In 1972, two former aerospace industry employees left their careers to pursue a passion for cars and design, founding the marketing firm Designory in an old Victorian-style home on 6th Street and Elm Avenue in Downtown Long Beach. As Chief Creative Officer Lynne Grigg – who has been with the firm for more than two decades – recalled, the company soon outgrew the space, and owners Dave Almquist and Steve Fuller acquired an apartment building next door to convert to additional office space.


Today, Designory occupies three floors of an office building on Ocean Boulevard, where 250 employees are based. The creative marketing company was originally founded in Long Beach for the city’s proximity to clients like Nissan and Toyota, which have since moved their U.S. headquarters elsewhere. But rather than leaving its long time home, Designory has stayed put in Long Beach, an evolving city Grigg called “vibrant.”

Lynne Grigg is chief creative officer at Designory, a creative marketing agency founded in Long Beach in 1972. The first floor of the firm’s downtown office, where she’s pictured, is almost entirely devoted to one of its top clients, Nissan. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


“It’s ironic now that none of those clients are here any­­­more,” Grigg said. “All of our clients are remote, but what we’ve done is we’ve expanded offices to where they are. So this is like the mother ship.” Designory now has offices in Chicago, Nashville, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong and Paris.


Long Beach has changed quite a bit since Designory first opened its doors and, as Grigg views it, the changes have been for the better. In the company’s early days, people would occasionally come off the street and collapse on the steps of its Victorian house, she recalled.


“There used to be quite a bit of gang activity,” Grigg said. “It was tough. But now it’s so much safer, so much cleaner  and, again, it’s vibrant.”


“There’s something great about the vibe in Long Beach. It doesn’t feel like you’re in L.A. It’s got a richness,” Grigg reflected. “I think that’s important for a creative company.” Development and improvements in the downtown area, including on Pine Avenue and at the convention center, are adding to this vibe, she noted.


Designory works closely with California State University, Long Beach, to draw from its design program’s talent pool. “I started a program with Tor Hovind, who’s one of the design professors at Cal State, about 12 years ago,” Grigg said. “I thought, we get so many of our best creative people from that program. I wanted to find a way to not only tap into the best and the brightest but also to help demonstrate to them what a great company Designory is.”


Each year, Designory takes on a senior class from the university’s design program, and that class works on a project for one of Designory’s clients. They receive academic credit toward their coursework. “They’re young people, and we want to use them as essentially a focus group to do research, to identify what motivates them,” Grigg explained.

Designory’s sprawling offices in Downtown Long Beach, which take up three floors of an Ocean Boulevard office building, include an array of in-house technology and equipment to meet client needs, including this video production room. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


This is just one of the ways the firm contributes to the community, according to Grigg. “We spend a lot of money at the local restaurants as well. We’re definitely foodies around here,” she said. “And we’re always looking for good pro bono opportunities.”


One of Designory’s biggest clients from the beginning has been Nissan. Nearly the entire first floor of the firm’s offices is devoted to servicing this client by coming up with new and interactive ways to engage consumers with the product.


One of their recent accomplishments has been the creation of a mobile application for tablets that allows customers to learn about every vehicle Nissan produces. Customers can click through a detailed description of a vehicle to aid in their purchasing decision, or if they already know what they want, they can open an interactive section of the mobile brochure that provides details of each model and allows users to visually experiment with color and accessory choices.


“The idea here is people don’t realize how websites are very difficult to navigate to get the information you need about cars. This is a much more linear approach to how someone would learn about a vehicle,” Grigg said while swiping through the application on an iPad. “What we’re finding is the average time spent on the tablet version of these applications is 20 to 40 minutes. And the average website is one to three minutes,” she noted. “This is a device that the dealers love, so all the sales guys are now carrying around these iPads.”


The firm also recently “won a ton of awards” for a video advertisement they produced for Nissan’s Juke – a somewhat “funny looking car” that’s unique for its ability to have custom color accents added to it, Grigg noted. But the firm doesn’t just win awards for its videos. At just one recent awards ceremony, the Horizon Interactive Awards, Designory and its work took home six prizes, including the “2015 Distinguished Agency” recognition.


Designory’s roots serving the auto industry are still well entrenched today. Major clients include Infiniti, Subaru and Audi, for which Designory produces a full-fledged magazine. It’s these accounts that have spurred the company’s international growth, Grigg said. But the creative agency has also expanded beyond the automotive industry, with major clients like Regal Entertainment Group, Peninsula Hotels and HP Inc.


Designory’s services are comprehensive. It offers integrated marketing online and in print, digital strategy services, content marketing, user experience and design services, technology development, point of purchase tools, social media strategy, search engine optimization and analytics. Some offices have certain specialties – the Chicago office, for example, is well known for its web design expertise, according to Grigg.


The late Dave Almquist had a vision for the company to “do things better, faster, more logically, at a fair price and never screw up,” Grigg said.


“We’ve really grown with our clients. It’s funny – we always say we’re like a virus. Once we get in, we grow – in a good way,” Grigg said. “We have really grown from being originally collateral experts to product content specialists. And there’s really nobody who does what we do.”

Chief Creative Officer Lynne Grigg has been with Designory since 1988, back when it was still at its original location in a Victorian house in Downtown Long Beach. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


Designory’s name is made up of two concepts that drive the firm’s work – design and story. “Storytelling” has become a bit of a buzzword in the marketing world in recent years, with many creative firms boasting that they’re master storytellers on their websites. While its overuse has made the word “bankrupt,” as Grigg put it, she believes Designory still has a unique spin on the concept.


“Honestly, what distinguishes our storytelling is our foundation in the product. That really is our secret sauce. It is what makes us different,” Grigg said. “We look at everything from the product point of view first, and that inspires the creative solution,” she explained. “It’s that product insight that really no other companies look at. They may look at it superficially. We look at it in depth, and we uncover stories about our clients’ products that they are not often aware of. And it’s that kind of insight that our clients rely on us for.”


Grigg continued, “We love complexity. We love diving deep. We are specialists at making the complex simple, understandable and beautiful. And that has always been who we are and what we do, even today.”


Changes in consumer behavior, many of which are being driven by the Millennial generation, are altering Designory’s focus in certain areas, shifting its emphasis to digital and social media strategies. “If everybody is doing everything [while] holding their device, that changes how you need to get your message across,” Grigg said. “How do you optimize the experience on that platform? It’s really all about, how do you connect with people on the screens that they are taking with them everywhere?”


Grigg reflected, “I’m super proud of this company. And I feel that we have embodied what was truly special about the Designory back from the Victorian house days to today.”


She concluded, “We are master craftsmen and subject matter experts, and our work shows it. And our lengthy client relationships prove it.”