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Daily News

WESTFIELD — Based on the survey results of its 2014 Best Firms To Work For competition, ZweigWhite recognized Tighe & Bond as one of the best civil engineering firms to work for in the nation this month. This annual awards competition is based on business practice data collected from numerous participating firms across the country, including feedback solicited through an employee survey. ZweigWhite, a provider of management information and expertise to architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms worldwide, sponsors the program that recognizes the top firms leading the way in creating a work place that inspires, motivates and rewards employees. The competitive ranking that results is based on comprehensive evaluations of factors such as firm culture and workplace practices, employee benefits, career development and growth opportunities, compensation, performance and recognition, as well as recruiting and retention rates. All firms that apply for this prestigious ranking and recognition are evaluated against each other, not a set standard.
“ZweigWhite has recognized Tighe & Bond several times as one of the best engineering firms to work for in the nation, and it is always a significant honor,” said David E. Pinsky, president and CEO of the firm. It also exemplifies our ongoing commitment to create a working environment where all of our employees feel valued and where they can see their contribution to the overall mission and success of the firm and our clients. Our ability to recruit, develop, and retain the most talented staff is crucial to providing the high quality, responsive services that our clients have come to expect and deserve.”
Founded in 1911, Tighe & Bond has offices in Pocasset, Westfield, and Worcester, Mass.; Middletown and Shelton, Conn.; and Portsmouth, N.H. Engineering News Record annually ranks Tighe & Bond among the top design and environmental engineering firms nationally.

Daily News

NORTH BROOKFIELD — North Brookfield Savings Bank announced that the bank’s merger with FamilyFirst Bank is now complete, effective June 1. The deal, first announced in January 2014, recently became official thanks to approval of the Corporators of North Brookfield Savings Bank, the shareholders of FamilyFirst Bank and the banks’ regulators. With the addition of former FamilyFirst Bank branches, in Ware, Three Rivers Village of Palmer and East Brookfield, Massachusetts, North Brookfield Savings Bank, based in North Brookfield, MA, now includes seven branches in addition to the Business Center at NBSB and online banking components. North Brookfield Savings Bank, founded in 1854, is a mutual savings bank with over $200 million in assets. The bank has received the highest Five Star Superior Bank rating from Bauer Financial for 74 consecutive quarters. The combined bank will have in excess of $260 million in assets.

Daily News

Construction employment expanded in 215 metro areas, declined in 80 and was stagnant in 44 between June 2013 and June 2014, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that uncertainty about a range of federal infrastructure and construction programs could weigh on future growth for the sector.
“Contractors have been expanding their work force in about two-thirds of the country for several months in a row,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Some metro areas are adding workers at a strong clip, but the gains remain modest and sporadic in many localities.” Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas added the largest number of construction jobs in the past year (11,700 jobs, 10%), followed by Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. (10,000 jobs, 9%), Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. (8,200 jobs, 7%) and Baton Rouge, La. (5,900 jobs, 13%). The largest percentage gains occurred in Monroe, Mich. (29%, 600 jobs), Lake Charles, La. (25%, 2,700 jobs), Pascagoula, Miss. (25%, 1,500 jobs) and El Centro, Calif. (23%, 500 jobs). The largest job losses from June 2013 to June 2014 were in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md. (-4,200 jobs, -13%), followed by Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. (-2,900 jobs, -3%), Gary, Ind. (-2,300 jobs, -12%) and Putnam-Rockland-Westchester, N.Y. (-1,800 jobs, -6 %). The largest percentage decline for the past year was in Cheyenne, Wyo. (-18%, -700 jobs), followed by Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Vineland-Millville-Bridgeton, N.J. (-13%, -300 jobs), Gary, and Steubenville-Weirton, Ohio-W.V. (-12%, -200 jobs). Association officials noted that signs of uncertainty about a range of federal infrastructure and construction programs could undermine future construction employment growth. They urged Congress to quickly pass a “continuing resolution” that would set federal spending levels for next year and to enact long-term surface transportation legislation. Having these measures in place would make it easier for many construction firms to make hiring, purchasing and expansion plans, they added. “Even as the overall economy continues to recover, many firms that work on federally-funded projects are having a hard time making hiring, equipment purchasing and expansion plans,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “It is hard to make sound business decisions when you don’t know how much work will be available in the near future.”

Daily News

BOSTON — Massachusetts real gross domestic product grew at an estimated annual rate of 4.9% in the second quarter of 2014 according to the MassBenchmarks Current Economic Index, released Wednesday by MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In contrast, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, national real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 4.0% in the second quarter based on the advance estimate of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

State and U.S. economic growth bounced back from the surprisingly weak first quarter as labor markets gained strength both locally and nationally. Based on the most recent data available, MassBenchmarks now estimates that in the first quarter of 2014, the state’s economy contracted at an estimated annual rate of 0.3%, while the U.S. economy declined at an annual rate of 2.1%. “The steep downward revision in the estimate of Massachusetts economic growth for the first quarter (originally reported as positive 2.6%) is primarily due to the correspondingly large downward revision in U.S. economic growth in the first quarter, originally reported as positive 0.1%,” noted Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks’ senior contributing editor and associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University, who compiles and analyzes the Current and Leading Indexes.

”The downward revisions in U.S. GDP reflect large reductions in two components — consumer spending and exports — that were most affected by the unusually harsh winter weather. This sharply lowered estimates of national and state productivity growth, meaning fewer business sales per employee and thus a significant reduction in the first quarter estimates of economic growth,” Clayton-Matthews added. Massachusetts payroll employment grew at a 1.7% annual rate in the second quarter, up from 1.2% in the first quarter; while U.S. payroll employment grew at a 2.2% annual rate in the second quarter up from 1.5% in the first quarter. During the second quarter, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts fell from 6.3% (in March) to 5.5% (in June), while the U.S. unemployment rate fell from 6.7% to 6.1% during the same period. Year to date (through June), the state’s unemployment rate has fallen 1.6 percentage points while the national unemployment rate has fallen 0.6 percentage points. Wage and salary income declined at an 11.6% annual rate in the first quarter, as estimated from state withholding taxes. This does not necessarily imply a drop in regular earnings but rather it likely reflects the strong wage and salary income growth over the previous two quarters (12 to 15%) due to bonuses and other non-regular lump-sum wage payments. Year over year (between second quarter 2013 and second quarter 2014), total wage and salary income was up 3.4%. Consumer spending in Massachusetts continued to grow strongly in the second quarter. Spending on items subject to the state’s regular sales and motor vehicles sales taxes — a good proxy for consumer discretionary spending — grew at an annual rate of 7.4% in the second quarter, up from a 6.1% rate in the first quarter. By this measure, year over year (second quarter 2013 to second quarter 2014) spending on these taxable items in the Bay State has grown 7.0%. The MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index for June was 3.8%, and the three-month average for April through June was 4.0%. The leading index is a forecast of the growth in the current index over the next six months, expressed at an annual rate. Thus, it indicates that the economy is expected to grow at an annualized rate of 3.8% over the next six months (through December 2014).

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield is seeking nominations for its annual Super 60 awards program. Now in its 25th year, Super 60, formerly the Fabulous 50, celebrates the success of the fastest-growing and privately owned businesses in the region that continue to make significant contributions to the strength of the regional economy. Each year, the program identifies the top-performing companies in revenue growth and total revenue. Last year, one-third of the winners in the revenue growth category experienced growth in excess of 50% with the average growth of all the honorees in that category at more than 49%. Total revenue winners combined for revenues of more than $1 billion, with an average revenue of more than $35 million. To be considered, companies must be based in Hampden or Hampshire county or be a member of the ACCGS, have produced revenues of at least $1 million in the last fiscal year, be an independent and privately-owned company, and be in business for at least three full years. Companies are selected based on their percentage of revenue growth over a full three-year period or total revenues for the latest fiscal year. Companies may be nominated by financial institutions, attorneys, or accountants, or be self-nominated. Companies must submit a nomination form and provide net operating revenue figures for the last three full fiscal years, signed and verified by an independent auditor. All financial information must be reported under generally accepted accounting principles and will be held and considered confidential and not released without prior approval. Nomination forms are available by contacting Kara Cavanaugh at [email protected] or (413) 755-1310. Nominations must be submitted no later than Sept. 5. The Super 60 awards will be presented at the annual luncheon and recognition program on Nov. 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam.

Daily News

WASHINGTON — The National Retail Federation today announced the formation of the Small Business Retail Council to organize, recruit, and engage Main Street merchants and independent community retailers in grassroots advocacy activities. The council will represent and be responsive to the needs, concerns and interests of local shops, and provide the association’s small business members a forum to discuss the most pressing public policy issues and priorities. “We are bringing together some of the retail sector’s best small business leaders to build upon their integral role in drafting and shaping public policy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Working with our state retail association partners, we hope to amplify the voice of small retailers in advancing the retail community’s agenda. The Small Business Retail Council will enhance and strengthen the partnership between small business owners and NRF, and optimize industry engagement on our common goals.” The Small Business Retail Council will consist of two co-chairs that will lead a five-to-seven member steering committee that will identify priorities, propose strategies and solutions, and participate in the coordination of grassroots advocacy. Membership on the council will be comprised of independent retailers from around the country as well as small retailers that currently serve on the NRF board of directors, including Dave Ratner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City of Agawam, Massachusetts and Beth Aberg of Random Harvest, Inc. of Washington, D.C. NRF made the announcement during this week’s Retail Advocates Summit, its annual congressional fly-in. More than 150 large and small retailers and state retail association executives are in Washington to advocate on the retail industry’s public policy priorities. Issues discussed include the need to level the sales tax playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers and online sellers, effective patent reform legislation and continued reforms to the swipe fees structure. NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Buffalo Wild Wings will soon be opening a restaurant at 490 Memorial Dr. Franchisees Martti Matheson and Aaron Miller (a 15-year NHL veteran and Olympian) will open the doors to their restaurant at 11 a.m. on August 18. The eatery will host a charity fundraising event to support Chicopee youth sports Saturday night prior to opening to the public. “We are passionate about youth sports and we make it a priority to get involved when we enter a new community” said Matheson. The new Buffalo Wild Wings features more than 60 flat screen TVs and three projection units for the ultimate sports viewing experience. The restaurant will carry all major sports packages, as well as PPV UFC fights. Its menu includes boneless wings, specialty burgers and sandwiches, finger foods, wraps, salads; and Naked Tenders, non-breaded, all white meat chicken tenders lightly seasoned and served with a choice of one of 21 Buffalo Wild Wings sauces and seasonings. However, the main attraction is Buffalo-style chicken wings. The menu also offers 30 beers on tap and other bar beverages.
“We want to become the neighborhood gathering place,” said Matheson. “Buffalo Wild Wings is a restaurant where guests can pull their tables together, watch sports on TV and share good food and good times.” Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., founded in 1982 and headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an established and growing owner, operator, and franchisor of restaurants. The company now has more than 1,000 restaurants in the United States and Canada.

Daily News

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced today that its two charitable foundations awarded $843,615 in grants from Jan. 1 to June 30 to non-profit organizations across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Vermont. While the two foundations’ funding focus areas are education and community and economic development projects, they also donated to youth, cultural and human service organizations that provide vital services to the community. Berkshire Bank Foundation Inc. and Berkshire Bank Foundation-Legacy Region, the bank’s two charitable foundations, plan to award $1.6 million this year to non-profit organizations across the bank’s service area. In total, 277 non-profit organizations received grants from the two foundations during the first half of 2014 including the following recent grant award recipients:

Berkshire County
• Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire;
• Dalton CRA;
• Downtown Pittsfield Inc.; and
• Norman Rockwell Museum

Pioneer Valley
• Rebuilding Together Springfield;
• Jewish Geriatric Services; and
• The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center; and
• Roca Inc.

Features
Annual Show Will Put the Spotlight on Entrepreneurship

WMBExpoComcastDateOrganizers of the Western Mass. Business Expo, slated for Oct. 29 at the MassMutual Center, are finalizing elements of the show, which will certainly have an entrepreneurial flair to it.

Indeed, the highly successful pitch contest, which made its debut at the 2013 Expo, will be staged again this year. Organized by Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), the contest, as the name suggests, features entrepreneurs with developing ventures pitching their ideas to a panel of judges — with $3,000 in prize money on the line.

This year’s contest will likely feature fewer presenting ventures — perhaps five as opposed to the 10 last year — which should allow for more give and take between those presenting the pitches and those who will judge them, said VVM President Scott Foster, adding that this will likely produce what he called a “Shark Tank effect — only nicer.”

Meanwhile, this year’s slate of educational seminars will include a track on entrepreneurship. The roster is still being finalized, but it will feature some of the region’s rising stars offering insight into what it takes to succeed in business today.

Delcie Bean, founder and president of Paragus Strategic IT, one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the country, will be among those presenting interactive programs designed to inform and inspire those in attendance.

“Through initiatives like VVM, this region is putting a great deal of emphasis on entrepreneurship and growing organically by spurring the creation and growth of new small businesses,” said BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti. “For the 2014 show, Expo organizers wanted to add momentum to these efforts by showcasing new business ventures through the pitch contest and relaying success stories written by some of the region’s noted entrepreneurs.

“These are people who have taken risks, beaten the long odds on making it in today’s highly competitive global economy, and have much to share with Expo attendees,” she went on. “These will be compelling stories that will hopefully inspire others to reach high.”

As the entrepreneurship track comes together, so do other elements of the show, which is expected to draw more than 150 exhibitors and 2,500 attendees, said Campiti. The other seminar tracks are professional development and sales and marketing, and those programs are being finalized as well, she said, as are the Show Floor Theater presentations.

The Women’s Professional Chamber of Commerce has announced that Patricia Diaz Dennis, retired senior vice president and assistant general counsel for AT&T and commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission during the Reagan administration, has been confirmed as the luncheon speaker.

Dennis, a member of the board of directors at MassMutual, is a highly sought-after speaker, whose broad résumé also includes service on the National Labor Relations Board, a stint as assistant secretary of State for human rights and humanitarian affairs, a three-year term as chair of the Girl Scouts of America, and a lengthy stint on the Texas State University System Board of Regents.

At AT&T, from which she retired in 2008, she was responsible for corporate litigation, procurement, corporate real estate, environmental corporate compliance, IT, and trademark and copyright legal matters. Before joining AT&T in 1995, Dennis was special counsel to Sullivan & Cromwell for communications matters in the international law firm’s Washington, D.C. office. From 1989 to 1991, she was a partner and head of the communications section of the Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue law firm.

One of the highlights of previous shows has been the day-ending Expo Social, said Campiti, adding that it has become one of the best networking opportunities of the year. This year’s social, to be sponsored by MGM Springfield and Northwestern Mutual, will be no exception.

Other sponsors include Presenting Sponsor Comcast Business; Silver Sponsors DIF Design, Health New England, and Johnson & Hill Staffing Services; and Education Sponsor the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

For more information on the event, visit www.businesswest.com or www.wmbexpo.com. n

Cover Story
When It Comes to Business, Dave Ratner Has Some Pet Peeves

COVERart0714bWhen Dave Ratner speaks to small-business owners — something he does often — he will inevitably touch on some of the highlights from his intriguing, 40-year career selling soda and pet food, during which he has made his first name and face into a nationally known brand.

And there are many such highlights, from his success in retail (he now has seven Dave’s Soda & Pet City stores in Western Mass. and Northern Conn.) to his triumphs in wholesaling, specifically the introduction and then rapid expansion of his lines of dog and cat food, to his highly regarded marketing initiatives.

But Ratner says he spends much more of his time at the podium talking about what hasn’t gone right with his various business endeavors. Like the store he opened on Allen and Cooley streets in Springfield, which closed roughly a year after it opened in 1995 because of what he called “miscalculations” and bad timing. Then there was an ill-fated e-commerce venture, a four-year experiment that failed because, in essence, he entered a game without fully understanding how it’s played.

“This was the first all-natural pet-food e-commerce site in the country,” he explained, referring to an acquisition he made in 2010. “I said to myself, ‘how hard can this be?’ Well, the e-commerce business is much different than the retail business, and I’m not an expert in e-commerce. I didn’t have anyone on my team who knew the e-commerce business, and we got killed.”

It is by relating these failures and others and the reasons behind them that Ratner believes he can most effectively get across his points about how to succeed in business, something he’s becoming noted for as much as his stores, products, and TV spots.

Indeed, he speaks to various trade groups — he recently addressed the Billiard Hall Owners Assoc., for example — and business organizations on a fairly regular basis. The audience and subject matter varies, but he’s often addressing retailers, and a common theme is advising little guys on how to beat the big guys.

Meanwhile, some of his more recent blog posts — such as “Good Boss or Good Leader? Business Owners Should Learn the Difference Between the Two and How to Be Both,” “Your Attitude Goes a Long Way in Business: Changing Your Mindset Can Mean a Positive Impact for Your Store,” “Not So Fast: Before Pulling a Product off the Shelf, Think About the Total Picture,” and “The Learning Never Stops: Going to Trade Shows and Conventions Can Help Retailers Move Their Business Forward” — are clearly aimed at that constituency.

Overall, Ratner told BusinessWest that there are many mistakes that entrepreneurs will make — everything from not having enough money when they launch a venture to letting their ego get in the way of smart decisions, to not having what he called a “damage-control policy” in place.

“People go into business with their hearts, not their heads,” he noted. “The reason that big companies have boards of directors is so they can question what management is doing and be a devil’s advocate. So if a successful company needs one, and you’re an entrepreneur, you certainly need one.”

Elaborating, he said business owners and managers generally tend to forget about “Mr. Murphy,” the individual whose name is attached to a law — the one about how everything that can go wrong will. And this will invariably lead to trouble, especially when it comes to money and cash flow.

“I don’t care what you’re doing — if you don’t have enough money, don’t do it, and whatever money you think you need, multiply it by at least two,” he explained, “because the minute you start your business, Mr. Murphy is going to move in next door to you.”

For this issue and its focus on entrepreneurship, BusinessWest talked at length with Ratner about his career in business, but also about how he’s devoting a good deal of his time and energy to advising others on how to use their head and not their heart and thus avoid making the critical mistakes that often mean the difference between success and failure.

Poignant Paws

Dave Ratner takes a moment to meet and photograph a regular

Dave Ratner takes a moment to meet and photograph a regular and her dogs, one of the many ways he tries to make an emotional connection to customers.

It’s probably safe to say that few people living and doing business in this region don’t know Ratner’s story.

It’s pretty much common knowledge that he flunked out of Babson College between his sophomore and junior years, only to later return and get his degree, and, not long after graduating, borrowed $5,000 from his father to open a Soda City store on Route 9 in Hadley. That’s the name his father, Harold, gave to a venture he started in 1972 after his career as a distributor for Clicquot Club soda came to an abrupt end when the company decided to sell direct to retailers. Ratner made it clear that, while his father provided some seed money, this was a separate enterprise he could call his own.

“He said to me, ‘if you want to do this, I’ll loan you $5,000, and you can go and find a location and open up your business,’” Ratner recalled. “He said, ‘yours is yours, mine is mine; I’m here for guidance, but this way, you’ll learn how to run a business really quickly.’ And he was definitely right about that.”

It’s also well-known that, roughly a year or so after starting that venture, he bought a puppy, an acquisition that took him to the pet-food aisle at the supermarket, where he learned there was much more to sell there than in the carbonated-beverages aisle, a realization that started him down the road to selling two totally different product categories out of the same building.

The past 37 years or so have been spent expanding the enterprise in several directions, making Dave’s a household name — in this market, but also others — and, for the most part, anyway, practicing what he preaches when it comes to running a successful business and beating those aforementioned big guys.

“And unless you’re Wal-Mart, you’re the little guy,” he said with a laugh, adding that the most important thing for any business owner who falls in that latter category is to “connect with the customer emotionally.”

“When I talk with entrepreneurs and business people, I explain to them that we’re not here to have a transactional relationship with customers, but an emotional relationship with them so we can try to bond with them,” he explained. “Business is business — you have to offer what the customer wants or needs at the correct price, you have to be easy to do business with, and you have to build a relationship with them. And you have to build trust; people don’t want to hang out with or do business with someone they don’t trust.”

Ratner’s been doing all that throughout his career, with his stores, his marketing (it’s his voice you hear in the radio ads), and a weekly television show called simply Dave’s Pet Show, which has been running on Fox for more than two decades, as well as a hands-on attitude in his stores.

For example, on the day he spoke with BusinessWest at his flagship store in Agawam, Ratner could be seen helping customers unload their huge bags of dog food into their cars and taking photos of the canines that his regulars bring into the store with them when doing their shopping.

And he’s taken this emotional relationship to an even higher level with his lines of pet food, which he started introducing nearly 20 years ago and wholesaling five years ago. It’s the entrepreneurial gambit that appears to have the most potential — it’s generating close to the same amount of revenue as his retail operation, and he believes it will soon surpass it — and the one he’s easily most proud of.

His products are now being sold in 40 states and by more than 3,000 independent retailers, he said, adding that beyond those numbers is the great sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing what they mean.

“Dave’s Pet Food is just the coolest thing in the world,” he told BusinessWest. “People who have never met me and have no clue who I am trust me with the health of the creature they love more than anything in the world. How does it get any better than that?”

Talking the Talk

While perhaps not as satisfying as his pet food, Ratner’s seminars, lectures, blogs, and other vehicles for sharing knowledge and lessons with small-business owners remain a big part of who he is.

He told BusinessWest that he’s learned a great deal from his own experiences and also from mentors ranging from his father to Al White, founder of A.O. White, who hired him for a few summers when he was in high school, to Ken Abrams, president of the FoodMart chain of supermarkets that once operated in the region. And he enjoys sharing these lessons, as well as myriad others he’s learned through relationships forged from his membership in the Young Presidents Organization as well as his work with the National Retailers Federation.

There are many such lessons he said, starting with making sure you have enough money when you launch a business and understanding that Murphy’s Law will apply to your venture. Entrepreneurs must also create a reason for people to do business with them “unless they’re inventing something revolutionary,” he went on.

And they need to have that devil’s advocate there, not only to ask the hard questions, but to make sure that they’re answered sufficiently.

Ratner said he’s had to learn some of these lessons himself the hard way.

Indeed, he said he didn’t have enough money to keep the Allen and Cooley location open during a year when he said everything went wrong for retailers, and especially those selling pet food.

“That was the year of Nintendo, America Online, and snowstorms,” he noted, adding that the poor weather kept people from making non-essential trips, and they would get their pet supplies at the supermarket instead. “Everyone started going online, and the pet business declined; kids weren’t into fish and birds anymore.”

Dave’s new pet food

Dave’s new pet food label also features his German shepherd, Trudie.

Using hindsight, he said that, if he had more money at his disposal, he probably could have weathered the storms, literally and figuratively, and outlasted Mr. Murphy. He acknowledged that a devil’s advocate couldn’t have helped him when it came to meteorology or calculating the impact of Nintendo on hamster sales, but in general, they can help entrepreneurs anticipate and navigate various forms of whitewater.

And they can help them understand their limitations and avoid costly missteps, such as Ratner’s foray into e-commerce.

“On the Internet, it’s all about ‘who’s got the best price; who’s got the best deal?’” he explained, adding that distribution is also a huge factor and one that ultimately kept him from effectively competing with Amazon and other huge sites.

Knowing one’s limitations is an important quality for business owners, he stressed, as is the related ability to keep one’s ego in check.

“The smartest, best business people in the world are those who hire the best people, those who can do the things they can’t,” he explained. “I have the best controller in the world — he’s phenomenal; I flunked accounting.

“Another thing that gets entrepreneurs in trouble is ego — there’s no place for ego in business,” he went on. “People have to listen, watch, learn, and never believe they know everything, because they don’t.

“You have to be a sponge,” he continued. “You need to go look and see what your competitors are doing right and copy that, see what they’re doing wrong and make sure you don’t do that.”

But perhaps the most important trait a successful business must possess, he said, is the ability to take a vision and make it permeate a company. To get that point across, he relayed a conversation he had with Mindy Grossman, CEO of Home Shopping Network, that took place as HSN mulled adding Dave’s pet-food products to the list of items it sold.

“I asked her how she competed with QVC, because QVC is twice as big as she is, and she said, ‘QVC is very transactional, and we try to develop an emotional relationship with our customers,’” he explained, noting that, not coincidentally, she used the same language he has employed for decades.

“She said, ‘this was the vision that I brought to the company — that’s it’s all about the customer, storytelling, and developing a relationship with that customer,’” he went on. “CEOs say a lot of stuff, so the next morning, I asked everyone I met, the buyers and everyone else, what it was like working at Home Shopping Network, and they, to a T, repeated exactly what Mindy said. So if you run a business, you have to let everyone know that ‘this is my vision’ and everyone in that company has to buy into it, and if you have people who don’t buy in, you have to get rid of them.”

Tale End

When asked if had — or still has — any plans to perhaps take his chain of stores to a regional or even national stage, Ratner offered a hearty laugh and then some deep introspection.

“You know, I’m just a classic small-town businessman — there’s guys like me in every town,” he said. “I don’t have the brains to go and become a national company; I don’t have the skill set.

“The coolest thing in the world now, though, is that I get to hang out with people who are doing that,” he went on, referring to both YPO and the National Retail Federation. “I like to tell my friends that these guys see stuff that I don’t know exists.”

Perhaps, but there’s no debating that Ratner has scripted an intriguing entrepreneurial success story, and is still writing new chapters. In the meantime, he’s also making a name for himself helping others become successful small-town businessmen and women.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]