Nestled in a castle on Pelham Road is Super Duper Publications, a family-run business that has been producing learning products for speech pathologists since 1986.
Sharon Webber, co-founder and president of Super Duper Publications, said she knew she would not return to work as a speech pathologist for the Greenville County School system after having daughter Abigail in 1985. Webber and her then-husband Thomas established Super Duper Publications less than a year later.
“I had been a speech pathologist (for the Greenville County school system) for four years and my husband at the time was practicing law,” Webber said. “We had our first baby and I didn’t want to leave her every day, so I knew I wasn’t going to go back to the school system full time.”
The best piece of advice Webber said she ever received came years ago: Get help from experts in a particular area; for example, hiring an outside agency to help with payroll and tax paperwork.
Founding the company had been a long time coming. When Webber was in the undergraduate program in speech and language at the University of Georgia and the master’s program at the University of South Carolina, she developed worksheets to give to her friends at school. Then those people would use them with the children they worked with in speech therapy.
“I would develop worksheets that I would give to my friends in the program to use with their children in therapy,” Webber said. “I would draw a picture and write a word or sentence or whatever the goal was. That was really the beginning of the creativity of developing very rudimentary materials. My friends always loved it. I thought after we had our Abigail in 1985, why don’t I see if someone might want to buy my materials [worksheets] and that is really how it started.”
Webber wrote and illustrated the first two books and packs of stickers for Super Duper’s first product line. The company purchased a mailing list and did a direct-mail campaign out of the Webbers’ home. Webber said that receiving her first product order was a turning point.
“Thomas and I had no background in business or art or any of that,” Webber said. “We took a chance and in 1986, we did our very first direct mail piece. When I got the first order in the mailbox, I think I was hooked on direct mail. Back then, you didn’t have the internet or anything, so all of your advertising was through direct-mail pieces and at that time, it was just a postcard and an envelope.”
As the company grew, the business moved out of the Webber home and into a building on Boyce Avenue, which is now the Confederate Museum. The office building served as the home of Super Duper until 1999, when the company built on Pelham Road, across the street from their current location. They stayed there until 2005, when the castle was built.
But, why a castle?
“Thomas [who is still a partner in the business] always called me queen of the office across the street,” Webber said. “When it came time to build a bigger building, we both thought it would be fun to build something that wasn’t plain and didn’t look like everyone else’s building. We got a kick out of the thought of building a castle. All credit to Thomas, he was the guy behind the exterior design of this building.”
While Thomas Webber designed the exterior of the castle, Webber said she designed the interior in a variety of themes. These include a Camelot conference room with medieval-style decorations, a King Tut-themed conference room, and a breakroom fashioned after a 1950s-style diner. Even the bathrooms inside Super Duper have whimsical themes. Webber said she used so many styles because she could never settle on one.
“My whole life is divided into themes and a lot of that originates from developing product,” Webber said. “For example, I’m going to do a product and focus on animals. Now I’m going to do things around the home. Now I’m going to do travel, so I just loved all the different themes. When we moved into this building, I just thought, ‘well, here’s my opportunity to really have fun with all the things I like’ and so that’s how we have all these bathrooms and conference rooms with different themes. It is a creative atmosphere because it’s not stale. An extension of my creativity in doing products goes into interior design.”
It is that same creativity that fueled the creation of Super Duper’s product line, which includes books, flash cards and apps designed for speech pathologists to use with children with communication challenges. Super Duper’s products are targeted to children from pre-K to middle school who face challenges in how they say words, or with grammar or syntax issues, disfluency (stuttering), voice disorders, and more, Webber said.
“It’s true, particularly starting out a small company, you tend to cook the cake, wash the dishes, mop the floor; you do everything,” Webber said. “As soon as you are able to afford outside help, get outside help. That will free you up to do what you love the most.”
While the products are targeted for a speech therapist to use for children younger than high school, Webber said that the company’s products are very versatile and based on the developmental age of the person, and can be used by someone older than middle school.
“A good many of the products can be used by a regular classroom teacher and parents as homework practice, usually under the guidance of a speech pathologist for carryover practice at home,” Webber said. “We have a large parent marketplace, but our primary audience has always been the speech language pathologist.”
In addition to offering versatile products, Webber credited Super Duper’s survival to its highly talented employees and the company’s ability to adapt. While Webber said she wrote all the books in the beginning and illustrated the first four therapy books, the company has since hired a team of artists and an editorial staff, who help develop the products.
“We hire talent,” Webber said. “Don’t be afraid of talent. Talented people will keep you on the edge of what’s going on. Between hiring talent and listening to your customer base, they will tell you loudly and clearly what they want and what they need. That’s how we keep up with it.”
As Super Duper moves into 2020, Webber said she thinks the future of the company is strong as the second generation of Webbers come to work in the castle. The Webbers’ son Abraham is vice president of daily operations and their daughter Samantha works in marketing. Their daughter Abigail also works remotely for the company as an illustrator.
“I see a strong creative connection coming this way at some point,” Webber said. “The future of Super Duper is very bright. I see no reason that 25 years from now, it shouldn’t still be going strong. At that point, I have one grandson and perhaps he will be helping his father Abraham.”