Legions of business owners go to work every day, sweat out making the payroll, kiss up to customers and wrestle with government regulations. We'd like to know about them all, but as they'll understand, there's just not enough hours in the day for us to ferret out every one. Here's our best shot at giving a few of them a bit of the limelight:
AMS Electronics Inc.
Gravel-voiced entrepreneur Bill Bajcz is savvy enough to know the value of cultivating trusting relationships with vendors and customers. Bajcz asked his customers to pay a little sooner, his vendors to wait a little longer for their money, and found a champion in his banker when he had the opportunity to grab $150,000 extra in annual business for his electronics manufacturing company. He knows how to take advantage of a little luck, too, like being able to negotiate a more favorable lease when a new owner took over his building. A good example of making common-sense equal uncommon dollars.
Ceiling Pro Inc.
Three middle-aged cast-offs from corporate America decided they weren't going to take the dirt that big companies threw on them anymore and started their own commercial cleaning company franchise. With complementary strengths and a willingness to get their hands dirty, Harry Schlegel, Wayne Pursh and Tom Oslick are confident they can make a success of the venture. Oslick and Schlegel have also launched a spinoff, Interior Environmental Services, which brokers the services of other cleaning companies-they now have five vendors working with them. Old dogs can learn new tricks. And teach a few, too.
Marketing consultant, speaker and author Mary Cronin has enough enthusiasm for any dozen entrepreneurs. In 1998, this dynamo put a book on the shelves, "Everyone Notices the Elephant in the Pink Tutu-How to Promote and Publicize Your Business with Impact and Style," a small tome on how to set your business apart from the pack with public relations and marketing. She also moved into new offices in Carnegie Office Park. And she still has time to service her existing clients and beat the bushes for new ones. Oh, and another book is in the works. Where can we get one of those big tutus?
Remember the '80s, when there didn't seem to be much chance that any of the little banks would survive? And how about the '90s, when the big institutions started swallowing each other up? After all that, hardly anyone would have expected the small players could survive, let alone thrive. But some have done just that. Fidelity Bank, for instance, opened a branch office in the Strip District last fall to capture customers from among the multitude of small businesses and their employees crammed into the retail and wholesale district. Real down-the-street bankers, the Fidelity folks know there's still a market for customers who want to do business in their own neighborhood with a banker who knows their name.
Isosceles Development Co.
Four investors with little experience in consumer products-an accountant, an inventor and two manufacturing execs-are pooling their resources to market a line of products dubbed WristWave, designed to relieve stress on the wrists of computer users. The company has completed its retail packaging and inked an agreement with a 100-rep sales organization to put the product into the retail market. It's a simple concept, the kind we like the most.
Jim Shipman and partner Art Spagnol have been marketing the rental and sale of a line of electronic scorekeeping and timekeeping devices for wrestling matches for the last several years. They have struggled, as a lot of entrepreneurs do, but they've managed to learn by their successes and mistakes. They've gone from selling scorekeeping products to renting them to selling and renting them. This year's rentals are off to a great start, says Shipman, and they're poised to get into the high-growth lane with the addition of a new line of devices for sale as well as rental. They look like they've gotten a good hold on the business.
The Sharp Edge
Some entrepreneurs have gone the microbrewery route to capitalize on the craze for pricey beer with heavy flavor, and big companies are promoting their common-denominator brands with everything from comely young women to amiable amphibians. But Jeff Walewski, proprietor of the Sharp Edge on the border of Shadyside and East Liberty, has taken a different tack. He's offering a dizzying assortment of more than 300 exotic bottled beers from virtually every continent, many of them microbrews, 50 draft brews and a collection of Belgians that some beer experts gush over. He conducts beer tastings and features his customers' bios in his newsletter. Now, Walewski is exporting the concept to Crafton, where he's expected to open The Sharp Edge Creek House in a former Maggie Mae's. Cheers.
Tri Rivers Surgical
We don't often view doctors as entrepreneurs, and they're not always comfortable with the tag, either. But the realities of health care today dictate that physicians run their practices like businesses. TriRivers Surgical has done some innovative things to build relationships with its patients, attract new ones to its practice and provide a combination of care and customer service that will keep them coming back. It's using community outreach programs, health issue seminars and clinics, and, in a stab at catching a rising wave in medical care, a foray into an alliance with alternative medical providers. Here's a practice that's showing how to mix business with medicine in a way that won't make you sick.