The Bryan Rotary Club/Newman 10 Business Performance Awards, in cooperation with the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, recognizes and honors successful small businesses for their achievements and for the significant impact they have on the local economy.
Established in 1994 by the Bryan Rotary Club and patterned after the Inc. 500 program, a company must be an independent, privately held corporation, proprietorship or partnership that has been in business at least five years. The business must be located in Brazos County, have had sales of more than $50,000 but less than $25 million in fiscal 2006, and show a five-year sales history with an increase from fiscal 2009-2010.
1. Republic Landscapes
Brandon Spears, landscape contractor
Number of Employees: 7
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 476.08%
Location: 1511 Texas Avenue, Suite 230 College Station; (979) 775.9999
“Be prepared to run lean and mean for as long as it takes. Treat it like a long-term investment, not just a job replacement.” – Brandon Spears, Republic Landscapes
After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in agricultural economics, Brandon Spears worked in sales for a computer company. Then he bought a friend’s lawn mowing business.
“I started in commercial landscape maintenance, but saw the change in the market and looked for a new venture,” says Spears. “A friend in Houston, who was a utility contractor, encouraged me to pursue being a landscape contractor, versus going back to school for my MBA. The more I researched the idea, the more I saw opportunities for growth.”
But rapid growth did not happen overnight. Says Spears: “I started off just bidding and bidding, to try and land some work. It was 18 months before I landed my first large project.”
He sold his landscape maintenance company to pursue contracting full time, aggressively bidding on new projects in Houston, Austin and College Station. Today Republic Landscapes offers a one-stop solution for all of a general contractor’s landscape and hardscape needs.
“Our goal isn’t to be the least expensive, but to provide the best quality service in a timely manner,” says Spears. “Two big things that have helped are a belief that ‘no job is too big’ and a desire to see everything through to a timely conclusion.”
Among the company’s local projects are the Texas A&M Health Science Center campus in Bryan and the Mitchell Physics Building on the university campus. The business has grown so quickly it was ranked as the second-fastest growing Aggie-owned or Aggie-led business in 2010 by the Aggie100 awards program.
“Stick it out and believe you are the best. It may take five or more years to start to see some real returns,” says Spears. “Be prepared to run lean and mean for as long as it takes. You need to have a 10 year-plus view on your company. Treat it like a long term investment, not just a job replacement.”
2. Brazos Technology
Michael McAleer, mobile technology applications
Date Founded: 2000
Number of Employees: 24
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 172.46%
Location: 526 University Drive East, Suite 201A College Station; (979) 690.2811; www.brazostech.com
“Make sure you take some time to evaluate where you are and where you should be going. It is very easy to become locked into the day to day activities and miss opportunities (large and small) to improve and/or grow your business.” – Mike McAleer, Brazos Technology
Mike McAleer was director of software development for a computer services company in Dallas when the $5 billion corporation went out of business. Instead of seeking a new job, the 1992 Texas A&M University graduate moved his family to the Brazos Valley and founded his own company, LinkedPC Solutions, and developed a computer work order management system for a large healthcare company.
“While I had been working with mobile applications for several years, the difficulties of building this application led me to believe that there should be an easier way to build, deploy and manage applications running on PDAs, cell phones and laptops,” says McAleer.
Targeting the technology needs of law enforcement and emergency responders, he renamed his company Brazos Technology and, in 2002, launched his custom software applications. In 2003, three police departments were using the product; today, more than 190 police departments rely upon Brazos Technology.
“The real credit of our success goes to the employees of Brazos Technology; we have exceptional people who are driven and committed to both our customers and the other members of the team,” says McAleer. “The success of any business lies with the employees. Hire exceptional people and help them to succeed.”
Brazos Technology’s enterprise class mobile applications are web-based and allow the company to build and deploy systems in days, instead of weeks or months. Demand for the company’s services has grown to support 24 employees, but the key to the company’s growth, says McAleer, is its commitment to customer service.
“The key that has differentiated us from our competition over the long term is our customer support, which influenced our customer satisfaction.” Says McAleer, “We value taking care of our current customers more than closing the next deal. While this strategy initially can have a negative effect on growth, over the longer term, growth can become exponential due to the positive ‘word of mouth’ from your loyal customers.”
3. JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc.
James M. (James) Benham and James T. (Jim) Benham; Enterprise Application and Database Development, Electronic Data Interchange, IT Strategy Consulting, Mobile Solutions and Web Design and Development
Date Founded: 2001
Number of Employees: 45
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 137.86%
Location: 100 North Main Street, Suite 100, Bryan; (866) 888.8538; www.jbknowledge.com
“Nothing ever goes the way you think it will – so you have to hope for the best and plan for the worst.” – James M. Benham • JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc.
As a Texas A&M University student, James M. Benham served as information management officer for the Corp of Cadets. It was in that role that he developed a database solution to streamline communications and significantly reduce paper consumption. Later, while working on his master’s degree in information systems, he recognized an opportunity to develop software for small companies that were in need of enterprise application and database solutions. He formed JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc. in 2001 and expanded into insurance software development in 2004 and into the construction industry in 2006. By 2008, JB Knowledge was a full-fledged specialty enterprise application company in the insurance, construction and real-estate industries.
“We’ve focused on diving deep into the specialty areas that we have found,” says Benham. “We stay ahead of our competition in features, services, and support provided to our customers. Ultimately, when our user base moves from one company to another, they will usually successfully advocate for our web-based programs to be implemented in their new positions.”
JB Knowledge is an IT solutions provider specializing in enterprise application and database development, electronic data interchange, IT strategy consulting, mobile solutions and web design and development. It also offers two products specifically for the construction and insurance industries, SmartBidNet and SmartCompliance.
JB Knowledge was among the 10 fastest growing small businesses in the Brazos Valley in 2007 and 2010 and returns there, says Benham, by maintaining its focus.
“Clearly understand what makes you and your business different from your competitors,” says Benham. “And don’t get ahead of your own cash flow in growing your business.”
4. Ellis Custom Homes
Keith Ellis, custom home construction
Date Founded: 1990
Number of Employees: 9
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 122.01%
Location: 101 Grove Street College Station; (979) 229.6936; www.elliscustomhomes.com
“If you make it a habit to strive for excellence and infuse your dealings with others with integrity and honesty, good things will come your way.” – Keith Ellis, Ellis Custom Homes
After earning a bachelor’s degree in building construction from Texas A&M University in 1988, College Station native Keith Ellis went to work for a semi-custom home building company in Houston.
“I have always enjoyed the creativity involved in the building of custom homes,” says Ellis. “Being a part of helping people achieve their dream home is a very satisfying experience.”
His opportunity to build a custom home on his own came in 1990. With a little savings and a leap of faith, Ellis secured his first custom contract in Houston. Five years later, Ellis relocated the company back to his hometown, where he quickly gained a reputation for quality custom construction.
“My main goal is always customer satisfaction,” says Ellis. “I achieve that in large part through creative problem solving and by never sacrificing quality.”
Each Ellis Custom Home is unique in its design, materials and methods of construction and Ellis personally handles all areas of project management, including client consultation, project estimation, scheduling of trade contractors and acquisition of materials.
“If you make it a habit to strive for excellence and infuse your dealings with others with integrity and honesty, good things will come your way.”
With more than two decades in custom homebuilding and a team of highly qualified craftspeople, Ellis Custom Homes has built a solid reputation for treating the customer fairly and courteously and finishing the project on time and on budget.
“Somewhere along the way, perhaps a childhood lesson, I was taught to do the right thing,” says Ellis. “We all know what the ‘right’ thing to do is in any situation. Sometimes that is hard, but I always find a way to do it, and build upon those experiences.”
5. Fries Financial Services
Denise Fries, financial planning
Date Founded: 1984
Number of Employees: 6
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 118.64%
Location: 108 East North Avenue Bryan, (979) 846.8395; www.friesfinancial.com
“Always, without fail, do what is in the client’s best interest. The Good Guys really do finish first and the Bad Guys have to live with themselves.” – Denise Fries, Fries Financial Services
When Denise Fries interviewed for a job with several financial brokerage firms, all fell short in the way she wanted to work with clients. So in 1984, Fries opened Fries Financial Services to provide the best possible financial products delivered by a team of caring, competent professionals.
“I knew I couldn’t do the same ‘one size fits all’ financial plans,” says Fries. “Each client deserves someone who sees and hears their individual needs and reacts accordingly.”
A second-time Newman 10 Award winner, Fries Financial Services helps clients plan for the future and maximize their money in a professional environment that upholds the values of honesty, hard work, integrity, fearlessness and indentifying and retaining an excellent staff.
“Always, without fail, do what is in the client’s best interest,” says Fries. “The Good Guys really do finish first and the Bad Guys have to live with themselves.”
Fries is also committed to community service and is active with many charitable organizations. Fries Financial Services and its clients built a Habitat home in honor of Fries’ 40th birthday and, since then, have helped build five more. In 2006, Fries was named a Jefferson Award Nominee for her work with Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance, a disease that affects her daughter and a cause so close to Fries’ heart, she started another new business in 2010, Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery. The Bakery shares space with Fries Financial Services in the Garden District building.
“Most people seek similar things – a secure retirement, college for their kids, but each person’s path to achieving that goal is unique,” says Fries. “We elevate that concept to an art form.”
6. Fifth ‘C’ Fine Jewelry
Chuck and Lori Konderla, custom jewelry design and sales
Date Founded: 1997
Number of Employees: 2
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 84.66%
Location: 1716 Briarcrest Drive, Suite 300 Bryan; (979) 691.7301; www.aggiejeweler.com
“Ignore the people who say you cannot achieve your goals; they are talking about themselves. You can do anything you want to do. Take the time to pray and think about what you love. Do the same to realize your strengths and weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and in themselves. Do not go into unreasonable debt. Finally, give it all to God.” – Chuck Konderla, Fifth ‘C’ Fine Jewelry
It’s an unusual description, but owner Chuck Konderla says his company, Fifth ‘C’ Fine Jewelry, is the “anti-jewelry” store. “My approach is not one of sales; I choose to take the time to see clients one on one, by appointment, in an office setting,” says Konderla. “Without retail overhead and while controlling my schedule, I can focus on each client fully.”
Fifth ‘C’ Fine Jewelry began in 1997 to bring in a little extra income to two Aggie graduates recently out of college, recently married and in serious debt. Employed full-time in IT sales, Konderla had worked in retail jewelry sales throughout college and still had contacts in the industry. Selling jewelry on the side was meant to supplement his income, but it soon became his passion.
“I now run a company that has found its place in the jewelry industry,” says Konderla. “I lean more on my designs than ordering completed work from vendors, I have assembled a team of the best of the best in bench jewelers to make my ideas become reality, and I still enjoy meeting each client face to face, one client at a time.”
Konderla says the growth of Fifth ‘C’ Fine Jewelry is purely organic; satisfied customers become his advocates, and those advocates have made his business blossom through referrals.
“The Fifth ‘C’ stands for Chuck, as I do it my way with the emphasis on the customer and the jewelry we put in our little red wood boxes. Our name is on those boxes. Our pride is inside them.”
In addition to Fifth ‘C’, Konderla is an active leader in the community and serves on the Bryan City Council.
7. La Voz Hispana
Jose Diaz; print advertising publication/newspaper
Date Founded: 1995
Number of Employees: 9
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 56.73%
Location: 307 South Main, Suite 107, Bryan (979) 822-0503
The key to the success of La Voz Hispana: “Consistency and perseverance with the help of the Lord.” – Jose Diaz, La Voz Hispana
Jose Diaz was working as a radio news reporter in Mexico when he moved to the Brazos Valley. The 23-year-old did not speak English, but had a good business idea. With hard work and perseverance, Diaz was able to overcome the language barrier and in 1995 created La Voz Hispana, a Spanish language newspaper for residents of the Brazos Valley.
“The idea of creating a Spanish print publication was to inform, as well as to be a source for business to the Hispanic market,” says Diaz.
He started the company without any financial investors and worked additional jobs to support his fledgling newspaper. Initially, 5,000 copies of La Voz Hispana were published and distributed once a month. Later, production increased from monthly to publishing a paper every two weeks. Today, 22,000 copies of La Voz Hispana roll off the presses each week for distribution in 15 cities.
Diaz says the key to the success of La Voz Hispana: “Consistency and perseverance with the help of the Lord.” His steady growth and expansion into new markets has been guided by a philosophy that focuses on a value of community. To Diaz, it’s not about himself, but the good people who surround him: “To work in a team, to have a network with various businesses while helping raise funds for organizations and people in need.”
La Voz Hispana was named Hispanic Business of the Year in 2010 by the Hispanic Forum during its 12th annual scholarship gala. “This isn’t just for me – this is for my team,” said Diaz. “I believe in teamwork.”
8. Zajonc Corporation
Kyle D. Barrington, Ph.D., consulting, grant writing, program performance evaluations, monitoring financial compliance, software development
Date Founded: 2000
Number of Employees: 14
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 56.69%
Location: 2112 Chippendale College Station; (979) 696-6373; www.zajonc-corp.com
“You can’t surf on calm water. You must continue to evolve and grow and increase your skill sets, or go by the way of the widget.” – Kyle Barrington, Zajonc Corporation
Kyle D. Barrington, Ph.D., has been a certified juvenile probation officer, director of a drug and alcohol abuse inpatient treatment program, and a consultant for Oracle Corporation. But it was his grant writing experience that led to the creation of Zajonc Corporation.
“Learning the needs of school districts that were small and did not have strong grant writing resources was the originating idea for the company,” says Barrington.
As he prepared grant proposals for clients, he discovered other needs related to grant management. So he developed a suite of services and software to fill that niche, offering consulting, grant writing, program performance evaluations, monitoring financial compliance and software development. It’s grown to be one of the largest evaluation companies of its kind in the nation.
“You can’t surf on calm water,” says Barrington. “You must continue to evolve and grow and increase your skill sets, or go by the way of the widget.”
The company’s strategies are effective. Since 2005, Zajonc Corporation has secured over $22 million in grant funds for its clients. The key to success, says Barrington, has been a great staff that is always willing and eager to learn more. “Always be open to new opportunities and be passionate about what you do. Do it great today and even better tomorrow.”
9. By Design Interiors
Susan Tremont, Interior Design
Date Founded: 1995
Number of Employees: 4
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 54.01%
Location: 404 University Drive East, Suite E, College Station; (979) 764.2927; www.bydesigninteriorstexas.com
“Integrity is the keystone for a successful and respected business.” – Susan Tremont, By Design Interiors
By Design Interiors began when friends and interior designers Susan Tremont and Mary Evelyn White developed a partnership working with clients on a casual and occasional basis out of their homes – and Tremont’s garage – for about 20 years. In 1995, they opened a showroom and office to better serve their clients’ needs.
“As a fledgling business, our client base started with friends for whom we had done work previously,” says Tremont. “Our growth has been accelerated by referrals and continuing relationships with satisfied clients and builders.”
Today, the full-service interior design firm offers residential and commercial services including space planning, interior finish-out, which includes material and color selection, cabinet design, lighting design, lighting and flooring selection, and furnishings, which includes furniture, upholstery, draperies, bedding and accessories.
“When you are working with clients through the building process, much is learned about their personal life and their lifestyle,” says Tremont. “Occasionally, we take on the role of psychologist; other times we are more of a mediator between clientele, builders and craftsmen. We hope at the completion of a job that we have made a friend for life.”
In addition to many satisfied clients, By Design Interiors has earned numerous American Society of Interior Designers awards, recognition that increased the company’s visibility and led, in part, to the prestigious honor of having been chosen as the exclusive design firm for the 2006 Southern Living Idea House located at Traditions Golf Course in Bryan.
“Because of the multitude of details in every job, a good designer must have not only talent but be very detail oriented and follow even the smallest item to its completion,” says Tremont. “Bottom line – the greatest challenge isn’t just colors, patterns and styles, but managing a sound and efficient business.”
10. Ed Slovacek CPA, PLLC
Ed Slovacek, CPA, PLLC; Tax and QuickBooks advisory services
Date Founded: 1974
Number of Employees: 5
Sales Growth 2008 – 2010: 49.00%
Location: 1716 Briarcrest Drive, Suite 120, Bryan; (979) 846.4667; www.edslovacekcpa.com
“We strive to approach every client’s business needs as though it were our business and our needs.” – Ed Slovacek, CPA, PLLC
For the past 37 years, Ed Slovacek, CPA, PLLC, has provided tax, accounting and consulting services to businesses and professionals in the Brazos Valley. And for the second year in a row, this company appears among the Bryan Rotary Club/Newman 10 Business Performance Award winners.
“Our services encompass nearly every aspect of financial life,” says Slovacek. “We are experienced in all matters of accounting and taxation, IRS problem resolution, estates and trusts, business formation and operation, real estate and the purchase or sale of businesses.”
A native of Bryan, Ed Slovacek began his professional career in San Antonio, but returned to his hometown in 1974 and purchased a CPA practice. In 1986, he became a Certified Financial Planner practitioner and held the designation through 2005.
“Our mission is to exalt the grace of God, to serve our clients and to make money through ‘partnering’ with our clients in serving their accounting and income tax needs,” says Slovacek. “Our clients’ problems become our problems – we search out solutions that work. Likewise, we celebrate our clients’ successes as if our own.”
Slovacek says it is crucial to know each client well enough to coach and advise them on their business and personal finance. In turn, he recommends that business owners also seek and heed wise counsel.
“Everyone needs a ‘business friend’ to talk over their business decisions and to provide an objective sounding board,” says Slovacek. “Plus, I need God’s grace more today than ever.”
2011 Commercialization Rising Star Award
Also presented annually is the Bryan Rotary Club/Anco Insurance Lifetime Business Achievement Award. Introduced in 1998 by the Bryan Rotary Club, the Anco Award is given to a mature company that has a sustained history of success and respect in its industry and has significantly contributed to the quality of life in our community through the years. Anco Insurance is the underwriter for this award.
James Y. Lancaster
CEO and Chairman, Ecolyse, Inc.; Founding Manager, Research Valley Funds, LLC Founding Committee Chairman, Lemonade Day Bryan/College Station Founding General Manager, Research Valley Innovation Center
“When I learned that the Bryan/College Station community was preparing to establish a world-class science and technology business incubator connected with its Texas A&M partners, I was excited to see how much energy and enthusiasm was going into moving the university’s innovative research to the marketplace through the creation of new companies…that’s something that I wanted to be a part of and when there’s an opportunity to contribute or accomplish something, I jump on it and make it happen.”
James Lancaster, Texas A&M Class of 1986, is emblematic of the agile, serial entrepreneurs relocating and working in overdrive within Bryan/College Station. As a proven, innovative technology executive with excellent financial acumen and experience in multiple industries, James returned to Aggieland in 2007 as the ideal professional and mentor to become the Research Valley Innovation Center’s first general manager. In this community leadership role, he helped to incubate a variety of promising startup companies by planning their growth, raising funds from multiple sources, fielding an executive team to drive toward a vision, and steering that team within budget and challenging business milestones.
Following his business incubator management service to the community, James returned to the private sector as the CEO/Chairman of Ecolyse, Inc., an energy service company with Texas A&M University ties that he had mentored. This new venture is commercializing ecological products to remediate pipeline corrosion, reservoir souring and a variety of other bacterial problems in industrial settings. Recognizing the opportunities created by entrepreneurs having access to seed capital, James established Research Valley Funds, LLC, a family of investment funds dedicated to helping advance the economic base in and around Bryan/College Station through investment in early stage companies. As a champion for preparing the next generation to enter pathways to entrepreneurship, James played an integral role in the founding of Lemonade Day Bryan/College Station, which empowers and teaches children how to plan and operate their own business, a lemonade stand.
James Lancaster’s powerful characteristic is to look for ways to improve anything he is involved in and to ensure that a solid foundation is established for continued growth. As a catalyst, he is a testament to the executive leadership desired for responding to commercialization challenges and achieving business objectives, while advancing a team.
2011 Bryan Rotary/Anco Insurance Business Lifetime Achievement Award
Insite Printing & Graphic Services; Brazos Valley Insite Magazine
Kyle and Renea DeWitt; Greg and Angelique Gammon
What is today known as The Insite Group, L.P. began humbly in 1984 as Insite Magazine. The local housing market was overbuilt and home sales were stagnant, so the Gammon family – Greg and Angelique Gammon, fresh out of college; and Arla and Spec Gammon, both newly retired from Texas A&M –– started out to publish the first full-size, full-color local magazine highlighting existing homes, hoping to increase home sales for local realtors and builders.
Arla and Spec sold the ads; Angelique was the publisher, and Greg managed the small printing company, Pronto Printing, where the magazine was printed. By the second issue, the magazine had moved beyond real estate, showcasing the full spectrum of the local community and what contributes to its quality of life: the arts, non-profit organizations and local personalities. Within a year, the Gammons moved the magazine out on its own, creating Insite Publishing Company.
As the magazine grew, Insite Publishing began brokering design, layout and other services needed to produce the magazine for other local clients. The company moved into its current location in downtown Bryan in 1993 and purchased its first six-color, large-format press and bindery equipment.
“Insite has always strived to be a company of firsts,” says Angelique Gammon. “Not just to say we were first, but because there was a demand that wasn’t being met locally and we sought to fill the demand.” Insite was the first to offer Linotronic Service bureau services outside of Austin in the pre-digital days.
In 1997, Insite Publishing merged with Lang Printing owners Kyle and Renea DeWitt to create The Insite Group, L.P. The merger ushered in a new era of growth, including acquisition of digital printing equipment and technology to expand the company’s capacity to produce printing, publishing and a full-service direct mail operation for clients.
“Finding a way to use our acquired expertise to make our customers’ printing and advertising the absolute most efficient and effective it can be is the key,” says Gammon. “We want everyone who trusts us with their printing or advertising budget to get the absolute best value for their money and we hope we manage to build a relationship of valued friends as well as customers for the future.”
The Gammons and DeWitts share a passion to innovate and stay on top of the rapidly advancing new technologies in the printing industry. In 2009, Insite Printing received the “Oscar of Printing,” the Benjamin Franklin Premier Print Award from the Printing Industries of America – international recognition for demonstrating the highest achievement in printing.
While awards and accolades are one measure of success, Gammon places higher value on the company’s customers: if they’re successful, then The Insite Group has been successful. Says Gammon, “As the printing industry continues to evolve to shift more toward digital, print-on-demand and other changes through web and technical innovation, Insite’s goal is to provide every customer with the technical expertise that will offer the most cost-efficient way to meet their individual printing needs. Every product we print or advertisement we publish is successful only if it meets that company’s needs for growth and success.”
Insite Printing is the official printer for Texas A&M Sports Properties and is a certified State of Texas Historically Underutilized Business (HUB). It is also the first and only certified Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) printer in the area, a designation demonstrating a commitment to environmentally friendly practices. It is also a generous and sustained supporter of the community.
“We try to help all the organizations who ask with some form of donation, either advertising for their event or by writing about the worthwhile services they provide in the community.”
It’s been 27 years since Greg and Angelique Gammon first entered into the printing and publishing business. They count their merger with Kyle and Renea DeWitt as the milestone that enabled the company’s growth into the Houston printing market and into the national coupon direct mail market. Their company has grown to employ 25 in a high-tech, award-winning operation, and much like the community Brazos Valley Insite Magazine features each month, The Insite Group itself has become deeply woven into the local fabric.
“So many businesses contribute to the dynamic business community and incredible quality of life we enjoy here in the Brazos Valley. We have been blessed by the people we’ve met and worked with over the years. It makes all of us at Insite feel we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the clients who have trusted us with their printing and advertising needs over the years.”