By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
Before borrowing from her credit cards to start a Detroit-based advertising company, Candice Simons held a string of jobs.
Among other things, she had been a personal shopper, a dance teacher, a bartender, a hair salon manager, and she worked for a start-up events-management company.
Now, at 31, she’s using all her past experiences — and a little moxie — to run Brooklyn Outdoor, a company that might make you think of New York, but was really named after one of her dogs, a chihuahua-terrier mix with a floppy ear. It’s also named for the Michigan village where her grandmother lives.
“Outdoor advertising is really unique because it’s not one of those things that you make a when-I-grow up speech on when you are younger,” she said. “I grew up wanting to be an astronomer, wanting to be a marine biologist, lawyer, but when I graduated and was looking for a job, the economy was the best it had ever been, people were fighting to hire me.”
So she took her time to figure out what she wanted to do.
While working at a bar, one of the bartenders introduced her to a family member who started an outdoor advertising company.
“It seemed interesting to me,” Simons said. “It seemed to be a glamorous, fun industry to work in. So I started working with them — and I stayed there until I started this company. So I really only had that one experience, but it led me to understand what to do and what not to do.”
Simons talked about how she started the company — which has two full-time employees, sales offices in New York and Los Angeles, and is on track to bring in $6 million in revenue this year — and the challenges she has faced running it. Here is the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity:
Question: So how is outdoor advertising different than other advertising?
Answer: There’s print advertising and magazines.There’s TV advertising. There’s digital, which is Yahoo, Google and different websites, and then there’s radio. So ‘out of home,’ which is the subsection we’re in, is everything you see when you leave your house: Billboards, buses, people with sandwich boards, there are so many different formats that people are seeing constantly, and people don’t necessarily commit to memory when they see them, but it’s frequency. They’re seeing, seeing, seeing. Outdoor advertising has always been strong, and will always be strong because it’s traditional, and you can’t shut it off.
Q: How much did you start with? What was your initial investment in the company?
A:I moved back here from Chicago and I bought a house in Plymouth at the same time I was starting the company. So it was all jumbled into one big “Are you sure you want to do this?” The initial investment was $20,000 to start. I had it and used credit cards. After the first years, I hired my first full-time employee. I still haven’t quite started paying myself, but it’s coming.
Q: You manage the massive digital signs on the side of the Cobo Center. Can you talk about that?
A: They are extremely unique. Traditional digital signs are bought in spots and they rotate every minute. The Cobo sign is like the signs at Times Square. It’s 31 feet high, by 130 feet wide. It’s full motion, full sound. So people can play commercials on the sign. We’re opening the door for other advertising formats downtown to become stronger.
Q: So, any free advice on what makes a perfect outdoor advertisement?
A: It needs to be very simple. It needs to be contrasting, and really to the point.
Q: Any lessons learned since you started nearly three years ago?
A: I really learned a lot of lessons before I started the company. I’m a trusting person by nature, but now I’m a lot more detail oriented in terms of contracts, and making sure I read all the language. I’m a lot more buttoned up and I highly, highly suggest to make sure all of their agreements are looked over to the letter.
Q: Advice for other women who want to go into business?
A: What’s great about Detroit, and I don’t think if I started this company anywhere else I’d have this welcoming, is the community is arms open. People want to help the business next door, instead of compete with it. That’s how I am, what can I do to help your business grow. It’s nice to have that community.
Q: Advice for other entrepreneurs — whether they are men or women?
A: Just go for it. There are so many people here with such good ideas. If there’s a need for it, you’ll succeed.
Title: owner, president, CEO
Education: Michigan State University; DePaul University, bachelor’s degree
Family: two dogs, Brooklyn, Bentley
Hobbies: dancing, touring Detroit
Car: 2014 BMW SUV