Secrets of My Success: Small Biz Winners

Looking to get inside the head of a successful small-business owner? The TCBN picked the brains of four winners – each named business of the year by their local chambers in the last two years – to find out what they know and what they've learned on their rise to the top.

Terry Berden

CEO and Founder of TC's Grand Traverse Refrigeration, founded 1976, and Great Lakes Stainless, founded 1995

Moment It All Changed: Our turning point was diversifying our business. We did a complete review of our current process and made some drastic changes to re invent ourselves. We went from 100-percent food-service products into a company that also produces products for hospitals, hotels, schools, airports, private companies and entrepreneurs.

Weathering the Storm: We have spent resources over the last few years going out and finding new projects to expand and diversify our business. We also spend time and money to develop a high-quality website and to improve our visibility on the Internet.

Tips For Team Building: We encourage all our employees to come forward with new, fresh ideas on processes, jobs, customer service, etc. The staff call us their "work family," and that's what we are.

Key to Good Management: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Part of our success is that we are goal-oriented. Our upcoming ISO certification has helped us improve our systems – with the end result being a better, more cost-effective product for our customers.

One Essential Tool for Success: Consultants. We don't know it all, and it's important to use other business resources to assist your business with new directions.

I believe a company today cannot survive without: good, well-trained people with vision.

Daniel Bloomquist

Owner, Trout Town Country Café,

Kalkaska, since 2006

Turning Point: I purchased the business – then Grumpy's Diner – in February of 2006. We were open for breakfast and lunch under the Grumpy's name until April. During that time we did extensive remodeling during the afternoons and evenings, along with menu development, and all of the other things associated with opening a new business. In April of 2006 we opened as Trout Town Country Café, and extended our hours to include dinners also.

Proudest Moment: Business of the Year was definitely our biggest achievement. Due to the fact that there are a lot of great businesses in our area, it was a surprise to say the least. It was appreciated by the staff and me, and was a great reward for all the hard work that had been done by all.

Weathering the Storm: Create footwork marketing ideas. Print your own "rack cards" for the local hotels, and chamber of commerce; also give them carryout menus. Create marketing packages that include gift certificates or discounts, a menu, and a small bio of your business, and personally deliver them to other businesses. Managing your labor and product is key during a downturn.

Boom-time Tip: Customer satisfaction. Make sure all employees know that the customer is king.

My Big Three: Serve a consistent product, address customer needs, keep your work environment clean.

Lois Bahle

Partner in Bahle Enterprises, which includes The Bay Theatre, Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms, various rental properties and Bahle's of Suttons Bay (founded by great grandfather, Lars Bahle, in 1876).

Pride & Joy: My part in continuing the family business that has existed into the fourth generation.

One Thing I Wish I'd Known Before I Started: A golf course is probably not the best idea.

Turning Point: In my lifetime, I would say the advent of the cherry harvester. Tourism in Leelanau County increased, and our trade moved from serving the hand-harvest crew to visitors with more disposable income who were looking for better merchandise.

Weathering the Storm: Hopefully you are going into any depression without an unmanageable amount of debt. Our area seems to see a delay in the economic changes exhibited downstate. So watch and prepare for the slowdown, and stay on plan and don't overextend. In the retail world, the old rule is to stay in stock on the basics, don't overbuy; there is always merchandise to be had.

I Value and Try to Instill in my Employees: Curiosity about other similar businesses and new innovations.

Key to Good Management: If you are joining a family business and going to manage employees, work outside the business for three to five years. To be a good manager, experience being an employee.

Best Advice Ever: My Grandmother would say, "Early to bed and early to rise, work like hell and advertise." The stories are endless.

Rex Holden

Physical Therapist, CEO, Co-owner with wife, Jill, of FAST Physical Therapy,

founded 2005, with locations at Copper Ridge and Centre Ice in Traverse City,

as well as in Elk Rapids.

Learning Opportunity: Probably one of the many things that I have done incorrectly is not follow all business rules to a tee. For example: spending money on marketing and promo efforts that don't do much to bring in clients or improve the bottom line, and not setting up a well-defined budget earlier in our existence and sticking to it.

Turning Point: One of the most important ones for me was after about 2.5 years of working 70-hour weeks and not being home much after school for my kids – I usually went home between 7:30 pm to 9 pm at night. Then I told my staff that I was leaving at 3:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons to be with my two daughters. I just realized that, no matter how much we grew, if I didn't say no, then I would always have to be at work. From that moment on I started to work harder at organizing the business better and training my employees so that I wouldn't always have to be there. Jill and I continued to take courses and seminars on how to manage and operate our clinics so that our team continued to grow and prosper.

Weathering the Storm: Continue to promote and market your company – but more intelligently – using your own database of past clients to help you grow. Survey them and ask them why they use your products and then give them more of what they want. And don't be afraid to ask them to send business your way. This is the most effective and least expensive way I know to make a company grow.

I believe a company today cannot survive without: managing by statistics, getting results, delivering a great product or service

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