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Marco's Magic: Riolo Creative Engineering

Marco Riolo

Marco Riolo

Brands that Marco Riolo has worked on.

Artist, entrepreneur, and all-around maker-of-magic, Marco Riolo is making his mark on West Michigan with Riolo Creative Engineering. Audria Larsen finds out what makes this creative tick and why he's decided to call Grand Rapids home.
Riolo Creative Engineering is the synthesis of all things Marco Riolo, who is larger than life in body and spirit. An effervescent character who exudes an unbridled enthusiasm for life, Riolo has honed his multi-faceted skills and channeled his talents into the newly coined Riolo Creative Engineering. Over ten years in the making, his company embodies the work he has been doing all along, imbuing any and all projects with a creative spirit.
So what is creative engineering? “There are two components,” says Riolo. “Creativity is the design, concept development, branding and think tanks. The engineering component is how [the project] is produced, manufactured, created and brought to life.” Essentially Riolo, who partners with his Wisconsin-based brother, Carlo, offers corporations, mom and pop joints and startups a one stop shop experience to either kick start or reinvigorate their business needs using innovative solutions. “Whatever they can dream, think, want or do, it is an amazing way to help people bring their visions to life,” says Riolo.
A Michigan Technological University alum, Riolo studied environmental engineering and ecology. While in college, “I was still building snow sculptures, having fun,” says Riolo. And much like a snow sculpture grows, so did his interests. “I would design for friends and little companies. And then I wanted to learn more about screen printing and embroidery…I learned an entire industry, how it worked and worked in it. And then paper, print and web design came along. I worked in a paper shop and also teamed up with web designers and learned front end web design.”

Beyond possessing an enthusiasm for learning trade skills, Riolo has always been an avid artist exploring illustration and airbrushing. While his skill base grew and he continued to dabble in assisting friends with their own projects, word of mouth referrals started rolling in. Flash forward to present day and Riolo has built quite a diverse resume.
“[My brother Carlo and I] started working with startup breweries. Beer is a big thing,” he says. According to Riolo, breweries have a lot of needs, from marketing materials and business cards, to label designs, t-shirts for customers and employees, along with custom etched growlers.

When it comes to the manufacturing side of his business, Riolo refers to his producers as ghosts. “We do the customer service. We are the point person, so [our clients] don’t have to talk to 40 other people to get these products,” he says. Riolo also emphasizes that clients have a choice; for example, if they want all Michigan-made products, they get just that, with few exceptions. “Some things are just not made here,” Riolo notes. But, whether by request or not, he tries to locally source products as often as possible. Over time Riolo has handpicked his suppliers. “They are the best of the best, and we have searched the past ten years to find them.”  
Beyond facilitating product production, Riolo also assists with company branding and on-site design. He has worked with Grand Central Market, located in downtown Grand Rapids, to revamp the look of the space, adjusting the layout of the shop to make it “more approachable and cool,” says Riolo. He also helped rework all the menus, installing chalkboards and teaching the staff how to design in chalk. “We did a little tutorial with them and showed them how to do fonts…if we empower them to do their own stuff [like writing out their own chalkboards], then we can [focus on] the big stuff.”
Other projects have included illustrating the seasonal catalog put out by Martha’s Vineyard and helping the specialty shop emphasize their new focus on expanded groceries to the public. Riolo’s work with a medical device startup called Honolulu Blue Ventures involved developing logos, creating tradeshow materials and marketing coaching. Additionally, he has provided promotion and organizational elements for wacky events like the Ducky Dash, zombie and snowshoe 5k races and even roller derby teams.  
“For startups, a lot of times they don’t have money,” says Riolo. “So I go, ‘all right, cool. That means we can do whatever we want.’” Often in this situation Riolo creates crowd funding. For example, by creating pre-sale orders on t-shirts for a themed 5k run, the organization can use the extra funds raised to reinvest. “It helps the little guys grow,” he says.  “You build a pay scale and you allow them to build a budget with what you are doing. We are almost a small angel investor with these companies. We go in and create a plan.” The intent is to foster a long term relationship, which benefits everyone.
Riolo is passionate about all aspects of the creative life, beyond just working with businesses large and small. “What is so nice about being an entrepreneur is always looking for opportunities to involve yourself in things that you’re interested in. If you’re not doing what you love, then you’re not doing anything,” he says.  “One of my missions in life is to help encourage people that anyone can be creative regardless of what they’re doing.”
One way he does that is through his summer work at Kendall College of Art and Design, teaching children ages 10 through 12. “I teach these classes to encourage the kids…They have so much pure energy and they are sick of syllabi. When I come in I usually do a little show and I tear up the syllabus and say, ‘Whatever you guys want to draw, let’s make a list.’ And they love it, they lose their minds.” Riolo says. “You don’t know who you are going to influence; if every day if we can be kind and loving and encouraging, who knows where they will go.”
Similarly, Riolo’s own creative growth moved in an unexpected direction. “After college, I came back to Grand Rapids and it was going to be my launch pad, a spring board. There is Chicago, Los Angeles and New York,” he says. Over time, relationships started to grow through various activities -- from joining a rugby team to participating in the Fussion Afro-Caribbean dance project, getting involved with acrobatic yoga and even the inaugural ArtPrize. “Everyone started coming together. It was like the connections and the spider webs started to grow. And I still wasn’t sure,” says Riolo. “But, I began to realize that I was established and I fell in love with it here.”
Riolo now travels around the world, from New York to San Francisco and even Mexico City, often as brand ambassador for Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto company and for other creative projects. “Grand Rapids became the epicenter. It was home base. All the things I’m doing are being propagated here and Riolo Creative Engineering has the ability to be based here but make New York money, LA money and [bring that back to] revitalize our own community,” he says.
And that is, as he might say, Marco magic. Connect at www.marcoriolo.com
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. Her work has been published in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine, Michigan Blue Magazine and Hooping.org. She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids' original "hula" hoop company and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures. 
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