Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.

“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.

“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”

Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.

Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.

Taking notes yet?

While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.

“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”

Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.

Eliminate obstacles

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.

“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”

Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.

“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”

Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.

“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”

Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.

For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.

“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”

Bring on the best

Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.

“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.

“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”

What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.

“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”

Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,

“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.

“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”

Stay connected

Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.

“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”

It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.

“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”

One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.

Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.

“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”

Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.

“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”

Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.

“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.

“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ?

How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com

 

The Libin file

Phil Libin

CEO

Evernote

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia

Education: Boston University

Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.

Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.

Libin's best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.

 

Published in Northern California

On paper, Oleg Firer literally embodies the American dream. Moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., from the Soviet Union at the age of 12, he entered into business without a college degree and rose quickly to become the VP of a publicly traded company by his late 20s.

In 2002, Firer taught himself the payment-processing business — which would become his career — from the ground up and eventually partnered with private equity group Star Capital to start his own payments business in 2007.

With the help of his partners, Firer executed a roll-up strategy that included eight acquisitions between 2008 and 2010, combining the entities into a one payment-processing company — Unified Payments LLC. Today, Unified Payments has grown to approximately 50 employees and $59.5 million in revenue. And with a three-year growth rate of 23,646.3 percent, it soon shot to No. 1 on the 2012 Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies.

“M&A is my background,” says Firer, co-founder and executive chairman, Unified Payments, which now processes about $10 billion worth of transactions for 100,000 merchants a year. “I like to find the diamonds in the rough and make them into diamonds. And that’s what we’ve done.”

Firer’s leadership has been critical in helping the company overcome challenges of integrating eight companies while managing fast growth and staying innovative in a competitive industry.

Smart Business spoke with the Firer to find out the keys to his M&A success and keeping Unified Payments on top.

SB: How did you choose which companies to target as part of the acquisition and roll-up strategy?

OF: The companies that we acquired had something unique about them. Being established is one thing — but they all had some sort of issues. We did a lot of distressed equity buys where they were either overleveraged or they were growing too fast and they couldn’t keep up with it or they had shareholder feuds or so on. Obviously, we looked at dozens of companies and we identified the eight companies that we liked the most, and we executed.

We also invested in human capital. Each one of these eight companies — besides having potential to grow and having a sales engine — had human capital behind them that we believed in. We don’t have eight different divisional presidents. We consolidated, and there were three people that I believed were the strong sales leaders to take this business to the next level. We bet on them. So it was not just acquiring for the core assets and growth opportunity; it was also acquiring them for human capital that knows this industry.

SB: What was your timeline for the acquisition strategy?

OF: The first acquisition that we did was the most expensive and the biggest. We executed the first acquisition in 2008 as a platform buy to do the add-ons that we did at later points. When we did the platform buy, it had a lot of human capital already behind it. Most of it needed to be restructured.

We bet on the sales leadership, but operationally, we had to break down a lot of departments in order to make this a success. That took awhile. And obviously, from the add-ons that we did, we moved some people around, and we hired some new people.

SB: When did you start integrating the businesses?

OF: We didn’t wait for the eight to complete. From the first platform buy, we started right away working on operations, restructuring the operations and making the operations stable. No matter what size of payment-processing provider that you are, you still need a core engine. For us, it was building an engine that’s scalable and having the outsourced pieces that we need in place to have 24/7 support and so on. It took a year to really build proper structure, and then when we started executing on acquisitions, it was about integrating them in the structure.

SB: When you are completing multiple acquisitions, how do you integrate them into your company in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your business infrastructure?

OF: It was easier with the add-ons because when you have an add-on, you strip away (general and administrative expenses) G&A and you integrate the asset into the engine if you see any new human capital that is an asset to the company. Then the rest we would strip down.

So the core support functions like customer support and technical support we would keep in the core engine. If tomorrow I’m presented with an opportunity to buy a payment-processing provider, I would let all the customer support and technical support resources go because I already have them in my core.

It’s like a puzzle. You see the missing pieces and you want to fill those pieces. Identifying the missing pieces and bringing those pieces in became easier after the first acquisition because we see that we’re lacking in a niche vertical. So now we know that the next acquisition that we do is going to be a new vertical. It has to have something special.

SB: How has the recession impacted the growth of your business?

OF: After we acquired the eight different companies, we consolidated, created this engine and decided to keep them in an organic growth strategy. We have been growing for the past two years organically from redoing these engines that we acquired.

This industry is very competitive. And with the recession the biggest thing that keeps me awake at night is that there are more businesses that go out of business. So it’s losing merchants and keeping up with attrition and the churn and providing outstanding service to the merchants that process with you — and providing them with innovative products so that they don’t go to the competition.

SB: How can you manage risk when you have customers who are struggling?

OF: It’s pretty much keeping your ear to the ground and working with partnerships. ... When MasterCard launched a PayPass program, which is a ‘contactless’ card, we were the first organization to launch it for them in New York because we understand what it takes to roll out technologies. By working with the industry’s innovative associations, such as Visa, MasterCard and Discover, and working with technological partners that we have, it makes us stand up to the competition.

SB: How do you make sure that you’re not growing too quickly?

OF: You want to have gradual growth. Pulling in the reins on a monthly basis and slowing down the growth is really the most challenging. Once you let marketing loose, it’s hard to pull in some marketing areas. Growing too fast can permanently damage the company. So it’s about growing methodically, managing within the budget.

With us, there is an acquisition cost to every merchant that we bring in. So if I want to pull in the reins, I just shrink the budget for that month. It’s growing at the pace where the business can afford to fund marketing and then fund G&A.

SB: Any lessons learned the hard way?

OF: If you’re a business leader and you’re an operator, choose the right capital partner that believes in you and that will give you an ability to take this to the next level. I had to go to a few capital partners, and it was challenging to find a capital partner midtransaction. Adding another capital partner during a transaction was even more challenging. So the challenge I had was going through several capital partners; when you’re already committed, you can’t go back.

Get a firm commitment and make sure that the partner that you choose believes in the overall picture and not just a piece of it. Believing in just a piece of it could cause you to run into to problems later in the game.

SB: What are the main lessons have you learned from your M&A experience?

OF: Everything takes longer and it costs more. So you need to be very conservative in your estimates and be very conservative in your projections. Be very cognizant of time. Underpromise and overdeliver — that’s my model.

SB: What advice would you have for another business executing an acquisition?

OF: I had to go through a lot of companies to really believe in the eight that we did. And I mostly believed in them because of the people. It all starts at the top. If you have the right people at the top, if you have the right business leaders, it becomes very easy to do a transaction. If you don’t have the right leadership and business leaders that you rely on, everything else can crumble.

And then, obviously, it’s always challenging to find good people for any business. But if you find somebody that you believe in and that has the track record, don’t let the person go. ?

How to reach: Unified Payments LLC, (877) 621-9110 or www.unifiedpayments.com

The Firer File

Oleg Firer

Co-founder and executive chairman

Unified Payments LLC

Born: Soviet Union

Education: New York Technical College

Management style: There are two styles to me. First of all, I have an open door policy. I speak to every employee in the company and everybody has direct access to me. I meet with my employees all the time. And I don’t consider them employees; I consider them partners because we have a common goal, and we need to work toward it. And I think outside the box. There’s no strategy that I would not look at. There’s no opportunity that I would not look at.

What you do for fun?

Jet skiing, boating

Who have you never met but would you like to have dinner with?

Warren Buffet, to get an insight on what it takes to be the most successful investor of the 20th century and understand what it takes to spot the hidden jewel in the companies he invests in.

What would you be doing if not your current job?

I would be a politician.

How do you regroup on a tough day?

I spend time with my kids.

What destination would you still like to visit?

Israel

What’s next for Unified Payments?

Every month and every day we raise the bar because of the fact we have to grow, and I’m not satisfied with the growth that we have. So we still want to grow a bit more. We still have some internal restructuring that I’m working on, and as I execute a little bit more organic growth and do a little bit more acquisition, one day who knows? I might exit. So it’s making the business big enough to be palatable to somebody smarter than I am.

 

Published in Florida

For Dan Roitman, much of business is science.

Since founding specialty Internet retailer Stroll LLC in his University of Maryland dorm room 13 years ago, Roitman’s career has consisted of an ongoing series of hypotheses, experiments, data analysis, adjusting of hypotheses and formulation of theories.

Roitman’s scientific approach to business-building has developed a highly entrepreneurial culture at Stroll, in which team members are encouraged to share ideas, innovate and test their assumptions. It’s a mentality that has helped the company sustain a period of rapid growth — 80 percent in 2008 and 50 percent in 2009, followed by a year-over-year 100 percent growth margin from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, the company surpassed $80 million in annual revenue for the first time.

But maintaining a forward-thinking mindset throughout the entire organization isn’t something that just happens. It requires CEO Roitman to hire, train and empower his people to achieve the desired results. It’s something that was driven home to Roitman during the recession, when he had to suspend the growth of the company for a year due to a lack of additional financing from Stroll’s bank.

“That was my biggest concern, because we had always been a growth company,” Roitman says. “Then, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to put a specific order volume cap on the business.

“It really became more about communicating that this is the challenge, everybody knew what was going on in that environment, you had a lot of economic hardship, you heard a lot about layoffs that were going on elsewhere. I have to imagine everyone was happy that we were doing well, but frustrated that we couldn’t do better.”

Through it all, Roitman has had to focus on motivating his employees, maintaining a sense of transparency, while still encouraging open thought, experimentation and the scientific mentality that had made Stroll a success in the first place.

Embrace best practices

It’s easy to say you embrace best practices as an organization. Actually discovering, selecting and implementing best practices from another entity are another ballgame. Even if you are able to discover and select an outside idea that you think will help your business, there is a good chance you wouldn’t implement it — at least, not in the form in which you discovered it.

“I once heard a speaker talk about the idea of cloning best practices and how most people don’t have a so-called cloning gene,” Roitman says. “If I told you, right now, the secret to making a million dollars in 90 days and if you followed my instructions exactly, you’d make a million dollars; most people wouldn’t be able to follow it exactly. They’d start to think about how to improve upon what you’re telling them.

“Sam Walton would go into any competitor’s store, and even if it was a really shoddy store, he’d find something they were doing better than he was doing. Through that process, through a million little optimizations, he became a formidable competitor and then an industry leader.

“So if someone is doing something better than you are, you should at least recognize that they are and be willing to try it in your business as well.”

But it is a double-edged sword when it comes to adding new policies and processes to your organization. You don’t want to corrupt the external idea, because it was successful elsewhere for a reason, and that is why you want to on-board it at your company. But you also want to give your people an opportunity to think of ways they can improve upon the idea or alter it so it better fits your company’s specific situation.

For Roitman, that is where the need for a culture that utilizes a testing-based, scientific approach becomes critical. His team members at Stroll can propose new ideas and changes to existing ideas, but they have to back the proposals up with supporting data.

“If you have a constant, iterative testing philosophy, the barrier to testing is very low,” Roitman says. “So if somebody is doing something on, say, the marketing side, you ask yourself about the probability of something similar working in your business. What is the probability of this one idea being more successful than another?

“Ultimately, you have finite resources for your various departments, so you do have to have a mechanism for prioritizing — some kind of filter for what you believe the contribution or change will be.”

Roitman ran into a best-practices testing scenario when he and his leadership team noticed marketers in his company’s space were having success with video marketing initiatives. Through testing and quantification of the results that Roitman’s team believed Stroll could expect, the company was able to implement its own video marketing initiatives.

“Since then, we have won two major awards for our video marketing,” Roitman says. “That is an example of us taking a best practice from outside and utilizing it in a way that betters an area of our company.

“In another area, we’ve also brought in an industry expert to advise us on our shipping costs. It led to us having a 30 percent reduction in our shipping costs (in 2011), and we should have another 30 percent reduction (in 2012).

“We didn’t directly adopt a best practice from somewhere else in that case, but the insight from the industry expert that we brought in allowed us to take things to the next level in that area, and it’s information we wouldn’t have gotten any other way.”

Learn from mistakes

Another aspect of having a culture that is focused on experimentation and learning by doing is a willingness to accept mistakes and failure as part of the process. That is, as long as the failure is part of the process and not a part of employee underperformance.

With entrepreneurship as a key building block of Roitman’s culture at Stroll, often he is willing to take new products to market, and let the market determine whether the idea was good or not.

“Obviously, it depends on what level you’re talking about making mistakes,” Roitman says. “But if you inherently have a testing culture, you know you’re going to have failures, and it’s simply going to be a part of the experimentation process.

“But there are failures of concepts or improvements, and there is failure of performance, which is an entirely different category. The performance category isn’t just a matter of experimentation. It’s a matter of setting up support structures so that people don’t set themselves up for failure. You have to work with them to define goals up front that are realistic and all the general management concepts around that.

“Once you’ve defined the goals, you need to check in with your people to make sure they are on track and setting up workable project plans.”

If you’re working with your people to set achievable goals and realistic project plans, it becomes much easier for you and your leadership team to separate a bad idea from a bad performance.

“It’s all in the mechanics around your execution, which you need to have in your processes,” Roitman says. “If someone just isn’t performing, there is an issue there. But if it’s an idea itself that is failing, but everyone thought it was worthwhile to pursue and a reasonable move to make at the outset, there is no problem in that case. And you have to cultivate that mentality within all layers of management.”

To help guard against large-scale mistakes that could have wide-ranging implications for your company, Roitman says you should put platforms in place that allow you to test new ideas on a smaller level, then scale the successful ideas to larger projects involving more people.

It is a tactic that allows you to commit fewer resources to a project initially, while still getting a sense for whether the idea will work — which is a critical factor as many companies are still struggling with resource management in the wake of the recession.

“That can definitely be something you’re doing; we’ve done that ourselves,” Roitman says. “For instance, in our call center, we’ve rolled out a small-scale test in one area, see how that does, then roll it out on a larger scale.

“In some other areas, we’ve broken down into teams across different areas of the company and tried different things in each area. That allows us to gain some insight into how we can work with different needs and different management methodologies.”

As you go through these processes, you have to keep in mind that your role as the leader is to serve as the traffic cop who ensures that the right type and right amount of resources find their way to the right areas of the organization, into the hands that can best use the resources to produce the ideas and product that turn the highest profit.

“Everything is interrelated,” Roitman says. “Departmental activities roll up to the company at large. So my job is to make sure the plan we have communicated is clearly on track, everybody knows the most important things we have to focus on, and there are no other distractions. We have a lot of ideas flying around, which is a good thing, but we still have to maintain focus. As far as the direction you are going, you have to define what is in and what is out — you have to define both.”

How to reach: Stroll LLC, (215) 701-3300 or www.stroll.com

 

The Roitman file

Dan Roitman

founder and CEO

Stroll LLC

Born: Germany

Education: International business and German degrees, University of Maryland

First job: Unofficially, I mowed lawns and shoveled snow. Officially, I had an internship with the Department of Defense after my first year of college.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

The earlier you can establish the elements of a strong culture, the higher the probability of success of the organization. It starts out with just getting revenue and having a business in the first place, but after that, you need to have a vision and clear goals around that vision, and the right people on board with the proper motivation. Having the right operating conditions helps that immensely.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

One thing that we really focus on in our organization is transparency. After that, you need to be able to develop a really strong vision that influences the organization years into the future. People have to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

What is your definition of success?

Success comes at a couple of different levels. On a micro level, it’s accomplishing something meaningful within the organization. On a macro level, one of the greatest forms is giving back to the community and creating jobs. As we all know, our economy needs sustainable, productive jobs today.

Published in Philadelphia

Don Lowe used to run a simple business.

“We had a small offset machine, we printed black ink on white paper, and sometimes we would bind it for our customers,” he says. “It was that way for many years.”

Franchise Services Inc., which operates printing and marketing services franchises such as Sir Speedy, Signal Graphics and PIP, did one thing and did it well. For decades, it was enough to grow and remain profitable.

But as the 1990s advanced and gave way to the new century, technology started to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, and Franchise Services quickly found itself at a crossroads: adapt or risk the long-term welfare of the business.

“The digital world changed our world completely,” says Lowe, the CEO of Franchise Services. “Our role is now to look at new technology and ask ourselves if it’s a threat or an opportunity. If it’s a threat, we decide what to do with it. If it’s an opportunity, we exploit it. It keeps us very busy, but it’s also very good for us.”

Lowe has needed to add new technology and new services to fill the expanding needs of his franchisees’ customer base — which comprises primarily companies with fewer than 50 employees. Facing their own battles for survival in an economic climate where nothing is a sure thing, the businesses in Lowe’s customer base need services beyond printing. They also need full-service marketing support with a heavy emphasis on creating and maintaining a strong Internet presence.

“That is why, over the recent years, we have moved from a print-centric model to one that focuses on both print and marketing services,” Lowe says. “We’ve needed to expand the products and services we offer to our customers. If you think about small business owners, they’re always pressed for time; they often can’t even spend time on building the business because they’re already wrapped up in managing what already exists. So they need help on multiple fronts, and our job is to provide that help.”

Providing that help has required Lowe and his team to listen to franchisees and their customers, and gain an accurate read on the best ways to serve customers in a challenging and ever-changing climate.

Know the game

The biggest game-changer for Franchise Services came in the proliferation of Internet-based communication throughout the ’90s. In the span of about a decade, the primary conveyance for the written word migrated from paper stock to computer screens. Items that were normally sent through the mail over the span of days could now arrive in your email inbox in a matter of seconds. Internally, filing cabinets gave way to servers as a means of storing data.

“A number of the products we were producing for customers moved to the Web,” Lowe says. “Customers could use the Internet to distribute price lists on a daily basis, and even some training manuals migrated to the Internet.

“If you think about it, even business cards, letterhead and envelopes, all that business declined from where it was in the ’80s and into the ’90s, because we don’t send letters anymore, we send emails. That was the first indicator that we needed to start finding some products and services to backfill some of the products and services that were losing traction.”

But to find new areas of growth, Lowe and his corporate leadership team had to get plugged in to what their customers needed in a print and marketing services company. For Lowe, that meant studying trends, and frequent conversations with franchise owners across Franchise Services’ spectrum of brands.

“You have to understand specifically what the customers’ needs and wants are,” Lowe says. “Everything starts with the customer. If you don’t understand the customer requirements, you won’t be able to fulfill them. So you need to listen twice as intently as you speak, so you can determine what those needs and wants are.”

You can look to macro-level observations in industry publications to get a read on the next big technology that could affect your industry. But to understand how your business is changing on a granular level, you have to make trips to the front lines. Sometimes, the change that satisfies the most customers in the shortest amount of time is decidedly low-tech and relatively inexpensive to implement.

When Lowe and his team speak with franchisees, they aim to find ways to better connect their services to customers, with an overall goal of improving the customer experience.

“For example, today we provide mailing services at most of our locations, and that is a direct result of understanding that 65 or 70 percent of what we print ultimately ends up in the mail,” Lowe says.

“So why don’t we go that last mile, provide mailing services to our customers, and even take the printed pieces in the envelopes and take them to the post office? That is an example of why you spend a lot of time figuring out what is happening in the market.”

In addition to frequent dialogue with franchisees, Lowe and his team also gather information from customer focus groups designed to provide feedback regarding whether Franchise Services is meeting their needs, and in turn, the needs of the market in general.

“The thing we always try to remember is we don’t produce anything at the corporate level,” Lowe says. “All of our services are delivered at the franchise-network level. So we have to maintain consistent contact with everyone involved in those relationships, both the franchisees and the customers. There cannot be an ivory tower anymore. If you’re not staying in touch with the customer, you’re not staying in touch with the business.”

Become a change agent

To change with the evolving needs of the market, you need to first construct an organization that is capable of visualizing change and realizing the need for change. At Franchise Services, Lowe developed a change-focused organization by hiring people who aren’t afraid of venturing into unknown territory while at the same time being creative enough to devise new solutions to meet ever-changing customer needs.

“It’s a big reason why you hire first for cultural fit, then worry about the skill set needed to complete the job,” Lowe says. “If the person you hired can’t fit the organization, or if the chemistry just isn’t right, it’s not going to work.

“You might be able to make it work for a short period of time, but you can’t build a company with that type of hiring policy. A lot of people know that Jim Collins wrote the book ‘Good to Great,’ where he talks about the need to have the right people in the right seats on the bus, and it’s true. It’s not necessarily just about having good people. It’s also about having the right mix of people, otherwise the organization is going to fail in the long run.”

If you can find employees who are open to and willing to facilitate change, it then falls on you as the leader of the company to provide an environment where they feel the freedom and flexibility to try new ideas and implement new innovations.

Lowe facilitates an environment that embraces change by developing a strong sense of trust throughout the corporate ranks and extending to the company’s more than 500 franchised locations. He develops and reinforces the trust factor by ensuring that communication remains transparent throughout the organization.

You and your people need high ethical and moral standards, which set the basis for the amount of trust that you can develop between management and employees,” Lowe says. “It’s also important that everyone understands what the goals are. We don’t have a large staff, so it is important that everyone is aligned with the goals, both on a corporate and franchise level.

“So we talk to our franchisees about their goals and aspirations for their business, and their results, and through that, we develop a team spirit. That helps to drive enthusiasm and gets people ready to show up for work and get busy doing what you get paid to do.”

Lowe’s willingness to change and adapt, and find people willing to do the same, has helped maintain Franchise Services as a strong presence in its industry. The company’s franchised locations generated $448 million in sales during 2011.

“There are certain skills that are required in this business, but beyond that, it quite frankly comes down to attitude,” he says. “The people that work well in our environment take instruction, but they certainly also understand the importance of dealing with and satisfying the customers. A lot of what we do comes down to how you adapt to customers and serve their needs, as is the case in just about every industry. A smiling face and a soft voice goes a long way in our business, every bit as much as the professional skills they need to have in order to get their job done at a high level.”

How to reach: Franchise Services Inc., (800) 854-3321 or www.franserv.com

 

The Lowe file

Don Lowe

CEO

Franchise Services Inc.

Born: Shelbyville, Tenn. I grew up in Hopkinsville, Ky.

History: I’ve been in business since I was 12 years old, when I was a paperboy. I’m 71 now, so I’ve been in business for almost 60 years. I’ve been a shareholder of this company for the last 40 years.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Hire good people, keep them informed and trust them. Beyond that, set the bar high for achievement, and make sure they understand your culture and promote it.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Vision would certainly be high on the list. You also need integrity, because people need to follow your lead, and it is very difficult to follow someone you don’t respect. And if your organization doesn’t agree with your vision, you won’t have a fair chance to be successful. Also, working hard is still a great trait in this country. If you work hard, it will put you in good places.

What is your definition of success?

It’s the opportunity to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and with the people who are important to me, and to get our franchise people to do important, meaningful things to help them sustain their businesses.

Published in Orange County

Throughout its history, vanpooling has been very good to Ann Fandozzi’s company.

For more than 35 years, VPSI Inc. — which is now branded as vRide — has grown and profited from running vanpools for commuters who want an alternative way to negotiate rush-hour traffic. After becoming the company’s CEO this past June, Fandozzi likely could have continued focusing solely on vRide’s vanpooling expertise with no ill effects to the company’s bottom line.

But Fandozzi saw more. She saw vRide’s potential to grow outward from its staple business, with a goal of becoming a comprehensive commuter solutions company. So Fandozzi challenged her company to expand and employ its expertise in new ways.

“My vision, and something that is palatable for us, is really broadening what we do,” Fandozzi says. “There really isn’t any type of commuter solutions company that does what we do, so that made it kind of exciting.

“When you think about it, we are really at an all-time peak of forces coming together, be it congestion in cities, be it gas prices, be it people’s time worth more of a premium than ever before. All of those forces coming together is something that allows us to come in and really offer a unique solution for commuters.”

To make her vision a reality, Fandozzi has needed to develop and implement a methodical approach that helps vRide — which generated $75 million in 2011 revenue  —  identify its target customers and create new ways to serve them by employing internal resources in the most effective way possible.

“If you have a commute of, say, 45 minutes or longer, you might come to us because of our vanpooling reputation,” she says. “But as we grow, we’ll be able to offer you a multitude of different solutions. We can certainly still put you in a vanpool, but we might also be able to put you in a carpool if you have a smaller group. No matter the service offering, the goal is commuter focus.”

Form a vision

To expand your company into new areas, you need a reachable vision, guidelines for achieving that vision, building blocks that will help you turn the vision into a reality and metrics that will help you measure your performance in relation to the guidelines and building blocks.

“Your vision has to be both broad and targeted,” Fandozzi says. “It has to be broad enough to capture the various value streams that the business model can deliver but focused enough that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.

“When we thought about broadening our company from a vanpool company to a commuter solutions company, our vision was significantly broader, but it was also very targeted from the sense that we are going to go after commuters and focus on solving their needs.”

To formulate an achievable vision for vRide, Fandozzi and her leadership team had to connect with the needs and pain points of current and potential customers. It required vRide’s representatives to gather customer data and conduct market research with an eye toward finding the holes in the marketplace that vRide could capably fill.

“A lot of it really has to do with delving deep into the customer’s world,” Fandozzi says. “In order to know where you want to go, you really have to take a step back and see what needs there are from a customer standpoint, areas that being underserved, and those are where the juiciest opportunities will usually present themselves. You go where the needs exist and where potential customers are being underserved.

“In our case, we’ve been looking at traffic congestion, people who are becoming frustrated with commute times, the state of the economy and gas prices, and people wanting more money in their pockets,” Fandozzi says. “We know those are the pain points, and from there, we dig a little deeper and get a read on whether we can expect those factors to increase or decrease over time.”

With traffic congestion and high gas prices remaining as fixtures of day-to-day life, Fandozzi’s team felt comfortable building a vision around how to address those needs. Then, she moved her company into the implementation phase.

“You don’t need to know every step of the 100 steps you’re going to take to get from here to there, but in general, you need to have a pretty good plan for how that vision can be achieved,” she says. “For us, a big fundamental building block has been the Web and mobile technology.”

Under Fandozzi’s leadership, vRide has taken steps to create a mobile-device app that can give would-be commuters instant access to potential solutions provided by the company.

“It’s the nature of addressing consumers who are on the go,” Fandozzi says. “You need an on-the-go solution. You need to automate instantaneous answers for consumers. For 35 years as a vanpooling company, that is a competency we didn’t have. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you scale to add those competencies?’”

It was a question of whether vRide needed to add new resources and competencies, or find new ways to utilize what was already in-house. Through rounds of organization analysis, Fandozzi’s team realized the company had a great deal of physical infrastructure already constructed, meaning scalability would be a mixture of the old and new.

It was a matter of creating new technology platforms and plugging them into what already existed in terms of vans, people and facilities.

“Currently, we have more than 5,000 vans, and there is a set of solutions that works really well there,” Fandozzi says. “So the question to the leadership team is, how do those get scaled? Anything from the way the vehicles get serviced and delivered, and anything or everything in between. That is why it really becomes a function of having those building blocks and being very honest with your assessment of whether you have them in-house, versus the items you need to bring in.”

Develop a marketing plan

With a vision and implementation plan in place, you need to get potential customers interested in your organization’s new direction. That is where a comprehensive marketing campaign comes in.

Fandozzi divides vRide’s marketing campaign into various phases focused on educating consumers and driving traffic. Once those phases are fully implemented, marketing can become an effective tool to spur further growth.

“You need to develop a phased marketing strategy that is appropriate for where you are in your development cycle,” Fandozzi says. “For us, we are kind of in a heavy learning mode right now, because we are still in the process of putting our fundamental building blocks in place.

“The next phase is once those building blocks are in place, you want to take what you’ve learned and use it to educate consumers. Then, once everything is place, you can expand your marketing efforts as you grow.

“For instance, we could then say that every man and woman in America who commutes more than 45 minutes to work is our target consumer,” Fandozzi says. “But that is a different kind of marketing effort from where we are now.

“The trick is in knowing what phase you are in at that moment but planning for the next one as you are in the current one.”

Developing a successful marketing effort around your vision often requires a combination of developing internal expertise and utilizing outside resources. Your internal marketing experts have an intimate knowledge of your business and your customer base. Third-party marketing firms will bring an outside perspective, along with data gathering and research capabilities that your company may not possess.

However, Fandozzi says external consultants should not drive your marketing philosophy. Though third-party firms bring useful skills and resources to the table, you and your team know your business the best.

“You want the latest and greatest, but you want it centrally managed with internal resources,” Fandozzi says.

“That is why you assign and train a leader who is centrally responsible for your marketing vision, because that is the person who is going to really understand where you’re going as a company, what building blocks are in place and what phase of marketing you’re going to need to be in for each phase of growth — are you in a heavy learning mode, or a heavy execution mode, and so forth.

“Those are the people who will be in charge of bringing in experts along the way to help them execute on each of those facets.”

If you make a misstep in your marketing, learn from it quickly and correct it — and have those systems in place from the outset.

“You’re testing along the way, fully preparing to fail,” Fandozzi says. “One of the things we do here is we like to learn fast-forward. You want to do something quickly and you want to learn from it quickly. Failure is OK if you learn from it, but you want to do it and correct it quickly. You are trying to fast-forward the entire process so that you develop definite answers on what you can move forward with.”

How to reach: vRide, (248) 597-3500 or www.vride.com

 

The Fandozzi file

Ann Fandozzi

CEO

vRide

More from Fandozzi on self-assessing as a business: There are several modes of self-assessment. One is having some conversations about just looking in the mirror with the leadership team and saying, ‘Hey, this is where we need to go and this is where we are.’ Another is bringing in experts, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes since you are just so close to the business, and it’s tough to see. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is knowing when to ask for help, and looking at experts instead of thinking that you have all the answers.

The third method is looking around at adjacent industries and seeing how they’ve been able to solve similar problems, to also free up your thinking. So, you may be stuck, but they’re going to bring in an expert and give you an expert solution along the lines of how you’re already thinking.

Fandozzi on hiring and retaining top talent: That is always the silver bullet to a business, having the right people. It comes from a multitude of sources. First and foremost, it comes from having the right screening techniques in place to make sure that as we’re bringing in people, they’re the right people. There is a lot of ownership on the part of the leader to make sure the vision is exceptionally clear, that people aren’t hunting in the dark and hoping they find the right answer.

There is a lot of personal ownership, for example, in order to develop and work with my people, I overinvest. People tend to underestimate how much investment this takes, but overinvesting on tools, resources — making sure we’ve put the right metrics in place. Then, it’s taking a step back and seeing if they can do it. It’s guaranteed you are going to make mistakes along the way, but you want those mistakes to be smaller-sized, and you want the wins to be bigger, and you want to course-correct as you go.

Published in Detroit

The Weatherhead 100 identifies the 100 top growth companies in Northeast Ohio based on sales from 2007 through 2011. Companies on this list must have sales of more than $100,000 in 2007 and more than $1 million in 2011. In addition, the companies on this list must have had a minimum of 16 full-time employees in 2011.

 

1. Magnus International Group Inc.

City: Painesville Township

Year founded: 2007

Sales growth: 2,735.6%

Employees: 50-249

www.magnusig.com

Magnus International is a manufacturer and distributor of unique, natural animal feed ingredients, natural waxes and alternative fuels.

 

2. MFS Supply LLC

City: Solon

Year founded: 2006

Sales growth: 2,306.6%

Employees: 16-49

www.mfssupply.com

MFS Supply is a leading manufacturer and distributor of security and hardware-related products for contractors, real estate agents and property managers.

 

3. CAFF LLC (dba Alego Health)

City: Westlake

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 1,483.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.alegohealth.com

Alego Health is a solutions provider of health care it services for hospitals and physician offices.

 

4. LeafFilter Inc.  

City: Hudson

Year founded: 2005

Sales growth: 1,441%

Employees: 50-249

www.leaffilter.com

LeafFilter Gutter Protection offers professionally installed gutter systems.

 

5. OuterBox Solutions Inc.

City: Akron

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 1,225%

Employees: 16-49

www.outerboxdesign.com

OuterBox Solutions offers website design, Web development, e-commerce and search marketing solutions.

 

6. OrthoHelix Surgical Designs

City: Medina

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 640.7%

Employees: 50-249

www.orthohelix.com

OrthoHelix is a medical device company developing a comprehensive line of implants for use in small bone surgery.

 

7. EverStaff LLC

City: Independence

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 611.6%

Employees: 50-249

www.everstaff.com

Founded in 2001, EverStaff is a leading provider of both temporary and permanent job placement in the staffing industry.

 

8. Crosscountry Mortgage Inc.

City: Brecksville

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 509.9%

Employees: 50-249

www.crosscountrymtg.us

Crosscountry Mortgage is a mortgage lender and Fannie Mae direct seller and servicer with 48 nationwide branches and 48 nationwide licenses.

 

9. Knotice

City: Akron

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 456.5%

Employees: 50-249

www.knotice.com

Knotice is a provider of data management, actionable analytics and digital messaging solutions.

 

10. Boundary Systems

City: Middleburg Heights

Year founded: 2006

Sales growth: 382.6%

Employees: 16-49

www.boundarysys.com

Boundary Systems implements product life cycle management solutions for companies involved in new product development.

 

11. MediQuant Inc.

City: Brecksville

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 338.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.mediquant.com

MediQuant creates health care IT efficiencies with intelligent applications for revenue and data life cycle management.

 

12. Recon Logistics LLC

City: Chagrin Falls

Year founded: 2005

Sales growth: 337.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.reconlogistics.com

Recon Logistics provides transparent and cost-effective freight management solutions for small- to medium-sized manufacturers.

 

13. TOA Technologies

City: Beachwood

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 323.4%

Employees: 250-999

www.toatech.com

TOA Technologies is a global provider of field service and customer experience management applications.

 

14. Excelas LLC

City: Mayfield

Year founded: 2005

Sales growth: 315.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.excelas1.com

Excelas provides medical analysis to help health care organizations and insurers settle and win cases.

 

15. SpaceBound Inc.

City: LaGrange

Year founded: 1987

Sales growth: 200.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.SpaceBound.com

Founded in 1987, SpaceBound is a global tech distribution company. It’s the parent company of SQRSolutions.com, NothingButSoftware.com, PricePlunge.com and xsDepot.com.

 

16. E-merging Technologies Group Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 187.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.etg1.com

E-merging Technologies Group is a professional services firm specializing in security and technical services.

 

17. Bright Ideas Press LLC

City: Beachwood

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 184.5%

Employees: 16-49

www.simplesolutions.org

Bright Ideas Press publishes Simple Solutions, providing lifetime mastery through educational materials for K-8 classrooms.

 

18. Fathom

City: Valley View

Year founded: 2005

Sales growth: 182.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.fathomdelivers.com

Fathom is a digital marketing agency specializing in delivering quality leads that drive profitable revenue.

 

19. SecureState

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 169.5%

Employees: 50-249

www.securestate.com

SecureState helps clients obtain and maintain their desired state of security through advisory services, audit and compliance, profiling and penetration tests, risk management, privacy, and research and innovation.

 

20. Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc.

City: Columbia Station

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 169.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.CreateMyLandscape.com

Moscarino is an industry leader in landscaping design, maintenance and snow removal services in Northeast Ohio.

 

21. Amish Mills Inc.

City: Dundee

Year founded: 1996

Sales growth: 167.5%

Employees: 50-249

www.amishmills.com

Amish Mills Inc. manufactures solid wood kitchen cabinets and home and office furniture sold under the Amish Mills and Daniels Amish Collection names.

 

22. Adcom Communications Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1989

Sales growth: 166.2%

Employees: 50-249

www.adcom1.com

Adcom is a modern, strategic, integrated communications company providing focused creative solutions across all media platforms.

 

23. Optiem LLC

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 165.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.optiem.com

Optiem fuels bright companies by developing brands, websites and online marketing programs that produce measurable results.

 

24. MUM Industries Inc.

City: Mentor

Year founded: 1996

Sales growth: 164%

Employees: 50-249

www.mumindustries.com

MUM Industries companies provide a diverse range of industrial products from AODD pumps to electrical enclosures.

 

25. Matrix Healthcare Management Solutions LLC

City: North Canton

Year founded: 1998

Sales growth: 162.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.matrixmso.com

Matrix Healthcare Management Solutions provide training, design, implementation and support for revenue cycle management using NextGen Healthcare’s suite of practice management software and electronic health record solutions.

 

26. One Wish LLC

City: Beachwood

Year founded: 2005

Sales growth: 152.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.audimutesoundproofing.com

One Wish LLC is the parent company of MedicBatteries.com, AudimuteSoundProofing.com, AudimuteAcousticPanels.com and RetrofitLEDLights.com.

 

27. Signature Health Inc.

City: Willoughby

Year founded: 1993

Sales growth: 147.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.signaturehealthinc.com

Signature Health Inc. is a mental health counseling agency featuring the signature Health Access Clinic that provides same-day psychiatric services.

 

28. Blackburn’s Hubcaps & Wheel Solutions

City: Macedonia

Year founded: 1985

Sales growth: 144.8%

Employees: 16-49

www.blackburnwheels.com

Blackburn is an original equipment hubcap and wheel distributor serving the U.S. and Canada.

 

29. Amotec Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 143.7%

Employees: 50-249

www.amotecinc.com

Amotec is a professional recruiting and staffing firm committed to “Recruiting with Integrity.”

 

30. LayerZero Power Systems Inc.

City: Aurora

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 142.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.layerzero.com

LayerZero is a leading supplier of high-reliability electric power quality and power distribution equipment for critical facilities.

 

31. Findaway World LLC

City: Solon

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 140%

Employees: 50-249

www.findawayworld.com

Findaway is the creator of Catalist Digital, Playaway and Playaway View products that provide immediate access to content.

 

32. SS&G Healthcare Services LLC

City: Akron

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 136.7%

Employees: 50-249

www.ssandg.com/healthcare

SS&G Healthcare is a leader in financial and operational health solutions.

 

33. Datacore Consulting

City: Independence

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 132.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.datacoreonline.com

Datacore Consulting is a premier managed service provider for an array of IT services.

 

34. Griffith Holdings Inc.

City: Medina

Year founded: 1993

Sales growth: 126.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.ghiis.com

GHI is a private holding company operating Web design, marketing, telecommunications and software firms.

 

35. Fidelity Voice and Data

City: Beachwood

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 122.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.fidelityvoice.com

Fidelity Voice and Data is a leading telecommunications provider of data, voice, co-location and cloud services.

 

36. Patton Painting Inc.

City: Westlake

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 115.8%

Employees: 16-49

www.pattonpainting.com

Founded in 2003, Patton Painting offers prolific professional painters, carpenters and artists.

 

37. Wojcik Builders Inc.

City: Oakwood Village

Year founded: 1986

Sales growth: 113.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.wojcikbuilders.com

Wojcik Builders has been a leading provider of commercial construction services in Northeast Ohio since 1986.

 

38. Neece, Malec, Seifert & Vitaz Inc.

City: Chardon

Year founded: 1996

Sales growth: 106.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.neececpa.com

Neece, Malec, Seifert and Vitaz is a full-service accounting and wealth management firm providing unique business and tax planning strategies designed to keep clients compliant while helping them achieve financial success.

 

39. Insight Services Inc.

City: Strongsville

Year founded: 1988

Sales growth: 106.1%

Employees: 16-49

www.testoil.com

Insight Services analyzes in-service lubricants in rotating equipment to assist in preventing catastrophic equipment failures.

 

40. Longbow Research LLC

City: Seven Hills

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 105.7%

Employees: 50-249

www.longbowresearch.com

Longbow Research provides investment research to institutional investors with a focus on mid- and large-cap equities.

 

41. Suburban Manufacturing Co. Inc.

City: Willoughby

Year founded: 1979

Sales growth: 102.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.submfg.com

Employee-owned Suburban Manufacturing is a precision machine shop, providing quality parts for more than 30 years.

 

42. Shankman & Associates Inc.

City: Solon

Year founded: 1978

Sales growth: 102.6%

Employees: 50-249

www.shankmanandassociates.com

Shankman & Associates is a regional manufacturers’ representative company serving the consumer packaged goods industry.

 

43. DuneCraft Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2002

Sales growth: 102.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.dunecraft.com

DuneCraft domestically manufactures more than 250 themed seed-sprouting houses for premier retailers in the United States.

 

44. US Endoscopy

City: Mentor

Year founded: 1991

Sales growth: 93.1%

Employees: 250-999

www.usendoscopy.com

US Endoscopy is a leader in endoscopy device design and manufacturing, delivering solutions to improve patient care.

 

45. AtNetPlus Inc.

City: Stow

Year founded: 1998

Sales growth: 89.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.AtNetPlus.com

AtNetPlus offers connected, secure and working business technology.

 

46. County Fire Protection Inc.

City: Kent

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 88.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.county-fire.com

County Fire Protection offers a wide range of services from fire extinguisher upkeep to security/access controls.

 

47. ACU-Serve Corp.

City: Cuyahoga Falls

Year founded: 1993

Sales growth: 87.9%

Employees: 50-249

www.acuservecorp.com

ACU-Serve provides billing and collection services to home medical equipment providers nationwide.

 

48. OurPet’s Co.

City: Fairport Harbor

Year founded: 1996

Sales growth: 86.2%

Employees: 50-249

www.ourpets.com

OurPet’s provides innovative pet products for dogs and cats with emphasis on feeders, toys and waste management.

 

49. The Priority Group Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1988

Sales growth: 85.8%

Employees: 250-999

www.prioritygrp.com

The Priority Group includes the combined operations of three companies providing home care services, medical staffing and oximetry studies.

 

50. Peoples Services Inc.

City: Canton

Year founded: 1914

Sales growth: 85.4%

Employees: 250-999

www.peoplesservices.com

Peoples Services is a third-generation logistics company providing warehousing and transportation services in six states.

 

51. Ohio Technical College Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1969

Sales growth: 84.1%

Employees: 250-999

www.ohiotech.edu

Ohio Technical College is dedicated to providing premier training to prepare students for careers in automotive, diesel, collision repair, power sport/motorcycle, welding, and high-performance and racing technology.

 

52. DCT Telecom Group Inc.

City: Westlake

Year founded: 1993

Sales growth: 81.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.4dct.com

DCT Telecom Group specializes in providing comprehensive telecom and cloud solutions to corporate customers.

 

53. Vocon

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1987

Sales growth: 80.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.vocon.com

Vocon is a leading architecture and design firm, creating distinctive work environments throughout the country.

 

54. Expert Construction Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 76.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.expertconstructioninc.com

Expert Construction Inc. is a leading commercial carpentry firm specializing in metal studs, drywall and acoustical ceilings.

 

 

55. Swift Filters Inc.

City: Oakwood Village

Year founded: 1995

Sales growth: 76.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.swiftfilters.com

Swift Filters designs and manufactures high-quality industrial filter elements, including both custom-engineered and OEM replacements.

 

56. Lake City Plating Co. Inc.

City: Ashtabula

Year founded: 1949

Sales growth: 75.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.lakecityplating.com

Lake City Plating Co. Inc. offers application of industrial coatings on metal parts.

 

57. Northeast Factory Direct

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 72.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.northeastfactorydirect.com

Northeast Factory Direct provides warehouse direct pricing on big-ticket items, such as furniture, hot tubs, kitchen cabinets and mattresses, with no membership fees.

 

58. SeniorTV-Stellar Private Cable Systems Inc.

City: Akron

Year founded: 1992

Sales growth: 69.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.seniortv.com

SeniorTV-Stellar Private Cable Systems is a national provider of cable TV, Internet and LCD TVs to nursing homes and retirement communities.

 

59. EnviroScience Inc.

City: Stow

Year founded: 1989

Sales growth: 69.6%

Employees: 50-249

www.enviroscienceinc.com

EnviroScience specializes in ecological consulting including wetland and stream restoration, endangered species surveys and natural resource monitoring.

 

60. e2b teknologies Inc.

City: Chardon

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 68.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.e2btek.com

E2b provides ERP, CRM and its Anytime brand cloud business applications to businesses worldwide.

 

61. Group Transportation Services Inc.

City: Hudson

Year founded: 1995

Sales growth: 68%

Employees: 50-249

www.onestopshipping.com

Group Transportation Services is a nonasset-based third-party logistics service provider fulfilling the freight transportation cycles for business accounts.

 

62. Microplex Inc.

City: North Canton

Year founded: 1985

Sales growth: 67.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.microplex-inc.com

Microplex manufactures custom cables and wire harnesses for industrial automation, medical, military and OEM markets.

 

63. Grabowski & Co.

City: Uniontown

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 66.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.grabowskiandco.com

Grabowski & Co. is a strategic marketing communications firm that helps organizations discover and deliver their brand promises.

 

64. Angels in Waiting Home Care

City: Willoughby

Year founded: 2002

Sales growth: 65.9%

Employees: 50-249

www.aiwhomecare.com

Angels in Waiting Home Care offers professional skilled and unskilled home care services.

 

65. Ohio Realty Advisors LLC

City: Richfield

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 65.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.ohiorealtyadvisors.com

Ohio Realty Advisors LLC provides full-service commercial real estate management, development, advisory and brokerage services to corporate, private and institutional clients.

 

66. PartsSource Inc.

City: Aurora

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 65.3%

Employees: 50-249

www.partssource.com

PartsSource provides replacement parts and technology solutions to health care equipment service professionals around the world.

 

67. Wolters Kluwer Health Lexicomp

City: Hudson

Year founded: 1978

Sales growth: 64.8%

Employees: 50-249

www.lexi.com

Lexicomp is an industry-leading provider of drug information and clinical content for the health care industry.

 

68. Corporate United Inc.

City: Westlake

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 62.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.corporateunited.com

Corporate United is one of the nation’s largest group purchasing organizations.

 

69. OEConnection LLC

City: Richfield

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 59%

Employees: 50-249

www.oeconnection.com

OEConnection is the leading online parts and service exchange in the automotive industry and beyond.

 

70. SS&G Inc.

City: Solon

Year founded: 1968

Sales growth: 58.2%

Employees: 250-999

www.SSandG.com

SS&G is Ohio’s largest independent, full-service CPA, business advisory and management consulting firm.

 

71. Radcom Inc.

City: Hudson

Year founded: 1996

Sales growth: 57.1%

Employees: 16-49

www.radcomservices.com

Radcom is a custom learning solutions company that delivers content that counts.

 

72. Mutual Shareholder Services LLC

City: Broadview Heights

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 55.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.mutualss.com

Mutual Shareholder Services provides transfer agent and accounting services for mutual funds.

 

73. Briteskies LLC

City: Independence

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 55.6%

Employees: 16-49

www.briteskies.com

Briteskies delivers effective iSeries, IBM WebSphere Commerce, Magento and enterprise software solutions both nationally and worldwide.

 

74. Etactics Inc.

City: Stow

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 54.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.etacticsinc.com

Etactics offers revenue-cycle solutions including software, color print/mail, EDI and EBPP for health care and commercial businesses.

 

75. Alliance Solutions Group

City: Independence

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 52.7%

Employees: 50-249

www.alliancesolutionsgrp.com

Alliance is a full-service recruitment/staffing firm serving its customers with single-source convenience across multiple specialties.

 

76. Empro Job Network/Thomas Employment

City: Mentor

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 51.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.thomasemployment.com

Empro Job Network/Thomas Employment is one of Northeast Ohio’s leading providers of temporary and permanent staffing in the industrial, clerical, managerial, medical and home care fields.

 

77. Life Force Management

City: Streetsboro

Year founded: 1992

Sales growth: 51%

Employees: 16-49

www.lifeforcemanagement.com

Life Force Management is celebrating its 20th year in business and operates as an industry leader in ambulance billing services.

 

78. The Dyson Corp.

City: Painesville

Year founded: 1984

Sales growth: 50%

Employees: 50-249

www.dysoncorp.com

The Dyson Corp. is a domestic manufacturer of specialty fasteners and forgings for critical infrastructure applications since 1884.

 

79. TMW Systems Inc.

City: Beachwood

Year founded: 1983

Sales growth: 49.6%

Employees: 250-999

www.tmwsystems.com

TMW Systems software powers freight transportation services and heavy-duty fleet productivity across North America.

 

80. Lazorpoint

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 49.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.lazorpoint.com

Lazorpoint delivers the peace of mind that comes with strategic IT guidance, systems and solutions.

 

81. Fleet Response

City: Seven Hills

Year founded: 1986

Sales growth: 48.5%

Employees: 50-249

www.fleetresponse.com

Fleet Response is a leader in custom-designed fleet management services.

 

82. Aqua Doc Lake & Pond Management

City: Chardon

Year founded: 2002

Sales growth: 47.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.aquadocinc.com

Aqua Doc is a full-service lake and pond management company dedicated to making water beautiful.

 

83. Project and Construction Services Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1988

Sales growth: 45.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.pcscmservices.com

PCS is an employee-owned and -operated organization providing exceptional construction services since 1988.

 

84. Geauga Mechanical Co.

City: Chardon

Year founded: 1950

Sales growth: 43.5%

Employees: 16-49

www.geaugamechanical.com

Geauga Mechanical Co. is a full-service design/build mechanical contractor.

 

85. Perspectus Architecture

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2003

Sales growth: 41.1%

Employees: 16-49

www.perspectusarch.com

Committed to Cleveland, Perspectus is a nationally recognized architectural firm focused on design, master planning and project management.

 

86. Sequoia Financial Group LLC

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1991

Sales growth: 39.5%

Employees: 16-49

www.sequoia-financial.com

Sequoia Financial Group offers comprehensive wealth management services for high-net-worth individuals and business.

 

87. 1-888-OhioComp

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 38.4%

Employees: 50-249

www.1-888-ohiocomp.com

1-888-OhioComp is a workers’ compensation managed care organization serving more than 37,000 employers and their injured workers.

 

88. Hurricane Labs LLC

City: Independence

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 38.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.hurricanelabs.com

Hurricane Labs monitors corporate computer networks for security incidents caused by hackers, criminals and malware.

 

89. BearWare Inc.

City: Chagrin Falls

Year founded: 1988

Sales growth: 38.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.bearwareinc.com

BearWare provides freight tracking, payment and claims systems in specialty retail and other vertical markets.

 

90. South Shore Marine

City: Huron

Year founded: 1989

Sales growth: 33.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.southshoremarine.com

South Shore Marine is the regional dealer of high-quality new and select pre-owned boats and is a full-service marine facility.

 

91. Paragon Consulting Inc.

City: Mayfield Heights

Year founded: 1993

Sales growth: 32.4%

Employees: 16-49

www.paragon-inc.com or www.sitecorecleveland.com

Paragon is a premier IT consulting company, specializing in software development, digital marketing, content managed websites and mobile applications.

 

92. Guild International Inc.

City: Bedford

Year founded: 1958

Sales growth: 30.7%

Employees: 16-49

www.guildint.com

Guild International is a worldwide supplier of coil end-joining equipment for the strip processing industries.

 

93. Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc.

City: Orrville

Year founded: 1999

Sales growth: 29.9%

Employees: 16-49

www.jarrettlogistics.com

Jarrett Logistics Systems specializes in supply chain management services for high-growth North American companies.

 

94. Sheet Metal Products Co. Inc.

City: Mentor

Year founded: 1924

Sales growth: 29.4%

Employees: 50-249

www.smpohio.com

Sheet Metal Products is a precision contract metal fabricating company providing parts to major O.E.M. manufacturers.

 

95. Foundation Software Inc.

City: Brunswick

Year founded: 1985

Sales growth: 29.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.foundationsoft.com

Foundation Software is the developer of Foundation for Windows construction accounting, project management and scheduling software.

 

96. Cohen & Co. Ltd.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1977

Sales growth: 26.5%

Employees: 50-249

www.cohencpa.com

Cohen & Co. is a regional CPA firm that focuses on helping privately held companies grow.

 

97. Weed Pro Ltd.

City: Sheffield Village

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 25.3%

Employees: 16-49

www.weed-pro.com

One of Ohio’s fastest-growing lawn care companies, Weed Pro serves thousands of customers in Cleveland and Columbus.

 

98. Interlift Enterprises

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1967

Sales growth: 23.9%

Employees: 50-249

www.ilttoyotalift.com

Interlift is Cleveland’s ‘‘Can Do’’ Toyota forklifts and material handling solution provider since 1967.

 

99. CRESCO Real Estate

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1991

Sales growth: 23.1%

Employees: 16-49

www.crescorealestate.com

CRESCO Real Estate is Cleveland’s leading locally owned, full-service commercial real estate company and Cushman & Wakefield Alliance partner.

 

100. Razorleaf Corp.

City: Stow

Year founded: 2000

Sales growth: 22.6%

Employees: 16-49

www.razorleaf.com

Razorleaf is a professional services group that provides expertise for engineering and manufacturing organizations by optimizing business processes through the use of leading technologies.

 

101. Assembly Specialty Products Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1971

Sales growth: 19.5%

Employees: 16-49

www.assemblyspecialty.com

Assembly Specialty Products Inc. designs and manufactures wire rope fittings and custom-fabricated assemblies.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 03 January 2013 15:16

Weatherhead 2012 Upstarts

The Weatherhead Upstarts are companies whose percentage of sales growth qualifies for the Weatherhead 100 and that employed 15 or fewer employees and/or had less than $1 million in net sales in 2011.

 

1. Content Marketing Institute

Cleveland

Year founded: 2007

Sales growth: 1684.28%

Employees: 1-15

www.contentmarketinginstitute.com

Content Marketing Institute runs the largest international event in content marketing (Content Marketing World) and the leading magazine (Chief Content Officer).

 

2. Payroll4Construction.com

Brunswick

Year founded: 2006

Sales growth: 917.52%

Employees: 1-15

www.payroll4construction.com

Payroll4Construction.com is a payroll service provider just for the construction industry.

 

3. DXY Solutions LLC

Cleveland

Year founded: 2006

Sales growth: 377.69%

Employees: 1-15

www.dxysolutions.com

DXY is a mobile technology consultancy. We create innovative mobile apps and embedded products

 

4. Guggenheim Inc.

Beachwood

Year founded: 2009

Sales growth: 291.3%

Employees: 1-15

www.guggenheiminc.com

Guggenheim is a commercial real estate company providing comprehensive real estate services on a national basis.

 

5. Direct Recruiters Inc.

Solon

Year founded: 1983

Sales growth: 118.4%

Employees: 1-15

www.directrecruiters.com

Direct Recruiters, a leading executive search firm, strives to provide the best client and candidate experience possible.

 

6. Lakeside Produce Distribution Inc.

Rocky River

Year founded: 2002

Sales growth: 89.04%

Employees: 1-15

www.lakesideproduce.net

Lakeside Produce Distribution is a national distributor of fresh produce to salad manufacturers, retail stores and wholesalers.

 

7. JCF Marketing Inc.

Chagrin Falls

Year founded: 1995

Sales growth: 80.01%

Employees: 1-15

www.jcfmarketing.com

JCF Marketing is a full-service advertising agency specializing in strategic marketing driven by award-winning creative.

 

8. Request A Test

Brecksville

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 68.67%

Employees: 1-15

www.requestatest.com

Request A Test is a national leader in direct-to-consumer lab testing.

 

9. Joining Metals Inc.

Perry

Year founded: 2007

Sales growth: 67.56%

Employees: 1-15

website not available

Joining Metals specializes in custom fabrication, machining, laser cutting, forming and welding.

 

10. 42Connect Inc.

Beachwood

Year founded: 2002

Sales growth: 53.29%

Employees: 1-15

www.42connect.com

42Connect is a website design and development company that also does interactive demos, Web apps and email marketing.

 

11. Ardleigh Minerals Inc.

Beachwood

Year founded: 1992

Sales growth: 44.2%

Employees: 1-15

www.ardleigh.net

Ardleigh Minerals is a one-stop recycler of industrial materials, with aerospace industry specialization.

 

12. Town Money Saver Inc.

Newbury

Year founded: 1992

Sales growth: 39.82%

Employees: 1-15

www.townmoneysaver.com

Town Money Saver Inc. is a hometown-oriented monthly direct mail piece featuring local retail business.

 

13. O’Reilly Equipment LLC

Newbury

Year founded: 2004

Sales growth: 33.08%

Employees: 1-15

www.oreillyequipment.com

O’Reilly Equipment is a truck, trailer and snowplow equipment sales, service and parts facility.

 

14. Business Deposits Plus Inc.

Brecksville

Year founded: 1995

Sales growth: 27.76%

Employees: 1-15

www.depositsplus.com

BDP provides exceptional solutions in the retail multilocation banking supply market.

 

15. Pantek Inc.

Independence

Year founded: 1995

Sales growth: 26.07%

Employees: 1-15

www.pantek.com

Pantek provides comprehensive IT services to companies who use Linux and Open Source technologies.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 03 January 2013 15:13

Weatherhead 2012 Centurions

The Weatherhead Centurions are companies with 100 percent or more sales growth (or equal to the 100th company’s growth percentage if less than 100 percent) from 2007 through 2011 and net sales of $100 million or more in 2011.

 

1. Shearer’s Foods Inc.

City: Massillon

Year founded: 1974

Sales growth: 219.98%

Employees: 1,000+

www.shearers.com

Shearer’s Foods manufactures/distributes Shearer’s award-winning snacks and produces salted snacks for private label and co-pack customers.

 

2. Great Lakes Petroleum Co.

City: Warrensville Hts.

Year founded: 1997

Sales growth: 216.02%

Employees: 50-249

www.greatlakespetroleum.com

Great Lakes Petroleum is a distributor of motor fuels and lubricants operating in Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia.

 

3. Safeguard Properties LLC

City: Valley View

Year founded: 1990

Sales growth: 183.89%

Employees: 250-999

www.safeguardproperties.com

Safeguard Properties is the nation’s largest privately held field services company providing services to the mortgage loan industry.

 

4. Hyland Software Inc.

City: Westlake

Year founded: 1991

Sales growth: 130.58%

Employees: 1,000+

www.hyland.com

Hyland develops the OnBase ECM solution that solves business needs reliant on documents, content and people.

 

5. Dealer Tire LLC

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 2001

Sales growth: 96.3%

Employees: 250-999

www.dealertire.com

Dealer Tire designs, implements and manages tire programs exclusively for automobile OEMs and their dealers.

 

6. Tradex International Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1986

Sales growth: 61.2%

Employees: 16-49

www.tradexgloves.com

Tradex International is a leading supplier of disposable gloves and apparel.

 

7. Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America

City: Broadview Heights

Year founded: 1989

Sales growth: 53.1%

Employees: 50-249

www.familyheritagelife.com

Family Heritage is a marketer of supplemental health insurance products to include cancer, intensive care, heart, accident, hospital indemnity and life insurance.

 

8. The Federal Metal Co.

City: Bedford

Year founded:

Sales growth: 41.27%

Employees: 50-249

www.federalmetal.com

The Federal Metal Co. is a manufacturer of brass and bronze ingots since 1913.

 

9. The Garland Co. Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1895

Sales growth: 38.53%

Employees: 250-999

www.garlandco.com

Garland is a manufacturer of roofing, waterproofing, flooring and structural maintenance systems for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings.

 

10. SIFCO Industries Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1913

Sales growth: 23.03%

Employees: 250-999

www.sifco.com

SIFCO is a technology-enabled company; it is both an innovator and user of process technologies.

Published in Akron/Canton

6. Weatherhead Centurions

Tradex International Inc.

City: Cleveland

Year founded: 1986

Sales growth: 61.2%

President: Saji Daniel

Tradex International is a leading supplier of disposable gloves and apparel.

 

Tradex International Inc. CEO Saji Daniel started his company out of his car. In 1988, the Cleveland State University student learned of a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate requiring health care professionals to use disposable gloves to prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B. Daniel started buying gloves and selling and delivering them between classes door-t- door.

Now, 24 years later, Tradex is the largest U.S. supplier of disposal gloves, serving the medical, food, janitorial and industrial markets. The company provides Ambitex brand vinyl, nitrile, latex and polyethylene gloves in addition to protective wear such as hairnets and aprons and supplies such as seat covers and wipes.

“I had no background in the industry and didn’t know anything about gloves,” Daniel says. “But I saw an opportunity in the market and started the company as a part-time venture.”

Since then, the company has shown consistent growth at about 18 to 20 percent for the last five years, Daniel says. He foresees it growing at the same pace for the next five to 10 years.

Daniel attributes this success, even through the recession, to his company’s unique niche market, which he says is almost recession-proof. The company serves major food service companies and medical providers, and despite the economy, people still dine out or get sick, he says.

“Restaurants might slow a little bit, but if you go to a restaurant, it’s almost always packed and there’s almost always a wait. People are still going out to eat,” he says. “On the other hand, people are still going to hospitals because they get sick, and as the baby boomers get older, the nursing home market is growing. We just have that product that even through the recession, we continued to grow.”

Tradex’s success can also be attributed to its tremendous customer service, Daniel says. The $100 million company’s headquarters in Cleveland employs about 60 people. It also has distribution centers across the country in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles and offices in China and Malaysia that oversee production and quality control (all disposable glove manufacturing is done in the Far East; there are no U.S. manufacturers).

However, despite its big-company reach, Tradex has a small-company feel, Daniel says.

“Because of the amount of gloves we buy and sell, we are able to get them at a competitive price, and we pass that savings along to our customers,” Daniel says. “We also have excellent staff that provide quality service. Our customer retention rate is 99.2 percent. We never lose an account once we get it. And I’m actively involved in all aspects of the business; I go out and make sales calls and talk to customers.”

The company is also flexible and never says no, he says.

“We don’t just sell gloves; we offer solutions,” Daniel says. “We talk to people about why they should use a particular glove and how they can save money.”

In the future, Tradex plans to add several new products to its food service and medical markets. It is also looking into new markets, such as retail, so it can sell gloves in stores. In addition, it will be adding two more distribution centers and is currently looking at potential locations across the country.

Tradex is a nine-time Weatherhead 100 honoree, an honor it doesn’t take lightly.

“Being recognized by the Weatherhead School of Management, one of the leading schools for business, means a lot to us,” Daniel says. “It means we’re doing something right.

“And we’re proud of our local ties to the community. I went to high school and college here; it’s where my roots are. My employees are from here. And being located in the Midwest is amazing because Cleveland is a great center for distribution that allows us to ship all over the country.”

How to reach: Tradex International Inc., (216) 651-4788 or www.tradexgloves.com

 

Published in Akron/Canton

15. Weatherhead 100

SpaceBound Inc.

City: LaGrange

Year founded: 1987

Sales growth: 200.26%

CEO: Patricia Miller

Founded in 1987, SpaceBound is a global tech distribution company. It’s the parent company of Galactics.com, BargainStation.com, SQRsolutions.com, NothingButSoftware.com, PricePlunge.com and XSDepot.com.

 

SpaceBound Inc. began in 1987 as the brainchild of two struggling college students who needed a quick money fix.

Fast forward 25 years and the global technology distribution company has grown from an original line of 75 software products to more than 70,000 and is projected to process more than 720,000 orders by year’s end. In addition, it added seven new team members this year alone, bringing its total to 45 employees and increasing gross revenue by 65 percent.

SpaceBound offers high-end information technology products and storage solutions, small electronics and gadgets, software media and downloads and everyday home and office technology products and solutions. It does this within the business-to-consumer sector through Galactics.com, BargainStation.com, NothingButSoftware.com and PricePlunge.com and business-to-business and reseller sectors through XSDepot.com and SQRsolutions.com.

So what is SpaceBound’s secret to success?

“We know our value-added proposition and measure it frequently,” says CEO Patricia Miller. “During downturns in the economy, we’ve paid attention and reflected on what worked and what failed during similar times in our business’ history.”

Often, entrepreneurs become so immersed in just trying to get through each day that assigning a value to reflection and personal and company growth is placed at the bottom of the list, she says. But at SpaceBound, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We listen to our customers and our employees, park our egos and listen to those we trust, to those who have the answers and have been where we are headed or who can take us to where we want to go,” Miller says. “Relationships are everything; every introduction may open a door to 10 more possibilities we may not have considered.”

Because SpaceBound realizes the importance of relationships, it focuses on creating the best possible customer experience, allowing it to stand apart from its competition. SpaceBound offers live customer service agents to help its customers with any portion of their purchase, a live chat function on the websites for quick and easy communication, a live tech support department and advertised 800 numbers ensuring the customer never foots the bill.

But not all of what makes SpaceBound great can be seen on the outside. Internally, SpaceBound challenges its employees to become involved with organizations beyond the office. For example, SpaceBound employees work with the National Federation of Independent Business, knowing it's a great way to stay on top of what is happening with, and to, small businesses.

The company also encourages volunteerism.

“Chairing the first Walk for the Homeless in Lorain County, working monthly with the children of the Haven Homeless Center and adopting two platoons every year and providing for all of their basic requests until they return stateside are what bring the most pride and joy to SpaceBound,” Miller says.

In the coming year, SpaceBound faces big challenges, including a sagging economy and fears of another economic downturn. The company, however, plans to invest time and resources into growing SQRsolutions, its government and education division, and branding and expanding its daily deal site, PricePlunge.com.

“We will also be breaking ground in 2013 with the addition of 30,000 square feet to our LaGrange facility,” Miller says. “We are fortunate to have an amazing partnership with our banking institution, JP Morgan Chase, and that relationship has also assisted us in growing business at a record pace.”

SpaceBound has received many accolades, including a continued A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and a third-time national recipient of the Inc. 5000 Award. However, being named a “Weatherhead 100” company is one of the greatest honors for SpaceBound, Miller says.

“It means SpaceBound is doing an amazing and noteworthy job and should celebrate its success,” she says. “Let’s be honest, if you have a business in Northeast Ohio, you want to be a part of the Weatherhead 100 at least once in your company’s career and point with pride and say, ‘That’s us; we built that.’ The Weatherhead 100 gives you the opportunity to do just that and share your success.”

How to reach: SpaceBound Inc., (800) 755-4619 or www.spacebound.com

Published in Akron/Canton