Retail & Consumer Products
When Nick Seedorf was completing his religious studies in college, he believed he was on a journey, and he could see himself investing in the spiritual lives of college students.
But he had no idea that instead he would follow in the footsteps of three generations of family entrepreneurs instead.
More than 10 years later, he has one of the fastest growing companies in the nation, with nearly 100 employees and millions in revenue. But what does he believe is the best part about this? He still invests in people and relationships — through an opportunity he never expected.
After college, Seedorf’s high school hobby of buying and selling products grew into an e-commerce business called myGearStore.com, a mobile accessories retailer. The company was started in his one-bedroom apartment while he was a newlywed. The enterprise grew over the next few years, and he wanted to consolidate his suppliers through a distribution company, rather than continuing to buy direct from so many manufacturers.
Seedorf researched distributors, but he found no one was solely focusing on mobile accessories and keeping the right products in stock. Along with his insights into the size of the opportunity and the unaddressed pain points of retailers, Seedorf saw the need for a distributor who was a trusted adviser and had high-touch service and the right product assortment.
He launched nuCourse Distribution Inc. on Jan. 1, 2008, as an electronics accessory consultant as much as it is a distributor. Molded into an accessory advisory firm, the company focuses on building one-to-one relationships with each brand and each customer to effectively be “the matchmaker” in the marketplace.
This customer intimacy strategy has helped Seedorf build and keep customer connections and has given the market an understanding that not every retail outlet desires the same product, but the demographics of an area defines product sales.
How to reach: nuCourse Distribution Inc., www.nucourse.com
Retail & Consumer Products
Personal ego was the furthest thing from John Fuller’s mind when he took over as CEO at The Johnny Rockets Group Inc. Instead of talking about what he wanted to do, Fuller set out to build lasting relationships with people in the corporate office and with franchisees and suppliers for the eateries that offer “timeless American food.”
And when he learned that no CEO from the company had ever visited its top suppliers or stepped foot in a particular franchise location, he became even more driven to develop a strategic plan for the future that incorporated everyone’s insights and contributions.
Fuller found that many of his franchisees had set their own path because of the lack of communication from the home office. The result was a company culture that had splintered in many different directions and left the organization without a strong common identity.
Fuller spends about half the year visiting restaurant locations to speak with employees and customers. He takes feedback and uses it to shape the decisions that are made at locations around the world. The effort has brought alignment and a sense of empowerment to employees who feel like they are a bigger part of this iconic organization.
His goal was not to turn every location into a clone of the others. One of his four key business principles is to focus on building leaders who can be difference-makers, rather than caretakers. By building a solid team able to handle the day-to-day operations, leadership can make decisions that can make a long-term difference in the business.
Fuller also believes in the need to see how customers are experiencing the product on a regular basis, which avoids being caught by surprise by a flaw in the service delivery. He advocates making every customer smile at least once during a visit to create joy, as well as understanding when problems do arise.
How to reach: The Johnny Rockets Group Inc., www.johnnyrockets.com
Retail & Consumer Products
Hezy Shaked has faced many different challenges throughout his life. So when he and his wife, Tilly, realized that $3,000 was not going to be enough to complete their cross-country journey of the United States, Shaked was not shaken a bit.
He was committed to being the provider his family needed, so this young man who had been born and raised in Israel took his first U.S. job at a garage. His living accommodations were under a staircase, but Shaked remained positive about his future.
He took inventory of what he could do and focused on the idea that all humans need clothing. So he took a few retail items and a strong work ethic and traveled to an Orange County swap meet.
Things began to come together and Shaked evolved from a few items at a swap meet to a truck full of new clothing and apparel to the opening of his first retail store in Los Alamitos, Calif.
As the founder, chairman and chief strategy officer of Tilly’s Inc., Shaked continued to focus on providing value and working hard to get his customers what they wanted. He was willing to make investments to build the infrastructure he needed to keep his company growing.
This high level of commitment is also evident in the way Shaked goes about hiring employees and building a strong culture. He understands how much his employees depend on him for their livelihood and makes sure they see it every day. He is willing to spend money to make things happen, but is careful about those decisions so that he doesn’t put the future of the organization at risk.
It’s a spirit that allows the company to succeed and allows Shaked to help those outside Tilly’s who really need it. The company has consistently supported a number of charitable causes through both its time and monetary donations.
How to reach: Tilly’s Inc., www.tillys.com
Real Estate & Hospitality
David Kim and Jerome Fink co-founded The Bascom Group, a private equity firm primarily specializing in value-added multifamily real estate investments, in 1996. At the time they acquired their first multi-unit property, California was facing a foreclosure and job crisis. The market was unstable and investors were weary, but the two went on to develop in markets across the U.S.
The two again encountered challenges during the recent financial downturn. They were able to overcome them by piecing together a different organizational structure that essentially kept all employees on the job. In a period in which transactions were scarce, Kim and Fink assigned new roles to each acquisitions member, roles that consisted of supporting an operations team counterpart with revenue and expense management.
In addition, the duo renegotiated with lenders to avoid financial troubles with their loan-based investments and properties. They restructured their loans and optimized their equity, which allowed them to make more strategic buys of distressed properties.
These and other strategies led Bascom to an 8 to 12 percent increase in operating profits between 2008 and 2010.
Kim and Fink always take care of their employees, providing them with the opportunity to have an equity stake in their real estate funds, which promotes a sense of working toward a common goal.
They both believe that investing in people, talent and the community will enable continued and sustainable growth, with particular focus on health, wealth, education and lifestyle.
Giving back to the community is a key success factor for Bascom that provides a symbiotic relationship between the community and the company. When the community prospers, their properties benefit, which leads to wealth creation for the company.
How to reach: The Bascom Group, www.bascomgroup.com
Real Estate & Hospitality
Doug Bauer, Tom Mitchell and Mike Grubbs are home building industry veterans with more than 60 years of combined experience. That is why, when the industry was in the depth of recession in 2009, they knew it was time to make a bold move.
They started TRI Pointe Homes, a next-generation homebuilder focused on the design, construction and sale of innovative single-family detached and attached homes in planned communities in major metropolitan areas in the West. The company lives by three words — think, renew and inspire.
Friends, family and colleagues thought they were crazy to start a new home building company when many of the industry giants were going under, but they knew that this was an industry of cycles, and that when it sank to the bottom, it would be followed by an upswing. And sure enough, four years later, the company they built is not only profitable, but also the focus of a successful IPO. TRI Pointe Homes became the first homebuilding company to go public since 2004.
Bauer, who is CEO, Mitchell, who is CFO, and Grubbs, who is COO, like to set very high goals for themselves. Their successful collaboration is based on their shared discipline and focus, and their unshakable belief that they could succeed. Part of their success is due to being nimble in their decision-making. They analyze the facts, make a decision and go. They may not be right every time, but they don’t waste time sitting around and questioning decisions.
Despite all the achievements the three partners and their company have seen, they still strive to do more; they believe success is a continuum. They are looking to their next mountain. The company currently operates in Northern and Southern California and Denver. TRI is looking to grow in its current markets, and, if market conditions warrant, possibly expand to select markets in Texas, Phoenix, Nevada and the Northwest.
How to reach: TRI Pointe Homes, www.tripointehomes.com
Real Estate & Hospitality
Alan J. Fuerstman began to show his natural aptitude for the hospitality industry at the young age of 17. He was still in high school and had started to work part time as a bellman at a Marriott Hotel in New Jersey. It was his attention to detail, ability to serve guests and willingness to always lend a hand that was quickly noticed by management.
The result was an offer to join Marriott’s management team after Fuerstman graduated from Gettysburg College. He quickly rose through the ranks at a number of luxury hotels before being recruited by Steve Wynn to open the prestigious Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
Through all this, Fuerstman gained experience and put himself in position to pursue a personal vision he had been thinking about. He wanted to create something new, a small ultra-luxury hotel that prided itself on gracious hospitality and attention to service and detail without the stereotypical pretentiousness of a five-star hotel.
As founder and CEO of Montage Hotels & Resorts, Fuerstman has been involved in all aspects of the company’s growth. He didn’t have brand awareness, but he did have a strong sales and marketing vision that could focus on the core differentiators that Fuerstman was confident would win over prospective guests.
And while he has taken a hands-on approach to every aspect of Montage Hotels & Resorts’ growth, Fuerstman never fails to demonstrate the importance of his people and the value that they bring to the culture and the company.
He doesn’t focus on awards and doesn’t want his employees to feel pressured to do something that isn’t possible. His attitude is to “focus on your own backyard first,” believing that consistent effort and dedication to your job will bring you all the recognition you and your business deserve.
How to reach: Montage Hotels & Resorts, www.montagehotels.com
Family Business Category
When Eve Yen came to the United States from Taiwan nearly two decades ago, she was thinking like both an entrepreneur and a mother. She hoped that starting a business would allow her to feed both her passions and, most importantly, provide a better education and opportunity for success for her daughters.
Yen started Diamond Wipes International Inc. in 1994 as a manufacturer of disposable wet wipes. She had worked on a similar venture in Taiwan but hoped to find greater success in the United States. She started modestly with just one machine in a facility no bigger than a two-car garage.
In those early days, she would travel to local restaurants and food service distributors with her wet wipe product. She found success, and today the company’s products are distributed to more than 2,000 clients worldwide. Diamond Wipes now operates a 130,000 square-foot facility in California and a 60,000-square-foot factory in Ohio.
In addition to restaurant wipes, the company also has found great success in contract packaging, which is now its fastest-growing business.
Yen, the company’s CEO, is determined to keep manufacturing in the United States. She believes that wet wipe products should be freshly made and distributed via the shortest distance to the customer, but she’s also conscious of the energy and fuel costs that come with product transportation.
That awareness of what she wants and how she wants to do it has been a key factor in Yen’s success building Diamond Wipes. And it has allowed her to take even greater steps, such as the construction of a 3,360-panel solar power system to generate electricity for the Southern California manufacturing facility.
And just as Yen looked for a chance to prove herself in the early days, she affords the same opportunity to today’s future leaders. She never shies away from hiring young college graduates full of energy and creativity.
How to reach: Diamond Wipes International Inc., www.diamondwipes.com
Family Business Category
All was not well at Nature’s Best in 2005 when Jim Beck stepped into the role of CEO. The company’s CEO had stepped down from the family run business because of a clash with the owner, who happened to be his mother, about the future of the business.
Operations had become very expensive and the company had cut ties with Whole Foods, which made up 36 percent of the company’s revenue. Beck had been with the company focusing on IT development, but he had not previously been part of any discussion about strategy and leadership.
It wasn’t going to be easy, but as it turned out, severing the relationship with Whole Foods was actually a good thing for the company’s future. The relationship was no longer profitable for Nature’s Best and the break allowed the company to establish itself as a key distributor for independent health food stores.
Another challenge was to redesign the company’s production line and implement new software as well as consolidate operations into one building.
When all was said and done, Nature’s Best became much more efficient and was better positioned to expand into new markets and open new distribution centers.
As the company continued to evolve and even create its own brand, Beck made sure that his people felt like part of the growth. That was a key motivating factor behind his support of Greener Initiatives, a program that started as a grassroots co-op dedicated to providing healthy food for employees, their families and customers. Beck doesn’t want employees to see their work as just a job, but as an opportunity to make a difference and put their unique talents to use.
One of Beck’s next major goals is to expand eastward by acquiring a gourmet food company on the East Coast and propel his company to even greater heights.
How to reach: Nature’s Best, www.naturesbest.net
Family Business Category
When Gennaro “Jerry” Paolone founded Car Sound Exhaust Systems, Inc. in 1981, it was in response to an opportunity he saw to be a distributor for exhaust components. Three years later, he transformed the company into a manufacturer of performance exhaust products.
Since then, the company, more commonly known as MagnaFlow, has grown to 300 employees with worldwide distribution and the support of luminaries such as legendary race car driver Mario Andretti.
The success at MagnaFlow is the result of a strong and enduring focus on the customer and the employees who serve that customer. Robotics and automation have become a bigger part of the workflow process, increasing productivity on the factory floor. But he doesn’t see such an investment as an excuse to phase out his hard-working employees.
Rather, the chairman and CEO’s goal is to use technology to the company’s advantage and provide employees with the tools they need to manufacture more products more efficiently.
Take the installation of a fully integrated paperless warehouse management system in 2007. It allows the company to ship more than 1,000 parcel orders a day, giving customers a means to reduce inventory by not holding slow-moving products that can instead be delivered within two days. Paolone leads by the philosophy that you can always find a way to do it better. If you don’t, you will quickly fall behind.
He has faced his share of challenges over the years, but Paolone has always tried to view them more as opportunities. The result is a company that now distributes products to more than 88 countries through its home base in Orange County and its subsidiary in Rome, Italy.
How to reach: Car Sound Exhaust Systems Inc., www.magnaflow.com
T. Scott Law saw the trends developing as medical billing continued to get more and more complicated. Thinking there had to be a better way he set out to improve the medical delivery process for medical practices by founding Zotec Partners in 1998 as a solution.
Now, insurance submissions and rejection appeals, which in the past had taken upwards of 13 minutes to prepare, can be completed more accurately in seconds using Zotec’s advanced Electronic Billing Center software programming and client-focused support personnel.
Zotec has functioned as both a software licensor and a billing service provider, though these two arms originally operated independently. Clients could choose to only license the software, or they could also choose to partner with Zotec’s billing services team.
After working under this model for many years, Law recognized that there was room for improvement. Clients that chose only to license the EBC software were not achieving the level of efficiency he knew could be reached by Zotec’s services team.
Relying on a billing team at Law’s small start-up company that had yet to build a recognizable brand was understandably not palatable for clients. They were comfortable using the EBC software, but Law felt there was a greater method to help improve client bottom lines.
Over time, Zotec has earned its clients’ trust, primarily due to Law’s continual focus on providing a quality software product and personalized experience. In 2007, Law believed that his company had generated enough credibility and was ready to be taken in a completely new direction. He shifted Zotec to a “bundle” approach, where clients could no longer license the software separately from the service.
By providing a bundled offering with consultative services included, all clients now have access to an experienced billing expert who can provide guidance and support.
Customer reaction to this has been extremely positive, and client bottom-lines improved dramatically as a result.
How to reach: Zotec Partners, www.zotecpartners.com