Indiana Growth 100 companies prosper in a tough year.
The past year has seen anything but fast growth for the U.S. economy. After a period of rapid expansion in the 1990s fueled by new technology and access to venture capital, the start of a new decade has been marked by layoffs, closures and falling growth that has economists debating whether the country is already in a recession.
Against such a bleak economic backdrop, a number of Indiana companies have moved forward and expanded their operations at a rapid pace. Their products range from the usual suspects of technology and business services to more unusual "made-in-Indiana" items such as lightning-protection systems, bandages and space-station experiments.
Following are details of how some of this year's Growth 100 companies expanded their businesses in the past year.
Founded in 1977, Elkhart-based Romaine Inc. has enjoyed rapid growth from its early days of experimentation in the water encapsulating properties of a substance called polyvinyl alcohol.
Today those developments have been incorporated into 26 products designed to help relieve pain from injuries and promote better healing, explains company president John Levy. From gel-wrap bandages to special packaging and first-aid kits, Romaine continues to expand its product list and its markets.
Named after its founder, John Romaine, the company currently serves six primary wound-care markets on a worldwide basis, including sports medicine, hospital, military, chiropractic, industrial first aid and physical therapy. The company sells its products through distributors and also to large companies that purchase private-label products for sale under such well-recognized brand names as Kendall, Curad and Mueller.
In the coming year, Levy expects the company to continue to experiment with new ideas and adapt to changing demands in the marketplace. One such change Levy predicts is additional growth from companies that seek to build inventories of products, since just-in-time manufacturing has been affected by delays in the country's transportation system during 2001.
Companies that face dangerous spills of oil and other hazardous liquids are turning to a fast-growing company in Westfield for help. Spill 911 provides industrial absorbents, spill-response kits, spill containment, material handling and safety products.
John Moore, president and CEO of Spill 911, says the wide range of products has been key to the company s rapid growth since it was founded in 1995. He cites the use of technology-computers, software and the Internet-as strategic assets in the company's ability to manage its growth. "Our biggest challenge during this growth period has been maintaining customer focus. By this I mean keeping our standards of product inventory, shipment and delivery as well as customer service," he says.
"The current economy has caused some downturn in sales, but we are still ahead of last year and should finish the year strong," Moore continues. "Because we sell to so many different types of businesses throughout the United States and abroad, and because many of our products are needed regardless of the economy, our business stays somewhat sheltered from a slow economy."
Moore also notes that the company's growth has been helped by the launch of www.janitorial911.com, a new Web site that offers more than 2,500 of the most requested janitorial products.
Mark Deuser and John Vellinger founded Space Hardware Optimization Technology Inc. (SHOT) in 1988 as an applied-technology company that provides engineering services and equipment to customers performing research in space and at ground-based laboratories.
Based near Louisville in the small southern Indiana town of Greenville, SHOT has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and its hardware has been launched on three sub-orbital rocket flights and on six space-shuttle missions. When astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn returned to space, he was assigned to work with scientific research hardware developed by SHOT.
In 1985, after his freshman year at Purdue University, Vellinger and Deuser, who was working as an engineer at Kentucky Fried Chicken, set out to develop a flight-ready egg incubator through a grant from KFC.
Their completed "Chix In Space" hardware was launched aboard the space shuttle Challenger during its ill-fated mission January 28, 1986. Regrouping after the tragic loss of the orbiter, its crew and the Chix incubator, Deuser and Vellinger founded SHOT and continued developing the payload for a subsequent flight. More than three years after the Challenger incident, Chix successfully reached orbit aboard space shuttle Discovery.
Deuser says research laboratories in space have the potential to help solve many terrestrial challenges. During the next five to 10 years, biotechnology and the health-care industry are expected to benefit significantly from
microgravity research. SHOT will play an important role in these discoveries by continuing to provide the equipment and services needed to conduct this important research, he predicts.
"Create your own niche markets by focusing your strengths on areas where you can create an advantage for your company," he says.
SHOT is currently designing and developing three payloads that are manifested to fly on early missions to the International Space Station--the first of which is scheduled to launch aboard space shuttle Endeavour in late November.
The company is also launching SHOT Commercial Services to make available the company's employees to other, mostly non-space-related organizations that need scientific, engineering or high-tech manufacturing products and services.
PROFESSIONAL STAFF MANAGEMENT
Harlan Schafir has guided Professional Staff Management in Richmond to become one of the Midwest's largest professional employer organizations, which provides outsourcing of payroll and taxes, benefit administration, retirement plans and other human-resource services to companies in more than 25 states.
"Part of our product offering includes a comprehensive benefit program for all employees that are part of the PEO relationship. There is no doubt that the benefits arena is going through massive change, affecting features and pricing," Schafir says. "This has been the most significant challenge this year. We continue to pay attention to the details of our program and as always we are aggressive shoppers of these benefits."
Schafir also notes that a slowing economy brings hardship to more than just the companies directly affected by layoffs, consolidations and bankruptcies. "It is very unusual for us to lose a client for any reason," he says. "This year we have seen more clients than ever either go out of business or be sold. This has affected our growth rate, as some of our new sales become replacement business."
Yet, Schafir points out that being successful in times of fast growth is really not much different than in times of recession. "Really our success is based on the same 'blocking and tackling' that we have done for years," he says. "We continue to do the right things every day when no one is watching."
Specialized promotional products that feature flashing lights on such items as pens, magnets and buttons have helped Buztronics of Indianapolis become one of the state's fastest-growing companies.
"Where we are today did not happen last year. Last year was a result of strategic planning and the commitment to diversify product and markets, and that planning started about four years ago," Buz Lewis says about the success of his company.
He notes that managing a successful company is not simply a matter of handling periods of rapid growth. "In our 12 years of business, we have seen it all. We survived a frivolous lawsuit in federal court, we made the 1996 Inc. 500, we made Growth 100 in 1996, we lost a partner to an automobile crash, we had a controller who was out of control and caused us to get into big trouble with the bank. All were business lessons learned first-hand," he says.
"Every day we make business decisions, some good and some bad. The trick is to make more good ones than bad ones," he says. "Our people and their attitudes make the difference between swim or sink every day."
Using technology to print small runs of books which may not otherwise be published has been a very successful formula for growth at Bloomington's lstBooks. Since the company started in 1997, lstBooks has built a library of some 6,000 titles that are stored in digital format and can be printed on demand or ordered in electronic format.
The ability to print on demand is very popular with new authors who are often ignored by large publishing houses and who often enjoy a higher rate of royalties on smaller runs, says company president Timothy E. Jacobs.
"The primary factor affecting our growth is that there is a huge, pent-up demand for our services," Jacobs explains "It is estimated that more than 50,000 new manuscripts are copyrighted each year and this represents only about 50 percent of the manuscripts actually written. However, under the traditional publishing model only a small handful of these would actually be published."
In addition to serving authors, the print-on-demand business model also is very efficient and lowers risk for the publisher, Jacobs adds. "There is no storage, no unsold books and no returns," he explains. "Every book is bought before it is printed. As a result, we can profitably publish thousands of new books each year."
Although the new technology has allowed the company to grow quickly, Jacobs warns that lstBooks is in uncharted territory and will listen closely to authors to make sure it continues to meet their needs.
"Our biggest challenge has been that...