Chris Middleton took his time to discover a life path after graduating Van Buren High School. After a one year hiatus in Little Rock, he returned to Fort Smith to study digital design at UAFS. He was one in a class of 15 students, and asking himself, “What do I do with an animation degree in Fort Smith, Arkansas?”
Having met his wife Kim while in college, it seemed only natural to seek out job opportunities in the area where they both had strong family ties. For seven years, Chris took various jobs in the retail sector that had nothing to do with digital design. Finally, a break came in 2008 with the advent of “live streaming,” where he discovered real opportunity to ply his skills.
He began working with several local churches to live stream their Sunday services. Joining up with a friend, he left Fort Smith to provide live streaming video for church services in the Tulsa area, which had a much larger base of potential customers. By 2010, his path led home to Fort Smith. It was at this time that he and his wife, Kim, opened up Branchout Studios.
Working from a computer in a bedroom corner, they began a business focused on website design, digital and video content. Their business pool consisted of churches, start-up businesses, and boutique shops. The big break in video came in 2011, when Pernod Ricard commissioned Branchout for a marketing video. It was the largest production they had done at the time. “It was a real confidence booster,” recalls Chris.
For two years, Chris and Kim worked primarily as a team, building their business. Finally, in 2013, they were able to lease office space in downtown Fort Smith. Demands for website design continued to grow. Video was in greater demand throughout the area. Branchout Studios had branched out into a full-fledged multimedia design studio, adding logo development and branding services to their service menu.
Five years later, Branchout is once again expanding, with a move to the Chaffee Crossing Historic District, where they have just completed the renovations for their permanent new home. With 3100 square feet at its disposal, Branchout has plenty of room to grow.
“We expect to lease out about 1500 square feet for the next few years,” Chris explains. “With 1600 square feet we can house video, web, and photography which are our main sources of income. With the overhead doors, we can even bring in a vehicle to do a product shoot. Our possibilities are endless. It is an exciting time for us.”
Why Chaffee Crossing? For Chris the answer is simple, “Location. Chaffee is quiet, which is important when you’re shooting video. That’s a sharp contrast to downtown or any place that is part of a major traffic area. Then, there’s the two-fold investment factor. Because we’re in the historic district, there are tax incentives. The city is moving east, which makes Chaffee Crossing a great investment value.”
With 10 years of business experience behind him, what is the most important lesson Chris has learned? Without hesitation he answers, “Never relegate a talented, creative spouse to mundane tasks that can be delegated elsewhere. When we started, Kim took care of all the most boring aspects of the business. Huge mistake. She is a talented creative artist in her own right. Asking her to put her own talents ‘on hold’ to save money was the worst business decision I’ve made. I’m proud that she will be contributing her video talent. She is the best at wedding videos and storytelling. She shines and the business is lucky to have her talent.”
What’s next? Does Fort Smith offer the resources necessary for the future growth of Branchout? Chris answered enthusiastically, “Absolutely! No question about it. We’re here to stay. This is where we’ll raise our family. This is where we will grow and prosper.”