Small Business Insight
of the Trian gle
Premier Issue! June/July 2011
The Voice of Service Snuffing Out Pollutants Giving Fitness the O2 Punch
Running the List An insight to 14 local businesses making Inc. Magazine list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in America.
Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
George Alwon is a founder as well as
the President and Managing Partner of Raleigh Consulting Group, Inc. He has over 30 years of experience consulting to business and industry and has been an officer in various management-consulting firms providing services in organization, management, and human resources development. His clients include large sales, service, scientific and professional organizations as well as smaller, privately held companies. Using assessments, training, facilitation, and coaching, George helps people and teams become the best they can be.
Bill Davis is a business coach and
Small Business Insight Owners Council With a vision to help encourage communities to become vibrant and influential centers of commerce, the SBI Owners Councilâ€™s main goal is to connect small business owners and provide them with the opportunity to learn, communicate efficiently and develop strategic relationships. The SBI Owners Council proudly provides a repertoire of member only services that help owners take their business to the next level. We offer educational forums, planning retreats, peer advisory, and social events. By becoming a council member you will immerse yourself in group of highly motivated and successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. Join us and get to know the people whose small businesses help make their community a more vibrant center of commerce. For more membership information visit smallbusinessinsight.com/oc
Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
owner of Team Nimbus of North Carolina, a small business advisory firm specializing in coaching and training small business owners and sales professionals to grow their businesses to provide them with the resources and time to live the lives they want.
Donna Hall is a partner with Raleigh
Consulting Group and specializes in the areas of coaching and organizational training and development. She has particular expertise in leadership and team growth, assessment delivery, facilitation, customer service, and communication. Donna develops and conducts seminars and conferences nationwide for clients that include Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, industry, government, universities and non-profit organizations.
Sarah Van is a partner with Raleigh
Consulting Group and brings over 25 years of experience in human resources, operations, and administration. She works at all levels with clients, from the Board to the floor, helping them with career planning, leadership development, employee engagement, and change management. Her industry experience includes manufacturing, software, entrepreneurial, and privately held companies.
Contents June/July 2011 The List
June/July 2011 Vol. 1, Issue 1 3801 Computer Drive, Suite 101 Raleigh, NC 27609 smallbusinessinsight.com e-mail: email@example.com PUBLISHER Bill Davis
Amanda L. Elliott
Photographer Charles Gupton
Contributing Writers George Alwon Donna Hall Sarah Van Bill Davis Jim Roof
Ashlynn Browning Francisco Chevez
Contact Us Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information regarding : Advertising SBI Emerging Businesses Letters to the Editor Subscriptions Please e-mail sbiownerscouncilHR@gmail.com for info on SBI Owners Council
A look at local featured companies on the Inc. Magazine 5000 list.
A self-proclaimed champion of the underdog masters the business.
Rockett Interactive Guidance Missiles
Navigating the road to success through education.
Apex Instruments Inc L & S Retail Ventures Snuffing Out Competition
Keeping the local and global air clean.
The Voice of Service
Balancing business, service and technology in an ever-growing market.
A look at the business of making the dogs geaux woof.
Good on Paper
Saying hello to success in specialty stationery.
Power Home Technologies Alarming Success
Security and technology ensures the future of local business.
Bulk TV & Internet Staying in Tune
Channeling success through employees, customer service and keeping up with technology.
Fleet Feet Inc. pg. 20
Keeping America on the move, one runner at a time.
Subscribers learn to work smarter, not harder.
O2 Fitness pg. 22
Giving Fitness the O2 Punch Working out the details of a successful exercise club.
Intelligent Access Systems
The Long Legs Company
Reaching across the Southeast with security.
Lease a Sales Rep Made to Order
Tailoring the needs of business to suit them for success.
Greene Resources Perfect Match
Reaping the rewards of innovation and commitment to quality.
A look at our featured companies on the Inc. Magazine 5000 list and how they stacked up to other local businesses making the list. What exactly is this list? The Inc. 5000 is an expansion of the Inc. 500, which ranks the countryâ€™s top 5000 fastest-growing, private companies and also features a special ranking of the top 10 percent of the list as the prestigious Inc. 500.
Revenue by Industry
No. of Raleigh Companies
No. of Industries Represented
IIII IIII II Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
Rank Company 92 104 196 247 260 268 318 345 374 485 518 647 650 913 959
1086 1235 1265 1305 1308 1445 1540 1542 1546 1582 1592 1765 1919 1950 1959 1969 1990 2026 2076 2424 3148 3157 3238 3599 3712 4014 4017 4168 4185 4285 4415
3-YR % Growth Revenue
A10 Clinical Solutions ShareFile Triad Web Design Triangle Direct Media TowerCo Connexion Technologies PropelMG iContact SciMetrika Clinipace Worldwide USfalcon Inlet Technologies Spectraforce Technologies Rockett Interactive Bulk TV & Internet
2714% 2408% 1485% 1236% 1199% 1161% 937% 848% 803% 614% 585% 467% 466% 3.3 311%
TSI Healthcare 276% Intelligent Access Systems of NC 2.4 Hosted Solutions Acquisitions 234% Surety Systems 226% Atlantic Business Technologies 225% Bronto Software 201% MedPro Rx 188% Alarm Team 188% Lonesource 187% The Select Group 182% Bandwidth.com 180% Power Home Technologies 156% Gilero 140% SciQuest 138% Oak Grove Technologies 137% The Maven Group 136% L & S Retail Ventures 134% 919 Marketing 132% Phydeaux 1.27 FeatureTel 1.01 Fleet Feet 64% O2 Fitness Clubs 63% MedThink Communications 60% WorkSmart 47% Greene Resources 42% Lease A Sales Rep 32% Apex Instruments 32% NSTAR Global Services 28% S&A Cherokee 28% Professional Builders Supply 24% Security Management Consult 21%
$8.3 million $4.3 million $2.4 million $4 million $108.7 million $18.2 million $2.3 million $26.5 million $4.8 million $5.1 million $103.1 million $7.6 million $16 million $5.4 million $15.5 million $15 million $10.4 million $49 million $8.9 million $2.4 million $6.6 million $50.5 million $21.9 million $55.1 million $12.4 million $87.4 million $13.1 million $2.4 million $36.2 million $16.3 million $5.8 million $3.2 million $2.7 million $2.5 million $2.2 million $4.2 million $6.6 million $13.4 million $3.5 million $28.7 million $2.1 million $5.5 million $8.8 million $5.8 million $24.1 million $3.8 million
Health Software IT Services Advertising & Marketing Telecommunications Telecommunications Advertising & Marketing Advertising & Marketing Government Services Health Government Services Software IT Services Advertising & Marketing Business Products & Services Health Security Telecommunications IT Services IT Services Software Health Security Business Products & Services Human Resources Telecommunications Security Health Software Government Services IT Services Retail Advertising & Marketing Retail Telecommunications Retail Health Advertising & Marketing IT Services Human Resources Business Products & Services Manufacturing Human Resources Media Construction Security
Cary Raleigh Raleigh Cary Cary Cary Holly Springs Durham Durham Morrisville Morrisville Raleigh Raleigh Cary Raleigh
Chapel Hill Garner Raleigh Raleigh Raleigh Durham Raleigh Garner Cary Raleigh Cary Raleigh Durham Cary Raleigh Apex Cary Holly Springs Chapel Hill Apex Carrboro Durham Raleigh Durham Raleigh Raleigh Fuquay Varina Clayton Cary Morrisville Raleigh
A self-proclaimed champion of the underdog masters the business Story by Donna Reges Hall
As founder and CEO of 919 Marketing, David Chapman specializes in helping businesses discover their potential and competitive advantage when marketed correctly. Chapman’s company, started in 1996, offers strategic planning, brand development, lifestyle marketing, public relations and creative services, all which help companies reach their potential. His well-known client Rosetta Stone is one such example. The DC area company was started by two brothers-in-law, whose language immersion learning product turned out to be a real hit with the public. Before long they became a $10 million company that was ready for some sophisticated branding to continue their trajectory. “So, it usually is an underdog company that has a terrific product that just hasn’t been ready or had the resources to do the kind of marketing they need to get to the next level,” says Chapman. He explains that the thing that sets his marketing company apart from others is that it focuses on long-term strategic planning with clients. This approach has helped them garner national accounts in places such as Florida, California, New York, Chicago and Alabama. “Most agencies here tend to do work locally,” Chapman explains. “Although our name is 919, we have very few local clients. Kerr Drug is a local client and is probably the most well known. Most of our clients refer to us as a middleweight with a heavyweight punch. We’re a smaller company that does some really big things for people nationally.” The inherent variety in his work is something Chapman says he enjoys. “I know enough about a 100 different things to be scary. From water filtration, where I understand how sort of scary it is what we drink, to working on Holly Farms Chicken which was bought by Perdue, and going into a chicken processing plant and understanding what that looks like. I’ve been exposed to more than the average person, which I like. I like working on different things all the time and this is certainly the business for that.” Learning about his clients’ backgrounds is another intriguing part of Chapman’s job. “It’s just going through this constant dance of meeting entrepreneurs with either really good or really bad ideas who all are sort of blindly going after their dream,” he explains. “There’s always a really cool story behind why people do things. It’s hardly ever random. It’s always based on some life changing thing.” He cites the example of his Maryland-based client, Senior
Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
Helpers. The founder had trouble finding someone to move in and care for his elderly mother, leading him to start Senior Helpers which now has 380 locations throughout the country. Chapman attributes making the Inc. 5000 list this year, the company’s first time, to the level of service he gives his clients. It’s a way of treating people that he says he learned from his grandmother. “She said to me the way you judge someone is by what they do when no one is looking. Whether you think anyone will notice or not, you need to notice it and take care of it. So that is the way that I treat our business, that we always do the right thing whether we think the clients will notice or not. So we typically over-service our clients, which is fine.” Chapman also points to author Ayn Rand’s books as having a big influence on him. He loves The Fountainhead, he says, for its lesson of not selling out or going for the easy money. “It’s a very interesting book because it’s about this architect who refused to play the game, who refused to sort of dull down his talent, and about his resolve to make his business successful.” The challenges that Chapman deals with he says are those of most entrepreneurs. “What you really face is this delicate balance between having the right number of people and working on profitability. Getting good people, getting people to pay you, little things like that,” he jokes. Staying relevant with technology and even more so, the changing pace of business, are other concerns of Chapman’s as well. “I used to be one of those Madmen guys and worked for the largest ad agency in the world,” he says. “I had to take my clients out twice a week and have three martinis with them just to keep their business. You go out, you drink, you talk, you develop friendships and you do business. Now-a-days as things move really quickly, it’s a lot more transactional, a lot less relationship based. I think business in general is like that. Long-term relationships, what’s that? It’s just hard to find it. Kerr Drug is one of our clients that we’ve got a really strong personal relationship with from the CEO down. They are local and they are old school people. They appreciate your value and they appreciate a long-term relationship.” It’s this kind of thinking that makes Chapman speak highly of his clients and his desire for their success. “What I’m probably more proud of than us being on the list is that some of our clients are on the list. That says a couple of things. One, that we’re doing some good work for them and two, that we’re making sure that they are getting their just rewards for a job well done.”
Snuffing Out Emissions
Keeping the local and global air clean Story by Donna Reges Hall
Owner Bill Howe started his company Apex Instruments Inc. in 1988. For 23 years, the company has manufactured equipment that samples emissions from industrial chimneys and smoke stacks for air pollution measurement. Apex Instruments has always been directly involved with the environmental industry, working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When the Clean Air Act was established in 1990 and hazardous air pollutants were identified for control, Howe’s company was at the forefront of product design, method evaluation and implementation. A North Carolina native, Howe says he was always interested in air but they didn’t have the program at Virginia Tech where he went to college, so he majored in environmental management. Howe got his start in the field doing wood stove emissions testing. “The EPA was developing new regulations for the wood stove industries for residential wood stoves and I saw that as an opportunity to start my own business,” he says, “Every wood stove had to be certified, currently, for emissions standards and when I started, the EPA had identified 400 wood stove manufacturers. Two hundred of those were in North Carolina and surrounding states, so this was an ideal location. That’s why I started the business, it was to pursue that industry.” In its infancy, Apex Instruments Inc. did work with wood stove testing, but later transitioned to focus more on smoke stack sampling. “I would say the first two years was dedicated to just wood stoves, and then we were manufacturing some of the equipment
that we currently manufacture,” Howe explains. “The equipment for wood stoves is very similar to the equipment that we use for stack sampling.” Howe was grateful to make this shift. “I hated woodstoves, but it was an opportunity,” he says. “We were burning the wood stoves seven days a week, 24 hours a day doing catalyst longevity studies for EPA.” “Traditional customers are the stack testing firms and that is the majority of our customers, or companies that just go out and do stack testing, and they’re easy to identify because they advertise that they do stack testing,” he says. “So, it’s easy to find those. Industry is another base. If you divided up between stack testing firms, testing firms, engineering firms, and then you’ve got the industrial base, the power plants, maybe the chemical plants that do the road testing. They don’t advertise that they do it, so that’s a little harder to identify. Then we’ve got the international market and with them we’re selling to research institutes and governments.” As political administrations change, so does the level of attention to environmental concerns. Howe says that the EPA has had more regulations out in the last year than they’ve had in the 15 years prior to that, and this means more work for him. “Now what is driving a lot of our business are the hazardous air pollutants from the Clean Air Act of 1990. The biggest part of our business right now is mercury. That’s the hottest thing for us domestically and starting internationally to the UN.” As for competition, Howe says there are quite a few stack testing companies in the Triangle area due to the EPA’s proximity, but he calls it a niche industry that’s very customer service oriented. “We’ve got two or three primary competitors here domestically,” he says. “We compete against them internationally, too. There’s a lot of competition in Europe. We’ve never really pursued the European market that much. We’ve concentrated primarily in Asia and South America, but we sell a fair amount to Europe, too, especially the U.K. We target places that have adopted U.S. EPA methodology. If a country is going to adopt our regulations and methods, that’s who we target.” This is the third time that Apex Instruments Inc. has made the Inc. 5000 list, an accomplishment that Howe attributes to the company’s outstanding customer service. He says he’s always operated under a bit of simple wisdom taken from L.L. Bean, “Give people a good quality product for a fair price.” The road to growth hasn’t always been smooth however. Howe says the financial crisis in Asia in 1997 caused his business to take a dive. There were three years of decline, and it took several years for things to come back up, but the company has been growing steadily ever since. Howe hopes for more of the same in the future. “We’re expanding, we’re offering more services, more products. Most of our standard product lines are rudimentary,” he says. “It’s just basically all manual equipment. Most of our newer equipment is micro-processed based that we’re working on. But we’ve expanded into manufacturing mercury sampling equipment here for several years. Now we’re starting to offer the assortment traps that go along with them. Our customers, internationally, are wanting the complete package. So they’re wanting the sampling equipment, three agents to go with it, and the analyzers. That’s what we’re working on right now.” smallbusinessinsight.com
Photo provided by FeatureTel.
The Voice of Service
Balancing business, service and technology in an ever-growing market Story by Donna Reges Hall
Paul Levering saw hosting voice-over IP services as the future long before it was a readily available option. After being laid off from a company that sold phone systems at the end of 2002, he was offered a safe job with another company, but he couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the possibilities that hosting held. Eventually, his wife gave him the prod he needed. And thus, FeatureTel was born in 2003. FeatureTel’s hosted voice-over IP service makes it unnecessary for clients to buy telephone systems ever again, according to Levering. FeatureTel’s clients range in size from one employee at home to the City of Durham with more than 1,800 employees. Regardless the business size, it’s important to Levering to stay connected to his clients and to put their needs first. Having happy customers and happy employees are the main goals for his company he says, along with being “kind, smart and helpful.” These are the words clients used to describe FeatureTel when it was small and Levering wants to carry that reputation into the future. “As a company grows, people get promoted away from customer service. So the bigger you get, the most competent and the people with the best character, those best employees get promoted away from the customer,” Levering explains. “And customer service is very often the job that is relegated to the entry level positions. So you get the big telecoms with the ‘lousy service.’ It’s because people get promoted away from the customers.” Levering explains that as FeatureTel’s owner, he has a hand in all things big and small that go on with the company. “I see every support unit, every email that comes and goes through
Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
tech support. Things that people are asking for, comments, things like that. I get copied on all customer interactions with our tech staff,” he says. “And whenever I see something where someone is giving us praise, that gets copied to the whole company.” Two tasks Levering does outsource are marketing and CFO duties. “As we’ve grown, it’s hard to find experts, but when you do, it’s a very good thing,” he says. “Some people really specialize. So as we’ve grown and the market has continually evolved, we’ve brought in an outsourced CFO position to help us look at strategy. How do we go forward and how do we leverage what we’ve done.” Scaling up the company while maintaining its quality is a key issue on Levering’s mind now. In the beginning, Levering and his CTO John Carnes tackled all the duties regarding sales and technology, which were their passions. Now there is less of that as the business grows, and with 15 employees now, more time must be devoted to human resources and strategic planning. Luckily, Levering describes himself as versatile and says that he can handle anything thrown at him. He also makes sure that he surrounds himself with the best employees. “It’s easy to be wonderful when it’s just you or a few people because you control everything. And if you’re good at what you do, then people are going to love you. But how do you scale that? To scale it, you have to hire similarly wonderful, capable people. Two things you look for in hiring are character and competence. Competence can be taught. Character cannot.” Levering seems to be striking the right balance, as his company continues to receive accolade after accolade. In addition to making the Inc. 5000 list this year, FeatureTel also won the Pinnacle Business Award for consistent growth, which had been a long-time goal of Levering’s. Giving back to the community is a priority for the company as well, and FeatureTel’s achievements in this area won them the Apex Small Business Award in 2010 for outstanding contribution to the community. Levering calls education a big soapbox issue of his. FeatureTel supports donorschoose.org, a cause which allows teachers to earn funding for projects, and which has garnered endorsement by celebrities such as Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. Levering got his first taste of being a leader as the manager of a McDonald’s in Chapel Hill while he was in college at UNC. He jokes that maybe he wasn’t necessarily a good manager but he led by example and his employees followed suit. Owning his own business is a different ball game though. “You have to be a little bit crazy and a little bit ignorant to start a business, because if you know everything you’re in for, you might not start that business,” Levering says. “But once you have it going and it’s up and running, in my case anyway, you get a lot more conservative and a lot more cautious because you want to hold on to what you’ve got. So it forces you to think long term.” As for challenges he faces, Levering says staying on top of his game consistently is the main one. “Your customers expect you to be the expert in your field. And with technology that changes so quickly,” he says. “I swear it changes faster and faster all the time. It is a challenge to keep up with the latest technologies and the latest tools available for your clients.” He goes on to explain, “You have to do a lot of work to research and keep up with things. Because there are a lot of things that come up that are fast. There are going to be flashes in the pan and you need to know the difference between a fad, a trend, or something that’s going to have greater impact for your client and that’s going to be around awhile.”
A look at the business of making the dogs geaux woof Story by Donna Reges Hall
Phydeaux is the seemingly swanky independent pet store which owner Frank Papa claims people often mistake for a boutique because of its quirky name and décor. While Phydeaux is unusual in its quality and design, Papa says it’s a practical everyday store for pet needs ranging from food, treats and toys to grooming and cleaning supplies, as well as a host of other high-quality pet accessories. Papa has been in the Triangle area for more than 20 years, first as a business student at UNC, and later employed as a computer developer. He saw the niche opportunity for a high-end pet store and explored this idea, starting small. “I’m not coming into this as a person with money who decided this was going to be fun,” Papa relates. “I started this in a 1,200 square foot shop in Carrboro and did everything myself because I really didn’t have any money, and I just grew it to this point. So I’ve done every job here. Everyone does every job.” The unexpected success of that first shop led to a transition to Chapel Hill in 2002 and most recently to a new 14,000 square foot location in the heart of downtown Raleigh, in Seaboard Station. Papa says his typical clients are “people who love their pets and want to take care of them and enjoy doing it. We’re a little bit more geared toward the high end of the market but we’re affordable too.” You won’t find mainstream pet foods that are available in grocery stores or big-box stores at Phydeaux. For example, the criteria for foods and treats include not selling products that contain any kind of by-product, wheat, corn, soy, BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin. In this age of instant gratification via Web orders, it’s an impressive feat that 95 percent of Phydeaux’s business takes place in-store, with the remaining 5 percent online. “It’s unusual,” Papa says. “It’s kind of a dying industry and retail is really hard, but we’re doing well and growing.” Papa attributes making the Inc. 5000 List to his employees, who he calls the face of the business now that he’s stepped away from the cash register. Exceptional, knowledgeable service is an important aspect that sets Phydeaux apart. This recipe for success seems to be working, with local customers voting Phydeaux as “Best Pet Specialty Store” in the Triangle four years in a row in Independent Weekly.
“I enjoy all the different, unusual things I have to do all the time to keep the place running,” Papa explains. “Buying unusual things, going to warehouses…soup to nuts, I have to be good at everything whether it’s fixing stuff, whether it’s IT, whether it’s things I can’t even imagine. It’s just kind of fun, because everyday I end up driving around doing all kinds of weird stuff.” At the same time it’s harder than any job he’s ever had and this can get overwhelming. As a small business owner, Papa is adamant about his feeling that there is no one to tell you what you’re doing and you have figure out things on your own. Without extra money for consultants, it’s been a winding road of obstacles to figure along the way over the last nine years, and Papa has faced those down in his own independent manner, learning through experience. He proclaims to hate typical business books because often they don’t address real world scenarios. “I would like to read something by someone who built something them self and was actually making a profit,” says Papa. “That would be interesting. Because I think it’s easy to say just make people happy. It works at Google, it works at SAS Institute, but to make it work and turn a profit…that’s the real trick.” Advice he’d give to other business owners is to understand that if you’re doing this on your own, it’s all-encompassing. There is always a problem and that never goes away. He sites corporate competition as another challenge for small business owners, as well as garnering access to credit and money. Most normal people would collapse, says Papa, but his heart is in the business and that motivates him. The future appears bright for Phydeaux with two locations and perhaps more on the way. Papa calls the newest Raleigh store a “litmus test” for growth and says he’d like to continue to expand locations if he can keep the culture the same. To him, this means maintaining the way people work and the way they’re treated. “Everyone really does have real, actual responsibility,” Papa says. “We’re really different than any retail business I’ve ever been in. It’s important. I think that’s why it works, while so many other competitors have fallen or aren’t thriving. The way things are structured here is very, very unusual. Everyone does every job. The organization is going to continue to stay as flat as possible.” smallbusinessinsight.com
Keeping America on the move, one runner at a time Story by Donna Reges Hall
Fleet Feet Inc., the nationâ€™s leading franchisor of specialty running stores, was started in 1976 in Sacramento, California, by Elizabeth Janson and Sally Edwards. Current CEO and Chairman Tom Raynor began with Fleet Feet in 1992, working on store operations and new store development. The following year, he purchased the franchise company along with two California stores, including the original Fleet Feet Inc. location in Sacramento. The rest, as they say, is history. 10 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
Today, under Raynor’s passionate leadership, Fleet Feet Inc. has grown to 90 stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Their 2010 retail sales surpassed $100M million for the first time in the company’s history and same-store sales have seen double-digit increases annually for the past 10 years. A unique aspect of Fleet Feet Inc. is that all 90 stores are locally owned and operated franchises. Raynor’s says this was one of his principles from the beginning that continues to uphold. “A lot of people think that franchises have cookie-cutter formats, and we don’t because we feel like the store has to reflect the community and the personality of the owners and the employees and customers,” he explains. “A lot of people probably don’t know that any decision that we make internally has to meet certain criteria: ‘Is it good for the franchisees? Is it good for the vendors? Is it good for Fleet Feet Inc. and is it good for the customer?’ If it doesn’t pass muster on those four points, we don’t do it.” Raynor believes it’s difficult to execute a corporate model in any business and points out that some of his competitors like Athletic Attic and Athlete’s Foot are out of business now from a franchising stand point because they’ve always had corporate owned stores. He also believe strongly in giving a chance to other up and coming business owners. “I think when you start providing opportunity for people, you find a lot of people,” he says. “We have a lot of great owners who financially could not have opened a store on their own, and we put them in a position where they can be successful. We test them, do a long interview process with them, and then they own their own businesses.” Raynor surrounds himself with good people and jokes that he’s not busy now because his team is so proficient. Some of these colleagues include Fleet Feet Inc.’s former banker Denise Courey, who is now the general manager of SRDC, (Specialty Retail Development Company, a franchise of Fleet Feet Inc.) and Jeff Phillips who is the president of Fleet Feet, Inc. Phillips has worked with Raynor since 1984, in his first job in the sporting goods industry after college. Raynor says that people always point out how lucky he is to have his wonderful team, but he says there is more to it than that. “Businesses, actually, don’t really get lucky finding people,” he says. “You have to create a great environment for them to work in. With our franchisees and our employees, everyone says, ‘you’re like a family.’ But we’re actually not, because in families you don’t get to pick your family members, in business you do. We’re all accountable to each other for something. We’re mostly competitive athletes. We set the bar high and we try to put the pedal to the metal in the right way.” Raynor, an Atlanta native, has been a runner since high school and says athletics have always figured largely into his life. “Three of the most influential people in my professional career were my high school coach, my college coach, and then when I worked for the governor of Georgia, who happened to be a runner, an outdoorsman. Those three are sort of the foundation of it.” After Raynor’s work as assistant press secretary to the governor of Georgia, he transitioned into the athletic industry working in various positions for The Athlete’s House, Nike, Brooks Shoe Company and Wilson Sporting Goods. He settled with Fleet Feet Inc. in 1992 and right away began putting his mark on the company. Raynor says that Fleet Feet Inc. has a broad range of customers of all ages and each store works hard to serve its particular local community. He points out that the Triangle has a strong running scene with very competitive middle school athletic programs and high school programs that are ranked among the best in the nation.
He adds that UNC, N.C. State and Duke all have excellent track, field and cross-country programs and calls the post-collegiate running scene in the Triangle phenomenal. It’s important to Raynor however, to meets the needs of those just starting to run as well. “When I think of the profile of the customer we have to serve, I think of a 59-year-old woman who is a breast cancer survivor who has never been involved in athletics, who is extremely uncomfortable walking into a running store, and how we treat her ... or a 40-year-old, or a 35-, 28-, 68-, or a 79-year-old,” he explains. “That’s what I think about. How do we make the customer experience so great that they would never think about going anywhere else? The good thing about it is that the Internet has caused this fire hose of information, it’s everywhere. That fire hose has really created an opportunity for us. The other thing that’s really created an opportunity for us is that most people don’t have a good retail experience, so the bar is very low. So if we’re excellent, we can really, really stand out in the customers’ mind. And we have to do that. We have to consistently do it. We have to do it at an exceptionally high level every day with every customer.” Raynor says that Fleet Feet Inc. did not experience any significant downturn during the economic crisis and attributes this success in part to the breadth of what his company offers customers. “The healthy life style universe that we exist in does really well when times are good and does really well when times are bad,” he says. “Because people do make a decision, ‘Hey, do I spend $50 a month for a health club or do I take that fifty bucks and put four months of money together and go start a running program. Do we have a running program they can get involved in?’ We have over 500 running groups in the country, training groups, with over 40,000 participants. That is coach to walk, walk to jog, jog to finish a 5K race. My sister is the perfect example. She was not a runner until she was 53, joined our “No Boundaries” program, sponsored by New Balance. We did the program internally for all of our stores and they participated at a very high level.” Fleet Feet Inc.’s hassle-free return policy is just one more aspect that makes the customer experience there so satisfying. “If at any time, you’re not happy with anything you buy at Fleet Feet Inc., bring it back and we will make it right,” says Raynor. “No receipt, no time limit, no packaging, anything. No question. If you want a full refund, we’ll give it you.” Raynor says this kind of exceptional service is what it takes to stand out and succeed. “The experienced runner knows what they want, they know where to buy it. You can buy everything we sell in our stores within 10 miles of our store, either through your computer or another retailer somewhere south of suggested retail price. You either have to be the best in the marketplace, or you have to be the cheapest. There’s no other real position in the marketplace. We choose to try to be high service.” lways seeking to improve, Raynor had Fleet Feet Inc. go through “Net Promoter,” a customer-loyalty metric that has been written about in Harvard Business Review. The Net Promoter score is obtained by asking customers a single question on a 0 to 10 rating scale, where 10 is “extremely likely” and 0 is “not at all likely.” “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?” Based on their responses, customers are categorized into one of three groups: Promoters (9–10 rating), Passives (7–8 rating), and Detractors (0–6 rating). The percentage of Detractors is then smallbusinessinsight.com
(continued from page 9)
subtracted from the percentage of Promoters to obtain a Net Promoter score. Fleet Feet Inc.’s Net Promoter score four years ago was 72, a good score by the metrics of retailers. Not satisfied however, Raynor completely revamped the company’s customer service survey, receiving over 10,000 responses. The company made immediate changes to meet their customers’ priorities. At 60 years old, Raynor is on top of his game, but it’s his fighter spirit that has allowed him to prevail. Only two and half years ago he was treated for a tumor at the base of his tongue and for prostate cancer six years before that. He survived 16 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy and lost 60 pounds. “I couldn’t walk, couldn’t eat, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t talk. And that’s a good story because I’m still alive,” he says Raynor displays a stoic attitude regarding his illness and says that he always saw people sicker than himself during his treatment,
Giving Fitness the O2 Punch Working out the details of a successful exercise club Story by Donna Reges Hall
“A lot of people think that franchises have cookie-cutter formats, and we don’t because we feel like the store has to reflect the community and the personality of the owners and the employees and customers” including small children, and that this observation helped him keep things in perspective. He says being sick also allowed him to reflect and let go of some regrets in is life, as well as accelerate his business decisions. As for making the Inc. 5000 list, Raynor expresses his characteristic belief in never settling for good enough. “Making the Inc. list is not a big deal because you can make the Inc. list and not be successful, just be a fast growing company,” he explains. “The big deal is making the Inc. list four years in a row. That’s a big deal. We’ve had double-digit same-store profit growth over the last 10 years, every year. We’ve doubled profit growth, which allows us to have more resources to do more things.” In May of this year, Raynor was inducted into the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) Hall of Fame. The NSGA has honored Sporting Goods leaders since 1956, but it’s a highly selective award. This year’s inductees bring the total number of Hall of Famers to only 150. Under Raynor’s skilled leadership, Fleet Feet Inc. seems to show no signs of slowing down. The company plans to continue to meet customers’ evolving needs and soon will be tripling the space of their Raleigh location in the Ridgewood shopping center. “We’ll have consistently smart growth,” Raynor says. “We’ve doubled our business every four years for the 12 past years, which is about 20 percent growth a year. We will continue to do that. We’re going to expand the business to deliver an even broader complete customer experience with some ancillary businesses like lifestyle retreats, yoga retreats and travel.”
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O2 FITNESS has been on fire lately with energy and expansion. CEO and Raleigh native, Michael Olander opened the first location in 2002 and though he says the company faced obstacles at first, it has enjoyed steady recent growth, acquiring seven other gyms since late 2009 at a rate of one about every two and a half months. “We’ve had our speed-bumps for sure,” Olander says. “When things first started going bad, we got hit really bad with our personal training right off the bat, but we’ve bounced back and we’re back at our pre-recession levels for personal training on an existing club basis just by focusing on having the best trainers, the best systems, and really providing the best product. People recognize that it’s something they need to do for themselves and for their bodies. We try to make it easy. We’re consumer friendly and we’re really upfront. We’ve got a lot of really neat programs that we think help people just enjoy their experience. As part of our perk, our existing growth has come from the added ability to penetrate the market even deeper due to the acquisitions we’ve had.” Today there are 10 O2 FITNESS locations, including two new Express Clubs acquired in the last month. The Express Clubs are intended to expand the company’s footprint into markets that aren’t ready for a full-size club yet. While they don’t offer child care and group exercise like the regular clubs, the Express Clubs feature full lines of cardio and strength, as well as showers and 24-hour access. Olander is thrilled with his company’s rapid momentum. “It’s exciting. There’s always a lot of anxiety when you’re growing this quickly and you’re trying to build the base for which you hope the future growth will come from. It can be trying at times, but it’s fun,” he says. Olander says his fitness clubs appeal to all demographics, from teenagers to senior citizens and everywhere in-between. Whatever the age, he says providing the client with an enjoyable experience is his goal. “We’re member focused and retention-based,” he explains. “Really, we’re all about providing different experiences. Rather than just going into a club and just being a giant box full of a bunch of equipment, we want you to have a positive and different experience every day. Of course we want you to have a positive experience from a member and staff interaction, but also each club is set up with different areas and different experiences. We’ve got over 50 group exercise classes a week, integrative TVs in the majority of our cardio, Wi-Fi throughout, iPod and iPad
compatibility almost throughout all of our cardio. So you can plug it in and it shows actually on the screen and it charges your iPod at the same time. We want people to have a positive experience and a different approach.” Another aspect that sets O2 Fitness apart from other clubs is their “Oxygen Express” offering, which Olander describes as a fullbody workout that focuses on toning and fat loss. “It’s a 30-minute workout set to music, aerobic and anaerobic, so you go to a separate room and it’s got music playing for 30 seconds and it’s got 15 seconds before it tells you to switch to the next machine,” he explains. “You do 30 seconds on a piece of strength equipment and then have 15 seconds to go to a bike and then back to a piece of equipment and then bike and then back and forth. So your heart rate stays up all the time, you’re burning fat, you’re doing the aerobic exercise, but also with the strength training you’re doing the anaerobic. You go twice through the circuit in 30 minutes.” Olander got his start in the business based on his own personal experiences with health and weight loss. “I was really into fitness in high school and into college,” he says. “I was an overweight adolescent and then I got into fitness and lost a lot of weight and felt really good about myself. Traveling, I’d seen a lot of sub-par clubs and I thought it could be done better. And so that’s the goal I set out with. The first one was small, it was almost more a personal training studio, but it was kind of like a boutique. And I think this is where a lot of our ideas and approaches to fitness come from, that boutique kind of thing where members are not just a number. They come in and they’re part of a social group in the clubs. From opening that first one just wanting to do something with it to where we are now, it’s been a journey. “ Today, Olander says he tries to visit at least one of his clubs each day. He works out at the Brennan Station and Seaboard Station locations which are close to his office and home respectively. This kind of convenience is an important perk of O2 FITNESS. “That’s one of the things for us, as we’re continuing to build and acquire all these other locations, is that we want it to be convenient for everyone,” Olander explains. “We have 10 locations, so anywhere you are in the Triangle there’s one that’s close to home
and one that’s close to work.” O2 Fitness also works with local companies to arrange gym options for their employees, a trend that is catching on. “We do some unique things with different companies,” he says. “We’ll host, we’ll do lunch-and-learns, we’ll do anything for companies that want to partner up with us. We’ll give their employees discounted memberships if a certain number sign up. It’s a tiered scale depending on how many sign up. Some companies actually buy memberships for all of their employees. A few companies actually have us host private group exercise classes either onsite or in our clubs. Every Friday at Cary, I know there’s an hour class for a specific company. Some companies actually buy personal training and give it to their employees as rewards. But for every dollar that a company invests in health and fitness the average return is $3.41. So we’ve been seeing more and more companies getting into what they should be doing with that.” The company has been growing at such a fast rate that Olander says he has to force himself to put the brakes on at times. “It’s something I struggle with, always wanting to expand he says. “One of the things that I’ve been wanting to take to heart right now is it’s a much better return on investment to improve the performance of an existing location than to build a new one. I’m going to try to take a couple of months off from billing and acquiring. It’s a good time of year to do that in the summer because things are so crazy in the clubs in the first quarter with New Years’ resolutions. So we’re focusing for this summer on improving our systems and existing locations’ profitability.” One of the challenges Olander says he faces regarding his company’s speedy growth is getting access to capital. “I think it’s the hardest thing. We’ve been acquiring these clubs out of existing cash flow. None of our acquisitions have taken on any additional debt, but it’s hard because you can’t build a new club—a $4 million dollar club with 30,000 square foot with a million dollars worth of equipment—you can’t do it without a loan and money is just really not out there.” In addition to growing, Olander says it’s important to him to focus on the quality of O2 Fitness and its continued improvement. “We want to get better in everything we do,” he says. “From how we service our members to how we perform financially, we want to be a high-performance company and continue to improve every single measurable aspect of what it is we do. Consumer satisfaction and the bottom line... we think that one leads to the other.”
“People recognize that
it’s something they need to do for themselves and for their bodies.
We try to make it easy.”
The Long Legs Company
Growing security across the Southeast Story by Donna Reges Hall
on Oetjen says it’s the constantly changing nature of security technology that keeps him engaged and challenged. He initially got his start in the field through the military, working in Bosnia and Kosovo with cameras and ground sensors that were designed to signal approachers. Later he worked for a national company as an electronic security installer, where he began to grasp the business side of the field and decided it was the right fit for him long-term. In 2004, Oetjen started Intelligent Access Systems, which services the electronic security needs of power, gas, water and electric companies, as well as universities and healthcare. His company designs, installs and manages cameras, door hardware, electronic security systems, network cabling, as well as fiber optic infrastructure and information technology. The timing to start a company in the security field couldn’t have been better. In 2004, government regulations had just begun to go into effect and these proved beneficial to Oetjen. “We took a different approach, and it really has paid off for us through the recession because electrical companies have still been strong, gas companies have been strong, everybody still wants water in their house and the government has started to regulate all of those facilities,” says Oetjen. “Water, because of terrorist attacks, electricity, because of the critical infrastructure nature of power to the grid, and the gas company, obviously because there’s so much volatility in gas.” About twenty percent of Oetjen’s clients are in healthcare and education. UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Peace College are among this list, as well Campbell University, one of Intelligent Access Systems’ oldest and most loyal clients. A majority of clients, however, are large multi-site companies such as Progress Energy and Dominion Power, and these clients come with their own unique set of challenges. Oetjen says you’re most likely to find his employees out on I-40 or I-95,
14 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
which they frequent constantly in order to service their many remote client locations. “The challenge with our typical client is that a lot of their facilities are in places that if you’ve lived in North Carolina your whole life, you’ve never even heard of this place” say Oetjen. “It’s because they don’t build power generation facilities usually in downtown Raleigh or in downtown Greensboro. They usually put them out in the woods. So we have to run a long distance. We call ourselves the ’long leg company’ because from Raleigh we go all the way to Wilmington to the Tennessee border supporting Progress Energy. And most of the time there’s no ATM, no gas station anywhere close to a lot of these facilities.” Oetjen says it’s not the easiest thing to get prospective employees to buy into. Driving a company vehicle, being on the road 50,000 miles a year, and often working in the middle of nowhere are all less than glamorous parts of the job. He cites recruiting as his number one challenge, especially the younger generations who he’s interested in drawing in. “It’s not as much of a challenge as my competitors in the other areas, but this industry is just not as ‘sexy’ as some of the other industries. It’s power companies, it’s gas and water companies. The technology is interesting and if you could do that and have all of your businesses in RTP, I think it would be very attractive to Gen X and Gen Y.” When he does get good people, Oetjen works hard to keep them. “We invest heavily in our employees,” he says. “We spend a lot of time and training and development. One of the main things that most people don’t realize is that as we’ve grown the company, we haven’t brought in a lot of high big players from outside. We’ve really developed from within and given our people a chance to grow with the company. Tim, the Raleigh Branch Manager, was the first employee that I ever hired.
Oetjen attributes his success to good timing and hard-working employees
He was a guy that was working at UNC doing dorms in the hot summer, and he’s grown into a position where he runs the Raleigh market for us now.” Oetjen says his employees respond well to this kind of approach. Their commitment is strong because they see the company cares and is invested in them. Oetjen also works hard to develop people’s individual strengths and not force them into boxes. “Take people for who they are, not for who you want them to be,” he relates as important advice he’s received. “One thing I struggled with early on is that I wanted everyone to be this super technician that could do everything. I started the business saying everyone is going to do everything. One of my mentors said, ‘You know, Ron, there are great people out there that aren’t wired to do that, but they do what they do very well. They don’t all need to know how to run this business. They just need to know their piece of the business.’ While Oetjen did move to Atlanta for a short while to work, he says he much prefers Raleigh and is grateful to be back in the Triangle. “I like it because it’s a big market. You get the best of both worlds doing business in Raleigh. You get a great city with the availability of a lot of great people. And you have a lot of universities here where you can pull people from and give them a chance to get into the business.” This is Intelligent Access Systems’ second year in a row on the Inc. Magazine 5000 list and Oetjen attributes the company’s growth and success to the quality of his employees. “With the clients that we have, one person can’t do it all,” he says. “If you have a weak link in your chain and you’re running long
“Take people for who they are, not for who you want them to be.”
distances, and you have these big clients who are very demanding and all your people are not higher level than most companies, you’re not going to survive very long. So I really attribute it to the people we have and their ability to understand the clientele we have and keep them very satisfied. They in turn bring us more business because they tell the other power, water and gas companies.” Intelligent Access Systems has grown to be a ten million dollar plus company predominantly through word of mouth. Until two years ago, they didn’t even have a sales person on staff. Oetjen doesn’t equate size with success, however. “We always said, we don’t want to be the biggest company, but you don’t have to be big to be great,” he explains. “You can be yourself and can dominate a region of the country. We always said between Atlanta and Washington D.C., we want to be the strongest player that people go to when they really need a strong technical team to service them.” He points out that this kind of success takes constant work and evolution. “I came from the military, so you always look for a mission. You get a mission, you get a mission execution and then you go to debrief when you’re done. Unfortunately, in business there is no finish line. It’s this continual thing.” Expansion plans are in the works for Intelligent Access Systems, with cities such as Asheville, Charlotte, Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, and Norfolk all on the list of possibilities. As he’s done in the past, Oetjen plans to give current employees the opportunity to further develop their careers by taking on these new locations and growing them. Though his sightes are set high, Oetjen is grounded in the time tested approach that he believes in. “Have a little bit of business, take our own people, don’t try to do anything fancy, try to stick to our core values” he says. “People are saying ‘I don’t know if you’re going to make it in Asheville.’ I keep saying, ‘Well, we’ve made it in every other place we’ve been to.’ smallbusinessinsight.com
Navigating the road to success through education in digital media Story by Donna Reges Hall
Though he didn’t know it was his true calling at the time, Mark Rockett fell into the advertising business young and stayed. He got an early start working through college in the company his father was a partner in, originally called McKinney Silver & Rockett, and moved his way up from the mail room to production and eventually into account management and media. Rockett had the vision that digital media was the future of his field and was ready to go out on his own. In 2003, he became the founder and CEO of Rockett Interactive, which is a full-service advertising agency that creates and manages every aspect of a client’s online presence, from Web development to display and search planning. Rockett says that his favorite part of his job is educating clients and wowing them with the advertising options available today. “We’re very big on educating. When they bring in clients, a lot of other agencies typically will put everything down behind the screen like in Wizard of Oz and not let them know what’s going on,” Rockett says. “We found that the more we can educate our customers, the more engaged they will be with the process and ultimately, the more business we’re going to get from them. Because if you let them know what’s going on, then there’s typically a lot of additional things and it opens the door.” Rockett’s company sets itself apart from its competitors in other ways also by combining all approaches to advertising, including traditional and digital, creative and analytic, strategic and fluid. The company is data-driven and specializes in the integration of all digital online marketing channels through one system. This style works well for Rockett’s analytical mind, which he says handles numbers more easily than the strictly creative side of advertising. “With the digital side, I can look at a set of numbers that would probably boggle the mind, and say, ‘Here’s your pattern, here’s where we need to go, and here’s what’s happening,’” he explains. With his company’s cutting-edge approaches, Rockett says one of his biggest challenges is hiring local people with the right skills. “Most of the people that are in our industry, that come to us, will sit down and interview and they’re the most confident person in the world,” he says. “And I’ll ask them 15 or 20 questions and they walk out of here with their tail between their legs because they don’t know what they don’t know.” Rockett uses a recruiter to help with hiring, and he generally gets people from New York or from other big agencies. He says too often people get trained in silo-like environments where they aren’t seeing the big picture and how it all works together. In contrast, his company is truly full service, providing clients with strategic planning, online connection planning, search engine marketing, organic site optimization, web design services, and mobile and social media.
16 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
Though his advertising approaches are sophisticated, Rockett enjoys being able to explain things to his clients and have them get excited too. “I get a great sense of educating. Sitting down and having you say, ‘That’s amazing, that’s cool.’ I love imparting information to people and having them get it,” he says. “And helping marketing directors who have unbelievable pains trying to make sure ‘How is this working, how can I prove that what I’m trying to do is actually working?’ Being able to help and sit down with a frantic person and bring everything down to a very simple level and actually implement it and three months down the road, have them look like a rock star. That’s amazing.” After working 100-hour weeks straight for the first few years of the business, Rockett is proud to see the results pay off. This is Rockett Interactive’s third time on the Inc. 5000 list and they will be applying again. “There is something about the third year of business,” Rockett relates as advice that was once given to him. “If you can hold your business up and keep it going for three years, that third year, for whatever reason, tends to be a magical year. And that was very true in our regard.” Professional coaches have been important to Rockett as he’s developed his business along the way. From completing the StrengthFinders, he discovered that management skills were not his natural expertise, and he delegated those to the company’s current COO Mike Iannelli. “I realized that many of the things I was working on hard were management,” Rockett says. “And ultimately, my DISC, my work StrengthsFinder, showed I’m never going to be a good manager. And that was very enlightening and very freeing. And that’s one of the reasons we brought in Mike, because he is a great manager of people. I’m very good technically. I’m very good at educating people and planning and understanding we need to get from here to there. I’m a problem solver.” Rockett listens to lots of audio business books for guidance as well and quotes some of his favorites as The E-Myth, Good to Great and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He has new employees coming in read Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog for advice on how to stop procrastinating and manage time effectively. Rockett lights up when talking about the future of his company. “We’re creating a database which is going to be pretty amazing. And we are pretty close to having that done,” he says. “Part of that is there’s a mountain of data that comes out of all that we do and for a human being, by the time it takes to analyze all that’s going on, it’s almost too late. So we’ve got the data in a way that we’re going to start getting into algorithm modeling and statistics, so we can begin to automate the process a little bit.”
Good on Paper
Saying hello to success in specialty stationery Story by Donna Reges Hall
After lots of planning and dreaming, husband and wife Jon and Katie LaNasa and partner Derek Stockman started their holding company L & S Retail Ventures in 2003. The core focus is InvitationBox.com, an online store that offers the products, service and personalization of a stationery and gift shop with the convenience of the Web. Jon, an entrepreneur at heart, says he’s drawn to the challenge of balancing all his responsibilities as a business owner. “I enjoy growing enterprises and being involved and doing lots of different things,” he says. “In the morning, I help with the proofing and the typesetting. I used to print every order. I do all the HR, I do finance, I cover the entire spectrum. Being an entrepreneur allows you to do multiple things and you can do them at the pace you want to do them. Setting the goals and priorities, hiring people, working with people … That’s sort of what makes business fun.” InvitationBox.com specializes in gifts and invitations for the whole range of life’s special events, from birthdays to weddings, baby showers, graduations and everything in between. Jon says a majority of his InvitationBox.com customers are 25-35-year-old brides, newlyweds and new mothers, as well as daughters giving their parents birthday and anniversary parties. Along with their own unique designs, InvitationBox.com carries some of the most popular vendors in the industry including Inviting Company, Stacy Claire Boyd, Odd Balls, Picture Perfect, SanLori Designs, Cross-My-Heart and Paper So Pretty, to name a few. The company does 99 percent of its business online, but still maintains regular store hours for customers who like to see products in person and have some guidance. Interestingly, neither Jon nor Stockman have any real background in the invitation industry. “I came into this business out of a finance background,” Jon explains. “Derek has more of an IT background. We had no clue how to print. We knew nothing about designing invitations. We built these capabilities up step by step. I designed a lot of the cards in the beginning. I printed everything in the beginning. We sort of half learned how to do different things. As we’ve learned, we’ve
been able to grow.” Though it wasn’t a passion for invitations that drove them at first, Jon and Stockman didn’t just happen into the industry by chance. They plotted their business ideas together while working as former colleagues at Amphenol in Connecticut. Jon was tired of the extensive global travel his job required and was ready to do something on his own. When the time was right, he and Stockman took their leap. “We’d go out drinking once or twice a week and we’d sit down and say we want to do something else,” Jon explains. “And literally for a year at these happy hours, we’d break down ideas in a spreadsheet. We came up with 70, 80, 90 different business ideas. And we just kept coming back to this market. It’s a $40 billion market if you include greeting cards, and at that time there really weren’t the Shutterflys and the Kodaks. Tinyprints had the same exact idea at the same time we did. There were a few online people but it was really ma and pa driven and your local boutiques. I said we know the Web, we just need to learn how to do the printing piece which we’ll figure out. Let’s go for it.” In the beginning, Katie was the sole employee and ran the InvitationBox store for the first year, while Jon and Stockman worked on the website. Today, they have 13 full-time employees, as well as several part-time employees who help leading up to the busy June wedding season. “I think the presence we convey makes us seem much bigger than we are,” Jon says. “But we’re able to do so much so competitively with a very condensed staff. We’re very efficient and very goal focused and there are only thirteen of us here.” This is the company’s second time on the Inc. 5000 list, a feat which the owners attribute to hard work. Jon is no stranger to 14hour work days, he says. “Nothing is more important than working hard,” he relates as advice his father gave him. “If you work hard at anything, you’ll eventually get good at it and be successful.” “If I don’t put the hard work in, I can’t ask everyone else to. I have to set the example for everyone else,” Jon says. “If I’m not working the longest hours, I can’t expect anyone else to outwork me. I mean, we’re not investment bankers here. We’re not handing out $10 million bonuses to the person who works the longest or hardest. So I try to set the example of ‘Work hard, do whatever it takes.’ If I have to go take the trash out, I take the trash out. If I have to fix something that’s broken in the bathroom, I go fix it. It’s what you to do succeed.” Jon has worked in the past with Priceline founder, Jay Walker, who he calls one of the great entrepreneurs of our current generation. During that time, Jon was able to sit in on meetings with Walker and says he saw the speed of his ideas and execution. Jon learned how to strategize and how to come up with big ideas, break them into small pieces and develop them quickly. Those lessons of growth certainly seem to be applicable to InvitationBox.com. The company is now obtaining an even wider following by advertising with popular wedding websites such as theKnot.com, Weddingchannel.com and Weddingwire.com. Jon says his company will be focusing this year on the formal wedding market, which they have ignored up until now because it’s labor intensive to sell the product and to produce it. He expects development in that market to lead to significant revenue growth over the next few years. Jon plans to expand the company’s unique invitation designs as well, which are created under the name IB Designs. With large competitors like Shutterfly and Kodak, LaNasa works hard to hold his own in this niche industry. “We’re definitely one of the up and growing companies,” he says. “We’re not the biggest but people know us.” smallbusinessinsight.com
Security and technology ensures the future of local business Story by Donna Reges Hall “Boom Baby!” These two words are all that is needed to encapsulate the excitement and energy of Power Home Technologies, according to CEO Ben Brookhart. “Everything we do, when someone does well or needs encouragement, it’s always ‘Boom Baby!’ It means great job! That’s awesome! It’s our statement, our signature.” Brookhart has reason to be excited. His company, which specializes in home security systems, started in an apartment in Richmond, Va., in 2004 with three employees and today has grown to over 17 locations and over 250 employees. The company is now on the West Coast and plans on continuing to expand to more locations. Ninety-five percent of Power Home Technologies’ business is in residential security, installing monitor alarm systems, and the other 5 percent is small business security, along with CCTV (Closed Circuit Television system). The company’s headquarters are in Raleigh, and they are also fully licensed to operate in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Colorado, as well as their newest addition, California. Brookhart says that his typical client is usually a new homeowner who is either purchasing a new construction home or someone who has just moved from out of town and bought an existing home. “We’re very lucky here with the economy and with all the locations,” he says. “The Southeast has really been a great market. Our business has continued to grow every single year. That’s one thing about security, our business thrives when the economy is down because crime is up, and it thrives when the economy is good because more people have things they’re buying and want to have protected. We win both ways. “ Brookhart describes his company as a highly motivated sales organization that is full of great people that have goals. He says his job is to help them hit those goals and to achieve the success they want in life. It’s a tightly knit group. “I’ve got the best employees and the best team,” Brookhart says. “That’s what PHT is all about. We are like a family. We barbecue together, we go to sporting events together, we do a lot of things.” Brookhart is proud of his Power Home Technologies’ inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list. “That is one of my biggest accomplishments for the company,” he says. “Making the list in 2009 and hitting 305 out of thousands and thousands, and to follow it up the next year, even though we were further down, we still made it.” It was a circuitous route that led Brookhart into the security system business. From Indiana originally, he played college baseball at a small school in Michigan, but his career was cut short
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by a shoulder injury during his sophomore year. After finishing that season, Brookhart earned a two year associate degree in business and decided to leave the Midwest. He settled in Charlotte where a cousin lived and pursued sales since he knew he liked talking to people. Brookhart was hired by Craftmatic Beds but just before starting that job, he happened to talk with his cousin’s best friend, a commercial property manager, who had recently signed a lease with a large security company called West Tech Security. Brookhart took the friend up on his offer to make an introduction. “The next day, I called the West Tech office at 9 a.m. and a gentleman by the name of Greg Stokes, who became my mentor, answered the phone,” explains Brookhart. “We started talking about basketball. I’m from Indiana, he’s from Alabama. One thing led to another, and here we go, I put my suit on and I go for an interview. Two hours later, I walk out after I’ve signed new hire paperwork to do full commission sales knocking on doors selling security systems, which I knew nothing about. I walked out of there and said to myself, ‘what did I do?’ But I was so excited about the opportunity because Greg Stokes, the general manager, had gotten me excited. He showed me a lot of opportunities.” Brookhart worked for West Tech Security for two years until they were bought out by ADT. In 1997, at the age of 20, he says he knew there wasn’t any further opportunity to grow, so he decided to start his own company. Brookhart relates advice his father once gave him, “Son, if you always do what you’ve already done, you’ll always have what you’ve already got.” He says this motto has pushed him to try and always accomplish new things. “Power Home has been in business for seven years,” explains Brookhart. “Prior to that, I had a previous company called Select Security Services. I sold Select Security Services and thought I was going to get out of the business, and I quickly found that you can’t really get out of this business, because it keeps bringing you back in. The group of people who bought my company didn’t really run it properly and they ended up going out of business, so it gave me an opportunity to get back into the business and all the sales reps that had worked with me wanted to come back, so it was like divine intervention. Because Power Home Technologies’ employees work on full commission doing door to door sales, not an easy feat, Brookhart feels a serious responsibility to keep them motivated. “Our business is all about people,” he says. “All of our security consultants are full commission, so to hire somebody and to sit them down and let them know that they’re basically unemployed everyday they walk into the office, you have to have a really dynamic person in that office that is always encouraging, motivating, uplifting, and keeping that rep excited about that opportunity.”
“Security is everywhere. People talk about it,
Brookhart says the door-todoor nature of his company capitalizes on people’s interest in home security by making things easy for them. “Security is everywhere,” he says. “People talk about it, they think about it. They procrastinate though. They see the commercial on TV and the husband may look to the wife and say, ‘Honey, don’t you think we should get one of those?’ She might say yeah, but then they don’t do anything about it. Until we come up, knock at their door and offer them a promotion to have our system installed at low to no cost, and then they just pay a monthly service. We do around 800 installs a month. “ Power Home Technologies goes to great lengths to get the best employees and to ensure that they are trustworthy. “Absolutely every sales rep we hire goes through a complete background check, local and nationwide, fingerprints, drug testing,” says Brookhart. “We want to make sure that when we hire somebody and we train them to go and talk about security and they’re in somebody’s home, they are licensed with the state. Most states have regulated the security business. North Carolina has the private protective services so each one of our reps has to be registered through them. That’s very important. There’s a lot of companies out there that don’t do that and they just hire anybody off of the street. We take a lot of pride in having great quality, career-minded people working for us and that’s shown with the numbers that we produce.” Like himself, Brookhart says that many of his best sales reps are people that come in having never sold anything in their lives. “They come from a different industry; they come in and they believe in the product and then with the support of the management team we motivate them, we encourage them,” he says. “They come into our office everyday knowing that they are going to be uplifted. They’re going to feel great about who they are and what they’re doing, and that’s what we want. We want people to want to come into the office and sit down and talk to the manager and have them tell a story that makes them laugh, makes them smile, gets them excited, because once they walk out of that door, that’s the real world and they’re going to hear “no” a lot of times and it just takes the one yes to make that sale that day.
Brookhart’s energy and passion for his work are evident, and he spreads this enthusiasm around liberally. “My most important job is being in touch with my management team and my sales reps. I can’t be everywhere, but I go around and I do sales meetings and I encourage everybody and try to motivate them, and get them excited about life and tell them my story. I let them know that they can accomplish anything they want to if they put their mind to it, and that failure is not an option. Your worst enemy is yourself. You can do anything you want to do as long as you believe in who you are. We also have a saying that we tell our reps to say everyday: ‘I love myself, I love myself, I love myself.’ When you say that three times, guaranteed you will always smile. A smile just changes everything about how you feel.” Brookhart says the future holds amazing new developments in his field. “We’re really excited about the technology in the industry right now. When we talk about home security you think about a keypad, a motion detector, door contacts, and that’s traditionally the way it has been for years,” he says. “Now there’s a lot of new products out there that get the customer more involved in their security with home automation services and energy efficiency savings.” Power Home Technologies is aligned with Alarm.com, a company that uses Z-Wave technology to give off an alarm signal via cellular transmission. This is an important offering since many people do not have home telephone lines these days. Z-Wave technology also offers the ability to control many home features from one’s Smartphone, including locks, lighting, and thermostat settings. “The technology has really brought the name of our company full circle, because when we started this company, I knew that we were going to be more than just a security company,” explains Brookhart. “At the time that is all that we were offering, but I knew somewhere down the road we were going to be more than just a security company. That’s why we left security out of our name and we left Power Home, and we are Power Home Technologies. We bring technology to your home and we offer you the best innovative products that are out there.”
they think about it.”
Staying in Tune
Channeling success through employees, customer service and keeping up with technology Story by Donna Reges Hall
om Conley, Vice President of Bulk TV & Internet and his business partner, company President, Dave O’Connell go back. Way back. The two attended kindergarten together in upstate New York. When Conley moved down to South Carolina in 1993, O’Connell, who was already in the DirectTV business, followed a few years later. Conley says he talked his longtime friend into branching out to create their own company, and in 2004 Bulk TV & Internet was born and today is a thriving national provider of television and internet services to commercial clients. The decades-long friendship between Conley and O’Connell makes their work environment a lively place. “We have a very unique relationship,” explains Conley. “Our employees just take a step back and watch us go at each other. It’s funny. People get a kick out of it usually.” Bulk TV & Internet provides DirectTV television programming and high speed internet access services to hospitality, health care and multi-dwelling unit properties. Some of their more high profile clients
include Sunrise Senior Living, Marriott Hotels, Hilton Hotels and Intercontinental Hotels. Conley says his company is able to deliver products and services to anywhere in the United States, but strictly within a commercial capacity. “We don’t even have a residential license,” he explains. “Of course, my friends family, and neighbors all want Dish Network, Direct TV, or want to know what kind of deal I can get them, and I can’t even get one for myself for my house. Which is fine with me, I can at least draw the line and say we don’t do any. We only have the licenses to do the commercial type of properties or hotels. So, our typical customers are hotels, hospitality industry, assistive living and the hospital industry. We’ve done several universities, several apartment complexes, condominiums, time shares, camp grounds, RV parks, resorts, marinas, and some other fairly unique applications.” This is Bulk TV & Internet’s second time on the Inc. 5000 list, and they expect their rate of growth to continue. “I believe we’re over 1,200 properties and over 120,000 plus individual units is what we service
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today. But the amount of business there is in the United Sates is close to three million properties and thirty million possible units, give or take a few. So the potential for future growth is certainly there, and that’s what we’re always keeping an eye on.” Like many leaders, Conley attributes the company’s success and growth to his employees. “First and foremost, it’s the dedicated team of employees that understand and see the opportunity in the vision like myself and my partner Dave do,” he says. “You know, that’s the only way we’re going to get to the growth potential or get to our goals, certainly we’re not going to be able to do it on our own, so I definitely give credit to surrounding myself with the correct people. And that’s an absolutely truthful statement.” Conley’s employees seem to recognize and respond to this kind of appreciation. Bulk TV & Internet has twice won “Best Place to Work” from Triangle Business Journal. This is an accomplishment that Conley says is his favorite of the many accolades the company has earned over the years because it’s based purely on his employees’ feedback.
Bulk TV & Internet’s employees stick around and the same could be said for their customers. “We have a very nice foundation and our customers continue to stay our customers,” says Conley. “We have a retention rate that is 95 plus percent. Only two employees have left in the past four years that left on their own behalf. One of them got pregnant and moved to New Hampshire. Another one it was a family decision. And we’re good friends. We keep in contact with both of them. That always says a lot I think, when I’m interviewing or talking to new candidates about employment here.” Conley jokes that it’s surprising how important television is to people. It’s a fact that serves his company well. “People can be in the worst financial shape of their lives and the last bill they’re going to cut down is their cable bill or TV,” he explains. “It’s shockingly surprising to me. So we are selling a product that the demand is certainly there for. It’s good for us to be in that position, but it’s shocking how important Bravo, or Court TV, International Channel or channels I’ve never even watched are to people.. Or if they have a
dispute with Direct TV and lose one of their 400 channels, we’ll be hearing about it.” Like most small businesses, Conley says it took the company three or four years to start making money. Today, they are over the hump and with most of their initial loans paid back, they feel the sky is the limit. In 2010 the company moved into their current local office, which Conley says was about four times the space they needed at the time. They moved in with twenty-two employees, and are up to fifty now, with plans to bring in another twenty-five before the end of the year. Additionally, they recently opened a small office in Coral Gables, Florida. Conley says his field is one of inherent change and staying on top of that is always at the forefront of Bulk TV & Internet’s goals. “From 2004-2011 since we started the company, there’s been technology changes that we, of course, have to keep up with and stay in front of in our industry. The main and number one is certainly High Definition programming for television services throughout the country, so that’s where we’ve gained a lot of new business by being a front runner and being able to
deliver that product and service effectively and efficiently.” Conley explains that the days of analog are going by the wayside, in favor of flatpanel HDTVs. Also, since Bulk TV & Internet deals exclusively with commercial clients, there is a certain need to keep up competitively with the ever-growing possibilities in home entertainment. “The hotel industry used to stay in front of the residential experience. It was a big deal twenty years ago to have HBO in your hotel and residential people didn’t even have access to it. Now it’s just the opposite. Now the residential experience when it comes to residential programming is far, far ahead of the commercial experience. It’s interesting.” Conley makes it clear that Bulk TV & Internet is dedicated to adapting to the changing technology and needs of its customers. “The technology has made it unfortunately a lot more difficult for our customers, but we’re working with them, we’re getting them up to speed and we’re going to deliver the product that they’re looking for.” smallbusinessinsight.com
Subscribers learn to work smarter, not harder Story by Bill Davis
on Unger is the CEO of WorkSmart, an industry leading provider of Information Technology management and support for businesses throughout North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic region. Unger, originally from Alaska, attended college at Georgia Tech and then landed in North Carolina in 1997, working in a large engineering and construction firm. He went on to earn his MBA from UNC at Chapel Hill. Unger says his primary reason to go back to business school was to have a hiatus from work in order to be able to start a company. He was certain he had a viable business idea which serviced a real need. In 2000, Unger started putting together a plan for outsourcing solutions for small businesses that involved a subscription service model in which there would be predictable bills and consistent term agreements for the client. He explains that at that time many companies had been sold a lot of technology equipment because of the dot com era, and he saw opportunity there. “People were buying all kinds of equipment and maybe not even implementing it much,” says Unger. “We went in with a strategy. If you want us to sell you some equipment and install a project when you need it, we will do that and certainly at an affordable price. But our main business is maintaining and keeping your things going, and making sure your end users are productive and you’re thinking about IT as more of a strategic investment, not something you just put money into.” Unger says that this kind of practice was common in other industries but at the time there wasn’t yet a very savvy mentality around technology, particularly for smaller companies. He brought in business partners, CFO Ricky Ayers, who he’s been friends with since freshman year in college, along with COO Clay Harris. Ayers was finishing his MBA at Harvard at that time, while Harris was at UNC with Unger. The three successfully balanced their studies along with the full-time rigors of starting a company. Worksmart’s first operating year was 2002. “We probably had a couple thousand clients here in the RaleighDurham Area. We actually had some clients in Charlotte by then, as well. We were pretty aggressive about getting out there because we had to make payroll,” Unger says. “We didn’t have big bank accounts or much investment, no money at all, just a little bit cobbled together. So it really had to be based on cash flow from operations. Unger says bringing value to their clients has always been the company’s main mission from the beginning, and they are constantly adapting to fit the changing technology needs of clients.
22 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
“Back then we never even talked about cell phones with our clients because they were pretty much unknown. Nowadays, we’re servicing Blackberries, iPhones, recently, iPads. We service all these things because all these things are part of the IT infrastructure, the devices that allow them to communicate effectively, internally and externally.” WorkSmart’s typical clients are companies with any where between 5 to 250 employees, many of which have multiple locations. These clients are based in North Carolina, as well as in the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas, where WorkSmart has expanded through recent acquisitions in the past year. Unger says that he started his company because he felt the IT field was underserved and that it was due for a professional service firm. He explains that the predominant model at the time was “tech people solving tech problems.” Unger felt that his calling was to focus on not just exclusively technology, but on business strategies that were enabled by technology. “We were coming at it from a completely different angle,” he says. “We’re not technical people by trade, whereas most of our competition are technical people. We’re fairly networked nationally with companies like us. In every major metro there’s a couple of companies our size doing what we do. When we talk to them we’re still the odd man out because we’re not computer engineers by trade.” Additionally, Unger says he likes being able to provide a subscription service business model in which there is a built-in consistency. “I think that’s kind of our persona, part of our philosophy; what kind of work life we want as people, business owners,” he explains. “We want this consistency. We like working with the same clients, of course more of them, but the same clients from the history of our company.” WorkSmart’s comprehensive services allow clients to focus on their big picture and not get bogged down with the intricacies of ever changing technology. “IT is not getting simpler, it’s actually getting a lot more complex, even though people are becoming more savvy with using their PCs,” Unger explains. “The iPad makes your life simpler in a lot of levels, but it makes management of IT a lot more complex. As complexity goes up the value becomes more. One of the things that is happening now is that things are moving to the cloud and that’s what’s called somewhat of a game changer in our industry. The cloud has been a great thing for us because there’s no way
“IT is not getting simpler,
it’s actually getting a lot more complex...
a business owner running a law firm, an accounting firm, a civil engineering firm, or construction firm is ever going to have the time to really understand it well enough, the cloud or local-base infrastructure. The smaller microbusiness, sure, things can get really simple and they might need just quarterly type support. You get beyond that and the complexity goes up exponentially.” WorkSmart has earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list every year since its inception in 2007. Unger attributes his company’s consistent revenue growth to its long-term relationships with clients. He says much of his competition tends to focus on upfront project work, while WorkSmart deals with on-going technology management. This kind of continued work with clients has allowed Worksmart to grow organically, even having two acquisitions in the last two years. “During the downturn, we actually had clients, a non-profit as an example, who went from their staff working 40 hours a week to 30 hours a week because they had to save money, but they did not drop a bit of our services because what are they going to do?” says Unger. “So there are two reasons why we were able to make the Inc. 5000 in the past couple of years, where a lot of our competition didn’t even get close because they were on a downward swing. One, we focus on the long-term relationship. We don’t recommend anything unless we can back up years and years in the future. So we have to think about the long term on anything we recommend. The second thing is that quantitatively, our product sales and our project work are a fairly low percentage of our total revenue anyway. Most companies in our industries will have, typically, around 60 percent of their revenues coming from one-off projects or equipment sales. Ours has never been more than 30 or 40 percent, and even at recent times it’s probably in the 20s. Though Unger admits his job can be stressful, he says at times he steps back to think about the larger perspective. “Life’s short. Really experience and enjoy every minute of it,” he says. “Literally, that’s what I feel and believe when I wake up
in the morning. We’re taking on the problems of clients,’ right? We’re just taking it on and we’re trying to make it easy and that creates a situation where we’re in constant stress. We have 320 different businesses that pay us a monthly fee, expecting it always to work. Like electricity and cable TV, it’s a utility, and when it doesn’t, which happens as you know, it creates stress. But then I’m thinking too what can I do now to really soak up that time with my kids to make sure I’m really a part of all of that? Happiness is right up there with health. I think a lot about that with my kids growing up and what I’d really like them to believe and feel. Their health and happiness is everything. Everything else is not even close. If you’re happy and you’re healthy, it doesn’t really matter what you have.” Unger’s advice to other emerging business owners is to be very conservative, even as they begin to earn a profit. “There, hopefully, will be a point where your small business will get to a level where you can make a lot more money, and take money out of the business for different things, but when there’s that point, be very careful,” he says. “Be conservative with your lifestyle and make sure you’re re-investing back in the business.” This kind of thinking has served WorkSmart well. “That has always been our philosophy that rather than up and then down, we would rather have something that would grow nice and steady,” Unger says. “That philosophy kept us in the Inc. Magazine 5000. The funny thing is that if we had been too aggressive about paying ourselves we wouldn’t have the money to power through this last economic condition. We didn’t have to reduce anybody’s salary during the economic downturn, not ours or any of our staff. Sure it’s a decent industry to be in, a decent business model. But I have competitors in our industry in this model who had a downturn. And because we’ve made certain strategic investments and we had the cash to do it, we came out of it in a better place. I think that comes with the business owners’ mentality about their money, how they spend it, their lifestyle.”
As complexity goes up the value becomes more.”
Made to Order Tailoring the needs of businesses to suit them for success Story by George Alwon
Gil Pagan, President and CEO of Lease A Sales Rep, describes himself emphatically as a born entrepreneur, but it’s not something he always knew about himself. Before venturing out onto his own, Pagan had a medical staffing background, working for a company which he helped grow exponentially. After realizing he’d hit the ceiling in that job, he moved on through several other jobs with different companies, yet always felt like he was missing his calling. 24 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
“I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur,” explains Pagan. “I eventually started my own business from the basement of my house in Staten Island in 2003, basically to feed my family. And I used my contacts in medical staffing and healthcare because I was doing sales and business development. I came out of healthcare, so my background is all healthcare academically.” Finally feeling like he’d discovered the right niche for him, Pagan pushed on and developed his own company rapidly. Lease A Sales Rep provides sales support and sales execution programs for businesses. They focus on increasing sales through the provision of experienced inside and outside sales teams working on-site or offsite to grow the sales pipeline. Their specialties include inside and outside sales, cold calling, appointment setting, lead generation and phone sales. “I contacted other medical staffing companies that needed contracts with hospitals and nursing homes,” says Pagan. “I had the skill set, so they started saying, ‘Hey, Gil, we can use the contracts, absolutely!’ so I started dialing for dollars in the basement of my house in Staten Island. I had a phone and computer, just dialing, dialing, boiling room stuff, just dialing, dialing! Getting contracts, getting contracts! I said, sure I can do this. This is easy!” Pagan then moved into Manhattan, where he got a small 150 square foot office and hired his first salesman. Things were moving along even quicker than he’d anticipated. “We started banging out more calls,” says Pagan. “Got more contracts, next thing you know, I started exploding, I started growing. Then I opened up a larger office and larger office, and that’s how I started my business. I’d been in New York eight years when I started the company. I moved here to Raleigh because my brother lives in Fuquay Varina. We loved North Carolina.” Today, Pagan has clients across the country, with sales reps in California, Texas, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania in addition to North Carolina, New York and Florida offices. He describes his company as a full-scale sales outsourcing organization that can fit a client’s particular need. “We have an outsource sales model that’s customizable for a client,” Pagan explains. “So, a client needs leads, and they don’t need anything else, we give them leads. If they need meetings with decision-makers because they’ve got sales reps that can close business, they don’t need us for that, we’ll set up meetings for that. If they want to open up a new market, but they don’t want to set up a new office, they want to use our infrastructure, because we’re already there, we’ll do that for them. So, depending upon what they need, we’ll tailor our sales model to meet that need. So, we’re
basically an outsource sales solution for a company that fits their sales process, or their life-cycle, for 10, 15, 30 years.” Pagan says his clients range from what he calls “solo-preneurs” to large publicly traded Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies in fields such as healthcare, technology software, construction, advertising, banking and finance, and life science. What these clients have in common Pagan explains is a certain “pain” that needs addressing. “Their pain is that they either do not have enough leads in the funnel, they’re not getting enough meetings with decision makers, or for some reason they do not have enough infrastructure to roll out a new product,” he says. “There’s some kind of pain going on.
“What’s your pain? How can we help relief that pain? We’re going to be your Tylenol, your Aleve, we’re going to take that away, and we present a solution.” We have to figure out what that pain is, which part of the sales process. What’s your pain? How can we help relief that pain? So we’re going to be your Tylenol, your Aleve, we’re going to take that away, and we present a solution.” He goes on to say, “A lot of these people running businesses are not entrepreneurs, they are the technicians, and they can’t market it or even see the value, at the smaller end. The larger companies have difficulty finding the right people. They can’t find the people so they end up calling us.” Sometimes there is an inherent fear that companies have about using an outsource sales company. Pagan chalks this up to the issue of control. “They have this element, or fantasy that they really have control over their people,” he says. “They think that because the sales rep
is working inside, that they actually have control over him or her. That’s all psychological. Once they get over the hump of control, they say we’re going to outsource this function, because we realize we can’t do it well ourselves.” In regards to knowing a company’s product inside and out, Pagan says that’s really not a chief concern in the ways that Lease A Sales Rep can help. “I don’t need to know what your product is,” he explains. “I just need to know enough about what it does, what does it cost, where do you stand in the market place, how it solves somebody’s problem. That’s all I need. I don’t need to know how you make it. I’d rather know how it takes away the pain. My pain is, ‘I can’t collect on a customer, I can’t collect on a customer that I’m billing.’ So, let’s get you a billing management software product that tickles you 30 days before the invoice is due, so you can email them or pick up the phone and call them. So they can increase your cash flow, that’s how the software is going to take away your problem. I don’t need to know how it works.” Pagan’s energetic personality doesn’t stop with his entrepreneur side. He is also an ordained Pentecostal minister, and says that he runs his business based on biblical principles. “It’s a Christian owned and operated organization,” says Pagan. “We deal with our employees using Christian values, and we also deal with our clients the same way. Our mission statement, although it’s not in our website, I’m going to eventually put it there, says “To prosper businesses through the works of our hands.” So when they prosper, we too shall prosper. So everything we do in that organization needs to focus on that mission.” Currently, Pagan is at work on a book and also has a radio show and blog focused on growing businesses using biblical principles. “We have interviewed a lot of people,” he says. “Some of them are clients, and some of them are just CEOs that I interviewed on their business on the radio show. Some of them are believers, some of them are not. You don’t have to be a Christian to be on the show. I’ll talk about your business and we’ll talk about issues. If you’re a believer, great, if you’re not, then alright, fine. We deal with a lot of people who are not believers in our business.” As for the future of Lease A Sales Rep, Pagan says he plans to continue expanding and, as with most things in his life, he has every intention of going full out. “We have some relationships with Brazil, Chile, Germany and we’re looking at China,” he says. “We’re looking to go international in the next couple of years, and we’re looking to open up another office in the west coast to handle that part of the U.S.” smallbusinessinsight.com
Photo provided by Gary Greene.
Reaping the rewards of innovation and commitment to quality Story by Sarah Van
Though the economy said “don’t do this now,” Gary Greene knew starting an employment solutions company was the right decision for him because he saw the need for a new and innovative approach. After working at a large RTP firm for ten years, Greene set out on his own in 2000 to start Greene Resources, which is now a thriving company dedicated to improving clients’ productivity and profitability by helping recruit and develop talented employees. Hiring the right people for more than just the right skill set is what Greene recognized to be a company’s real need. He knew that he had the ability and know-how to start and grow the opportunities before him. “I realized I really liked the recruitment and placement industry,” he says. “It was fun, but I knew there was a new and better way to serve both the clients and the candidates.” Because the economy was not strong at the time and no one was hiring, Greene talked with a number of financial, legal and personal friends about his business endeavor and was cautioned about the difficulties. “I went into the business fully aware that I would need to grow it incrementally and in a way that was sustainable,” he says. “This has been key to our ongoing success.” He credits the continued support of his local mentoring and coaching group with helping to keep him on track. “My growth and to-date success would not have happened today except for their expert on-going help and advice,” he says. The uniqueness of Greene’s approach is demonstrated in numerous ways, including his company’s pricing plan. Greene
26 Small Business Insight | June/July 2011
Resources delivers a managed service program. The company’s financial approach is what Greene calls an “open book” with clients. “We develop and work with a smaller client base and share an open relationship on how the pricing works and a level of flexibility so that everyone gets what they need : the client, the candidate and Greene Resources,” he explains. Additionally, Greene says his company sets itself apart from the thousands of recruiting firms in existence today by focusing on “commitment, vision, flexibility, and innovation” with its clients. Greene’s company works hard to find a true match between a candidate and job opportunity. This kind of match does not happen by just looking at resumes and surface skill sets. When someone meets with a Greene Resource associate, there is a defined process. “Having a process is a tremendous part of success, but it is always customizable as appropriate,” he explains. “Taken to an extreme, we work with only a group of core customers in industry that has earned that privilege. This advantage gives a competitive edge to the candidate, client and the business.” Greene Resources has continued to make sure that they give the “value adds” options that their clients have come to expect. “Our newest innovation is their own dashboard to allow them to monitor and measure the process they have committed to achieve,” says Greene. “By offering this feature as a value add, we are able to stay more closely involved with our clients, thus they return to us when they have challenges or opportunities.” The criteria for internal success at Greene Resources includes working with the right team, providing consistent quality service with honesty and integrity, focusing on fewer customers, and giving back to the community. This recipe has earned the company a number of accolades in recent years. “These awards are truly the outcome of the great people we have on our teams,” says Greene. In 2008, Entrepreneur Magazine recognized Greene Resources as one of the 100 Hottest Companies in the nation, and for the past five consecutive years they have been recognized as one of the fastest-growing privately owned companies in the Triangle. Greene is very proud as well that his company was the first recipient of the RSM McGladrey Integrity In Business Award, which he now helps sponsor. “When we were first awarded the Integrity in Business award, I knew it was a program we wanted to be intimately involved with after that time. I know that if we do not continue to operate and practice from a place of integrity, we will have failed in our vision,” says Greene.