For more than 25 years, Smart Set has been proving that print is far from dead. This B Corp has a reputation for being one of the oldest desktop publishing companies in Minneapolis and while the times are a’changin’, their passion for print as a craft and dedication to keeping that craft cultivated with every project is stronger than ever. Read on to find out more about owner Kevin Brown and his Minneapolis, MN-based B Corp.
The journey from employee to small business owner: “I moved to Minneapolis after college to do a journalism internship at a local alternative newspaper called Northern Sun News. The volunteer editor was named Howard Liebhaber and we became fast friends while he taught me about traditional typesetting (this was in 1986, before the desktop publishing revolution). I was immediately fascinated with how the technology and craft could enhance the messaging of whatever we wanted to communicate. For a small antinuclear group that had used mimeograph machines in the past, to see our ideas published in attractive layouts, with images and well-crafted typography made me realize the power of providing access to voices and opinions that did not have the backing of big corporate interests and loads of cash. I became the first full time employee in 1986 and took over the company five years later after the tragic murder of Howard. I have been the owner for 25 years, over that time we’ve transitioned from being traditional typesetters to a pre-press service bureau working primarily B2B. Our involvement in color proofing led us to some of the early innovations in digital printing, and for the last 10 years or so we’ve evolved into a full-service B2C boutique quick printer, with a an emphasis on skilled technicians with a graphic design background, high-touch customer service and quality materials and processes.”
Destined for B Corp formation since day one: “While we’ve always done a lot of behind the scenes work to support our local community, and we’ve been committed from day one to help transition the printing industry from chemical based offset printing to clean digital printing, being able to go to a potential client and say that we’re a Certified B Corp gives us credibility. We do indeed walk the talk, that our efforts in improving the environment, creating a diverse and equitable working environment, and helping make our community and world a better place are ‘baked in’ to everything we do as a business.”
How we breathe meaning into print media: “As printing services become more and more of a commodity, we’ve created a new business model for people who want more involvement in choosing from a wide range of custom materials, who want to see samples, or an actual hard copy proof of their job. In many cases our work is collaborative, as we apply our knowledge of different processes and choices to help a client realize their unique vision, whether it’s their wedding invites or a beautifully crafted book of their poetry. All of our jobs are custom, uniquely tailored to our clients’ likes and needs. As a result, we’ve been able to focus on creating printed materials that people want to keep, whether that takes the form of books, notecards, business cards, or fine art posters. This is meaningful work for our staff and for our clients.”
Living the “B The Change” motto by recycling: “We carry all weights of 100% post-consumer recycled waste paper in our shop at all times and we don’t charge a penny more to print using recycled papers. We don’t want to make people decide whether to save money or save the earth.”
If you want to form a B Corp… “Do it first for yourself. While it may help bring in new customers and increase the bottom line, you have to believe that your business can make a difference, today and every day. Think about what you can do to disrupt the dominant paradigm, how you can incorporate your values into the culture of your organization, and how you can create partnerships and alliances in your local community.”
How the B Corporation movement is taking off: “Businesses that wear their values on their sleeves are becoming more and more common, and with all the competition in your community and globally, consumers are looking for an authentic brand experience. You may not get every customer, but the ones you get will be more loyal, talk about you more, and feel better about spending their money where they believe it counts. I do think values based business models are in their very early stages and that B Corps are going to be a major economic trend in the very near future.”
Get to know the Smart Set team by visiting their website!
About Kevin Brown, Founder of Smart Set
Kevin Brown, owner of Smart Set, Inc., was born and raised in Michigan and attended college at Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota. He has worked at Smart Set, Inc., for the last 30 years, the last 25 as sole owner. Mr. Brown is on the faculty of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and is active in the MN Chapter of Mainstream Alliance. He has over ten years volunteer experience on non-profit boards, including Seward Neighborhood Group, Linden Hills Coop, and Mississippi River Revival. He lives in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis with his wife and daughter and two cats.
This has been a Fantastic B Corps post, MyCorporation’s salute to the entity that gives back to business and society. Join us biweekly for a glimpse at the entrepreneurs using their small business to “B The Change” in this global movement for good.