Web design firm steps up from the basement

KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photo. Mike Sperling of Sperling Interactive recently moved from Danvers to Salem. 7/9/15

SALEM — The web design and marketing firm Sperling Interactive finally has a home outside of the basement of the founders' Danvers home on Overlook Drive.

Founded on Sept. 15, 2008, at the height of the recession, the small web design and online and print marketing firm spent its formative years in two Salem guest bedrooms, in a playroom, and then in a 400 square-foot basement of cofounders Mike and Jodi Sperling's home on Folly Hill.

About six people worked in the basement, Sperling said.

The Sperlings decided that the coming of their second child meant it was time to have an office outside the home.

After a search across the North Shore, the business now occupies a 2,200 square foot, ground-floor commercial condominium at 10 Derby Square, across from Old Salem Town Hall. Workers have a front row seat to the Salem Farmers' Markets every Thursday afternoon in the open concept office. 

The company moved to the office in February and Mayor Kim Driscoll, members of the Salem and North Shore chambers of commerce, and more than 100 of the company's clients held a ribbon cutting in June.

The company has more than 300 clients, a clientele built up mostly by word of mouth. 

Clients include Henry's Market, the Wenham Tea House, the House of Seven Gables and the Topsfield Fair. Sperling is working on an update of the Hawthorne Hotel's website. The firm employs eight people full-time, and a total of 17 when part-time help and contractors are added in.

Sperling is a Baltimore native and a photojournalism graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. That's where he met Jodi. The couple have two young children, Zoey and Camden (named for the Baltimore Orioles ballpark at Camden Yards). 

He spent a year at The Salem News as a photographer and then two years at The Eagle-Tribune working in digital media.

He wrote a business plan and struck out on his own "right as the stock market was crashing." He was only 24 at the time. 

"The strategy was to try and go after businesses or industries that were recession proof," Sperling said. That meant photography clients and colleges and universities.

Salem State University was the company's first large client, and he is still actively works with the university.

Sperling knows there is a lot of competition among web design companies and freelancers. But it's also a big industry. In March, IBISWorld put web design services industry at $24.4 billion. 

Searching online for web design firms, you come up with names like blueSWIRLS.com of Beverly and Apex Production of Salem. Mead Web Design of Danvers has been active in that town, creating websites for the Danvers Rail Trail and Danvers Family Festival.

"A lot of the people we are competing against are what I call 'lone wolves,'" Sperling said. "They are on their own. The level of service you are going to get is not the same level of service you can come to us to get, because it's the same guy selling the websites, maintaining the websites, building the websites, doing the graphic design."

Sperling said all the websites he works on are custom designed, not from a template. It takes more work and back and forth, but it's worth it, he said.

"Our philosophy is we start from a white screen or a white piece of paper, depending on the kind of design you are doing, every time."

The company also offers video services, search engine optimization and blogging. His company does print design, allowing the look and the feel of a website to trickle down to print. It's normally the other way around, Sperling said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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