Tucked away among the Victorians surrounding Eden Park, you’ll find a home housing the creatives behind Photonics Inc. From the outside it seems like any other house in the neighborhood and, in most ways, it is. It’s inviting. It’s comfortable. It’s collected, full of antiques and oddities. Throughout the house there are hundreds of vintage cameras, framed and reimagined artwork from previous projects, and the same Macintosh desktops that first sparked the owner’s interest in graphic design, that helped launch Photonics Inc. Thirty years of history spread throughout the 3,658 square feet that now house a small team of seven.
Photonics Inc, originally known as Photonics Graphics, was founded by Cincinnati-native Alan Brown in 1989. The company began as a graphic design company, focused on creative and graphic design, recently evolving to offer a more extensive list of services. This year marked their 8th consecutive year as one of Cincinnati Business Courier’s Top Web Design Firms. They have worked with the heavy hitters, P&G’s Professional Oral Health and Roboworld, but also spend a lot of time working with small local companies and nonprofits, such as OneSource Center for Nonprofit Excellence and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative. Their approachability and trustworthiness have been key factors in landing and maintaining relationships with a wide range of clients, of different sizes and industries. To Brown, maintaining these client relationships seems simple. “Be nice. Do what you say you’re going to do. Deliver. Do good work. Care about your client.” And once more for emphasis, “Be nice.”
Somehow Photonics has managed to fly high yet under the radar, despite being one of the longest-running design firms in Cincinnati. Their unpretentious and unassuming nature may be part of the reason, a true reflection of their owner. Alan Brown is humble and quietly-spoken, known locally for his artistic and altruistic character, offering his time and professional services to nonprofits across the tri-state. In 2017 he received the Mesel Wieder Mensch Award from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, acknowledging his integrity and honor. His team has taken notice. The culture at Photonics has become a direct reflection of these prominent attributes, helping to build the strong foundation that has kept the business standing for the past three decades.
“I don’t live extravagantly or act extravagantly so I’m able to control costs and I don’t give up, although there were plenty of opportunities to do so. I also think that I’ve been blessed with hard working, dedicated staff that can see the bigger picture and help work towards it,” Brown shares when discussing the highs and lows that he and the company have survived throughout the years. Multiple recessions, talent shortages, slow seasons. All businesses experience these struggles, but not all businesses survive a full 30 years of them. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only one third of businesses even make it to their tenth year.
In 2016, Brown hired Tom Hutchinson, a fellow Cincinnati native from the design industry, as the Director of Development to help push Photonics to the next level. Over the past two years, Hutchinson has become an integral part of the company, helping Photonics evolve into a full-service marketing firm. Their services have expanded to include strategic planning, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), media buying, and more, all in addition to their design and web development services. “I think I helped to improve the eyesight of the company as it moves into the 30th year,” says Hutchinson. “I have helped to elevate the self-confidence of some of the team, pushing them to become leaders. If Photonics is going to continue to grow and stay relevant beyond today, leadership has to come from within the staff beyond Alan and beyond me.”
Photonics Inc. is a clear reflection of its past and its owner. In 2019, Hutchinson’s hope is to continue helping to grow the company by elevating the roles of the staff, while maintaining the core values that Alan has instilled. “It’s our story. We have to live it. We have to continue the legacy that Alan has built.”
Article was originally featured in the print version of the Cincinnati Business Courier.