While working for a department store in Arizona, Joe Baer began to envision a company that could provide visual merchandising support to retailers and businesses. Upon his return to Ohio three years later, he decided to make a go of it.
He teamed up with fellow visual merchandiser Paul Cook, and on Jan. 2, 1999 their company, Zen Genius, embarked on its first project. Their motto: “With risk comes reward.”
It would appear the risk was worth it. Now in its 14th year, Short North-based Zen Genius helps create memorable events for clients domestically and abroad.
“As a creative person operating a business, you must pay attention to all of the operations in a business as well,” says Baer. “As a mostly creative person, the financial aspects of a business have always been the most challenging for me. I read a book called The E Myth early on that helped me realize that I needed to bring in the expertise to help manage the bookkeeping and finances.”
Calling on SCORE at the outset and developing a network of support from bookkeepers, accountants, attorneys and advisors, has been critical to Zen Genius’s success, he says.
“There have been many challenges along the way and eventually you realize that is part of the norm when you own your business,” he adds.
When he started Zen Genius, Baer’s goal was fairly simple: to create a small business that allowed him to use his creative gifts to provide visual merchandising support.
“I believe we were one of the very first companies to focus on providing visual merchandising as a niche service,” he says. “Today, we’re one of the leading visual merchandising companies in the world.”
Zen Genius leads a popular session called the Iron Merchant each year at the International Retail Design Conference, and travels the world teaching the power of visual merchandising.
Today the company has more than 20 employees.
“Over the next 14 years, we want to continue to offer our unique gifts in service to our clients, and open up the possibilities for future visual merchandisers,” Baer says.