Billie & Corey Pitts, both 37
International Catastrophe Solutions
Projected 2006 Sales: $40 million to $45 million
Description: A disaster recovery company for commercial enterprises
In the Face of Tragedy: On August 30, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents were desperately fleeing the city just as Corey Pitts and his crew of more than 450 employees and independent contractors were flooding in. They were ready to do what they do best: Sanitize and clean hotels and commercial buildings after a disaster. The combined forces of Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita put International Catastrophe Solutions' services to the ultimate test last year, but the company met the challenge head-on. In fact, they finished the last job just this past April. "I look at my business almost like the military," says Corey. "Right now, we have RVs, we have our own fuel trucks, we have tractors, we carry our own water. When we come to a place to do business, we bring in everything because we don't know what to expect, and our clients depend on us to get the job [going]."
Changing Tides: Corey and his wife, Billie, launched International Catastrophe Solutions in 2001. They serve clients such as Chevron and Sheraton with help from their 78 full-time employees. The Pitts have opened satellite offices in California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas, and several more offices are set to open in the U.S. and abroad next year. But it all stemmed from a much smaller residential carpet cleaning business, PJ Services, which the Pitts opened in 1991. By adding water and fire damage services, the Pitts were able to find a niche and grow the business from a small, independent operation to a well-established company with high-value services. PJ Services Catastrophe Solutions is now the parent company of International Catastrophe Solutions. "There are not a lot of commercial companies out there that do what we do," says Corey. "It's a very specialized field."
Secure Investment: The Pitts learned early on that the only way to combat nature's worst disasters is to keep themselves and their staff educated and up-to-date with the latest techniques and recovery procedures. And just as they believe in investing in their employees, they continually reinvest their profits by buying bigger and better machinery with each passing year.
Follow Their Lead: Always plan for the worst. Reinvesting in the business from Day One can help you weather rough patches down the road.
Work It Out: Happening movies, hot TV programs, cool clothes, hip music--it all sounds like a lot of fun, but keeping up with youth culture and advising companies on how to market to young people is also a lot of hard work. "I work when I'm not sleeping," says Tina Wells. "Sixteen-hour days are the average, but I have a rule about getting eight hours of sleep." In a world where she is constantly traveling, taking business classes at Wharton and keeping her finger on the pulse of pop culture, the only constant in Wells' working day is a morning cup of coffee at Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks is still hot and happening, according to Wells.
A Teen Thing: Wells has been blazing a trail in youth marketing for a decade, founding her company, which was initially called The Buzz, in 1996. Do the math, and you'll discover she started the company at 16 years old. She wasn't your typical teenager. "I'm a big daydreamer, but I didn't have a clue that people would actually pay me to tell them what I thought about their cool products," she says. Once Wells figured that out, she didn't look back. What began from her parents' home as writing product reviews for a newspaper for teen girls grew into a multimillion-dollar business. Says Wells, "I was a teenager, so it wasn't like I had incredible startup costs."
The Power of Networking: Buzz Marketing Group extends well beyond its 10 employees. A BuzzSpotters network of more than 9,000 teens and tweens helps feed the company's research and keeps Wells in touch with what's happening. "I talk to young people every day," she says. "I also spend a lot of time talking to parents. I really think that's the key to my business success. [I keep in mind that] with every child comes a parent."
Top of the Pops: In 2005, Wells launched a youth marketing magazine called BuzzEd and is looking to branch out from there. "I've marketed other people's products for so long that I'm going to start creating a lot of my own stuff," says Wells, adding that she can see herself still doing what she's doing 20 years from now. When it comes to a love of pop culture, age is just a number.
Follow Her Lead: The best way to know your market is to dive right in and find creative ways to keep in touch with the people who can provide you with knowledge.
Maureen Kelly was working toward a Ph.D. in psychology when one of her pet peeves inspired an entrepreneurial endeavor. Each time she visited makeup counters in search of the right products, the makeup artists selling the makeup would leave Kelly looking beautiful, but also poorer and entirely incapable of recreating the look. Feeling that the beauty industry was in need of a reality check, she set out to launch a line of simple and easy-to-use cosmetics in equally stylish and portable packaging for real women, who lack the time and expertise to spend hours primping. The end result? Kelly dropped out of the Ph.D. program and launched Tarte Cosmetics in 1999 from her one-bedroom, rent-
controlled apartment in New York City.
Fresh Look: Entering an industry with no experience proved to be just the edge she needed. "If you come into an industry when you don't have a lot of experience, you have more of a fresh perspective and you can think a little bit more outside the box," says Kelly, who wraps Tarte compacts in leathers and fabrics. "You're not bound by the typical tenets of what you can and cannot do." She scouted out laboratories and chemists to work with, relied on previous interior design experience for packaging ideas, and learned through trial and error how to market and sell her line.
Positively Exposed: She didn't advertise, but after countless phone calls and careful selection of the right exposure, Tarte Cosmetics soon graced the pages of numerous fashion and women's magazines and landed on the shelves of retailers such as Henri Bendel, Nordstrom and Sephora. In 2005, popular shopping network QVC offered Kelly the opportunity to officially launch her line in homes across America. The first hour-long segment resulted in the sale of more than 13,600 items and translated into an 8.5 percent increase in the company's annual sales from 2004 to 2005.
Solid Foundation: Tarte Cosmetics has turned heads in the U.S. and Canada and will be hitting Europe next year, but Kelly believes slow and strategic growth is key. "You see companies that grow so quickly, and they're here today and gone tomorrow," she says. "I wanted to make sure I did the opposite of that."
Follow Her Lead: Take chances in life, and don't let the competition stop you from leaving your mark.