Small & Strong: Small Business of the Year
- photos by Keith Borgmeyer
This year’s class of finalists for the Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year had heart, innovation, and a spirit for collaboration that lifts up the entire business community — and we were honored to be one of them!
2017 Small Business of the Year
The Business Times Company: Creating in the Digital Age
Year founded: 1994
Number of Full-time Employees: 21
How would clients describe your company in one word? Relevant
The Business Times Company has been a part of the Columbia community for three decades. Its secret to success? Supporting other businesses. “We really need there to be a vibrant business community in Columbia,” says president Erica Pefferman. “Without that, we don’t have any stories to tell.”
The company’s latest venture, Business Times Interactive, was born of that desire to see Columbia businesses thrive.
“Media companies have had to figure out how to stay relevant as the landscape has gone more digital” Pefferman says. The team learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed online as the company began producing more online content and building its social media presence. Pefferman envisioned BTI as a way to share that expertise with other companies through digital marketing.
The company already had a loyal base of advertising clients as well as the necessary creative skills on staff. “We had designers, writers — everything that we needed except for a digital strategist,” Pefferman says. After a lengthy search, Jamie Patterson became BTI’s digital services director, and the division launched in late 2015.
Patterson says BTI takes the needs of each client to heart. “We’re not just going out and selling digital ad space to every single client or business,” she says. “We craft those strategies to make sure that we’re generating ROI for our clients.”
In BTI’s first year, its team grew from one to four, and Patterson has plans to bring on two more staff members. Among BTI’s advertising services is advanced behavioral targeting, a way for businesses to reach customers who are more likely to interact with the company. For example, if someone has been searching online for a new sofa, BTI can show that person a Facebook ad for their client’s sofa. “I think we’re making marketing more relevant to consumers,” Patterson says. “The ads mean something to you because you’re actually in the market [for that product].”
Pefferman says that adaptability is what makes The Business Times Company strong and BTI credible. “When we talk to our clients about things they should do, we’re doing those things for ourselves,” she says. She cites the redesigned Columbia Business Times and the rebranding of Columbia Home into COMO Living as evidence that the company is always evolving and finding new ways to tell stories.
“This isn’t just, ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’” Pefferman says. “We want everyone to be successful.”
AnnaBelle Events: Bringing Joy to Events
Year founded: 2010
Number of Full-time Employees: 2
How would clients describe your company in one word? Passionate
Anne Churchill is an entrepreneur at heart. She’s the force behind AnnaBelle Events, a planning service primarily focused on weddings and corporate events, but around the company’s seven-year mark, Churchill was “itching for something more,” she says.
The result was Jubilee Planning Studio, a sister company to AnnaBelle Events designed to create collaboration and growth between AnnaBelle and other event vendors.
Jubilee, located on West Ash Street, is a shared space for vendors to meet with clients and one another. Anyone planning an event can come to the studio for a free 30-minute consultation with an event planner. The free consultation, says Churchill, makes event planning more accessible to people who may feel they can’t afford it.
“About 50 percent of the time, [people who come in] end up hiring AnnaBelle Events. One hundred percent of the time, they’re hiring at least one of our vendors,” Churchill says. The process helps customers discover what’s available to them, and it simplifies referrals.
Marlo Bolinger, of Busch’s Florist & Greenhouse, based in Jefferson City, joined Jubilee after working with Churchill on several projects. She says membership at Jubilee is helping her business expand into the Columbia area. “It’s been a blessing to have the meeting space there because a lot of times, working with brides, we have to work after hours to meet everybody,” Bolinger says. “[Jubilee] has been a nice place to have a neutral zone” while Busch’s works on a brick and mortar location in Columbia.
Churchill has big plans for Jubilee as a vehicle for growth. “I thought about having it just as an extension of AnnaBelle Events, but the important thing to me was that AnnaBelle Events is a certain person’s planner,” she says. “And I want Jubilee to be everybody’s brand, and I want everyone to feel that it’s obtainable.”
So instead of expanding brick and mortar locations for AnnaBelle, Churchill plans to franchise Jubilee in other cities like Columbia. “It’ll be a nice marriage of the two in that where the markets make sense for AnnaBelle to go into the Jubilee, we’ll do it,” she says. In other places, she’ll look for the other “AnnaBelles of the world” to open a Jubilee and collaborate with their own network of trusted vendors, as Churchill has done in Columbia. She always wants to build something new.
Tompkins Homes and Development: Customizing the Dream
Year founded: 1986
Number of Full-time Employees: 15
How would clients describe your company in one word? Win-win
Since Mike Tompkins took over his parents’ construction business, founded in 1986, he’s had no problem bucking industry trends. Whereas most builders hire subcontractors to complete much of the on-site work, Tompkins says, “for the last 25 years we’ve had our own framing crew, trim crew, painters, and miscellaneous workers.” This helps him ensure timeliness and consistency on each custom home project while making the most of his natural strength — originality.
The tricky part of having 15 full-time employees, as opposed to subcontracting labor, is the need for steady work. Rather than laying people off during slow seasons, Tompkins began purchasing land to build houses for rent in between custom building projects to keep his workers busy. Instead of student housing, Tompkins primarily builds single family home rentals aimed at university executives and graduate students. A recent land purchase will more than double the company’s current rental holdings, from 23 to more than 50 units.
Working with the same crew on each project encourages creativity and collaboration. “Since we were good at design and customization, as a sideline business we started picking up unusual lots or sites,” Tompkins says. “For one reason or another, nobody wanted to buy it. We would look at it and adapt our plans to make things work.” Tompkins himself has exclusively focused on land development for the past 10 years while his son and daughter-in-law run Tompkins Construction.
For Sedel Marino Carson, Tompkins Homes and Development’s director of operations, land development is all about visualization. “When we’re out on a piece of property with a prospective client, and we’re standing there, looking at this piece of land, they get this look on their face, and you know that they’re imagining their dream house,” she says.
Among the company’s current projects are The Gates at Columbia, Rokes Bend, and Breckenridge Park. Tompkins recently purchased plat three of The Vineyards, a development that stalled out during the 2008 downturn. “When people want to build in Columbia, or they want land or they want to be in a subdivision, we want to be the ones they think of,” Marino Carson says.
TrueSon Exteriors: Building on Success
Year founded: 2010
Number of Full-time Employees: 12
How would clients describe your company in one word? Genuine
When TrueSon Exteriors was last nominated for Small Business of the Year, in 2015, founder and president Barry Roewe was considering adding a construction division to his exterior remodeling business. Customers had requested interior remodels over the years, but Roewe usually recommended other contractors. “I can’t just sell [a service] and then hope to figure out how to do it,” he says.
But with new staff members in place to provide necessary experience and skills, TrueSon Construction is now a reality, adding interior remodeling, new construction, and custom home design to the company’s list of services, which already included roofing, siding, windows, doors, and decks.
For a small business, offering such a wide range of services requires careful project management. Sales manager Nevada Shelkey says TrueSon accomplishes this with technology. “We have a great process in place, from capturing the customer’s information all the way through to follow-up, sending their warranties, and everything.”
This process is aided by BuilderTrend, a web-based software designed specifically for builders and remodelers. When a lead comes in for a new project, Shelkey enters the person’s information into BuilderTrend and assigns that lead to a sales specialist. Paper contracts are no longer necessary. They make the proposal on BuilderTrend, and then it’s sent out to the customer. The customer can approve it and sign their name within the program. From there, Roewe can use the app to create the project schedule and track costs. The customer can log in and see the status of the project. “It’s streamlining the whole process,” Shelkey says.
TrueSon also uses Renoworks, a website and app that helps customers preview the changes they want to make to their home. After uploading a photo, customers can “try on” different siding styles, colors, and other features. Renoworks tracks the customer’s preferences as they use the simulator and presents that data to the company, helping TrueSon to better understand their clients.
Effectively using technology has helped TrueSon explore new possibilities. “We’re always looking for better products, more ways to be efficient,” Roewe says. “We’re getting ready to move locations and double our square footage, put a bigger showroom in. Whatever we can do to help the customer visualize what they want.”
Harold’s Doughnuts: Growing a Delicious Brand
Year founded: 2014
Number of Full-time Employees: 4
How would clients describe your company in one word? Love
In the two years since its opening, Harold’s Doughnuts has become a Columbia classic. Offering a mix of traditional, trendy, and completely novel doughnut creations, the store’s success has sometimes threatened to outpace its small kitchen’s capacity. Growing from a two-person online business to a popular brick-and-mortar destination was “kind of like what a minor leaguer would feel like going up to the big leagues,” says Michael Urban, who founded Harold’s with his wife, Karli, in 2015. “The demand was such that we couldn’t possibly keep up, which was a good problem to have.”
Both MU graduates — Karli is a physician with University Hospital — the Urbans have tapped into the spirit of their adopted hometown with Harold’s-sponsored events. For National Doughnut Day in June of 2016, they launched Harold’s National Doughnut Day 5K, which drew more than 400 participants. And last October, Harold’s teamed up with other area businesses to host the Love Your Craft Fest, which featured live music and brought craft vendors in to fill up two blocks of downtown Columbia. This fall, they want to expand it to three.
“We should celebrate people loving what they do, no matter what that is,” Michael says. “It could be food and beverage, could be music, could be the arts, it could be fashion, anything.”
“It’s been fun to throw ideas out there and see what sticks,” Karli says of these events. “And the things that have stuck have stuck really well.” As for the doughnut shop itself, Karli says they’re opening a second store in town. “There’s certainly an interest, and we’ve looked into that and realized that Columbia could sustain another Harold’s.”
In the meantime, Michael has plans for expanding Harold’s offerings to include more beverages. He’s partnering with Hugo Tea, a loose leaf tea company out of Kansas City owned by another MU grad, Tyler Beckett. “We’re excited to collaborate with them to build products for this shop and our customers, both hot tea and bottled iced tea,” Michael says. And he’s working on scaling up production of Harold’s Orange Juice, a recipe he says is “amazingly delicious.” With several projects in the works, Michael loves where Harold’s is headed — “It’s a lot of fun to be in that creative space.”