Saturday, September 07, 2013

Secrets of Success - Senini Graphics

Brent Senini, owner of Senini Graphics admits he doesn’t adhere to traditional business practices, but in spite of that he has made his business a true downtown success for thirty years. He loves the character and location of his shop at 206 B Commercial Street where he started in 1983, and he knows that being one of the last light zoned commercial businesses  in the area, all that could change for him, if new owners buy his heritage location. This week he shared with us his secrets of success.

DNBIA: How long have you been in business?
Brent:  I originally started out as Harbour City Graphics, doing architectural drafting and design for the construction industry. In ’82 there had been a big down turn in the economy, and I had to change my focus because nothing was coming in the door, so I began designing logos and printing tee shirts. I picked businesses in town that were successful and went to them with a new logo I created for them and said, “This is what I can do for you”, and more times than not they said “Let’s do it”.

DNBIA: What motivated you to get started?
Brent: I had landed a job with a company called Mole Mountain Productions and I was hitchhiking to Victoria and working there from Monday to Friday and living with my in-laws.  I was hired as the graphic artist and I just went from doing the design to the screen-print department, because I really wanted to learn more about the actual screen-printing process. I then became both graphic design and screen-printer. The company had also recently hired someone named Rod Stacey, also from Nanaimo, to be the mid island sales rep, and after a while we both realized we could be doing something similar in Nanaimo. So Rod built all the equipment we needed in his basement including the four colour carousel and the vacuum/exposure light table, while I was still working in Victoria. We worked out of his basement for several months and then we moved downtown to this very spot in the winter or 1983. Although the partnership didn’t last long, to this day, I’m extremely thankful to Rod for helping me get Senini Graphics off the ground.

DNBIA:  When you were deciding where to open your business, why did you choose this location?
Brent: This building is owned by the Thompson family. My father and Ken Thompson Sr. were buddies, we all had summer cabins at Pipers Lagoon growing up, and so we were good friends. As a little kid I used to sit in these windows and watch the May Day parade. Realtor, Brad Ney told me that the upstairs was empty and he brought me down here to have a look at it. This location was actually condemned at the time. It was sort of being used for cold storage; law firms had old records up here; nothing else was being used. Interestingly, in the 60′s there was an after hour’s club here called the 3rd Eye, it wasn’t legal of course, and there was lots of stuff painted on the walls. I remember finding a mural with “Vietnam- let your country die for you “and hand prints done in blood. I don’t know what happened to them; I kept them for the longest time. So, I took one corner, the front room, gutted it and wired it and we got started. I think I was paying $200.00 a month when I first started. After Ken Thompson passed away and the kids took over they allowed me to expand even further up here. As I got bigger, I would renovate another room. It was one of the perks being able to do a renovation on your own timeline. In thirty years, I never had a signed lease or rental agreement with the Thompson’s, at the beginning of each year I simply gave them 12 post- dated cheques for the year.

DNBIA: Did you ever have a store front?
Brent: No, we never did, but we found ways to work around it. What we love is the character of the building and the location. Everyone knows we are here. Because we have no parking here, we try to do things to compensate, we deliver, or we will meet you on the street and help load your vehicle.

IMG_2444DNBIA: What are some of your biggest projects?
Brent: We have a few major annual events that we do, the Nanaimo Marine Festival, the Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival and the Van Isle 360 Yacht Race. As well this year we did all the apparel for the Parksville Beach Festival. We have several projects that mean a lot to us because of the longevity and the great clients that we’ve come to know so well; Sandi and Richard at Yellow Point Lodge, Don at Gina’s, Larry and the Spirit & Intent Bathtub Racing Team from Protection Island, John and Neil at Little Valley Restorations,and the Lucky Logger Pub in Woss, BC. It is a logging community and we created a colourful female logger on a tee shirt way back in the 80′s for that pub, and we have sold I don’t know how many hundreds. That design dates back to when Ron Dash worked for me as my graphic artist, he now owns Farm Fresh Design. In fact several of my previous employees have gone on to open their own small businesses in Nanaimo. Mike Stone at Top Drawer, Graham Watson at Threadscapes, Tasha Vitaly has Sartorial Boutique, and Will Greathead has Skylab Signs, and Lance Sullivan of Concept Photography; they’re like my children. Some of them worked here thirteen or fourteen years.

DNBIA: How many employees do you have?
Brent: I managed to keep it to a maximum of 5. We have been bigger; but it was ultimately just more stress.

DNBIA: To what do you attribute your success?
Brent: I’m not totally sure…honestly; I don’t follow any plan. I remember my very first business seminar, it told me as a business owner I was supposed to work on my business – not in it. I have always  disregarded that philosophy as I still do most of the screen printing in the shop. I can’t help it. I love that part of it the best! I started small and the business grew through word of mouth. Other people would see someone else wearing a shirt and ask where they could get one. I’m not a net-worker or a member of social clubs, I’m not against them, I just don’t have time, but I can’t wait to get up and drive to work every day. I don’t own a cell phone; why because it only takes me five minutes to drive home and you can get me then. In the beginning all our graphics were hand drawn. We didn’t use computers. So when the power went out you pulled your desk closer to the window and kept working. I still get the odd chance to do a bit of freehand drawings. On certain designs we work together.

DNBIA: So do you think by selling those few tee shirts to those first customers you just made it easy for them?
Brent: You mean to decide? I love it when people say you’re the professional, you tell us what to do, that’s what means a lot.  Neil Spiers is our latest graphic artist and a graduate from the Vancouver Island Graphic Arts program. In fact we’ve hired a number of students through the work experience program.  Neil originally came through Senini Graphics as a Dover Bay High School student for one day a week for six weeks. I would look for the ones’ that were getting it and sometime approach them about future employment. Right now I think I have the best team I’ve ever had. My wife Sherry runs the embroidery, Sandi Raith is our office manager as well she handles all customer servicing and shipping and receiving.

DNBIA: Do you think you will always stay down here?
Brent: I am zoned as light industrial. There isn’t any light industrial zoning down here anymore, we have a grandfather clause and that will change once I am gone.  This building is up for sale and my days could be numbered downtown, so I need people to keep me down here because once this building sells, that may be it.

DNBIA: What about your business makes you the most proud?
Brent: I think the amount of work that we’ve created over the years, we are proud of what we’ve done. We always try to do the best work we can on every job. We know you can’t make everyone happy, but you try. We like to say that at Senini Graphics you get way more than you asked for.


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