April 9, 2010

Marketing firm coming to campus in Falmouth

Within two years, Stephen Woods hopes to add 100 employees to his 42-person company, emg3.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH — The event marketing firm that Stephen Woods started in Portland made its name by staging elaborate, brand awareness campaigns around the country. Now, emg3 is staging an event of its own, on eight rocky acres along Route 1.

Woods has begun building a $10 million business campus to support marketing campaigns in fields that he expects to blossom as the economy recovers. Within two years, he hopes to add 100 employees to his 42-person company.

They will have an environmentally-friendly workplace that incorporates the elements of experiential marketing, which borrows techniques from theater and theme parks to engage consumers and build brand loyalty.

“The dream is to create an experiential campus,” Woods said this week as he watched contractors blast ledge to expand the site.

Later this spring, Woods plans to break ground on a 12,000-square-foot training and equipment storage center. Within two years, he plans to add a 20,000-square-foot office building for his spin-off companies.

“What started as an event-marketing agency has become environmental marketing, health care marketing and digital marketing,” he said. “These are growth areas.”

Reflecting that growth, emg3 is preparing to launch its own branding – or perhaps, rebranding – campaign. Woods has formed TideSmart Global LLC, a parent company that will oversee emg3 and five other niche companies.

At a time when some small businesses are having trouble finding credit to grow, Woods has secured a loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. He’s also applying for Pine Tree Zone designation, which offers Maine companies tax breaks and other incentives for creating jobs.

Woods has a varied business background. He has been an agent representing professional athletes and president of Pierce Promotions, a Portland event-marketing pioneer that’s now part of a New York media conglomerate.

He started emg3 seven years ago in the Old Port. The firm’s clients now include Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, Lindt USA, the chocolate maker, and the Health Mart pharmacy network.

For Olympus, the camera and medical instrument maker, emg3 manages sponsorship of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. It stages demonstrations, promos, athlete endorsements, media events and online campaigns to entice fans to experience – and buy – Olympus cameras.

Woods expanded to 67 employees and $30 million in gross sales before the recession hit. Like most business owners, he had to pull back and lay off workers as his clients shut their wallets.

But Woods now sees an opportunity to grow. Some clients have cut their internal marketing staffs. Others are gearing up again to compete for market share, not just survive.

Woods considered staying in downtown Portland. But he also maintains a warehouse in Westbrook for equipment, and when he became aware of a modern office and land for sale in Falmouth, he decided to go there.

One of TideSmart’s subsidiaries, Viridescence LLC, focuses on green marketing. For instance, it conducted a 10-city “national green home tour,” in which a modular home filled with products and services was set up at fairs and other events.

“Maine has a home-court advantage on environmental marketing,” Woods said, and he is using that to help develop his experiential campus.

His new buildings will be certified to LEED energy and environmental standards. He plans to buy a Nissan Leaf, one of the plug-in, electric cars that are hitting the market this year, and set up an charging station on the site. Those and other elements will make an impression, he figures, on visiting clients, the staff and trade media.

TideSmart is operating now in the office building that’s on the site. Later this year, Woods hopes to open the training and logistics center, to store and set up the tents, booths and other materials used in promotions. Those two investments are valued at $4 million.

Woods has put some of his own money in the venture, but like many small businesses, has had to borrow. He has tapped into a federal loan program that provides 90 percent financing at favorable rates. The $2.8 million loan is sponsored by Bank of America and administered by Granite State Development Corp., in Portsmouth, N.H.

“It’s a great example of what a small business can do in a credit crunch,” said Amanda Lee, business development officer for Granite State. “It allows Woods to create a concept that, down the line, will be successful for him.”

The loan allows Woods to keep working capital, and the availability of economic stimulus money saves the company $24,185 in bank processing fees, Lee said.

“He’s a great candidate for this loan,” she said. “He has a successful small business that has been profitable.”

Falmouth officials are pleased about Woods and are supporting his Pine Tree Zone application. “What he’s doing by adding jobs to the region is fantastic,” said Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Poore is working with other towns on economic development planning. The campus could attract other businesses to Greater Portland, he said. “A marketing company like his could be a destination for businesses outside our area.”

But Woods’s vision, like so many other business outlooks, depends on the national economy. That’s always a risk, he said, but he thinks the economy is poised to snap back, especially in the health care and environmental arenas.

“I really believe 2011 is going to be one of the best years in our history,” he said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:
tturkel@pressherald.com    

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