Allied Video Productions: The Long Road to Success
June 15th, 2004 was a turning point for Allied Video Productions. At the time, AVP was a small, fledgling, video production firm. Less than 2 years earlier, Scott Hossner, Dan Walker and Jeff Hart had purchased the company from the founder Tom Marks. Their reputation in the community was solid, their work was excellent and awards were stacking up. However, they were challenged with payroll, and learning the ins and outs of the business side of operations.
In retrospect, that evening would prove important. It was the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’sAnnual Business of the Year Awards. As usual, AVP had been hired by the Chamber to help produce the event. Over 300 people were jammed into the Red Lion Hotel’s ballroom. AVP had worked all day to transform the space into something special, setting up lighting, big screens, live camera feeds and sound. This was one of AVP’s specialties – making over spaces, ensuring everything looked and sounded good for the client, and for the organizations that would be recognized that night.
As the evening progressed, 6 awards were handed out, such as New Business of the Year and Small Business of the Year, culminating with the most prestigious, the Business of the Year. As the suspense mounted, Hossner, Walker and Hart had no idea they were about to be surprised themselves.
As was tradition, the presenter began to make remarks about the recipient, starting vague, so that the audience could begin to guess who the winner might be. 2004’s presenter was Chamber President, Mike DeRochier, and he began by saying “The 2004 Business of the year is a small business… no it’s a large business… no, it’s show business!“
Scott Hossner recalls, “Jeff, Dan and I were all on intercom, calling up shots, music cues and so forth and barely listening to what was being said. We are always focused on what’s happening next, being prepared with the spotlights and cameras. But I remember hearing Mike saying something about show business.”
The next hint that something was afoot was when Tom Hoffert, then an employee of the Chamber, stepped up and abruptly “took over” for Dan Walker, who was running the main camera at the event. “That’s when we knew what was about the happen, and we were stunned” recalled Walker.
As the crowd rose to their feet, the three owners, still reeling, took the stage to receive the award. Reviewing video of that night, it was clear the three were not only dumfounded, but humbled.
Throughout the history of the award, the Salem Chamber had never given this award to a small business. In presenting the award, DeRochier said, “Allied Video Productions exemplifies characteristics that our community values: excellence, hard work, respect for others and philanthropy”
Chamber CEO Mike McLaren pulled Scott aside after the event “I’ll never forget what he said to me,” remembers Hossner, “He said ‘this is a great recognition for AVP, for your investment in Salem, take advantage of it, live up to it.’”
“We’ve been working to live up to it ever since.” Walker added. Indeed, that date seems to mark when AVP’s business really took off.
Allied Video Productions opened its doors in 1983 - a one-man operation started by Tom Marks. Marks had a background in radio, but saw video as an up and coming technology and gambled there was a market for it in Salem. He started the business with a $50,000 equipment loan and a borrowed office space in his church. Over the next 20 years, he grew the business into a Salem staple, producing videos for a wide variety of clients such as Northwest Medical Teams, Withnell Motors, and Cruz Ministries. As revenue grew, he moved the business into a small storefront in an office strip behind Kmart and, later, purchased and remodeled his own building in 1993.
Scott Hossner joined the team in 1990, informally at first. “I was half way through college and basically I knocked on Tom’s door and asked if I could hang out, I wasn’t asking to be paid, just to get experience.” That internship turned into a job offer when he graduated college two year later. Apparently, it was a good match, he’s been with the business ever since, “There were just two other employees at the time, but Tom gambled on adding me to the team, I guess it worked out because more than 25 years later, I am still here.”
As the years passed, AVP continued to gather loyal customers. Many of them coming back year after year to produce videos. “We found a nice niche with the non-profit community,” Hossner added. Organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission found that video was a very effective way to tell their story and inspire people to give financially. Tom often went above and beyond, donating a large part of the work as in-kind donations to help these groups. “I remember thinking, ‘Tom, you’re giving away too much’ but he certainly set a great example about giving back, and being a good citizen.”
A Core Team Forms
In 1997, AVP added two more critical members to the team, employees who would go on to impact AVP’s future as much as Hossner.
Jeff Hart came knocking when he was the Production Manager at Viacom Cable in Salem. He had been a Zoology major in college, but he still found time for his passions of live theatre and Super 8 film making. Eventually he found his way to a position at Chemeketa that afforded him hands-on time with video gear, and he was hooked. Before long, he purchased his own gear and spent two years in Central America shooting and editing documentaries. Later he returned to Salem and went to work for Viacom. After 8 years producing 30 second TV spots, he approached Tom because he loved video production but was weary of the day to day churn and burn of TV commercials. Hart recalls, “I approached Tom, told him I was impressed with his company and wanted to join the team. He took a big risk hiring me, but it was clear he wanted to grow the company with quality, experienced people. I needed to do more than just sell stuff. I wanted to have a meaningful local impact.”
Dan Walker joined the team in an even more unconventional way. At just 16 years of age, he began college as a pre-law student. He soon determined law was not for him and he changed gears, deciding instead to work for a software and design company, Interactive Design Associates. “We rented space in the back of Tom’s building,” Walker recalled, “and we partnered with AVP on some interactive video projects.” Those projects gave Walker his first taste of video production. In 2000, Allied Video Productions acquired the company Dan worked for and he officially became an employee at AVP. “When Tom bought our business, I remember him telling me I had two years guaranteed employment, after that it was anyone’s guess.” It’s likely nobody guessed what the future would hold.
Scott, Dan and Jeff quickly became the heart of the production team. Jeff arrived with lots of experience, but Dan, whose background was mostly computers and graphic design, learned everything else on the job, “It was amazing to see how fast Dan learned production,” said Hossner.
At that time, video production was changing rapidly. “We used to edit on big clunky machines that cued and copied videotapes. In the late 90’s everything was moving to computers,” Hart added. “Dan’s knowledge with computer systems proved to be a huge asset during that transition.”
The late 90’s and early 2000’s proved to be good, but not great years for Allied Video Productions. The team was larger and more talented, but they were just managing to get by. At the time, Hossner was production manager, Dan and Jeff were the most dedicated and talented members of the team. “We had other producers during that time but, honestly, it was this core group of three that began to handle most of the workload,” commented Hossner, “We needed to diversify somewhat, and that’s when we stumbled into event production.”
The team was often frustrated when they would work hard on a video project that was going to premiere at an event. “We would attend the event to see how our video was received, then be horrified as the AV team handling the event would show it on a bad projector, or the sound wouldn’t work, or whatever. It was heartbreaking to see our hard work butchered,” Hart recalled.
“So, we decided we needed to take control, we’re control freaks after all,” Hossner chuckled, “And that was when we added live event production to our menu of services.” They began by renting, and later purchasing the gear needed to do lighting, sound, and video playback for large events. Today, event production is about half of AVP’s revenue.
Sometime in the late 90’s Tom began to consider retiring. AVP had picked up a very large client that took us all over the country, producing the same event in about a dozen major cities. “It was good and interesting work, and we learned a lot about event production in various venues,” Hossner recalled, “but, in the end, the client went bankrupt, leaving AVP with unpaid invoices totaling tens of thousands of dollars. I think it was that experience that drove Tom to retire”
Breakfast at Westgate Café.
“I believe it was March of 2002,” Hossner recalls, “Tom took me to breakfast at his favorite breakfast joint in West Salem and, out of the blue, he said ‘How would you like to purchase Allied Video Productions?’ I think I dropped my fork!”
I didn’t have any idea Tom was considering retiring from the business at such a young age. I certainly didn’t have any money in the bank, and I had no background in business. I knew what it took to make a video and produce events, but I didn’t know a debit from a credit, not to mention anything else about running a business.”
Marks assured Hossner he was eager to find a way to make it work financially, even being willing to carry the loan, but Scott was reluctant, “I asked him if I could sleep on it, and if I might bring others in on the deal.”
It didn’t take Scott long to realize that the only way this could work is if he brought Jeff and Dan in on the purchase. “I looked at the day to day operation and thought, ‘if I buy this business and either of these guys leaves, I am up a creek!’ What better way to ensure the future of the business than to bring them on-board?”
Hossner approached each of them and within a day or two, the three agreed to partner up and purchase the business.
“We knew we wanted to do it,” Walker recalled, “But we also knew we were three different people in different places in our lives and we needed to structure the partnership creatively to make it work.”
Six Months to Make it Happen
The three came to basic terms with Tom in April 2002, with a six-month window to prepare to make our down payment and take charge on October 1. “Those six months were nuts,” Hart added. “We were basically running AVP during the day, taking night classes at the TED center, and meeting weekly to sort out our By-Laws, Profit share terms, etcetera.”
The Chemekata TED center was very valuable to the trio. They took a “crash course” on business ownership. “We basically took weekly night classes, with a week on accounting, a week on choosing the right kind of business entity, a week on Human resources and so forth. It was the 20,000 foot view, but was very helpful” Walker recalls.
“I remember eating nothing but Ramen and Mac and Cheese for most of that time, doing anything I could to save up the money I needed for the down payment,” Hossner added with a smile, “But, the bottom line was we had a lot of work to do.”
Roughly 20 years separate Jeff and Dan’s ages, with Scott right in the middle. They pride themselves on the different strengths each brings, as well as their diversity of opinions on everything from politics to lifestyles. They understood, however, that this strength could also spell trouble if they did not plan for what that might mean day to day. “We hammered out a very creative partnership that accounted for how to share profits fairly if one person worked more hours, how we would spend money, and how we made decisions, big and small,” Walker said. By working out so much in advance, the three seem to have avoided the obstacles that destroy many partnerships.
The hard work up front seems to have paid off. AVP has grown steadily, in reputation and yearly billing. Their client base is diverse in locale and industry. “About 70% of our work is in an around Salem, but we penetrate into Portland and Eugene a lot, as well as Bend and the Coast. But we also have clients as far away as Illinois, Washington DC and Atlanta.” Walker commented.
Hossner adds, “Our clients vary from small non-profits, to large regional corporations, the whole spectrum. When we hire people I make sure they know that we do work for conservative clients as well as very progressive causes. We must all ‘play well with others’. Jeff, Dan and I are very different people, and we look for that when we hire. That diversity allows us to match our skills and outlooks with the right clients.”
And most of those clients come back year after year. “We've worked with Allied Video Productions for all of our 20 years, and they are a not only a trusted partner, but a key element to SLF's longevity and success.” Raved Sam Skillern, Executive Director of the Salem Leadership Foundation. “They also bring a personal and relational approach to their client relationships. Allied Video Productions is not just a 'vendor' for us, they are a key partner.”
The three owners also harken back to the lessons they learned from Tom Marks, “We also give back, sometimes until it hurts, but we believe in being good to the community that has been so good to us,” Hart said.
And Salem has been good to AVP. Since the three took over the business in 2002, AVP has more than quadrupled annual revenue and their team has grown right along with it. Currently they have 9 full time employees as well as a large freelance pool that they count on to help staff large events and busy periods.
“All our success would not be possible,” Hossner was quick to add, “without the incredible team we have around us. They go above and beyond, often pulling crazy hours, to help make it all happen.”
Three Headed Monster
“We like to joke that we’re the 3 Headed Monster. In fact, when we formed a new corporation to buy our current building, we called it 3HM for short,” Walker mentioned, laughing. “Our employees can testify to how different we all are. But we’ve made that a strength.”
Each has a full life outside of AVP. When asked about things most people might not know about them, they laughed. Scott was first to jump in, “I’ve always been involved in Theatre and Music. As a matter of fact, I spent 10 years performing with a crazy musical comedy quartet that culminated with a 4 week off-Broadway run in New York City. It was an experience of a lifetime!”
“You didn’t mention you were in drag.” Walker chimed in, smiling.
“Only for one song.” Hossner deadpanned.
Walker noted, “Most people have no idea I used to be a boxer. Everyone knows I love golf, but I spent a lot of time taking punches to the head”.
“It explains a lot!” Jeff interjected.
As for Jeff, he has a not-so-secret second life as “The Dude”. A few years back, an employee threw a “Big Lebowski” Party and suggested that if Jeff grow out his hair and beard he would be a dead ringer for Jeff Bridges, the lead character from the film. Ever since, Jeff has spent countless hours, and not a small amount of money, collecting the costumes and making appearances at conventions, screenings etc. “I guess it offers me a good chance to ‘scratch the live theater itch’, relieve some stress and cut-loose on the weekends,” Jeff said.
“It’s one heck of a mid-life crises,” Scott added, jokingly.
Along the way, the guys have a couple milestones they are especially proud of.
When talks grew serious about building a Convention Center Downtown, the team at AVP immediately saw the potential. Hossner added, “We knew that Salem needed it desperately. We were struggling to produce large events in spaces like the Red Lion, the Armory, even The Hoop, but many groups were outgrowing what was possible technically, or space-wise. A convention center had the potential of growing those existing events but, even better, bringing new events to Salem.”
AVP worked quietly behind the scenes, attending public meetings, offering input on design, meeting the people that were making it happen. The first year the conference center was open, Hossner even attended weekly banquet meetings to make sure AVP was there to help when they needed it.
Those efforts, and that time, paid off. About a year after the facility opened, AVP entered into an agreement to run the Audio-Visual Department at the convention center – a contract that has been great for both organizations.
“The partnership between the SCC and Allied Video has surpassed all of my expectations,” added Chrissie Bertsch, General Manager of the Salem Convention Center, “Their core values align with our service standards, enabling us to give our clients the very best!”
Not only has the partnership with SCC been a good revenue source for AVP, but they have picked up many new clients when large meetings have come though Salem and had a great experience. “We now travel around the state with numerous trade and association groups, such as Travel Oregon, working wherever they hold their conferences,” Hossner added, “Most are around cities in Oregon, but we’ve had groups take us with them to Phoenix, Nashville, Sun Valley and Coeur d'Alene, just to mention a few.”
Another huge Milestone for AVP came 8 years after purchasing the company. “When we took over, we signed an 8-year contract with Tom Marks to continue to lease his building,” Walker noted, “we spent those years saving our pennies with the intent of purchasing our own building as soon as we fulfilled that lease.” 8 years and 2 months later they moved into their newly renovated building in Salem.
When asked if they ever considered moving the business to a larger city, you get an emphatic “no” from all three owners. Local businessman and philanthropist Dick Withnell, who has been one of AVP’s most loyal customers for over 30 years, commented, “Also evidenced in their success is their commitment to stay in Salem, and not moving to a large metro market. This is not to say they can’t go head to head with any production outfit in the Northwest; they have, they do, and they’re good!”
Their building, on the North end of Front Street, may look ordinary on the outside, but the inside will make you do a double take. When they purchased the building, it was a blighted property, having sat vacant for several years. It had no insulation, no usable spaces, but it was just what the guys were looking for. “We needed a blank pallet, something we could remake for our purposes, something we could gut and design from the ground up” Hart added.
What they ended up with is nothing short of spectacular, with everything they need to run a full-service production company: Six edit suites, a sound booth, huge studio, control room, equipment rooms, a magnificent kitchen, even a pool table and a theater room with a 14-foot screen. Decorated with movie posters and memorabilia you would think you’re in Hollywood, or Silicon Valley.
“We work a lot of weird, long hours, and having a comfortable workspace, with amenities you wouldn’t expect to see in Salem has allowed us to attract a great, creative team. We love it here, as do our clients!” Hart added.
Over the years, AVP has gathered numerous awards, both regionally and nationally. Their lobby sports many of these trophies in impressive display cases. More than 40 awards are on display from video festivals and competitions around the country. These awards cover the gamut from writing to direction to videography, each a testament to the work that comes out of this Salem production firm. When you ask Jeff, Dan and Scott about it, though, it’s the local awards that mean the most.
“We love our Green Awards,” Walker added, referring to the recognitions they’ve received as a green business. The huge solar array atop the building is the most visible sign of these efforts, “In 2015, nearly 80% of our yearly power came from that solar array. The first year, it was closer to 70%, but thanks largely to Scott and his passion for energy efficiency, we’ve been able to be more green.”
The award they are perhaps most proud of is their second Business of the Year award from the Salem Chamber. “We were the first small business to receive the award back in 2004, then we became the first business to receive it a second time, in 2013,” Walker beamed.
When asked why the chamber holds AVP in such esteem, Dan Clem, CEO if the Chamber noted, “After 35 years of working with every business, organization, and government agency - their connections and creativity are matchless. Allied just makes us look good; we couldn't enjoy our successes without them."
Love Affair with Salem
A few years ago, AVP started dreaming of a way to boost Salem’s image. “Salem was too often looked down upon as the ugly step sister of Portland,” Hossner commented, “of course, we know better, everyone who lives here knows better, but we wanted to show off Salem for all it has to offer.” What the team at AVP dreamed of creating was a “Sizzle Video” for Salem – a short, fast paced, glossy video that would show off all Salem had to offer. Done right, it could be a tool for business recruiting and tourism. Hossner added, “It was intended to be inspirational, not informational. No narration, just great visuals and music”
“Over the years, various organizations saw a need for a project like this, but no single organization ever had the time or budget to do it right,” Hart added. “We needed the better part of a year and a significant budget to pull it off, working around other projects and capturing all 4 seasons.”
It was about the time Jason Brandt was retiring from the Chamber that Hossner approached him with the idea. Brandt loved the idea and put his efforts behind it, setting up meetings with numerous potential businesses to invest. At the time, Brandt was quoted in the local paper as saying, “In the 11 years I have worked at the chamber, I have never experienced such pent-up demand amongst organizations for a collaborative project. You know you’re on to something when everyone you ask to invest in the project says yes.”
In the end, 15 organizations, including AVP, split the costs, with the result being perhaps the most exciting 3 minutes you will ever see about Salem, filled with aerials, time lapses, and beauty shots that show off the lifestyle and activities that make our area great. It was extraordinarily well received. “The video was viewed over 80,000 times in the first few weeks on social media,” Walker noted. “We’re well over 150,000 views on our website and Facebook page, with countless additional views on the various partners’ websites. Type ‘Salem Oregon’ into Google or YouTube and it’s the first video you will see. We’re very proud of that!”
Hossner concluded, “Our hope for the video was to celebrate the city that has been so good to us. As Dick Withnell loves to remind us, ‘A rising tide raises all boats.’ That was our hope for this project. A better image for Salem helps draw people and businesses to our community. More people and more businesses help make Salem a better, more vibrant community.”
Dan Clem, Chamber CEO perhaps summed it up best, "Salem is leading communities in Oregon in new jobs - Allied Video Productions is one reason why. Businesses and organizations have depended on Allied to highlight their strengths - Allied delivers, every time.”