When opportunity knocked, marketer opened the door

Christina Quek and Chris Gardner of Cipher Interactive at their new office on Christina Street North, near Lochiel. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

A one-man marketing company has purchased one of its competitors, added four employees, and moved into new offices at 203 Christina St. North.

Chris Gardner of Cipher Interactive is the man behind the acquisition. He was raised in London, married a woman from the Sarnia area, and worked in Toronto for nine years in senior positions with several large advertising firms.

In 2009, Gardner’s life took a sudden change in direction when a death in his wife’s family precipitated a move to Sarnia.

“We just dropped everything, left Toronto and moved here,” said Gardner.

As his young family settled into their new community, he had to figure out a new career path.

“I had no plan. It had all happened so fast.  So I started Cipher immediately, working out of the basement of my house.”

It turned out, Sarnia is a land of opportunity, said Gardner.

He soon moved his company into a small storefront on Front Street but continued to work alone, focusing on his digital skills.

On the positive side, rent was cheap in Sarnia. On the negative side, Gardner didn’t have the local contacts he needed to land more customers.

That’s when he met the principal owner of Innivity Marketing Group, an established marketing business in Sarnia looking to sell.

“I saw buying Innivity as a great way to get ahead,” said Gardner.  “I got their client contacts, a team of four trained employees and their equipment.”

A year later, Cipher Interactive has broken into the market in a way that would have taken much longer had it not been for the Innivity acquisition, he said.

“It’s got me to the table with clients like Lambton County and Bluewater Health. We’re doing work for the Duty Free and expanding outside Sarnia-Lambton.”

The marketing business is a competitive one in an age when many businesses believe they can handle their advertising themselves and rely heavily on free vehicles like Facebook.

Gardner has hired business developer Christina Quek, who moved from Toronto to go after new accounts.

“We specialize in brand development, in website design, advertising campaigns and digital strategies,” said Quek. “We have the resources and the creativity to develop quality content.”

Her challenge in Sarnia is to convince businesses that marketing shouldn’t be on their backburner. She also has to sell them on keeping it local and not taking their business out of town.

A group of community leaders recently spent $70,000 with a Tennessee marketing firm to design a new logo and tagline for Sarnia-Lambton.

“That’s a shame,” said Gardner. “We could have done it right here.”

Coincidentally, Cipher won a national marketing award this year doing a similar job for Durham Region.

“Creative branding is important because really great design gets noticed and that turns into sales,” Gardner said.

He and Quek will be presenters at an upcoming “Tues Talk” at the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce. They’ll be instructing business owners about expanding their reach through social media.

That’s at the Chamber boardroom on Tuesday, March 17 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Tickets, $20, includes lunch.  Call the Chamber at 519-336-2400 to register.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or 226-932-0985.