August 1, 2008

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Article

Grow If You Want To

Business Climate is Ripe for Unexpected Neighbors

Sarah Ryther-Francom

August 1, 2008


Utah is rich with an array of familiar, longtime businesses; Harmon’s Grocery Store, RC Willey and Zions Bank are just a few Utah-based companies that have grown into household names. Sectors including technology, tourism and construction are known for their continued growth and robustness. But what about that quirky company down the block? Not every company builds software or skyscrapers, but Utah’s welcoming business climate continues to attract and retain its share of unexpected neighbors. What else would a shrimp company be doing in the middle of the mountains? The truth is, the business community in Utah can be as varied as the natural terrain it covers. We credit the success of some of Utah’s more unusual companies to the state’s ongoing entrepreneurial nature and the thick skin gleaned from our pioneer heritage. These companies bring something unique to the state’s business community and culture. They offer an usual service, are tucked away and out of sight, or they’re beginning to blossom nationwide. Though you might be surprised to see what crops up, it just goes to show that all kinds of ideas can sprout in Utah’s rocky soil. Brine Shrimp Direct In a state landlocked by desert, the freshest seafood can be three days in a freezer truck. Many Utahns would be surprised to learn that the state is home to one of the world’s largest brine shrimp industries. Because of the Great Salt Lake’s one-of-a-kind ecosystem, which is prime for brine shrimp, the brine shrimp and cyst harvesting industry rakes in millions each year. Started in 1997 by Tim Troy, Brine Shrimp Direct harvests brine shrimp eggs from the Great Salt Lake, then grows the eggs into brine shrimp and sells the product locally and, thanks to the Internet, across the world. Because brine shrimp is essential to the function of numerous worldwide aquaculture industries, Utah’s brine shrimp industry isn’t going anywhere, Troy says. “It is difficult to operate many warm-water marine fish and shrimp hatcheries without some level of brine shrimp inputs,” he says. “Demand for the brine shrimp egg is generally inelastic. As prices rise or fall, the demand remains more or less constant.” Though the brine shrimp industry is relatively steady, it has hit some turbulent waters in recent years. “As our costs have risen due to fuel and labor inputs, we’ve been able to pass most of the increases on, but margins have shrunk to be sure! Customers gradually learn to get by with less or, if available, will turn to lower quality brine shrimp,” Troy says. “The competitive environment has already forced consolidation in the industry. At Brine Shrimp Direct, we hope to better exploit our niche markets and whenever practical, diversify into other natural diets and feedstuffs.” While there are some challenges, Troy says that the Internet has led to the company’s recent success. “It was our first experience using e-commerce to sell our products, at that time consisting only of brine shrimp egg and flake diets,” he says. “We’ve tried to apply our expertise in developing aquaculture feeds to benefit the ornamental fish hobby in North America, Europe and Japan. In addition to our own Utah-origin brine shrimp egg, our product line now numbers more than 30 items and includes feeds manufactured in Utah and across the U.S., as well as products imported from China and Europe.” Troy says that while the Great Salt Lake is key in keeping Brine Shrimp Direct here, Utah’s business climate has been essential to the company’s success. “I’ve found Utah is widely regarded as business friendly.” Even for shrimp. V Chocolates When chocolatier Ron Best launched V Chocolates in 2004, almond toffee was the only candy on his menu. In just four short years, the company’s candy selection and reputation have exploded and today, V Chocolates can be found in stores throughout the nation, gracing the shelves of Bloomingdales, Saks and Barneys, to name a few. And just one bite into a delectable piece of toffee, caramel or truffle, and you’ll taste the flavor behind V Chocolates’ sweet success. Best was first introduced to the art of candy making when he was 23 years old by Paul Cummings, owner of Cummings Studio Chocolates. Best, who had some ownership in Cummings Studio Chocolates, spent the next 20 years mastering the how-to’s of chocolate and candy making. In 2000, Best left the company, but soon realized that his heart belonged to chocolate and candy-making. After writing a business plan and cooking up some mouth-watering treats, he founded V Chocolates with the help of investors Gardner Brown, John and Carol Probst and Craig and Laurie Goodrich. But Best knew that it took more than scrumptious goods to get noticed. He called upon B/O/W/G (now known as Rare Method) to help him establish the V Chocolates brand, a move that he thinks has been integral to the company’s success. “They created our great packaging that has really helped us stand out,” he says. The final step was to get the sweet delicacies into the mouths of candy lovers. Best began attending business and candy expos, bringing along plenty of samples. “People would stop and taste, but they usually walked away because they didn’t want to talk. But what I’ve seen is that as they’re walking away, they’ll stop and turn and say, ‘That was really good.’ In my perspective, that’s a real compliment.” Today, V Chocolates functions primarily as a wholesaler to retailers across the country. And though much of his business comes from outside of Utah, Best says that he is here to stay. “We’ve got a really fabulous plant, we’ve got a lot of great folks, and all of our elements in place. We all really like it here,” Best says. “Wherever V Chocolates is [located at], it doesn’t matter, so we’re not moving. Utah has all that we need and want.” As for the future, Best says, “We’re going to keep growing like we have been the past few years. My vision is to see V Chocolates become a household name, like Godiva or Sees.” Mountainview Mushrooms Utah’s high altitude and dry climate make it a suprising spot for a mushroom farm, but that hasn’t stopped Mountainview Mushrooms. Located in Fillmore, Mountainview Mushrooms is Utah’s only mushroom farm, serving as one of the Intermountain West’s largest fresh mushroom producer. Owner and operator Loyal Adams lives up to his name. “Utah’s climate makes our utility expenses really high, but we’re still here,” says Adams. At Mountainview Mushrooms, workers grow, harvest, package and distribute a variety of mushrooms, including white, crimini, Portobello, oyster, shitake and enoki. At the Mountainview Mushroom facility, there are five basic steps in the growing cycle: composing, pasteurization, spawning, casing and harvesting; it takes about 80 days from the start of composting to the final day of harvesting the mushrooms. And while most people think that mushrooms are grown in manure, mushrooms at Mountainview Mushrooms are grown in a combination of wheat straw, dried poultry waste, cotton by-products and lots of water. Most Mountainview Mushrooms are sold through supermarkets and food service institutions, but the public is welcome to stop by the facility and purchase fresh mushrooms in 5 lb. or 10 lb. boxes, Adams says. The company also sells mushroom compost, which is a great soil conditioner. Beyond selling mushrooms, the company also maintains a popular blog, www.eatmoremushrooms.com, dedicated to everything mushroom. For example, did you know that a mushroom contains more protein per size than almost any other vegetable? The blog also includes a collection of mouth-watering recipes, such as Dijon chicken smothered in mushrooms and mushroom and salmon penne. Adams says that the company’s goal is to produce the best quality and freshest mushrooms in the Intermountain West and they’re doing a good job. Mountainview Mushroom’s produce was recently acclaimed as a BestLife™ product, which promotes a healthy life through diet and exercise. The BestLife™ mark now appears on all Mountainview Mushroom products. SolarHome.org As the go-green trend is evolving into a social mainstay, companies are responding by keeping their shelves constantly stocked with environmentally-friendly products. And Utah is home to one of the nation’s largest green products store, SolarHome.org. Living up to its name, this company specializes in selling solar energy equipment used to make a home or business energy efficient. Primarily an ecommerce store, SolarHome.org currently ranks as the nation’s most popular Website regarding solar panel and energy conservation, receiving approximately 10,000 visitors each day, according to Avid Amiri, owner of SolarHome.org. Because it’s primarily an Internet-based store, SolarHome.org can be located just about anywhere. But Amiri says that he purposely chose to make Utah the company’s home. “Utah is a great place to do business and has young, well-educated employees,” says Amiri. “It’s also a great location because of its proximity to California, Nevada and Arizona. I can’t think of a better place.” Established in 1998, SolarHome.org specializes in selling complete solar panel kits. “If you buy a kit, you’ll have everything you need to go solar,” says Amiri. The company also offers an array of green products, such as outdoor garden lights, water purification systems, solar-powered ovens, solar-powered fountains and more. “We suggest that people improve their energy efficiency anyway they can. For example, you can update old appliances, perform energy audits, plant trees and turn off lights,” Amiri says. Beyond being a popular Website to find and purchase earth-friendly products, SolarHome.org is unique because it also serves as a forum where people can discuss and learn about environmental issues. “There’s a communal aspect to the site,” Amiri says. “People talk about what’s going on and what they can do. There’s also an education component. Our goal is to get people motivated about green energy.” Amiri says that he hopes SolarHome.org will help the green movement become a permanent part of the world. “The amount of solar consumption is less than 1 percent and we want that number to climb,” he says. “People are beginning to come to the realization that it’s important to conserve. Through forms of energy reduction or moving in a solar direction, we can make a huge difference.” Puppenschnoodles “I use flower essences homeopathy, massage, t-touch, acupuncture, holistic nutrition, herbal remedies and aromatherapy,” says Anna Bettina Johnson. Sound relaxing? Sorry, Johnson only treats four-legged clients. Her company, Puppenschnoodles takes a different approach to pooch training. Johnson, who has a bachelor’s of science in animal sciences from the University of Hawaii and has studied canine nutrition extensively, says that there’s more to pet care than most people think. “I want your pup to be happy and healthy for life, and that starts with holistic care, feeding and training,” she says. Johnson says that she can have a dog obeying without verbal force or physical action. “I recommend calming caps and flowers essences when other trainers recommend force and choke chains (or even shock collars!),” she says. “People are always amazed at the effect my suggestions have. I use absolutely no physical or verbal direction, cues or correction and can teach a dog who doesn’t even know how to sit a new trick in 25 minutes that she will perform reliably. No force trainer can claim that.” Johnson launched Puppenschnoodles in 2006 and is now considered one of Utah’s premier dog experts. She’s earned her respect the hard way. “I had a really hard time starting the company in Utah because so many people thought I was crazy,” she says. “There were times when I wanted to move out of the state, but then I had a client tell me, ‘Your work is needed here more than anywhere.’ I decided to stay.” Today, Johnson’s business is booming. She is currently booked out months in advance. And when she’s not puppy training, she’s leading seminars on topics like pet nutrition and manners. She also spends much of her time at local animal shelters and adoption centers. And though she specializes in dog training and care, she promotes the holistic approach for all animals. “You can treat any animal holistically, and I do. I have helped people with everything from birds to turtles, including things such as species appropriate nutrition as well as t-touch and flowers essences.” After helping so many people and their pets, Johnson says that she’s just happy that she’s made a difference. “People call me a dog whisperer, but there’s nothing of a whisper in what I do. I call myself a translator,” she says. “I understand that many people are new to these ideas of pet care and generally aren’t that familiar with the way they are practiced or used — it’s my personal mission to inform them and make a difference.”
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