Photographer and graphic designer Daniel Vaughan didn’t plan on starting a marketing company when he bought a house here in 2006. But meeting Barbara, a specialist in strategic business planning two years later, leaving his job and growing increasingly attached to his County home planted the seeds for Vaughan Group. “I was looking to buy a condo in the city,” says Daniel. “A small square box with a view of more boxes, but when friends told me about their house in The County it sounded good to me.”
He viewed properties with Lynne Stein and bought the fourth one he saw, right on the water on Muscote Bay. “Honestly it took me longer to buy a guitar than it did this place,” he laughs. He was working in Toronto, but, “As anyone who works in a small ad agency knows, you are always just one client away from bankruptcy,” he says ruefully. “My firm lost a big client, and I was too expensive to keep, so I was out.” The way Daniel tells it, he shrugged and turned to his music, starting work on a long-planned CD.
Barbara Vaughan grew up in the Beaches, (“we call it The Beach,” she says) a waterfront community in Toronto with a small town feel and although she spent her career working in downtown Toronto in soaring office towers, “I lived down by the water.” she says. “I grew up canoeing and paddling and walking on the beach so The County didn’t feel at all strange to me.”
When Daniel left his job, Barbara told him, “Go to The County and work on your music. I’ll stay in the city and keep on trucking. He did some freelance work but, really, it was like giving him the gift of time to do what he wanted to do.” Daniel says, “I wasn’t making my CD to make money, although it did generate gigs – enough to pay for the album and some musical toys. But really I just wanted to get my ideas down, to see if I could do it.” Indeed, he did it, and Daniel and his CD, VaughanSong – Twelve Guitars, Nine Months and a Pair of Boots, received recognition ranging from appearing on CBC’s Fresh Air to playing at the opening of The Manse in Picton and a fun session on County FM. Barbara says in her canny way, “When we first moved here and didn’t know anybody, I used to hand out the CD as our business card. It was a kind of different way to introduce us.”
When Barbara finished up a grueling contract, they took a leap of faith and moved full time to Prince Edward County with a view to building their own business along with the third Vaughan Group member, photographer and graphic designer David Vaughan, Daniel’s brother who was living in Napanee.
STARTING VAUGHAN GROUP
“My skill set included strategic planning and marketing communications with large global IT companies like Bell, Nortel, Microsoft CGI and Cisco,” says Barbara. “Often big, messy projects working all over the place.” It sounds like she doesn’t miss it one bit. On the flipside, Daniel worked in the execution side of marketing and advertising: photography, graphic arts, print production. “I started as a darkroom technician in the 1970s,” Daniel says. “I used to wander into the graphic arts department and get them to show me how to do stuff. That’s how I picked up graphic design and I am still learning. It’s a weird business. Every five years the technology reinvents itself, and if you don’t keep up with it, your job – like typesetting for instance – can just disappear. It’s like being on an ice flow – you have to keep moving or you end up in the water.”
SUCCESS IN THE COUNTY
“We saw right away the number of small and medium-sized businesses in The County that were starting out or retooling or trying to grow,” says Barbara. “They all had planning and promotion needs we could fill.” Asked about his personal drivers Daniel says, “I’d rather be playing my guitar all day long! But in my day job, I’d say the basic approach is Never Say No. If you don’t know how to do something you find out how. When I started doing websites I had a lot to learn but I’ve done about four dozen, mostly for local business, and now I’m doing video work to meet demand.”
“What’s different about us is there are a lot of good photographers, good graphic designers and website designers around, but few can do it all,” says Barbara. “Ours is a unique business model we call One Source End to End. I go in at the front end to help them plan, go to market, build branding strategy. Daniel comes in with David to create the brand, logo, graphic design, website and of course all the photography and video as needed to go with it.” Barbara is a powerhouse who speaks rapidly, covering more ground in a minute than most. And she loves The County. “After years in those big ivory towers, all the space here, all the history, the water, the rural culture, it was a huge draw. Monday mornings I didn’t want to go back to the city. We are so happy here, we love the lifestyle. Some of our friends worried about us moving here full time, because they had never been. Now they visit and we can’t get rid of them! Two of them bought a house down the road from us.”
Daniel muses, “I like the idea that the population of the whole County is the same as our small neighbourhood in Toronto, it’s just spread out instead of being crammed into a few blocks.” Barbara warms to the theme. “When we go back to Toronto the first thing we notice is the awful traffic. Mind you, I was once late for a meeting in the Edward Building in Picton because I was stuck behind a tractor. It was the first time I’d used that excuse!”
Then they get serious again. “It’s interesting to work with such diverse clients, from small retailers, like Green Gables and Cooke’s when they wanted to retool, to a new law firm, Mayeski Mathers, to landscapers like Terra Vista, great chefs like Michael Hoy, local home builders like Sage Design & Construction, beautiful vacation properties and community organizations such as PEC Memorial Hospital Foundation. We redid Oeno Gallery’s website and of course we do this website buildanewlife.ca, which is fantastic to be involved with.” says Barbara. “For me it’s about connecting people and opportunities, helping people develop their business successfully. Seeing where they have a need and helping them find support and getting networked. And we have met some wonderful people through our business, like the artists and hospitality people on the Arts and Taste Trail and Welcome Guide brochures. We feel involved with them all.”
Daniel recalls how he came to be the main photographer for County and Quinte Living Magazine. “Barbara dragged me to a Brighton Arts Council meeting, despite my resistance,” he laughs. “We walked into the community centre and the woman handing out nametags was someone I worked with 10 years ago. It was great. She told me about local musicians I should meet and introduced me to Catherine Stutt, editor of the magazine.” Catherine interviewed Barbara and Daniel for a feature for the magazine and saw Daniel’s work. Five years ago when another photographer couldn’t make a shoot, she called him up and the rest is history. “We cover amazing people and their stories,” says Daniel. “Like Mark Rashotte who owns the Empire Theatre. He’s a musician, too, and I couldn’t believe his collection of vintage guitars.”
Barbara ponders on that small town syndrome where like minds inevitably find each other, and Daniel adds, “When you move somewhere new you are making an investment – in your property and in a new life/You want to make it work. There’s a large group of people here who are thinking the same way.” “It’s easy to be part of the community if you have the right attitude,” says Barbara. “We heard about Larry Spencer and his crew creating the Baxter Arts Centre and offered help. Daniel helped them paint and designed the logo. I got involved with PEC Syria meetings and designed their website for them. I am blown away by the generosity and spirit of this community.”
Daniel says, “You can’t come here and just be slick and bring all your city ways. Word gets around and if you go around acting superior people will hear about it.”
“You have to build trust,” says Barbara. “At first I didn’t get much business planning work because I was not well known. But I plugged into Bay of Quinte Tourism, Bay of Quinte Living, the Belleville Chamber, City of Belleville, Glanmore Museum, some engineering firms, and built a reputation and gained that trust. I enjoy that side of my work and we like our diverse portfolio. Not knowing what’s coming in the door makes it fun and interesting. We do quality, creative work and we care and we are personally invested. We also keep rates reasonable because we want to survive. How does that saying go? I’d rather work 100 hours a week for myself than 40 hours for somebody else.” Daniel breaks in with mock horror. “Wait! I don’t want to work 100 hours a week any more!”
Barbara laughs, “Okay, we think hard about projects and take ones where we see merit and opportunity and where we can help them grow. Some small business owners struggle with the complexities and what to focus on. In my work I give people tools. I call it a business roadmap. Instead of giving them an 80-page plan, I emphasize picking their big bets, creating a roadmap or blueprint of what to focus on for short, mid and longer term. Tick off things as you go, keep it manageable.”
“It was a big transition for us,” says Barbara. “Hard to believe it’s five years already! We’re doing well. For the future, well actually we’d like a little more down time! But it’s all good.”
Daniel says, “The future? Ask her, she’s got the roadmap!” and Barbara laughs “Oh yes, I’ve got it right here. Daniel’s photography is the foundation, it’s our calling card, and video work is developing. We are all seasoned veterans, but we keep learning. We keep up with what’s new and we love it. Longer term? We want to travel more.” She pauses and thinks, then says, “We are very happy in The County. Talk to us in about five years about the future. I’d love Daniel to have more time for music – and I want to do more running and gardening. But, hey, we’re in the right place for all that when we’re ready.”
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