Columbus, Ohio USA
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Sevell + Sevell
The business of creating
by Karen Edwards
© Photos courtesy of Sevell + Sevell
Beverly and Steve Sevell, partners in creativity.
Creativity is one of those traits that never strides like brass horns marching down Main Street, all brazen and loud. Creativity is mercurial and shy. It needs to be coaxed into the open, and when it appears it’s with whispers and nudges that could be lost to less sensitive individuals. Pay attention, though, and creativity’s appearance can be as breathtaking and dazzling as a meteor shower or the Northern Lights.
Steve and Beverly Sevell are two business owners who pay attention. The husband-and-wife marketers have been in the business of creativity since 1990 when the two opened their corporate design and communications firm in the Short North. While they have skipped around the area in various offices (especially Steve who had other partners before Beverly joined him), they are now located in a handsomely appointed, flexible office space at 27 East Russell St. They have a three-member staff, four if you count Bella – and you should – Bella is an 11-year-old yellow lab who has come to work with Steve and Beverly nearly every day since she came to live with them. Of course, freelancers also come and go here – writers, designers, artists, and search engine optimization experts. In other words, it’s a place where creativity feels right at home.
Steve and Beverly have always felt best when creativity is close at hand, however.
The two met at Kent State University where Beverly was a student and Steve, well, was not. It was the turbulent 1970s, when students lived and breathed politics and activism. Steve was only passing through on his way to California. He had left the School of Visual Arts (in Manhattan where he was born and raised) to try something different. En route he decided to visit a friend at Kent State. There, Steve and his friend fell in with a group of students who were creative by nature. The group included Beverly, a communications major at the time.
“The people around us were all activists, but peaceful activists,” says Steve. They were also artists, says Beverly. “They were theater majors, photographers, that kind of thing.”
Kent State would eventually present the country with an iconic moment of those times, but Steve and Beverly remember only the good times, the discussions and dreams. They don’t dwell on the drama of the student shootings.
The move to Columbus
Beverly, however, decided to finish her degree at Ohio State University. That’s what brought the pair to Columbus. They wed in 1982 and moved into the Short North, “over on Lincoln,” says Beverly. As the pair recalled, it was a different place then. “There weren’t many businesses,” says Steve. “I’d say 90% of the buildings were boarded up.” “We were settlers,” adds Beverly. “There was pm gallery, the Short North Tavern and Functional Furnishings.”
Nevertheless, Steve took a partner and started a graphic design firm, Moorehead and Sevell, at 658 N. High St. in 1982. Beverly, who had earned a degree in consumer economics, went to work as a pharmaceutical representative, covering the entire southeast territory for Bristol-Myers. The two also became members of the Short North Business Association and became active in the Italian Village community where they lived.
By 1983, Steve’s business had grown, and he merged with another company. Moorehead/Sevell became Moorehead, Fekete and Sevell.
And the Sevell family, itself, had grown. Beverly was at home, now, raising two children, a girl and a boy (both now college students) and caring for an ailing mother. By 1990, Steve Sevell decided to reinvent his business on his own, and Beverly joined him as “Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Human Resources Director and creative consultant,” says Steve. Ask Steve for his job title and he’ll tell you he’s the “Director of Happy Clients.”
Sevell + Sevell can claim a lot of happy clients, ranging from Bravo Restaurant and other members of the National Restaurant Association to the City of Columbus. If you happened to come across pedestrian kiosks while attending the Columbus Art Festival last month (re-located this year to Columbus’ Discovery District), those are Sevell + Sevell’s design. They’re user-friendly maps which show in specific detail the area that surrounds the kiosks. Haven’t seen them yet? Don’t worry, you will. The kiosks are scheduled to spring up soon in other tourist-friendly places like the North Market district, Downtown and the Short North, of course.
Sevell + Sevell have provided marketing and communications material for companies in the home building market, commercial architects, engineers and construction firms, technology and manufacturing companies. In addition to winning 15 Building Industry Association marketing awards over the past four years, Sevell + Sevell has taken home the Building Industry Association’s Grand Marketing Award three of those years
Credit Steve Sevell. He has a deep understanding of creativity – despite its ephemeral nature – and he embraces it unabashedly. It’s a gift, really, to not only have the ability to conceptualize an idea, a product, or service, but to communicate it visually as well, and in such an out-of-the-box fashion you can’t help but pay attention.
Creative marketing material designed by Sevell+ Sevell.
A sample of their out-of-the-box thinking.
Take shrink wrapping, for example. It’s a process of wrapping material in a polymer plastic film, then applying heat so the film wraps tightly over the object. Printers often use it to bundle issues of a publication. Of course, shrink wrapping could be conveyed by showing the equipment that’s used in the process. Or maybe a before-and-after photo of an object wrapped loosely, then after it has been shrink-wrapped, could be used. Sevell’s promotional material, however, shows a mime wrapped in plastic.
“Who wouldn’t want to shrink-wrap a mime?” Steve Sevell asks with a smile. It grabs your attention. It makes its point. It communicates. It’s creative.
What about a builder who wants clients to think about upgrades? How do you broach the subject gracefully? If you’re Sevell + Sevell you do it creatively, and with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as the shrink-wrapped mime. Picture a young couple on a couch, snuggled together as they stare at an open-door refrigerator where a flat-screen TV should be. “What good are free appliances...” says the message.
The piece is creative, humorous, and does the job it’s designed to do.
“I really like it when a client tells us their sales picked up in an area we helped them market,” says Beverly Sevell. “It makes us feel like we’re part of their success.”
“We can’t really measure our success in terms of sales figures or anything that concrete,” says Steve. “We can measure contacts made, or sales on the Web, of course, but our job is to get people through the door, to pick up a phone, or contact a client through their Web site. Of course, it’s up to our clients to make the sale.”
There’s little doubt that Sevell + Sevell’s edgy material gets people through the door.
But Steve Sevell says time in the business has taught him lessons, as well. “One lesson I’ve learned is to realize what your limitations are,” he says. Not everyone can do everything successfully, so wise business owners will hire workers who will make up for their shortcomings. For example, Steve has no difficulty with Web sites, but they bring in an expert for projects that require database development for Web sites. From the inspired creativity of one of their designers, Amanda Badgley, his favorite project, in fact, has been the design for next year’s ComFest Web site.
When it comes to driving people to the site, however, Steve knows it’s time to call in the experts. “We have someone who specializes in search-engine optimization,” he says.
In other words, the Sevells will do what they can – find who they can – to make sure their clients are happy.
“After projects are done, we seem to receive a lot of e-mail messages from clients that say ‘You Rock! Great Job’” says Beverly.
At this point in their lives – and careers, the Sevells say they’re happy. One day, they will move back into the Short North (they currently live in Gahanna and commute the 20-minutes to work), but for now they’re content where they are, and while they’ve no thoughts of creating satellite offices or expanding Sevell + Sevell to other cities, they have cultivated clients in several other states. Their current space, which they’ve been in for nearly two years, will allow them to grow as their business grows. And, no doubt, it will. Last year, Steve Sevell co-founded LIME Marketing, a business co-op arrangement made with other local marketing firms. The purpose of LIME Marketing is to help green-focused architects, engineers and construction companies and other service-providers market themselves in an environmentally friendly manner.
Still, the Sevells don’t want to become too busy. They want time to travel – it’s something they both enjoy, and it’s not unusual to see them with suitcase in hand seven or eight times a year. “We will be spending our 25th anniversary in Costa Rica,” says Steve, but they’ve skied in Colorado, visited Hawaii and traveled all over the Caribbean. And of course they travel to Las Vegas, where Steve’s parents live.
“My parents lived all their lives in New York City, then last year, the two of them are in their 80s, they decided to pack up everything and move to Las Vegas,” says Steve.
Any chance the Sevells will pull up stakes and follow suit? Steve and Beverly say they’re quite content to stay in Columbus in general and the Short North in particular.
This is home, they say. This is where they know people and where people know them.
“The Short North is still a young arts center,” says Steve. “It still attracts the national press. It hasn’t topped out yet.”
Beverly agrees. Despite the increasingly higher rents and the encroachment of corporate interest, “The Short North continues to be a vibrant area and focal point in our lives”
It’s also a creative area, filled, as it is, with artists, photographers, unique boutiques and shops.
In a sense, the Short North echoes the Sevell’s early years together at Kent State, their young adult lives together as they started a business and raised a family. The Short North, in fact, has been a lyrical motif running through their lives – even when they didn’t know it existed.
But that’s creativity for you. It’s not a brass band. It’s a shy, subtle, often-dazzling trait that comes to those who understand its ways.
Like Steve and Beverly Sevell.
Sevell + Sevell is located at 27 E. Russell St. Call 614-341-9700 or visit www.sevell.com
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© 2008 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.