Denise Martin, a proud Pokagon Potawatomi, spearheads major events, books top entertainment, secures covetable promotional products, and offers marketing consulting to tribal casinos from coast to coast.
In January 2017, Martin founded Painted Ponies, LLC, a 100-percent Native-owned and -operated marketing and entertainment business based in Niles, Michigan, near the Pokagon government offices in Dowagiac.
After graduating from Saint Mary’s at Notre Dame, Martin worked in various industries, like insurance adjusting, social work, and for a long time, in higher education as a college admissions counselor. Starting in 2006, Martin helped plan, open and manage all three Four Winds Casinos — in New Buffalo, Hartford and Dowagiac, Michigan.
“Four Winds in New Buffalo was the first Pokagon-owned casino and is currently the largest. It is the ‘mother ship’ so to speak and houses both Silver Creek Entertainment Center and Hard Rock Café, two entertainment and special event venues that I can proudly say I was involved in opening also,” Martin says.
Fast-forward a decade and Martin was ready to take her skill set to a new level — advising tribal casinos across the country. She pitched her business idea to the director of Chi Ishobak, the Pokagon CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), who put her in touch with the Small Business Development Center of Michigan. There, she was fortunate to receive mentorship from a successful female entrepreneur. She additionally counts John Warren, chairman of the Pokagon Band, as her greatest professional influencer.
In January, Painted Ponies, LLC, was born. Her business name reflects Martin’s “adventurous” youth in Seneca, South Carolina, and her bright and creative spirit. “I loved horses and spent most of my childhood in the saddle,” Martin says. “Paint horses in the equine world are full of color and spirit. Painting in life is symbolic of the many facets of dimension – the blues, greens, highs and lows,” Martin says, adding, “The medicine wheel is very special in my heritage and those painted colors are reminders of who we are through the creator.”
Painted Ponies specializes in promotional product acquisition, special event management, entertainment consulting and marketing consulting.
When it comes to promotional products to attract and retain valued casino customers, quality is everything, Martin says. “I strive to find products I would want to go out to get on a windy, snowy Saturday,” she says.
For special occasions, like New Year’s Eve, grand openings, or renovation celebrations, Martin assists or fully executes the events, driving outreach and booking top entertainment. “As an entertainment professional, I can serve as a buyer for performances or assist a new or established tribal business in getting the most out of an entertainment venue and live act.”
As a proven leader in casino marketing, Martin can tweak existing marketing programs for higher yield or efficiencies — and she can do so using a tribe’s existing tools. She’s skilled at creating or expanding casino loyalty programs, brand redesign and messaging, creating promotions and managing distribution via email blasts, direct-mail, online ads, etc. “Sometimes, a marketing program is working but it just needs a little robust boost to push it forward more quickly,” Martin explains.
A key motivator for Martin is promoting the “Buy Native” movement by giving preference to Native vendors and TERO (Tribal Employment Rights)-certified companies. She’s also focused on creating more business and economic opportunities for Natives, and hopes to mentor Native and female entrepreneurs launching businesses.
“After working in a Native-owned casino and talking to colleagues at other similar casinos, I felt there was a lack of Native American owned and operated companies servicing the network of businesses within Indian country. Additionally, I felt as if the majority of jobs for tribal citizens were focused primarily within the gaming industry. I felt that it was important to showcase the fact that Natives can and should thrive in other industries and should work with one another toward empowerment,” Martin says.
Martin’s “stretch goal” is to build a company that she can leave in the hands of her two Native sons, ages 13 and 10. “They are my purpose – my drive – and the loves of my life. All I do, I do for them,” she says.