ARCHIVED  November 1, 1996

Smaller agencies build on niches

Smaller advertising, marketing and design firms are finding that they can compete by finding a niche market, offering personalized service and adapting to clients’ demands.Many small firms have located along the northern Front Range. Some came from big cities, and others grew up here, but all have found that their small size and location are major assets.
“We moved to Fort Collins as a lifestyle move,´ said Dale Moss, who owns Rainbow Sports Marketing Services in Fort Collins. Moss and his wife moved Rainbow Sports to Fort Collins from Chicago in May because they wanted to live and work in Colorado.
As a marketing firm for many of the major-league sports teams, they were able to locate almost anywhere.
“We deal with a national client base, including the New York Mets, the San Francisco 49ers, major-league basketball, baseball and hockey teams, so it did not matter where we were,” Moss said. “We are more of a phone number for our clients. We stumbled across Fort Collins after looking at Boulder.”
Boulder seemed too expensive for the small company, so company officials happily settled in Fort Collins.
“We have more office space now,” Moss said, adding that business was increasing.
Rainbow Sports organizes sponsored events for major-league teams. The company arranges with a team to have an event and will contract with vendors to purchase caps, T-shirts or other items as prizes or give-aways for the events.
“We coordinate events between teams and sponsors such as Pepsi,” Moss said.
“Our clients are usually the teams themselves, but we have sponsors as clients, such as Miller beer. We do have some competitors, businesses that do what we do. But we are lean, and we understand where we fit in the sports marketing place – we understand our market.”
Moss said he got into the business five years ago, because prior to that, he worked in marketing for professional soccer teams and was often frustrated by inferior products or products that would arrive late for the event.
“I saw that there was a market for this type of business, and we can avoid all those problems because we understand our market,” he said.
Rainbow Sports will do just less than $1 million in gross sales in 1996 and expects to do slightly more than $1 million in 1997. The company has one employee besides the two owners and has about 60 to 70 clients.
“We are growing as a company, and we will probably add some additional space – we could add some space here,” he said. “The move to Fort Collins has been terrific. I’m not sure that 20 years ago, we could have made this move, but with new technology, we can be anywhere.”
Like many small firms, Rainbow Sports contracts with other businesses for a variety of services, such as printing and graphics.
Some firms feel that their competition is not from large ad agencies but from companies that are the same size. Bonnie Dean, owner of Bonnie Dean Associates in Greeley, says that generally she competes with companies that are about the same size as her agency.
“We generally compete with agencies which are our own size, and we serve a certain size customer,” she said. “We can offer more personalized service than larger companies, but our clientele is smaller companies, and we have been able to find the right match of people.”
Dean said that because they are a small company, clients feel that they are more important to Dean than they would be to a larger firm.
“I’ve been in business for 25 years, and we have a creative team,” she said.
After a successful career in marketing for banks, both in Greeley and Denver, Dean started her own firm in Greeley. Her clients have covered the whole Rocky Mountain region. She has five or six clients at any given time. Her firm does market research, advertising and public relations. It also organizes award and recognition events.
“We do trade shows, and we can help clients target a market, find new markets and create a different image,” she said.
Dean said the small size of the company is an advantage in many ways.
“We can give a greater level of attention to customers, so for a certain size client, we created a market,” she said.
The company has customers in banking and in the health-care industry.
“We encourage our customers to think about who their clients are and who they want to reach so that we are focusing on the right issues and reaching the right people,” Dean said. “We have some clients in manufacturing and some in high tech. We also do some videos. You can be in a niche, but you have to have a lot of work in that niche to be successful.”
Market Reach, a marketing firm in Estes Park owned by Suzy Blackhurst and Sally Anderson, has discovered that its niche is the local resort and tourist trade industry.
The company was started 11 years ago by Blackhurst, who graduated from Estes Park High School. She and her husband returned to Estes Park from Illinois in 1985, and Blackhurst discovered that growing up in the tourist town made her a natural for opening a market-research firm for local businesses.
“Some of the local people found out that I was back and started asking me to do some things for them,” she said.
The first office for Market Reach was actually located in the former Dickens Opera House on Third Avenue and Main Street in Longmont. A year later, Blackhurst moved Market Reach to Estes Park.
“Our clients are mainly in the resort trade, and most of our clients are in this area,” she said. “At any given time, we are juggling four or five major projects, but we have about a dozen projects in the works. We produce the official Visitors Guide to Estes Park each year, but we have to go in and bid on it with our competitors. We have 10 or 11 competitors in the area.”
Blackhurst said she thinks they have an edge on their competition because they are a full-service agency and can handle all types of clients with services ranging from brochures and magazine ads to radio ad scripts and video scripts.
“I think we are strong competitors because we are strong writers and we are also active in the community,” Anderson said. “We deliver what we say, and people appreciate our professionalism. Our clients trust us, but that grew over time. And we’ve had our share of horror stories – you have to learn to overcome those. I’ve been working with Suzy for a long time, four years, and we know how to work with our clients and target their market. A lot of our clients are entrepreneurs, and they would balk at the idea of a market plan, so we do a lot of work in our heads.”
Blackhurst said that many of the people in business in Estes want to do things for themselves.
“They might want a little help when they are in a bind, just to get over a hump – but then they want to go back to doing it themselves,” she said. “We know the resort trade inside and out, and that is invaluable.”
Market Reach is growing, but both owners said they do not have ambitious growth goals, because they enjoy their lives and families. Their clients include Estes Park Bank, the town of Estes, Michael Ricker Pewter, Estes Park Brewery, the Estes Park Chamber of Commerce and the Accommodation Association.
TDA Advertising & Design in Longmont has also found that its small size is an asset. The firm moved to Longmont from Boulder just over three years ago and has offices in the old Imperial Hotel on the corner of Third Avenue and Main Street.
“We are small and very personal here,´ said Beth Ricciardi, art director at TDA, formerly Thomas Design & Associates. “We are sports-oriented, and we do mostly print advertising.”
The company has 13 employees and targets clients in the sports-equipment industry. Currently, its clients include Kryptonics in Louisville, Left Hand Brewing Co., in Longmont, Cannondale bike manufacturers, Giro Sport Design, makers of helmets; Thule car rack systems and others.
TDA has clients nationwide and internationally. Its ads have been described as thoughtful, sublime and intellectual – often they require a second look, to be sure you really did see the nun racing around on in-line skates.
“Clients can talk directly to the artists, photographers and copywriters, and they don’t have to deal with a bureaucracy common in large firms,” Ricciardi said. Their ads, including one TV ad, have won numerous awards.
For smaller advertising, design and marketing firms along the Front Range, their size and location have become vantage points that add to their niche market.ÿ

Smaller advertising, marketing and design firms are finding that they can compete by finding a niche market, offering personalized service and adapting to clients’ demands.Many small firms have located along the northern Front Range. Some came from big cities, and others grew up here, but all have found that their small size and location are major assets.
“We moved to Fort Collins as a lifestyle move,´ said Dale Moss, who owns Rainbow Sports Marketing Services in Fort Collins. Moss and his wife moved Rainbow Sports to Fort Collins from Chicago in May because they wanted to live and work in…

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