EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 3, 2013

Windham firm building around home-grown talent

Creative firm attracts young Granite Staters

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — 36creative is putting young New Hampshire professionals to work in their own backyard.

Business, education and political leaders talk about the importance of the state retaining young talent. The nearly 10-year-old marketing company is doing just that.

It employs about a dozen people and more than half of them grew up or attended college in the Granite State.

Basing 36creative in a small office park off Lowell Road hasn’t kept founders Trent Sanders and Steve Gabriel from developing a $1 million a year company with 50 clients spread from New York to Los Angeles.

“It was never planned,” said Sanders, 33, noting their office is about half a mile from his mother Bonnie’s home in Windham.

Gabriel, 32, said it was just easier to find office space for a creative company in New Hampshire.

The location in the woods off the beaten track hasn’t deterred the talent from finding them.

“Talent is everywhere,” Gabriel said. “These people from New Hampshire are ultra creative.”

Laura Scott, community development director for Windham, sees in the company a model for what both young professionals and community leaders covet.

Often young professionals think they have to go to New York City or Boston to find good jobs, she said.

“This is not the case at all,” Scott said. “36creative is the type of business that provides good jobs, that pay well and give employees the work-life balance that they say they are looking for.”

The company is important for another reason, Scott maintains.

“It also shows that New Hampshire supports businesses and entrepreneurs that work hard and have a good ideas,” she said.

Donna Morris, executive director with the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, remembers 36creative redesigning the group’s Website.

“They are smart, professional, and bring fresh perspective to the projects in which they are involved,” Morris said. “36creative is a great example of a New Hampshire company creating its own opportunities and retaining young, talented, local professionals.”

Chris Massie, 33, is a senior designer with 36creative who grew up two minutes down the street, graduated from Salem High and came to work for the company after graduating from Quinnipiac.

“Just coming home meant a lot — friends, family,” said Massie, a Salem resident. “To come home, you’re all excited.”

Massie admits he’s a country boy who wouldn’t be happy in Boston, but derives satisfaction from what 36creative is getting done from Windham.

“I take pride in the fact we’ve all created this company and atmosphere that could be in the middle of a design hotbed like New York or Chicago,” he said.

Madison Harold, 25, is a project manager from Derry, working on a degree from Southern New Hampshire University.

“I was really happy when I found this place,” Harold said.

She always thought she would end up somewhere like Boston, not two exits down the highway.

But Harold said she is pleased professionally and personally in New Hampshire.

“I love the atmosphere inside an agency like this,” she said. “You don’t get the stuffy, corporate feel when you walk inside.”

Sanders and Gabriel don’t want a corporate feel.

Sanders wears sandals. Gabriel avoids collared-shirts. That’s their dress code, even when they are doing business on Wall Street.

They tell a story about discarding the dress shirt and uncomfortable shoes before one client meeting.

“We just looked like bums,” Sanders said.

But they still landed the account.

The company targets emerging firms. 36creative aims to stay small. The business plan is for maybe $10 million a year, never more than 18 associates.

The creative atmosphere and team culture are important to the company founders.

“The people downstairs were hired to fit in with the family,” Sanders said.

“It’s all about the people,” Gabriel said.

And that doesn’t just mean the clients.

“We’ve fired clients because of the way they’ve talked to our employees,” Gabriel said. “Disrespect toward an employee is not worth anybody’s time.”

Massie admits he may never know what he’s missed, passing up the big city life, but it doesn’t really matter.

“I think I have a very unique opportunity here, the road less traveled, where I can be free professionally with my creativity,” he said. “Not a lot of people get that opportunity.”

Harold said young professionals may be overlooking career satisfaction closer to home.

“There’s a misperception that you have to go somewhere like Boston to get a good job, that there’s more opportunity in the city,” Harold said. “You can find awesome opportunities around the corner.”