“I guess that’s something I learned from watching both my stepdad and my dad,” remembers Mark Brown.
As a kid, Mark watched his stepfather George Johnson run a small beverage distribution company in his hometown of Hood River, Oregon. At the time, he didn’t know he was learning something that would serve him well in his own career. With a front-row seat to the customer relationships George built and maintained, Mark always noticed one thing: if an issue arose, George’s priority was to be honest and make it right with the customer. And as for the value of plain hard work: while visiting Portland, he’d go down to the docks and watch his biological father, Jerry Brown, working as a longshoreman.
As co-owner of Northwest Graphic Works in Hood River, these are some of Mark’s guiding principles: honesty, the customer relationship, and hard work. In the world of screen printing, embroidery, and promotional products, those are a pretty big deal.
“Almost always, our customers are wowed by the quality and accuracy they get,” Mark says. “But it really matters how you respond when things aren’t quite right with the customer. That happens in this business, to be honest. But that’s when we get to work making it right.”
With his wife Linda Brown, Mark has built Northwest Graphic Works from an idea and a little embroidery machine in 2003 to six employees and cutting-edge equipment housed within 4,000-square-foot facility today. He’s quick to give a lot of credit to his faith, to the close-knit community of Hood River, and especially to Linda’s influence on his life and the company.
“My first few years, I was in a time of personal transition and the business was sort of floundering,” he says. “Coaching wrestling locally was my life previously, and I had gone through a divorce. Honestly, I probably could’ve been a good example of ‘what not to do’ when starting a new business. When Linda came into my life in 2009 and then eventually joined as my business partner, my whole world changed.”
Complementing his strengths in outside sales and customer relationships, Linda brought expertise in office management, accounting, and managing workflow. That’s when things took off: more consistency, larger clients, and an expansion out of the 2-car garage into a 1,600-square-foot space — then more than doubling it just a few years later. The business is on a successful path, and the two just celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary.
“I had recently moved to Hood River, and that was a time of real growth for me,” Linda remembers. “And that’s what I see as my purpose in this company: growth. Not just growing the company financially, but helping other local businesses grow, and ultimately helping the people around me grow personally, and trying to be a part of the heartbeat of this community.”
Prioritizing community is a value Linda and Mark share: they love volunteering with their local chamber of commerce, coaching, and helping put on youth events in the area.
Even though he’s always excited to be out in Hood River or the Dalles engaging with customers, Mark still loves when he gets to spend a couple quiet hours where he started: working in the shop on a 4-head embroidery machine. “I do love it,” he says. “It’s fun to see the graphics and the garments come together in a really top-quality product for our customers.”
“I love when a company has a big national clothing vendor but tries us for a ‘911 job,’ when they are in a pinch and need some products right away,” adds Linda. “When they see how easy and effective it is to go with the local small business, they often switch over to us for the rest of their needs. That says a lot.”
The customer and community focus at Northwest Graphic Works is mirrored by the business banking services they receive at INB. “We’ve always had excellent service down at our bank,” Mark says. “Just like in our business: it’s about the people, the relationships. It may sound like a cliche, but it’s kind of like family. We’re all part of this community, and we’re trying to help one another grow and succeed.”
Mark and Linda have a story to tell: one of innovating, overcoming adversity, and competing for success by serving their customers. For INB and other local and regional businesses, it is easy to relate to their story, and share in celebrating their success.