A Silverware Affair, Allied Eye Associates, InfoSystems, Kids On The Block Are Small Business Award Winners

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce recognized three small businesses and one non-profit organization for entrepreneurial excellence today during the 2012 Small Business Awards Breakfast at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

A Silverware Affair won the award for companies with 1-20 Employees, while Allied Eye Associates was honored in the 21-50 Employees category and InfoSystems, Inc. was recognized in the 51-200 Employees category. The award for Nonprofit of the Year went to Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block.

“America bootstrapped itself up from being a colonial backwater to become the world’s superpower because our economic system rewards those who align their efforts with the marketplace as it actually exists at any given time,” said Tom Edd Wilson, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Chamber. “Successful small businesses continue to be one of the best examples of that principle in action.”

To qualify for a Small Business Award, companies must have owned and operated a business in the Chattanooga MSA for a minimum of three years, have shown exemplary success within their industry and have displayed a high level of community involvement and corporate citizenship. Nonprofit agencies must be committed to ethical practices, engage in local volunteerism and exert a positive impact on the community. Candidates for the awards come from the Chattanooga Chamber membership.

After the awards presentation concluded, many attendees moved to the hall adjacent to the breakfast to participate in EXPO Chattanooga, the region’s largest exhibition of local business. More than 200 exhibitors participated in the event, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is followed by Business After Hours until 6 p.m.

The Small Business Awards Breakfast was sponsored by EPB, Volkswagen Chattanooga, NovaCopy, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Decosimo Certified Public Accountants, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel and Unum.

About the 2012 Winners

A Silverware Affair (1-20 Employees)                                             

When Chattanooga native and seasoned caterer Tara Plumlee founded A Silverware Affair (1-20 Employees) in 2008, she had one residential oven, one refrigerator and one van to her name. Four short years later, the former one-woman operation is now a widely-recognized catering service that boasts nearly $1 million in annual revenues and counts a growing list of customers among its mounting successes.

Today, A Silverware Affair operates in a fully-equipped 4,000-square-foot kitchen with corporate offices and a tasting room for clients. The company also has multiple employees and a fleet of four vehicles, which has allowed it to expand into Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville and Birmingham. In its relatively short history, A Silverware Affair has climbed into America’s top five percent of revenue-earning catering companies, has earned a place on multiple preferred vendor lists.  

Allied Eye Associates (21-50 Employees)

Founded by Dr. Izak Wessels, Allied Eye Associates (AEA) (21-50 Employees) was established in 2002 as a one-stop-shop for eye disorder treatment and diagnosis. As an avid professional educator, an author of more than 40 articles and chapters of books and a highly-recognized ophthalmologist, Dr. Wessels offers the best in comprehensive ocular care using the latest technology to serve the needs of the greater Chattanooga community. AEA provides in one location comprehensive screenings, diagnosis and treatment for disorders affecting all parts of the eye. By eliminating the fees associated with multiple visits and travel time, AEA is able to reduce medical costs for its patients.

According to Dr. Wessels, he works tirelessly to promote “knowledge is power” as the key to the prevention of most eye diseases. AEA offers free vision screenings for private elementary schools and also presents free lectures to the community as well as free continuing education seminars for area optometrists. In addition, AEA has also created a series of free educational brochures for the Chattanooga community. “AEA is committed to offering the highest standard of care,” says Dr. Wessels.

InfoSystems, Inc. (51-200 Employees)

Founded in 1994, InfoSystems, Inc. (51-200 Employees) is a Chattanooga-based Information Technology solutions firm that provides a variety of computer network services from hardware, software and infrastructure to telephony solutions. Owned and operated by 30-year IT veteran Clay Hales, the company is emerging as one of the fastest growing technology providers in the region. Over the years, InfoSystems has distinguished itself from industry peers by establishing a business-first approach layered with IT expertise that encompasses consulting, design, hardware, network infrastructure, business telephony solutions, implementation, security and IT staffing.

During the economic downturn, InfoSystems continued to grow by investing in employees and taking a more aggressive approach to marketing. In 2010, InfoSystems boosted its annual revenues by 20 percent. Not only has InfoSystems demonstrated consistent and significant growth in profits, employee development, marketing and community engagement, the company has also extended its reach into a substantial portion of the Southeast region with local presences in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and now Atlanta.

Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block (Nonprofit)

Over the past 32 years, Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block (Nonprofit) has provided educational programming to more than 900,000 children and adults in its 14-county service area. Using the power of puppetry, the organization educates children about social concerns and differences while helping them build skills to stay safe and healthy.

Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block also works with local guidance counselors and teachers to identify unmet needs in area schools and communities, adjusting its educational programs to meet various needs identified each school year. This year, Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block collaborated with educators and parents to add new programs on bullying, mental health education, learning strategies, problem-solving techniques and conflict resolution. In a recent study of high school students measuring the long-term effectiveness of Chattanooga’s Kids on the Block programming, approximately 76 percent of those surveyed reported positive changes in attitude and experienced greater ease in making responsible decisions and healthy life choices.

About the 2012 Finalists

1-20 Employees Category (Finalists: episode49 and Office Furniture Warehouse)

Founded in 2002, episode49 began when two Internet-savvy Web professionals launched a new company after their original employer closed up shop. Bolstered by a loyal following of customers from their previous job, Kurt Schaffer and his co-founder steadily built episode49 into an online strategy company that provides Web design, development, search engine optimization, online advertising and consulting.

Episode49 has also developed three products that address challenges in several of its clients’ industries. ContinuTrac is an education tracking package for the hospital industry, Political Support is a suite of online campaign tools and donation software for the political industry and Caritas247 is donation software for non-political industries. In recent years, the popularity of those products and services has allowed episode49 to substantially grow its sales.

While the recent economic uncertainty might have deterred some would-be business owners, local architect-turned-CEO John Jerman saw the challenge as an opportunity to launch an enterprise. Founded in 2008, Office Furniture Warehouse provides an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly means of acquiring recycled office furniture.

With the goal of “saving the planet one cubicle at a time,” Office Furniture Warehouse offers LEED credit to companies that purchase used furniture or refurbish existing furniture. The company also provides businesses with a much needed outlet for selling surplus furnishings. By giving cost-conscious companies an environmentally-sustainable option, Office Furniture Warehouse has been able to more than double its revenue over the last three years.

21-50 Employees Category (Finalists: Chattanooga Business Machines and Hullco Exteriors)

For Chattanooga Business Machines Owner Harry Fields, transforming his one-man business equipment company from a living room operation into a multi-million dollar document management business has simply been a matter of responding to what he believes are the three constants of business – change, change and change.

Indeed, Chattanooga Business Machines has seen a good deal of transformation since it was founded in 1983. The company has transitioned its offerings from typewriters and cash registers to integration systems for copiers, printers and multifunction technologies. Today Chattanooga Business Machines employs a full-time staff of 30 and enjoys strong revenue growth.

Throughout his tenure as company CEO, Fields has employed unorthodox management strategies, such as inviting his staff to make executive choices about the company’s market focus. As a result, the company has kept pace with the times and sales have followed an upward trajectory.

Over the last 35 years, Hullco Exteriors has grown into Chattanooga’s largest home improvement company, primarily offering residential services in the installation of replacement windows, doors, siding, sunrooms, gutters and roofing. In spite of the recent economic recession, company sales have grown 207 percent since 2006.

Since taking the helm, Owner Matt Hullander has employed new strategies to build the company. By hiring new staff members in sales and strengthening the company’s marketing cohesiveness, Hullco Exteriors has been able to reduce the revenue spent on lead generation to five percent, which is less than half the amount spent by industry peers.

Since 2007 Hullco Exteriors has received the Better Business Torch Award, the Big 50 Award from Remodeling magazine, Dealer of the Year from Window and Door magazine and designation as a top 500 improvement company by Qualified Remodeler.

51-200 Employees Category (Finalists: See Rock City, Inc. and Ruby Falls)

See Rock City, Inc. is a family-owned company that manages a variety of hospitality businesses, including the internationally-known tourist attraction Rock City Gardens. With its 15-acre preserve of panoramic views and stunning geologic formations, Rock City Gardens has attracted tourists from across the globe. Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, See Rock City is widely reputed for its iconic advertising painted on barns, birdhouses and billboards nationwide.

Over the years, See Rock City has added new offerings such as art installations, audio tours and enhancements at Lover’s Leap, which include elevated terrace seating, fireplaces and a permanent stage. See Rock City is also expanding its green initiatives by reducing water usage and energy consumption, as well as by watering its gardens with recycled rainwater.

Discovered in 1928 and opened in 1935, Ruby Falls is America’s most visited underground waterfall and deepest publicly-accessible commercial cave. Today, the site is also earning a reputation for environmental responsibility. Ruby Falls was the first U.S. attraction to join the Green Globe/Green Certification program, and recent investments in new technology such as 90 solar panels, EV charging stations and a hybrid vehicle are the latest demonstrations of the organization’s increasing commitment to environmental stewardship.

Other late successes include the 2010 addition of Ruby Falls’ ZIPstream Aerial Adventure, which allows guests to traverse a series of suspended obstacle courses. That same year, the Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern boasted an attendance of more than 16,000 patrons. Throughout its 80-year history, Ruby Falls has continued to refresh its appeal and attract an ever-growing set of new visitors.

Nonprofit Category (Finalists: LifeLine, Inc. and the McKamey Animal Center)

Launched in 2003, LifeLine, Inc. offers support groups, training and resources for the caregivers of infants and youths with special needs. Founded by Jeff and Lisa Mattheis, whose daughter Emily was born with several debilitating conditions, LifeLine began as a group of four families who met for weekly support inside a local church. As the gatherings grew and the need for additional LifeLine resources became apparent, Mattheis expanded her services and registered the organization as a nonprofit in 2009.

Today, LifeLine offers specialized programs that address autism, orthopedic problems, ADHD, neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries, as well as many other diagnoses. With its primary office in Chattanooga and two additional branches located in Fort Oglethorpe and Summerville, Lifeline’s influence now stretches across several counties and states.

The McKamey Animal Center opened in 2008 as a city-wide response to the high number of stray and unwanted animals being euthanized in Chattanooga and Hamilton County each year. As Chattanooga’s first open admission public animal shelter, the McKamey Animal Center has launched a number of initiatives to enhance the lives of companion animals and people by encouraging a culture of responsibility and compassion.

Last year, the center took in 8,300 homeless animals and also gained City Council approval for Chattanooga’s new, comprehensive Animal Ordinances. This achievement will drastically strengthen the center’s ability to effectively serve the community. In 2010, the center was selected as one of the top 10 shelters in the U.S. by the ASPCA.

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