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Rare staying power in a high-turnover business

By By KATIE BURGSTROM
Rochester Business Hall of Fame - 10/4/2013

Before they married each other, Lauren Dixon and Michael Schwabl combined their skills to advance the company they own together.
 
Dixon and Schwabl are CEO and president of Dixon Schwabl Inc., an advertising, public relations and digital media agency based in Victor.
 
Dixon started the company in 1987. It has a reputation for being a great place to work and consistently ranks among the 25 best small companies to work for, as chosen by the Great Place to Work Institute and published in Fortune. Dixon Schwabl, which employs nearly 90 people, was No. 1 on the list in 2010 and 2011.
 
The agency provides in marketing campaigns and services for some 200 clients. Employees are hired based on a range of criteria, but the No. 1 priority is culture. Dixon wants anyone who works at the firm to have a consistently positive outlook and to enjoy the work.
 
"Everyone that works here is passionate and creative. That's why they were hired," Dixon says.
 
"If you don't fit, there's no forcing. The talent is a given, but that comes second."
 
The firm has been cited for a culture of camaraderie and community involvement.
 
"What means the most is that our acknowledgement as a great place to work was based off of employee response," Dixon says. It is inspiring and rewarding to know that her employees really love their jobs, she adds.
 
Dixon maintains an open-door policy to encourage creativity and idea sharing.
 
"They will know shortly after they pitch an idea to us whether it is something we want to implement or a suggestion we may consider down the road."
 
Fun is one of Dixon Schwabl's five core values. (The other four are respect, integrity, teamwork and community.) Weekly ice cream socials give staff a chance to interact and have some fun with each other. The company sponsors bowling, soccer, softball and other teams in local leagues-even a company band. One of Schwabl's favorite days of the year is the staff picnic, to which family members are invited.
 
"It's nice to see what's behind all the work we do," he says. "We are responsible for all our employees and their families."
 
Dixon and Schwabl say the focus on happy employees began years ago.
 
"Our employees are the most important. If we take care of them, they will want to take great care of our clients," Dixon explains.
 
Dixon and Schwabl have been recognized on numerous occasions for their generosity and community involvement. Among those efforts: sports equipment for the YMCA of Greater Rochester and volunteer hours at the Salvation Army.
 
Dixon and Schwabl support charities whose causes they believe in, but they also give employees time to volunteer for organizations they are passionate about. On Make It Happen Day, staff members receive paid time off to volunteer for any charities they wish.
 
Dixon was well-known in the Rochester area as a television personality before starting the advertising and marketing agency. Her first passion was journalism; now she handles all the PR and business aspects for Dixon Schwabl.
 
She attributes the firm's success to her employees' creativity and constant thirst for developing new ideas. "We offer our clients a wide breadth of services that most agencies do not have. That is what separates us (from the competition)," she says.
 
Schwabl-who was initially hired by Dixon for a creative position as a photographer and journalist-says they regularly use the early lessons of their careers to build the business. And though the two work in different areas of the firm-there are times they will go all day without seeing each other-they are in it together.
 
"It's nice to be married to someone that understands what you're working so hard for," Dixon says. "He understands what my goals are because he shares the same ones."
 
One of the greatest rewards for both is to see their clients succeed and grow their businesses, just as they have done. Success also can be measured by the number of times a client leaves his job and takes Dixon Schwabl with him or her to a new position, Schwabl says.
 
"We see results, and we are making a huge difference," he says. "People really are happy with the work we do for them."
 
"We are aggressively looking for new business all the time," Dixon adds. "We are never satisfied."
 
Katie Burgstrom was a Rochester Business Journal summer intern.

10/4/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.