Fleet-footed In Rochester Hills
Rochester Hills is doing something right. When Inc. released their 2012 list of the nation's 5000 fastest growing companies
, three Rochester Hills firms made repeat appearances, all within the list's top 100 fastest growing Michigan companies. Particularly notable is that two of the three quickly expanding firms, Aleva Stores
, Inc, are decades-old small businesses with fewer than 50 employees -- not the typical profile of a fast growing company.
The secret to creating startup-like growth in an older company, according to each company's leadership, is to not be afraid to learn new tricks.
"In 2003, while attending Oakland University," says Derek Gaskins, president and CEO of Aleva Stores, a healthcare supply store started by his grandfather in 1957. "I was working part-time for the family business where I was exposed to many of these products, including compression stockings and orthopedic soft goods. This sparked the idea of catering to the baby boomer demographic by offering these products they would need in the online commerce space."
That idea turned into ForYourLegs.com
, now the largest compression therapy retailer in the US. Since that time, Aleva Stores has become an online powerhouse of medical device sales, launching 12 additional sites focused on niche health and sports related products.
The transition into online sales drove Aleva Stores' 51 percent growth over the past three years. The company grew from seven to 20 employees over that time and increased their revenue from $8.9 million in 2008 to $13.5 million last year.
A couple miles down M-59, a very different sort of business has been experiencing a similar growth spurt. Before it became known as an electrical engineering firm, DGE got its start designing automotive interiors when original owner Francis LaVoie left his position at Dodge to open his own firm in 1984.
Like Gaskins, however, LaVoie saw a change on the horizon in his industry. As cars became increasingly electronic, he saw more room for growth in electrical engineering than interior design.
"Electronics have experienced an incredible growth in cars, and are only expected to continue for the foreseeable future," says Stephan Tarnutzer, COO of DGE. "The owner saw that and slowly started shifting toward electronics."
Was he ever right. From hybrid engines to built-in navigation systems, the future of the auto industry seems increasingly tied -- if not determined by the future of innovation in electronics.
"There are very few things in the car that aren't electronic," Tarnutzer says. "It used to be if you switched your lights on your car, it would be just like a switch in a house. Now, almost everything is computer driven."
Innovating is just one way both Rochester Hills businesses have created growth. Despite Aleva Stores and DGE's very different industries, the two businesses also share another ingredient in their respective recipes for success: placing a unique focus on their customers, though in different ways.
While Aleva Stores determined exactly who their target customers were -- baby boomers -- and placed a strong emphasis on serving their specific need -- online sales, DGE's potential customer pool were a little less diverse. So they decided to standout, not by who they served, but how they serviced them.
"Some people treat their large customers different than their small ones," says Tarnutzer. "Our guys do the best they can with any size customer we have. I think that's a great accomplishment. We all put our heart and soul into things and take a personal stake in what we do."
DGE began making the switch to electronic engineering about the same time Aleva Stores began branching out online, and their innovations began to impact their growth around the same time as well. In 2010, the company had a staff of 27, but is now employing 42, and increased their revenue from $5.6 million to $9.3 million between 2008 and 2011.
"Of course here at the City of Rochester Hills
, we are thrilled to see two of our companies receive national recognition for their business' management and growth," says Manager of Economic Development for the City of Rochester Hills
, Pamela Valentik, "because we truly believe that when our businesses look good, we look good."
Valentik attributes the success of their local companies to Rochester Hills' highly talented workforce, but does say the city tries to provide an environment that fosters economic growth.
"In 2012, a majority of the City's industrial real estate transactions has come from existing businesses expanding their operations," she says. "The city's philosophy is to listen to the needs of our business community and connect them with local resources that can assist."
Aleva Stores is one of those companies that physically expanded in Rochester Hills recently. The company moved into a larger warehouse to expand their product portfolio, and now manages 60,000 square feet of warehousing, offering fulfillment services to other businesses.
"Having the space opened our mind to all sorts of opportunities on both the product and services side as we expanded our fulfillment operations," Gaskins says.
They have also recently opened Trekt Outdoors, a physical outlet of the outdoor clothing company trekt.com
in Downtown Rochester.
Valentik says the city is now finalizing the updates to their economic development strategy and will soon unveil Rochester Hills' Economic Development Strategy 2.0.
"Our future economic development goals will take a closer look at our most recent successes," she says, "increased foreign investment, supply chain expansion of major companies and targeted sectors poised for growth."
With any luck, those efforts will help grow more success stories like DGE and Aleva Stores. Not that Gaskins believes his company's story has been fully told just yet.
"This is the second year in a row we've made the Inc. list, and we take great pride in the honor," he says. "It's been a fun ride... and we're just getting started."
All Photos by David Lewinski Photography