O" in the logo," he said. "They didn't want us to use the logo, because we wanted to expand to beer and vodka. They didn't want the logo used on alcoholic products."
After almost three years of legal battles with Marine Corps command, Joseph said he ended the fight to use the Marine Corps emblem in their logo, sticking with the one he had used since the company's founding -- red "BOPI" text over a yellow South Carolina, with a red star signifying the location of Parris Island in the state.
"It was a mixed blessing," he said. "I'm going forward with no (legal) association with Marine Corps headquarters, but there are a million Marines out there who view this phrase as a source of pride. As long as Parris Island is around, we're going to keep selling items."
Since Joseph and Nodine started the brand, Born on Parris Island has begun to sell clothing and varsity jackets through online vendors, with plans for many other items in the works: cigars, which are expected to be released soon; hot sauce; energy drinks; and even a video game for Xbox consoles.
Joseph announces many of those items on the company's Facebook page, which doubles as its primary website.
"We had a website set up, but we weren't getting any traffic to it," he said. "We'd get 35 people a week. When we announced the video game on Facebook, we had thousands of people visit the page that day."
Joseph said he recently had a meeting with Boston Beer Co., the makers of Samuel Adams, about creating a "Parris Island Lager" to sell.
"They asked if I thought local bars would put it on beer taps down there," he said. "There are 150,000 visitors to Parris Island each year for graduation. Why wouldn't they want to serve Parris Island Beer to them?"
Born on Parris Island products could soon start showing up in the Lowcountry. Joseph said he talked to the Corps Store, which has locations within walking distance of both MCAS Beaufort and Parris Island, about carrying the company's products.
He also is considering opening a storefront in Beaufort or, with the Marine Corps' help, on Parris Island.