Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Drive, nerve push 4 firms toward goals




BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A baseball cap designer and a shrimp marketer were among the dozens of small businesses profiled by the Enquirer in 1999. The Enquirer revisited a handful of them to see what is in store for the new year.

        At first, micro-entrepreneur Harith Razaa planned to make a big deal out of some big, breaded shrimp with his company, Azure Wave Seafood.

        Appearing before the Cincinnati Venture Association last year, Mr. Razaa, 47, touted the shrimp's flavor, size and the proprietary cooking method that would appeal to holiday party planners trolling for food in their local grocery.

        He wanted the shrimp in the frozen-food section of more than 300 grocery stores by this holiday season.

        Though the company eventually received $25,000 in start-up funding from the Cincinnati Venture One Limited Fund, it was unable to bring the shrimp to stores this year.

        That is not discouraging either, Mr. Razaa said, because he sees an even broader market in the years to come as he seeks patent protection for the process.

        “We are pursuing a patent on technologies which will shorten the manufacturing process, does not degrade the nutritional value and produces a better-tasting product than is presently available,” he said.

        “We would have done OK, but where we are now, we will do so much better.”

        The greatest obstacle has been in raising money, he said.

        “Most venture capitalists are looking at dot.com and biotech stocks,” he said.

        The story in the Enquirer brought him a seven-person management team of executives experienced in food marketing and some angel investors.

        The breaded-shrimp industry has sales projected at $700 million annually, he said. “Our goal is 10 percent of that in five years.''

One size does fit all
        Tony Armstrong has cast his line of hats, and on the other end of that line are a couple of U.S. business whoppers: Harley Davidson and Chrysler.

        Mr. Armstrong, a Springfield Township entrepreneur and former truck driver, is the owner of Armstrong Tuff Tops, a company that makes baseball-style caps with a removable and replaceable band that easily changes cap sizes.

        The cap offers an option for multiple slogans, particularly for fast-food restaurants, and for clubs, video stores and other retailers. It enables wearers to personalize their cap, and it has the attention of Chrysler and Harley Davidson.

        Armstrong Tuff Tops this year formed a strategic alliance with Associated Premium Corp. (APC) to manage manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution. APC, a privately held company in Roselawn, employs 35 and is in the top 2 percent in volume of promotional product distributors in America.

        The two potential deals have all of Mr. Armstrong's attention. “I have my fingers crossed — this could get the company off the ground in a

        big way,” he said.

        Mr. Armstrong plans to open a Web site early next year at www.tufftops.com “I get my royalty checks pretty close together,” he said. “I would like a great big one though, and it wouldn't have to be so close together to the others.”

He'll be back
        The call came last week from the West Coast screenwriter, and Lapstand developer John Troyer immediately assumed that she wanted to buy a portable computer stand he had developed. She was a writer, and she probably needed the stand to use on location. He was wrong.

        “She was from Arnold Schwarzenegger's next movie, and she wanted to put the Lapstand as a prop in their next production,” Mr. Troyer said.

        Ring up another sale at the Springdale company that makes portable stands for laptop computers.

        The company, profiled earlier this year, saw big growth in 1999. The firm began the year with one full-time employee, Mr. Troyer, and three part-time workers. Today, there are three full-time employees and 18 part- or full-time subcontractors for operations like public relations, human resources and graphic arts.

        Hiring continues as the product line grows.

        The next product, LapstandUp, will be introduced in January at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, and that stand is likely to be the one that gets screen time in the Schwarzenegger movie, he said.

        The company is also negotiating with two of the largest computer retailers in the nation and one of the largest catalog retailers to get the Lapstand under the fingers of the U.S. public.

        While success may be elusive, the secret to success is easy enough: “It is tenacity,” Mr. Troyer said.

        “Tenacity is the key. You have to hang in there, hang in there, hang in there. Then, figure out what you're good at and hire other people to figure out what you're not good at.”

Time is on his side
        Christopher A. Cain paused from grinding a wood plug to consider his first year in business at Christopher A. Cain Furniture Craftsman, a Camp Washington company.

        He made an oak rocking chair, a quarter-sawn adjustable back Morris chair, a dresser of cherry and maple, a walnut curio cabinet. There was the bedroom set of cherry and two jewelry boxes, one of quarter-sawn oak inlaid with ebony, and the other of cherry and maple.

        And there were the lessons of entrepreneurship.

        “Things take longer than you think, and the way to make money is to work quickly,” Mr. Cain said. “Time is money.”

        The company is not yet in the black, but next year should change that. “I had two orders lined up at this time last year,” he said. “I have six orders already lined up for 2000. Now I'm starting to get business from people I don't know. The pool is getting bigger. Word is getting out.”

        Though there were no profits, there was enough cash to buy a $3,400 CMC slot-morticing machine from Italy. The machine can turn what was a three-day job into a five-hour job. “It's expensive but helps with production,” Mr. Cain said.

        His hopes for the new year are simple enough: Make enough money to cover expenses, find bigger and higher quality jobs, maybe make a little money. “Hopefully, we won't have to put any more money into it,” he said.

       



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