Market Driven Move: Springfield-based TSM Design Opens Second Office in Hartford

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By Elizabeth Taras | February 25, 2014 — Nancy Urbschat recalls the moment she and her team at TSM Design saw the small yet attractive office space in the historic former G. Fox & Co. department store building in downtown Hartford, and knew they’d found a home.

Or, to be more specific, a second home.

Indeed, the cozy, 475-square-foot space at 960 Main St. officially became the second location for Springfield-based TSM on Jan. 8. The office provides the company with opportunities to better serve clients based in Northern Conn. or who do business there, said Urbschat, principal of the firm since 2005, and also greater capacity to expand a client list that already includes a number of businesses across several sectors.

“To have a presence in two anchor cities felt great,” she told BusinessWest as she talked about the decision to expand. “I’ve long believed that Hartford-Springfield is a very robust market.”

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And it’s a market that can better be served with a visible presence in each municipality, said Janet Bennett, the firm’s director of marketing since 2005.

“We were going down for meetings all the time, and the more we discussed it, we felt that if we were really going to do this, we needed to put ourselves in Hartford for real and have a real presence here,” she said.

With that presence, the marketing and design firm expects to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital, and also seize momentum from what those at TSM describe as an improving economy on both sides of the border.

Urbschat said marketing and advertising budgets are among the first things to be cut during a downturn like the recent recession, and they’re also some of the last things to be restored. But she’s seeing definite signs of progress.

“That’s the natural order of economic downturns and recovery, and I feel we’re in recovery,” said Urbschat, who speaks from the experience gained from living through several recessions. “That’s the beauty of being a small business — we’re lean; we can make adjustments as needed and respond. We took appropriate measures, and now we’re off to a fantastic start in 2014.”

For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with the team at TSM about their move into Hartford and what it means for the firm moving forward.

Capital Idea

Urbschat has long noted — and taken great pride from — the fact that her firm is not merely based in Springfield, specifically the historic Stearns Building on Bridge Street.

Instead, it has long been quite involved in efforts to help market the city and tell its story — both to those who live within it and those who would need a map to find it — while also promoting it as a great place to live, work, and do business.

For example, Urbschat and her team launched Pro Springfield Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about the City of Homes, asking residents and officials to “say something nice.” She also chaired the Art & Soles project a few years ago, an initiative that saw the downtown decorated with colorful, five-foot-high sneakers in a nod to its history with the sport of basketball.

But while Springfield has been, and will remain, both the firm’s base and its passion, there was a clear need to expand to the city 20 miles to the south.

“We’re Springfield believers, and this is our anchor,” she noted. “Our footprint is solidly in Springfield, but we were ready for a new challenge, and there’s opportunity in Hartford.”

And as the TSM team looked for a base from which to pursue those opportunities, one of the first stops was the former G. Fox building, the art-deco landmark that has become home to Capital Community College and dozens of other tenants large and small.

Bringing the TSM name there ushers in a new chapter in the colorful history of the firm created by Leslie Lawrence and first called The Super Market.

Urbschat joined the venture a few months after it was launched and became a partner in 1990. The firm’s name was rebranded to the acronym TSM in the late ’90s to reflect the development of a wider range of work, especially design and branding. When Lawrence retired in 2004, Urbschat bought the business.

Using subcontractors — or partners, as Urbschat calls them — for specific needs in video production and web development, the current four employees have specific strengths in marketing, design, and creative thought and application. Urbschat is keeping the operation lean by having one team operate both locations.

Bennett, who is now spending much of her time at the Hartford facility — which Urbschat calls a ‘mini-me’ office, due to its similar contemporary, TSM-style decor — explained that growth is certainly attainable, and the vibe in the capital city is palpable.

“It feels like it’s hopping,” she told BusinessWest. “Even the sense on the street when you’re walking around, there’s a lot of buzz, and it’s exciting.”

Urbschat agreed, noting that some 80,000 people work in downtown Hartford, maybe 10 times the number that work in Springfield’s central business district. Some of those 80,000 work in marketing and advertising, she acknowledged, but while there is plenty of competition, there is also ample opportunity for growth for TSM.

With 15 active clients, the firm’s team is selective about whom they work with, and will keep that same philosophy in Hartford. While the company handles many types of businesses, it targets second-stage, ‘best-in-class’ companies with 150 or more employees and that share TSM’s core values. And there many of these in the Greater Hartford area.

One example is the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. That landmark, which includes a number of buildings and facilities, has seen its identity superseded by the 17-day fair that takes place there every fall — the Big E. TSM has been contracted to help rebrand the operation and tell what Urbschat calls the “amazing story of the history of the Eastern States Exposition.”

Over the years, it has done similar work for businesses and organizations ranging from Springfield Technical Community College to the Springfield Falcons, and currently boasts clients such as Barr & Barr Construction, Westfield Bank, and Baystate Health.

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Right Place, Right Time

While some might view the Hartford office as a fresh, new start for the TSM team, Urbschat is quick to say that there’s nothing new about what TSM will offer businesses in Connecticut.

“This is an extension of what we already do, and we have a well-honed process; we’re just doing it in a new city,” she said, adding that she still enjoys coming into work every day. “When it stops being fun, we’ll probably just say, ‘OK, it was a great ride.’”

But for now, talk about the ride is restricted to the present and future tenses, and, with this expansion into Hartford, it is getting much more exciting.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at taras@businesswest.com.