Marketing firm will rebuild after fire
A spectacular fire that shot flames 40 feet into the sky over downtown Des Moines Dec. 18-19 destroyed Two Rivers Marketing Group’s new home, but not the vision of company founders Tom Dunphy and Brian Jones to not only expand their business, but also foster retail growth in a hot new downtown development area.
“Brian and I both had a vision of owning our own space, so we could control our growth,” Dunphy said. “We found our dream in the Ramsey building. That vision didn’t change; it’s just been delayed.”
The former site of the Ramsey Pontiac dealership at 519 Fourth St. had been a perfect space for them to launch their business plan. They’d carefully scoured the downtown area for a permanent home: something raw and industrial-looking to suit their clients, such as longtime manufacturing stalwart Vermeer Manufacturing Co. of Pella, yet sufficiently urban and contemporary to attract new retail partners. The Ramsey building, which had sat empty for nearly two decades, was a “fixer-upper,” Jones said, but it meshed neatly with a design plan that leaves much of the building’s warehouse character intact.
“There’s something inherently creative about space that’s coming back to life,” he said. “It is what we tried to do with [the agency’s current] space in the East Village – taking something that has been empty for years and turning it into a home.”
The Ramsey building, adapted for reuse by Shiffler Associates Architects, was 24 hours away from occupancy when it was destroyed by the fire of unknown origin that caused about $3.5 million in damage. The situation could have been more disastrous, the partners said. Clients’ files were safely locked away at Two Rivers Marketing’s current home at 502 E. Locust St., and because the owners of that building extended its lease, the agency was able to continue business without interruption. Most important, Jones said, “no one died and no one got hurt.”
Dunphy and Jones hope to rebuild their business at the burned site, which purchased by their Dos Rios Land Co. along with an adjacent parking area on Fourth Street and a vacant medical office and more parking on Watson Powell Jr. Way between Third and Fourth streets. Their holdings have 45,000 square feet of usable space, and their marketing company needs 15,000 square feet now and another 15,000 for future expansion, leaving the rest available for lease.
The insurance settlement will provide enough money to rebuild the shell of the Ramsey building, for Two Rivers Marketing but to remain downtown, Dunphy and Jones said they’ll going to need some help from the city of Des Moines. They haven’t formally approached city officials, but think they’ve got something worth selling: a business plan that would build on the verve of the nearby Iowa Events Center and Principal Riverwalk projects, and also would add to a concentration of professional services in the area. The area is home to two of the agency’s competitors – Zimmerman, Laurent & Richardson Inc. and Mauck & Associates – as well as RDG Planning and Design, an architectural firm that converted the old Ramsey Pontiac showroom into office space.
Panera Bread of Iowa, a popular eatery that has a handful of restaurants in Greater Des Moines but none downtown, “has raised its hand” to be part of the plan to rebuild, Jones said, but to make the business plan work, he and Dunphy are looking for additional retail partners. They’re especially interested in attracting tenants in the food and beverage industry to serve the future needs of visitors to the Events Center and the Riverwalk.
“The location is awesome,” Dunphy said. “As Brian and I watched the building burning, our first reaction was to build on this site bigger and better. Our emotions have swung up and down on this, and it’s still what we’d like to do, but we hope the city will help.”
He and Jones said they’ll make a decision on where to rebuild within 90 days.
They have shepherded the agency through tough times before, surviving three years of sluggish business for advertising and marketing agencies worldwide. As some of their competitors shuttered their agencies, laid off employees or accumulated massive debt, Two Rivers Marketing, a fledgling business that was only a year old when the economy slowed in 2001, emerged from the recession in a much stronger position. The number of associates grew to 55 from about two dozen and clients were added, all without accumulating debt.
“We are very conservative financially, and we’re not ashamed of that,” Dunphy said.
Also, because the company’s marketing associates immerse themselves in an overall marketing strategy, rather than working project-by-project as some agencies do, they’re able to move their clients marketing dollars to where they’ll do the most good.
“Their budgets were down, our budgets were down and the budgets all over the American economy were down,” Dunphy said. “Even when times got really tough, they needed us more.”
“A lot of our clients who had the foresight to market themselves gained market share while their competitors were sleeping,” said Jeff White, an associate. He also said that because Two Rivers Marketing works with clients with niche businesses, the firm was able to attract some new out-of-state clients looking for an agency that understood their specific area of expertise.
“Some had national agencies that were great,” he said, “but didn’t understand their customers.”