Hotter Than Hot

Entrepreneur and PricewaterhouseCoopers' 12th annual Hot 100 companies are leading the pack in fast growth, big sales and smart business.

Editor's note: To view the entire listing, plus the methodology and a stats snapshot, visit our Hot 100 page. To view our slideshow of the top 10 Hot 100 companies, click here .

Keeping employees happy is high on the list of priorities for many American businesses, and the finalists in our 12th Annual Hot 100 listing are no exception. According to our annual listing of America's fastest-growing new entrepreneurial companies, a full 43 businesses offer flextime (up from 34 companies last year), and 33 offer opportunities for telecommuting, compared to just 28 last year. Whether improvements in technology or a greater emphasis on work-life balance are the cause, fast growth for many businesses is largely due to having the best staff on hand to manage it all.

Just ask Gary Holdren, 56, founder and CEO of Huron Consulting Group, ranked No. 1 on our Hot 100 list for the second year in a row. This financial and operational consulting company is set to grow from nearly 800 employees last year to almost 1,000 by the end of 2006--and it's Holdren's belief that these employees make the quick growth possible. "We have to have unbelievable people in our infrastructure, in our corporate office. I have to have an HR department that keeps on top of salaries; we have to have a recruiting department; we have to have the best benefits," says Holdren. "Don't try to do anything on the skinny. Surround yourself with the best people, build great infrastructures, and just go as fast as you can." Huron is certainly growing fast: Projected 2006 sales range from $247 million to $252 million, up from 2005's $207.2 million. (For more insight on Holdren's company's success, read last year's profile of Huron Consulting Group.)

Huron is not alone--total combined sales of this year's Hot 100 companies is an impressive $1.7 billion. Business services companies continued their solid showing, and staffing firms did exceptionally well, juming from four companies last year to 10 this year. Health-care and pharmaceutical-industry businesses also continued to be strong categories.

Technology businesses grew at a steady pace--22, up from 20 last year--with technology defense companies entering the milieu. E-commerce businesses also came on strong, with six spots in this year's Hot 100. Companies in industries across the board are raising the bar to reach new levels of success. Read on to learn the quick-growth secrets of a few of these Hot 100 all-stars.--Nichole L. Torres

#17 iSold It LLC
It's no secret--eBay has become tremendously popular, and strategically positioned right alongside the world-famous online auction site is eBay drop-off store iSold It LLC. Elise Wetzel and her husband, Rick, founded the Pasadena, California, business in December 2003 and started offering franchises just a few months later. They have already sold more than 800 units and expect 2006 gross sales to exceed $100 million. The numbers speak volumes; their story explains how they did it.

Elise was trying to raise money for her children's school by selling items on eBay when she was struck by what she calls "the big aha!" She had been buying on eBay for years, but soon realized that the process of selling an item was much more complex than buying. So she went in search of a business that would sell merchandise for her. When she came to a dead end, she knew she had stumbled on something big.

Selling other people's secondhand items for a fee is a golden idea with endless potential, but how this husband-and-wife team is managing the company's growth is what landed them on this year's Hot 100 list. Aware that the business could take off if given the chance, they knew when to step aside and pull in outside resources. "We needed somebody who knew how to run this [business] at the speed it could run at," explains Rick, 47, who already had extensive franchising experience as the founder of fast-growing pretzel franchise Wetzel's Pretzels. "You have to set your ego aside. [It was challenging] to sit there and say, 'This is too big for me; we need a stronger team.'" Rick singled out Ken Sully, former executive vice president of Mail Boxes Etc., for his impressive track record of building solid company infrastructures. Rick brought Sully onboard as iSold It's CEO in 2004. Thanks to this decision, the operation is running at top speed. A complex coding system for the stores is in place, and the build-out of each location is impressively standardized, enabling a store to be installed and set up in a mere 48 hours.

The company continues to grow strong with 3,000 franchise applications flooding in every month and recent international expansion to Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The future promises limitless opportunities, and the Wetzels are ready for it. "We've created this brick-and-mortar interface to the internet," says Elise, 40. "E-commerce will continue to evolve, and I think our stores are in an excellent position to capitalize on that."--Sara Wilson


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This article was originally published in the June 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hotter Than Hot.

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