At a time when many 30-somethings are throwing in the towel, moving back in with mom and dad, or in some way starting over, one longtime Murfreesboro resident is celebrating 30 years of independent success: Screen Art.
Finding time for a piece of cake on the job could be a problem, but that's often the price of success.
Mike Bickford, Screen Art owner, started his business during—of all things—a recession. It may not have been the "Great" one we all just experienced, but it was a recession. It was 1980, and his initial investment was $250.00. Yes, that decimal is correctly placed. But Screen Art's continuing success is less about dollars and cents and more about business sense, sound strategy, and core values.
For Mike and Screen Art, success came slowly, exactly as intended. Growth was controlled and safe in the belief that you do what you can with what you have in hand, not what you hope to have some sunshiny day in the faraway. In a world in which, even now, we routinely borrow against our future, Mike adheres to the example set by his parents: You don't spend what you don't have.
That's not to say everything went according to plan, though. Even in playing it safe there were setbacks, including an electrical fire in 1997 which did more than a little damage, destroying much of Screen Art's studio space and inventory. Nevertheless, work began again immediately and continued through recovery a year later. Rather than an end, the fire was a challenge met—a literal "trial by" that the business survived through the united effort of owner and staff.
"Family" is a label businesses have been adopting for years to describe the employer/employee relationship. In many cases, it's proven hollow and insincere, crumbling under even moderate stress. But Screen Art employees continue to feel that they do, in fact, enjoy that type of relationship with their employer—that it's real. That, in itself, is a powerful long-term business strategy, and Mike has more than one employee going strong after more than a decade of productivity. How do those staff members define the business and their association with it? What, in their experience, has allowed for that kind of longevity?
Kim Mitchum, general manager, has been with Screen Art for 15 years. "The personal approach that Mike has toward his employees is inspiring. Mike has acted as a mentor to me all these years. I respect his business ethic and personal integrity. It is very uncommon to 'love your job' . . . I do." For Sandi Davis, Screen Art is also more than just a source of income: "I enjoy being at work. I love my job and enjoy giving 150% to the company in keeping it a successful business. As long as the doors are open I will continue to work here until I retire!" And that's two—count 'em, two—employees who used the word "love" to describe their feelings toward the business; they weren't the only ones. Everyone's on message, and not because it's rehearsed, but because it's sincere.
"Screen Art is a great place to work because it is a laid back environment—everyone works together, laughs together, and jokes together," adds Joy McCrary. " We get the job done and provide quality that I would always be proud to put my name on. I am able to be creative and relate personally with our customers. I like it that we can all work together to achieve our goal and still slide in the occasional prank to get everyone laughing through the day. Most importantly, it's nice to work for someone who never forgets to say 'thank you' or 'good job' —it lets you know you are appreciated."
In defining his own attitude toward his staff, Mike paints a very commonsense portrait, "Surround yourself with individuals that compliment your weaknesses and you will have a solid foundation for success. A company is only as strong as the composition of its employees." And while that might strike some as easily said, it's a sentiment just as easily felt during a visit to Screen Art. It's in the environment. It's in the service and attentiveness to customers. And as far as the boss is concerned, "That could not happen if our employees did not believe in and enjoy what they are doing." Those employees are, in turn, a fountain for garment graphics, logo and corporate identity work, product and marketing campaign design, and design reproduction for trademark. Additionally, Screen Art is a gateway for literally tens of thousands of imprintable products.
Among all those thousands of possibilities, the question is: Have you actually seen anything Screen Art's done? More than likely, yes. Nissan, Wal-Mart, Speedo, the TVA, Phish, Wynonna Judd, Prince (yes, that one), Goose Creek Symphony, and the US Olympics organization are just a few of the customers who have helped keep the business busy for three decades. That said, understand one thing close to Mike's heart, his hometown. Screen Art was founded on local business, and no client will ever stand tall enough to overshadow the people and businesses who helped him—helped Screen Art—make a strong start. From Mike's perspective, there's almost an element of engineering involved, with an appreciation not just for the bridges that were built to customers, but also the need to maintain them. That's something that hasn't changed—and won't change.
Relationships, respect, quality, and careful planning: that's the fuel for a thirty-year ride. And with candles lit and the words to "Happy Birthday" forming on lips, the gauge still reads full.