How Naomi Whittel took a trip to France and came home with the inspiration for a game-changing business ideaWritten by SBN Staff
CEO and founder
Naomi Whittel got the idea for Reserveage Organics while she was in the south of France contemplating the French paradox. It’s a belief many have that centers on findings showing the French have a relatively low rate of coronary heart disease despite a diet rich in saturated fats.
As she looked for clues, she began to research the benefits of daily consumption of red wine. This ultimately led her to develop exclusive relationships with seventh-generation organic vineyard farmers to purchase raw materials for a line of health and wellness products.
Whittel, the company’s CEO and founder, has built a sophisticated team of leaders and advisers to conduct research and get access to cutting-edge ingredients that can help people feel better and be healthier.
This team plays an integral role in the company’s operations, and leaders have the opportunity to make a difference on the front lines. When the company succeeds, Whittel wants her people to share in the glory.
One reason for this kind of culture is that Whittel knows what it’s like to have to fight for recognition. When she started the company, she was one of the few female CEOs in the health and wellness industry. She knew there would be challenges in marketing women, but also knew that it was crucial to the business. That was a driving factor in lining up female leadership to help guide her company.
Of course, there have been other challenges too. As more and more people become familiar with wellness products, the industry has become more scrutinized to ensure products are doing what they claim they can do. Whittel has a strong legal counsel on hand to advise her and to make sure that she never makes a false claim about one of Reserveage Organics’ products.
The result is a company that continues to grow and a culture that is thriving with new ideas and determination, limited only by the creativity of the people who work there.
How to reach: Reserveage Organics, www.reserveage.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
Gator Cases Inc.
Crystal Morris, president of Gator Cases Inc., embodies the essence of entrepreneurship, innovation and social responsibility. Morris traces her successful career with Gator Cases to her passion for the company, the employees she is responsible for and the music industry as a whole.
Gator Cases was started with the goal of serving the music industry by selling different types of instrumentation and instrument cases. Dealers did not have one source for all their needs so Gator Cases became that one source. With innovation into new product segments and diversification to a global customer base, Gator Cases has grown to a multi-million dollar corporation.
Morris leads Gator Cases by example. She is positive, knowledgeable of Gator Cases’ products, and is a hard worker. She does not hesitate to roll up her sleeves to get the job done. In the earlier days, when her father became ill, she had to take over the sales side of the business. This was difficult since the music industry is male-dominated.
At first, no one took her seriously because she didn’t take the old-fashioned fast-talking sales approach. Instead, she sells through demonstrating her product knowledge and finding out how to solve the target customer’s problems. She identifies what her customer’s purpose is in the market and in turn, she finds ways where doing business with Gator Cases could improve their business.
Based on their unique business model of innovation and convenience to the music customer, there is no one equal competitor to Gator Cases. The closest competitors are only competing for business in each independent line of Gator Cases. Because the company services several markets, it can bundle value to address the various needs of its clients.
The future is bright for Gator Cases and under the leadership of Morris, success is sure to continue. Future expansion includes new and exciting innovative products and manufacturing processes in the U.S.
How to reach: Gator Cases Inc., www.gatorcases.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
George Hernandez Sr.
Solo Printing Inc.
Before Manny and George Hernandez started Solo Printing in 1985, they were sales representatives for a print shop enterprise — and they learned that customers came back not only for the product but for the service and the quality.
So the brothers set out on an adventure to bring their own high standards of service and quality to a competitive and demanding industry. Since they were now independent from big corporation attitudes and planning methods, they could make their own decisions and implement techniques and strategies.
One last hurdle remained: no one would readily lend them money for the equipment required for even a small commercial print shop. They finally found someone to believe in them and began printing letterhead stationery and fliers in a 1,400-sq. ft. warehouse. It was a simple beginning but it allowed them to remain committed to their vision. Success came immediately and they were able to preserve their business idea unaltered.
The brothers believe a successful business is all about teamwork. The employees at Solo Printing have enabled the company to differentiate itself from the competition. By having skilled workers want to work for a company that has quality equipment, is busy and treats them well, the brothers ensure a reputation for quality, service and price competitiveness. In 2012, for instance, the 130-employee company set record sales.
Among the incentives Solo Printing offers employees is a quarterly bonus program, annual raises and bonuses even throughout the tough economy. The brothers are on the print shop floor on a daily basis making sure that everyone is happy and teaming up to define solutions should issues arise.
One of Solo Printing’s crowning achievements was receiving an industry award of G7 Master Certification, granted to printing facilities required to use the G7 Proof-to-Print Process and use the most modern technology, techniques and printing press controls to produce a close visual match from proof to print. Solo Printing has been recognized by the South Florida Business Journal as one of the region’s fastest growing companies.
How to reach: Solo Printing, www.soloprinting.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
R. Charles Murray
PPi Technologies Group
In the mid-1990s, Charles Murray was inspired to use his knowledge of plastics, which he obtained through working in the plastic shrink-binding industry, to expand the use of plastic as a packaging material. At the time, Murray felt plastic was undervalued by American companies, which tended to use aluminum, glass or paper products.
So in 1996, he founded PPi Technologies Group, a supplier of StandUp pouch and tray machines used to package food, drinks, drugs, household products and chemicals. His business model was based on more than 30 patents to give customers an advantage over competitors and to keep the U.S. pouch machine market ahead of global competition.
He took a new approach to the pouch machinery industry by signing long-term supply agreements or investing in or with global machine suppliers to make parts of the American designed machines and then deliver these back to the U.S. for finishing with his patented technology.
During the last 16 years, PPi Technologies has expanded from producing pouch machinery to producing its own pouch beverage product. Murray, who is CEO, started Redi-2-DrinQ Group in 2008 for packing beverages into pouches and launched his own brand of shaped Redi-2-DrinQ ShotPak cocktails and STR8UP premium spirits in a patented hip flask shaped pouch.
The traditional wine in a box segment came under attack next with the launch of his patented BarrelPaQ pouch without the box. He then rounded out the beverage industry with a CarboPouch for draft beer and Chilling Rocks water pouch.
In 2008, the company was included in the Inc. magazine list of fastest growing private companies. Murray plans to lead the company into its next stage, focusing on expanding its Redi-2-DrinQ Group and providing safe, environmentally responsible beverage products to consumers in addition to going after products in the refrigerator that can be packaged and stored in one of the company’s innovative pouches.
How to reach: PPi Technologies Group, www.ppitechnologies.com
For 27 years, Ernst & Young has championed the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing excellence in their businesses, their teams and their communities. Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program to recognize the passion of entrepreneurs and to build an influential and innovative community of peers.
We received more than 1,680 national entries for this year’s program from the country's most deserving entrepreneurs. Their triumphs stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries and leaders.
In 25 US cities, we are gathering to toast their commitment to succeed. We applaud them for taking risks, breaking ground, opening new markets and fueling job growth.
Let’s celebrate their achievements, their perseverance and their unwavering commitment to winning in the marketplace.
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Program Partner
Ernst & Young LLP
2013 Entrepreneur Of The Year Florida
Distribution & Manufacturing
Solo Printing, Inc.
Power Grid Engineering, LLC
Retail & Consumer Products
Denise E. Dickins, Ph.D.
Michael K. Ferris
Steven T. Halverson
Mark A. Llano
When we start off working as youngsters, most of us don’t have the common sense to move beyond our juvenile selves to assume more mature character traits appropriate for the workplace.
We also typically land in jobs where our potentially outrageous behavior can cause the least amount of damage — in my case, this included mating freshly-grilled burgers with appropriate-sized buns for the steamer storage bin at Burger King.
Later, our mismatched personalities of “future business mogul” and “party animal” duel it out in college during classes, internships and more responsible employment.
Then we madly scramble to figure out who we really are before we interview in the full-time professional world — where, of course, our potential employers think we’re only going to stay for two years anyway.
However, when each of us eventually enters the professional workforce, our youth and inexperience still typically dictate the creation of a brand new professional personality where one may not have existed before.
The result: a work-week personality vs. a weekend personality.
After all, it’s normally not advisable to do shots out of someone’s belly button in the Board Room.
As the years pass and our resumes expand, these dueling personalities pretty much have to unite as one — a multi-faceted persona, we can hope, but one nonetheless.
Even so, we were all young once. Beginning with everyone’s first foray into the workforce, an ongoing battle commences of “character” versus “characters” — who we are as compared to who we sometimes pretend to be.
Perception versus reality
These days, society doesn’t always help.
First, the wireless world has all but stripped today’s youth of the ability to communicate in person.
Then, with the increasing popularity of Reality TV, our “character” is often influenced by “characters” whose “reality” bears no resemblance to whom we are or who we should be.
For example, not immune to the allure of a Real Housewife, I still understand that I am sometimes being entertained by bad behavior while an impressionable youngster actually may tragically aspire to become “16 and Pregnant.”
And though “Saturday Night Live” alum Darrell Hammond has laid claim to the longest tenure of any SNL performer (1995-2009), this does not mean his personal character compares to the various “characters” he has portrayed: President Bill Clinton, Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, Regis Philbin and an Alex Trebek-loathing Sean Connery.
My recent chat with “businessman” Hammond revealed a man who sermonizes the value of hard work, determination and goal setting. He’s not really a president — he played one on TV.
At least pop-culture icon Judge Judy Sheindlin presents a reality-based version of the legal system — one that rewards polished communication skills, honesty, respect and even posture. Like her or not, Judge Judy’s least-successful guests suffer very public consequences stemming from a lack of preparation and yes, character.
Facing the job ahead
Of course, we can still complain about the seemingly selfish behavior of our younger generation, but before we throw Gen-Y under the bus. Who was driving the bus in the first place?
Weren’t today’s successful CEOs, VPs, senior managers and entrepreneurs also the parents who raised Gen-Y?
The bottom line: experienced business professionals must accept a more significant role in mentoring our young charges as they are essentially playing an adult version of Follow the Leader.
There is simply no greater example of character in business than a willingness to mentor and lead by example.
Though, to an actor such as Hammond, "honest" refers to a truthful portrayal of a character, using "honest" as a character trait resonates equally well in the business world.
After all, no one wants to deal with a business professional who is acting the part.
Real character matters.
Speaker, writer and “professional storyteller” Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. He can be reached at Randy@mindzoo.com or (571) 238-4572.
Google Pay Per Click advertising is a great tool for building brand awareness and generating leads online. It can be a bit of a complicated process for some, so it’s important to have a good foundation in the fundamentals of maximizing your PPC performance.
There are four things you should be doing for your PPC to reach its full potential.
1.) Organize keywords to target niche prospect groups
The difference between an ignored ad and an effective ad is its relevance. An ad for jewelry gets ignored when in the search results of someone searching for remodeling services. The way you can make your ad the most relevant to prospects is by separating them according to the keywords they target and organizing them into groups.
The more thoroughly you organize your keywords, the more specificity you can use when creating your ad. That means your ads appear as if they are made specifically for the prospect, because they are.
Organizing your keywords does two things for your PPC:
1.) It makes your ads more relevant to prospects.
2.) It increases your click-through rate.
These are the exact factors that also give you a high quality score for your ads. A high quality score gets you better ad locations on websites and better ranking for search ads. It also gives you a lower cost per click for your ads. Google is rating your ad on how helpful it is to your prospect, based on its relevance and click-through rate.
2.) Create consistency throughout your PPC process
The PPC process is three steps: 1) Grab prospects’ attention with a relevant ad. 2) Direct them to a landing page that elaborates on what the ad offers. 3) Present a special offer as an incentive for prospects to fill out a contact form.
From your ad to your offer, your PPC marketing message and design should feel continuous and cohesive. It shouldn’t feel like three steps. If your landing page looks different than the image ad that attracted the prospect, the user will experience a disconnect.
You should simply build upon each step to build trust throughout the process, ultimately leading to the prospect filling out your contact form. That’s how you turn them into a lead for you to follow up with using your ongoing marketing methods.
3.) Optimize ads for phone responses
For most businesses, phone responses are a more valuable lead than the kind you get from contact forms, so it’s a great idea to optimize your ads to generate these calls. There are two ways to do this:
1) Make sure your number is displayed in all images and text ads.
2) Adjust your display times to only show ads when you’re in the office. This gives you the opportunity to get those calls and make the most of them when you’re open for business. Your phone responses don’t cost you anything. You only pay for clicks.
4.) Use ad extensions
PPC ads have a small character limit, but luckily Google offers Ad Extensions. These give you the ability to present important marketing information without adding to your character limit.
Six extensions they offer:
1.) Location Extension: Helps prospects find your office.
2.) Product Extension: Shows pictures and prices of your products.
3.) SiteLink Extension: Presents multiple pages from your website simultaneously.
4.) Phone Number Extension: Adds a click-to-call number beneath your ad.
5.) Social Media Extension: Shows how many +1s your Google Plus page has.
6.) Seller Rating Extension: Shows the rating your customers have given your company. Google only shows it if it’s four or fivestars.
Make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity to improve your PPC efficacy. You’ll see the difference in your sales numbers.
Get Pay-Per-Click targeting options that get you more quality leads by going to www.postcardmania.com/google-adwords-targeting-options
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.
“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”
Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.
“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”
However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.
“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”
Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.
Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.
Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.
“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”
Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.
“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”
Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.
“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.
“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”
To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.
“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.
“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”
Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.
“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.
“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”
Bring in key people
As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.
“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”
You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.
“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”
Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.
“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.
“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”
That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.
“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”
During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.
“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”
How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com
Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.
If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.
There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:
Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:
- How do I use this?
- How does this help me?
- What problem does this solve for me?
Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”
To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:
- What does this mean to me?
- Do I need this?
Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”
In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:
- How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?
- Is it unique?
Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.
It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”
Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.
If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.
This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.
When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.
This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.
Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.
Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.
The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.
All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.
Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.
Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.
Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.
Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.
However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.
That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.
This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.
Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.