What Recession?

Photography by Lori Sax By Jay Roland September 30, 2009

Stand pat and hope for the best, or get resourceful. Those are the two options businesses essentially have in a time of economic uncertainty, assuming they don’t want to fold, of course. Biz941 talked to three companies that have turned fresh tactics into profits.

Trinity Graphic Group

(Manatee County)

Number of employees: 20

Product: Package/label design and pre-press

Strategies for Success: The Trinity Graphic Group, including Trinity Graphic, Trinity Digital and Trinity Design Studios, occupies an exclusive niche in Florida because of its lack of competition. But CEO Robert Smithson says the real reason for its success has been hiring and empowering productive employees, and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

“I’ve had zero turnover in the last five years,” he says. “I have quality people, and I’ve trained them to be their own bosses.” The other key is continued investment in state-of-the-art technology. Trinity is investing $850,000 in a Vutek inkjet printer, the fastest in the industry and capable of printing an image of almost any length, and a cutting device for special-shaped signage and custom materials.

Smithson, who calls the label industry somewhat recession-proof because manufacturers are always looking for new ways to package and market their products, saw company revenues jump 30.1 percent in the first six months of 2009 over last year. Trinity has operated in Sarasota for 24 years and globally for 40 years.

Biggest challenge: Securing new capital. The days of simple deals based on trusted, longtime relationships are dwindling as financial institutions merge, policies change and confidence wanes.

“It’s a stumbling block for a lot of people,” Smithson says. “A lot of people are reluctant to put up their house these days. I’m just very fortunate I can, and I’m confident this new equipment will soon pay for itself.”

He adds that other companies are looking to do what Trinity does, which makes it even more important to aggressively seek new clients and offer them the best and latest in products and services.

Most encouraged about: Opportunities for new business partnerships. To maintain rising profits, Smithson is partnering with local companies such as Tervis Tumblers and ARMagnets, and, in the international market, most recently with the Hillstrand brothers, stars of the Discovery Channel reality show, Deadliest Catch. Trinity designed the labels for the Hillstrands’ Captain John’s Bloody Mary Mix, and are looking to do the same for a line of other food and beverage products marketed by the brothers. “This is just going crazy,” Smithson says with a laugh after the summer launch of the new product that included parties, rallies and autograph seekers.

Dakin Dairy Farms

(Manatee County)

Number of employees: 25 full-time and five part-time

Product or service: Milk for restaurants and grocery stores

Strategies for success: Dakin Dairy Farms began to bottle its milk this spring and highlight its all-natural production methods, key decisions at a time when consumers are becoming more health conscious. Whole Foods Sarasota was among the first local stores to carry Dakin Dairy Farms milk, which is also in area Sweetbay stores. Growth has more than tripled. Last summer, the dairy bottled about 4,000 gallons a week; in September it bottled between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons a week.  

“I would have to say, hands down with no hesitation, passion for what you do is essential,” says Karen Dakin, president. “It shows in everything you do and say and

is contagious.”

The Dakins are looking to expand their product line. “Now that the infrastructure is in place, we can add other drinkable products such as chocolate milk and drinkable yogurt, and begin the process of purchasing and installing the necessary equipment to make cheese,” Dakin says.

Always be looking for new opportunities, she advises other companies, but approach those opportunities wisely. “When you come up with an idea, research it, rule it in or rule it out and move on,” she says. “There is a solution to every problem if you keep looking, asking, learning and trying, but start small, within your budget. It is better to grow into it than to put everything you have into something and lose it.”

Biggest challenge: Marketing a new product in a crowded field. “Any form of marketing is expensive, but necessary,” she says. “Taking advantage of every affordable resource you can is very important. In our case, it’s been about using event calendars, joining chambers of commerce, supplying information to visitor centers, sending out press releases, and after you get the ball rolling, hoping for good word of mouth. Having a Web site and brochures are essential; those are your basic tools, and are a must.”

Most encouraged about: Dakin Dairy Farms has become a popular destination for school field trips and other visitors. The Dakins added other farm animals to the cow herd and created a corn maze and a hay tunnel. Last year they saw 8,000 visitors, a figure that’s expected to double this year. “The farm tours helped get our name recognized, and milk helps get the farm tours recognized,” Dakin says.

McIntyre Elwell & Strammer General Contractors

(Sarasota County)

Number of employees: 59

Product or service: McIntyre Elwell & Strammer is a full-service building construction company that works throughout Florida in the areas of new construction and remodeling of retail businesses, schools, senior/multi-unit apartment housing, banks, offices, industrial/ manufacturing/warehouses, nursing care and assisted care living facilities, social clubs, churches and medical facilities. The company has been in business in Sarasota for more than 22 years. Its repeat client list includes Publix, Beall’s and Sarasota and Manatee county governments.

Strategies for success: Doing high-quality work that meets deadlines and is offered with value-added pricing has helped spur repeat business and healthy word-of-mouth for ME&S. Co-owner John McIntyre says the emphasis on value is vital when competing for a decreasing number of new construction projects. The company experienced an average annual growth rate of 10 percent from 2000 to 2008. Annual sales for 2008 were $89,638,228, up from 2004 totals of just over $44 million.

“We embrace a company culture that is committed to 100 percent customer satisfaction, which we believe is a must for any successful service business,” McIntyre says.

Another important strategy, he says, is seeking jobs away from its base in Southwest Florida in communities that are expanding.

Biggest challenge: Moving forward in an industry with a dwindling customer base. “Without a doubt the biggest challenge has to be managing the company during the worst Florida economy since the Great Depression,” McIntyre says. “Managing growth is exciting and challenging and includes investing for the future, as opposed to managing non-growth with all the difficult and emotional personnel decisions that have to be made for any business to remain healthy during the ramping down process.”

Most encouraged about: “We have observed positive changes in most government attitudes,” says McIntyre, “where they realize how important reasonable growth, including in the real estate and construction industries, is for a healthy and vibrant community.

We have seen positive changes in the property tax laws that were long overdue and make the system more reasonable for business, retirees and second- home owners.” ■

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