For the latest entry in the Observer’s month-long series on local businesswomen, I interviewed Erin Ricks, owner and chief designer of Red Clay Graphics Studio.
Erin’s business specializes in the design and creation of in-house signage, marketing materials and other promotional products, bringing a unique take on the signs and symbols we interact and interpret with in everyday life. During this conversation, we discussed the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, how to build self-confidence through creative work, and Erin’s aspirations for the future of her business and community.
Please describe your business and tell the story of its creation.
We started in 2014 as Red Clay Graphics Studio – it’s me and my brother, Evan, who now works in Macon. My dad currently works in reception and is a financial manager, and my husband is also involved. So we are a family business!
I have a fine arts degree from VSU and over the years I’ve learned to apply it to design and business – how to creatively develop both relationships and the business side of things.
We got our equipment and initial customer base from a sign maker who decided to exit the business. Now that we’ve grown so much, we’re starting to focus on distinguishing between the sign shop that we are, and the graphic design and marketing creativity that we offer. It could be a business in itself!
How did you choose the name of your business?
The name “Red Clay Graphics” was the result of a brainstorming session. We must have found a thousand names…. Black door graphics, green pine graphics. We knew we wanted something evocative, something that tied in with the local culture. We have all walked a dirt road, maybe we fell in love with it. We wanted to capture that feeling of ease, and also earthiness – because we’re pretty down-to-earth people.
What makes Red Clay Graphics unique?
Compared with other sign shops, I guess it would be our design ability and creativity. This is how most people are brought to us. We bring together form and function. We can focus deeply on form because we know we’ve got function nailed down – we know we can build a panel that’s going to last and be strong for you.
Being a family business does not necessarily make us different, but it gives us certain qualities. We really care about each other. Everyone’s ideas are valued here, including those of our customers.
What kinds of challenges have you encountered while looking to grow your business?
The challenge of learning to grow – because the answer is not always clear and the path is not always straight. I have an art degree, not a business degree. I relied heavily on educational resources, and we’re really lucky to have some great resources here. For example, we contacted the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Albany. They were integral when we started to take off.
Supply chain issues have been a challenge lately. We work with raw materials such as aluminium, steel and various polymers. The vinyl itself, which we use for all of our prints, is a petroleum-based product. The logistics around this have been a nightmare. Sometimes prices double overnight!
What are some of your favorite things about the job you do?
Sign trading in general gives instant gratification. You create something and it goes up for everyone to see. You get feedback, you get validation. In a small town like ours, you can see your work in the community every day. It’s a joy to make something, create it from scratch, and see your customer literally buy it, because they love it so much!
Do you have difficulty balancing your family and professional commitments?
Yes of course. My kids are growing up, so it’s important to be there for them. I am also involved in many projects in the community. I sit on a few boards, several committees and groups like this, to lend my expertise when I can.
It’s always a balancing act, checking the schedule and making sure it’s available and open. I try not to be so busy that I lose sight of why I’m doing this job in the first place!
Do you think being a woman gives you a unique perspective on business and entrepreneurship?
Personally, I’m pretty intuitive. I read a lot between the lines. I don’t think it’s just a female ability, but a lot of women have it. I am able to read people, read a situation and tell if a project was successful or not. I’m also good at multitasking – women wear a lot of hats! – and I am very attentive to the satisfaction of my customers. And that’s what matters to me at the end of the day. If I received a rating from the client, I would like it to be 100.
Who have been some of your biggest supporters?
It’s a good question. Friends and family, of course – family more than anything. We are a family business, I literally couldn’t have done it without them.
And my friends too. I know that sounds like a standard answer, but in our small community it’s true, especially when those friends are also business owners. I also learned a lot from some of my clients and developed great relationships with them.
What types of projects has Red Clay Graphics tackled recently?
We have installed several murals in the school system. Each school has its own design and graphics. We also just completed a 180 foot long mural at the hospital, a visual history of health care in Colquitt County.
If you could go back to the beginning and start over, would you do things differently?
I would have taken business or marketing courses at university! Luckily, we have community resources for continuing education, so I was able to gain the knowledge needed to be successful.
What’s on the horizon for your business?
We examine the need for creative services. Maybe expand the creative side of our business into a brand management company, so we can take on more clients, further strengthen our team, and expand our creative services. Websites, Instagram feeds, successful ad campaigns, email newsletters, etc.
What advice would you give to women and girls aspiring to become entrepreneurs?
Always believe in yourself and believe in your own abilities. Decide what makes you different and focus on that. Really work to develop this ability. Let it become your cornerstone, what you are known for. People may not always need your services, but when they do, they’ll think of you first.
Confidence and competence are not automatic. If you can find one thing that you can be very confident about, then you can move forward in your career. Confidence will shine, people will trust you, and obviously that reliability lends itself to success.
Stay positive, learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
I can say Moultrie is growing – we all can – and I want to be a part of it. I want to help change and improve the visual landscape, constantly. I want to ride the wave, otherwise we will stagnate. We are a big hub in the middle of so many places. There is so much talent here. And it’s really just a matter of marketing.
I hope we will be here for a while. I have a daughter, and people have asked me if I plan on her taking over the business one day. Well, if that’s something she wants to do, I really hope we’re still here in 40 years so she can make that choice. That’s the point.
For more information, contact Red Clay Graphics Studio at 229-985-1500, visit them online at redclaygraphics.com, or find them on Facebook.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.