What it’s like to do business in the high country

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May 1, 2014
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Talking Shop Eric Van Herwaarden, O2 Creative

Eric Van Herwaarden, owner, art director, O2 Creative, LLC, Fraser

How long have you been in business? O2 Creative has been around since 1996 in Grand County. Philip Naill and I have owned the business for about seven years.

How did you get started in this business? I went to art school for graphic design. I worked in the field at various jobs, and I eventually got hired to work for O2 Creative three years before I bought the business.

Business mission statement: At O2 Creative we bridge our client’s voice to their consumer using any and every skill we have. Our purpose is to create original, thoughtful communication and to produce work that would delight any company, big or small. Sending out good karma is as much our professional goal as our personal goal. With that in mind, we believe in our community and actively contribute as often as we can. The Rockies are the source of our creativity. It is a choice and a privilege to live and do business in the mountains because we firmly believe every good idea needs a bit of space and fresh air.

Success in the mission: O2 Creative has worked with just about every kind of business in Grand County. Because of this, we have learned what works and what does not work for our clients. Sharpening our skills and continuing to learn new skills puts us ahead of our competition. We have adapted and survived through a slow recovering economy and stayed ahead of the curve to bring success to our clients.

Challenges to the mission: Marketing is not black and white and changes fast. What worked yesterday might not work today. Also, there are a lot of needs in the County, and sometimes it is hard to contribute to everything. Sometimes you have to say no.

We love our community, but the size makes it hard to grow and expand.

How do you cope with Grand County’s seasonal surges? We rely on tourism like most businesses, but unlike most businesses, we are usually busy year-round, which we are very grateful for.

What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? Opportunity! The saying, “it is not what you know, it is who you know,” is very true.

What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? It is hard being a small business in Corporate America. It can be difficult to compete with big business and you can lose your voice.

What can government here do to help? I am very proud of the county and the local chambers. They have done a lot recently to help with economic development.

How does your business give back to the community? Though the years, we have donated design time to many nonprofit local organizations and have volunteered for and sponsored many local events. Recently we created “Leaving Planet Earth” stickers, and distributed the stickers as part of a fundraising and food donation campaign that benefited the Mountain Family Center. Philip Naill (the other owner of O2 Creative) currently serves on the Fraser town board and is president-elect of the Rotary Club of Winter Park and Fraser Valley.

Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. Most people don’t know this, but all the websites we host are powered by 100 percent wind power. As we work more and more with digital mediums, we have reduced our paper consumption in our office as well.

How do you support other local businesses? Many of our clients are local. We strive to go above and beyond the scope of work to help them succeed. I have also attended many networking events, where I talk with other local business owners, discuss challenges, and provide support.

How do you feel about direct competition? I think direct competition is heathly, but I try to stay focused on serving my clients and maintaining good business ethics.

What business products or services do you get outside of Grand County? We try to search within the county first, but there are not always products or services that are available.

How do you market yourself? The hard work on every project we do pays off toward marketing ourselves. Other marketing initiatives include our website, word of mouth, social media, and blog posts on a regular basis.

What’s the main thing you have learned in your years in business? You can have a business degree and read all the business books you can, but experience and making mistakes is the most valuable way to learn.

Where do you go for help when you need it? I look online at blogs and connect with similar businesses on social media, and also read up on marketing magazines.

Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? I would say bigger ad agencies, but just because we live in a small community does not mean we can’t think BIG for our clients and offer the same services.

What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? The biggest driver is arguably the ski industry. The success of ski tourism trickles down to every single business in the county, both directly and indirectly.

If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? Because I bought the business, there was a system already set up, though I wish I redid a marketing plan right away, because advertising and marketing changed so fast right after we purchased O2 Creative.

What’s the best compliment you received from a client? I like it when a client treats us as a partner and not just a service. I told a client I’m proud to be a part of their team and they replied and said, “That goes far in my book!”

What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? Trusting people who I thought were trustworthy.

What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? Grand County Economic Development, local chambers of commerce, Grand Enterprise Initiative and Mind Springs Mental Health.

How much of a role does technology play in your business? Technology is everything in our business. Without it, we would not be able to reach our client’s consumers. Also in-house, when the Internet goes out in our office, we are so handicapped no one knows what to do — write on paper? What is that?!

What are the technology challenges in your business? Technology changes so fast. Websites have updates all the time and are vulnerable to attacks. You have to be able to adapt on a day-to-day basis.

What’s the general key to making a client happy? Take the time to listen to them. Your opinion is important, but if you don’t really listen, you can miss key points.

Is their any certain trend you’ve noticed in consumer habits lately? Everything is NOW, and consumers have information overload. Consumers make fast decisions and you have to catch them before they move on.

What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you’ve noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? Location, Location, Location! The location of your business is one of the most important things to consider. Since we moved to our current location, we have had lots of walk-ins. Also, vehicle wraps work. They are an investment, but they are totally worth it.

What are some ways to keep up staff morale? Stay positive, lead by example and keep communication open. We live in a place where getting outside to play is a must.

What are some ways you train your staff on an ongoing basis? Weekly meetings, providing new challenges I know they can tackle, encouraging them to speak up with their opinions and ideas.

If you could give advice to a novice entrepreneur, what would it be? Create a business plan first and make a budget for marketing and advertising as well. It is surprising how many new business owners don’t have any budget for marketing and advertising.

Organizations most useful to business owners?
“Grand County Economic Development, local chambers of commerce, Grand Enterprise Initiative and Mind Springs Mental Health.”
— Eric Van Herwaarden


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The Sky-Hi News Updated Aug 25, 2014 08:09PM Published May 1, 2014 05:10PM Copyright 2014 The Sky-Hi News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.