First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brian Branch: We’re doing very well, thanks for asking. Although keeping a positive attitude can sometimes be challenging for most of us! These are trying times for everyone. Being located in Eastern Canada with a limited population density has its challenges. But in a worldwide pandemic environment, this relatively low population density has helped us mostly keep the virus at bay. Apart from wearing a mask in public, most of us are back to work, and New Brunswick is open for business.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Branch Graphic Design.
Brian Branch: I started Branch Graphic Design in 1998 after a few years working in advertising/communication agencies. Although being on a payroll had many advantages, I quickly realized that I wanted more say in the type of work I was doing. Every aspect of running a business looked enticing, and I wanted more flexibility in my life. I proposed to my employer a one-year retainer of 20 hours a week, and a deal was struck. I’ll always be grateful to him for this golden opportunity. Having worked in an agency setting allowed me to develop a network of local contacts related to graphic design, photographers, copywriters, printers, etc.
How does Branch Graphic Design innovate?
Brian Branch: Innovation, for a graphic designer at least, is a double edge sword. To be able to continue innovating, you have first to be able to maintain a solid base. Innovate too much, and you may lose that solid footing. Innovate too much in your work, and you’ll lose the public you’re trying to reach. We’ve been lucky to have a variety of clients, some of them which allowed us to innovate, even some of them pushing us to innovate; those are the ones we like the most. But sometimes, to pay the bills, you have to put innovation by the side and focus on what the client wants or needs, and it might not be innovative work at all. Like life in general, it’s all a great balancing act.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brian Branch: As I was saying before, we’re lucky around here to have been able to keep the virus at bay as of now, the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia have created the “Atlantic Bubble.” We’re free to travel from province to province as we wish, without spending 2 weeks in isolation like anyone coming from the rest of Canada or the USA would. This certainly makes things easier for businesses inside our bubble. We have a variety of clients in different sectors, and this has been a major asset. Our clients in the cultural sector took a big hit – most events have been cancelled, from annual music and film festivals, for example. It’s recently that some work from that field is starting to head back our way as clients transition to online events. With our corporate and governmental clients, the slowdown has been less drastic. Still, we saw a reduction in our workload, but there’s an opportunity with every challenge. I started a project I wanted to work on for the longest time – selling our own products through an online shop geared towards active living and promoting cycling, a passion of mine.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brian Branch: I don’t think I had to make difficult choices per se unless staying positive is a choice. I sure saw a decline in revenue, but at the same time, we had less expenses. And as a business owner, I was fortunate enough to get help from our Federal Government.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Brian Branch: Socializing at the local coffee shop helps, even with physical distanciation. It’s generally how I start my day. It was a habit before Covid19 and remained one throughout the pandemic. I also am heavily involved in the local cycling scene, so I get to exercise many times a week during solo and social rides.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brian Branch: Competitors come in many different forms, but I’m don’t lose much sleep over it anymore after 22 years in business. Two decades ago, we had a few larger agencies offering graphic design services among their many different offers. Larger companies have given way to numerous smaller outfits who’ve become more visible with social media. I chose to specialize in identity and print design, signage, and packaging. I try to stick to what we’re good at, collaborating, or even directing clients to other companies that are better suited for different types of projects. A huge advantage we have at Branch Graphic Design is that we’re fully bilingual (French & English). It’s a big asset operating in the only officially bilingual city in the only officially bilingual province in Canada, where all government services must be available in both languages. Another
Your final thoughts?
Brian Branch: Keeping a positive attitude is key. Everything is cyclical, and we’ll be over this pandemic eventually. Lead by example and treat clients and collaborators the way you’d like to be treated.