Strength in Numbers

Small agency acts big by enticing creative

By Michael Shefield

Published in the Memphis Business Journal, April 21-27, 2006

When Trace Hallowell started Tactical Magic in 2001, he accomplished his dream of owning his own agency. Before long, though, he missed the collaborative environment of a larger agency, so he did what any entrepreneur would do -- he bought a building and recreated the environment by inviting other businesses to keep him company.

Hallowell’s building at 1460 Madison is now home to six companies, including other ad agencies, graphic designers, photographers and artists. His idea proved to be benefi cial both for Tactical Magic and Hallowell’s fellow tenants.

The building, a 100-year-old structure that has been used by tenants ranging from apartments to a plastic surgeon’s offi ce, is now a high-tech “colony” that allows companies as much privacy or collaboration as they want. Community conference rooms allow companies to offi cially work together on projects or simply “bounce ideas off of each other.” Hallowell says he didn’t realize how much he missed the offi ce environment until it was gone.

“When I left Thompson & Co. in 2001, I started Tactical Magic and worked from home. I had an employee who lived across town and that worked for a while,” he says. “It started to drive me nuts when I was trying to make serious business calls and my dog decided to bark at the mailman. That’s when I realized I  needed a place to work that was away from home.”

Hallowell, who had a staff of 20 people at Thompson, also realized he needed more than one set of eyes to make the most of his creative abilities. He had a business model based on the leaner delivery system for companies that needed marketing and branding services, a model conducive for multi-fi rm collaboration, he says.

When he “stumbled” onto the building on Madison, he had another idea.

“The building had personality and a lot of people could have a domain here,” he says. “I knew several people who were doing Web development or copywriting who liked their jobs and didn’t miss working for anyone, but missed the collaboration.”

Hallowell contacted his fellow entrepreneurs, put his plan together and got letters of intent. After acquiring the building and land for $150,000, Hallowell hired a contractor for the renovation and opened for business in 2003.

He was able to get a loan to buy the building because the building was worth less than the land.

“The agent actually tried to get me to tear down the building and build another one, but that was what drew me to it,” he says.

Today, space in the building leases for between $175-$550 per month. Tenant Jerry Redmond, owner of Redmond Design, is a satisfied customer.

“The biggest strength of the building is the diversity inside,” he says. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do some of the work I’ve done. It has defi nitely opened doors for me.”

Hallowell says that life as a landlord, while diffi cult, hasn’t become all consuming.

“I’m still surprised at how much work is involved today, but my belief was that the benefi ts would make it all worth it,” he says.

As a result of the collaboration, Tactical Magic clients like Fulmer Helmets and Memphis Car Audio have benefi ted fro some of Hallowell’s best work. A Fulmer logo designed by Hallowell and Ben Johnson, his partner, has won international awards, while a video presentation collaboration with Tactical Magic and Lunar Productions was the hit of a trade show in Las Vegas late last year.

That project with Lunar, which involved loading the video onto video iPods (which had just been released), resulted in Memphis Car Audio enjoying its largest sales volume at the trade show.

Hallowell says the company also haswon numerous Addy awards, but that is secondary to client satisfaction.

“It is nice to get awards and recognition from your peers, but it is much nicer seeing a client get business results,” he says. “That’s largely due to the collaborative resources. That’s not just business, but also with the clients. They have to be involved to make this work.”

Download this story as a PDF

"A house of brands is like a family, each needs a role and a relationship to others."
- Jeffrey Sinclair