OOH Today’s Champion – Allan Atkins
Rare Fourth Generation OOH Business Leader
OOH Today highlights a Champion of Out of Home featuring people who define Outdoor Advertising. We share the faces and stories behind the names of those who add personal touches while Championing OOH as a great medium. Human contact is still an important part of Out Of Home. Outdoor Advertising is an industry where the people behind the company, are as important as the company itself.
Today, we are visiting with Allan Atkins of Independent’s Service Company.
Allan is VP of Sales, living in Chicago, Illinois. Independent’s Service Company, (ISCO) prints a variety of large-format graphics including billboards, stadium graphics, building-sides, banners, taxi-tops and window graphics. Operating 2 plants located in Missouri, Independent’s serves customers throughout the country, with a strong presence in the Midwest.
Allan holds a rare distinction as a 4th generation* member in his family’s OOH printing business. He began his OOH career in 2002 with ISCO. After a year’s training in each department of the printing plant, Allan moved to sales, calling outdoor advertising companies throughout the Midwest. Taking a short leave from the Industry, he returned in 2008 during the transition era of paper posters to single sheet posters. He helped develop Independent’s transition to the single sheet product line, testing substrates, finishing techniques, performing innumerable poster installations, while working with operators and installers around the country to perfect the new craft.
OOH Today’s conversation with Allan Atkins.
BB: How did you become involved in Outdoor Advertising?
AA: I was initially drawn to the business by the opportunity to work alongside my grandfather who was second generation with Independent’s Service Company founded in 1940. He was an instrumental figure in my life. I knew the opportunity to work around him in a business he operated, was not going to be available forever. I am grateful I had the opportunity.
BB: Why did you stay?
AA: The challenge of keeping our company relevant today and the opportunity to work as the 4th generation in our family’s business. My parents were not involved in the business. I really did not become associated with it until late in college.
BB: Share the OOH accomplishments you’re most proud of?
AA: I have helped our company stay abreast of changing technologies such as on-line ordering, single sheet posters, light weight substrates, and other technological advances through the years by becoming close to customers, competitors, and the general state of the industry sharing that knowledge with other company leaders in order to keep our company relevant today.
We are fervent supporters and active members in the OAAA. I personally serve in committees staying closely connected. OAAA helps to see the big picture of where we are headed, and provides connectivity to a community of people who share the same concerns and interests while helping to define our roles.
As a company, we are very proud and thankful of our long-term relationships. One of those relationships is our 38+ years as printer of choice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids, as you have mentioned in earlier blog posts Bill, is the one of the best OOH markets in the country. We couldn’t agree more. They hold themselves to a very high standard (in OOH) up there. We are delighted to share their success.
BB: How do you see the future of OOH? Do you have a prediction?
AA: What will stay the same, is advertisers will want to quickly get their messages in front of their intended audiences. There will continue to be increased pressure on printers for fast turnaround times and delivery of product. Independent’s is set up very well to handle this.
BB: Is there anyone you most admire or credit to providing significant influence in your Outdoor career?
AA: Tony Bowman, our plant manager since the 1970s. Tony imparted a lot of his experience and knowledge. Tony is gifted with developing relationships with customers. He would drive 8 hours to deliver a product to a customer in a pinch. He also worked alongside my grandfather and with my great-grandfather at Independent’s so he could share anecdotes about challenges they faced in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, which helped me realize the changes and stresses of today were not significantly different from those from the past. I also remember him offering the following words of wisdom when it came to integrity in business, “If you have a choice between the high road and the low road, always take the high road.”
BB: Are there any facets of the OOH Industry you would change today?
AA: Have leaders listen to their people and manage not just from spreadsheets. Similar to undercover boss, spend time in your organization working the front lines, and realize that decisions should be made with people in mind, not just spreadsheets and next quarter’s earnings report. Most people are too busy chasing the next goal.
BB: What is missing in the OOH Community? What is your solution?
AA: Nothing is missing. What I see as missing in large corporations can still be found in smaller companies. What may be missing in smaller enterprises is usually present in the larger ones. There are great people everywhere.
Independent’s work below.
*Research from University of North Carolina shows approximately, only 30 percent of all family owned businesses survive to the second generation and only 12 percent will be survived into the third generation. Surprisingly, only 3 percent of all family businesses operate at the fourth generation and beyond. Therefore, making it to the 4th generation is very rare.