17 Companies We Love
Our experts reveal the businesses that make them swoon--and why.
Lena West: Seriously Social
I absolutely love Jane Pollak's company. Jane is a business coach with that extra "something." I love Jane's company because her brand (and even Jane herself) feels very natural, unfussy and unpretentious. I also adore the fact that Jane only works with remarkable women who want to leave a legacy of bold action and big thinking. So much so that I started referring to raving fans of Jane, such as myself, as "Jane-ites"; and Jane has such panache that the term actually stuck. If other people want to emulate what Jane has built, it's best to be very clear about who you are, how you want to show up in the world and why. It's also a good idea to know the types of clients with whom you work best and focus on serving that group to the best of your ability. Additionally, stay open to new ideas. Last year, we helped Jane launch her first blog. She dove right in and her results have been phenomenal.
Scott Halford: Brainy Business
Bradley Consulting Group parades as a CPA firm, but it's actually an advisor for small businesses. The people they have working for them are financial strategists who help small businesses behave in the market like the big boys and girls do. The reason I love them is that they act as my CFO. They involve themselves in my business on a monthly basis by projecting, prodding and preparing me for the future. Most small businesses fly by the seat of their pants. With Bradley Consulting Group, it feels like someone is paying attention to the small and sometimes seismic shifts in the marketplace. My company has grown under their guidance and only because they insist that I get real about numbers, forecasts--all the stuff I hate to do but have to in order to run a business. I love 'em.
Nina Kaufman: Making It Legal
Who in their right mind could say no to a spa? Or to a 10-day work/life balance retreat at a woodland destination, for that matter? Honoring my New Year's resolution to take better care of myself, I booked myself a 10-day stay at The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Penn. Everything met my expectations and needs, in a very Goldilocks kind of way. The lodge surroundings and accommodations were gracious without being either "over-the-top" or "too Spartan." The portions in the restaurant, called Tree, were also just right--not so large that you needed a crowbar to get up from the table, and not too small that you felt deprived and needed to order a third entr�e. There were plenty of classes and activities (in number and variety) to hold my interest, without the temptation of too many to enjoy the natural beauty and make time for personal reflection. All of the staff members I encountered, from my first call to the reservations desk, to the spa concierge and service providers, the staff of the restaurant, the class instructors, and even housekeeping, were friendly, warm and knowledgeable. The best part: all of the new knowledge I gained--and the changes I said I wanted to make in my life--I've put into practice.
Lisa Druxman: Mompreneur
I love TOMS Shoes. TOMS Shoes was founded on a simple premise: With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One. Using the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good is what they are all about.
Lynn M. Parker: Branding for Real
I love Powell's Books, in Oregon and on the web. Every time we drive south from Seattle, we stop at their bookstore, which takes up an entire block in Portland. The whole family looks forward to our Powells excursions. Why? Used and new books sit side by side on shelves, making it feel like a treasure hunt. They're also my go-to for online book purchases, because I feel that I get the convenience of Amazon without putting independent bookstores out of business. Plus, they have really well-informed booksellers, staff recommendations, signed books, great author readings, a coffee shop and they encourage massive browsing. They even have Powell's Books snowglobes, which I added to my collection of 700 tacky plastic snowglobes. Talk about a brand association!
Chia-Li Chien: Financial Independence
One of my long time favorite businesses is the Tension Management Institute, a company that has offered certification training programs and diagnostic tools for the human development industry for more than 25 years. What I love most about the institute's work is that it directly addresses a very common situation encountered by companies of every size--specifically, the struggle they face in implementing the change initiatives and growth strategies they have invested so heavily in developing. One of the things that I am most impressed about this company is the fact that it captured its know-how--its intellectual property--early in the business. As a result of that, it has developed a business model that generates both residual and non-residual revenue. Best of all, the business model has resulted in a virtual sales force promoting the company's products and services.
Hilary Kaye: PR Like a Pro
To be honest, I can't think of Valentine's Day without drooling about chocolate. Decadent, indulgent chocolate, not the waxy variety you find on most supermarket shelves. Unfortunately, smothering myself in artisan chocolate is tough to do without the accompanying guilt and remorse. But this year, my prayers were answered: guiltless indulgence. In fact, that's the tagline for Xan Confections. And that's what exactly what I'm able to do with Xan chocolate: guiltlessly indulge. I'm impressed with this company's ability to create dark chocolate artisan creations have just 29 calories and one gram of fat. As a consumer, I love them. As a businesswoman, I can admire their realization that many people who love chocolate are not served, or served with icky-tasting chocolate. Whether you are avoiding refined sugar, gluten, or animals--there's something here, which is expanding their appeal.
K.B. Keilbach: The Triple Bottom Line
Although I have written about many innovative and intriguing companies, biotech company Life Sciences 9 is still one of my favorites, not only because of its potential to be a truly game-changing technology but for the philosophy of its founders: "We're dependent on petroleum, so we don't need some alternative to petroleum. We need a way to make petroleum itself." This can do spirit demonstrates the fundamentals of all successful ventures, in my opinion: 1. Find a genuine need in the marketplace, 2. Come up with a high-quality solution that actually adds value, and 3. Sell it at a price that customers can afford, without subsidies.
Eddie Davis: E-Commerce Solutions
Lottay allows you to give money as a meaningful and fun gift by integrating e-greeting cards, personalized messages, pictures and photos, and group gifting. I really like the way the folks at Lottay are tapping into the gift-giving market by acknowledging that while some people feel awkward about giving money as a gift, cash can still be a great gift when packaged right. Lottay addresses an inherent problem with gift giving and offers consumers a simple and easy to use interface so that both gift givers and receivers feel comfortable with cash as a gift. Lottay taps into a large technology platform in order to offer trusted, secure and fast money transferring on the back-end of its site. What can you take away from this as an entrepreneur? Don't be afraid to partner with other companies in order to make your business successful. This idea extends well beyond ecommerce too - regardless of what your product or service is, you can still benefit and bring in more customers by attaching to trusted brands that your customers love. Whether it's Valentine's Day or any other time of the year, getting love from your customers is what it's all about.
Jeff Elgin: Buying a Franchise
ShelfGenie is a franchise company based in Atlanta. They provide first class custom built slide out drawers to retrofit existing cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms, garages and everywhere else in a house. They've been franchising for about three years, have about 100 franchise units and their franchisees are universally happy and successful. They have the best support systems I've ever seen for a franchisor of this size so they truly make the franchisee's life and work as easy and hassle free as possible. They offer low investment opportunity with great potential returns.
Cheryl Isaac: Plan With Pizzaz
My nomination goes to Grunder Landscaping in Dayton, Ohio. The reason is simple: It makes a "no-frills" business into "all-frills" for the customer, and it all comes down from the owner. Marty Grunder is present on his company's website, and he's very much present within his company and on the worksite. Grunder hosts tours of its facility and still believes in the difference a face-to-face contact makes. The Grunder team visits its clients and prospective clients and has become well-known in the area.
Pattie Simone: Inside Sales & Marketing
David's Soundview Catering, owned by chef David S. Cingari, is a full-service private, corporate and special-event catering firm in Stamford, Conn., in business since 1988. Today the firm pulls in more than $3 million per year, employs 30 full- and part-time staff and was recognized as the 2009 Business of the Year by the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, in consideration of its business acumen and community-focused endeavors and philanthropy. David is the ultimate food junkie, on and off the job. He also happens to be a really smart businessman with keen insight and flexibility. As culinary guru with a hearty sense of humor, David has survived and thrived because he walks the walk 24/7.
Scott Steinberg: Shiny Objects
Dropbox is a cloud computing service that makes storing, sharing, backing up and retrieving data easy for modern professionals virtually anytime, anywhere. Users get 2GB of storage free where they can dump everything from video pieces to PowerPoint presentations and e-mail databases into a central location which then synchronizes across multiple PCs (including Linux, Mac and Windows computers). These folders don't just update and populate changes across all systems and Dropbox's remote servers as changes are made (and allow you to adjust their contents while offline, with updates accounted for once you reconnect to the Internet). They also allow designated co-workers to quickly access contents and thereby efficiently collaborate on group projects. If you're working with any storage-intensive file medium or project (e.g. QuickTime movies, PDF documents and MP3 recordings), Dropbox is definitely the solution of choice.
Penny Morey: Human Resources
I love Rohrer Cosmetic Holistic Dental Clinic in Delray Beach, Fla. Yes, I know. Who looks forward to going to the dentist? No one, right? But even though I am having a pretty good amount of work done (I am very old), every aspect of dealing with this particular dental clinic is outstanding. From the moment you enter their office--you're greeted warmly, hear soothing music, enjoy the aromatherapy and experience the most expert and up-to-date services imaginable--you feel totally at ease. It is obvious that you're in the very best of hands at all times--from the appointment makers to the dental hygienists, to the superb dentists Dr. Joy LaDelfa Rohrer and Dr. Thomas Rohrer. I never thought that I would tell anyone that I love a dental practice, but there it is. I do.
Mark Stevens: The Heat-Seeking Sales Machine
Splash Car Wash understands what so many seem blind to--that marketing is about strategy not noise. What do they do that's so smart? Let's start with a question: Why don't you get your car washed on any given day? It's because you fear that it will rain tomorrow. Splash removes that obstacle--if it rains, bring your car back within 48 hours and they will wash it again for free. Obstacle removed. Removing the roadblocks that stop a sale--what a simple thing of beauty.
Ivan Misner: Networking
A number of years ago, Xerox had some big cutbacks. A large government contract wasn't renewed and Xerox was forced to close down one of its large plants in Southern California. Unfortunately, virtually all the employees working in those buildings had to be let go. My dad was one of those employees. He was 62 years old and had worked for the company as an electrician for nine years and eight months. Long story short, they kept my dad on until he hit 10 years and one week of employment. They then laid him off just like his fellow employees. However, he was now fully vested in his retirement and medical benefits, which completely changed his lifestyle during his retirement years. I love that about the company and I love its products. This happened more than a decade ago. I promised to myself that I would only buy Xerox copiers from then on. The latest one is in my office today. I love this company.
Sydney Barrows: The Customer Experience
The business that's at the top of my "Love Them to Pieces" list is Headsets.com. My first headset came in a box with a red heart-shaped sticker that read, "Packed with Customer Love by Mike." When I opened it up, there were three candies inside. When I went back for another headset some months later I needed help. No voicemail hell at this company; someone picked up the phone immediately. The guy was so genuinely nice I had to say something. He told me that the CEO was extremely focused on providing a superlative experience to his customers. Providing a memorable and appealing customer experience starts at the top. When an owner makes it a point to hire genuinely nice people, treats them right, trains them well and insists they uphold the highest standards, they end up with employees their customers like and remember. And when a company comes up with memorable ways to show customers they are valued the company gets a loyal customer for life. Even more, these customers go out of their way to recommend the company highly to everyone they know--I know I sure have.