You may have noticed a new business open at 133c South Gay Street. It’s the former location of Style of Civilization, which closed last winter. It opened at that location in June and I noticed it only recently. Turns out, it’s not a new business to the block, at all, but it’s new to that address. The Village Marketing Group began operation in 2010 and took four years to find their way to a store-front on Gay Street. While they are now ready for prime-time, the journey to get there was an interesting one.
I recently met with Ben Hubbard, copywriter and editor, who along with Ben Adams, designer, make up the company. It’s possible they may expand in the future, but so far, they have been a two-man show. People refer to them as “the Bens,” but I think I prefer Ben Squared.
The journey for Ben Hubbard started in Kentucky. He attended UK where he studied business and worked for Big Ass Fans. He later moved to Somerset, Kentucky, where he met Ben Adams’ parents. Their son was in New Zealand, studying Graphic Design with an emphasis on Illustration at the Aukland University of Technology, and they told Ben Hubbard that the two would really get along well. Eventually Ben Adams moved back to the states and the two became fast friends, camping, traveling and having various adventures.
Ben Adams eventually moved, with his wife, to Knoxville and began working for Allen Signs, but the two remained close. They started talking about forming a business. Ben suggested they take a trip to Thailand, which they did in January 2010. In the following months Ben Adams began having problems hearing. Unable to find a diagnosis, his hearing eventually disappeared and his health worsened. Finally, after nearly two years of deteriorating health, he connected with a doctor in Canada who diagnosed a parasite he’d contracted in Thailand. The treatment was severe and prolonged, but it likely saved his life. His hearing, however, has not returned.
Ben Hubbard was still living in Somerset, selling and marketing for a commercial furniture manufacturer. He’d never really found a place that felt like home, so he visited Knoxville. He remembers a meal at the Crown and Goose after which he walked around downtown. He found the people friendly and it felt like an “approachable town.” He knew he wanted to move. He and his wife listed the house for sale.
The two decided to pursue their dream of a business. Ben Hubbard commuted for over two years from Somerset, Kentucky, waiting on the house to sell and running the business with Ben Adams first from Remedy Coffee, then from the New South Collective on Gay Street where they shared a basement space with several other businesses. Ben Adams quit his job to focus on the new business in April of 2010 and Ben Hubbard followed in June. Initially, they worked mostly on print design.
They did pro bono work for the Tennessee Association of Museums. More museum and other work followed. 2012 was a very big year and as they grew, they recognized the need for more space and wanted to have their own store-front on Gay Street. When their current address came open, while they hated to see Nina go, they felt the time was right.
The core of their business now is web design, print design, copy-writing, content generation and editing. They designed the Black Cadillacs’ website and worked with Black Market when it was on Market Square. They’ve done extensive work for UT and they are currently designing the soon-to-be-released website for the City of Knoxville. While most of their clients are local, some are located in other parts of the country.
The street location, however, has opened a new set of opportunities. Ben Adams sells his sketches from a wall in the front, but neither really expected that. He’d done a sketch a day, posted them on Instagram and gave them away. Soon more people wanted them than the amount he could produce and he started selling them. The store offers framed prints or original works. He sent a drawing to Hugh Howey whose “Silo” series has been a huge online hit and Mr. Howey liked it, so they have worked together since. Movie rights have been purchased. The drawings contain elements of both fantasy and whimsey; sort of fantasy with a wink.
Ben Hubbard’s wife is a marketing coordinator and Ben Adam’s wife is a pre-K teacher and Ben Hubbard pointed out that they have been immensely patient and supportive as Ben Squared ventured out and grew the business. And they hope to continue to grow, but Ben pointed out that they don’t ever want to grow to a point that they lose the core of who they are. I don’t think he ever wants to dress up to go to work. It’s a noble goal, that I can support. They want the people who walk through the door to be just as comfortable. Stop in and visit, look at the art, and if you need web design, consider The Village. They could be just the Bens you’ve been looking for.