Big fish, who’d a thunk it? Winston-Salem (pop. 190,000) has become North Carolina’s hot place to be these days. HendersonBromsteadArt is right in the thick of it, too, enjoying the easy life-style their little city offers while benefiting from its proximity to North Carolina’s crowded commercial and cultural hubs.
This talented group proves once again that there is life, love, art and design prosperity in America’s (so-called) hinterlands. On a recent visit to the old downtown district, a renaissance was in motion and HBA’s fingerprints were all over it. No matter where we went—a housewares shop, an art gallery, a popular restaurant—someone either knew Hayes Henderson or Brad Bromstead. These guys are big fish, but this is not a small pond. There are around 35 design shops in Winston-Salem, 10 of which are the size of HBA (staff of 12). When Bromstead and Henderson were not greeting an old friend or acquaintance, their work was just around the corner: a poster for the symphony or a fundraiser here, a logo for a cool coffee shop or a happening restaurant there. “We have always sought people who have a connection to this community,” said Henderson. “No one can be ambivalent about the good things Winston-Salem has done for us and what we owe it in return.” Walking the walk, talking the talk.
Forget alliteration, Henderson and Bromstead don’t make the agency name easy to say, write or remember. They know it. They offer a funny send-up of their staggering, stuttering, speed bump of a name on their Web site: The idea behind our carpal tunnel-inducing name was to let people know who we are (that’s original) and the profession we’re in (so as not to be confused with Henderson Bromstead Plumbing). We explored alternatives. One option included using the ancestral derivations of our names. For instance, the English translation for Henderson is “Son of the Hedge Trimmer” while the Norwegian translation for Bromstead is “The Brown Place.” Ultimately, “Trimming The Brown Place” was rejected.
And while the names on the door mean that two fellows stand behind the work, it does not mean they take all the credit for it: At HBA (isn’t that easy?), collaboration is the watchword. As for the use of the word “art” in the name, their explanation is more prosaic—something nice about craft and process, something that makes sense but dulls the senses. Yet, rare is the creative who has the audacity to use the word “art” in their company name lest they invite predictable ridicule upon their heads: “Artists? What ho?! Get the hell out of my business office, you street performer! Businesses don’t buy art!”
In Winston-Salem, “art” and “craft” are embraced. It’s a Moravian thing—look it up. HBA is proof; with art in their name and craft in their pitch, they create splendid work for Winston-Salem Symphony, Masquerade for Downtown Arts District Association, Secrest Artist Series at Wake Forest University, as well as lovely efforts for Habitat for Humanity, Dining for Friends, an annual aids fundraiser, and the United Way Forsyth County. “Good-cause” clients HBA calls them.
Hayes Henderson grew up in North Carolina, graduating from Eastern Carolina University (where he met his wife, Elizabeth, or Little E as she is known) in nearby Greenville, with an interest in the lucrative fields of golf and fine art. When he realized that his avid interest in golf would not earn him a decent living and his nascent interest in fine art needed more worldly cultivation to achieve credibility, he turned to applied arts—graphic design—landing a job in 1987 at Long Haymes Carr working for such consumer brand legends as Planters Peanuts, Bubble Yum, Life Savers and Hanes among others.
Fifteen years ago, Henderson launched his design practice after leaving Long Haymes Carr. Bored and frustrated with his work at the agency, he got permission to take on some freelance illustration assignments “so long as they did not conflict with agency work.” But the freelance work did conflict because it taught him that agency life was a drag. After being asked to do a Newsweek cover, Henderson grabbed the brass ring and decided to pursue the life of an illustrator. He soon realized, though, that illustration was a labor of love, not compensation. So over the course of the next decade, Henderson built a successful design practice mixing in illustration whenever he could and gaining such well-known clients as Wrangler, Hanes Beefy-T, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Wake Forest University.
A native of Boise, Idaho, in 1983 young Brad Bromstead headed east, landing at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where he received both a BA and an MBA. There he also met his wife, Anne from New York. After graduate school, he went to work for Sara Lee in their branded apparel division where he remained for eight years, rising to the division’s vice president of marketing.
During those early years, Henderson met Bromstead while living in the same Winston-Salem apartment building. They’d sit out on a wrought-iron fire escape, drinking beers, sharing dreams and offering each other foamy advice. The friendship grew, eventually leading to a lasting, trusting business partnership. Don’t the best? They did their first work together at Sara Lee.
With Henderson directing a team of “mature” designers, Bromstead’s planning and management background, from Wake Forest University and Sara Lee, guides HBA’s account service to high-level, strategic planning and management. “I would like to point out,” added Henderson, “Brad and the account team contribute much to the creative process because their ideas coalesce around sound strategies that can see the light of day.”
With Bromstead leading the charge, HBA continues to build its branding and advertising portfolio with interesting and comprehensive programs for corporate clients, including Lowe’s Home Improvement, Wonderbra, C9 by Champion, Hanes Beefy-Ts and Habitat for Humanity. Logo work for Habitat, Red Kap (apparel), Red Hat (technology), Hanes Beefy-Ts and Maria’s Coffee are exceptional. “I believe we are just hitting our stride in these areas,” said Henderson, “and we are getting the kind of work that can help a company like ours find national recognition and national opportunities.”
A WISE MOVE
It was 2000 and business was humming when Henderson made a big decision: He bought two floors of a historic, seven-story, brick office building on Fourth Street, in downtown Winston-Salem’s commercial center. “The building was nothing but a shell, really. The only thing new were its windows and its roof—the rest was a mess,” recalled Henderson. “But at $20 a square foot to purchase [eat your heart out] we could afford an architect and a construction loan.”
HBA’s two floors cover 7,000 square feet. The space is longer than wide, with expansive views north and east (Winston-Salem is built on a high ridge, so the views even at street level are long). With serene white walls, spacious, light-filled corridors, efficient work zones and custom workstations, the interior design and architecture would make a Pentagram partner proud. The team uses a semi-enclosed, cast-iron staircase at the rear of the building to transit between floors—an unintentional homage to the business partners’ early fire-escape courtship?
The acquisition and build-out came at a time of transition: Henderson’s first business partner, Troy Tyner, was leaving while Bromstead was arriving. But the new office gave HBA room to grow and think; it also made a statement to the community, “We are here to stay.” In the years since, HBA has grown, winning a boxcar full of national awards and mentions in national design competitions. “Awards don’t buy your lunch,” reminded Bromstead. “Every day we must prove ourselves again and never take anything for granted.”
Despite what they say about the intrinsic value of awards and honorific mentions, Henderson and Bromstead know well that peer recognition wins respect and license. For HBA’s most widely known work, poster design, this is especially true.
“Everyone knows posters represent wonderful opportunities to express yourself intellectually and artistically,” said Henderson, “That’s why so few people get to do them. We treat every good-cause client like any client, but we do insist on creative freedom. For example, the poster we did for the local addys displeased some local members. Why? Because some felt it impugned the advertising profession. Well, it did in way because it expressed the point of view that we can get trapped ‘feeding the monster’—paying bills, making payroll, etc.— rather than doing work we find fulfilling and meaningful.”
Perhaps an advertising awards banquet is the wrong venue to remind admen and adwomen that they are ad whores, but it added impact. Needless to say, the addys poster did nothing to “feed the monster” at HBA because the client didn’t pay for it. Irony? The poster fed the souls, even of its detractors, who were reminded of the risk of losing one’s soul in the pursuit of clients and riches.
This is important. People are happy when they enjoy their communities. They are happy when they are earning a decent living and doing interesting work. Sometimes this work involves challenging corporate assignments (making a white T-shirt something other than a white T-shirt). But most often it involves “good-cause” assignments that provide spiritual relief. HBA knows being a Good Samaritan is both good for the community and good for business.
MY CUP OF TEA
The nice thing about HendersonBromsteadArt is that you can walk down its corridors and know you are not among provincials “pretending” to be something they are not, or “hoping” to be compared with something they cannot become. They’re regular folks with exceptional talent. They are content but not complacent; hungry but not covetous; earnest but not obsequious; town but not street. Theirs is a family place, close, simple and true.
HBA’s receptionist, Carol, is 70-some-thing, white-haired, 100 pounds soaking wet and a bundle of energy. She checks to make sure you have directions, arranges accommodations, bakes birthday cakes for staff members, greets everyone with a smile and hands you a cup of tea the way you like it. She is also Hayes Henderson’s mother-in-law. Cracker-Barrel quaint? Old-fashioned goodness? Sure, but rare these days, too. Once you’ve had a taste of this kind of stuff at HBA, you’ll come running back for more. Now, if I could only remember how to pronounce (and spell) their damn name. ca