I’ve met with a lot of people in transition over the last year. Most by personal choice, some by circumstance. Regardless of how they got there, the economic growth over the last 10 years has created opportunities, and people are looking to cash in.
As a business owner, I’m often approached to provide feedback to a budding entrepreneur looking to create their own start-up. We talk about their goals, dreams, ambitions, and they ask me about Simon/Myers and what made us successful. However, I hesitate to focus on the success of Simon/Myers. Partly because I feel like we’ll never reach that “destination.” It is really about what we do each and every day that matters.
Tomorrow, when we get up and start to work, there will be another amazing client to serve, a shopper to delight, or a teammate to mentor, if we are so lucky. And there is always room to improve. So, I like to focus on our journey, where we are today and what we’ve learned about running a business along the way.
We’ve been in business since 2007, and rebranded to Simon/Myers nearly five years ago when Jim Myers became my business partner. Over that time, we’ve evolved from a pure creative firm with a laser focus on Shopper Marketing to a brand strategy and creative agency that executes in several verticals.
When we founded the company, it was in response to a need we saw in the market. As has happened in many markets, the in-store display industry was becoming commoditized. Procurement was driving efficiency into the development and purchase process. I found many of my clients -- the most honorable ones -- had the desire to purchase creative development independent of production, so they could then send the production out to bid. The less honorable ones would simply take the design work for free and bid it anyway. So, we launched on the premise of decoupling design and production, and as an Industrial Designer I knew where our immediate opportunity was to make an impact.
Right at the launch of the company, as we established our positioning, we did some things right and one thing definitively wrong. Let’s start with the mistake. Since the entire system was being reengineered to drive costs out, I assumed that being cheaper than our competition was a valid selling proposition for our prospects. Well, it turns out that within reason, saving money was absolutely NOT a primary decision driver in the development end of the business. The bulk of the spend was on the production, not the creative. And superior creative is where brands were going to differentiate themselves from their competition. And frankly, they understood the price that was associated with that. It was a relatively low investment that could provide a good return from increased sales.
What did we do right? Deliver a superior product. Be smart. Ask deep questions. Listen. Challenge preconceptions. Serve. And along the way build a culture that reflects these attributes. Today at S/M, we call that combined skill set intellectual curiosity. It’s central to our culture; it guides all of our decisions as we grow. It determines which clients are a good fit, how to structure our agency, and perhaps most importantly who we should have join our team.
At a certain point, a “start-up” becomes a “company” and seemingly takes on a life of its own. Growing up for us came in response to the dramatic shifts in the marketing landscape. Shoppers began experiencing brands on their terms, so we evolved the agency accordingly. As important as the “final foot” still remains, the journey has changed and is infinitely more complex. Better input is needed and wider knowledge on how to reach audiences is required.
Despite our historically strong creative background, we knew we needed to grow through strategy and digital activations. In full humility our team understood our limitations, so we added the most talented folks we could find. Specific experience in what we needed was less important than the ethic of intellectual curiosity. We have a crazy-quilt of people, but they are what make S/M unique.
Today, we’ve certainly expanded, but we don’t try to be all things to all people. Our goal is to steward brands through critical points of their growth, while helping them to understand and reach their audiences. We have a complex mix of needs to fill for our clients, and it’s only through our combined talents we are able to meet them. We don’t do it perfectly, but every day we strive for egoless collaboration. As a result, spectacular ideas come from every corner of the agency. Sometimes to address client needs, but also to further build our culture from all aspects of how we play, grow and learn.
We’ll continue to make mistakes, learn from them and evolve, but we’ll also stay true to our principles. Hopefully this approach resonates with soon-to-be entrepreneurs. The industry needs your intellectual curiosity and new ways to solve problems.
Art director Kaity Burns loved working for our Chicago-based agency, but wanted to raise her family in North Carolina. Thanks to Kaity’s pioneering spirit, and the progressive thinking of our founders, our agency took the leap into the world of working remotely.
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