Then and Now – A Retrospective

As we finish up renovations throughout the office, some may be wondering – what was it like before the motivating wall murals? Before the snack pantry, Big Poppa, or the sparkling Bevi machine? Before the crisp new carpet and the spacious, open environment?

When Dennis Johnson (DJ) began his journey with Strong Automotive Merchandising over 40 years ago, he didn’t have his own office. In fact, he barely had a desk. The first office the company had was on the 2nd floor of Eastwood Mall, which has since been demolished. There were limited offices available, and when DJ was hired as a writer, the only desk that remained was for a receptionist. So, he answered the phones and wrote commercials.

Over time, the business grew. Several relocations were necessary to accommodate the ever-growing number of employees. When Strong moved to its current building, the eye was on expanding, even though the company only took up one quadrant of the second floor. With the rise of digital media and other services, one quadrant expanded to two and then to three.

The building was owned before by Saunders Trucking, which influenced the unusual design. “They say if you get straight up above it, it resembles a big semi truck. You can see the wheel in the design, that’s what the round design is about,” he said.

What’s more unique is the atmosphere that has been created inside the walls. “In every office space I’ve been in, I would say the same thing – the Strong family has always created a very conducive work environment. If anything was broken, it was always fixed. If anything was dirty, it was always cleaned. The only red we ever had in the office was a stoplight, but it was always on green. For a while, every time we got a new client, we would put that light on green and it would stay that way all the time,” he said.

Our office space allows for efficiency while also catering to the needs of the different departments. Quieter spaces are achieved for more autonomous work, but the open environment can breed collaboration. “I think they’ve always tried to provide an environment where everyone is comfortable. They have always been sensitive to what everybody needs while keeping it looking sharp,” said DJ.

The old offices used to not allow visitors without an appointment or invitation. But now, many days on the calendar are booked with out of town visitors and representatives. “We have the philosophy that even though this is an office, it’s also our home. If someone’s parents or friends came to town and wanted to see where you work, you’d be more than proud to take them around,” he said.

“The one thing that keeps you coming back is that there is excitement in everything that we do. We’re always right on the edge of something great, and constantly moving forward. We’re ahead of that curve because we have really good people at the helm, predominantly John Paul,” DJ said. “Back then, there were a lot of other good agencies in town that did the same things we did. But despite their great success, there are many names that nobody here would recognize today.” Over the years, there were several automotive agencies across the country. Most have closed their doors because they did not adapt to market changes.

Because of DJ’s many years of experience with Mike and John Paul Strong, he can confidently say that Strong Automotive Merchandising and its offices constantly breed success. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. It grew a new apple tree, and it was even bigger,” he said.

Heard Around the Agency

There is a lot of excitement happening around the agency this month! On August 19, Strong will be competing in the Dragon Boat Festival. Be sure to show your support for our team!

Please see the below for announcements on personal life updates, as well as some “pup-dates” from new pet owners from this year.

  • Casey Boltz recently bought a house and has begun the process of renovating. She hopes to possibly sell or rent in the future.
  • Robin Smith was married on July 15. Her new last name will be Fuller! Carly Corfman was married on July 8. Her new last name will be Smith.
    Robin Smith

    Carly Corfman

Kendall Reganall, Anna Sample, Hannah Curran, Taylor Soucy, and Kyle McDonald’s wife Kaleigh are expecting! Kendall and Anna are due in January, and Hannah is due in February. Congratulations to them on the new additions to each of their families!

Kendall Reganall


Anna Sample
Hannah Curran


Many people have become pup parents this year. Take a moment to admire these furry faces!

Anna Grace Pell’s dog, Murphy! He is an English Springer Spaniel.
Bethany Alexander’s cat, Grillmarks. “She showed up so hungry that when we first saw her she was licking the side of our grill because it smelled like food. We had to feed her and keep her then! That, combined with her stripes, made the name a good fit. We call her Grilly for short.
The official puppy of Strong, Astro! JPS and his family brought home this sweet Cavapoo earlier this year.
Abbey Dial’s pup, Josie! “We adopted her from the shelter and she is the sweetest cuddler around! The vet said she is a pitbull/hound mix.”
Hannah Curran’s two dogs: Chief is an 8-year-old Siberian Husky who was rescued when he was 4, and his little brother is Ranger, a 4-month-old Labrador Retriever.
Emily Eubank’s pup, Nova! She is a pitbull/lab mix.
Baylee Clark’s puppy, Maggie! Maggie is a 3 month old Blue Tick Coon Hound.
Ann Marie Waldrop’s pup, Piper! She is an English Cocker Spaniel.
Kelsey Plemmons’ puppy, Coach! “Me and my husband just got him in June. He is an English Cream Golden Retriever. He also shares the same birthday as my husband, 3/25!”
This is Wrigley Rambow, Anne Rambow’s family pet. He is a golden retriever.
The two newest additions to Nate Dennis’s household, Willow and Sage!
BreAnna Partain’s family recently got their new puppy, Poppy. She is a Chorkie (Chihuahua and Yorkie Mix). Here she is pictured with Bre’s daughter, Millie.
Ashlie Murphy’s future cat, who is yet to be named! She will get him in only a few short weeks from his current foster family.

Where in the World is Strong?


Many SAM employees have traveled far and wide this summer season. We are so excited to share some of their adventures below!

Suann and her husband went to Paris, London, and New York this summer. The highlight of their trip was seeing the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in person!
Holland traveled to Alaska and Canada with her family. While she was there, she was able to experience seeing whales, Glacier Bay National Park, and The Yukon Mountains. This photo was taken in Canada, where she visited a musher camp and got to hold the newest batch of puppies for the sleds!
Mary Coleman traveled with her family to Pursell Farms in Sylacauga to celebrate adding a brother into her family! It was the sweetest weekend celebrating her sister and husband and to see the love they share.
BreAnna, her wife, and their oldest daughter went on a cruise to Costa Maya and Cozumel during the first week of June!
Alex and her family took a trip to Perdido Key, FL for Callie’s first vacation.
Chloe went to Italy with her family! She stayed in Florence, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast. This photo is from spending the day in Positano. After Italy, she flew to Amsterdam to see Harry Styles in Concert! “It was the trip of a lifetime,” she said.
Kelsey and her husband rode horses on the beach during their honeymoon in Saint Lucia. “It was something I have always wanted to do, and I finally got to do it!” Kelsey said.
Baylee visited Grenada earlier in June. “One of my favorite things about traveling is learning about the places I visit, so I loved going to tastings for all the delicious things made on the island (exotic fruit, rum and chocolate to name a few!)” she said.
This photo is of Will G and his son Aiden in Florence, Italy in front of the Duomo. He and his family took a trip to Rome and also visited the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then they spent a week in Tuscany, and went to Siena, Florence, and the Chianti region – which was Will’s favorite.
Katie and her husband Jeremy went to Mendoza and Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of April! They went hiking in the Andes mountains and visited several wineries in the Lujan de Cuyo region in Mendoza. They also spent time exploring the capital city of Buenos Aires. “Argentina is a beautiful country with so many hidden treasures to enjoy,” Katie said.
The Rambow Family headed to Cooperstown, NY for the Cooperstown Dreams Park 12U baseball tournament. The best part for Anne was that her son, Avery, hit his first over-the-fence homerun on her birthday (which was also Father’s day!) “A lifetime memory for sure!” she said.

JLB New Member of the Year, Baylee Clark!

The Junior League of Birmingham, Alabama, is an organization of approximately 2,000 women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.

The Birmingham chapter is part of the national organization, The Junior League, which has grown into one of the oldest, largest, and most effective women’s volunteer organizations in the world. It encompasses more than 125,000 women in over 295 Leagues in four countries.

Baylee Clark completed her first year with the organization in 2022. She was double-placed as a provisional new member and was also on the Market Noel committee.  “I always knew that I wanted to join the Junior League,” Baylee said. Her mother was really involved with the chapter in Montgomery. Baylee grew up going with her to meetings, and fundraisers, helping with 5Ks, going to nursing homes, and volunteering with schools.

As she shadowed her mother, Baylee saw how much she enjoyed it, and she knew she wanted to be a part of it. “It was really impactful at such a young age to see that there are issues in our community. A lot of times, you are sheltered when you are small, and you don’t realize how fortunate you are. I grew up wanting to help whenever I could, and when I moved to Birmingham, I thought it would be a perfect way to meet people and become involved in the community,” Baylee said.

Account Team Member Baylee Clark was awarded New Member of the Year by the Junior League of Birmingham!

This past year, Baylee was chosen for the New Member of the Year Award. Throughout the year, she and approximately 160 other new members completed a curriculum to learn more about the organization locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed research projects discussing the past 100 years of the organization and volunteered with nonprofits like Meals On Wheels and North Star Ministries.

“Shout-out to Strong for allowing us to have flexibility in our work schedules. I completed all of my shifts for Meals On Wheels during my lunch breaks, and I was able to take two hours and make up the time later thanks to our flex hours. I am really thankful to be able to do that,” Baylee said.

New members were also required to learn about the many partner agencies in the area. “We have around 150 different partner agencies. We got to learn about a lot of the nonprofits that I didn’t know existed or even needed to exist. It was a great learning opportunity,” she said. “It was so much fun, and it was awesome to be picked for the award.”

Baylee says she believes the best way to learn more about the surrounding community is to see how other people live. “It’s important to see more than just the highlights of the great city of Birmingham. We need to find what needs to be improved and discover how we can help,” she said.

Anyone who is interested in joining the JLB, please reach out to Baylee. While the class for 2023 is already closed, the fall of 2024 is accepting new members!

A Yogi’s Journey

Gina Crane began her journey into yoga in the small town of Oneonta, Alabama. She attended classes at a local gym, and when she saw they had an open position for a yoga teacher, she signed up to teach a class. “I had loved yoga, stretching, Ayurvedic healing practices, healthy eating, and everything that’s involved with it for many years,” she said. She began teaching in a similar way to the previous instructor, but she said she felt like there was more she could give.

To enhance her skills, she signed up for a yoga teacher program through Lifetime Fitness in Vestavia. The 200-hour course spanned nine months. She spent one weekend a month doing in-person training to learn the principles of Power Vinyasa and the remaining weeks doing tasks like focusing on her diet, reading, journaling, meditation, and other community-building activities. “Coming out of that training, I felt like I was a better person, and I definitely brought more to the classroom,” she said.

Gina currently teaches a heated flow class at a nearby studio, The Yoga Circle in Southside on Mondays and Fridays at 6:00 a.m. She invites everyone in to relax, find their space on the mat, and notice how their body feels while she explains how to use the props. “I really want everyone to find their peace and leave everything else behind,” she said. “What’s most fun for me is after class, if I’ve cued any challenging poses like headstands or crow poses, some people stay behind and are still practicing them. They want to ask me where they can improve.” Because her class is an hour long, she has extra time before work to help and give tips. “Helping people is really what this is all about,” she said.

Gina also has training with Reiki. Reiki is an energy healing technique that promotes relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety through gentle touch. In regards to the practice, Gina said “I find that little bit of magic entertaining, but there is a lot to it. Like when you hurt yourself and you care for that wound, you can actually pray for that wound and breathe into that space. It will ease your pain, and bringing that oxygen into your blood will help you heal. For me, the healing is more about who I am becoming, and yoga is my platform to share this.”

Gina believes that yoga is not about being perfect, but it’s about being disciplined. “It’s not about having that perfect yoga pose. Yes, you want your body to feel right in the pose, but our bodies are built very differently. Your down dog won’t look like someone else’s down dog,” she said.

Gina incorporates small yoga practices into her life daily, even at her desk at work, because she says paying attention to the body and what it needs is very important. Sitting on the edge of the chair and stretching out the legs, pulling the kneecaps up, and flexing the feet is a simple routine that can be done throughout the day. “You might walk past my desk and find me with my chin to my chest, and no I’m not asleep,” she said jokingly. She is stretching her neck and vertebrae by breathing in, lengthening the spine, and exhaling to release tension. “The goal is to reset and return to your work focus.”

Through her yoga journey, the one thing Gina likes to be constantly reminded of is that self-love is not selfish. Focusing on one’s body can be a healing process, and it is definitely rewarding!

Ooo Baby Baby

You might think you know your coworkers pretty well. By chatting around the popcorn machine on a Wednesday, learning more about them through departmental games, or inquiring about the trinkets at their desk, you’ve probably been able to create a good picture of who your coworkers are. But, could you recognize them as their younger selves? As a… baby?

Make your guesses on the photos below. Click the link at the bottom to view the answers on who is who!


Baby 1
Baby 2
Baby 3
Baby 4
Baby 5
Baby 6


Baby 7
Baby 8
Baby 9
Baby 10
Baby 11
Baby 12
Baby 13


Baby 14
Baby 15
Baby 16
Baby 17
Baby 18
Baby 19


Baby 20
Baby 21
Baby 22
Baby 23
Baby 24








View The Results

From Classmates to Colleagues: A Tale of Two Friends

Hannah and Collen at an Honor Society Induction, 2013

Hannah Mitchell and Collen Layton are two SAM employees who seem to have an inseparable bond. They have been friends for many years and have followed each other to multiple different jobs – and now, they even live in the same apartment complex!

The real question, though, is how did they end up at SAM?

The pair first met in the 7th grade at Moody Jr. High School. Although they had mutual friends before then, they really began to get to know each other after they shared a class together. They bonded over similar music tastes in artists such as Harry Styles, Joshua Bassett, and The 1975 – whom they’ve seen live in concert together three times!

The career-following story began when Collen and Hannah started working together at Zaxby’s over the summer of 10th grade. “I drove us to get our applications at the new store before it had even opened,” Collen said. “We interviewed on the same day and both got the job.” The two worked there until high school graduation, and then over the summers in college.

Collen and Hannah at their awards ceremony at Moody High School, 2016

Also, while in high school, they worked together at a seasonal calendar store in Leeds. After a former employee was let go, Collen suggested to his manager that Hannah should interview – and she got the job.

Soon after, college separated the two. Collen attended Troy University, and Hannah attended the University of Alabama. But, the two continued working together over the summer, bouncing between jobs at Zaxby’s and the local splash pad.

In February of 2022, Collen began working at Mountain High, with Hannah following shortly after due to the store being short-staffed. A few months later, Hannah was hired at Strong. This was the first company that Collen followed Hannah to – all the rest were jobs Collen was hired at first.

“Collen robbed me of $3,000,” Hannah said, laughing. Collen wasn’t aware of the referral bonus, and Hannah jokes that he owes her the money now. “She talked about Strong and about how great it was, so when I saw they had a position, I knew I had to apply,” Collen said. “We both went through a long period of applying for jobs, so when I saw the graphic design job, I thought it was a crazy coincidence that they were hiring for something I could do,” he said.

Although Hannah and Collen have less interaction now than at past jobs due to the increased responsibility, they still take time to stop by each other’s desks every once in a while. “He’ll come by when he wants to visit the loud part of the office,” Hannah said.

Collen and Hannah at a friend’s wedding shower, 2022

When asked what made her want to recommend SAM to Collen, Hannah noted that the environment was a huge factor. “I don’t feel super stressed out or under pressure constantly. I feel like I can balance my work with the help of the people around me and still keep a positive attitude,” she said.  “It’s the little things SAM does that really make it fun to work here.” For instance, popcorn Wednesdays were one of the first things she mentioned to Collen after she was hired.

“Any stressful times are made easier because I love the job I’m doing here,” Collen said. The pair are both very grateful to be doing what they love and went to school for, and they are happy to be working at SAM together!

Jack or Johnny?

What started as a funny pseudonym for TikTok covers quickly turned into a personal aspect of songwriting for one SAM employee. Jack Meadows, known to us as Johnny Mangini, released his first EP on Spotify and Apple Music on March 7, 2023. The EP has two songs in the folk and indie style, a genre he enjoys and hopes to be discovered in.

The first song, “Savior,” is a story of hope. Johnny said he wrote it for people to relate to when they feel stuck and tied down – to know that there’s always hope when they are aching for something better. “I wanted to use Jesus as someone who is personable, but not necessarily as a spiritual or religious figure,” Johnny said. “I wanted to mention his life and what happened in it so people could see the story, relate it to themselves, and know that there are many things you can rely on for hope.”

The second song, “The Dam,” is about a love story gone awry. “If you’ve ever been in a relationship before, or have a close relationship with a friend or family member, it’s hard to lose that connection,” he said. “Throughout the song, you understand the connection is being lost, and the dam is a metaphor for the heart being broken by one of the people in the relationship.”

Johnny has been writing songs for around three years, but he decided to take his hobby more seriously in 2022 when he began writing for the EP. He soon connected with Justin Miller, a producer with Five Points Recording Studio in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. He began recording in January of this year, and it took around 10 hours for two other musicians and him to record both songs. Ethan Shattuck, the violinist, and David Cowart, the drummer, are two of Johnny’s close friends from childhood. “I was really glad to have both of them; they’re really cool dudes.”

On the EP, Johnny recorded the vocals, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and bass. However, as a child, he never played any instruments. “I tried to learn when I was about 11 years old,” he said. “On Christmas Day, I tried playing with a Home Shopping Network guitar… I gave it up after the first few days. It was just too hard.” Around the time he started writing three years ago, he picked it back up.

Johnny draws his inspiration from a variety of bands and musicians in the folk, indie, blues, rock, and alternative genres. “Kaleo, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Nick Drake… they all shaped my sound and how I write,” Johnny said. The first year of writing was a small stepping stone compared to where he is now. “It took me a while to get a good grasp on it – trying to figure out what I like to write, how I write, and how to find my voice.”

Johnny shared that he would love to book a few gigs to perform his EP and future songs. “I’ve been going around to bars, breweries, record shops, and coffee shops in town with promo cards and posters to promote the EP,” he said. He has sent his songs to some of the hotspots across the country for indie music, as well as submitted them to playlist curators on Spotify.

When asked who his biggest supporters are, Johnny said it would have to be a three-way tie. “My mom, dad, and sister – they have supported me through the music process since day one. They’ve never stopped, and I appreciate everything they do for me.”

Scan the QR codes above to start streaming Johnny’s EP!

Beat the Buzzer – Teambuilding at SAM

Starting in 2023, SAM transitioned from monthly squad challenges in the office to quarterly team outings in an effort to allow each department to bond in a different environment. For the first quarter, each team went to Breakout Games and participated in an escape room. There were nine possible scenarios, including a museum heist, bomb squad, and island escape.  Each team attempted to break out together and beat the buzzer in under 60 minutes.

Our Graphics department did a fantastic job in the escape room. Both teams escaped with over 10 minutes to spare!

While everyone values time spent together in the office, a change of scenery was welcomed for the teambuilding activity. “I really enjoyed getting to know how each person thought about different challenges in the room,” said Hallie Guinn, one of our Graphic Designers. “In a completely different setting, we were able to learn more about each person on the team.”

“I enjoyed it because we were not given the option to talk about work,” said Casey Boltz, Accounting Specialist. “I know we all enjoy our jobs, but when we eat together, we still talk about work. This gave us a chance to let our brains move away from the office.”

One person felt like certain aspects of being in the office carried over into the action. “We enjoyed each other’s company, but we still felt the time pressure,” said Andrea Kring, Traffic Manager. “In all, it still felt like the office because we were in hustle mode.” The production department created 255 jobs in March – the most jobs produced since pre-pandemic numbers in 2020 – so they definitely know something about “hustle.”

Things got a little sideways as the accounting and co-op team banded together to escape!

Andrea also noted that collaborating directly with her department was not something she was used to. “Most of our work in the office is done individually, then passed to the next person,” she said. However, since the breakout room requires everyone to collaborate on the same tasks in order to escape, it brought her team together in a positive, yet unexpected way.

Participating in an activity like this also allowed each team to rely on each other’s individual abilities and problem-solving skills. For some, it was no surprise that they were able to succeed. Misty Bivens, one of our new Co-Op Specialists, said, “It showed how well we already work together and communicate. We were able to feed off each other’s ideas, and that led us to come up with solutions or more ideas to work with.”

Suann Hunter, Accounting Director, said she felt like the whole experience fostered camaraderie and trust. “The most rewarding part was being able to listen to and trust my team,” Suann said. The escape room also gave departments an opportunity to grow closer in a more personal setting. Bethany Alexander, Accounting Specialist, said she was glad to work with people in the department that she normally doesn’t spend much time with. “It was nice to have a shared victory with my teammates,” she said.

Great job to our Production team for breaking out before the buzzer! Way to go!

Most department teams were able to break out and feel the relief of a calculated escape. However, Andrea thought it must be too good to be true. “I didn’t feel like we broke out,” she said. “I thought there must be something we forgot to do. It was almost like a constant feeling of ‘What’s next?'”

What’s next for our second quarterly outing at SAM? We’re waiting for it to be unveiled, but one thing is for sure – there will definitely be an opportunity for connection and teamwork!

Heard Around The Agency – March 2023

By: Carly Corfman

At SAM, we value both the personal and professional accomplishments of our employees. Check out these updates from across the agency.

Account Team

AT welcomed some new faces in February. Holland Chupek and Ann Marie Waldrop joined S4 as the newest account coordinators. Additionally, LC Carlton transferred from the SEO team to join the HL/CR team.


BreAnna Partain and her wife closed on their new home on March 1! Congratulations to them on this accomplishment.

Suann Hunter’s daughter, McKenzie, has completed six months of dance classes at Beverly’s Dance Studio. She is preparing for her first dance recital in May!


Chloe Edwards was promoted to Sr. SEO Coordinator. Congratulations to her on a well-deserved promotion! Additionally, Grace Ward was hired as SEO Coordinator. We are happy to have her join the team!

On February 11, Anthony Savage got married to his fiancée, Corinne.

On February 24, Bobby Mathews released his book, Magic City Blues.

Elizabeth McDanal and her boyfriend, Brandon, recently purchased a house. It’s a new construction and will be ready for move-in this summer.


Media switched to Strata as their media buying software about five years ago. On February 28, they opened the 10,000th campaign. That’s about 2,000 broadcast media campaigns per year, and that doesn’t include revisions. Pretty impressive!

Media is still looking for a few people to join their team. If anyone knows someone who could fill the Senior Digital Media Coordinator role, please have them reach out to Liz.

Interns – Incoming!

SAM is hiring paid interns for the summer season. Part-time positions will be open in Account Team, Digital, and Graphics. Applications are due March 15. Students can apply directly through our careers site.

February New Clients

We had 10 new clients choose us as their agency in February. We are thankful for the new business and are excited to be working with them!

  1. FOX – Fox Automotive Group
  2. FOC – Fox CDJR
  3. FOT – Fox Toyota
  4. FHO – Fox Honda
  5. FOS – Fox Subaru
  6. ACH – Auburn Chevrolet GMC
  7. CBA – Chad Bemis Auto Exchange
  8. JTF – Jim Taylor Ford
  9. JTB – Jim Taylor Buick GMC
  10. JTC – Jim Taylor Chevrolet Buick