When Michigan native, Candice Simons, returned to her home state after establishing herself in the outdoor advertising industry for nearly a decade in Chicago, she identified a need in out-of-home as the perfect opportunity to build a company with a fresh perspective and a vibrant, creative energy to the industry.
The four divisions of Brooklyn Outdoor include traditional outdoor, digital marketing, hand-painted murals, and experiential marketing. With offices in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the company has subsequently emerged as a regional and national force. Simons and her team are adept at creating opportunities in places that didn’t previously exist, helping clients and potential clients explore exciting new creative possibilities. Brooklyn Outdoor knows how to put big ideas into action and make a lasting and memorable impact with target audiences.
Access to unique, outdoor inventory and fresh ideas is an appealing asset for the vendors, advertising agencies, media buyers, and independent operators that Brooklyn Outdoor serves. Brooklyn’s core business is outdoor signage and displays, including billboards, hand-painted murals, wallscapes, digital billboards, branded buses and taxis, street furniture, posters, in-window displays, and more.
Since establishing Brooklyn Outdoor in Detroit in 2013, Simons has been using her company as a tool to bridge relationships between Detroit’s most creative artists and entrepreneurs with national companies, putting Detroit back on the map where it belongs in the industry.
Simons has been recognized for her work by Ad Age’s Best Places to Work 2019, Stevie Awards “Women in Business”, Crain’s Detroit Business “40 Under 40”, DBusiness “30 In Their Thirties”, Detroit Young Professionals Vanguard Award, Summit International Marketing and Creative Awards, Michigan Economic Bright Spot Award, 2017 Corp! Magazine’s Diversity Business Leader, 2017 Enterprising Woman of the Year, and most recently, Inc. Magazine’s “Inc. 5000”, encompassing the fastest-growing and most inspiring companies of 2018.
How did the concept for Brooklyn Outdoor come about?
The concept for Brooklyn Outdoor first came about when I was living in Chicago working in the OOH industry. I had been working there for 10 years, since college. In fact, I had come to make quite the name for myself in out-of-home advertising in that market. But truth be told, I missed home. I missed Michigan and I missed Detroit. That was when I recognized a gap in the market for an independent OOH agency in Detroit. It wasn’t during a particularly popular time for people to be moving back to the city, but I had a good feeling. Sometimes, you just have to take that leap.
How was the first year in business?
Well, I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for what it is like in the first year of owning a business. What I found remarkable is that as a woman in business, especially in a male-dominated industry, people don’t actually want to see you succeed. It took a lot (and still does) to stand tall in the face of adversity, but it made me who I am today. It was a lot of late nights with early mornings. It took tenacity and the willingness and patience to understand that the payoff will come.
What was your marketing strategy?
Part of my marketing strategy was just being myself. That might sound silly but standing out in the room wasn’t always comfortable. I had to realize that being different is okay and that’s what makes Brooklyn Outdoor so unique. Our mostly women team stands out in an otherwise homogeneous setting. That is what people remember us for. It also gave us the upper hand by bringing diverse ideas to the traditional OOH advertising people were used to.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the first few years, Brooklyn Outdoor grew rapidly. Within our first year of business, we doubled our sales. By the end of this year, we are projected to do more than three times that amount. We also grew from a team of one to a team of twelve. As the company grows, we are continuously bringing on new employees to fill the necessary roles to support that growth. We have expanded our reach nationwide, allowing us to employ a team on all coasts.
How do you define success?
I define success by being happy in what I do and knowing that I made the right choice. I am reassured that I was able to turn nothing into something when I look around at the team of amazing people standing beside me. The people on my team never cease to amaze me with their creativity and passion. It has been an incredible journey to grow professionally, but what is more inspiring is being uplifted by the amount of growth happening around me. Our team has redefined what the OOH industry looks like, while bringing a fresh perspective to campaigns. That feels like success.
What is the key to success?
The key to success is integrity. Act with integrity in all that you do in business, whether it be in your internal relationships or your relationships with clients. Letting your moral compass lead the way will always point you in the right direction. Part of being in business means there is always more to know, which in turn means sometimes mistakes are going to be made, but if you have values and core principles that drive you, then it will show in all your relationships.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was that raising capital is hard. As my company was experiencing growth, I had to realize that to grow, I had to invest in myself before I could pay myself. When you are initially developing a business plan, you design it so that it will make you money. However, you have to invest in your future first if you want longevity.
What are some quotes that you live by?
This is one you have heard throughout your entire life, but it rings just as true until this very day, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” Whether it be an employee, friend, or client, everyone wants to be treated with the same respect. Another one that really stuck with me is, “Every phone call is a branding opportunity.” It resonated with me because every touch point and client interaction is branding, basically. You are constantly representing yourself and your company.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The hardest day for me as an entrepreneur was when one of my longest employees, member of management and dear friend, tragically lost a loved one, unexpectedly. As a team, especially a small one, we all become so close to one another. Although we are in business, as humans we deeply care for one another. Myself and the entire team grieved deeply over the loss. It is about supporting one another in hard times.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
When faced with adversity, the thing that keeps me moving forward is to take it as a lesson. Instead of thinking why this is happening to me, I try to look at it as what is this trying to teach me. That may sound totally cliché, but you have to learn to accept your mistakes as experiences and your differences as leverage if you are ever going to make it in this world.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
The best advice I could give to young entrepreneurs is to align themselves with like-minded people. When I was originally starting out, I didn’t have a network of people who were going through a similar experience. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place, but you don’t have to do it all alone. There are other people who have been through experiences you can learn from, and they can learn from yours as well. Get a support system. If you don’t know where to turn to, look for networking groups for young entrepreneurs in your area.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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