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Not every company treats its employees to a cruise in the Bahamas--but then, Moorestown, New Jersey-based The RE/COM Group Inc. isn't just any company. This year's winners of the Office Depot/Entrepreneur Magazine Small Business Owner of the Year contest pride themselves on going above and beyond the expectations of clients and employees alike.
"We have three rules in this company," says co-owner Paul Ferraro. "Number one, we communicate. Number two, we trust. And number three, we have fun."
Fun? OK, so maybe you wouldn't expect a value-added reseller of voice and data communication hardware to be the most fun-loving company on the block. Nonetheless, RE/COM's owners--Ferraro, 42, Eric Williams, 32, and Bernie Mikula, 34--clearly walk the walk. How so? In addition to sponsoring employee trips to Orlando, Florida, and the Bahamas, the entrepreneurial trio converted part of their company's warehouse into a recreational area--complete with pool table, dartboard and Ping-Pong table. What's more, there are plenty of RE/COM outings to movies, ballgames, concerts and the like. "It gives you the chance to see [your employees] in a totally different light," observes Ferraro.
Make no mistake, however: The RE/COM Group is completely serious--and completely committed--to doing the best work possible for clients such as America Online Inc. and The Seagram Co. Ltd. "Our creed is integrity above all," says Ferraro. "We want to do right by competitors, customers and vendors."
Such lofty ideals were conceived, ironically, on Ferraro's sun porch--the setting for RE/COM's first few months of operation. Ferraro, who had been working in the data communication industry, reached a point where he wanted to launch his own company with longtime friend Williams. Mikula, also in the industry, served as an unofficial mentor to the fledgling duo. "Without him," Ferraro insists, "we wouldn't have been able to start."
That was in December 1993. A few years later, the three friendly rivals decided to merge their companies under the RE/COM umbrella. Says Mikula, "None of us have looked back since."
And why should they? Projecting sales of $30 million for this year, RE/COM is a testament to the power of good, strong connections. "The three of us have never had a fight or even a major disagreement," marvels Ferraro of the close-knit bond between him and his partners. "It's a relationship that's worked right from the beginning."
And relationships, ultimately, are what The RE/COM Group is all about. "We have very low turnover among employees and customers because we spend a lot of time working with them," says Ferraro. "We're very proud of that." Pride. Trust. Communication. Fun. Is there a better formula for success than that?
So what exactly does a value-added reseller of voice and data communication hardware do? "Data communication equipment is what marries computers to telephone lines," explains Bernie Mikula, 34, co-owner of Moorestown, New Jersey-based The RE/COM Group Inc. "When computers need to talk to other computers, [they do it through] telephone lines. The data communication equipment that goes between the computer and telephone line is what we sell."
But their work doesn't stop with the sale, adds RE/COM partner Eric Williams, 32. "We're planning where our customers are going to be next year, whether they know it or not," he says. "We have to be smart enough and knowledgeable enough to tell them where we perceive the industry is going."
A Star Is Born
Become a household name in 30 seconds flat.
Technically speaking, entrepreneurs Robert Lange and Chuck Davey didn't get 15 minutes of fame--it was more like 30 seconds. That was the length of time accorded the duo's commercial spot during this year's Super Bowl.
"There were hoots, hollers, screams--everything," recalls Lange, 34, of watching the TV spot with family and friends. "But it just went by so fast."
Echoes partner Davey, 36, "It didn't seem real."
Welcome to the wonderful world of fame--entrepreneur style. As the winners of Mail Boxes Etc.'s nationwide contest to promote a small business during the Super Bowl telecast, Davey and Lange were rushed into the white-hot glare of instant celebrity. Their San Diego-based Pocket Products LLC scored the kind of exposure most small-business owners only dream of. "It was crazy," says Davey of the month following the commercial's airing.
Now, we know what you're probably thinking, and we agree: The likelihood of following in Davey's and Lange's footsteps isn't all that great. Fame is nothing if not arbitrary. Just as the Pocket Products partners couldn't predict they'd be singled out, other businesses--like the Seal Beach, California, restaurant The Abbey, made famous by home run hitter Mark McGwire--have also been thrust into the spotlight. Surprised or not, try to keep your cool. "We want to have a concise plan [for expansion]," says Davey, whose Pocket Pump--a portable device that inflates sports balls--increased its distribution to more than 5,000 retail outlets this year. Now that's a winning attitude.
The New Celebrities
When everybody knows your name . . .
Did you know you were famous? OK, we exaggerate--but only within shouting distance of the truth. Thanks to the Bill Gateses and Richard Bransons of the world--not to mention a tidal wave of interest in Wall Street, USA--it's getting downright glamorous to be entrepreneurial. Businesspeople, it seems, are the new celebrities.
Granted, it's not a paparazzi-lurking-in-the-bushes type of celebrity. Yet the name recognition that currently exists makes a case for a higher-profile business arena. Heck, there's even a trend toward entrepreneurs as protagonists in pulp fiction.
Heard On The Street
- Drivers wanted: Taking a cue from Europe, one Portland, Oregon-based company hopes to ignite enthusiasm for the concept of car-sharing right here in the United States. Touted as both an environment- and budget-conscious mode of transportation, car-sharing essentially provides infrequent drivers with the wheels they need--without the burden (and cost) of ownership. Will motor-mad America hit the pedal--or the brakes--on this idea?
- Tapped out? Hardly! Wonder not if consumers still crave bottled water: The McMost of restaurant chains is now peddling H2O in a bottle--a clear sign that the water industry remains a sparkling one.
- Throwing the book at 'em: They may be wordly wise, but booksellers can't seem to keep out of the courts. Independents continue to go after the major chains, alleging unfair business practices. At press time, we learned of a North Carolina indie bookseller suiting up for battle--against Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Borders--in another war of words.
- Souped up: Smoothie chain Jamba Juice is heating up its menu with four varieties of soup. In fact, by the time you read this, Jamba Juice's Souprimos should be available throughout California as well as in Denver and Phoenix. The soups du jour--an unlikely complement to chilly fruit smoothies, perhaps--are nonetheless thought to be a natural follow-up to the line of breads Jamba Juice added this summer.
The RE/COM Group Inc., (609) 722-9500, http://www.recom.com