Cosmetic concerns aside, there are big changes afoot at Kudzu, Kenny says.
Kenny and Murphy Capps — his wife and business partner recently expanded their full-service, creative branding agency to include retail printing. After three years in business, the couple started noticing some clear indicators that it was time to grow and diversify, he says.
First of all, the business was running out of room — both physically and aurally. With phone calls and print jobs happening in the same space, there was a lot of shushing going on, Kenny says. “Five of us were crammed into one large room, and we realized we needed walls,” he says. Luckily, the loft space above the office became available, and the Kenny got a $50,000 loan from Mountain BizWorks to help fix it up.
The second indicator was demand. “We were doing some printing in-house, and then started doing a little more, but we realized we were leaving a lot of people unfulfilled,” Kenny says. Some of those unfulfilled clients were smaller businesses, whose orders were too small to be cost-effective. “We really wanted to support local small businesses, so we knew we needed to fill that gap.”
The new add-on business, Kudzu Printing Company, is the solution. With a digital press, vinyl cutter, commercial sewing machine, wide-format printers, and custom sign-making brushes and tools, the Kenny can produce everything from art prints to trade-show banners. In addition, keeping much of the production work in-house increases efficiency and turn-around time for clients. “If someone comes to me and wants to do business cards, I can refer them upstairs to the design side,” says Kenny.
The expansion has had the added bonus of enabling the couple to focus on their respective strengths and specialties: Murphy runs branding and design while Kenny focuses on fulfillment and print jobs. This division of labor seems to suit them and their work styles, breaking some of the tension that can come with working with one’s spouse, he reports. “One of the best things in the world is to have us on different floors,” says Kenny, laughing. “We’re both very stubborn and take the business very seriously, but we want to enjoy it and each other at the same time.”
Kudzu provides branding, design, and print services to a wide variety of businesses. The company’s biggest client is a large regional grocery chain, but it also serves such clients as Black Mountain Pilates, the towns of Black Mountain and Weaverville, a cider company and several hair salons. The Kenny are currently in talks with a local resort community that plans to do a major media campaign.
Kenny came to this business in a roundabout way, after a “pre-mid-life crisis.” Originally from Black Mountain, he eschewed a law career in Atlanta and “went back to things that appealed to me, which included mountains.” He started doing design work for his aunt and uncle’s screen-printing business in Charlotte. When they closed shop, some of their clients followed Kenny.
When he and Murphy started Kudzu in 2010, garnering trust as a new business was the biggest challenge. “When I had $1,000 in my company account, but I wanted to order $30,000 worth of supplies, the vendors were probably a little dubious,” explains Kenny. “So I had to build up trust, and luckily I had good clients who helped me out by backing me up.”
As the business grows, it’s faced with how to scale up the many processes that come with the work that they do — from job intake and fulfillment to billing and collecting. “We’re always looking for a better way to do it,” says Kenny. “And I’m not afraid to ask others how they do it. They may not tell me, because I’m a competitor, but I’m not afraid to ask!”
This eagerness to learn is a recurring theme with Kenny, who was recently appointed president of the Asheville American Advertising Federation. When asked about future business plans, he doesn’t respond with projected growth figures. “I want people to come in and think that we make it look so easy. We want to do what we already do and do it better.”
Learn more about Kudzu at kudzubranding.com (828-357-8350) and kudzuprinting.com 330-4887.
— Anna Raddatz is development and communications coordinator at Mountain BizWorks, which helps small businesses start, grow and create jobs through loans, classes and coaching. For more information, call 253-2834 or visit mountainbizworks.org.