Jenny Schell is the CEO of Design Rangers, a marketing/creative design firm that she started with her husband Chris in 2008. The business recently joined three other small businesses in the Machine Shop, a coworking space in downtown Colorado Springs. Schell has been deeply involved in the community for many years, joining other graphic designers to create the wildly successful “Wildfire Tees” in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon fire. Her company has worked with dozens of businesses and nonprofits, including USA Cycling, the Humane Society and Pikes Peak Country Attractions. Schell spoke to the CSBJ earlier this week about her company, her surprising background and her long history in the Pikes Peak region.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in the old St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs, but at the age of 4 my parents divorced, and my mom and I moved to a ghost town just outside of Victor, Colorado. We had no running water or electricity and I rode my pony the 1.5 miles to the school bus stop each day. My mom and I were totally responsible for our survival out there, and she worked so, so hard each day cutting wood, hauling water, cooking our meals on a wood-burning cook stove, all while working full-time to support us. Just before I turned 10, my mom remarried and we moved out of the ghost town and into a school bus with my stepdad. We traveled the country, experiencing countless adventures while we were on the road — from a short stint on a commune in Tennessee to the birth of my brother in Northern California. We stopped traveling and moved to Cripple Creek when my brother started pre-school. I graduated from Cripple Creek-Victor High School in 1991 and from Pikes Peak Community College with an associate degree in graphic design. Right after graduating from PPCC, I married my high school sweetheart and we had a son, moving to Cañon City to raise him.
How did you come to be in Colorado Springs?
When my ex-husband and I separated, my best friend from elementary school was living just blocks from where I was born. She was gracious enough to take me and my young son in until I could get on my feet. My grandparents lived in Colorado Springs and I had spent a lot of time here growing up — I always loved the Springs and I felt like it was the perfect place to make a new life with my little boy. It was then that I reconnected with a good college friend, Chris Schell, who became my rock, and eventually my husband and business partner.
Describe your business — its inception, its growth, its present challenges and how it has changed to adapt to the market.
Design Rangers was born out of a longing to be in control of our future and a desire to model to our two boys that each of us has the power to make our life what we want it to be. More than a handful of people advised us not to start a business — and for Chris to stay at his full-time art director job with a local advertising agency — during the 2008 recession, but for some reason the time felt right. We felt confident, and we made the leap. It was just Chris and me working out of our basement for the first three years.
Design Rangers was born out of a longing to be in control of our future.
But on the advice of our business coach, Laddie Blaskowski, we hired a part-time intern and never looked back. We currently employ a full-time print/web designer, and a full-time project manager. We also work on a contract basis with partners in web development, copy-writing and illustration. Since marketing, design and the web are constantly evolving, it’s a challenge to not only stay on the leading edge, but to anticipate the future. Luckily, the Ranger team is small and nimble, so we can continuously assess and reassess our process and approach, adapting to changes in the market in real-time.
Tell us about The Machine Shop.
Even after a year-and-a-half of working at The Machine Shop, there are still days when I look around and can’t believe it’s the Design Rangers’ HQ. I’m really, really fortunate to be surrounded by some of the greatest creative minds in the city, every day. Moving 25 feet away from our competitors was actually one of the best business decisions we’ve made — they push us to be better, but also they are there for us when we need honest creative feedback or even a shoulder to cry on. For me, the biggest difficulty is when four different shopmates bring in various baked goods on the same day, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad so I eat a piece of everything.
What do you like most about our city?
Being a part of the [Indy] Give! campaign for the last four years, I’ve learned so much about the amazing nonprofits in our region. I love the work that each and every one of them does to help so many, in so many different ways. In terms of fixing, I appreciate all the work that has been done to get the major potholes filled; but man, there are still a bunch out there. This summer, I was legitimately concerned that the tourists were going home remembering the terrible condition of our roads or the flat that they got while they were here, rather than the beauty of our city. Lastly, I wish the homelessness in our community was being more seriously addressed. I definitely don’t have the answers, but I’m reminded on a daily basis that there is a true need for a plan.
What do you do in your spare time?
Well, I love going on all types of outdoor adventures with my family. But I also love a low-key day that involves nothing more than a big bowl of popcorn, a good movie and a nap. Oh, and laundry. I do a lot of laundry.