Tag Archives: Chicago

Company Name Juggling in Grand Rapids

Local marketing firm Steketee Greiner Company (SGC) is now Agent X. SGC merged with an “experiential marketing agency” based in Chicago, called Agent X. They decided to retain the Agent X name, but reviewing the company’s history, the name switch should come as no surprise.

The company started in 2004 with Fiaba Creative located in Saugatuck. In 2007 Fiaba changed their name to Context MG. Context MG then moved to downtown Grand Rapids in January 2009. Sometime in 2009 (my guess is late summer) Context MG decided to change their name once again. This time the firm became SGC. SGC was named after the two founders Brian Steketee and David Greiner. This name was retained for about 1.5 years. Then in August 2010 SGC launched a new company called Catalyst SGC.

I understand the possible need to re-name a company when an acquisition or merger has happened, but 4 names over 7 years?. Often times companies want to either keep the stronger brand, or adapt names to retain the best from both companies, or even create a whole new name. But the only acquisition/merger, I could find was the most recent one between SGC and Agent X. The other 3 name changes were just new names. It must be difficult to build a brand, image, and clientele with one name, and then switch names and have to create or try to retain the brand, image again. Not to mention how confusing this could be for clients, and how expensive re-branding is for the firm (create new collateral, letterheads, redesign website, etc).  I wonder what the clients think of this name juggling.

But then again maybe this blogger should keep his mouth shut regarding changing names… West Michigan Business Blog is still transitioning to The Ledger.

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Sleepyhead in Michigan: An Entrepreneur’s Tale

Entrepreneurs amaze me.  The ability to conceive an idea into a product, service, and then turn that offering into a company is impressive.  (You can probably tell I like to focus on them from these past posts – iLean, ClipCleany, Cornhole).

So when I was approached with the opportunity to interview one of the founders of Sleepyhead, (Facebook, Twitter) a Chicago based nighttime relaxation drink manufacturer, I found it hard to say no.  But allow me to get into a little bit of background, before I got an email (how to contact me) from Sleepyhead’s public relations staff.  Back in early August my brother, a Chicago resident, came to visit for a weekend, and brought a surprise.  A can of Sleepyhead.  Side Note: My brother enjoys beverages, and in fact he bought me a case of Water Joe (caffeinated water) for my birthday – I still have some left if anyone is interested.  Anyone interested in a giveaway – leave me something witty and insightful in the comments and I will send you a bottle of Water Joe if shipping is not too expensive.  So I was quite intrigued by this can of Sleepyhead, and then my brother throws this in.  He knows one of the co-founders of Sleepyhead, and mentioned how they just up and left their desk jobs.  My jaw hit the floor.  So I took that can of Sleepyhead and put it in my cupboard.  See I rarely have a problem falling asleep, in fact my wife tells me I am a pro at it.

Alright back to the story.  Sleepyhead PR guy emailed me and mentioned that Sleepyhead is expanding into Michigan and wanted to find out if I would be interested in speaking with one of the co-founders.  I mentioned my familiarity with the product, and eventually I had a conversation with one of the co-founders Chuck Hammon.  Here are a couple of interesting things that came up during the conversation:

  • Chuck and his partner Eli developed this idea after meeting after work at each others residences for a period time
  • Eventually they hammered out the idea for Sleepyhead and decided they wanted to start a company.  So they both quit their jobs in corporate America and became beverage entrepreneurs
  • They got some guidance from their local SCORE chapter (I can’t say enough good things about SCORE – Grand Rapids especially has a great chapter – personal experience with them) on some things they didn’t think of or needed to develop better.
  • Per Chuck now in this down economy is the best time to start a company, because banks, vendors, suppliers, retailers who would have never down business with you in the past are all more cooperative, willing to negotiate, and eager to work with any new business (This one surprised me, because I could see both sides of it, but thought most people would be conservative)
  • They learned more in the months of working in bringing Sleepyhead to market than they ever learned in school or at their corporate jobs

Now a little more about the drink, Sleepyhead was developed by Chuck and Eli as a product that they would use and wanted to use.  Their target market is young professionals 22 to 35, men and women, who have a lot going on their lives, and have difficulty falling asleep.  They developed the product to help people unwind and relax, and help get them to bed and get them to sleep.  The product was originally launched in Chicago, and is now available at 7-11 stores, and numerous other convenience type stores or local grocers.  They decided to enter into the Michigan market because they have some local friends in the area who put them in touch with a beverage distributor called Galaxy Wine Distributors in Livonia.  Apparently they were a good match and the timing seemed right so now Galaxy is helping promote Sleepyhead launch in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.  I was hoping that there would be some cool promotions, launch events, or creative publicity for Sleepyhead but it seems like it will be pretty low-key.  Chuck and Eli have set up a schedule with Galaxy to go out and visit accounts carrying their products to learn more about how to support the retailers and what some of their challenges might be.

Well seeing that Sleepyhead is taking a low key approach to launching in Michigan, I thought I would help them out with some ideas…. Enjoy

–       Reach out to the Mommy Bloggers in the area, there are a bunch and many of them do product reviews, and no doubt many live busy lives between, children, family, and blogging, and might be interested in something that may help them relax and get to bed.

–       Our local start up community for entrepreneurs seems like it always has something going, perhaps work with them or speak at an event or provide a nice product placement of Sleepyhead for participants. Perhaps Sleepyhead can talk at one of these upcoming events, and support these fellow entrepreneurs.  I am sure they all have their thoughts racing at the end of the day thinking about what to do next and how to do it.  Seems like a logical fit, and a welcoming group.  Here is the list:

As an aside if you are looking for some entrepreneurial resources do check out the local SCORE Grand Rapids chapter, and GVSU has a great list of resources here.

I would like to say congrats to all the entrepreneurs out there, for taking an idea and making it happen.

Have you tried Sleepyhead, thoughts?  What do you think of the whole slow down and relax beverage segment?

Oh and apparently this week is Global Entrepreneur Week in Grand Rapids.  Good timing right?  Here is a link to more information & schedule.

Case in Point – People love Big Brands

In my recent post about well known stores & brands taking up shop in Grand Rapids like Anthropologie, The North Face, Apple Store, I made the following comment regarding a question about the trend of supporting local businesses:

“Thanks Wendy. I broadly define the local population of GR into the following two areas a) social activists, proponents of GR, and local first types b) everyone else. Everyone else consume based on familiarity, and convenience. So whereas you hear about all the good thing the type A population is doing, most consumers probably fall into type B, where it would be nice to drive an extra 20 mins to go to local store, then another 15 mins to go to local store B, but if I go to Big Chain I can just do all my shopping at once.

Plus big brands are identifiable. You can be reasonably assured that no matter who you talk to they have heard of GAP, H&M, and Nike. When you talk about the major shopping areas like the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, almost all the stores are either designer luxury brand stores, or well known national stores with multiple locations. That is what people talk about and that is what really gets the general populace excited.

Of course Grand Rapids will probably never get the wide range of stores that are featured in the key retail shopping districts in Chicago and New York, but I think that they can get a good mix of a couple of national brand stores to rally the masses, and then sprinkle in with a lot of smaller local retailers to fill in the gaps and help feed off the energy and masses that the national brand stores bring in.

But then again I have had no experience in urban design or economic development. I just call it like I see it.”

Well I think the recent news of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro coming to Grand Rapids (East Beltline & Knapp) illustrates my above comment perfectly.  WZZM tweeted about this on November 18th.  To show the excitement news about P.F. Chang’s in Grand Rapids, this news was tweeted and retweeted by about 23 different people (5 here , 6 here, 3 here, 4 here, another 5 here,).  Mostly with comments like Yum, and Yummy.

I could only find one negative tweet by CreativeIncite who stated the following: “Not excited about PF Chang’s coming to #gr – why would I be excited about another non-unique nat’l chain? Blah. #anywhereUSA”

I am surprised that there was not more of the negative backlash against this especially on twitter, which seems to have quite a high percentage of local-philes (my new name for Proponents of their city, region etc.).

Thoughts?

NeoCon 2010 and the Other West Michigan Companies

Hard to believe but yes, there are plenty of West Michigan companies besides Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Haworth who will be participating in this year’s NeoCon show on June 14 through the 16th in Chicago.  It always surprises me how one tradeshow in Chicago, year in and year out gets the local West Michigan media into a frenzy about office furniture.  I guess it makes sense.  According to my informal research through LinkedIn Companies Function – Haworth, Herman Miller, and Steelcase all  have over 500+ employees in West Michigan, so 1,500+ total, plus their families, retirees, and the number of people interested in these companies, the list goes on and on.

But I am here to shed some light on the other players in the furniture industry here in West Michigan, that are participating in NeoCon, and I was quite shocked by the size of the list.  Here we go:

  • 2/90 Sign Systems – Grand Rapids – Sign design, wayfinding, manufacturing of both interior and exterior signs and sign systems, project management, installation and post-installation maintenance
  • American Seating – Grand Rapids – Seating from auditorium to stadium to office to education and transportation
  • BIFMA International – Grand Rapids – A not-for-profit organization that leads, advocates, informs and develops standards for the North American office and institutional furniture industry
  • Compatico – Grand Rapids – Manufactures and supplies new office furniture systems and parts
  • Configura – Grand Rapids – HQ in Sweeden, with their US location in Grand Rapids, provides software solutions Commercial furniture
  • Flexible Montisa – Plainwell – Features file, storage, and furniture product offerings to facilitate innovative solutions for corporate, educational, and medical institutions.
  • FreshFolios – Byron Center – Pre-designed portfolio websites for photographers, interior designers, architects, artists and all members of the creative community who rely on a well sorted portfolio to display their work
  • Gibraltar – Zeeland – Metal manufacturing company serving the office, institutional, and hospitality furniture industries
  • Gill Industries – Grand Rapids – A full service supplier of engineered, mechanical assemblies to a wide variety of markets such as automotive, furniture and multi-use vehicle markets
  • Grand Rapids Chair Company – Grand Rapids – Besides chairs, they also provide tables for commercial environments
  • Great Openings – Ludington -Provider of quality metal filing and storage products to the office furniture industry
  • Gross Stabil Corp -Coldwater – Manufacturer of casters, bases, and gas cylinders for office chairs
  • GT Industries – Byron Center – Foam products, lots and lots of foam based products
  • Guilford of Maine – Grand Rapids – Surprisingly they are headquartered in Grand Rapids, they are a textile provider
  • Izzy+ – Spring Lake – Officer furniture provider for a variety of industries
  • Knu Healthcare – Zeeland – Manufacturer of healthcare furniture, and part of Industrial Woodworking Corporation
  • Leland International – Grand Rapids – Contemporary seating and tables manufacturer whose products are built to order and provide project designers the opportunity to customize features such as color, finish, trim, size and cut out design
  • Light Corporation – Grand Haven – Design and manufacture fluorescent task lights and ambient light fixtures for office furniture industry and high bay fluorescent fixtures for industry, gymnasiums and retail.
  • Nucraft – Comstock Park – Design and manufacture furnishings for conference rooms, lobby and reception areas, private offices, and training areas
  • Pulse Design – Grand Rapids – Manufacturer of a desktop connection system with touch-control electronics to hide or reveal the unit on a desk
  • Sparkeology – Holland – New line of office furniture developed by Worden in collaboration with Via Design and Square One Design.   The products target locations are  public buildings’ lobbies and lounges, even libraries because of their flexibility and mobility, and being able to be used in multiple functions and configurations.  Plus based on their twitter feed looks like they are going to give away a lot of loot bags.  Wonder what is inside- anyone want to get me one?
  • Stryker – Kalamazoo – This was an odd one but looks like they are providing some furniture solutions for the healthcare industry
  • Symbiote, Inc.- Zeeland – Manufactures laboratory and technical furniture systems emphasizing custom product solutions, looks like they feature ergonomic solutions
  • Trendway – Holland – Not officially at NeoCon but they will have something going on in their showroom at the merch. mart.  Office furniture manufacture famous for their On Time guarantee.
  • VanerumStelter – Grand Rapids – Provider of products and services for their interior environments.  Chairs, desks, tables, workstations for all levels of education and for office environments.
  • Workstuff – Grand Rapids – Provider of adjustable keyboard systems and ergonomic workplace solutions.

So what do you think?  I am really surprised by the number of companies from Zeeland representing.  Anyways this just goes to show that there are plenty others in West Michigan besides the Big 3 who are part of the office furniture business (even though some of these companies are not directly related to the industry).

Additionally, here is a short list of other players in the furniture industry who are not attending NeoCon.  Do you have any more companies to add to the list?

  • Avian Boards – Grand Rapids – Manufacturer of lightweight board to be used for a variety of applications
  • Charter House Innovations – Holland – A seating and decor company with a wide range of solutions for a variety of industries.  Big focus on sustainability.
  • OMT Vehyl – Holland – The result of a merger of two German companies to provide products for the office furniture industry
  • RT London – Grand Rapids – Has a emphasis on furniture for the education segment with learning and dorm room solutions
  • Worden – Holland – Maker of furniture for the educational and library markets, also behind Sparkeology.

Outside Validation for our “Causes”

In reading Revue West Michigan I came across Stad DiPonzi’ s Mean & Sober column (Download magazine here).  The article starts out with this

“ One of West Michigan’s least-endearing qualities is our apparent unquenchable thirst for outside validation.  It is with Sally Field-like abandon that The Right Place proclaims every cheesy top 10 list we seem to stumble onto (“Strom Drain Daily Loves GR’s Grates”).  The ever-needy nerd squad at Urban Planet even has a forum dedicated to mentions of GR in external media.”

Although this was obviously written tongue and cheek, it is an interesting statement and one that got me thinking.  Outside validation is a big deal, and getting recognized for positives attributes is very important.  In fact, I think that everyone has something which they identify with (school, region, city, organization) which when validated by outside media, you get excited.  Even for myself I am a dead ringer for this, here is my list of “causes” which I identify with:

  • Ukrainian
  • Alumni of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
  • Grew up in Chicagoland
  • Live in Holland, MI
  • Working Grand Rapids, MI
  • Live in State of Michigan
  • Write for a little known blog

So anytime one of my “causes” gets mentioned in a positive light by outside or mainstream media, I get excited, giddy even.  I am so used to my “causes” being portrayed incorrectly or negatively, which sucks, and I get quite tired of that. For example:

  • Ukrainian – Eggs, The,
  • University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) – being known as a hyphen school and a lousy basketball team
  • Chicago – Al Capone (totally true told a cabby in Germany I was form Chicago, and he makes a gun out of his hand and starts shooting), and always behind New York and Los Angeles
  • Holland, MI – Cheap, Conservative, Religious, Dutch
  • Grand Rapids, MI -Cheap, Conservative, Religious, Dutch
  • Michigan – Rarely mentioned in a positive light
  • Write for a little known blog – I am a blogger enough said

There is a reason to get excited when your “cause” is acknowledged, recommended, or written about.  It is exciting and it helps validate everything you already know, and allows you to share your “cause” with everyone else.  Not to mention you can speak more confidently to others, because it is not just your opinion but someone elses.  So instead of focusing on the bad or the negatives why not embrace the positives.  Why not get excited?

Here is my list of positives

So tell me what are your “causes” and share with us the positives.