GALLIPOLIS — Rocket VII Interactive launched in 2013 as an advertising business, when Silver Screen VII owners Robbie and Tessa Pugh partnered with the local online news site for ad sales.
According to Robbie Pugh, the cinema started selling advertising space on day one, so stepping into a separate business devoted to just advertising sales was a simple move. When it became apparent there were opportunities available outside of the cinema, the decision to start Rocket VII was easy, especially since they were able to launch it with zero upfront cost.
“We opened the checking account for Rocket VII with a check from an invoice, paid by an advertiser. So we literally started Rocket VII without any money out of pocket,” he said, “which I think is pretty cool because I hear people all the time say you have to have money to start a business. And it is true under most circumstances, it does take money and it’s expensive to start a business, but we literally started Rocket VII with money that came in from a customer. We relied on our reputation, which we worked really hard to build in that short amount of time.”
Once the new business showed promise, Pugh said the advertising at the cinema was also turned over to the fledgling company.
Over the past two years, Rocket VII has continued to grow and expand into a marketing solutions business, complete with digital billboards, website design and graphic design services.
The idea for the digital billboards came out of a family trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“We’re always looking at ways to branch off of what we’re currently doing,” Pugh said. “We have these customers. We have these relationships. What else are they looking for and what can we do?”
In Myrtle Beach, he said digital billboards are popular, so they decided to research the possibility of bringing those billboards to Gallia County. The first Rocket VII digital billboard was erected on Eastern Avenue.
“It was probably the hardest thing we had ever done, because of the red tape with local permits, state permits and securing the property,” Pugh said. “We learned a lot with the first billboard because, locally, inside the city limits, the City of Gallipolis has a no billboard ordinance, so we had to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals to get a variance to even put that billboard up.”
During his hearing, he said he told members of the board the billboard was just the first step in growing the business and, if all goes as planned, it will create jobs in the future and a downtown office.
“Now, two years later we have five boards. We have an office downtown. We have a website designer and graphic designer. We have a director of social media marketing for all of our businesses. We have an account representative,” Pugh said. “So, everything we told the Board of Zoning Appeals has come to fruition so far. We’re really excited about that. I have five people at my office who are graduating from college and they’re probably going to have jobs coming out of college, because of that first billboard on Eastern Avenue.”
Pugh said there was also a learning curve with securing state approval for the billboard because of its location on Eastern Avenue.
“That first one was very, very difficult. It was like trial by fire because we learned a lot on that first billboard,” he said.
Since then, Rocket VII has been able to erect billboards in Gallia, Jackson and Pomeroy.
“We want to grow. We’re trying to grow. It just takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort. A lot of open doors seem to close relatively quickly when you start talking about putting up a 200-square-foot digital display in a small town. But it’s good. It’s great. We love it,” Pugh said.
Offering website and graphic design actually started, just to assist the Pughs with their own businesses, Silver Screen VII, Pip & Hud’s and Rocket VII Interactive. Pugh said he saw the local need, but was hesitant at first to expand it as an actual service offered to other businesses.
“It all comes down to reputation. It’s very important if we do something for somebody, it has to be done right. They have to be happy with it. They have to be happy with the price they paid and it has to function,” he said.
The first organization the company contracted with, for website design, was the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce.
“It was kind of an audition for our website designer. He’s been pushing me to do it. There’s a need in Gallipolis. There’s nowhere to get a website designed. There are so many small businesses in Gallia County that don’t have websites and it sometimes boils down to, they just don’t know where to get one. So my employees have been pushing me to try it,” Pugh said. “Because of the chamber’s positive reviews of the process and our web designer, Adam Johnson, it gave me the proof I needed to move forward. So now we have packages in place and are actively promoting our website design services to local businesses.”
Websites most recently designed by Rocket VII Interactive include www.galliacounty.org, www.pipandhuds.com, www.rocketvii.com, galliagotsole.com, thebeautybar404.com and putnamprincessparties.com.
In addition to website design, Rocket VII interactive also offers logo, billboard advertising and marketing material design, and recently partnered with Bossard Memorial Library for an upcoming event.
“We’ve branched out and gotten into a lot of different things. The needs we had are the same needs everyone else has,” Pugh said.
Overall, Pugh said the most rewarding part of owning all three of their businesses has been the staff, many of whom have been with them since the opening of the cinema and have since moved up into other positions.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is, we’ve been with these kids for so long, we’ve seen them grow. We have meetings and we talk about our goals for the month, what we are going to promote and market. It’s not a school assignment. It’s not for fun. It’s real life. It’s real business,” Pugh said. “That’s the most rewarding part of the whole thing, seeing the growth.”
Recently, the Pughs held a unique application process for their businesses. Instead of the standard application process, they asked applicants to compose a one-page essay about why small business is vital to the local economy and what separates a small business from a major corporation.
Pugh said the response was phenomenal and inspiring.
As far as owning their own businesses, Pugh said it has been on both his and Tessa’s career path since the beginning.
“I’m a sports junkie, so I’m competitive. I think business is the closest you can get to playing sports and still be competitive because at the end of the day it’s all about numbers. Did you make money? Did you not make money? And I think that filled the void for me, for competitiveness. I want to be the best. I want to win. I think business is a good outlet for that,” he said. “But also, because my mentors and role models growing up were all business people. So the people I always looked at with the highest regard, I want my kids to see me like that. I want my kids to think about me the same way Tessa thinks of her grandfather, who was a prominent business professional. There’s also the goal of financial freedom and overall freedom that comes with being a business owner.”
Pugh said most people do not understand, while there is a certain amount of freedom that comes with owning a business, you are also tied down to that business, in other ways 24/7.
“It’s more than 9 to 5. It’s all day, every day. And it’s great. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, but it’s all day, every day,” he said.
Most recently, Pugh said he realized if Gallia County wants to experience growth, someone is going to need to take those first steps and it might as well be them.
“A couple of years ago, we were always guilty of saying, ‘I wish they’d open up a yogurt shop. I wish they would open up this. I wish they’d do that,’” he said. “And then one day I just said, ‘Who in the heck is they?’ ‘They’ does not exist. We want to improve the community. We want to have some of the things they have in a bigger city, in a bigger town. The people of Gallipolis are entitled to that. We deserve nice things. We want to see other people open up some cool and unique locations. We have to be the ‘they.’”
For more information about Rocket VII, visit www.rocketvii.com, stop by their downtown location at 300 2nd Avenue, Gallipolis or call (937) 474-9427.
Michelle Miller is executive director of the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce.