SoBo’s Ethan Giffin Making Moves at Groove Commerce

| October 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

Ethan Head Shot CroppedSix years ago Groove Commerce was being run out of Ethan Giffin’s home on William St. in South Baltimore’s Riverside neighborhood. Now, Giffin is putting the finishing touches on his business’s new 10,000 sq ft. headquarters in Harbor East (… if you are picturing an office that looks like those featured in Office Space, The Office and Wall Street, think again!)

Giffin spent eight and a half years working for the Allegis Group in Hanover, eventually becoming their director of e-commerce. Developing an expertise and reputation in the rapidly growing e-commerce industry, Giffin decided it was time to start his own business to help many companies throughout the country generate leads and sales through their websites.

Starting the company out of his home, Giffin funded Groove Commerce through his savings and some initial clients. After bringing on professionals in business, technology and marketing, Giffin hit the pavement to grow his new company, which he did successfully. After a year, the business moved and occupied two floors of office space at 1541 Light Street. Then, two years after, it moved and occupied space at the Emerging Technology Center (ETC) in Canton’s Can Company, which has produced alumni such as Millennial Media and R2integrated.

16Moving to the ETC, a Maryland-run incubator for early-stage tech companies, was described as a ‘good experience’ by Giffin. It provided an opportunity to be surrounded by mentors and to utilize the excellent technology infrastructure in the building. But, after a couple years it was time to move on and find a permanent home for Groove Commerce.

Giffin almost struck a deal to move Groove Commerce to the heart of Federal Hill, but when that fell through an interesting possibility emerged. For years, Giffin had always loved the architecture of the Fallsway Spring Building at 415 S. Central Ave., which is situated between Harbor East, Little Italy and Fells Point. So when a redevelopment opportunity came up, he jumped on it.

Giffin, together with developer Larry Silverstein of Union Box Company and architect Michael Burton (also an ETC Alumni and South Baltimore resident) of Urban Design Group, developed – and executed – a vision for the future headquarters of Groove Commerce. A year later, Groove Commerce moved their company of now 30 employees into its new home.

main2The three-story, 10,000 sq ft. Groove Commerce headquarters is a nod to the industrial past of Baltimore with its exposed brick and rafters, steelwork by Tim’s Welding, concrete elements and architectural details, all of which Giffin designed to create an environment conducive to creative thinking. “Our clients pay for creativity and ideas. We want them to walk through our office and say, ‘I want to work here!’” said Giffin. “The space both entertains and educates.”

The office, furnished by Hyperspace, features a main floor cafe with a bar where the employees can eat and enjoy ‘Free Lunch Friday.’ It is decorated with chairs made of old coke bottles, vintage arcade games and a large 190-inch drop down screen. The main floor also features the “pit,” where the creative team works. It includes several breakout rooms, high-top tables and a sofa and lounge. Employees can also keep their bikes on a custom steel bike rack located on this main level.

13.1The second floor includes a catwalk overlooking the “pit” that leads to two large conference rooms. The conference rooms are donned with custom timber tables and wire-rimmed glass, which is also a tip of the hat to the building’s history. A “den” with comfortable sofas and chairs is used for brainstorming sessions.

The third floor, home to the executive and sales teams, features a Baltimore-design staple, exposed brick, along with views of the adjoining neighborhoods.

The space has room for up to 60 employees, which is great as the company continues to grow.

In their new digs, Groove Commerce makes their mark working with startups to established companies to design and market websites, focusing on search engine optimization, social media, email marketing and analytics.  The company has worked with local big names like Lax World and nationally with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and clothing company Perlis.

12Though Groove Commerce employs three sales team members, a lot the company’s businesses is generated by referrals and the name Giffin has established in the e-commerce industry. Giffin speaks at national industry events eight to ten times a year.

When you think of the tech scene, you certainly think of northern California’s Silicon Valley, but Groove Commerce and its new headquarters provide a view into the growth of the tech scene in Baltimore. “There is definitely a vibrant tech scene in Baltimore,” said Giffin. “We have great talent and great universities, and there is a blue-collar mentality in Baltimore. People work hard and have a chip on their shoulder, they want to prove themselves.”

Giffin has kept his stress level pretty low throughout his journey with Groove Commerce, but admitted with every level of growth there are peaks and valleys that can be challenging. Though Groove Commerce blossomed a bit slower out of the gate than he had hoped because of a bad economy, the company is growing into what he imagined.

When Giffin, still a South Baltimore resident, is not running his company or speaking at event, you might find him at one of the many bars and restaurants in the neighborhood or on his way to a Ravens game.

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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