Playing pays: Costumes, samples and games are all in a day's work at Practicon, where company leaders see them as productivity boosters, not time wasters.

Position:Employee engagement

Sid Bradsher has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and employees at Greenville-based Practicon Inc. never know which one he'll pull out. He may imitate a pirate, dress in costume or use a power drill to eat corn from the cob at a staff meeting. These "essential non-essentials" are all in a day's work for the dental-care device developer and supplier's director of people and culture. "We make it an environment where, even if you're in a cubical all day or in a warehouse packing, you can be engaged and informed," he says. "We make it fun when we can, but we also keep our values and work really hard. We do have business as usual most of the time, but I'm proud that this is a place where we can have fun and still accomplish quite a bit."

Bradsher's lighthearted exploits blend with open communication and goal-setting to instill company values, motivate employees and reward successes. It's a unique formula that has helped the 35-year-old company reach $20 million in annual revenue. "When they hired me, my goal was to invest in our people and make them feel good about our work and do better, because when we do better it ultimately benefits all of us. We've done some things to increase our communication, and we've redone our recognition plan and rewarded some folks for time working here, and we've redone our compensation plan to build our strategies for people in general."

Ann Page Griffin founded Practicon in 1982. Now semi-retired, she was a dental-health educator at a Greenville practice before launching the business, which combines providing dental education for patients with marketing of products to dentist offices and consumers in the U.S. and Canada. It's a family affair. Her son Scott Griffin is CEO and son Brad Griffin is vice president. They are joined by her daughter Page Curtis and son-in-law Cliff Curtis, Practicon's corporate financial officer.

Greenville-based Small Business and Technology Development Center helped with Practicon's launch and continues to help with securing government contract sales. Practicon directly sells to government customers through a Department of Defense electronic catalog and Veterans Affairs federal supply schedule. Those have increased its government sales by 40%.

Practicon's extensive inventory covers dental-office equipment such as hygiene and optical technology instruments, home care and preventative items, lab supplies, and office management and decor items. Some combine practicality with playfulness...

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