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The Huntington Co. acquires, consolidates dry cleaning businesses

A conglomerate of growing dry-cleaning companies are consolidating under a new name, The Huntington Co.

The Berkley-based business is made up of Huntington Cleaners & Shirt Laundry, Huntington Window Fashions, Wesch Cleaners, 1-800-DryClean, bizziebox, Pressed 4 Time, Martinizing, Dry Cleaning Station, and Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network. The combined companies employ 200 people after hiring five in the last year.

"We wanted to have a common reference point for people to look at," says Wayne Wudyka, CEO of The Huntington Co.

Wudyka launched the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (also known as CRDN) in 2001, restoring clothing damaged by things like fire and smoke. It now has hundreds of franchises across the U.S. What is now the Huntington Co. launched bizziebox last year, integrating mobile technology into dry cleaning with locker-based pickup and delivery service for offices and apartment buildings.

"We see great opportunities to expand in this space," Wudyka says.

The Huntington Co. also acquired Pressed4Time, a door-to-door pick-up and delivery service, in May. Earlier this fall it also acquired Martinizing, the largest U.S.-based franchise dry cleaning brand with 422 locations in eight countries. Martinizing has been a brand name in the dry cleaning industry for decades with its founder becoming a co-owner of the Cincinnati Reds.

"We think we can add value to these companies," Wudyka says. "The economy is getting better so that’s good for the dry cleaning business."

The Huntington Co. plans to bring efficiencies to these businesses through improved and coordinated IT, marketing and operations services. The next year will be spent drilling down on the newly expanded family of businesses and improving them.

"I want to be operating at a very efficient level," Wudyka says.

Source: Wayne Wudyka, CEO of The Huntington Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

AutoBike sells out of bikes, aims to take shifting product national

AutoBike made some significant sales of its first bicycle and automatic shifter this year.

The Troy-based bike startup sold out all 150 of its bicycles and is now looking at the possibility of selling its automatic shifting technology as a retrofit to a couple of large bike distributors. The idea is to find another way to get its shifting technology onto more bikes in 2015.

"We have prototypes with a couple of different companies," says Sean Simpson, president & CEO of AutoBike.

AutoBike got its start three years ago making an automatic shifter for bicycles. The idea is to create a smoother, more enjoyable ride for casual bicyclists who love the idea of a leisurely ride but don’t commute on a bike often.

"We're trying to sell it to your friend who hasn't ridden a bike in 30 years," Simpson says.

The 4-person startup raised $610,000 in seed capital last year, including the $25,000 prize at the 2013 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. It also helped install one of its automatic shifter retrokits on a bike for a veteran. The recipient is a double-arm amputee working with Project Mobility, one of the 19 programs of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Source: Sean Simpson, president & CEO of AutoBike
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Stay-at-home moms become entrepreneurs with Clever Container

Karen Eschebach and Jennifer Weaver were both working as stay-at-home moms nearly a decade ago when entrepreneurial inspiration hit them. Eschebach was working as a professional organizer and the two friends were at a direct-sales party hosted by another friend when the CFL went off over their heads.

"We thought, why couldn't we do that with organizing products," Eschebach says.

That was 2006, which is also the same time they launched Clever Container. The St. Clair Shores-based company employs sales reps that host buying parties where they offer organizing tips, techniques and products for everything from kitchens to closets.

The company is now the full-time jobs of Eschebach and Weaver and it employs another dozen people beyond that. Four people have been hired over the last year. Those new jobs include customer service reps, graphic designers and a national sales director.

Clever Container has steadily grown over the years. It now offers private label products and is creating its own line of products. Sales hit $2 million in 2013.

"This year we expect to exceed that," Eschebach says.

Source: Karen Eschebach, co-founder & president of Clever Container
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Sisters launch organic deodorant company, Rustic Maka

A pair of sisters in White Lake have turned making organic deodorant into their own company, Rustic Maka.

Kasia Rothe and Monica Stakvel started down this road a few years ago when Rothe was pregnant and developed a body odor she didn't like. She couldn’t do much about it with options available on store shelves.

"Nothing seemed to be working for me," Rothe says.

So she started making her own deodorant. Rothe is also a stickler for living a healthy lifestyle so she made sure she only used natural ingredients, leaving out the likes of parabens and aluminum that are often found in deodorants.

"We realized deodorant, among other things, has a ton of bad ingredients," Rothe says.

That home-made deodorant turned into the answer Rothe needed, working for her for 12-24 hours. She and Stakvel turned it into Pachy, the new odor-fighting deodorant for Rustic Maka. They launched the company in February and have been selling Pachy online and in 12 stores (primarily natural foods shops) across the state.

"We're hoping we can get some national exposure and take this to the next level," Rothe says.

Source: Kasia Rothe, co-founder of Rustic Maka
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Professional Pours capitalizes on beer/wine sampling in grocery stores

Every job created isn't equal. Some pay more, others require certain skills, some are full-time and others are not quite that. Professional Pours has been creating a lot of the latter sort of jobs lately.

The Oak Park-based business provides staff for the wine/beer tasting tables now found in grocery stores. The company provides the staffers with background information on the product and others like it. They work as independent contractors a few hours a week, making $15-$18 per hour.

"This is a great part-time gig for parents, retirees, and students," says Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours.

The company was founded four years ago about the same time the state legislature changed the law allowing for free beer, wine and liquor sampling in off-premise (package) establishments. It started out doing these offerings in Kroger stores on weekends between 1-4 p.m. Professional Pours did 900 events in 2012. That went up to 1,100 events last year, and it’s now on track to do 1,400 events.

"Now we're seeing more events on Thursday evening or Friday afternoon," Douglas says.

A vast majority of those are in Kroger, which Douglas points out has been leading the way in pushing the law change and leveraging it to help drive up its sales of craft and high-end alcohol. That has meant more part-time hires. Professional Pours now has a staff of four co-owners and 60 independent contractors, which is six more 1099s than a year ago.

Douglas says the company finds most of its staff through Craigslist ads and referrals. She and her husband (also a co-owner) are active in local theater circles and have brought on a number of local actors to work these tables. She says they pay a higher wage for the part-time work because they need people who will serve as educators about the product and present it in the best light possible. So far the business model is catching on.

"Other retailers are doing this," Douglas says. "Kroger is expanding this into stores that hadn't done sampling before and providing more time for events."

Source: Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Warren-based Madison Electric Co. reaches 100-year milestone

Most businesses don't last more than a year or two. Only a small percentage make it a decade or more. The Madison Electric Co. is one of the rare ones that can claim a century of longevity.

The Warren-based firm is one of Michigan’s largest wholesale distributors of electrical, automation, HVAC, PVF, plumbing, water management and network communication systems and components. The family business is still run by the children of the two brothers who founded it in 1914.

"We understand we have a responsibility to maintain this," says Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co. and the great-grandson of one of the founding partners.

Eight members of the family currently work at Madison Electric Co., including a fifth-generation member who recently graduated from Western Michigan University. The rest break down to three members of the third generation and four members of the fourth generation.

"The biggest thing is if you're not a working part of the company (as a family member) then you don’t have a say," Schneider says. He adds, "All of us who have been here started at the ground floor and learned every aspect of the business. However long it takes us to learn it is how long it takes us to learn it."

Madison Electric Co. currently employs 115 people after hiring seven new staff. The new hires include two inside sales professionals and five warehouse workers. The company is currently expanding into the pipe-valve-fitting market and is in the midst of upgrading its software system.

"It should give us the capacity to grow and give faster service to our existing customers," Schneider says.

Source: Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Ruma Organics brings natural spin on deodorant

Today Sylvia Ruma finds herself as the founder and president of her own business, Ruma Organics. A year ago she didn't think she would be building her own organic deodorant company.

"I never intended to start the business at the time," Ruma says. "I have always loved making my own organic products. It's just what I love to do."

The Macomb Township resident started blending deodorant in her kitchen for personal and family-member use. At the time she couldn't find an effective deodorant made of natural products so she started making her own. She gave a few samples out to family and friends, which prompted a grass-roots demand for it.

"I couldn't believe it worked," Ruma says. "It worked better than I ever imagined. The more I passed it out the more people liked it."

Ruma attended entrepreneurial courses at the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Walsh College in Troy. That gave her the foundation to begin selling Ruma Organics online and then in retail stores. She and one of her team members (a relative) have acquired production equipment that should help Ruma's team keep up with demand.

"Now we can make 18-24 jars at a time," Ruma says.

Source: Sylvia Ruma, founder & president of Ruma Organics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Mitten Crate helps locals discover Michigan-made foods

Andrew Chmielewski is a foodpreneur, running a small toffee company called Dave's Sweet Tooth. Cory Wright is a restaurateur who ran his own restaurant in New York City before recently moving back to Metro Detroit.

The two friends came together to start a new venture called Mitten Crate. The Royal Oak-based firm sends a package of Michigan-made food products once a month to people who subscribe to the service.

"It is a great way to be introduced to Michigan-made products," Chmielewski says. "They might not be able to pick them up at a store otherwise."

Chmielewski and Wright noticed that while Michigan-made food products are quite popular with their local audience, that sphere of influence is often limited to about a 30-mile radius of where the company is based. Mitten Crate helps Michiganders overcome that barrier by introducing them to a handful of new products each month.

"There is a wide range of products," Chmielewski says. Some of those products include McClary Bros. Old Timey Drinking Vinegar (Ferndale) and Al Dente Pasta Co (Whitmore Lake).

The company got its start in August. It sold 70 boxes in its first month and 144 last month. Chmielewski expects to see those numbers to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

"We hope to have triple-digit growth going into the holidays," Chmielewski says.

Source: Andrew Chmielewski, co-founder of Mitten Crate
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Moosejaw holds job fair to fill 300 openings

Moosejaw plans to start hiring 300 seasonal workers today. That’s the good news. The better news is that the outdoors retailer headquartered in Madison Heights expects a number of those hires to become permanent.

The 21-year-old company is hosting its first job fair to fill the 300 positions today between 8 a.m. and noon at Bowl One Lanes, 1639 E. 14 Mile Road in Troy. The company is encouraging applicants to bowl a free game and dress up in their Halloween costume.

The idea is to find new workers who fit in with Moosejaw's unique company culture, which the company's leadership sums up as Moosejaw Madness. The culture is to be creative and not take yourself too seriously. The company wants employees that have a solid sense of humor.

"Culture fit is the No. 1 thing," says Eoin Comerford, president & CEO of Moosejaw. "It's the thing we won’t compromise on."

Moosejaw has complemented the company’s revenue growth with 30 hires over the last year. It currently employs 300 people and expects that number to keep growing at that pace next year with some of the seasonal workers staying on.

"We are big believers of promoting from within," Comerford says.

New hires range from retail sales and management professionals to IT and software development professionals. Moosejaw brought its website development in-house last year and likes to do a number of other non-core functions, such as marketing, in-house.

Source: Eoin Comerford, president & CEO of Moosejaw
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Former franchisee starts mobile-repair biz, MiPhone Repair

Chad Reiss worked as a franchisee for Subway for 25 years. Then an influential relative who worked at the company retired and Reiss took it as an opportunity to take on a new challenge in life. So he opened his own mobile-device repair business, MiPhone Repair.

Reiss didn’t know much about putting smart devices back together at first. He has had a fascination with computer technology and other gadgets since high school and enjoys where technology is going. Plus, the learning curve for mobile device repair isn't known to have a lot of barriers.

"It's really easy to get involved with because there aren’t a lot of certifications," Reiss says. "I taught myself over six months before leaving Subway."

The Sterling Heights-based business launched nine months ago and currently employs two people. It specializes in fixing a broad range of Apple products (iPhone, iPod and iPad chief among them) and some Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy. MiPhone Repair can fix shattered touch screens, smart phones that got wet and a number of other problems that plague mobile devices.

"I want to learn about every phone I can get my hands on," Reiss says.

Source: Chad Reiss, owner of MiPhone Repair
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

ReapSo takes customer loyalty mobile app public

ReapSo launched its customer loyalty app last week. The start-up is initially focusing on Apple users in the downtown Royal Oak market.

The Farmington Hills-based company and its team of three people have created a mobile app that helps local businesses increase sales using things like traditional customer loyalty rewards programs, newer technology like QR codes and gamification techniques to keep customers engaged. The app also takes care to protect customer's privacy and makes it easy for merchants to use by making sign-ups free and easy.

"We get paid from our merchants when a user comes in and pays for a product," says Steve Valentine, co-founder of ReapSo. "There is no risk. There is no long-term contract for them to sign."

ReapSo has signed up 30 merchants in Royal Oak, mostly restaurants and bars in downtown. The start-up's market research shows that about 60 percent of people who frequent downtown Royal Oak use Apple products. The focus on eateries aims to leverage the frequency of spending money on food and drink in the city's center.

"I might not buy a shirt everyday, but I am eating everyday," Valentine says.

Source: Steve Valentine, co-founder of ReapSo
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Gongos continues expansion with new customers, employees

Gongos Research sees it future as being both more global and more mobile as the Auburn Hills-based consumer research firm continues its 20-year growth streak.

Gongos Research conducts consumer research for businesses, using polls, surveys and dialogs within consumer online research communities. That information helps its clients tailor ad campaigns and new products to the desires of their customers. Recently, the company began moving more of its business into research utilizing mobile devices, like smart phones.

Gongos Research has even done a study on the effectiveness of mobile research, which has gained it international attention. It's all part of the company's philosophy to leverage new technology to stay ahead of its competition and keep on its double-digit growth curve.

"There is going to be a slow migration of research moving to smart phones," says John Gongos, the founder & CEO of Gongos Research. "It's not there yet but its going to be there soon."

That sort of strategy has allowed Gongos Research to score 18 percent revenue growth in 2011, on top of the 30 percent growth it had the year before. The company has hired 10 people over the last year and now has a staff of 110 people and a handful of interns.

Gongos and his team have also taken notice and applauded Dan Gilbert's initiative to recruit some of the 2,000 tech workers recently laid off by Yahoo to Metro Detroit. Gongos Research has often fought to recruit out-of-town talent to its firm and appreciates Gilbert's effort.

"It's not just marketing but creating a greater awareness," says Susan Scarlet, a spokeswoman for Gongos Research.

Source: John Gongos, founder & CEO of Gongos Research and Susan Scarlet, spokeswoman for Gongos Research
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Federated Service Solutions looks to double sales, add up to 15 technical jobs

When retail rebounded in 2010, Federated Service Solutions bounced with it.

The Farmington Hills-based company helps retailers deploy technology across the U.S. After taking a hit from the recession,
the 7-year-old company grew its client list, revenue, and staff last year, and expects that to continue in 2011.

"This year was a really exciting year," says Jennifer Ferris, president of Federated Service Solutions. "It was our best profit year in our history. It was a big jump."

That jump allowed the company to raise its revenues and create five new jobs in 2010, rounding out its staff to 55 people and the occasional intern. The firm is currently looking to hire a variety of employees now, including 11-15 technical staff. It expects to create 17 jobs this year as it looks to double its revenue growth.

Ferris says the driving force comes from national retailers making the leap from the red to the black last year. She expects a spending freeze to continue to thaw, allowing other firms like hers to grow.

Source: Jennifer Ferris, president of Federated Service Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Macprofessionals to create 119 jobs over 5 years

Macprofessionals is continuing its fast march of job creation in Michigan, this week signing a tax break deal with the Michigan Economic Development Corp to create another 119 jobs in Michigan over the next five years.

That would practically double the Novi-based firm's existing workforce of 122 employees. Macprofessionals plans to invest $2.2 million toward expanding its Novi base with the help of a $568,578 tax credit over five years. The 10-year-old company plans to hire 20-25 people each year to fulfill its hiring goal.

"We plan to grow our mobility division, which is our software team," says Kris Westman, a spokeswoman for Macprofessionals.

The company specializes in everything Apple, ranging from iMacs to iPads and all of the cool gadgets that can be taken to a Genius Bar near you. It resells Apple products at its northern Michigan location, far away from the nearest Apple store, and teaches people about the line and how to integrate it. It also teaches hospitality businesses the ins and outs of Apple products.

Macprofessionals recently opened up a retail location in Bay Harbor (near Petoskey)  and a service office in Windsor. It's also in the process of moving from its 17,000-square-foot space to one that measures in at 40,000 square feet.

Source: Kris Westman, spokeswoman for Macprofessionals
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Gongos adds 37 jobs; plans 14% growth in 2011

For Gongos Research, strategic, steady growth means dozens of new hires in 2010. The consumer research firm has expanded its staff to 111 people, about 90 percent of whom work from its Auburn Hills headquarters.

"We have experienced quite a bit of growth over the last year," says Camille Nicita, COO of Gongos Research. "Between 2010 and now we have hired 37 people. Of those, 30-35 are new hires."

Gongos Research regularly plans for 10 percent growth and has consistently beat those projections. It plans to hit 14 percent growth in 2011 and to continue hiring at the same level. The firm is regularly interviewing people for new positions, and if it comes across a good candidate but doesn't have a position at the time, it puts that candidate on its virtual bench. The idea is that person knows a job is waiting when one opens up.

"We don't have a goal to be big, but to be great," Nicita says. "We have a philosophy of only hiring great people."

Nicita says Gongos Research is able to do that because it takes a long-range, strategic planning approach to its business model. That consists of nurturing and growing its existing clients, a policy that allowed the company to keep many of its customers through the recent downturn.

Source: Camille Nicita, COO of Gongos Research
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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