Meet the ladies of Blanco, Johnson City, and Spring Branch, Texas who bring art, advertising, and a chamber of commerce to life within their communities.
Blanco Chamber of Commerce
A chamber of commerce is designed to bring a city’s business community together to network and foster growth, but in the small town of Blanco, Texas that is not the case. Libbey Aly, Executive Director of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, not only spearheads its membership activities to accomplish those tasks, but she also serves as the “face of Blanco” for locals and newcomers to drop in for help, something she has been doing on her own as a single staff operation for the last six years — the longest anyone has held the position.
When she first started the job after responding to an ad in the paper, she admits she had a lot to learn as she is not just there to promote businesses and plan events for a community which is growing and experiencing lots of change. Her 24 years as a resident, knowledge of everyone in town through previous work with the first internet service provider to the area, and serving as band booster president for five years, helped her in learning to navigate the promotional side of what she does along with the city and organizational politics involved. The position allows her to not only work with others in the community but to also serve them — the part of her job which she greatly enjoys.
Aly explains how she values being the first person new visitors meet when coming to the area and the person they can trust, explaining the Chamber is “the living room of Blanco” with not only new visitors coming in, but locals are
always dropping by for help. They may be looking for information regarding city ordinances or to get information for a friend who might be moving to the area. With no two days being alike in her day-to-day tasks, she takes care of a membership consisting of close to 200 members from coordinating events, attending special events, and managing social media platforms, all while also operating as one of the directors of the area’s Visitors Center which calls for producing advertising and marketing to promote Blanco as a destination.
Aly and her musician husband are Dallas natives, and chose to call Blanco home after numerous visits that brought them to the surrounding area. She loves to take in the live music scene and get outside to explore all that Blanco and the Hill Country has to offer to be, as she puts it, “playing a tourist in our community.”
Seasoned business owners, Patty Elliott and her husband Tim, relied on timing, a knowledgeable resource, and the coveted factor in any type of real estate purchase — location, location, location — to open their gallery, Texcetera, in Johnson City. At the time, the then owners of the Pecan Street Brewing jumped at the opportunity to buy the historic building which was once the old library and located on the square in town for their space, which Elliott originally wanted as a retail stopping point for visitors to the area to help build Johnson City’s tax base.
It’s when they brought in Manager, Anne Bradley, a fellow gallery owner herself in Fredericksburg, and who holds pre-existing relationships with artists and an eye for art which helped them take things to the next level with the space to the fine art, fine craft end. Her guidance contributes to the types of art and artists they currently feature in the gallery.
The gallery represents over 70 Texas artists who come from the local area, the surrounding Hill Country, the Valley, and Forth Worth, guaranteeing everything is made here in the state. Two of those artists include her sisters, one who paints cow head paintings and other landscape pastels and another who makes Texas flag and companion pillows. Elliot’s daughter even played a role in coming up with the gallery name. And with a vast variety of things carried in the gallery, everything from small sushi dishes to hold rings all the way up to paintings and furniture, Elliott ensures it is also reminiscent of what she herself prefers to find when vacationing — something that is made in and represents that area to provide a memory. She also takes pride in carrying something that you may also have to think about such as a nice piece of furniture.
With her customer-oriented background in always trying to do everything to make the customer happy and feel good, it’s surprising to learn that she was once intimidated by art feeling uncomfortable in a gallery setting as though she was being watched. She credits Susan Kirchman, the one responsible for connecting her with Bradley, in getting her out of her shell when it comes to feeling confident in the different kinds of art she likes and purchases. Among her favorite types of art are those which are fun and organic, and her favorite artist is Ross de la Garza.
The Ousset Agency
“When I grow up I want to be…,” a sometimes challenging statement for children to fill in the blank, the standard go to reply might include teacher, doctor, or policeman. For Margaret Ousset, Founder, Vice President, and Marketing Director of The Ousset Agency, she always knew she wanted to work in advertising. Her certainty made it easy to pursue her degree in journalism with a concentration in communications from Southwest Texas State (now known as Texas State University). From there she hit the ground running and began working with the downtown San Antonio advertising firm, Warren Reed & Friends. It was after a few years there and then moving onto a loose partnership with a former colleague when Ousset ventured out to open her agency with husband John.
In reflecting on the decision to start up the agency, Ousset jokingly shared how their youth and blind awareness to the challenges of starting a business pushed them to do so, “We were young enough that we didn’t know any better of the challenges in opening your own company.” The New Jersey native chose Spring Branch for the office location because of the area’s landscape, liking the hills which brought to mind husband John’s German roots. She also explains how their partnership is a good fit, and compliments the strengths they bring to the work they do, with John’s marketing background aiding to bring in clients and her expertise in advertising allowing her to take care of the other part. And “that part” is what she views as the fun, enjoyable side in what she does. “Clients come to us with a challenge, a big puzzle to put together. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”
Ousset and her 12-person staff, eight of those which work on site and also includes other family — twin sons who work as account executives — found their niche in the specialized field of material handling and heavy equipment marketing, and they provide their services to companies in locations as far away as Canada and Chile. The agency’s 30-plus years of proven success in the business-to-business marketing field also came about by staying up to date on the changes that have taken place in the industry.
And when she is not in the office, Ousset, “a preferred Texan” as she calls herself, enjoys spending time with her two grandsons and trips to their Coast home.
By Jennifer O’Neill
Photography by David Teran