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PERSPECTIVES OF

Business

It starts with a ‘spark’ Business owners explain what led them to start out on their own JON LEU JLEU@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention. And while that’s often the case, for some, the “spark” that results in a new business is less high-minded. The heir apparent to Ballenger Automotive, a long-time Council Bluffs business that had been started by his grandfather and continued by his father and uncle, Jeff Ballenger and his wife, Cristy, opened the first Gorilla Car Wash here in 1991. Although he had been working in the family-owned business and eventually purchased it from his father and uncle, Ballenger said, “I wanted to do something else, something that was my own. This looked like it would be fun,” he said of opening a car wash. “I looked around Council Bluffs, and I saw there was a huge need,” he said. “I wanted to start a business that I would enjoy. Most everyone in America has a love affair with their cars, and most of them seem to be in a good mood when they are washing them.” Ballenger continued to add Gorilla Car Wash locations and had expanded to four locations in Council Bluffs and three in Omaha in 2006 when his company purchased 12 Power Wash properties in Lincoln, Neb. While most of Ballenger’s locations are stand-alone operations, he sees “co-branding” as the future for his company. When Casey’s General Store purchased the location of one of Ballenger’s Gorilla Car Washes on 23rd Avenue at the South Expressway, Ballenger partnered with Casey’s to open a touchless Gorilla Car Wash beside the new Casey’s store. He has also partnered with HyVee Food Stores and Kwik Shop in Omaha. “I’m thrilled to be with Casey’s, and I’m convinced that the future for me will be more co-branding,” he said. George Scott’s decision to open his Der Jagerhof Gunshop at 301 W. Pierce St. was a combination of necessity and desire.

With downtown Council Bluffs’ beautiful Bayliss Park visible through the front window, Judy McGee puts a dip of ice cream – the genesis of Ellie’s Deli – into a cone. Bonnie Culjat opened Ellie’s after seeing a need for a place to get cold treats near the park.

Staff photos/Jon Leu

George Scott turned a long-time hobby of building custom rifles into a business when he opened Der Jagerhof Gunshop in 2003. Below, Jeff Ballenger stands in front of the newest of his Gorilla Car Wash facilities, this one a touchless automatic car wash was built in conjunction with the new Casey’s General Store on 23rd Avenue at the South Expressway. “I wanted to start a business that I would enjoy,” said Ballenger. “Most everyone in America has a love affair with their cars, and most of them seem to be in a good mood when they are washing them.” With a background in community and economic development, Scott was looking for work and finding that “employers wanted my experience, but they wanted it in an individual half my age.” A long-time shooter, hunter and hobby gunsmith dating back to the 1960s, Scott decided to turn his love of shooting and firearms into a business. Scott opened his gunshop in 2003. Scott said he got “hooked on” hunting rock chucks the first time he went hunting with a friend while he was living in Utah. “I got started building custom varmint rifles because I couldn’t buy any that I liked,” he said. “In those days you couldn’t buy a really good varmint rifle. “I took all the gunsmithing classes that I could while I was living in Utah. And when I was living there, I lived close to a number of very well-known gunsmiths, and I learned a lot from them.” At one point in his career, Scott designed a custom receiver for hunting rifles, but it has never been manufactured. After nearly a decade since he decided to open his shop, “It’s still fun to go to work when I get up in the morning,” he said. For Bonnie Culjat of Council Bluffs, the urge to have an ice cream cone in the wake of a bit of bad luck developed into a second family owned business. “My sister was in town, and we had taken her two little boys down to Bayliss Park,” she said. “When we got out of the car, we locked the keys inside.” She said it was a warm day – a perfect day to have an ice cream cone while they were waiting for someone to unlock the car. Unfortunately, there was not ice cream to be had; but it got her thinking about the need.

There was a vacant storefront across Pearl Street from the park. Culjat purchased the building, remodeled it and opened Ellie’s Deli – named after her daughter Elizabeth’s nickname. “It’s worked out great,” she said. “Every year gets better. The number of activities in the park is increasing, and a lot of people like to go to the park to eat their lunch.”

Catering to that original desire for ice cream on a warm day, Ellie’s Deli offers a broad range of ice cream treats from handdipped cones to sundaes, banana splits, malts and shakes. To help attract the lunch crowd, a growing segment of the business, Ellie’s Deli also offers a complete sandwich menu along with soups and chili.

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

2C Friday, May 25, 2012

The Daily Nonpareil

In demand services Need remains strong for assisted living space TIM JOHNSON TJOHNSON@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

Staff photo/Erin Duerr

Primrose Retirement Community were constructed to accommodate local demand for more assisted living options. would be nice if we had more that would accept the elderly waiver payments,� she said. Morrison noted that the Iowa State Legislature in this year’s session increased the monthly cap for elderly waiver payments from $1,117 to $1,300. She hopes that will encourage construction of more assisted living facilities. Most seniors in need of care prefer to stay in their own homes and hire home health aides or homemakers, she said. “I think we’re going to continue to see a growing need for

those home- and communitybased services,� she said. “The emphasis here in Iowa and nationwide is to balance out (the funding) we have going to facilities and home- and community-based services.� With the Balancing Incentive Program, the state is working toward spending the same amount on each area, but facilities still get 55 percent of the money and home- and community-based services get 45 percent, she said. The state will see a dramatic increase in the portion of

the population that is elderly during the coming decades, Morrison said. According to the Iowa Department of Aging, 14.9 percent of the state’s residents were 65 or older in 2010, and 22.4 percent will be in 2030. In 2010, 30 counties had at least 20 percent of their residents in that age bracket. That is expected to increase to 88 counties by 2030.

“

Assisted living space in Council Bluffs has grown during the past decade, but demand is likely to continue growing, a local official said recently. “There’s been a huge growth in that area,� said Barb Morrison, executive director of Southwest 8 Senior Services. Fox Run Assisted Living and Primrose Retirement Community were constructed to accommodate demand – as well as Amelia House, which later dropped its assisted living status. Space at Risen Son Christian Village and Bethany Heights – both campuses that offer multiple levels of care – was converted to assisted living, she said. “The benefit of assisted living is it has a 24-hour staff person,� she said. That person would be there in case of an emergency and could also call other staff members in, Morrison said. “That gives families a little peace of mind,� she said. Despite the added capacity, the growing senior population will likely keep demand strong, she said. “I do think there’s probably still room for some growth,� Morrison said. “I think they’re running pretty much at capacity most of the time.� Some assisted living facilities are private-pay, while others accept payments from the Medicaid elderly waiver program, she said. “We do see, from our perspective, a need for the more affordable assisted living, so it

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

The Daily Nonpareil

Friday, May 25, 2012 3C

How TIFs help the Bluffs grow TIM ROHWER TROHWER@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

To have a tiff to some people means a minor quarrel, but for many developers and city officials, a TIF can be an important financial tool to spur economic growth. “Right now with development costs and costs of codes and regulations and all the risk factors in doing developments, you need every type of incentive and partnership to make developments work,” said Mark McKeever, a local developer. “It takes incentives to make projects work.” In this case, TIF means tax increment financing, a public funding method used for subsidizing redevelopment, infrastructure or other community-

improvement projects. Its use is based on future gains in taxes that will come about from the improvements. TIF creates funding for public or private projects by borrowing against the future increases in these property-tax revenues. “TIFs are very important,” Council Bluffs City Council Matt Walsh said. It’s one of two incentive programs the city considers for redevelopment, he said. The other is what is called Enterprise Zone benefits. “TIF can be used for infrastructure expenses, while Enterprise Zone benefits gives builders Iowa state income tax credits and rebates on sales taxes for building materials like wood, carpeting, concrete

or appliances,” said Walsh. “The state rebates the sales tax from those purchases. TIF is not common in residential as in commercial areas, and in areas that are hard to develop, the city has done TIFs. Developers will use it for streets, sewers or for demolitions. It can be a tool to clean up blighted areas.” There are two types of TIF used. In a traditional TIF district, a community pays money to a developer upfront to spark redevelopment. The money is then repaid over time through additional tax revenue generated from that development. “It helps with the initial costs upfront,” McKeever said. “And, less money has to be borrowed (for the project).” A reverse TIF district, how-

ever, has no upfront funding from the community and instead helps pay for projects by returning a portion of additional tax revenue generated to the developer over a number of years. This is the method Council Bluffs officials usually use and used many times in the past, according to Walsh. “The developer pays the property taxes and the city gives a portion back.” McKeever, who has built developments all over town, including The Sevens at Fox Run along Veterans Memorial Highway, Highclere Apartments on Harry Langdon Boulevard and Valley View

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

The Daily Nonpareil

Friday, May 25, 2012

5C

Foreclosures’ impact on Council Bluffs TIM ROHWER TROHWER@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

One of the most painful aspects of the recent recession, considered by many as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, was the increase in home foreclosures. For various reasons, some homeowners have been unable to continue making monthly house payments. That’s when banks or other institutions that lended money for the purchase are forced to take over the property. It’s not a delightful decision, one local bank official said. “Banks don’t like to foreclose on anybody,” said David Nelson, a lending officer for the local branch of US Bank. “Banks don’t want to be in the housing business. Once a bank forecloses a property, it doesn’t want to sit on it.” There are no firm numbers on how many homes were in foreclosure last year, though numerous people in the housing industry all agree that onequarter of the number of Council Bluffs homes sold last year were in foreclosure. “Last year, it was about 25 percent,” said Realtor Jay Kathol. “I would say 25 percent of homes sold last year being bank-owned is a good approximation,” said Randy Carroll, a local broker. Steve Carmichael, the city’s chief building official, doesn’t dispute that percentage and that is not a good sign, he added. “If one-fourth of all the

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homes sold were owned by banks, that doesn’t forebode well for the economy,” he said. Sadly, a home foreclosure impacts the owner more than just losing the home, Carmichael said. This was true last year when many in the western part of town simply left their homes for good because of the inability to pay for water damage, he said. Carmichael saw it first-hand. “Time after time, we saw people simply walk away from their mortgage,” Carmichael said. “They simply packed up and left their house, their mortgage, everything. The look of sadness and failure was hard to take for my staff and myself. To see this failure come out in a person’s psyche was devastating.” Fortunately, there seems to be a brighter picture today, according to Kathol. “Overall, the number of foreclosures is starting to go down. The job market is stronger, so there is less unemployment.” He estimated that currently the foreclosure percentage might be around 15 percent. “It is still a problem,” Kathol said. “But, there is a lot of opportunity for buyers.” There is one concern homebuyers should be aware of, he added. Some banks may be able to maintain upkeep on their repossessions, Kathol said, but there might be some unable to do that and therefore let those homes go into disrepair. “It is still a big issue,” he said.

Staff photo/Tim Rohwer

This home at 1215 N. 17th St. is facing foreclosure, as are many others in the area, though housing officials believe the overall number is decreasing. “Overall, the number of foreclosures is starting to go down,” according to Realtor Jay Kathol. “It is still a problem, but there is a lot of opportunity for buyers.”

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

6C Friday, May 25, 2012

Mixed opinions on state of housing boom Many say market is doing well; others stay cautious TIM ROHWER TROHWER@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

Many involved in the housing industry are optimistic not only that better days lay ahead following the recession of the last decade, but signs of a rebound are showing up already. “Prices are finally climbing back up, back to the level of six years ago,” said Realtor Jay Kathol. “The market is stronger, almost back to the level of six years ago.” Higher prices are good, not only from the financial aspect for those interested in selling their homes, Kathol said, but also from a confidence standpoint. That’s because so much of a family’s net worth is in the home. “When prices drop, they feel their net worth is less,” Kathol said. “I just built six spec homes in the last two weeks and just sold four of them,” added Mark McKeever, a local developer. “I’m getting calls on custom homes. The pricing is good and it’s a great time to build. It was slow, but it is picking up. I’m going to have a busy year. I’m speaking for myself, but things are looking better.” Interest rates for home loans are at unprecedented low levels, hovering between just 3 and 4 percent, said Larry West, another local developer. “It’s not going to get any better than that,” he said. “Now is the time to buy.” The recession that struck in the latter part of the last decade did indeed cause a major negative impact on the local housing scene. According to figures provided by the Council Bluffs Building Division, there were just 80 singlefamily permits issued in 2011, compared to 171 single-family housing permits issued five years ago in 2007, when it seemed the recession first hit. That’s because there were 244 permits issued the previous year, the third consecutive year annual permits totaled more than 200. In fact, going back 10 years, the figures showed steady growth until the market went south. In 2002, there were 170 housing permits issued, followed by 183 issued in 2003. In 2004, there were 220 permits issued, followed by 280 in 2005, the best year in memory. So far this year, after just four permits were issued in January and February, that total jumped to 26 by mid-May, the figures showed. Steve Carmichael, the city’s chief building official, is more cautious than others, however, about the housing industry, at least in the near future. The rising cost for developers to build new subdivisions in this state is one reason. “The cost to develop a subdivision here in southwest Iowa and probably across the state is placed solely on the developer who then turns around and passes that cost to the home buyer,” he said. “There’s a huge cost to putting in a subdivision.” Across the Missouri River, Nebraska has created a method for development called the Sanitary and Improvement District, or SID. A SID is created when a developer buys land for a housing development. The SID can install streets,

sewers and power, and can also buy land for public parks. To accomplish these tasks, the SID has the authority to issue bonds, levy taxes and special assessments, and fix rates for services. Carmichael described a SID as a little city and a development possibility Iowa should visit, he said. “It’s a system that has been in place in Nebraska for a long time. It seems to work there well.” Another concern for a slowdown in development is lack of space remaining in Council Bluffs, he added. Outside the inner city, which falls under the infill program, and the development planned for Nash Boulevard, there might be only 100 lots suitable for development within the Council Bluffs city limits, Carmichael said. Oh yes, there is another factor to consider. “We’re still in a significant recession,” he said. One statistic of importance that is perhaps overlooked is the large number of existing home renovations, much of it from storm damage. Still, it could play a role in future housing development, Carmichael said. “They’re spending money on existing homes, so we are improving the quality of existing stock and that will be worth more money.”

The Daily Nonpareil

Market still not like it was TIM ROHWER TROHWER@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

The recession that hit the country in the latter part of the last decade not only impacted housing values and sales, but forced banks and other financial institutions to reform their lending practices making it harder for many to secure home loans, numerous people in the area said. As the saying goes, “Numbers don’t lie,” and home values and sales today differ sharply in many cases from five years ago before the economy went south, according to local statistics. For example, the average home sale price in Council Bluffs between May 2011 and May 2012 was $125,193, according to the Southwest Iowa Association of Realtors. Five years ago, May 2006 through May 2007, the average price was $133,922. It is, however, much higher than it was 10 years ago, when the average home sale price between May 2001 and May 2002 was $109,399. As far as calendar year statistics, about 1,300 homes were sold in Council Bluffs in 2011, 1,303 in 2010, 1,419 in 2009, and 1,754 in 2006 before the recession. Of those sold last

Staff photo/Erin Duerr

The recession has forced new lending guidelines that might make purchasing the “American Dream” more difficult, Real Estate developer John Jerkovich said. year, the vast majority – 1,216 – was existing homes, mostly in the price range of $99,000 or less. So far this year, 396 homes have been sold, compared to 402 during the same period in 2011. As far as single-family home permits, just four were issued in the first two months of this year, though activity picked up by mid-May when 26 total permits were issued.

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“We’re still way behind,” said Steve Carmichael, the city’s chief building official. “It’s not like it was five years ago.” When asked if the recession has played a role in today’s lower figures, compared to five years ago, Real Estate developer John Jerkovich said, “Definitely.” The recession has forced new lending guidelines that might make purchasing the “American Dream” more diffi-

cult, he said. “Qualifying criteria (for loans) is tighter now, and the buyer will have to have a strong credit rating and more of a down payment,” Jerkovich said. What’s more, government funds to help people in the purchase have been reduced, he added. City Councilman Matt Walsh said the same. “First of all, the housing boom was the result of loose lending practices allowing people to buy a home they couldn’t afford,” said Walsh. “Now, there are financial reforms making it more difficult to qualify and lending standards are higher. It won’t be like it was.” Carmichael expressed caution, even some pessimism, about the housing market rebounding in the near future. “There is nothing that says to me that we’ve turned that corner,” he said. Still, there’s some positive news, he added: The growth in the commercial construction sector. Frequently in the past, when one area of growth is stronger than the other, it’s only a matter of time before that other sector rebounds, Carmichael said. “They feed off each other.”

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

The Daily Nonpareil

Friday, May 25, 2012

7C

The resurgence of house parties Direct sale businesses enjoy renewed popularity CHAD NATION CNATION@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

In an earlier time, direct sales were how people purchased products. There was no running to the nearest box store to pick up a needed item. You had to wait for a peddler carrying a tin trunk on his back to buy new scissors, needles or small hardware. Over the last two centuries, the direct seller had been displaced by commercial repositories carrying every item imaginable. But a new direct sales explosion has brought salespeople back into people’s homes. The 21st century has seen the resurgence in popularity of direct sales businesses. Hundreds of items are now sold during in-home parties, from nutritional supplements to cosmetics to air filtration systems. According to the Direct Selling Association, more than 15.8 million people in the U.S. are involved in direct selling and

there is a total of $28.56 billion in sales in the U.S. alone. And the people involved in selling these products report an unusually high standard of satisfaction from the companies with which they work. Eighty-five percent of sellers report a good, very good or excellent experience with direct selling and 80 percent of sellers say direct selling meets or exceeds their expectations. And customers are finding the products; 74 percent of U.S. adults have purchased products from a direct seller. While some names, like Tastefully Simple or Avon, have made their way into a number of homes, a growing number of businesses are starting to carve out their own niche. There are dozens of in-home jewelry lines, but one that has taken off in the last decade is lia sophia. Ginger Noel of Underwood has been selling lia sophia since November 2008. What made lia sophia stand out over other home based businesses for her was that she really liked the jewelry and accessories the company offered. “Lia sophia has great qual-

ity, follows current trends and sets new ones,” she said. “They have something in the catalog to suit anyone’s taste.” The jewelry line has a unique lifespan and an association to one of the famous pitchmen of the 20th century. Victor Kiam – the man who was so happy with Remington razors, he bought the company and former New England Patriots owner – purchased a little known company in 1986 called Act II Jewelry. The purchase of the company was not Kiam’s first foray into jewelry, according to the lia sophia website. He and his wife, Ellen, developed the Friendship Collection in their apartment and by the 1970s it had grown into the country’s largest importer of jewelry, antiques and artifacts from China. Kiam enlisted his son, Tory, then a second-year student at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, to analyze Act II’s prospects as a school project. Tory Kiam concluded direct selling provided great earning opportunities, flexible working hours and enhanced selfesteem for those involved. “In essence, it was an indus-

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try for and about entrepreneurs,” the website stated. “The sale was sealed, and over the years, Act II Jewelry would grow and evolve into lia sophia.” Victor Kiam established a lifetime replacement guarantee on all the jewelry because he knew how much that confidence had meant for customers in his other businesses. “This is a huge factor,” Noel said. “They stand behind their product.” When Victor Kiam died in 2001, the Kiam family continued to grow and develop the company that meant so much to him. In 2004, Tory Kiam and his wife, Elena, changed the brand name to that of their daughters, to update the brand and to reflect their commitment to the family business. Noel said she enjoys selling lia sophia because she gets to meet new people and get others as equally excited about the jewelry as she is. “I have many repeat customers that know when the new catalog comes out or ask what the monthly special is, which is great and shows that they like the jewelry and want more,” she said. And, since Noel has a sepa-

Classifieds work

rate full-time job, lia sophia allows her to hold as few or as many parties as she wants. “I do it for the enjoyment of meeting new people and I have

to admit that I also do it for the wonderful incentives and discounts that lia sophia offers to their advisors,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

8C Friday, May 25, 2012

The Daily Nonpareil

Moderate growth seen in transport CHAD NATION CNATION@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

There is something distinctly American about hitting the open road. Whether it is traveling by thumb or hopping on boxcar, our collective past is littered with adventurers running to, or away from, something or someone. That spirit is not just in our novels – whether it is Jack Kerouac bebopping across the country with a band of misfits or John Steinbeck traveling with his dog, Charlie – but in our character, our soul and in our business. Seeing a big-rig rumble down the interstate is not just

a chance encounter with commerce. It is a direct reflection of the economy. Same with seeing a Union Pacific engine stop traffic on a local cross street. The more semis and freight trains we see on our journeys, the better off the collective “we” is. While there is no way to locally know how many more trucks are running through town, Mayor Tom Hanafan said more than 100,000 vehicles pass through the interstate system every day. As far as train traffic, the Union Pacific Railroad has seen steady traffic in C.B. Union Pacific spokesman

Mark Davis said it looks as though traffic has remained steady the last several years through the Council Bluffs area. And the company will continue to invest in tomorrow, according to CEO Jack Koraleski. “With a strong first quarter behind us, we’re focused on the prospects that lie ahead,” Koraleski said. “Although softer coal demand remains a challenge, the benefits of our diverse franchise should support continued opportunities in other markets, driving record financial results for the year.

“We’re moving forward with our capital investment strategy, investing today to strengthen the network and build capacity that will drive continued improvement in customer service and increased shareholder returns in the future.” According to the American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, the tonnage of freight in the beginning of 2012 is up, but not increasing at the same pace seen last year or in 2010. The advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 0.2 percent in

March after increasing 0.5 percent in February. Compared with March 2011, the index was up 2.7 percent, which was the smallest year-over-year increase since December 2009. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 9.1 percent above the previous month. “March tonnage, and the first quarter overall, was reflective of an economy that is growing, but growing moderately,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “The pace of freight definitely slowed from the torrid pace in late 2011.” Costello also noted that the industry should not expect the rate of growth seen over the last couple of years, when ton-

nage grew 5.8 percent in both 2010 and 2011. “Most economic indicators still look good, which will continue to support tonnage going forward,” he said. “Expect tonnage overall this year to be up at a more moderate rate, perhaps less than 3 percent, which is more in-line with normal growth.” Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67.2 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9 billion tons of freight in 2010. Motor carriers collected $563.4 billion, or 81.2 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes, according to the American Trucking Associations.

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Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said it looks as though traffic has remained steady the last several years through the Council Bluffs area.

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

The Daily Nonpareil

Friday, May 25, 2012

9C

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Staff photo/Erin Duerr

Future Foam Inc. began producing foam for the furniture industry at a plant in Council Bluffs in 1958. Today, “It’s one of those unknown companies, one of those gems that quietly goes about doing their work,” Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan said.

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In 1958, Future Foam Inc. began producing foam for the furniture industry at a plant in Council Bluffs. Today, “It’s one of those unknown companies, one of those gems that quietly goes about doing their work,” Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan said. Future Foam got its start in the days when flexible polyurethane foam was beginning to be used in the manufacturing of upholstered furniture. Future Foam was founded to supply the furniture industry. “Future Foam is recognized as the producer of the best high-resilience foams available today,” according to the company website. “Today we produce foam at five strategically located foam pouring and carpet cushion plants as well as 15 fabrication plants. Our goal is not to be the biggest producer of polyurethane foam, but to be the producer of the best polyurethane foam.” Hanafan said the firm remains locally owned, and “has employed hundreds of people here over the years. We work well with them, and they’re international.” Future cell foam was developed as an affordable alternative to conventional seating grade foams, according to the company’s website. As an alternative to latex foam, it offers the attributes of latex foam with the strength and fabrication versatility of flexible polyurethane foam. The company started with furniture padding, but has expanded into other areas, such as its quality rebond carpet pad. “We use all state-of-the-art equipment to assure the best quality available. The scrap foam used in our pad has been specially selected to meet our demanding material standards,” the website stated.

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Future Foam is a leading supplier of bulk foam to foam fabricators throughout the country and offers a wide range of foam products. These different foam products are available in the full range of compressions and densities. Five pouring plants “allow us to service our fabrication customers throughout the country.” Future Foam is a family owned business “dedicated to quality service and products. Customer satisfaction is our number one goal.” The company also tries to be a good corporate citizen. Future Foam donated a “dome leak simulator” to the Council Bluffs Fire and Rescue hazardous materials team in 2010, a donation that allowed firefighters to practice techniques necessary to mitigate the problems encountered in dealing with overturned gasoline and hazardous cargo tanks. The donation came after a 2008 incident in which a truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline rolled over on the

2010

South Expressway. Council Bluffs firefighters had to contain the fuel that leaked, as well as get the remaining fuel out of the tank as it lay on its side. A dome leak simulator allows firefighters to practice clamping off leaking lids found on gasoline and Hazmat cargo tanks. The simulator also has a removable plate where drilling through aluminum can be practiced. Lynn Knudtson, regulatory compliance manager with Future Foam Inc., said in 2010 that the simulator has every component of a tanker, without the tank. The simulator hooks up to a hose to simulate a leak. A firefighter then can use a clamp to seal off the tank or use a Betts valve – also donated from Future Foam – to clamp the leak and remove the rest of the liquid. Future Foam has been active on the local emergency planning committee in Pottawattamie County and Knudtson said at the time that

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“We are aware of the hazards,” prompting the gift. “Firefighters need training just like everyone else, and hopefully the equipment will make that easier,” Knudtson said.

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PERSPECTIVES OF BUSINESS

10C Friday, May 25, 2012

The Daily Nonpareil

Key to success: Love the product Longtime saleswoman explains how tenacity, appreciation delivers the sale CHAD NATION CNATION@NONPAREILONLINE.COM

The car selling business has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but it is still predominantly a man’s game. However, there are women out there in the lots pushing steel, and in many cases doing it better than the boys. Michelle Trudell has been selling automobiles for the last 20 years, and for the last 10 years she has done this at Lake Manawa Kia. The sales trade has always been her passion. “I was the only kid at 10 years old, when asked what you want to be, who said I want to be in sales,” she said. “I don’t know why I wanted to, but I have been passionate about it and I love what I do.” Trudell has used that passion to become one of Lake Manawa’s top salespersons year in and year out. She said she has finished ranked in the top 10 in the nation for Kia sales three times. But it is not easy. Selling vehicles is a rough business for anyone, she said, and being a woman can make it twice as difficult when you are getting started. “Women in business have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to get half the recognition; that’s the way it is,” Trudell said. “But if you survive a couple years at this business and prove yourself,

Staff photo/Erin Duerr

Michelle Trudell has been selling automobiles for the last 20 years, and for the last 10 years she has done this at Lake Manawa Kia. ethic. “Tenacity is my best feature,” she said with a laugh, something she does often. “This is a very competitive, male-oriented business, and my customers love me because I do work hard for them.” But being a woman is not a magic bullet to make it easier or harder to sell cars, or anything for that matter, Trudell said. And she knows. Trudell has always worked on commission. Even before selling cars, she never worked for a “paycheck.” Before selling cars, she

things get better.” When she first started in cars, she said salespeople would run out of the dealership doors whenever they saw a customer on the lot. She said those days are gone now, but they toughened her. “Initially it was brutal; there’d be a group (of salesmen standing at the door), you would have to fight your way out the door,” she said. “It made me better, though. The more unfair I thought it was, the more tenacious it made me.” Tenacity is a word Trudell says often and fits her work

sold pre-made cemetery plans, and was successful at it. “You have to be able to sell the product,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to look nice, but it doesn’t sell cars.” What sells cars is the same thing that has always sold cars: Get to know your customers, find out their wants and needs, and what brought them into your business. “It’s hard work,” she said. “But I’m blessed after being here. I have a plethora of cus-

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tomers that send me business.” Creating loyal customers is key to any successful salesperson. Keeping customers happy long after the sale is the trick. “Follow up and follow through,” Trudell said. “Long after the commission is spent, I am still taking care of the customers, which is something that this business can lack sometimes.” There are the tough times

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too, but that is what separates the good salespeople from the not so good, she said. During the market drop in 2008, Trudell said “you could see tumbleweeds blowing through the parking lot,” but salespeople with loyal customers were able to survive and all the “social” salespeople were gone. The “Cash for Clunkers” federal program helped get people back into the showrooms, and Trudell realized she had a front row seat to history. “‘This is history,’ I thought at the time and I got to watch it unfold,” she said. “When I am old, I will be part of the history books.” The market drop also had a lasting effect on customers. Trudell said customers – especially younger, Generation Y customers – are demanding better customer service, not only from car salespeople, but from any product they purchase. “More so than ever, you can’t treat me bad and expect to have me spend my money with you. Those days are gone,” she said. “They want customer service, all the ‘blue suede shoes’ salesmen are dead and gone. “To be effective, you have to know the product; if you don’t, you’re a terrible salesperson,” she said. The love of the product, the love of the business, and even the love of the game is what keep Trudell pushing forward. “It is a great business, if you make it your business,” she said. “We have all these cars on the lot, the company is paying for all this advertisement, all I have to do is suit up, show up, talk and listen to customers and find out what brought them in and sell the product.” It sounds so simple.

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