Driven by a pure need to create, Fred Spikner has spent more than two decades building a successful career of art and serial entrepreneurship.
“I just have will and drive. I like to stay busy,” said Spikner. “Whatever I can think of, I like to go all in and try to do it. If I don’t know how to do it, I learn.”
In 2013, he opened Park Place Recycling & Logistics,
a commercial recycling and processing facility for paper and cardboard products. In 2017, he sought a special-use permit from the Board of Adjustment to use metal containers to build apartments on a vacant lot.
But his first business, Spikner Screen-Printing and Embroidery
launched in 1995 while Spikner was still a student at University of Tennessee Martin. For most of its 24-year history, the custom embroidery, screen printing and promotions company has been located at 1210 Madison Avenue in the Madison Heights neighborhood.
The shop offers a range of products including apparel, bags, pens, drink ware and much more. Each item can be printed or embroidered with customized logos, slogans, advertisements and more. The company handles orders from single-item purchases to bulk buys of nearly 30,000 items.
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Despite more than two decades in business, Spikner said the company works to stay on the cutting edge of their industry with a commitment to advanced technology and training.
“Compared to my other businesses, I have to stay on top of it because things are always changing,” Spikner said. “We have to be versatile about how we create, introduce and apply products.”
Spikner serves individuals, companies, schools, community groups, government entities and more. Clients include Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Hospital, the City of Memphis, Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering and Aurora Collegiate Academy.
Spikner has nine employees, in addition to seasonal paid interns. Jetona Branch is Spikner's operations manager and leads the team. She was hired in 2005 when the business began seeing significant growth and says the company is still growing 14 years later.
“October to February is slow, [but] April to August, we are rolling,” Branch said. “A lot of screen-printing companies lay off [workers], but luckily we’ve been blessed to keep people here. We do plan on adding new people. We need two more people in the back.”
No advertising, no problem
Spikner specializes in promotional materials but does virtually no advertising of its own.
Though the company does offer online ordering, about 85 percent of its business comes from in-store purchases. Spikner has found word-of-mouth advertising and exceptional customer service to be their best strategies.
Jetona Branch, operations manager of Spikner Embroidery and Screen-Printing pictured in her office at Spikners retail and production facility at 1210 Madison Avenue in Madison Heights. (Ashlei Williams)
"It’s an advantage that you can actually come here," said Branch. "People like to actually feel what we have and see a face. When they do orders online with other websites, let’s say if they find a deal, when they get that finished product it’s not what they expected."
“I have worked with other printing companies before, but Spikner is very personal," said Travis Williams, a Spikner customer since 2017. "I feel like I know the staff. They take their time to actually go through the product and give you the best fit for your organization or group."
“They don’t just see you as another customer," he added. "They see you as a person they can build a relationship with and help fulfill your needs.”
“I enjoy meeting people," said Branch. "That’s what I get a thrill from. Seeing what they come in and write down and how we actually put it on paper and create what they want visually. Just to hear them come back and say that’s what they wanted and cry, hug, scream."
Spikner has faced some challenges as a Black-owned business in Memphis. Branch noted some people have a racial bias and don't want to work with a Black-owned company, but carrying an official certification as a minority-owned business has also helped draw customers.
“Some companies and corporations have to give a certain percentage to minority-owned business," said Branch. "But, if you don’t have your certification and haven’t gone through the process you won’t get the business."
Growth in Madison Heights
Madison Heights marks the eastern edge of the Medical District and surrounds the intersection of Madison Avenue and Cleveland Street. Its distinct name and unique identity are historic, dating back to the late 1890s, but they aren't well-known among Memphians today.
Most people refer to it as Midtown or Crosstown, as it is situated between the two. Regardless of what it's called, Spikner said the location is ideal and centrally located at the "heart of the city."
"The growth potential in this area is limitless which makes it an easy decision to continue investing in this vicinity," he said. “It’s exciting to see the changes the area has already undergone."
Fred Spikner is a serial entrepreneur with three successful business. His first, Spikner Embroidery and Screen-Printing, has been in business in Madison Heights for 24 years. (Ashlei Williams)
The area hasn't seen the same level of renewed investment as neighboring Overton Square or Crosstown Concourse, but Spikner has been around long enough to have seen new businesses emerging and a growing sense of community in Madison Heights.
“Phillip Ashley [Chocolates] is now here and we visit all of the time," said Branch. "He sends business here and we send business there. Southern College of Optometry is also here and we do their security uniforms for their staff,” Branch said. “We also frequent the restaurants in Midtown and I have an employee that lives on Madison so it’s great for him.”
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Spikner said building community has become a core tenant of his own entrepreneurial endeavors, which include owning the building where Phillip Ashley Chocolates is located.
“I give people opportunities to grow and be business owners themselves," said Spikner. "I like to help people and create jobs. I want to be a pillar in the community.”
Spikner hopes that within the next five years Madison Heights will be a bustling area that offers amenities for both businesses and residents, including a variety of sustainable housing options and more businesses for both work and play.
“I see a neighborhood rallied around a shared commitment to change and a strategy to make the community safe, clean, attractive, marketable and profitable,” Spikner continued. “I envision [it becoming] a truly competitive metropolitan destination for residents, existing and new businesses.”