This year celebrates the 20th Anniversary of J. Fitzgerald Group (JFG). What does that mean to you personally and professionally?
Well, professionally it means I’ve stayed here longer than all of my previous jobs combined – which is truly hard to believe. The longest I ever stayed somewhere prior to this was 4.5 years. So, personally, that means I found a place where I could call home.
When did you move into 12 W. Main St. in Lockport, NY and why did you make it the home of JFG?
We bought the building in December 2002 (just a year after we started) and then renovated it ourselves and moved in six months later – around June 1. We had our grand opening party in September 2003. We made it our home because the building just had the right character for our agency- it was comforting, unique and (thanks to Carm’s decorating) it became beautiful and felt like home.
When did you purchase 14 and 16 W. Main St. making The Space Between come to life?
We bought them in 2005 and immediately renovated the upper floors. The lower floors were rented to tenants at the time. But after many failed tenant enterprises, we decided to completely gut the lower floors, connect them and turn them into the space between – which was designed to be a think space. We rented it to various companies for their meetings, brainstorm sessions and more. Because of covid, we decided to go back to a long-term rental situation with some local lawyers.
What key components have played a role in JFG’s success over the past 20 years?
We’ve always stressed consistency and a drive to get the job done without ego. The employees we now have embody that and truly put the success of the client first.
Who were some of the key hires in the early years of JFG and how have those individuals contributed to the success of the company?
We’ve been very fortunate to have some tremendous talent over the years; we’re lucky that many of them have stayed with us – namely, Tammy Ulrich, Ron Koscinski and Aaron Niziol. We also had a number of former employees who were instrumental in building the reputation. It’s unfortunate that some of them moved on – primarily Andi Ridge, Ryan Yaeger and Craig Thrall – but you have to be happy for them and proud that they were a big part of our success.
It is no secret that JFG gives back to the community through Createathon; can you tell us what made you decide to get involved in Createathon and how it serves the local community?
Giving back was always part of our DNA – right from the first year. We would adopt families at Christmas and then deliver the gifts with a local Santa; we would also provide free marketing work for non-profits. But then we heard about the Createathon network and decided to investigate; the premise was simple: put all the energy into giving back the thing you did best – and concentrate it at one time of the year. We’ve since helped over 75 charities locally and as far away as South Africa.
What has surprised you most about the journey of JFG in the last two decades?
How fast the time actually went. We had a client tell us years ago that you couldn’t say you’d made it or breathe easy until you had your 20th anniversary. At the time it seemed like a lifetime away. It wasn’t.
What were your visions for the company starting out in 2002 and how have you met them?
We wanted to treat everyone (employees, clients, vendors) with equal respect. We wanted to make sure we always held true to that. I believe we have. Some of the people who didn’t cut it at JFG are no longer here for a reason. You can never put self interests above the group. We’ve always stayed rather small (the most we ever had was 18 employees), so it’s easy to see who is contributing and who’s not. I worked for years in big corporate and it always amazed me how many people just became part of the woodwork and waited out retirement. That was never the life for me.
What do you see as JFG’s biggest accomplishment in the last 20 years?
Surviving. Everyone kept saying how unlikely it would be that we’d survive the first year. Then they said two years – and so on. We even had a financial analyst tell us once that he thought, based on the numbers, that we went out of business a few times in the past – but we just refused to believe it so we kept coming to work. Needless to say, we no longer work with him – but we do continue to work hard every day to stay viable.
How have major catastrophes affected the company and how did it survive? 9/11, severe weather, downturn of 2008, COVID, the Great Resignation, etc.
At first you think that maybe you’re cursed – like when we decided to make the leap and then got hit with eight feet of snow so we couldn’t get any equipment to set up the office originally. But then you realize it’s just life; there will always be some new catastrophe around the corner. It’s how you react and adapt to it that determines if you’ll survive or not.
How has JFG remained an expert in both digital and traditional advertising over time?
Quality people – that’s it. I had a really successful business owner from Alabama tell me one time that 98% of his company assets walked out the door at the end of each day – meaning that his people were way more important than any piece of equipment. That stuck with me. And as the world continues to evolve – and I continue to age – the only way to keep up is to hire hard-working, talented people who have the right mix of everything we represent – and then let them have at it. If you try to pretend you know more than someone who is an expert at something, you get sniffed out pretty quickly.
What do you think the next 20 years will bring for the future of JFG?
I think we’ll continue to be the same type of company we’ve always been. Companies come and go and I’ve often thought about why certain ones go under; some of it is unwillingness to adapt; or being in an industry that just isn’t viable anymore; and I know there are plenty of other reasons. But I think if you stay true to your roots, you should be able to last a very long time. That means you can and should be willing to change many things – but not how you do business, and how you treat people.
This is a whole new world now with the pandemic; no one knows how it will turn out. But I know this: everyone can (and should) be looking deep within themselves and deciding where they want to be; what type of work they want to do; and who they want to work for and with. The days of sticking it out at a job because you have to are long gone; now you should work where you’ll be treated like a human – and where you’ll have each other’s back.
Life is far too short to be anywhere that you hate. I found the place I want to be – and I love the people who work here and the clients who have trusted us for years. If that ever changed, it would be my fault – so it’s my duty to make sure it doesn’t.