In an Online Era, Brown's Graduation Thrives on Face-to-Face Sales

by Graycen Colbert Bigger  on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 9:12 am   3 min read


High school graduation is considered a rite of passage for students as they commemorate academic achievements and start a new chapter in life, whether that is entering the work force, college or technical training. Tim Brown will attend at least one graduation ceremony each day during the month of May.  

Brown is the second-generation owner of Brown's Graduation of Jonesboro, a small, family-owned company that supplies regalia to 75 area schools and about 10,000 students each year. 

Brown's omnipresence reassures school administrators and students that details will be perfect. He is there to fix a robe, replace a missing tassel and to remind graduates that what they accomplished is significant. And in 2018, Tim and his father Bill will celebrate with their 65th graduating class.

High school graduation rates have risen steadily in recent years across the country with Arkansas edging the national average at 86.7 percent in 2017. The graduation retail industry is booming, expected to reach $5.6 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Brown's Graduation, the last independent graduation company in Arkansas, continues to see growth thanks to its variety of products and history in northeast Arkansas.

In 1953, Bill Brown was a married student in college for the second time following service in the Korean War. He was the University of Central Arkansas' Student Government Association president and a talented football player who would later be inducted in the school's athletic hall of fame. His aspiration was to be a football coach, but he lost his first potential job in Fordyce to Jimmy "Red" Parker, who went on to lead teams at Clemson University in South Carolina and the University of Mississippi.  

After meeting the man who designed UCA's class ring, Bill Brown moved to Jonesboro and started selling graduation supplies in hopes of making enough connections to land a coveted coaching position.  

"After 64 years he's still looking for the right coaching job at 91-years-old," joked his son Tim. "He still shows up at work every morning at 9 a.m."

Today, Tim and Bill supply class rings, graduation regalia and accessories to every college in northeast Arkansas along with a majority of area high schools. They also serve as the supplier for the Arkansas Athletic Association and exclusive dealer for the national academic honor society Alpha Chi, which admits 11,000 members annually at more than 300 campuses across the country.   

Even though 85 percent of their annual sales is based on personal contact with students and their families, they were the first graduation company in the U.S. to offer online shopping.  

"It was the mid-1990s and I didn't really understand the process, but I had the vision," Tim said. "So I hired a student at Arkansas State to help us figure it out. We now ship supplies all over the world."

Though Tim attributes the company's success to adapting to changing markets, he still believes in the importance of building relationships with families and face-to-face sales in a time when online shopping is now more popular than ever. 

"We design rings that have a special mascot and crest for each school so it forms a brand," he said. "It builds pride for graduates of that school. We also have parents that bring in their class ring and want to design a match for their child." 

Tim continued by explaining the service the company supplies is really about bringing families together through an important tradition.  

"All three of my kids have worked in the store," he said. "Brown's Graduation is a family business, and I hope to be able to pass it down to a fourth generation."



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