Hoot Design Company, a branding agency that helps businesses create a name and image for themselves, opened in 2010 in Columbia.
“We really help people build brands, whether it’s a start-up company or someone who has an existing company who needs to clearly communicate who they are and what they do,” said owner and founder Kristen Graham Brown.
During the last decade, Hoot Design Company has helped a number of companies in Missouri and other states brand themselves, including Pizza Tree, Boone County Nature School, Les Bourgeois Vineyards, the Missouri Restaurant Association and in Florida, the Pelican Golf Club.
The comppany offers a wide variety of services including website development, content management, social media management, graphic design, copywriting, messaging and marketing .
Brown was born and raised in Columbia and graduated from Hickman High School before she studied communications, advertising and art at St. Louis University.
After graduating, she moved to Chicago and began her career at the ad agency Schafer Condon Cater, Inc.
“I was always super-interested in visual communications,” Brown said. “I love the challenge of being creative but with a purpose of eliciting emotion and driving action.”
After five years in Chicago, Brown returned to Columbia after her husband was offered a chance to open a satellite office for his company. She spent a year doing freelance work and eventually decided she had enough of client base to start her own company. Hoot Design Company or HDco was the result.
Despite her company’s success, Brown said she has faced multiple challenges. The biggest was the learning curve on the business side.
“I think a lot of people go into business because they love this thing that they do,” Brown said. “There’s all these other things that you need to figure out, and how you are going to figure them out is pretty daunting.”
She said she has also faced the challenges that come with being a woman who owns a business and named two key factors that contribute.
“Internally I think we’re just conditioned our whole lives through culture and society to behave a certain way as women,” she said. “I think sometimes it can present challenges of assertiveness.”
Brown also said female business owners face the external challenge of “getting into the room.”
Like almost all businesses, HDco has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Definitely in the beginning it was scary as a business owner and as someone serving business owners,” Brown said.
She worried about what this would mean for her business and if she would have to lay off employees.
“We’re not as productive as we were; all of that was very scary,” she said. Brown and HDco also struggled to meet clients’ needs during the pandemic.
Abby MacKinnon, a 25-year-old copywriter at HDco, described the company as “a really energizing place to be.” MacKinnon has worked at HDco since December 2019.
“I really love everything about working for this company,” MacKinnon said. She also praised her co-workers and the creative work they do, as well as the way the company values women in the work force.
One of the many companies that HDco has worked with over the years is Les Bourgeois Vineyards. According to the HDco website, it was brought in to help develop the brand for Les Bourgeois’ Mizzou Vintage line of wine .
The website includes a quote from Rachel Holman, the former marketing director for Les Bourgeois. “Working with them was a dream come true for us,” she said.
“Their ability to understand complex requirements and produce stunning results is impressive.”
One major plan Brown has for the future of HDco is a new building. She and HDco have been renting the current space since 2017.
Brown wants her company to stand out as one that is successfully owned by a woman developing brands that clearly reflect her clients.
“We don’t just build websites and make social media,” Brown said. “We want to get at the heart of what makes you you.”