A Hoy story
BRUSSELS — Charlie and Alison Hoy first came to Brussels to look at a house.
They ended up finding the place of their dreams, (“Nothing was missing from our laundry list,” notes Charlie) and soon thereafter launched their business, Vital Imagery Ltd., that has earned a place on the international map as a go-to destination for quality graphics, artwork and, most recently, photographs.
And it was because of both the county’s beauty and its connectivity (“We needed good high-speed access,” reports Charlie) that the Hoys were able to make it happen.
Charlie, a “jack of all trades” in the computer world, started out long before the Internet became what it is today. Alison, a software engineer, says they first came to Brussels from their Kitchener home to scope out a home that reminded Alison of her roots in the United Kingdom. While that first place turned out not to be “the one,” a drive down the road in Brussels brought them to a beautiful Victorian home on Dunedin St.
And once they learned how advanced Brussels is in terms of connectivity thanks to what was then known as the Internet Service Provider Dublin Cable, a move to the picturesque community with its heritage downtown was an obvious choice. The couple worked for what was known as Art Today, which was swallowed up by a corporate entity that displaced the couple.
“We were a couple of rural Canadians and didn’t fit in with the plan,” says Charlie.
The couple moved on to another company that was also eventually swallowed by the aforementioned corporate entity. The same thing happened a third time.
With their skills, network and expertise with search engines, the Hoys were confident they could launch their own business and they partnered with a former Corel executive, Arlen Bartsch, to do so in 2006. They took about a year to get their online business, iclipart.com, started. The Hoys remember the day the site was launched, Nov. 1, 2006, as a jubilant one as they sat back and watched the hits on the site. The business soon began to grow.
“We built the product and we haven’t looked back,” says Charlie.
Since then, the Hoys have seen their iclipart.com business, which is an online image resource for illustrations, photos, fonts sounds, HD and video clips, expand to include clients in areas they first did not anticipate as being a big draw, namely in education. They also offer time-based access to their files for mom-and-pop type shops and individuals looking for images for their scrapbooks.
Charlie says perhaps the first milestone in the company’s success story was when Microsoft contacted them.
“That was a nice feather in our cap,” he says.
The Hoys next taste of big success came a few years ago when it went up against the iconic Geddy Images company for the State of Iowa’s Educators’ Consortium buying group’s educational art supplier contract for its innovative digital media program.
Charlie s believes the Brussels-based company’s winning touch was travelling to Iowa to meet those that were part of the decision-making process. It is also his firm belief the Brussels-based company’s desire to form relationships with its clients – he travelled throughout the U.S. and Canada to promote iclipart.com before it got going – is part of the recipe for its success.
“I knew to make this work, I had to take it to the next step,” he says. “There was a void in the industry because everything had been amalgamated and that created room for competition.”
Another feather in the company’s cap occurred when Warner Brothers came on board to request some artwork. Indeed, iclipart.com’s images were featured in the blockbuster movie, The Hangover (a wall mural seen in the police station), and the Trouble with the Curve Ball (the logo on the baseball).
Most recently, the Hoys launched a new arm for their business, iphotos.com, which provides images to those in need from photographers based around the world. In all, there are more than 7.8-million images on file.
“As we entered in the educational market, we had to strengthen our content with photos,” says Charlie, noting the demand for photos is solid.
The Hoys employ two full-time and one part-time staff that assist with tasks like sorting, categorizing and tagging images to make them search engine-friendly, which is a job one of their employees, Bonnie Gropp, takes on with relish.
“Bonnie is star struck because she got a call last week from (the TV show) Criminal Minds,” notes Charlie.
Jane McCutcheon, another staff member, says another great part of the job is the fact the company donates a portion of its revenues to the website company, kiva.org, which grants microloans to people in developing countries for things like purchasing material to get sewing businesses started. McCutcheon says sorting through the requests and finding ways to help others is an “amazing” part of her work. Indeed, the company has helped nearly 1,400 people to date.
The Hoys say the transition from city to rural living was an easy one and that they can easily boast some of the best connectivity in the world.
“We plan to stay in Brussels,” says Charlie. “We have the best connection to the Net I’ve ever experienced. We have clients from all over the world that can’t believe how good it is.”
Charlie notes the company is now moving into the Latin America market but the commitments to service are the same.
“One thing that we can do is offer the personal service and flexibility,” he says, noting customers like the fact they can call the business at virtually any time of day and talk to a person.
The fact that the Hoys have launched a successful venture here resulted in the County of Huron’s economic development choosing to profile the company in what will soon be launched as a series of stories on what the county can offer to companies and individuals that are eyeing the area as a possible place to locate. Charlie says the region’s superior connectivity is a key part of the piece.
Editor’s note: We posed a question on our Facebook page (The Huron County Paper) that asked Huron County residents to share with us the name of a business, place or thing that could well be called one of the county’s best-kept secrets so that we can help let the secretive kitty out of the bag, so to speak. As a result of the feedback, we are offering up this profile piece that is the first of what will be an ongoing series of profiles on things in our region that make us great. Want to share your secret? Give us a call at 519 482-3197, shoot us an e-mail at TheHuronCountyPaper@gmail.com or post your suggestion on our Facebook page.
By Cheryl Heath, The Huron County Paper, September 2013