Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our Next 20 Years

As we prepare to move Perry Productions into our first brick and mortar offices ever at The Old Creamery, it is hard not to reflect on the past 21 years in business and what has been the magic formula that has allowed us to thrive, sometimes just survive, and to truly still love what we do.
 

It begins and ends with Brian and I, our belief in each other, the genuine relationship we build with our clients, and the work ethic we learned from our parents. 
Brian and I moved to Charlotte, NC from Ohio after we both graduated from Ohio University. Here’s a newsflash: it was hard for an English and Art major to find a job in the industry in 1993, so he worked first for Rent-a-Center repossessing VCRs and then at a Debt Collection agency where he harassed people to pay their bills on the phone. I worked for a small newspaper in Pineville, doing the layout in QuarkXpress and literally pasting up the paper with wax every week. I also delivered the papers and met with clients to design their ads. It was back in the day when starbursts were HOT…remember that?



Eventually I was let go because the owner could not afford to have me, so I worked for a short time at a sign company, cutting out vinyl letters and making banners. I had developed relationships with a few people who wanted us to create ads and flyers on the side, so I would meet with them and then bring the work home and Brian would do it on the computer at night after working all day. I was 23 years old when we started our business. We had lived in the south for 1 year and we hardly knew a soul, but we thought – why not?
 

We would often think about my Dad, who was an elementary PE teacher who retired with over 200 sick days unused. He worked hard and provided for his family every day. Brian’s Dad worked for the railroad – driving 45 minutes each way and often working overtime, never missing work either. Both of our moms also worked and juggled schedules to get to our sporting events or to come see us in college and eventually in NC. They had our backs and they believed in us.

After awhile, I joined BNI and started to grow our business more, eventually leaving the sign company and going full time. We worked first on a banquet table and then one of those huge Office Depot wood desks in one of our guest rooms and that is where we worked together. I would hit the pavement during the day and Brian would collect debts and we would do the work at night. 

That Christmas break, Brian was tired of driving into Charlotte every day and doing a job he hated. We discussed his leaving and giving Perry Productions a go full time. It would mean we would have to buy our own insurance and we would have no retirement, but he loved design. So we did it! He left his job and we were both self-employed!
 

We really needed a good computer and my Grandmother got wind of our endeavor. We decided to ask her for a small loan – back then a good Mac cost about $5000! We found out many years later, after she passed away, that she actually vetted us with my uncle who was a banker to see if it was a good idea! To this day, I still have the letter she wrote us in our office wishing us well. I wish she could see what she helped create for us. 


Our first client was John Figarelli with Fig’s Fitness and Fat Loss Foundation. We were both struggling start ups and we still keep in touch today. John now runs the National Fitness Hall of Fame. We bartered for work and we took any job we could find. Our first big break was with the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra. We were just dropping off an ad at their office, but they ended up asking if we could do their concert program – the conductor was doing it himself at the time. It grew into a seven year relationship where we did all of their design work, and it led to many other opportunities. 

We moved into a bigger house, but we still weren’t regularly meeting people. Our friends Jackie and Chet Palmer introduced us to Michelle Riley who invited me to visit the Rotary Club of Cabarrus County. I immediately felt at home there and I have made friendships that are more accurately described as extended family. We jumped in and we served our community. Then people started hiring us. Rotarian Steve Morris hired us to do his weekly Gem Theatre email newsletter and then his website and eventually social media. We have now been working with him for 10 years and it is our family's favorite place to watch a movie. 


At the time, we were shifting away from print media and saw the trend towards website design. We found a great programmer to partner with and started to grow that side of our business. Rotarian David Olive, with Pfeiffer University, took a chance on us and hired us to redo the college’s website. We worked closely with our good friend, Natasha Suber, for many years and when she left for another opportunity, she hired us again to work with her at Monarch.

We have had so many clients who became friends and friends who became clients. We have been fired by a few – we’re not perfect. And we’ve had to break up with a few who just weren’t a good fit (and that is ok!). But our recipe has always been to charge what is reasonable for our experience and help our clients to the fullest. 

And then there is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) whom we still work with today. We were hired to do a flyer 19 years ago and that relationship has been the backbone of our success. Every November and December, we literally disappear into a sea of technical reports and we emerge on Christmas Day to a fresh new year. The work is hard, but we have also been friends with the staff at EPRI for as long as we have known them. They even threw a baby shower for us when Jake came home. 

Our clients are more than a “job” for us. We build relationships. We learn about their businesses and we learn about their lives because we care. And in turn, they care about us.
 

Now we have our first employee, Denise Moreno, who keeps up with our chaos, and a number of contractors who we regularly work with – we are extending our Perry Productions family. We expect a lot and we give a lot.


Because of this business, we were able to build a home...we were able to adopt two children in our early 30s...we were both able to regularly volunteer in our children’s classrooms in the middle of a workday. We spent summers at the pool and worked in the evenings.
 

In the end, we did all of this so we could have a family. We still have a schedule that allows us to make honor roll assemblies and field trips with our boys. Dylan is always eager to learn Photoshop or how to code, and we are even entertaining the idea of having Jake work with us as an intern this summer.


Lastly, every single day I get to work with a man that makes me laugh and supports me unconditionally. He is so very talented and smart…and he is patient and he is kind...which is also a sign that hangs in my office. I just can’t imagine not working with him every day, even 20 years later and I guess I will just have to learn to live with that wall that will be between us for the first time. When I hold onto all of the balloons, he hangs onto me and it works for us.

Life is very, very, very good and we don’t take it for granted. I am so sincerely grateful to everyone who has helped us reach this next phase of our professional life. We are excited about the future, and are grateful for the road that has brought us here.