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Graphic design customers want to know: ‘Where is Mr. Zag?’

HATTIESBURG — At Zag’s Advanced Graphics their favorite question is “May I speak to Mr. Zag?” They keep a sense of humor about it, and office manager Daphne Patton says she’s considered bringing her pet ferret to work and referring to him as Mr. Zag. The shop specializes in graphic design, mainly for T-shirts, logos, signs and banners.

Located in Market Square on Hardy Street, Zag’s got its name from the original owner, a quirky guy who rolled his own cigarettes. The rolling papers are called zigzags. When trying to decide on a clever name for his new business, he looked down and hit on the word zag. Thus Zag’s Advanced Graphics was born.

“It’s an easy name to remember and the last name in the phone book,” Patton said. “If we ever open another one, we’ll call it Zig’s.”

The present owner and resident artist, Paul Hagelston, was there from the beginning. He toured with the band Schmill for five years with the original owner of Zag’s.

“Usually bands are the ones who get the good names but we took the interesting route,” he said. “We were looking for a cheap way to do T-shirts for the band and bought equipment from someone getting out of the business. ‘How hard can it be?’ we asked.”

Hagelston, 34, and the others found out it wasn’t that easy to run a design shop and they learned by trial and error. That was eight years ago and before long they were doing designs for other businesses and making money. Zag’s also sold imported clothing, jewelry, incense and other items.

“I was a natural to work here because I have a computer degree and I like to think I’m creative. I was involved with art all through high school,” Hagelston said. “Doing graphic art is the perfect symbiosis of the two — creative and computers.”

When the owner decided to sell out and move to Florida four years ago, Hagelston stepped up to the plate and bought Zag’s. His first change was to sell all the imported stock and concentrate on design, a decision that proved to be a smart marketing move.

“Those things had become a hindrance and selling them was one of the best moves we’ve ever made,” he said. “I think it’s important to pick what you do best and do it really well.”

Patton says, “That made us more efficient. That’s what we do best here and we offer a good product.”

Hagleston, the guitar player, artist and computer programmer who formerly worked for NASA, said owning and operating Zag’s is the perfect thing for him. He feels the trick was in finding work that fits his personality. He says he stumbled into the business, but sales are growing and he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I like the freedom of owning my own business so I can be in control,” he said. “I kept my daughter with me for the first eight months of her life and saw her first step and heard her first word.”

He says hiring Patton was the saving grace of his business. She takes care of numerous tasks that frees him to do what he does best, design. For Zag’s this is the slow season, but from mid-July till December they’re slammed with work. Much of that comes from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Greek and professional organizations on campus. Other work comes from high school homecomings and spring parties. In the summer, there’s lots of work designing banners for family reunions, business sales and delivery and installation vans.

“We do a ton of contract art for T-shirt screen printers and some promotional goods like key chains, coffee mugs, stationery and business cards,” Patton said. “We have clients in Laurel, Waynesboro, Purvis and around the area. We design logos that lead to other items.”

Zag’s doesn’t do document work and sends those designs straight to their clients’ printers. “It’s irritating sometimes that we can’t offer those things, but we stick with what we do well,” she said.

With 10 or 12 design shops in town, Hagelston says each has found their own niché and that it works well.

“It’s rare that we step on each other’s toes,” he said. “We know each other and rely on each other. There are certain things we can’t do so we send it to one of them and they do the same for us.”

Patton refers to that cooperation as six degrees of separation with business. “All of us have our own thing,” she said. “For one, it’s sports related, for another one it’s churches, for another it’s William Carey College and for us it’s USM. That’s one reason we’re all not competing.”

Zag’s Advanced Graphics tries to help with their clients’ philanthropy while staying close to home. Their interests include fraternities that donate time and funds to Habitat for Humanity, the local humane society and the Civitan’s summer camp for children. For these groups, Zag’s furnishes free design on items printed in house and donates free banners.

The business is located in the former WorldCom building and is a one-and-a-half story shop that greets customers with T-shirts displayed on 15-foot walls in the front and a design studio in a loft in the back. Hagelston, who’s lived in Hattiesburg since the second grade, says he reminds himself that the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence but it still has to be mowed. For him, his wife, Janeen, and little daughter, Carly Beth, Zag’s — strange name and all — is the best place to be.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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