Archive for August 2009

A New York Minute

August 28, 2009

This week, Christopher reports back from his trip to New York.

C: When I am in the city, I sometimes wonder how New Yorkers could ever live there, and at the very same moment, wonder why I don’t live there. While at a Chess store in the Village at around midnight, I got to thinking how spoiled New Yorkers are. Where else could I find a store like this, open this late? It was not the only Chess store open at that time, or the only one on Thompson Street, for that matter. I don’t know how often I would need to go there, but it sure was nice to find the store open at that time. The night before I was at a crowded hardware store looking for some screws late in the evening. When you are there, you take for granted that you can find anything you want, anytime of day.

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One of the signs in the Fashion District.
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If you can make it there…

New York, of course, is the place for energy. And, it the place for the new. It is one of those rare places on earth where you see a new idea for the first time, right as it comes out. Right on the street. It is THE place where you have to stand out from the crowd. It is all so exhilarating. But, like too much of anything good, it can be exhausting. Too much to stimulation, in too short of a time, is hard for an Arizonan.

I will have to talk about some of the city’s highlights at at a later date, as I had the opportunity to visit the provocative New Museum, walked the newly opened High Line, ate rice pudding (twice!) at my favorite dessert place, saw the most beautiful 7+ foot woman in high heels, and hung out with good friends, and our sister, Cindy. But, the majority of time was spent on the super-chilled Javits Center for the New York Gift Fair. The show was busier than some previous events, so I’m hopeful that the economy might be showing signs of improving. Keep those fingers crossed.

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At booth #3645 Last week, our sister, Cindy was kind enough to help Christopher out at the show for five days. It was much appreciated.
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Here are some of my thoughts about the show.

Going green is still the buzzword at these shows, but I have to tell you that I did not see a lot of very exciting products in this category. I would say that this trend is here to stay, but the green word is used too loosely to have any real meaning yet. A lot of companies are trying hard to say their products are environmentally friendly, organic, or green. The concept is still muddied a bit, but I expect the trend to keep on for a long time… until that day when every product is recycled or is made with a conscience.

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Artecnicainc’s Stretch Bag
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I did, however, think that the Stretch bag from Artecnicainc stood out from the crowd of green products. Using recycled billboards, they don’t even use any glue or stitching to make this huge shoulder bag. It would be great for groceries or laundry. Artecnicainc’s products are always chosen well, and it is a booth that I always enjoy checking out.

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About $350 worth of nickels. Tokens and Icons’ Nickel couch from Johnny Wing.
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I wouldn’t say that Tokens and Icons products were technically green (they didn’t claim to be); they took such things as transit tokens, signs, letterpress type, and anything else they could find to make something new. For example they would take skis to make mirrors, or make lamps out of golf clubs. My favorite item by far was the Johnny Wing Nickel Couch. Made entirely out of nickels (about 7,000!), this couch looked like a million bucks. It should.. I think it cost about $52,000!

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Another trend that I noticed were military and weapon-themed objects. Gun and bomb vases, along with grenade-shaped piggy banks were just some of the new weaponry objects out there. Are they made to scare us, or a statement on the world today? Hard to say. But, while they were intriguing, they did not seem like objects that I would want in my home.

Clean up soap from Social Entrepreneurship Network stood out from that gun-toting themed crowd, and its goal was admirable. This soap is shaped like a landmine and raises money for landmine removal, survivor assistance, and The Cambodia Landmine Museum. It is a great way to remind people in their daily routine about these problems. You can smell great, and feel better knowing that a percentage of your purchase is going to a worthy cause. Perhaps… as the soap washes away, so does the problem.

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I have become really excited about personalization. At this show, I introduced my new customized services, and am happy to say that it was most talked about product in my booth. If I can judge people, then I think that the consumer might want products for their homes, or for their special days, that have a unique and special quality. I believe that people love special heirlooms to treasure, and pass down to their families. It is not a new idea, but I think that this idea is desirable again. I hope I’m right.

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Alex Marshall’s customized dinnerware for the kids. They have cool stuff for adults too!
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Another person with the same customizing idea is Alex Marshall. I met her, and her husband Andrew a few shows back, and am happy that I got to know them a bit more. They now have a baby, and since then have introduced some new baby and kid table pieces to this show. They will customize their hand-made kid plates with personalized names on them. They make very cute and colorful plates and mugs that I think are great gifts for new families. Sweeeeet!

They also make beautiful lamps, and handmade bowls. Talking with them, I can tell that they really care about each piece that they produce. It also shows in their work.

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Place mats and doilies? Yes. They are actually pretty cool these days. I always see a lot of them at these shows, but two makers stand out this season. Modern-twist uses eco-friendly and reusable silicone to make their “doileez” and place mats. They are washable, and very fun, perfect for kids to color on.

I also met Judith of Taïr Mercier from Paris. Her company makes some awesome black and white place mats that I need to get for my black and white plates. Some of her items even have numbers on them… in black and white. Perfect! Sorry I don’t have any photos of them, but they probably will post them on their website soon. When you check it out, it helps if you read French!

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A small sampling of Cose Nuove’s Zoo Lights
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These Zoo Lights from Cose Nuove stopped me in my tracks at the show. They are really up my alley. It is one of those ideas that I wish that I had, but am glad that someone did it well. Cose Nuove brought these fun polypropylene lights from Italy to the U.S.

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Some cool paper products from Bob’s Your Uncle
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I met Michele Yeeles at a Gift Show awhile back, and didn’t realize that she was from Boston. After we talked, we discovered that we were practically neighbors, both of us designers, and have about ten friends in common back in Boston. It is an amazingly small world. Michele, and her husband, Martin are both designers and owners of Bob’s your Uncle; a really smart, terrific gift and greeting card company. If you like typography and bold, colorful imagery (like I do!), you will love Bob’s Your Uncle! I haven’t been there yet, but they have a fairly new store in Boston that is getting great reviews: Front. Check them out, and I think they will make you smile.

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An animal lover’s dream found at Pillow, Pillow, Pillow.
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Pillow, Pillow, Pillow Well, um, Aaron Stewart and Hornet Toys make pillows, but I guess you figured that out already. Not just any pillows, but pillows that you and your pets could love. No need to clean up after these guys. They are cute and will love you unconditionally without the mess. I’ve seen Aaron’s work at this show before, but these pillows are still fresh, and the simple illustrations are really great.

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Modcat keeps the cat box looking a little more modern. It may look a little unexciting in this photos, but I can tell you it is a beautifully simple product with many colors available to match your home decor.
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Speaking of pets (and, I don’t even have any), here is the perfect litter box for your designer cat. Modcat introduced their litter box at this show, and there always seemed to be a line at their booth to check it out. It is such a simple, modern idea that makes me think about getting a cat. All right, maybe not.

There was, of course, so much more. I will mention some other products on facebook and twitter so you can see even more over the next few weeks.

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Design Brothers this week: Christopher’s plates are now found in Dexter, Michigan: Christine’s. If you are around that area, give Abby O’Have’s store a look. They are remodeling, and the plans sounds very exciting.
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Until next week
—Christopher and Greg

Summer in the City

August 21, 2009

This year, while Christopher endures another of his very brutal summers with 100+ degrees, Greg has been enjoying one of the nicest summer temperatures that he can remember.

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Staying cool Greg, Janine, our dad, Marion, and Beth (in the stroller) take a break from swimming at our uncle and aunt’s house.
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Greg who now considers himself a Chicagoan (after 20 some years) still loves to venture around this wonderfully unique city. Chicago has always been recognized as one of the most interestingly architectural cities in the world. Ever since the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition, Chicago has been a draw for many of the most important architects to build there. Everywhere you turn you see history; whether it is the American adaptation of the French Renaissance of the Wrigley Building, or the gleaming modern Trump Tower that was recently completed.

The Chicago Plan
One hundred years ago, a man by the name of Daniel Burnham, and his assistant Edward H. Bennett came up with one of the most comprehensive city plans. This plan was to mimic (given the obvious land constraints) the grid of Paris, with surrounding green spaces and parks, wide streets, and a complete transportation system accessible to all parts of the city. Although all of Burnham plans have not been implemented, the plan lives, with Aldermanic and city government working to continue the plan long imagined.

Along with the much heralded Millennium Park completed in 2004, London based , Iraqi born, architect Zaha Hadid and Amsterdam based architect Ben van Berkel designed pavilions to honor the “Plan of Chicago.”

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A view of the architects works

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Millennium Park is home to some of the most interesting and colorful attractions I have ever seen. At the southwest corner of the park, twin towers have rotating pictures of real Chicagoans separated by a shallow water mall which also serves as a playground for children, (especially during hot nights). They play as the fountain spews water onto unsuspecting tourists.

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The Crown Towers at night

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Near the center of the park sits the Kapoor sculpture, or as it is affectionately known to those who live in the city. “The Bean”. It is a 60 foot plus long stainless steel structure that distorts ones image as you approach it. From a distance the entire city is reflected in its seamless frame.

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“Cloud Gate”

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Throughout the summer, music adorns the park emanating from the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by renowned architect, Frank Gehry. When you walk upon the structure it almost looks like a space ship has landed in the park, but the tentacle-like structure actually conceals speakers above the venue.

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A peaceful night in the city listening to our favorite tunes.

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At the northwest corner of the park lies the Millennium Monument with a semi-circle of 40 columns. The park juxtaposed next to a stretch of Michigan Avenue’s historically significant structures; exemplifies the old, the new, the current and the classic, all come together to sparkle in the brilliant sunset. Only in Chicago.

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The Millennium Monument and Wrigley Square.
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One of the final surprises on my stroll was the Windy City Dinosaur by Sui Jianguo. This Giant red metal dinosaur with the words “Made in China” stamped on the belly is an imposing figure, but one you do not want to miss.

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We love summers in Chicago, and find it even more enjoyable when we can share it with those near and far. If you are in the Chicago area, stay a while and enjoy the scenery maybe we will run into each other along the way.

Until next week
—Greg & Christopher

What’s new

August 14, 2009

As we write this latest issue, Christopher is in New York at the International Gift Fair showing off his dinnerware collection to potential buyers. It is hard to know whether or not the economy will affect this summer’s show, or if the recent positive rumors of a recovering economy will bring the people out to buy. It is anyone’s guess. Keep your fingers crossed. He is a nervous wreck!

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Little helper At this summer show, Cindy [2] is planning to help Christopher [1] out with some physical labor, sales assistance, and much needed moral support.
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Throughout 2009, his Number dinnerware series has still been his number one seller, and still continues to get good press coverage. But, his job is to keep the interest up, and that is a full time job. It is one thing for him to be excited about his new designs, but another for buyers to be just as interested.

Good press always helps. This month’s (August) Better Homes & Garden is the most recent publication that shows his Number pieces. A few of these plates are shown in a California home owned by a publicist, Kelly Osborne. She wrote Christopher a note over two and a half years ago, and then purchased the plates over the phone. At the time, he had few stores carrying his line, and basically knew every customer by name. It still is thrilling and fun to talk to the customers directly. Even if they don’t purchase at that moment, and are excited about a design, it makes his day.

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Kelly Osborne’s kitchen It is so exciting for Christopher to see how people use his plates. It is great to see them used as a decorative feature in her kitchen! You can see more of her beautiful home featured in some recent blogs.
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At least twice a year, he likes to introduce new pieces to add to his collection, and has been preparing for a few months to present this fall’s new pieces. He usually introduces new designs at one of the shows, but this season he is excited to give Design Brother’s readers an exclusive preview.

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New French Number plates These plates are the latest addition to Christopher’s Number series. They are available from un to huit.
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Christopher thought it would be fun to introduce sets of French inspired plates to add to his Number series. They, like their English counterparts, are 7 ½ inch porcelain plates and are sold in sets of four. There are two sets; one odd, one even. These plates work together with the mix of numbers already in his collection. He also plans to introduce other foreign language plates in the near future. Look for Italian and Spanish versions coming soon.

Christopher is also launching the start of his custom-designed plate business. After working with a hotel on some custom designed signature dinnerware, he realized that people might love to have a custom dinnerware setting for a special event like a wedding, commitment ceremony, fund-raiser, or reunion. These amazing events should be celebrated and remembered for a long time. He hopes that others will agree that a special commemorative gift is a beautiful way to remember a wonderful day. The plates below are just a small sample of some options.

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Custom wedding plates Christopher’s prototypes were inspired by our sister’s recent wedding.
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In addition, he is hoping to work with other hotels and restaurants to make a customer’s dining experience, a unique one. It would be great fun to see his dinnerware in a restaurant near you.

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Fin You’ll know when you’re finished with your big bowl of vichyssois when you get to the bottom of this Parisian inspired bowl. This bowl already in his collection is perfect with Christopher’s petite French plates.
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Until next week
— Greg and Christopher

Business 201 (Getting noticed)

August 7, 2009

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Getting down to real business Back in 2004 we all met for the first Jagmin Invitational Bocce Tournament. Kelly [1], Jeff [2], Greg [3], our mom, Barbara [4], Christopher [5], Janine [6], Cindy [7], and Beth [8] all met at Potato Creek State Park, but can’t remember who won.
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When we look back at our businesses, it is exciting to see how much we have learned in a short amount of time. We still have much more to learn, and frankly, there seems to be some sort of challenge daily. Working in our own little bubbles, we sometimes feel a little alone, so it is good to step back once in awhile to recognize our progress. If we can do what we do, anyone can work for themselves and succeed!

While we are not providing ground-breaking discoveries, we hope that this, and last week’s blog, can help you out a little. At very least, we want you to know that you are not alone, and while the business end of things are hard, it is worth the effort!

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Do the thing that you like to do One of Christopher’s favorite places is Yellowstone National Park.
Try to remember to enjoy what you do!
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Back to business Alright… now that you’ve got your product or service figured out, and you’ve finished your business plan (right?)… it is time to promote your hard work. If you don’t talk about your product, and yourself, how is anyone going to know about it? You have to get out there and promote yourself daily. Don’t let it scare you. All you have to do is talk about that unique thing setting you apart, to anyone who will listen.

Here is a general guide that we like to follow: Imagine meeting your perfect client/customer in an elevator for a one minute ride. It is just the two of you. What would you tell them about your business? You have less than a minute to describe your business and yourself, in a focused and easily understandable way. What would you say? Keep practicing on your friends until you get it right. Believe what you say! If you don’t, who will? Once you find your story, you will be surprised by people who genuinely want to hear more!

Here are some more ideas to consider

Learn how to write a press release. It’s not as easy as it looks (and we have not mastered this art), but a good press release can be very important for start up businesses. They are inexpensive to send off, and if you can write them well, they can be an excellent way to get your name and product out to the world.

A mention in a publication, blog, or on tv can reach an important and large audience, bringing those customers to your business. We have learned that a good press notice in one publication can also encourage another publication to take notice. The momentum can be great and makes your job easier!

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For immediate release Greg [1], and our sister, Cindy [2] had a great time on Martha’s Vineyard back in the 90’s.
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If you are going to write and manage your own press kit, we have learned a few tips along the way. We would first recommend hiring a great press agent if you can. Of course they know how to write what is needed, and know the right editors to send notices off to, but, a great press agent can be very expensive. An agent also has to really understand your audience and your product, and a good fit is important. Not all of them get it, or want to really understand your business, so choose well. Frankly, we have found that some press agents will just write cookie-cutter press releases and send them to everyone in their rolodex… whether it works or not. Hiring someone like that would be wasting your money.

When writing a press release, our friend, Barri Leiner, Senior Editor of Chicago Home and Garden says, “A good press release often thinks of a story that would be timely and relevant to the editor. Not simply the who, what, when, where, why and how (which should be EASY to find)! Explore the idea of different angles or exclusives to different media outlets – it gives everyone a little scoop!”

The trick is to make all of those facts interesting, short, and compelling. Hard, huh? If you are writing your own press release, we suggest having a few friends to look at your press kit without any preconceived notions about what they are seeing. Ask them if they have any questions, and use that information to tighten up your piece. Keep writing until it sounds right for the publication that you sending it to. No one said it was easy! But, with enough practice, it may be all you need before hiring someone.

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Be careful of bad photos like the one above Use more recent photos, and ones that are color-corrected, unlike the one of Christopher at Versailles.
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A photo of your product (or one describing your services) would be very helpful. Make sure that it is of a high quality, as it may appear as is in the publication. A lot of the time, editors do not have the luxury of time and money to plan another photo shoot. So, be careful of blurry, confusing, or low-resolution photos. Try to make that photo beautiful, interesting, and clear enough to show your work.

Now if your ready to send the finished piece off, select your press wisely. It is better to try to target your sources that fit your product. Be selective, and select desired publications or outlets. It is great to get an article written about you in your parents’ home town neighborhood paper, but it just might be wiser to get that article in a more focused publication. If you sell hats for dogs, you might want to get Doggie Wear Magazine to publish the story first!

Find out the editors or writers name at the desired publication, and send them off to the correct address (email or mailing address). Do not send blindly, as your efforts may not make it to the right person. Editors are busy, and they see a lot of press releases across their desk, so make yours stand out!

Time for your close-up One thing that we have learned is when an amazing press opportunity comes around, make sure the information is correct. If you can, ask to see a proof of the text, as sometimes they can be very wrong. We have been misquoted a few times, and sometimes the facts are way off. Try to make things clear for the interviewer, and always verify your information. If you can, put it in writing for the interviewer, and double check their story. Ask to see any photos that are chosen. You may not be able to change anything, but you can be prepared if any of the information is wrong. Wrong information can really reflect badly on your business, and can make you look like you don’t have it together.

Not all publicity is good Use your common sense. If you are out at a party promoting your product, or anywhere where someone is taking photos… be careful. Look your best, put your drink down when a camera is clicking, smile, and look good. We are surprised when a person promoting his or her service puts their hand in front of their face because they are shy, does something outrageous, or looks like a drunk when they are playing beer pong.

Be a good citizen Great promotional opportunities abound by donating some of your wares or services for a charity event. Go to the event and have a great time, for a good cause. You’ll meet wonderful people, and help out some amazing charity with your good deeds. Don’t worry if you can’t say yes to everything. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t donate to every charity, as you can go broke that way… but, do what you can! Good deeds equal good Karma.

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It can be an uphill climb
Just like his business, Greg thought that Chichén Itzá was worth the long climb.
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Keep in contact We’ve all been hearing how Social Networking is changing the way the world does business. We think it is way too early to tell what it can do for your business, and we don’t think it the answer to success. Yet. The Design Brothers have recently started to tweet (@DesignBrothers), and we both have individual Facebook, LinkedIn pages, and of course, we write this blog, but it is way too early to tell whether or not it really brings us much business. For us, it really is a great way to communicate with friends, family, and other business people. It is also a totally free (for now) way to promote our businesses, and new products.

We sometimes can’t believe when we see people who have a respectable and well-known business who post inappropriate photos on their facebook pages, or twitter with complaints about their customers. Bottom, line. It doesn’t look good. It is easy to go off about something bad, but, we recommend to read your post or email an hour after you write it. Then, if it stills sounds good, send it off. We also recommend to keep business and personal pages separate. And, again, don’t forget to keep the drunken and naked photos from making their way online!

Be nice to people Easy, right? Obvious… but, it’s true. A little sugar goes a long way. The A number one thing that we like about our businesses is that we don’t have to work with anyone that we don’t want to. And we hope our good fortune continues! Our clients, stores, and customers are amazing, and usually already know our work, so a good relationship is easier. We hope our good fortune continues!

In addition to our wonderful patrons, we also admire a lot of people who do the same work as we do. We might send off an email or personal note to some people whom we admire, and sometimes we have given them a call to tell them that we admire their work. We are pleasantly surprised by most who write back or give us a call. We believe that the bigger you are, the nicer you are. Successful and talented people really like to be around other successful and talented people.

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Well, we hope those of you out there starting a new venture, or in the midst of a bad economy and just trying to survive, get a little inspiration to keep on doing what you are doing. If you love what you do, it doesn’t get much better than that!

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Design Brothers This Week Christopher’s Number plates can be seen in the August issue of Better Homes & Garden Magazine.
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Until next week
—Christopher and Greg