Returning to Detroit to Start a Successful Business

Over the years, there has been a steady out-migration of young people and talent from this region and state to other cities and other locales.  However, in recent years, there’s been a keen interest in Detroit’s revitalization efforts with its burgeoning entrepreneurial scene which has resulted in businesses popping up across the city.

And many of these businesses are now being led by younger entrepreneurs relocating here from across the country.

For example, Candice Simons, 33, moved to Chicago from this area and came back to be closer to family.  One her driving forces was wanting to be a part of the city’s reemergence and redevelopment efforts, which prompted Simons to start Brooklyn Outdoor , an outdoor advertising company headquartered in Eastern Market, where she’s the company’s founder & CEO.  Since its inception in 2013, Brooklyn Outdoor has grown from $600k to $6 million in sales through 2016 and has emerged as a regional and national force.  Additionally, Simons founded j’adore Detroit, an events company that celebrates, publicizes, and forges connections between Detroit-area residents and some of the city’s most innovative and inspiring creators — from non-profits and musicians, to artists and artisans, to chefs and creative new companies.

I recently talked to Simons about her decision to move back to Detroit, starting a business here and thoughts on the city’s revitalization efforts.

 Lee:  You’re from the Detroit-area originally, moved to Chicago and then move your business back. Why?

Simons:  I grew up in Northville, Michigan and moved to Chicago for about 10 years. I decided to come back to Detroit to start Brooklyn Outdoor and j’adore Detroit because I saw an opportunity in the market for my business and I wanted to be closer to home again. I chose to build my businesses in Detroit because of the unique opportunities for young, innovative companies.

Lee:  What encouraged you to start Brooklyn Outdoor?  How many employees and locations?

Simons:  I started Brooklyn Outdoor to bring advertising dollars back to my home state of Michigan, to be able to be my own manager and set my own tone in a company. Brooklyn Outdoor has a total of nine employees, with satellite offices and full-time sales representatives in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles. One thing I’m incredibly proud of is the fact that women serve in leadership positions, helming everything from internal sales to marketing.

Lee:  Because of your Detroit commitment, why did you name your business Brooklyn Outdoor versus Detroit Outdoor, for example?

Simons:  Brooklyn Outdoor got its name from two different inspirations. First, my spunky chihuahua rescue is named Brooklyn. Also, I spent a good majority of my childhood at my grandmother’s cottage in Brooklyn, MI, where she still lives now. Of course, we do have some amazing hand painted signage options in Brooklyn, NY – so it works.

Lee:  Can you speak to the city’s revitalization and the impact you hope to have on it?

Simons:  The city’s “comeback” has been incredible to not only watch but actively participate in. I think one of the most unique things about Detroit is the ability to make an impact; it is imperative that people have the opportunity to engage in the process — both young people that are returning to or newly adopting Detroit as home, but also the folks that have been here in Detroit working hard, fighting for change for decades. I returned to Detroit after establishing myself in the outdoor advertising industry for ten years in Chicago. I choose to build my businesses in Detroit because of the unique opportunities for innovative companies and millennial entrepreneurs, like myself, looking to make a direct impact on the city’s growth.

One example of the kind of impact I’m committed to making is through my continued efforts to keep advertising dollars in the local economy and turn unused signs into murals or other works of art when they are not in use by advertisers. I’ve found it to be a great way to beautify our public spaces and make the most of the blank space left in communities when ad dollars pull out of the market. I also want to ensure that Detroit is seen as a place for entrepreneurs to set up shop, so if my company can serve as an illustrative example of how to do it, I’ll feel as though I’ve made a contribution.

Lee:  How does it rank relative to other outdoor billboard companies and how much coverage do you have locally and nationally?

Simons:  Brooklyn Outdoor is the only major outdoor advertising firm headquartered in Detroit. The company has established itself as an industry innovator known for consistently introducing eye-opening, attention-getting elements, groundbreaking displays and personalized special events and promotions in Detroit and beyond.

Though we are a newer player in the out-of-home industry, we specialize in quality units allocating a great deal of time and effort to select the perfect unit for our clients. We are also unique in that we are able to conceptualize and suggest experiential activations for our clients, enhancing their brand’s reach in the community.

We have close to 50 faces in Detroit and over 350 additional faces across the country, including national units such as street furniture, transit, and rail opportunities

Lee:  What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a business in Detroit and have you overcome various challenges?  

Simons:  I would tell someone looking to launch a business here to make sure there is a need in the Detroit market. You need to think strategically about the landscape and make sure that you are not entering an oversaturated market where your business may have a difficult time gaining traction. 

Personally, I wish I would have spent more time thinking about/setting realistic expectations and organizational boundaries within the company from the beginning.  I come from a very unforgiving past in terms of management, so I’ve architected my managerial style as the antithesis of that approach.  Sure, we’ve had some some growing pains, but I firmly believe it is important to find a place somewhere in the middle of structure and autonomy.  This is definitely not an easy thing to do and takes time to perfect, so take time to really study past experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and make careful and educated decisions.

Fortunately Brooklyn Outdoor is growing rapidly! Our challenges now lie in the growing pains of expanding our internal and external initiatives. With the addition of new digital programs and internal processes, we are able to streamline our deliverable and are able to work with growing pains more efficiently.

Lee:  With the continued evolution of technology and its impact on print, what are your thoughts on the future out-of-home advertising industry?

Simons:  The out-of-home industry is one of the only advertisements you cannot turn off. Marketers will experience more success with brand exposure if they incorporate outdoor advertising into their media mix. Brands should consider pairing experiential marketing efforts with a large wallscape or digital component, especially in places where an actual outdoor landscape (i.e. a building, bus, train, etc.) can be utilized as a backdrop. By incorporating brand messaging with out-of-home efforts, marketers can create a frequency of exposure and leave a lasting, positive impression on their audience.