For Ten Gun Design, Edmonds is the place

By Brian Soergel | Feb 16, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Ten Gun Design CEO Janelle Milodragovich: “Being in Edmonds is different than many clients expect. I mean, Edmonds speaks for itself.”

In November, during an event intended to attract businesses to Edmonds, a number of civic and business leaders made their cases for the city. But no one made more of an impression than a rapidly expanding company that has quietly – up until now – already been enticing workers to the city at a furious pace.

That company, Ten Gun Design, wasn’t on the list of speakers for “Get to Know Edmonds.” But heads swiveled and fixed on its CEO, Janelle Milodragovich, when she stood up as an audience member and explained why the company chose Edmonds.

Last week, Milodragovich gave her pitch once more – this time as a featured speaker at the annual State of the City address hosted by Mayor Dave Earling before a full house at the Edmonds Theater.

It’s obvious why the city wanted to shine a spotlight on Milodragovich.

“Ten Gun's story is precisely the kind of case that we hope for here in Edmonds,” Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty said. “That is, for firms located in Seattle or other congested and high-priced locations to discover the business case for relocating to Edmonds.”

Milodragovich seems the perfect spokesperson for her company – and for Edmonds. The 39-year-old is energetic, easy to smile, easy to laugh, and has unrestrained praise for the city. She spoke recently from the company’s future space at 120 Third Ave. South in an office filled with boxes, frequently raising her voice to be heard over a carpenter’s saw.

“We’ve attracted many employees who lived in Edmonds already,” Milodragovich said. “Really stellar people. They say, wait. You guys are down the street? I wouldn’t have to commute, and I could do what I’m already doing? Done. There’s another group of younger designers who make good money, but not Seattle house money. They’re either single or with young families. They can’t afford to buy in Seattle, but can afford to buy in Edmonds or south Snohomish County.”

The influx of new employees made necessary the move to a larger location, which the company hopes to move into by the end of February or early March. Since 2009, Ten Gun has had its office tucked away in the 600 block of Fifth Avenue South. “Baicha (Tea Room) is our second Ten Gun,” Milodragovich said.

Company began in Seattle

Ten Gun partners Jeff Dack, Shane DeBoer and Mark VonGunten (the company gets its name from an anagram, of sorts, of VonGunten’s last name), are all originally from Ohio. While working for Sierra On-Line (now Sierra Gamers), graphic designer VonGunten did some work on packaging design for Microsoft’s Xbox, which debuted in November 2001.

VonGunten soon made the move to Puget Sound, and was followed by his two partners, setting up a small shop on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue. But they chose not to live in downtown Seattle. All three had families: Dack and VonGunten settled in south Snohomish County, and DeBoer in Magnolia (he has since moved to Shoreline).

In 2009, tiring of commutes and the general hustle and bustle, the partners moved to Edmonds, taking about 10 employees with them.

“In part, it was about being in a place where, as a partnership, they could put down roots, and they could have community support in doing that,” Milodragovich said. “It would almost be a sanctuary for them. It wasn’t this constant pressure of overhead and employee churn and commute crush, in addition to the difficult nature of building a business from the ground up.

“Beyond that, the fast-moving nature of clients means we try to be a drama-free workplace, and the drama comes from client deadlines. To make that happen, the partners felt they wanted to find a place that didn’t have a crazy pace, and that was even before Amazon went in and we saw all of the revolutions we’ve seen at South Lake Union.”

There was risk. The decision to move came during the economic downturn, when many businesses were averse to investing a significant amount of money into physical spaces and adding employees. But the three Ten Gun partners zeroed in on long-term growth and putting down roots.

Today, Ten Gun is split into two businesses, with about 50 employees in Edmonds and, as of three months ago, 35 in Redmond at Microsoft. At Microsoft, among Ten Gun’s employee vendor services are designs for Xbox, Windows and Microsoft HoloLens, the latter transporting the user into a “mixed reality” of people, places and objects from real and virtual worlds.

The Edmonds office is promoted as offering “design, motion and marketing.” That can encompass a variety of services, including brand management, environmental graphics, packaging, illustration, kiosk design, app design and development, cinemagraphs and 3-D marketing.

The closely held company does not release sales figures, but Milodragovich said revenue is “definitely in the millions.” The biggest expense, as you might guess, is for staff, which hasn’t stopped the company: There are always several job openings posted on its website. That doesn’t mean Ten Gun ignores its bottom line – the HR director is also the finance director.

Extolling Edmonds

Milodragovich grew up in Missoula, Montana, graduated from Washington State University and law school at the University of Washington, and took work at the Foster Pepper and Littler Mendelson law firms in Seattle.

She joined Ten Gun in 2014. Although she lives in Kirkland with her husband and three young children, she says the drive to Edmonds every day – against traffic – satisfies her restless Montana spirit. But you figure the family might end up here one day.

“Being in Edmonds is different than many clients expect,” she said. “I mean, Edmonds speaks for itself. My first couple of months here, it was great just being able to walk to the Cheesemonger. Some of our one-on-one client meetings are just loops around the city. I was working with a Microsoft client, and she said, I have to go where? I said it’s where you catch the ferry, just north of Seattle. We went to lunch at Rusty Pelican and walked downtown, where I showed her the progress here.”

Milodragovich admits that some clients may hold small-town biases about contracting with a design firm in Edmonds. “When you Google top design firms in Seattle, we don’t rank. Not because our design isn’t fantastic; it’s because of our zip code. That’s fine. We feel the quality of work, our people, and being in Edmonds, overcomes that.”

And, once and for all, Edmonds seems also to be slowly shaking its “Deadmonds” reputation.

“The community is awake at night,” Milodragovich said. “Everyone perceives it as an early bird community, but that’s not my experience in last couple of years. Edmonds is dynamic, and the demographics are changing.”

At Ten Gun, that demographic includes employees of all ages, races and lifestyles. It’s not just millennials finding work there, although Milodragovich admits that, “I almost guarantee you that we employ 100 percent of Edmonds’ man-bun population. Hipster beards included, at times.”

Ten Gun sees a steady stream of applicants from Western Washington’s design program.

Generally, those who Ten Gun hires at the start of their careers have formal design backgrounds earned in college or design schools. In addition, Milodragovich said, new hires have a general love of design and show a portfolio beyond what they have done in school.

“They have a universal skillset of a desire to learn more, to push past their natural stopping point on projects, with an insatiable curiosity and desire to tinker.”

A new phase

As Ten Gun grows its presence, Milodragovich said it naturally will move to become more involved in the community. It has showed that, in a humorous way, by entering Edmonds’ annual Scarecrow Festival. In November, it picked up first-place in the service category for its “It Takes a Village” entry.

But beyond that, Ten Gun has worked on several pro bono projects, including for Cascadia Art Museum, Adopt a Soldier and Kindering, the latter offering treatment for special-needs children from birth to age 3, including some in the Edmonds School District.

“We feel strongly about community involvement,” Milodragovich said. “This is a community for everyone.”

Said Development Director Doherty: “(Ten Gun) looked elsewhere, and immediately realized that Edmonds had the right combination of urbane walkability, small-town amenities, yet metropolitan sophistication – plus great proximity and accessibility for their staff. That’s precisely what our business-attraction advertising campaign calls out.”

The campaign’s slogans?

  • Smart businesses choose Edmonds!;
  • Serious business in a relaxed and charming locale; and
  • Thrive and smile!

It appears Ten Gun Design is ahead of the game.

 

 

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