Double Brace is a digital agency based in Somerset. They’re a creatively-led and passionate team delivering a wide range of digital and offline services to businesses all over the UK. I caught up with co-founder and Creative Director, Eric Smith, to find out more about the business, the ever-changing working landscape of digital agencies and his hopeful vision for the future.
I meet Eric in his new studio at Collar Factory. We’re on the first floor in one of the larger spaces with high ceilings and windows wrapping around the entire space. It’s a welcoming office with a breakout space with soft seating, a TV and games console. Behind a dividing bookshelf, on the open-plan desks, I find Eric and one of his Front End developers, Ryan.
“I grew up in Taunton,” Eric explains as we settle down to talk about the Double Brace story, “I studied graphic design and communication here at Somerset College.”
Double Brace has always been Somerset-based, he continues, but it didn’t start out in Taunton, “I worked for various agencies in Bristol and Exeter, and then, coming up to 10 years ago, decided I wanted to start up on my own.
“I met my current business partner (Luke) who ran a small software development company – and we ended up merging our two businesses together and that’s what became Double Brace.”
"I think everyone’s used to the word ‘change’ now and that’s what we like helping people with – changing businesses – and this is a great space to do it."
The business was previously solely based in Bridgwater to help accommodate the warehousing and fulfilment needs of some of their clients, but as the business grew they quickly identified a need to expand and give each business its own space. Now, the front-end, web based parts of the business are based at Collar Factory in Taunton, whilst the software and back-end development teams work primarily from Bridgwater.
“We came to Taunton because the connections are so much better for London, Exeter and Bristol, and the space gives us room to expand,” he explains when I ask why he decided to bring his side of the business further south, “having a more visually appealing office, even if clients don’t always come here, helps with the brand image so it was a bit of a marketing exercise too.”
Trying to pin down exactly what Double Brace do isn’t straightforward, not only because the landscape in which they operate is constantly changing, but also because their approach and in-house skill set has meant they’ve produced bespoke digital solutions for clients in a variety of different sectors. When I ask him how he’d sum up the bulk of their work though, he explains further.
“Predominantly we’re about designing and building bespoke software, great looking websites and end-to-end ecommerce solutions.
“We work with some quite large ecommerce clients and offer an in-depth software solution from warehousing, right through to automated purchase orders and the front-end sales cycle. A few of the clients are based in Guernsey as that’s where a lot of people involved in ecommerce in the early days set up but we also work with companies throughout the UK.”
Where there are gaps in their offering, he explains how the last few years has meant more and more agencies like theirs are open to sharing skills, resources and even clients with each other.
“We have quite a lot of partnerships with other agencies. We do some build-only website development and help some others with some UX and interface design work. I think that sort of inter-agency approach is now a better option for some of the larger agencies because [a lot of] people are working from home anyway, and they haven’t necessarily got that office culture, so they might as well partner with other agencies.”
Looking forward, Eric and his team don’t necessarily have a clear roadmap. Being a digital business heavily involved in ecommerce, the pandemic actually brought in more business as the demand for digital services increased and some businesses reassessed current suppliers.
“People that were sat on the fence were forced to make a leap to a digital transformation,’ he says, ‘I also saw clients that weren’t happy with their existing suppliers. So if there were issues with those relationships already, they were brought to the forefront during the pandemic.”
From talking to Eric it’s clear that he’s not interested in being too prescriptive with what they do as a business, or weighing themselves down with a fixed plan for the next few years.
“I think that’s probably the hardest thing to pin down at the minute,” he explains, “the future of our business, in my mind, is quite an open model and quite agile. Being able to bolt into other organisations as and when they need us like a freelancer – that’s certainly a model I’d like to explore more.”
As our chat begins to wind-down we move on to life outside of work, his love of electronic music production, weekends away with the kids at the coast, his recommendations for Taunton’s best food and retail spots (Ring of Bells Pub, Eat The Bird, Wave Games & Merchant Menswear) we end with some all important recommendations for things to watch now that the nights are drawing in.
“I really liked Boiling Point with Stephen Graham. I watched that recently and thought it was amazing – especially the way it was filmed like it was all in one take. ‘How to Change Your Mind’ on Netflix is very good too, but that’s about psychedelics and stuff…”
He smiles and wonders whether recommending a show about the history of psychedelic drugs is suitable for a workspace interview, but before I let him worry too much he thinks back to the topic we’d touched on earlier when talking about the pandemic, and the changing working world we’re all still getting used to.
“I think everyone’s used to the word ‘change’ now,’ he says, ‘and that’s what we like helping people with – changing businesses – and this is a great space to do it.”
To find out more about Double Brace, visit doublebrace.com