Thursday, June 20, 2024

NC trend: Triangle marketer – 919 Marketing – scores with a focus on franchising.

Sixteen years ago, veteran Triangle marketing executive David Chapman was coaching a youth baseball team when another dad mentioned his work as an executive with a franchising company. The chance encounter prompted Chapman to shift his business’ focus to a sector that now dominates many U.S. industries.

Since then, Holly Springs-based 919 Marketing has worked for about 200 franchising companies involved in many business sectors, helping grow revenue and attract franchisees. That includes restaurants, home services, auto repair, senior housing and healthcare.

David Chapman and wife, Sue Yanello

While many marketing company owners prize their independence, Chapman concluded he could have a bigger impact and expand his operation by selling a majority stake to a private-equity group. Working with a business broker, he had contact with 300 firms before picking five finalists.

The winning bidders in November 2020 were London-based Landon Capital Partners, a family-owned group that has an office in Boston, and Green Farms Capital of Westport, Connecticut. Terms weren’t disclosed. 919 is among 11 portfolio companies — ranging from a Wisconsin-based cheese maker, a 2,000-employee industrial parts manufacturer based in Virginia and a Connecticut-based mattress company — listed on Landon’s website.

Since the transaction, 919’s parent, Big Rock Brands, has acquired marketing agencies in Florida and Virginia, plus a data analytics company in the Sunshine State. The combined company employs about 120 people, plus additional subcontractors.

Chapman completed his three-year non compete agreement with his investors last year, and in March stepped down as CEO. He remains chairman of 919, with the business based at his Holly Springs office. His son, Graham, remains chief growth officer, while his wife, Sue Yanello, who Chapman credits as a key force in the company’s success, is a consultant.

The company’s new CEO is Lorne Fisher, whose Fort Lauderdale-based company, Fish Consulting, was acquired by Big Rock Brands in 2023. He previously worked for the Ketchum ad agency and Visa.

Chapman was born in Winston-Salem, but lived in many places including the Bahamas, Canada and Guam, as his father took different jobs with AT&T. After graduating from Appalachian State University in 1980, he worked for several companies, including the Long, Haymes & Carr advertising agency in Winston-Salem. It is now part of Interpublic Group.

He started 919 in 1996, building a traditional marketing firm with clients including Greensboro-based Apex Analytix, and Hosted Solutions, a Cary-based datacenter company that was sold for more than $300 million in 2010 after less than a decade in business.

He shifted to a franchising focus when he concluded the business model’s growth would accelerate. Restaurant clients over the years have included Golden Corral and Wayback Burgers.

“Franchising companies do better during economic downturns, partly because laid-off corporate executives want to own their businesses,” he says. “Good franchisors provide training and support, in return for a portion of revenue. That can be an advantage over starting a business from scratch.”

Yanello, a former television journalist in Raleigh, helped recruit a team skilled in writing, video and social media. “Having veteran storytellers has been critical,” she says. “We have former TV reporters in Dallas, Miami and other cities who know how to shape our clients’ stories and get customers in the doors.” For example, an urgent-care client developed local TV features that helped viewers identify different types of coughs.

“David has capitalized on market trends throughout his tenure as CEO, providing franchise brands with actionable marketing data, analytics and world-class content creation,” says Michael Kessler, a Big Rock board member who owns Green Farms Capital.

The biggest change that Chapman has seen in his career is the marketing industry’s obsession with metrics to analyze results. “Clients have to know what is being effective. There’s much less patience than years past.          

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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