Uptown & The Pinch

Reaping the rewards: Harvest Creative grows deep-rooted relationships in the Pinch District

Dan Brown’s Germantown High School art teacher, Keri Peoples, encouraged him to pursue art as a career, but it was his college experience in Arkansas that introduced him to his two true loves – his wife and graphic design.

“I fell in love with making things, and then when I really learned more about design as a business, I fell in love with making things for people and getting paid for it,” said Brown.

After graduating in 2003, he returned to Memphis and launched a one-man freelance design business, Harvest Creative. That same year, designer Darren Britt joined Brown to help take Harvest from a freelancer’s seedling side gig to a full-time creative firm.

In 2005, Britt left and Brown partnered with Andrew Holliday, whose background in business complemented Brown’s design expertise. In the 13 years since, they’ve grown the company to a nine-person team working with clients ranging from startups to international powerhouses. In 2009, the company moved from moved from Cooper-Young to The Pinch to get in on the ground floor of an emerging neighborhood with the perfect small town feel.

Founder Daniel Brown is passionate seeing good things happen in The Pinch. (Harvest Creative)

The name, Harvest Creative, is an homage to Brown’s time at Arkansas State University and the hardworking people he met there. Arkansas had a slower pace and an authenticity he admired. He loved visiting his friends’ family homes built by parents and grandparents and spending weekends on farms fishing and riding the gravel roads. The harvest is also the time farmers reaped the rewards of their hard work, a time of prosperity and celebration.

“The idea of I’m working hard, and this is my reward. That’s where the harvest happens,” said Brown.

Brown said Harvest is best described as a branding firm.  

“We tell stories and build brands for clients,” he said.

In short, they help their clients build an identity. For some clients that means developing a name or logo. For others it’s a creative campaign, marketing strategies, or brand standards and guidelines. They work closely with clients and build deep relationships, many of which span ten years or more.

“I know what sells and how to sell it; they know how to position my thoughts into something that is relatable, understandable and, most importantly, is a direct representation of my brand,” said Clark Butcher, owner of Memphis’ Victory Bike Studio, a Harvest client. 

“One of the cool things I’m proud about with Harvest is that our client base is across the board,” said Brown.

Clients include Tractor Supply, Whole Foods, and Orion, as well as smaller companies like Broad Avenue-based Victory. They’re currently helping Smith & Nephew on branding strategies for a new artificial knee and designing a beer can for a craft brewery out of Little Rock.

“Harvest makes it easy for all of us here to showcase our best talents and grow and thrive...from the coolest projects to a great working atmosphere, as a designer you can't ask for much more than that,” said designer Ronnie Lewis, who has been with Harvest for two years. 
Designer Mike Force has been with the company 11 of its 15 years. (Harvest Creative)
“We all have the same drive to be really great at what we do. I have been extremely fortunate to work with a team that shares the same enthusiasm,” agreed fellow designer Mike Force.

The Harvest team – which also includes staffers with writing, business, and advertising backgrounds – believes that their work is meant to motivate, to influence, and to evoke emotion. Good branding and design is memorable because it sells an idea, not a product. It’s important to be straightforward and honest and create stories that are compelling and relatable, but that doesn’t mean good design always inspires positive reactions.

Brown recalls an anti-theft campaign he and Holliday designed for the Cooper-Young Neighborhood Association. At the time, the area was experiencing a rash of burglaries and muggings.

The campaign was called ‘Don’t Be a Dick.’ Dick was a character Brown described as lovable and playful but not very smart. In the campaign, Dick did unsafe things like leave his laptop in the car or his doors unlocked at night.

“It was saying, ‘Hey, don’t go into dark areas at night by yourself, don’t leave your stuff out, don’t be a Dick. But on the other hand, it had the counter message of don’t steal your neighbors’ [stuff], even if they do leave their door open,” said Brown.

The campaign was accepted by the client, but the neighborhood had a very different reaction. “There were old ladies that came out of their houses mad as a hornet, but you know what, it worked. We were so successful,” Brown said.

Harvest’s first physical location was 798 Cooper Street in the building now occupied by Phillip Ashley Chocolates. They choose the space because of the tile floors; every other location in their budget had old carpet.

In 2009 their lease was up and they needed more space to grow their staff so they began to look for a new building. Initially, 348 North Main Street wasn’t much to look at.

“The first time we came and looked at the space, the ceiling had a hole in it … there were birds, there was no front door ... I like to think I’m fairly creative and can envision, but I wasn’t feeling it,” said Brown.

But once again, they were sold on the floors. Building owner Paul Mortimer offered to install beautiful hardwoods and work with them to build their ideal space.

“It was truly a clean slate ... Immediately it felt like we had something cool,” he said.

The Pinch District also felt like a place of possibility.

“Moving to this neighborhood, there was a buzz and a vibe, and it still feels the same way. I think there’s still that level of expectation that at any moment, it’s going to pop,” said Brown.

They also liked the small town feel and friendly neighbors. Other businesses stopped by to welcome them to the neighborhood, and they dug the walkability of the area even if there wasn’t much to walk to.

It was also affordable compared to the rest of Downtown or Midtown.

Trophies from American Advertising Federation Memphis' ADDY awards decorate the office at Harvest. (Harvest Creative)“Financially, it made the most sense. We got the most space, we got a cool space, we were part of an emerging neighborhood,” said Brown.

In the early years, they were excited about the Bass Pro Shop moving into the Pyramid and the business it might bring. Brown said the store's opening in 2015 did initially draw people to the area, but the buzz faded and the numbers have leveled off. Now they’re excited about the new expansion of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Related: "A pinch of transformation: Institutions work together to reimagine the historic Pinch District"

“What’s happening behind us coming from the other direction is a lot cooler … [St. Jude’s] best interest and this neighborhood’s best interests are working well together," said Brown.

The Harvest team is also excited about their new neighbor, Comeback Coffee Shop, and what it hopefully represents – a return of small business to The Pinch.

Brown describes the Comeback team – building owner Reggie Crawford and his daughter and son-in-law, Amy and Hayes McPherson, who own the business – as good people who are invested in the neighborhood. In addition to their self-financed renovations, in June the McPhersons earned a $58,832 grant from the Center City Development Corporation for exterior improvements.

Small businesses are important to The Pinch’s small-town feel Harvest first fell in love with. Brown says his business will certainly benefit from the city’s planned infastructure upgrades and the team wants more shops, restaurants, and entertainment options in the area, but they’re fine to keep things a least a little quaint and homey.

Similarly, Harvest’s next big step is also a return to tradition. Rather than expand its wheelhouse, it’s focusing on strengthening what it does best and solidifying the right team with the right skills.

That passion and dedication has been key to the deep-rooted relationships and robust brands Harvest has cultivated in its 15 years of operating in Memphis. If Butcher has his way, it’s a field they’ll be sowing together for years to come.

“After every meeting or phone call, I leave excited and pumped to see what Harvest comes up with next,” he said.

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.