Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Big ideas: Six successful small Florida businesses

Vending Machine Meds

Garlene Atcherson, Joel Rivera and Michelle Birt
Medic Inc., Jacksonville

On her morning drive to her pharmacy job, Garlene Atcherson heard an advertisement for a vending machine. The ad triggered an idea: Why not sell over-the-counter medicines in vending machines? She ran the idea by two friends — pharmacists Michelle Birt and Joel Rivera. The three talked about the concept for months and then, in early 2016, launched a business. Their Jacksonville startup, known as Medic, places vending machines that sell pharmaceutical products and personal care items in office buildings, gyms and other venues. “Sometimes you need to go home when you’re sick, but sometimes you just need to take medicine and get back to work,” Atcherson says.

In the last two years, Medic has landed deals to put its vending machines at Florida Blue and YMCA locations around Jacksonville, among other locations. The machines feature touch screens that detail drug facts and product ingredients but also allow for an additional revenue stream — on-screen advertising.

Medic now has 13 large vending machines in Jacksonville. As the company ramped up its operations, it realized it could also install smaller machines, Atcherson says, and plans to launch a “wall unit” version by the spring.

“We own all the machines, so it doesn’t cost a business anything but wifiand electricity,” Birt says. The company restocks the machines but plans to hire a servicing company once it expands outside of Jacksonville. Medic’s goal for 2019 is to have 30 machines in Jacksonville by year end, attract advertising revenue and turn a profit.

Medic, which operates out of offices at the Beaver Street Enterprise Center, a business incubator in northwest Jacksonville, has enjoyed the center’s below-market leasing rates and conference space as it grew. “It has been inspiring to watch Medic’s business grow, and I’m confident of their success,” says Theresa Johnson, Beaver Street Enterprise Center director. “They placed their very first vending machine in our lobby, and it was a hit.”

Mom Niche

Maria Bailey
BSM Media, Fort Lauderdale

Maria Bailey was pondering her next career move in 1999 when she noticed that few companies marketed effectively to her demographic — mothers. Seeing opportunity, she not only wrote a book called “Marketing to Moms,” but also began to offer consulting services to companies on how to target moms and their purchasing power. Today, her marketing and media business has 11 employees.

One of BSM’s recent clients, HP (Hewlett- Packard), hired the firm to create focus groups with mothers and tweens. Participants in the focus group provided feedback on a new product and then served as social influencers to get people to buy HP’s new product. “HP saved money on its innovation expense and gained the marketing benefit from using these influencers,” Bailey says.

Companies such as Disney, Chick-fil-A, Beaches Resorts and Build-A-Bear have turned to BSM for its research on mom trends, national network of mothers, branding expertise, marketing-plan execution and knowledge of how to use social media to connect brands with mothers. But mom business owners say they have benefited from BSM, too. “They have helped me connect my personal brand with top-notch companies,” says mom blogger/video host Cindy Simmons.

Bailey says her initial goal was $1 million in sales, but the company actually took in twice that amount. “We now have the infrastructure of a larger business, including a 401(k).”

In November, after many years of helping brands launch products, Bailey started a spinoff called Popped Passion (poppedpassion.com). The company’s popcorn cakes are made of candy and popcorn and customized with team colors, company logos or holiday designs. “It grew out of my love of popcorn,” Bailey says. The company launched in time for college and professional football playoffs. After appearing on a news segment prior to the SEC college football championship game, Popped Passion received more than 200 orders. In addition, BSM’s network of mothers placed hundreds of holiday orders.

On Fire

Roger and Michael Collins
Flame Boss, Orlando

What started as a hobby — making temperature controllers for grills and smokers for friends — has turned into a business for two Orlando brothers. Roger and Michael Collins are marketing their Flame Boss device as a “cruise control for grills and smokers” to specialty retailers who sell it as an accessory. “People that sell smokers know how to sell our product,” Roger says.

The device clips onto grills or smokers and adjusts the heat with a blower that switches on and off based on readings from a thermometer inserted into the meat. The Collinses say it eliminates the need to babysit an outdoor cooker. WiFi capability gives users the ability to control the cooking temperature remotely using an app.

The brothers launched their company five years ago in a business incubator at University of Central Florida, benefiting from networking with other entrepreneurs and gaining access to potential vendors. “We spent time with them guiding them through where they were going, but they built the company,” says Rick Parks, site manager of the UCF incubator in Apopka. “They have completely dominated their market.”

In 2018, the company landed the Big Green Egg as a co-branded business partner and signed Home Depot to sell Flame Boss devices online. The company also added a simpler, $219 option along with its original $349 version. “We believe that will make a big difference,” says Michael, who handles company finances.

Late last year, the Collinses and their 20 employees moved out of the incubator into their own 15,000-sq.-ft. facility, where they assemble, package and sell the Flame Boss.

The company had revenue of more than $3.2 million in 2018 and is on track to reach $5 million this year, Michael says. That growth landed Flame Boss on the 2018 GrowFlorida list of companies to watch.

Fast Grower

Tim Shoop and Brian Wilkey
Digital Boardwalk, Pensacola

Digital Boardwalk sells managed IT services, also known as remote monitoring and management of servers, desktops and mobile devices. CEO Tim Shoop credits his company’s growing list of clients to its focus on customer service, its HR recruiting and retention methods and internal automation that provides assurance of consistent service. A main differentiator, he says, is the company’s “client engagement roadmaps,” which provide visual status updates and an emphasis on resolving problems quickly.

Shoop says he has invested in automating back-office processes to ensure smooth operations and reduce the need for more employees.

Digital Boardwalk has 20 employees, who provide IT services along with cyber-security defenses, cloud computing solutions, backup and recovery, and website development. Shoop considers Digital Boardwalk “human resources focused,” with mentorship programs, customer service training and real-time performance recognition. Clients range from health care companies to law firms to small businesses.

Shoop launched Digital Boardwalk in 2009 but says the company got a major boost when it merged with a copier company in 2016. In the merger, Digital inherited salespeople, seven locations and copier/document management solutions.

“They had 25 salespeople, and we had two. We went from closing a deal a month to a deal every other day. It’s been a great marriage,” Shoop says. At the same time, the service provider has tinkered with its pricing, re-examined its tiered service model and dropped the price of its mid-level plan.

Shoop projected revenue of $3 million for 2018 and says his goal is to double that within three years. This year, Shoop plans to expand its location in Central Florida. The company already has satellite offices in Lakeland, where co-founder Brian Wilkey is based, and one in Phoenix.

The business has been listed among Inc.’s 5000 fastest-growing companies in America. With revenue of $2.2 million in 2017, Digital Boardwalk’s 81% three-year revenue growth put it at No. 4,205.

True to Form

Carol Thompson-Finn
MyLegalEdge, Naples

Need a will, a prenuptial agreement or a power of attorney contract? Carol Thompson-Finn has those legal forms and thousands more on her website, MyLegalEdge.com. Thompson-Finn, who has a law degree from the University of Illinois, decided to start her company while completing a clerkship at the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2005. She later worked at legal publisher Commerce Clearing House and Lexis-Nexis, a national research platform. With experience in the legal forms industry, she felt she could improve the processes and provide downloadable forms for consumers.

MyLegalEdge offers 3,000 different forms for 50 states in areas such as landlord/ tenant, wills and estates, bankruptcy and power of attorney. She updates the documents regularly as state statutes change. In addition to the form offerings, MyLegalEdge also provides completion services for documents. “When a customer contacts us, we respond within 24 hours,” Thompson-Finn says. While the website does not give legal advice, customers can browse the blog to obtain insight on legal topics and find the right forms.

Thompson-Finn launched the company as a hobby and only recently turned it into a full-time business. “It takes time and commitment to grow,” she says.

As a business that participates in the Naples Accelerator, MyLegalEdge operates from co-working space where Thompson-Finn has access to mentoring and coaching. She currently is trying to get funding from angel investors that she’ll use to beef up her marketing and website.

To compete against larger companies in the online legal forms space, MyLegalEdge has zeroed in on niche audiences such as veterans. In November, the company offered free estate planning forms to veterans.

Jace Kenter, director of Business and Economic Development for Collier County, says he has guided MyLegalEdge as part of the Naples Accelerator and helped the CEO chart a course to be competitive. “Her forms are easy to use and affordable,” he says. “Now it is a matter of getting the word out with some creative marketing.”

Skateboard Storage

As a University of South Florida student who rode his skateboard to classes, Alexei Novitzky came up with an idea for a skateboard with a built-in storage compartment. After several redesigns, Novitzky developed a board with storage space that he calls the Skatecase.

Novitzky, who has exclusive patent rights to the board, got help with a logo and marketing plan through a collaborative program with the school. He’s sold about 200 handmade boards at $100 apiece. In late 2018, he placed an order with a manufacturer for 100 more boards that he plans to market through his website and at trade shows to distributors and retailers.

Novitzky’s Looshes Labs, the parent company, is housed in the USF business incubator known as USF Connects and consults with inventors on engineering and design for new products (including Cubic Yachts of Tampa, known for its $12 million stainless steel yacht).

Read more in our February issue.

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