Friday, May 15, 2009


This week's issue of Business First, Buffalo's business news journal, features an article about Tod Martin who once played for the Golden Eagles. Here's the story...

Building the brand
Tod Martin turned a love of drawing into his own company

Tod Martin was drawn to his career.


As a youth growing up in Amherst, Martin had two main hobbies: playing hockey (he was a stand out with the Amherst Youth Hockey program) and drawing. While his friends were outside playing, Martin was practicing his pen-and-ink skills and nurturing his painting talents.

That strange mix continued when he attended Brockport State College, where Martin skated on the hockey team and majored in fine arts.

It was one of his professors who fine tuned Martin’s skills.

“He told me I was more a designer than an artist,” Martin said.

After transferring and then graduating from the University at Buffalo, Martin landed what he called his first “dream job,” working as an artist for the former Faller Klenk & Quinlan advertising agency.

Shortly thereafter, Martin was hired as the art director for another former local agency, Bolling-Peterson.

“That was a real sink or swim situation for me, but it was also a great learning experience,” Martin said. “There were a lot of nights when I was the last person in the office.”

Martin worked for a number of other agencies before deciding in 2001 to strike out on his own. With that the Martin Group was formed.

“There was something deeper in me, that had been growing for a number of years, that drove me to start my own business,” Martin said.

Starting out on a shoestring with just a handful of clients, Martin has seen his company grow in the past eight years. It is currently the area’s 12th largest advertising agency.

What’s what: Martin calls what he and his agency does as “brand fuel.” In other words, they create an image and look – and, at times, a complete rebrand. That’s something they did last year for Orville’s Home Appliance stores, replacing its old and stodgy look for a sleek, 21st century design. Ditto for Leki ski and trekking poles and Buffalo’s New Era Cap Co. Orville’s new look helped the retailer see a 20 percent spike in sales.

“We create images for companies,” Martin said.

Where’s the work coming from? Mostly, the Martin Group has picked up work from referrals and word-of-mouth. Yes, Martin said he has chased down and pitched some accounts, but mostly it has come from his firm’s creative reputation.

“After eight years, I finally feel that we are on the radar screens of a lot of people and companies,” Martin said.

Who’s who: Besides Martin, the agency has 17 employees. Because of losing one out-of-town account, he was forced to lay off three workers earlier this year. However, Martin remains hopeful new work on the horizon may translate into being able to hire a handful of new workers.

Billings: $1.85 million in 2008 and $2 million projected for this year.
Clients: A partial list includes Evans National Bank, Greatbatch, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Restonic Mattress Co. New clients include the Damon & Morey law firm, First Amherst Development Group and Vermont’s Long Trail Brewery.

“We’ve worked hard to become the branding firm in Western New York,” Martin said.

Networking or paper work: Given his choice, Martin said he is most effective schmoozing clients, working with his staff and networking. Paper work is not his forte.

“I have enough confidence in my team that it allows me to be cut loose,” Martin said. “My teammates know I’m not the person to be bogged down. The last place they want to see me is sitting behind my desk. Although, every now and then, I do think about what it would be like to go back to my drawing days.”

Moving on up: Last fall, Martin bought a vacant Main Street building and hoped to renovate it as his agency’s new offices. The project is taking a lot longer than he anticipated due to myriad issues, including securing financing for the project.

Martin remains committed to moving into the building, but now, probably not for another year.

“$800,000 is a pretty big chunk of change to bite off,” Martin said.

Because he is out of space in his current Court Street location, Martin will probably lease another downtown Buffalo spot on a temporary basis until he can start the Main Street project.

“Make no mistake, we are not leaving downtown and we will be on Main Street,” Martin said.

Story courtesy of Business First: