Chamber’s Small Business Awards marks 10-year milestone

04/13/2014 12:00 AM

08/06/2014 11:15 AM

Next month the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce will host the Small Business Awards Luncheon, where two area businesses will be honored for their growth, diversity and community involvement.

Marking its 10th anniversary, the Small Business Awards competition has recognized 100 companies as finalists for the award and 15 have been named overall winners.

And every overall winning company going back to 2005 remains in business today.

“I think it speaks well to the judging process and what the judges look at,” said Angie Elliott, the chamber’s manager of business services who has overseen the awards since 2008.

Past winners of the awards said they all wanted the recognition from what the program offered. It gave their companies public exposure as well as greater exposure within the business community.

And, winning the awards provided something tangible besides a plaque or trophy. In several cases, they said, winning led to new business for their firms.

The competition includes two divisions: Tier One is for firms with one to 25 employees, and Tier Two is for firms with 26 to 100 employees. The switch to two divisions was made in 2008 in recognition of the differences that can occur with the resources available to different-size businesses, Elliott said.

Companies that are considered for the award are first nominated. But the nomination does not automatically enter them into the competition. They have to take the extra step to apply, including providing financial performance information and narratives on topics such as diversity, community involvement and employee relations.

Tammy Allen, vice president of marketing and communications at Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, has served as a committee member and judge of the awards for about six years. She said the thoroughness of the application and judging process requires company leaders to give “careful thought” to their enterprises.

“I went out for two years on company visits (as a judge) and I would say they all cared deeply about running a good company,” she said.

‘Looking in the mirror’

Gary Mason’s firm, iSi Environmental Services was the winner in the program’s second year. Even though he said the process took substantial time, it offered valuable information in return.

“You always want to know how you stack up against others, either in your field or in your community,” Mason, iSi’s CEO, said. “Just wanting to know whether you had a good thing going or not.”

It proved to be a good exercise in “looking in the mirror.”

Mason said that as an entrepreneur oftentimes there is no reason – and little time – to stop and look hard at what’s been created because the entrepreneur’s focus is almost always about growing and looking ahead.

“It was extremely rewarding to step back and take a look at your company at the 30,000-foot level,” he said. “It makes you a better company going through that process.”

Doug Jenkins, president of Professional Software Inc., a 2010 winner in the Tier One category, said completing the application became a team effort. “I decided to get a number of employees involved in thinking about the process,” he said. “Part of my thinking about this was if we’re worthy why are we worthy?”

Jenkins said it was important to him to know if his employees felt good about where and who they worked for. If their responses weren’t up to his standards of worthy, “maybe I wouldn’t submit the application.”

“In the end, there were a lot of positives I took away from that,” he said.

Patty Koehler, president and CEO of JR Custom Metals, a 2011 Tier Two winner, said the application allowed her and her managers to “review the mission of the business, why we are here, and what got us to this point.”

The exposure of winning the award also helped the bottom line, leaders said.

Troy Lott, president and executive producer of Intake Studios, said his company was only four years old when it was named the 2008 Tier One winner.

“The additional exposure we received, that was big for us,” Lott said. “Our Wichita business really took off even though many of our goals was to build our business regionally. Our Wichita business really benefited from winning that award.”

Koehler said JR Custom saw new business, too.

“Anytime your company’s recognized it opens the door to other opportunities and industries.”

Jenkins of Professional Software said the award had enough impact that it helped his company gain business from clients far outside of Wichita.

Mason of iSi, said the benefits went beyond sales, and offered more than a boost in employee morale.

“It was a feel good thing for the entire company as we moved forward,” he said. “But it gave us recognition to recruit. The people we were able to bring on probably wouldn’t have looked at us if we wouldn’t have won.”

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