InterviewWith … Jay Owen
In a world where technology changes almost daily, it is no small accomplishment that Design Extensions, a branding, website and marketing company founded by Jay Owen when he was still a junior at Nease High School, is celebrating its 17th year. Over the years, the business has operated from his parents’ home to his dorm room, then from his home with his wife and now from a storefront on Market Street in Palencia.
Owen said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and learned to build websites when he was 11. When he originally opened the business with a buddy from high school, it was somewhat of a hobby that paid for his first car. Then his friend went out of state to go to college and Owen continued building websites on his own for clients during his first year at the University of Central Florida. After a year he decided to come home and he finished his associate’s degree at then-St. Johns River Community College.
“I debated about finishing my bachelor’s, but by then the business was growing rapidly, so I didn’t,” Owen said.
Self-taught in all aspects of the business, he performed all the roles himself for a time. Then he began using contractors and freelancers for jobs that were more complex. He hired his first full time employee eight years ago and the company has continued to grow to the half-dozen employees now.
“Year over year, we have grown each and every year,” Owen said.
Eventually, he said the time appeared right for the self-described slow decision maker to investigate opening an office. The facility at Palencia ticked all the required boxes: short commute from the home he shares with wife Claire and their five children, open space and lots of natural light. He said he wanted a fun and comfortable environment and didn’t want his employees to hate Mondays.
“The number one reason we moved to our storefront was we shifted to strategy work with our clients rather than production work,” Owen said. “We needed a place to sit down with our clients and learn about their business.”
Q: What do you like most about doing business in St. Johns County?
A: I like the casual attitude of people in the area. People in St. Johns County want to work hard but also enjoy life. It’s not all about work.
Q: What do you consider to be your company’s “edge?”
A: There a lot of people who are good at what we do. But I think it is important to work with people you like. We are capable of providing a wide variety of services in house — design, strategy, print — so it is easy for our clients. It’s been kind of an unexpected surprise that I think our work has actually improved in quality with our move to the office. We can have our whole team sit at a table with a client. This business is one where a lot of people come and go. We’ve been here a long time and plan to be here a long time. We look for lasting relationships with our clients.
Q: What has been your best business decision?
A: Lately, I would say it is the move to the office. I think I undervalued it for a long time. We were successful and I was afraid of taking on the overhead. But we’ve already acquired enough business to pay for this space that would not have worked with us before. We have even had walk in clients.
Q: How do you spend most of your day?
A: It’s a hodgepodge. I’m trying to work myself to the position where I’m not needed on a project by project basis. I like to say I am working on the business but not in the business. I think this is a challenge for all small business owners. All businesses want to make money, but not all goals can be monetary. Ultimately, life will pass by. The children are only young once.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Being patient enough to allow other people to learn. I want to jump in and sometimes I need to get out of the way and let others do their job. Also, it’s been a transition over the past several years as I’ve added employees. My selling point used to be that clients would get one person — me — to see their project all the way through. Now, our new and improved selling point is clients get a team of true experts in their area.
Q: What is your long term goal?
A: My biggest goal is to truly be in a place where I’m not needed in the business daily. I would like to do speaking engagements and I’ve had the opportunity to preach at our church. I’m not really looking for an exit plan, but creating other opportunities for a different lifestyle. This also opens up opportunities for my employees. I’d like to empower myself and empower my employees.
Photo courtesy Jay Owen