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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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Take your business to the next stage with advice from BizTimes' first Next Stage Workshop.
Take your business to the next stage with advice from BizTimes' first Next Stage Workshop. (Photo:

Take your company to the "Next Stage"

Empower your people to think like entrepreneurs and serve your customers.

That was the leading takeaway message from the panelists at the first Next Stage Workshop recently presented by BizTimes.

The panelists included: Kim Hastings, president of C.J. & Associates in New Berlin; Mike Natalizio, chief executive officer of H.N.I. Risk Services Inc. in New Berlin; and David Thompson, president of Swimming Pool Services Inc. in Waukesha.

Ahead of the event, I asked each of the executives to share one suggestion that the attendees could take back with them to the office and implement to take their organization to the "Next Stage."

"Hire people that are a lot smarter than you are and have a well-defined set of core values and strategic goals that are clearly communicated," Hastings said. "This provides the necessary framework for employees to excel. Don’t grow too fast. Always make sure your growth is manageable and that you are leveraging technology and sharing information throughout your organization. If it works in your company, provide a work/life balance for your employees."

"Commit to ‘blue sky time’ – the time where you just think, be and reflect," Natalizio said. "Our structured, busy lives lend but a small window of time – if any – to innovate. I've found that those who don’t partake can usually scrape by just fine. But when it comes time to innovate, they struggle."

"The main key that has fueled our growth is the team of people we have that are passionate about helping people," Thompson said. "As we have grown, our team members have had to take on more responsibilities, and we as owners have had to empower them because we could not do everything that needs to be done – even if we tried."

I asked the panelists to ponder the wisdom of Jerry Jendusa, who recently sold his company, Emteq Inc., and advised the Future 50 crowd to hire employees who think and act like entrepreneurs.

"I believe that is very important and was a brilliant statemen…

Stella & Chewy's LLC is the fastest of the fast.
Stella & Chewy's LLC is the fastest of the fast.

Suburban companies comprise "Fastest Five"

The Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) recently unveiled its list of the "Fastest Five" companies.

These firms reported the largest percentages of revenue growth over the past year among the companies that made the Future 50 list.

Aside from their rates of growth, it’s difficult to find a common link among this eclectic list of the "Fastest Five." Perhaps the only common denominator is that all five are planning to grow in the suburbs of Milwaukee, amplifying the needs for an effective public transit system and a mobile workforce.

Stella & Chewy’s LLC is the fastest of the fast. The company produces food for dogs and cats. The dinners are made with raw meat and organic fruits and vegetables. Capitalizing on the whole organic movement, the company is growing so fast that it is building a new 164,000-square-foot production plant in Oak Creek. The firm’s top leaders are women: founder and chairwoman Marie Moody and chief executive officer Jen Guzman.

"Our biggest challenge has been managing rapid growth supporting our capital requirements," Moody said. "As consumers continue to proactively look for healthy choices for their pets, the market for raw pet food continues to thrive. The raw pet food market is growing at double-digit rates."

Johnson Creek Enterprises LLC is another company serving an emerging niche. The Hartland-based company manufactures "Smoke Juice" for electronic cigarettes around the world. "Our growth strategy will continue to be providing our customers with what they want and, frankly, what they have grown to expect from us: only the highest-quality, best-tasting, American-made liquids," said CEO Christian Berkey.

CTS Connected Technology Solutions produces interactive kiosks for the health care, retail and human resources markets. This Menomonee Falls-based firm plans to continue to expand its workforce. "The interactive and self-service industry is headed in a very positive direction," said president Sandra Nix. "Busine…

Knock-off brands of headphones manufactured overseas have affected Koss' sales.
Knock-off brands of headphones manufactured overseas have affected Koss' sales. (Photo:

Koss Corp. faces steep challenges

From this office, it’s always been difficult to watch good Milwaukee people and companies endure hard times.

That was true when the Koss Corp. and the Koss family suffered through a court case in which a former company executive pleaded guilty to six counts of felony fraud and pay $34 million in restitution in 2010.

Make no mistake. The company and the Koss family were victims in that embezzlement case.

I have always found my limited interactions with members of the Koss family to be pleasant. They strike me as hard-working, honest Milwaukee people with unquestioned integrity. The fact that the family patriarch, John C. Koss, invented the Stereophone in 1958 is one of the coolest milestones in Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial history.

Koss continues as the company’s chairman, but the day-to-day operations of the firm are handled by his sons, Michael J. Koss, president and chief executive officer, and John Koss Jr., vice president of sales. Add a third generation, as Michael Koss Jr. is the director of marketing.

The CEO recently informed employees about the latest daunting challenges facing the company.

"The company had extremely disappointing results in the past fiscal year and in the quarter ended June 30, 2014," Michael J. Koss said in one of the most blunt CEO quarterly report statements I have read in a long time. "We experienced major setbacks in export sales, particularly in Europe. That drop in sales was significant enough for us to suspend operations in Mexico until sales volumes support enough demand for the products being produced there. In addition, with the changes that need to be made to the Striva Wi-Fi headphone technology, we wrote off the capitalized software costs as well as the related tooling and inventory. These three factors resulted in a significant loss in the fiscal year 2014."

The company’s 12-month net loss was $5.6 million, compared with net income of $5.4 million a year earlier. The company’s quarterly sales dipped to $6.2 milli…

Bye, bye, bowling?
Bye, bye, bowling?

Bowling centers fall into the gutter

If you do a Google search for the phrase "bowling is a dying sport," you will discover that folks have been predicting the demise of keggling since the dawn of the digital age.

However, that speculation recently turned into reality in South Milwaukee and Waukesha when AMF Bowling Worldwide abruptly closed the AMF South Park Lanes and AMF Waukesha Lanes.

Bowlers had flocked to the two large bowling centers for generations.

American Machine and Foundry (AMF) began in 1900 as a manufacturer of equipment for the tobacco industry. The company invented the pinspotter in the 1940s, revolutionizing and automating the game. After World War II, the company began expanding its bowling business and later turned to manufacturing sports equipment and bicycles. At one time, AMF owned Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. and Hatteras Yachts, but it remains the largest operator of bowling centers in the nation, by far.

Bowling peaked as a sport in the mid-1960s with approximately 12,000 bowling centers built mostly in blue-collar neighborhoods across the United States. By 2011, the number of certified bowling centers had shrunk to 5,160, according to the United States Bowling Congress.

The closings in South Milwaukee and Waukesha came in the aftermath of AMF filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2012. It was the second bankruptcy filing for the Mechanicsville, Va.-based company in 11 years.

Last year, AMF merged with Strike Holdings LLC to form a new company, Bowlmor AMF.

Bowlmor AMF put some of its 300-some bowling centers up for sale but apparently could not find suitable buyers for the South Milwaukee and Waukesha sites.

South Milwaukee Mayor Eric Brooks said the closure of South Park Lanes is a significant blow to his community.

"It’s clear that AMF South Park Lanes has a special place in many hearts in South Milwaukee and the South Shore," Brooks said in his mayoral blog.

Brooks pursued an explanation for the closures and received a statement from Bowlmor AMF…