Over 100 local business owners, professionals, and community leaders gathered together to celebrate the 2nd Annual Small Indie Business Grant Award winners presented by ShopLocal.us on October 29, 2014, where three local small businesses won grant prizes to help them grow or maintain their business.
The event, which took place at Toyota USA Auto Museum in Torrance, was part of ShopLocal’s South Bay Business Mavericks Gala and featured some of the South Bay’s most prominent local business leaders and influencers including: Russ Lesser, President, Body Glove; Michael Zislis, Owner, Shade Hotel, Rock’n Fish, Rock & Brews, The Strand House; Kirk Rossberg, Founder, Torrance Bakery; Heidi Maerker, CEO/President, Herald Publications; and Sam Kartounian, Owner, Tic Time and Redondo Beach Watch Company.
During the event, attendees heard from the panel of business “mavericks” as they shared powerful lessons learned in running their businesses and discussed their perspectives on customer service, keeping good employees, staying competitive and loving what you do.
All of the panelists shared how important customer service is to their business with Michael Zislis noting that going above and beyond to serve the customer starts from the top and also motivates employees by example. Zislis said, “I have a saying…if the customer wants sleeves with their vests, I’m going to give it to them.”
Body Glove President, Russ Lesser also emphasized the importance of customer service, “Back up your product. Take care of your customers. They’re all important.”
A forthcoming and entertaining Q&A discussion led by moderator and founder of ShopLocal.us, Heidi Butzine, brought out many similarities amongst the panelists while all being at different stages in business and coming from a variety of industries. The event followed the maverick theme as panelists shared their examples of seeking opportunity by taking risks.
Sam Kartounian, owner of Tic Time, shared his story about the dramatic changes in the watch industry. Despite more people using digital devices to keep time today, Kartounian saw an opportunity when others said it couldn’t be done, “I created a watch store that’s not about telling time but about accessorizing your wrist,” said Kartounian. “I want people to hit on your wrist.”
While luck and sheer determination were credited in part to being a factor in business success, giving back to the community and doing what you love were key points made by the panelists.
“The people that work for me are the people that make it all happen. I hire people from the community…they know the community,” said Heidi Maerker, Herald Publications who shared that her team has enabled her to create six community papers and that the company has stayed profitable during the recession.
Kirk Rossberg, founder of Torrance Bakery, shared that he’s been a baker since he was 16 and loves it so much that, “there is no Plan B.” The bakery recently celebrated its 30th year anniversary and Rossberg emphasized how being involved in the community has been part of the bakery’s success, “Giving back to the community is just the right thing to do,” said Rossberg. “Not because you’re trying to get something out of it.”
Russ Lesser also shared a quote from Bob Meistrell as part of the legacy that has left an imprint Body Glove and its team: “Do what you love and you’ll love what you do, and you’ll be good at it. It won’t ever seem like a day of work.” Zislis summed up the maverick’s secret to success with, “You heard everybody [here] loves their job…that’s the secret.”
The evening culminated with a grant awards ceremony where each of the three finalist’s grant videos was shared with the audience and the winners announced. John Post Gallery, a South Bay photographer who’s been in business for over 30 years and based in Manhattan Beach won $2,000. CMS Water Works, a hydrating skin spray company that is family-run by the daughters of the product’s late creator and based in Hermosa Beach won $1,000. Mixagogo, an online service based in Redondo Beach that provides event-goers a convenient place to browse and search local community and networking events won $500.
“I wanted to go big this year and we did,” said Butzine. “We doubled the grant amounts and created an event for people from around the South Bay to connect and learn. I’m so proud of this event and what it stands for…inspiring each other and celebrating small business. I couldn’t have done it without the support of our incredible community. I really appreciate everyone who participated. I can’t wait for next year!”