Sure, a growth company would be a great place to work, but where can you find one when you need one? Anywhere. Just ask the people of Omaha, Nebraska
"Gazelles are hard to find," says company-formation guru David Birch, referring to businesses growing 20% a year or more. "They're in nondescript buildings. How would you know they were there?" My mission: find a slew of fast-growth companies in an unlikely place--Omaha. Birch ranks Nebraska 49th in the country in two categories: the percentage of people working at companies that are less than 15 years old and the number of jobs lost to layoffs and closings. But look closely and you'll find incredible entrepreneurial activity in places like John Galt Boulevard.
Design Basics Inc. In a nondescript one-story building, you'll meet Dennis Brozak, the chief executive of one of the 13 companies from Omaha ever to have made the Inc. 500. His well-appointed offices have undergone a radical change since the business--which sells home blueprints by catalog--moved in, five and a half years ago. Today 50 employees work here, and Brozak plans more new hires soon. With $4.5 million in sales in 1997, the company projects revenues of $10 million by decade's end.
Teckmeyer Financial Services Design Basics' founder, Dennis Brozak, recently designed an addition to his building for a new tenant, a 22-month-old start-up in which he has invested seed capital. Teckmeyer Financial Services, led by founder Tom Teckmeyer, has six employees. Revenues for the first half of 1997 are up by 55% over the same period last year. And Teckmeyer anticipates hiring several new brokers in the next 18 months. "In terms of our future," he says, pointing down the hall, "a lot will depend on how successful I am at recruiting good people for those four empty offices."
Omaha Steaks Where John Galt Boulevard protrudes from 101st Street, you see first a restaurant and then a long, low structure surrounded by a large green lawn. That building is the home of Omaha Steaks, the mega red-meat company (which sells its products through direct mail, catalogs, retail, the Internet, and telemarketing) that has exploded to become a nationally recognizable brand name in the past few years. The $180-million company, founded in 1917, is still owned by its founders, the Simon family. Revenues from the catalog, which account for more than half the company's business, have grown by 71% since 1993. Omaha Steaks is the hotshot in the neighborhood, to be sure. But it finds itself in good company.
Floorfashions Floor Coverings This five-year-old company--which sells carpeting and tile to builders and managers of institutional property--has outgrown its original space, which includes a cramped showroom and a jammed just-in-time warehouse. According to president David Jorgenson, Floorfashions has grown so quickly (from $700,000 in sales in 1993 to $5.4 million this year) that it has been forced to expand its space three times. The growth in the warehouse has been matched by the growth of the payroll (from 4 to 43 employees since 1993). To find enough skilled craftspeople to fill its ranks, the company had to create its own training program. "We knew the market could support a good company," Jorgenson says, "but we've been surprised by our success. We wrote a 46-page business plan that was filled with blue-sky goals, and we've already achieved and surpassed them."
Demma Fruit Co. Floorfashions' neighbor is in a decidedly low-tech business: fruits and vegetables. The company washes and cuts them for restaurants, caterers, and school and hospital salad bars. The business has grown from $4 million to more than $25 million since 1989, when its president, Jonathan Kaplan Jr., bought it with his father. "We are always 5 to 10 production workers short," chief financial officer Tom King laments. The company's 165 employees now ship produce to field offices in three other states. "In the next few years I'm anticipating growth in the 15% to 25% range," says Kaplan, who notes that a lot of the company's growth has been the result of four acquisitions. "When the economy is good, people go out and eat," King says. "And we sell food to people who feed other people, so we're doing quite nicely."
John Galt Boulevard isn't the only pocket of high-growth companies in Omaha. Consider the old downtown, a once-stagnant area located eight miles away, which is dominated by large national company headquarters, hotels, and government offices. Even here, entrepreneurs are abundant. Here are three:
MJ Java 1299 Farnam St., at the corner of South 13th Street Here at the new Landmark Building, a glass-sided tower, Marilyn Konigsberg (below right) and Jane Murow, an aunt-and-niece team, manage MJ Java Inc., a coffee retailer and wholesaler. "We're not naïve," says Murow. "We know Starbucks will enter the market someday." In the meantime, MJ Java has grown from one stylish storefront into a multifaceted operation. Five "satellite kiosks" have been opened in Omaha supermarkets and hospitals, licensees have been brought on, and a second company-owned store is planned in West Omaha. And wholesaling is playing an increasingly important role. The four-year-old company--which has five managers and 30 to 35 employees, including counter staff--anticipates annual growth of 15% to 20%.
Bass & Associates 2027 Dodge, Suite 500 Leading the growth-business brigade downtown is a busy office housing Deborah Bass's $5-million information-technology consulting company's headquarters. Two interviews are going on simultaneously, as Bass and her team look for qualified candidates to fill three pages' worth of open assignments. The company has expanded from 4 to 65 employees from 1993 to 1996. Fifteen to 25 employees will be added this year.
NuStyle Development 309 South 16th St. Over on 16th Street is NuStyle, one of the city's largest providers of low-income residential and commercial real estate. The company, founded by Tammy Barrett and Todd Heistand in 1988, has ballooned from 5 to 24 employees in the past two years, and revenues have climbed to $15 million. NuStyle plans to hire 15 new employees.