One company grew 400 percent in three-and-a-half years. Another is looking to launch a reality TV show. From unwelcome rodents to ice cream, six Traverse City companies have earned a spot on the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch list – an annual awards program honoring the state’s “vibrant entrepreneurial culture.”
What exactly is a Michigan 50 company to watch? A second-stage business (i.e. no longer concerned about survival) selected for impressive growth in jobs and revenue. It also stands out for strength in leadership, community support and market reach.
Here are the six in our backyard: Altus Brands, Cherry Capital Foods, Critter Control, Grand Traverse Distillery, M-22 and Moomers Homemade Ice Cream.
The Ticker tips its hat, and at the same time wondered “what” specifically it should be watching for. We asked –here’s what we found out:
Altus Brands – Manufacturer of products for the outdoor enthusiast
Watch for: “More of the same,” says Brian Breneman, one of the company’s owners. “We’re growing super fast” with no plans to slow down, he says. The company acquires small businesses in the hunting and shooting sports category, a business strategy that has shot its growth upwards of 400 percent since moving to TC in 2009. “We manufactured 150 products that year,” Breneman says. “This year we are manufacturing (or distributing for others) 650 products.” Next year, that number could double … at least.
Cherry Capital Foods – Food distributor focused exclusively on Michigan growers
Watch for: More power to the farmer. “We grew 65 percent last year, over 50 percent the year before that,” says Evan Smith, senior operations manager. “Our growth is a manifestation of a greater cultural trend” focused on local, farm fresh food. “We’re going to continue growing that awareness and demand” in restaurants, schools and grocery stores. Its biggest challenge? Supply.
Critter Control – North America’s largest wildlife pest control firm
Watch for: A reality TV show. Kevin Clark, founder and CEO of Critter Control, Inc., wouldn’t say much more, but keep an eye out for “The Critters.” “Many, many production companies over the years have contacted us,” Clark says, but they wanted crazy characters doing dangerous stuff. “We don’t do unsafe … but I think we’ve found a way to make it exciting and have packaged it in a way that we think will be a hit. You’d be surprised to hear who’s involved.”
Grand Traverse Distillery – Michigan’s largest micro-distillery
Watch for: A half-dozen Grand Traverse Distillery products with the Pure Michigan logo on them. “We’re trying to do as much Michigan as we can,” says owner Kent Rabish. In fact, the distillery is closing in on a milestone – one million pounds of Michigan-grown agriculture, from grains to rare ingredients, purchased since it started in 2007. What about any new spirits? A new gin by Memorial Day, Rabish says, and he’s working on a rum product for this summer.
M-22 – Promoter and cheerleader of a northern Michigan way of life
Watch for: Much more than t-shirts. The M-22 brand has grown to be a representative of Michigan and a lifestyle of being positive, says store manager Nate Farran. M-22-emblazoned products are in dozens of retailers around the state, including Bay Wear, Glik’s and MACkite. It’s also getting “way more into the extreme sports,” he adds. And about that lingering trademark issue that keeps landing the company in the news? We are a federally-protected trademark, “ says Farran. “Nothing has changed.”
Moomers Homemade Ice Cream – Maker of more than 120 flavors of ice cream
Watch for: The 16th season of the ice cream operation will bring one thing for sure – another “crazy busy,” ice-cream flavored summer, says Jon Plummer of the family-run business. The 2013 season will also bring more wholesale accounts – meaning more Moomers in more places and a non-homogenized, natural “cream” line. What not to watch for? “We’re not looking to go national … we’re not going to be the next Ben and Jerry’s,” says Plummer.
These six companies, along with the other 44 (see full list here) will be celebrated at the Michigan Celebrates Small Business Gala on May 2, which includes a VIP reception the night prior at the Governor’s residence.