From Depression to Development: The Story of West Oakland Marketing Guru Benny Blessed

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By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information

The first president of Ghana, the late great Kwame Nkrumah, once said that a man is not measured by where he is at, but by how far he has come. Benny Blessed is a successful local entrepreneur in the printing, graphic design, and marketing business, who has been through a number of traumatic experiences, and used his spirituality as an inspiration to build his budding business empire. He is a West Oakland success story, because he has refused to succumb to being a negative statistic. In looking at the everyday issues that our readers face, Benny Blessed is a shining example of how to see the broken aspects of our lives, and pick up the pieces. Check out Benny Blessed as he describes his life struggles, his successful covid-proof business, and his spiritual inspiration…

JR Valrey: What inspired you to create a print and marketing business for artists and organizations?

Benny Blessed: I grew up aspiring to be a national performing artist, so that I could make money to change my community on a large scale. One thing I always lacked or couldn’t afford was quality graphic designs, to attract a major record label or present my project to investors for funding. Living paycheck to paycheck, I could only afford to invest in a graphic design, once a month. I usually chose to go to the studio and make more music rather than invest in quality marketing (like 90% of starving artists, we rarely focus on promotion). Being born and raised in West Oakland, I know a lot of other diamonds in the rough who all just needed someone to help clean their image up, so that they can see their worth. I grew up seeing people like JR Valrey as a young Black man being a big brother at Village Center, and so I naturally wanted to help people. In 2005 I started watching youtube videos, and learned how to create designs on photoshop, and just kept working on it as a side hustle. I then became an educator teaching Graphic Design and Performing Arts, for 15 years, in West Oakland. I started Blessed By Benny, in 2008, because as a Christ follower, I believe in being a blessing to my people. I want everyone that has an idea to make it come to life. I want my people to be financially free through starting business, and becoming famous artists. I want our churches to attract young people and look nice. I want to eliminate all excuses by walking people through the process, at a blessed price. I offer marketing packages that are way below market rate, to help people in my community who cannot afford to pay top dollar for professional designs. 

Naturally, printing became a popular request and so I partnered with a few print companies to be a one stop shop. I was also inspired by Kevin Brown, the oldest CD replicating man/business in Northern California run by a Black man. He showed me you can start a business from a room, and travel the world while being a blessing. 

JR Valrey: How was your business affected by the pandemic?

Benny Blessed: The pandemic was a blessing to my business. My school closed due to the pandemic and so I became a full time graphic designer. I packed up and moved to Atlanta the first week of the pandemic to work with some Grammy Award winning gospel artists, and their churches. I did all the marketing and promotion free of charge and in return, they introduced me to a larger clientele base. I put faith in God to design full time, and He blessed my business. I now make 3x’s as much as I did as an educator. The pandemic taught me to trust the Creator, and the creator in me. The pandemic taught me how to utilize social media to network, because everyone was on a computer. I now have a working relationship with Kenard Karter of KMEL, Canton Jones (Grammy Gospel Artist), and Kingdom Purpose TV where I design for over 300 churches in America. So the pandemic in essence, put my faith and skills to the test and I passed. Although I am making great money, the pandemic did show me that I need a balance of being in community and business, which is the hard part.

JR Valrey: Why does a business need a marketing strategy to promote what they are selling? How does marketing benefit the business?

Benny Blessed: Whether you have a church, are an artist, or have a business idea, you need to know how to make it grow and last, for years to come; and also how to make it pay you to do it full time. As stated before, many people make great music, have great love for the community, but can never make a real impact like they desire to because they are focused on the product or idea itself. Everyone needs a skilled team and so marketing shows clients how to turn their ideas into profit, and make impacts by adding marketing. You can have the best apple pie in the world, but if no one knows then it will not sell. You can have the best graphic, but you can’t blindly spam everyone with your flyer, because you will become drained. A marketing strategy helps organizations find their target audience, teaches them how to engage them, and ultimately how to make their numbers go up, whether that’s revenue or more church members. In years past we would use guerrilla marketing, which is when you get a bunch of people and flyers, and just hit the blocks passing them out everywhere. But with the advancement of technology, there are more proven ways to reach that same goal, faster, and more efficiently. 

JR Valrey: What is the most common product and/or service that people want from you?

Benny Blessed: The most common requested service that clients request is flyer design. I have the fastest turnaround time in the bay area at the most affordable rate, without the drop in quality. Customers love my 24 hour or same day turnaround time frame. The number one complaint I get from clients is how their last designer took weeks to complete a design request, and had poor communication. I am usually always available for clients to call and contact. 

JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about your gospel-inspired fashion brand? What made you create that?

Benny Blessed: I believe in letting my light shine, and showing people love through action. I started my gospel-inspired fashion line because I wanted it to be easier for people to know I am a loving person. A career ending football injury left me depressed with brain damage. I never got dressed after that, nor did I want to be in the public’s eye. The loss of my brother to gun violence, then the loss of my kids, wife, and mother, then grandmother just years apart, left me in a suicidal state of mind. I stayed in the house after work, and never got dressed. After 6 months of designing full time this past year, I noticed my body breaking down because I had no human interactions, exercise, or sun in my life. I was behind a computer screen 80+ hours per week. Enough was enough, I am a blessed man and God helped me overcome a lot. I wanted to show God how thankful I was by letting the world know that I love Him. People read my shirts and feel blessed without me having to talk. I became an introvert after being locked away so long that I couldn’t speak much, so my fashion does most of the talking for me. 

JR Valrey: Where will you be with your print/marketing business in the next 5 years?

Benny Blessed: In the next five years I will have a full community facility where I teach performance arts, develop artists, offer sports and recreation, free meals, and a spiritual component. So sort of a blend of Boys and Girls Club mixed with church. My facility will be open 7 days per week. My clothing line will be established and run by young people, and the community will know me as a man to go to for help manifesting dreams. I am not too interested in expanding in the area of print, but I do want to have a full marketing team with tons of print partners.

JR Valrey: Do you use a heat press or silk screening to print? Please explain the difference.

Benny Blessed: I use a heat press when printing, as this makes it easier for single shirt printing, but not recommended for producing large quantity items for resale. Heat pressing is the process of taking vinyl material that has been cut out (logo, pic, etc), and pressing it on a shirt using heat. They now make metallic vinyl, kente print vinyl, holographic vinyls, and so much more but again, these are for small quantity printing. A max of 12 items per client. A quality heat pressed shirt will typically last up to 50 washes. Most heat press machines can fit on a kitchen counter. Screen printing is the process of using ink pressed through a mesh screen onto garments. Most screen printing companies require a 12 shirt minimum as this way of printing is used for large scale jobs. The ink and shirts last much longer and designs can be printed in multiple colors. For effective and safe screen printing, a warehouse type space is needed because fumes are generated because of the ink and could be dangerous to inhale. 

I love what I do, and want to find more joy in the process by connecting with clients outside of the computer. I plan to start attending the events that I design flyers for, and hope to network with artists and businesses as I attend more mixers and open-mics here in the bay area. I want to make every artist, business, church, and creative see their worth, and always make it affordable to look professional. I am changing the standard of how everyone presents themselves. We are a blessed people, so we need to look like it, making doors open easier, and changing the way we show up in the world.

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