“When starting something new you have to carve your niche to separate yourself from everyone out there and luxury was what I wanted to pivot to.”
Filecamp, the makers of your favorite digital asset management software, recently reached out to the folks at Flat 6 Concepts, to talk about their luxury goods brand design agency. In this interview we’ll talk with Christos Joannides, the founder and Creative Directory at Flat 6 Concepts about his journey scaling his agency so far.
Let’s jump into the interview below.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about your agency Flat 6 Concepts. You have over a decade of experience as an agency focused on helping luxury brands. Can you kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about how you got your start as an agency?
Prior to starting Flat 6 Concepts, I was the founding partner in a high-end interior architecture / furniture / design firm here in Beverly Hills. Some of our clients at the time were actor Tobey Mcguire, the author Brett Easton Ellis, NFL great Keyshawn Johnson, fashion mogul Mxn Azria amongst many others. We even had Ringo Starr pop in our showroom one time. We built the firm from the ground up and the business was growing year over year. Then in 2008, the Great Recession hit. Our clients seemingly disappeared overnight. We eventually had to close our design showroom within the same year and that's when I started Flat 6 Concepts.
Why the focus on luxury? What is it about this particular niche that drew you towards it? Did you start out in the luxury niche, or is it something you pivoted into?
My focus was always luxury from day one. Because at my first design firm we catered to celebrities and an exclusive high end clientele that is the aesthetic I honed. Ever since I was young I always loved the sophisticated simplicity of a luxurious aesthetic.
When starting something new you have to carve your niche to separate yourself from everyone out there and luxury was what I wanted to pivot to.
What other pivots have you had to make over the last 10 years? Has your agency ever had to pivot in terms of service offering, demographic or anything else? If so, why did you make that pivot?
There's that saying, "evolve or die". One must adjust to market conditions and new landscapes. The design industry is heavily influenced by ever changing technology, and with that new technology come new opportunities. You just have to be open to them and pivot toward them. Our design aesthetic has always been constant. Simple, sophisticated and (hopefully) elegant solutions for our clients. A good example is the emergence of advertising on a social app called Instagram. If you told me a few years ago that clients would be approaching us for creating instagram ads for them I would say no way. But hey. Look at Instagram today. Pivot and adjust.
Looking back, what were some of your early growth obstacles and how did you overcome them? Are the obstacles different when targeting clients in the luxury goods space?
There are always growing pains with a new business. When starting off you have to take on any client who is willing to pay your fees. Back in 2008 when the recession hit, no one wanted to spend money - luxury brands included.
There was doom and gloom everywhere. But fortunately there were a few brave souls out there. I connected with some and though the projects were not huge it helped build our portfolio. We created marketing campaigns for a lot of Italian luxury furniture brands and high end interior designers and those became our stepping stones. The luxury space is a unique one. Unless you are seasoned and unless you have refined your eye to look at design through the prism of understated simplicity it's hard to appeal to a luxury clientele. It is a design aesthetic that cannot be taught but can be learned over years of experience and simply doing the work. It is the small nuances of design that make good design good. As Ray and Charles Eames used to say, "The details are not the details, they make the design." You must also know the rules of good design in order to break them. A lot of designers break them just for the sake of it and that design never truly lasts. They are simply moments of fleeting, trendy design.
What are some of the major differences you need to be aware of when targeting businesses in the luxury good niche? How does your approach differ from say a more traditional B2B generalist agency?
Firstly, how does your own business look to others. What does your visual communication say about your company? When targeting a luxury brand you must have the goods and expertise to back it up. Your design aesthetic must be aligned with theirs. Simplicity, sophistication and above all showing a good solid grasp of design hierarchy and image selection. You must also show experience and depth in that specific luxury industry you are targeting. Traditional B2B agencies tend to cater to everyone. We are not like that. We never have been like that. We make sure we put out work that we want to attract. We believe in quality versus quantity. Lesser is always better in my eyes.
Currently, what are you best growth channels? How do you go about finding clients today (or having them find you)?
Word of mouth has always been a key driver for new business at Flat 6 Concepts. Our second best channel would be our organic Google search keywords associated with our offerings. Since day one we have focused on three simple words. "Luxury Branding Agency". If you are in Los Angeles and google "luxury branding agency" Flat 6 Concepts comes up organically in the first three spots. Not bad considering there are hundreds of design agencies in the Southern California market offering similar services. We try to market on numerous channels such as direct email / blogging etc. I am asked on many occasions to comment on certain news stories pertaining to luxury branding and advertising and that picks up traction and leads. We seldom advertise. We also make sure our Google listing ranks high for our specific niche.
What are you agency's worst performing growth channels and why do you think that is?
Advertising on facebook / instagram / linkedin. Too many wannabe part time gig designers with no experience in corporate brand identity muddy the waters for many design agencies. Fortunately or unfortunately the playing field becomes even on social media platforms.
If you had to double down on just one growth activity today to help Flat 6 Concepts grow, what would that activity be and why?
Sending an incredibly designed self promo through regular mail. Think of a custom box of sorts, containing some great marketing material of what you offer etc. Great packaging never gets thrown away and it always gets opened!
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see other agency owners (especially early stage agency owners) make and why do you believe these mistakes are made? What can be done to avoid these common traps?
The biggest mistake is trying to be everything to everyone. The narrower the focus you have, the more successful you will be. Sure, when starting out, sometimes you have to take on random work to pay the bills, but be careful what you show to the world. Because what you put out is what you will bring in.
Lastly, if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself three pieces of advice with respect to growing and managing a successful brand design agency, what would those three pieces of advice be and why?
Keep educating yourself by reading and contributing to blogs and stories about design. Do more pro bono work to gain experience, make connections and always stay curious. And lastly never stop asking "what if?"
This has been a fantastic interview. Thank you greatly for taking the time to chat with Filecamp’s blog readers today Christos. We truly appreciate your insights about how you approach helping your agency’s clients brand and grow their companies. I know the readers of our blog will have taken a lot away from this interview. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Flat 6 Concepts you can follow them on Twitter or head over to their website here.
MENTIONED IN THIS POST: @Flat6Concepts
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