Trio Native American Enterprises
Year founded: 2000
Headquarters: Seattle, Wash.
President: Dennis Brooks
Employees: 25 (including consultants)
Trio NAE is a communications MBE that provides marketing and design, website development, media and advertising, and printing services to clients all over the country. Dennis Brooks, founder of the company, is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He tells us how he got the business to where it is today.
How and why did you start Trio NAE?
In 2000, I had worked for R.R. Donnelley, an extremely large communications company, for almost 20 years. I was in charge of the Northwest region when I left and decided to do my own thing. At Trio, we wanted to craft the customer message and deliver the message effectively. We bring a strategic focus and strategic planning expertise and experience. Beyond that, we just bring the talent. We build a very tight approach to the deliverable, and we execute it expeditiously, with everything we’ve got.
Between 2000 and 2008, we created five startups and acquired two companies. When times are good, you get wrapped up in growth mode—and we just couldn’t bring in business fast enough. We actually had 20 to 30 percent growth year over year for a while—then 2008 hit.
How did you weather the recession?
We went through a period of self-evaluation and self-reflection. We looked at our employees, our culture, our finances, our work, our clientele … everything! We had been on this quest of growth, but we did some strategic planning. Now we’re just a bit tighter in our message. We take on projects we’re best suited for versus just going after everything. From 2008 on, we became much more profitable even though our gross sales dropped from $3 to $4 million to about $2 million. We made some mistakes along the way and learned a lot.
What lessons would you share with other MBEs?
Be responsive—reflect and evaluate yourself. Try to find out what your weaknesses are. If you see that you need to move in a different direction, move quickly.
Develop and build a solid team around you, a team of individuals who are responsive and certainly competent. Trio NAE’s team is just outstanding. We work with Idea Entity, Piraeus Data, Studio 5 Design, ProMotion Arts, and Wright Enterprises.
The advice today really is adapt or die.
What are some of your key clients and projects?
We were just awarded a contract through the State of Washington’s Department of Enterprise Service. We’ll be supporting all printing services for the state. Every agency within the state of Washington will be able to utilize this contract. We were able to demonstrate that the services could be performed better and less costly outsourced rather than internalized. We will enjoy potentially millions of dollars, we hope. This is a five-year contract with yearly rollover.
We were also honored with the Jackie Robinson Supplier of the Year Award by the Seattle Mariners, which goes to diverse suppliers they have selected. We do all the environmental signage for the Mariners—anything that faces the public—and we have to get it together in a matter of hours. It was an on-field promotion at the April 16 game. The Mariners is a nice account to have.
One of our clients is Northwest MSDC. We started with the website development three or four years ago. We rebranded the site, made it thematic with the colors, and now it’s something that’s simple, clean, and user friendly. We’re constantly in communication with Fernando and Mayra [Rivera, office manager] to improve the site.
How has Northwest MSDC benefited Trio NAE?
I met Fernando when I was at Donnelley and he was with Xerox. We were competitors at the time. I had a lot of respect for him then and I have a lot of admiration for how he runs the Council now. We’re always asking the question of how can corporations improve the percentage of business that they do with MBEs.
As an MBE, I see a lot of MBEs and they’re not engaged. You really need to get involved. At the National MSDC Conferences, you’re able to promote yourself and get out there and mix it up with major accounts. By getting involved, you find out who you are, what you need to grow, what companies are looking for in a supplier. A lot of MSDC directors and members are my customers. A lot of our business we enjoy because of the Council.