Employees at Paws, Inc., home to Garfield, one of the world's most-recognized cats, soon won’t be calling an Albany, Indiana, studio home. After nearly 30 years in its current location, employees are transitioning into a work-from-home model, said Kim Campbell Beasley, Paws, Inc. director of public relations.
The gift shop at the Garfield studio closed at the end of December. Much of the inventory landed at the Muncie Visitors Bureau, while other wares will be donated to “worthy charitable organizations,” over the next year. The YWCA of Central Indiana in Muncie has already received items, Campbell Beasley said. Other recipients could include Ball State and Muncie Community Schools, but Campbell Beasley said decisions haven’t been finalized.
“This is a very complex story and in a couple weeks we’re going to have something really cool to tell you, but we can’t go into details because it’s not finalized yet,” said Marc Ransford, Ball State senior media strategist. “I think there’s a possibility for some things to come to Ball State but we’re not sure ... what it will be.”
The estimated 11 employees still working in the building will be out by June. The decision to close the Albany studio was a financial one, Campbell Beasley said.
“Technology has changed the way we operate our worldwide business,” she said. “Our building and the large campus … were no longer essential to our business. We felt that moving to our work-from-home business model was the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
Campbell Beasley said Jim Davis, Garfield’s creator and the founder of Paws, Inc., began to redefine the business model roughly a decade ago. Last year, Davis, a Ball State alumnus, made a decision to move forward with a permanent change.
“[He] decided it was time to fully embrace a new way of working — one that relies on people, methods and technologies,” she said.
Paws, Inc., had a reputation as a company where employees came to stay. For example, Campbell Beasley has worked for the company since the early 1980s.
But as employees were aging into retirement, some of the jobs those workers once held were no longer needed in a digital age. Additionally, because the company has been producing Garfield for 40 years, an abundance of art was available for use, Campbell Beasley said.
“We had a ton of resources from our book publishing, from the comic strip, from calendars, so it got to be where we weren’t really needing to create as much new art because we had so much already in our art bank,” she said.
And technological advances have changed the comic industry over the years. The Garfield comic strip went digital eight years ago, so some permanent positions like an airbrush artist and 3D molding artist were no longer needed, Campbell Beasley said.
But when conditions call for someone with special expertise, 3D molding for instance, the company looks to Marvin Porter, a former employee who comes back and works on specific projects.
The Legacy Continues
Campbell Beasley stressed that even though soon employees will no longer work from the studio, “Garfield is very strong and alive and well.”
The licensing and/or syndication for Garfield is active in 111 countries and the comic strip is translated into 40 languages. And it's estimated some 200 million people read the comic strip each day, according to the .
But Campbell Beasley said Garfield’s reach extends well beyond a daily comic.
“We’ve got a number of really big projects we’re working on, we’ve got a movie in development, we’ve got a new animated TV series in development. They’re animating it now and it’ll be released in the fall,” Campbell Beasley said.
Additionally, a musical is being licensed around the world. And Paws, Inc. is working with Six Flags Entertainment Corporation on a couple of Garfield children’s areas in China, Campbell Beasley said. One theme park is set to open this year in Zheijang and is scheduled to open in 2020, according to information provided by Six Flags.
“This is a great opportunity for Garfield to entertain families and children,” said Garfield’s creator, Jim Davis, in a press release about the parks. “Six Flags and Riverside have an extraordinary project planned and to have our characters featured is an incredible honor.”
Garfield closer to home
While Garfield’s international presence grows, local fans can get their fat cat fix at the Muncie Visitors Bureau.
Jim Mansfield, the executive director of the Muncie Visitors Bureau, said the organization purchased about $10,000 worth of merchandise.
“It was a hodgepodge of everything,” he said.
At the visitors bureau, there’s no question about whether Jim Davis contributes to tourism in Muncie. Mansfield knows he does.
“Garfield has been quite instrumental in bringing people into our community and certainly for us going out seeking conferences, conventions, things of that nature, as well as leisure travelers coming in,” he said.
“Jim Davis and the folks at Paws, Inc. have been very generous to allow us to use the Garfield image as a marketing tool,” Mansfield said.
When people see the Garfield image, “it seems to pique their interest,” he said.
Mansfield has been concerned that people will get the wrong impression when they hear the word “closing.”
“When you make statements like they’re closing, people think they’re going out of business, Jim’s retiring or whatever and that’s not the case,” Mansfield said. “We [Muncie Visitors Bureau] didn’t want to put that out there and have people take the wrong impression, so we’ve just continued to build it up and let people know that we’re very happy to have him part of our plan.”
An attempt to contact Jim Davis via. Paws, Inc. spokeswoman, Campbell Beasley was unsuccessful. However, she emphasized the health of Paws, Inc.
“We’re still working hard, as we say, to take care of the cat.”