St. Petersburg's J. Thor Productions grew from a garage to handle high-profile events over the last decade. Its best work may be yet to come when the GOP rolls through.
Jason Thor Gogolen has been involved in event planning since his teen years, designing sets for school plays. He eventually combined that with knowledge of audio, video and lighting to start a home-based company, using profits to buy more equipment.
When the garage got too full, he branched out into some larger lease spaces, and two years ago he bought his own 9,000-square-foot building at 2350 22nd St. N. in St. Petersburg. The company has nearly outgrown that space but is pursuing more next door, he says.
Gogolen's firm, J. Thor Productions Inc., has built a reputation for just about everything from video recording to full-service event staging for major corporations as well as political candidates, including a former president. Each event leads to another, he says, just like every good business relationship becomes a referral.
“In the local market, if you're looking for a video company, the majority of the companies you may find in the phonebook or on Google are going to refer you to us,” says Gogolen, 34, He started J. Thor in 2000 with a $60,000 loan and has built it into an A/V enterprise approaching $1 million in annual revenue.
The company's big break came in 2006, when it was hired to stage a corporate event for cosmetics producer L'Oreal USA in Las Vegas. Gogolen considers it a crowning achievement that led to other similar events from Orlando to Colorado.
Event staging may include various elements such as custom sets, widescreen video displays and even giant outside tents for overflow crowds. “Our only limit is the client's budget,” says Gogolen, who jokingly lists his company title as executive producer.
It's a lot of equipment to move, set up and take down within a tight time frame, especially on short notice. For example, J. Thor was called upon to set up a campaign rally for President George W. Bush at Tampa's Legends Field prior to the 2004 election. The White House only gave three days advance notice for security reasons.
“I still have blisters on my feet from that one,” Gogolen says with a chuckle. His company hires contract workers for events to help his full-time staff of three, and J. Thor also does subcontract work for larger A/V firms.
J. Thor does roughly 75% of its work within the Tampa Bay area, according to Kate Clark, Gogolen's wife and the firm's general manager. It will also take on out-of-town business for local firms, such as when Tampa-based restaurant chain The Melting Pot holds its annual “reunion” in different cities.
One of the company's biggest prospective events is coming across the Bay, and with a lot more lead time. The 2012 Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, and Gogolen is hoping to tap some of his prior political connections to gain business.
He can also rely on other similar firms, which he says are in “friendly competition” and often call on each other to help fill any gaps in their service. The local companies try not to tread on each other's clients, he says.
Remarkably, J. Thor didn't suffer a setback from the recession, with the only noticeable difference being 3% growth in 2009 when the company had been averaging 10% before.
Gogolen says J. Thor expects to return to double-digit growth this year.