Jeff Morris and Neil Owen founded n-tara in 1999. (Nathan Baker/Johnson City Press)
From humble beginnings at the hands of two college faculty members, Johnson City’s n-tara interactive has grown global in scope, helping household brands get their products into the hands of millions of consumers.
n-tara, an interactive marketing company headquartered in the Fairview Avenue business park, celebrated its 15th anniversary Thursday, a milestone founders Jeff Morris and Neil Owen said seemed far off in 1999, when they left their regular jobs at East Tennessee State University to start the business.
“We saw some of the best and brightest that we had in Tennessee moving out to California for jobs and not coming back,” Morris said from n-tara’s newly renovated office space. “It wasn’t because they didn’t like the area, it was because there were no jobs here for them. That was part of the impetus for us to create n-tara.”
The agency combines several services offered piecemeal by other high-technology companies, from website design, to online shopping systems, to consumer behavior analysis, to help its clients structure the way their customers see and purchase their products.
“It’s really about helping them leverage new technology to move businesses forward,” Owen, n-tara’s chief strategy officer, said. “We will interact with the CEOs and the senior board members to help them understand their customers and the new technology available to them.”
Among the company’s impressive list of past and current clients are Xerox, Vidal Sassoon, Siemens and outdoor equipment company Coleman.
While much of the work is online, the out-of-town customers often mean long flights and jetlag for n-tara’s staff and leaders.
“We’ve always been about quality and delivering on our promises,” Morris said about the expanding list of multinationals on n-tara’s client list. “We can show a measurable return for the dollars they spend with us, that they can make more with us than some of the other agencies out there.”
That client list is steadily growing, by about two or three new customers each year.
Morris said that growth may not sound stratospheric, but it’s allowed n-tara a controlled expansion while still delivering consistent results for existing clients.
After weathering a dotcom bust and a Great Recession, the Johnson City company’s employee turnover is slight — a third of the current employees have been with the company 10 years or more.
“It’s just a great place to work,” Owen said. “We use the technology as a tool, but what we do is really about the people. Everyone here has your back, and you can be confident that someone’s there for you.”
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