5 Tips for Reducing Waste in the Office

It’s officially Verde’s favorite day of the year: Earth Day!  While we’ve already helped hundreds of company’s reduce their energy consumption, we thought we would go a step further and help businesses with tips on how to reduce waste in general at work.  Happy readings!

Tip #1: Use reusable mugs and dishware in the office

CupLeaving/supplying reusable mugs and dishware in the office is a great way to avoid the disposables and adds some fun personality in the workplace.  At our office in Ravenswood we have ample supply of really anything you could need during lunch along with a cabinet full of fun and goofy mugs for anyone to use.  (P.S. Many coffee shops also give you a discount for bringing in your own cup.  Looking trendy and saving some dough on your espresso?  No-brainer.)  Here’s a picture of just one of the many gems in our office:

Tip #2: Composting at work

If you step foot into the Verde office’s kitchen you’ll find three bins: a recycling bin, a garbage bin, and a green bin with a lid — the compost bin!  A few months ago Verde utilized the help of Urban Canopy to begin composting any of our food scraps.  The process is simple and leaves everyone in the office feeling a tad less guilty when we happen to find the occasional fuzzy fruit at the back of the fridge.  

Tip #3: Get an energy audit of your building

Outside of the Verde staff, we generally assume that most people don’t think about the energy consumption from the appliances around them like lights and HVAC units, but they should!  Oftentimes (especially in old buildings), there are huge savings to addressing these energy issues while also reducing your carbon footprint.  Verde’s assessments are always free, but we’re offering a special deal right now of 10% off your project when you book an assessment in April.  It’s a feel good action for you and the planet.  Click on the image below to start the process.  You won’t want to wait, the 10% off deal doesn’t last forever!

Tip #4: You’ll never know what you’re wasting the most of unless you look!  Conduct a waste audit

It’s hard to change if you don’t know the details on what you’re changing exactly, so gain some insight by conducting a waste audit.  If you notice a lot of items that you can easily transition out or change to reusables (plastic utensils, cups, unnecessary packaging, etc.) then you can start making the conscious effort to change.

Tip #5: Screen Saver?  More like power-drainer.

For your computer, opt for your screen to automatically power down after a certain time of inactivity.  Not only does this help save a bit of energy, but it’s also better for your screen.  Bam, double-win.

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Park Ridge
solar sales commission

About 30 minutes outside the office is Park Ridge, located in Cook County, where we went for our outreach week.  Being proud members of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, we decided to to hit the streets of this great place to let business owners know about not only us, but about the energy efficiency program!  

We started our day at the Allegro Coffee that’s held within the Whole Foods.  There was ample seating for our team (a must when you have a 5-6 person team) and the natural lighting that came in through the huge windows made the area an ideal place to get together.  After the team was fully caffeinated and clear on the plan for the day, we went out in our teams throughout the town.

Both teams were able to meet and talk with a lot of the business owners about the energy efficiency program and the benefits (one guy told us he had just heard of the program last week and had wanted to look into it, what great timing!).  We were also happy to hear that a good amount of people had already heard of the program AND taken advantage of the incentive money.  When that is the case we like to ask business owners how they are liking the switch so far, is the light bright enough, and to hear any other comments they may have.  Constantly improving and learning is something we are a bit addicted to you might say.

The team was able to do some assessments at an auto shop, lawn care business, and many other businesses (we even poked our heads into the Park Ridge Public Works).  We covered a lot of ground, leaving us pretty hungry.  When lunchtime hit, we made our way over to Cafe Orchid for lunch.  Cafe Orchid offers a great selection of Mediterranean food at a more than reasonable price.  

The team hit the pavement for a few more hours, talking to owners of businesses big and small.  Being in the neighborhood, we stopped by one of our analyst’s first projects with Verde, that being the flower store Kiko’s Flowers and Gifts.  Walking in you immediately are greeted with the pleasant smell of fresh flowers (not to mention some great lighting as well) and kind, personable conversation from all who work there.  With time coming to a close for us on our outreach day, we said our goodbyes and made our way to our final destination for debrief: Harp & Fiddle.

Keeping with our tradition of tasty beers for our debriefings, we met at Harp & Fiddle to discuss the day.  With a wide variety of beers from all over, everyone was able to grab something they liked as we discussed outreach and ways to improve for next week.  The atmosphere was cozy and the space was perfect for our team meeting needs.  Will definitely stop back in when we return to Park Ridge!

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Ukrainian Village and East Village
outdoor led exterior lights

We’re in our third month of outreach and our team is loving the ability to explore all throughout Cook County and the greater Chicagoland area.  This week we decided to increase our workload by going to not only one but two towns: East Village and Ukrainian Village (we made it kind of easy on us though by making them right next to each other, we like to carpool).  We met as a team for breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe where we filled up on omelets and caffeine while we prepped for the day.  

The team working throughout Ukrainian Village went to multiple places and were able to assess the energy efficiency of a car wash, toy store, and health grocer (the analysts took a brief break at the toy store to check out puzzles for research purposes…).  The team at East Village was able to assess some of the businesses within the area, writing up reports to later let them know their total savings if they switched to energy-efficient options.  The reports are extremely accurate, using actual data from that business to show them the savings available and the ROI.

Usually we debrief at a place we have never been before to check out new places (and brews!), but we couldn’t pass up going to Forbidden Root, one of our customers and one of our favorite brewery spots.  Many of us had never been there before, so taking in the menu was an experience in itself.  From Strawberry Basil beer to Rosé beer, we definitely had a lot of unique options.  Waldo, the bartender taking care of us, did a wonderful job making suggestions for us and making us feel comfortable with the beer list.  We were also lucky enough to run into Patrick, the owner, and see how the new energy-efficient add-ons were doing and how he liked them.  Ensuring customer happiness is one of the most important aspects to us — before, during, and after installation.  

Having our fill of beer, we made our way back to our homes to get ready for next week’s outreach!

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Andersonville

Our outreach in Andersonville was a new experience for our team since we were able to work with a town that already promotes energy efficiency within its businesses.  We were lucky enough to meet with David Oakes, the Business Service Manager of Andersonville, at The Coffee Studio and discuss what we do and learn more about their efforts for efficiency.  While sipping some delicious coffee, we were able to learn a lot about the values of the town and the active and involved community (by the end of the talk we were already planning to move there.  Anyone looking for some roommates?).

After learning about the area, we decided to grab some breakfast at m. henry and oh my word this place is a dream.  The area is cozy and spacious, the staff is kind and quick, and the food is not only aesthetically beautiful but purely delicious.  To prove that point simply feast your eyes on what their blackberry blisscakes look like below.  Truly a work of art.

alt=”blackberry blisscakes”>After our morning coffee and breakfast, we got to work on bringing energy efficiency to Andersonville.  We were able to go into a lot of really unique businesses, such as The Brown ElephantGeorge’s Ice Cream and Sweets, and Cheetah Gym.  We were able to talk to a lot of business owners about how the combination of the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program and the Andersonville grant could help them tremendously with the transition to energy efficient options for their business.  We were so happy that we were able to inform hard working business people of ways for them to save money and invest their money into business growth, not their electricity bill.

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Lincoln Park
lincoln park

Last Thursday, on one of the more beautiful days weather-wise in Chicago, our team of experts met in Lincoln Park, for week six of outreach.  We all met at the Bourgeois Pig Cafe in order to fuel-up before hitting the road.  The cafe has a very comfortable, homey vibe that is not only a caffeine-addicts dream, but has food options as well!  It’s basically a one-stop-shop for all your working needs in Lincoln Park.  

Splitting into two groups, the outreach groups went business-to-business to let spread the word on energy efficiency.  We were able to cover a lot of ground in the time we had, talking with business owners of a thrift store, body shop, and even a few apartment building owners (don’t forget, apartment buildings qualify for ComEd incentive money as well!). 

After a successful day in the beautiful Lincoln Park area, we ended our day at HopCat for some beer and their famous crack fries.  Full and content, we dispersed back home, re-charging for next weeks outreach adventure!

Did you know we made an energy efficiency checklist for businesses in Cook County that is filled with ways to save money on your energy bill?

Bringing Energy Efficiency to West Ridge
devon street

Our fifth outreach took place down Devon Ave in West Ridge, the heart of Chicago’s Indian and Pakistani communities.  We loved taking in the rich culture and bright colors everywhere as we tried to raise awareness to business owners about energy efficiency.

Devon Avenue is home to a few of our already customers, including Raj Jewels and Punjab Sweets.  We are also happy to announce that Devon Avenue was our best outreach day yet!  We were able to talk to a lot of business owners who were very receptive to how energy efficiency could help their business, both aesthetically and financially.

To end our day we ate at  Udupi Palace, one of our customers.  We absolutely love showing love to our customers, after all, they are basically family!  The food was unbelievable, with us all trying different things on the menu.  From curry to vegetable uttappam, we definitely did not leave hungry.  If you’re looking for a welcoming, friendly environment with great priced and tasting food, we highly recommend checking out Udupi Palace!

Bellies full, we left Devon Avenue and headed home.  We will be back, however, to check in on the great businesses of West Ridge and to keep helping the businesses of Chicagoland save money $$.

Know a neighborhood or business in Cook County (or even your own business!) that could use our expert help?

Interestingly, Verde found its first 20 customers in 2014 by walking door to door and reaching new clients.  The beauty of this area is that often business owners are right inside the front door and accessible, so getting to business owners is possible.   A nice side benefit is the amazing foods and smells along Devon Avenue, from Indian and Pakistani restaurants to Orthodox Jewish Bakeries.

Bringing Energy Efficiency Oak Lawn
oak lawn energy efficiency

(Photo Credit: A-Abel Roofing)

Oak LawnThe team made their way out to Oak Lawn this past Thursday and was able to talk with local, Cook County business owners about energy efficiency.  We were able to go into lots of really wonderful businesses and create personal connections with people who needed our help.  

We were able to stop into some truly yummy spots like Frankie’s RistoranteSimply Sweet Creations, and Premo’s Drive-In (we know, we are all of a sudden hungry, too).  It was great being able to tell business owners about the program and how we could help them.  The best was when we talked to one business owner who was about to swap out all his lights to LEDs and had never heard of the program before.  When he realized we could do all his lighting for him for much cheaper because of the rebates AND do all the labor he was amazed.  Seriously though, never pay full price for energy efficient updates and do all the work yourself, that’s just silly.

The day was coming to an end and the team needed some fuel for our debrief about the day (fuel = delicious beer almost always if it’s not coffee).  Making our way back north, we bunkered down at 5 Rabbit Cervecería and completely fell in love with the spot.  This brewery has huge, open space to sprawl out and some of the most beautiful art our team has seen.  The staff was friendly and welcoming and there were a plethora of games available to play.  The team all got a variety of beer and let us tell ya, you will not be disappointed (the beer was so good we just had to go for round two, some of us three).

Thanks for the hospitality, Oak Lawn.  Until next time!

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Avondale | Irving Park
avodale sustainability

Last week the team dispersed all throughout the Avondale in Cook County (home to Polish Village) and Irving Park area to spread the news about energy efficiency.  We were able to stop into a lot of great businesses, including Paws and Feathers and Clearly Cares DentalChief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant was on our radar, but that 4 PM open time made it so we just missed them (next time, though!).

We also passed by two of our customers, J & C Auto Body Inc style=”background-color: transparent; letter-spacing: 0.02em;”> and Taqueria Traspasada.  We love being in communities where we have current customers to go say hi to and check in on!

Feeling hungry, we stopped into another customer of ours, Alps Pancake House, to refuel and get back on the road.  To say their food is absolutely delicious and filling would be an understatement, definitely worth a checkout for yourself.  Warning: You will become addicted to their food.

We ended our outreach at Revolution Brewing to debrief about our day and to drink some great beer (Anti-Hero will forever be a favorite, yum).  Going over our day as a whole, we were able to come together as a group and refine how to be more impactful in our outreach efforts in order to help businesses make the transition to energy efficiency.  We’re hoping for a full energy-efficient neighborhood in the near future with the help of our savvy expert team!

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Libertyville, IL
libertyville sustainability

(Photo Credit: Build a Better Burb)

This last Thursday our team went out to Libertyville, IL ( a town in Cook County, 37 miles outside of Chicago) to spread awareness to businesses about energy efficiency!  We started our day by grabbing a quick cup of coffee from the town favorite coffee spot, Hansa Coffee Roasters, while also peeking around and doing an assessment of their building (maybe you’ll see some new TLEDs while sipping your cappuccino sometime soon *wink wink*).  

We picked Libertyville as our first official outreach day for multiple reasons.  For starters, Libertyville is very business-dense and we saw lots of opportunity to help that area reap the benefits that energy efficiency provides.  Another reason was that we have already done business out there before and loved the customers we made, so why not try for more!  Lastly, someone from our staff actually lives in Libertyville, so there was a bit of bias on that one 😉

Dispersing all throughout Libertyville, we were able to stop in to a bunch of the downtown Libertyville businesses, and even performed a few assessments at a jewelry store, animal hospital, and two churches.  We made sure to head to the “outskirts” of Libertyville as well to make sure all businesses got a chance to hear about the energy efficiency savings available to them, and to wave as we passed by our customer Matthews Fans Co. (Hi Chuck!).   Needing to refuel, the Verde team made their way over to Pho Kho Gia Lai Vietnamese for some tasty Pho, as well as testing our talents on how to pour Pho into to-go-containers without spilling (spoiler alert: we were not successful).  At day’s end we all dispersed back home, but fear not!  We have plans to return to try to help Libertyville improve even further on becoming as energy efficient as possible (and save big bucks on their energy bills).  See ya next time!

Working for Customer Service: Ryan Coon of Avail Podcast

Ryan Coon and Laurence Jankelow, both managing properties as a side job, noticed there were no available programs or software in order to make the tasks of property management smooth and easy.They wondered why there were only “duct-tape”, home-grown solutions for property management that didn’t work.Those two men asked the question,Why isn’t there something out there for landlords like us?”Ryan and Lawrence, with lots of hard work and diligent learning, created

In Episode 4 of the Chicagoland Small Business Stories Podcast, Hear Ryan’s dedication to customer service satisfaction shine through as he discusses not only his business but how the customer’s needs drive the very essence of the company.Finally, hear Ryan’s take on the importance of sustainability for his company and employees.

Read the transcript below:

Jamie:Welcome back to episode four of the Verde podcast. Every week we talk to local business leaders and entrepreneurs to understand the real story that doesn’t make it to the spotlight, but is how actual businesses are actually built here in Chicago. Today we have Ryan Coon, whose the co founder of Rentalutions, now known as Avail. I’ve known Ryan for about five years now. We both were a part of the introductory class at 1871, the first people to move in before they had furniture and everything like that, and we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the last few years, so that’s been cool and it’s really fun to be in his office right now and see what the business has grown, because it’s really impressive and I’m actually a customer of Ryan’s business.

So Ryan, tell me a little bit about .. So welcome, first of all.

Ryan:Thank you Jamie. Thanks for having me.

Jamie:Glad to have you here. So tell me a little bit about how and why you started the business, and what gave you the idea and what motivated you to take it from the idea stage to the actual business stage.

Ryan:Absolutely. So my co founder Lawrence and I started the business back in 2012, and we did so out of personal experience. Before starting the company, Lawrence and I both worked at large investment banks, and we were both managing small rental properties on the side. And we weer managing properties with Excel, Craigslist, Chase Quick pay, and it this duck taped together home grown solution for property management that didn’t really work, and Lawrence and I realized there’s got to be a better way. We started looking into the market and realized that the big institutional owners who owned hundreds or thousands of units, those owners have had software for decades. Now, it’s shitty, it’s clunky, it’s expensive, and Lawrence and I had said, “Why isn’t there something out there for landlords like us?”

So at the time we did some research, we said we can do this, we left our full time jobs, taught ourselves how to code, and them moved into 1871 with you and launched the company from there.

Jamie:Yeah. I love that story that you guys taught yourself how to code, because I remember at 1871, that was the biggest challenge for everyone was finding good developers because there was such a deficit in that. So you guys took the really admirable route of fixing that problem yourselves.

Ryan:Yeah, it was really hard. Truthfully, in the beginning we didn’t have any other choice. We didn’t have a budget to go out and hire people, and we certainly, at the time, didn’t know how to do it. So the only thing we could do is learn it.

Jamie:What were the first web languages you learned?

Ryan:[Rubion Reld 00:03:00].

Jamie:Yeah, that was the hot one.

Ryan:That was the hot one, and that’s still the backbone of what our software is built on.

Jamie:Yeah, that’s awesome.


Jamie:Yeah it’s cool. And so today, you told me you’re nine employees and I know you guys raised a lot of money last year and you’re really kind of taking it to the next level, which is really cool to see. Tell me a little bit about that. What’s that like being this space that’s all yours, versus just you and your co founder a couple years ago.

Ryan:Yeah, so it’s been a very fun journey, and going from having no product to having a fully functioning product today with 55,000 individual landlords from across the country who are using our software.

Jamie:That’s awesome.

Ryan:It’s been a really fun, fun journey for us. And I think one of the benefits or one of the most exciting parts has been really building and growing a team of talented people. Lawrence and I, a few years ago, didn’t have any skills, any resources to do anything, and now to have this team of talented people and to have raised some outside capital has been a really fun, exciting journey for us, but we’re also really excited about what’s to come in 2018.

Jamie:Yeah, great. What is your favorite part of running the business? And what do you feel like you personally bring that’s unique to Renolutions?

Ryan:I think the most fun, or the most exciting part about the company is the team. It’s the people that we’ve built around us who spend all day building software for our users and the customer support team that we’ve built, and that they’re there to answer questions all day every day. That’s really been the most fulfilling for me personally. Person on our team who rotates customer support. So you’ll actually see there on the wall who has support responsibilities, and what we’ve found that’s been really unique is it has a powerful way of drawing people into understanding the customer. We’ve actually had a lot of experiences where someone like Kyle, who’s our lead engineer, will be on support for a weekend, he’ll get the same question two or three times and it’s the same bug that happens in software, and rather than come in on Monday and write that down and put it on the [Trello 00:05:32] board, he’ll actually say, “I encountered this two or three times, I actually just fixed it.”

Jamie:That’s awesome.

Ryan:And that’s really cool. And then I think more we can keep our entire team engaged with our customers, the better.

Jamie:Yeah, I find with the team, you start to compartmentalize and segment as you grow, and the sales team doesn’t necessarily talk to the inventory folks and it is really great to have people to interact with different parts of the business, and that’s a super smart way of doing it. I’ve never thought about doing it that way, but that would be … Because customer complaints are valid, and you and I both learned that early on. That’s what drives a business and how you build your model.

Ryan:And I think as much of that, but it’s just understanding that you’re not just building a product. You’re not just filling orders. You’re not just doing this for the sake of it. You’re actually doing it because there’s an end customer out there who needs your products or needs our software, and that’s what at the end of the day we’re all working for that customer.


Ryan:And it’s powerful.

Jamie:Right. That’s awesome. What is the most challenging time you recall in your … How many years now have you guys been?


Jamie:Five years at Renolution. What’s the most challenging time that you recall? What’s a particular event that was just really challenging?

Ryan:Yeah I think the most challenging part of us was … The start of phase was challenging, but at the end of 2013 we got to a point where we knew that we were on to something. We had a few hundred, maybe 1000 landlords using our platform to manage their properties, but we weren’t sure, and this is what terrified us, is we had no idea how would we go from 1000 users up to five, and that period of not knowing and the unknown was really challenging for us.

Jamie:So in that challenging time of kind of unknowing, tell me a little bit about what … Once you got through it, looking back, what got you through it? How did you get through the end on time and then grow to 5000 from 1000?

Ryan:Yeah the big thing that we did during that time period is we actually, touches on what we talked about earlier, but we actually went back to the customer and we went back and said … We actually pulled up a spreadsheet of all 1000 users we had at that time and said, “Why are they using us? What do they care about? What is it that we’re delivering to them?” A lot of people who use our software don’t just … They don’t want software for the sake of software. They want it because it fulfills a need in their life, and so we went back and we understood what that need was, which ultimately helped us better tailor our marketing and our messaging to make it more applicable or other people out there who have the same need and the same challenge.

Jamie:What were, I’m just curious, what were some of those needs? What surprised you out of those?

Ryan:Yeah, so I think to take one example, so landlords today use our platform to post rental listings on to other popular websites. So they create the listing with our service, we pop it on to [zillo, trulia 00:09:14], apartments.com, other sites. I think for the first year that we existed we focused all of our messaging around posting your listing. Well, no landlord, yourself included, you don’t really give a shit that your listing is posted. You just want tenants. You want prospective tenants.

So I think where we learned a lot was focusing more on the value that we’re delivering, not just the feature that gets them that value.

Jamie:And has that changed a lot? Have the major players since 2013 changed a lot, like Trulia, and Zillow, or has it been pretty much consistently the same feel?

Ryan:It’s pretty much been consistently the same for us. I think that we were fortunate early on to partner with some of the bigger companies in the space, so on listings it’s Zillow and apartments.com. On the tenant screening we partnered with TransUnion. To process rent payments we partnered with the largest business bank in Chicago. So I think early on we were fortunate to be able to work with some of the biggest companies in each of those industries.

Jamie:Gotcha. So the last question I always ask people is about sustainability because that’s just a personal passion of mine, and you know, we overlapped a bit with intern Emily Bowersfeld.

Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jamie:Who I know that was her personal … She’s basically running Brain tree right now I think. So in lieu of my passion for sustainability I always ask this question. Just to really try to understand qualitatively what drives business owners in decision making, and so tell me your experience about making sustainability a priority in your business, whether it is a priority or not, and how does it affect your planning, and what are some of the benefits your seek today and in the future?

Ryan:Yeah, so I think as a lean tech startup, resources are scarce and we’ve had to make decisions and trade offs along the line, and what we’ve always come back to is saying employees are number one, we’re going to do whatever it takes to hire and retain the best people. And fortunately for us, being a tech startup, that means that we’re mostly employing people who live and work downtown. Our office is in River North, it’s close to public transportation, because that’s really what our employees value.

I think that in terms of office space, 1871 was amazing, we didn’t really have to think and worry about the different furniture, the lighting, any of the utilities or anything. It was all provided. I think that sustainability to me is really just making smart business decisions and not having a lot of excess.

Jamie:Yeah. Well that’s interesting. Obviously the 1871 co-working space is really valuable because I think it was 20,000 square feet. No it was more than that.

Ryan:It was 50,000. Yeah.

Jamie:There was 800 bodies packed in there so that was … 800 companies packed in there with a lot of different people coming and going. So I think you find shred space is per company, much more efficient than non, but your same company could have moved out to Libertyville, the suburbs, and found much cheaper rent and everyone could have drove a Prius there, but you’re actually, without even … By trying to attract talent you inadvertently created a very efficient office space that people arrive to very efficiently, which is pretty cool. You don’t … I know, part of my full time job is looking at energy, and you guys don’t use very much here, and it’s a very efficient use of the space. So that’s cool to see.

Well cool Ryan, well I enjoyed catching up with you. I admire a lot of what you’ve done. I’ve been in … You’re one of the first people I met at 1871, back when it was just myself and just you and Lawrence, and what you guys have accomplished is really admirable. I wish I could have taken some of the risks you guys did, but love your product, and I’ll continue to be a client, so thanks for being here.

Ryan:Awesome. Thanks for having me Jamie.

Jamie:Alright, take care.

Adaptability to Thrive: Chuck Matthews of Matthews Fan Company Podcast

A hobby was sparked for Chuck Matthews back in 1986 when he was gifted a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil and noticed an intriguing fan buzzing above him. With the help of a friend, he was introduced to the family that crafted them and purchased one of the fans later on in life. Friends back home loved the fan, and he began importing them and selling them here and there. In 1999 everything changed when Chuck’s beloved hobby started to take up more and more time, “[It was a] hobby, hobby out of control, and then a real imposition.” Chuck adapted his life, and Matthews Fan Company was made. Listen in to Episode 3 of Chicagland Small Business Stories Podcast to hear how Chuck’s adaptability helps him run his business and also how it saved his company from the recession. Lastly, learn why Chuck chose to utilize energy efficiency retrofits for his Chicago based business and how Verde helped him achieve energy savings.

Want to get the ball rolling on energy savings? Request a free, no-obligation energy efficiency assessment with one of our experts!

Today we have Chuck Matthews, who is the founder of Matthew’s Fan Company. Chuck is a super interesting guy that I met this year and I’ve really got a lot of respect for. And when I started the podcast idea he was one of the first ones I thought of, since he’s grown a very interesting business that involves international import and has grown it pretty successfully by himself. [inaudible 00:00:57]. So Chuck, welcome.

Chuck Matthews: Hi, how are you.

Jamie: Yeah good, good. Glad to have you. So we just always start off with, kind of, tell me a little bit about your business, when you started it, what you guys do, and give me kind of the background up until today.

Chuck Matthews: Sure. In 1986, I was gifted a Christmas trip to visit a friend down in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And on that trip I noticed an interesting ceiling fan that was sort of rotating and vibrating and making some funky noises above my head in a little café

And had never seen anything like it before and my friend said, “You know, a friend of mine’s family makes those, and they make them out of a little garage facility down in the southern art of Sao Paulo. Perhaps you’ll meet Claudia this evening, a bunch of us are getting together and meeting at a little café called [Singapore 00:02:00].”

So that evening I did meet Claudia, we became friends, and she invited me to tour her small facility, which consisted of just a couple of desks, a little office, and a couple of work stations in this garage behind. There, she and her family had been making these very unique ceiling fans since about 1962.

So on a subsequent trip down to Brazil a couple years later I purchased a fan, put it up on my ceiling, and people liked it. I didn’t think that I had any sort of business, I just thought maybe I could create a hobby, an interesting hobby, whereby I could import a few fans and sell a few fans and then return and visit my friends in Brazil. And that’s sort of how the business preceded up until about 1999. So roughly about eight years or so it was a hobby, then a hobby out of control that commanded a lot of my attention. So from my day job I was finding myself having to go back to my warehouse and put together, or back to my home, into the root cellar of the house that I was renting, and put together fans and then call UPS at midnight and say, “Okay, pick these up tomorrow,” pile them up in my foyer of this, again, of this building, this house that I was renting. And UPS would come by and pick up these free fans and take my check that was taped to the front, and meanwhile I hoped that no one would come to the foyer and steal the fans.

So that happened up till about 1999, and about 1999 was the turning point. It was a hobby, a hobby out of control, and then a real imposition. So I thought either I’d turn this into a business or I had to abandon it. So I started to do my own designing and I released two additional models other than the original first model in the year 2000. And then by August of 2000, it had become a sufficient enough business to support me. And so, really, from 2000 I’ve been fully self-employed and that’s when Matthew’s Fan Company was fully born. We’re incorporated since 1992, but eight years of do I want to do that? Am I Fan Man? I really didn’t have the identity because, you know, my parents would refer to me as the Fan Man and I’m not a Fan Man, I’m just a guy producing fans. And I suppose it was somewhat evident in the specs of our product, too, and we were producing [inaudible 00:04:37], that the rods from which the fans hang in 10 inch increments rather than 12 inches, which is what every other fan company does, we’re doing things that no one else was doing, and me that was good because it certainly differentiated us from the competition.

So this year we celebrate our 25th anniversary-

Jamie: Congrats.

Chuck Matthews: … from founding in 1992. Thank you.

Jamie: And where do people find your fans, typically?

Chuck Matthews: They find them in local bricks and mortar showrooms and they also find them online. So we have a certain, a few designated online purveyors, which do a pretty good job with our product.

Jamie: Okay, let me know some of those and I’ll make sure to include it in the podcast link.

Chuck Matthews: Sure, sure.

Jamie: Well cool, I love that story and I know you and I have talked about trips to China and how that goes. And it sounds like you’ve got a bit of a passion around fans, which is probably not most fan companies have someone leading with a pure passion, so that’s awesome.

Chuck Matthews: I think what I found most exciting about what I … It used to be the production of a product from idea inception to actual product, and then seeing it actually sold at a lighting showroom. Then it really became the international importing and then exporting of said product. I do have a passion for import and exports. We source products, still, from Brazil, we also source product from China. In the past we’ve sourced lighting products from Bulgaria, and we don bring in some product from Taiwan, also. And that’s fun. But we distribute product in Australia, we distribute product in Vietnam and Singapore and Hong Kong, throughout Europe, and we’ve got a couple of small distributor ships working down in South America, also.

So that’s fun, but I really must say the most gratifying thing for me today would be the opportunities that we’re offering some of our young employees. We’re a relatively young company and bringing in raw talent and turning it into something really positive, to me, is most exciting. So it’s not about me anymore, it’s really about my employees.

Jamie: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a good quality in a leader that wants to build a business for a long time, that’s for sure. It’s hard to retain talent.

Chuck Matthews: It is, it is. And you go through a lot of, as any small business owner will probably attest, is that you hire an employee and sometimes you wish you didn’t hire that one employee but you become dependent on that employee because you’re so small that [inaudible 00:07:36] one person has to come in … If you have two employees and one doesn’t come in, that means you’ve lost 50% of your workforce. So relatively speaking, you’re sort of desperate in that respect, so you need to retain that one employee even though he might drive you crazy, or she, might drive you nuts. But perhaps maybe I’m just more forgiving than most.

But we’ve got a great group now, we’re larger than we’ve ever been and we’ve got the, I think, the best group we’ve ever had.

Jamie: That’s great. I think with, I mean my experience is like, the investment you put into training people, you don’t realize when you get started. And then after you hire a couple people and you realize you put six months into someone you realize how precious that time is more than anything else.

Chuck Matthews: Oh yes, oh yes. Yeah, and then, you know, and it’s just not the training, sometimes … Well, it’s trust. It’s trust that you place in that individual. Sometimes it’s misplaced, and if there are errors, those errors add up and they cost money. And if you … You can certainly forgive an error and you can forgive a repetitive error, but if there’s not attempt to change the scope of your daily activity and trying to eliminate those errors, well then you know you’ve got a problem with that particular employee.

Jamie:Unless you’re the owner, then you and I can make mistakes all day long and never have to change, right?

Chuck Matthews: Of course. Of course. And I try and cover those up as best I can.


Chuck Matthews: But it’s only because I’ve got so many hand in which to juggle those many, many balls.

Jamie: Well, people in my company love to know that if there’s a mistake, usually trace it back, it’s probably my fault. So it’s … But that’s within our company, not everyone’s the same.

Chuck Matthews: I’ve certainly been known to make a few mistakes here and there.

Jamie: So tell me a little about-

Chuck Matthews: That’s why I’m so forgiving.

Jamie: I mean I think, I actually think that’s a really important quality of an owner is that to be forgiving is, you can’t forgive yourself or your mistakes, you’re not going to forgive people around you.

Chuck Matthews: I mean I had a boss once where … So my memory’s pretty good, and I had him tell me once, “Well I have a photographic memory and so I know that what you’re telling me right now, which I don’t recall, is not correct. Because my memory is infallible and it’s perfect.”

And I’m thinking, “You’re crazy because I know for a fact what happened is what happened.” And so anyway, yeah. So I think knowing that I’m fallible allows me to accept fallibility in others, but I don’t accept is a nonchalant attitude towards errors and towards fallibility. I mean if you’re not trying to improve yourself, well then … I’m trying to improve myself daily and am I meeting all those demands that I place on myself? Of course not, but at least I’m trying.

Jamie: The hardest thing when someone doesn’t own up to a mistake, that’s when you can’t drive change without someone accepting it and moving on.

Chuck Matthews: Well accepting it and then, I mean, if you can get beyond the defensive thing, and that can be a challenge.

Jamie: It sure can. Tell me a little bit about the hardest time you recall your company in the 25 years. Is there a specific, you know?

Chuck Matthews: Sure, I mean we’d always increased in sales from inception in 1992 to 2000, from when we really started to grow in the year 2000, up until 2007 when we ran into the worst recession since the 1970s. And at that time, of course, we had our set expenses, and as you’re trudging along into the year and you’re realizing that your sales are decreasing and your expenses have kept up with you as they’d always been, you start accumulating debt. And that was probably the hardest time was when we lost about 50% of our business during the Great Recession. And we accumulated a lot of debt, but fortunately at that time we had made the decision to start procuring product and manufacturing product in China. So before that we were strictly the handmade, very expensive distinctly handmade product that we produced in Brazil. As those very expensive, very costly but very quality fans, the sales of those were declining in the marketplace, we introduced a middle market product from China, which was mass produced, and those sales were increasing. So it was sort of a hockey puck, where the expensive product was decreasing in sales and that new product that we’re introducing, which is less costly and more for the economy conscious consumer, that product was actually increasing in demand. And so that saved us.

Jamie: So do you think if you hadn’t introduced that new line you would’ve probably not survived that?

Chuck Matthews: We would not have survived, no.

Jamie: That’s crazy.

Chuck Matthews: I’m pretty confident of that. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today, we would be the same company we were prior. Had we survived, we would’ve had to … During the recession we only laid off one employee, he was one of the most recent hires, and he wasn’t laid off, his hours were just decreased. And it was only for a few months and that was only during the winter months. And so we were able to really survive intact, though we took on a lot of debt, but that debt was paid of incrementally over the next couple of years.

Jamie: You had a good vision where you knew the debt was worth taking on at the time.

Chuck Matthews: Well actually, I sort of didn’t have a choice because I didn’t know it was happening. You know, you’re like, I’m just kind of scratching your head, okay, so I know the economy’s melting down but how does that affect me?

Jamie: Hindsight’s 20/20 on that one.

Chuck Matthews: Is this really going to affect me? You know. And then, but you’re like, okay, how long is this going to last? And again, you don’t know a recession is happening until you’ve had a quarter of bad growth. So I could see that my growth was, of course, bad [inaudible 00:13:36] the last quarter, but until it’s official, you know, you don’t know if it’s systemic. And it ended up being systemic. So yeah, that was a rough time. But we pulled through.

Jamie: My last question for you is kind of why I do this. You know, you and I met, we were introduced through our mutual insurance broker, he’s a good guy, Craig.

Chuck Matthews: Yes, Craig.

Jamie: And you had in the past done some work in one of your businesses to reduce energy, I think you had participated in the Energy Efficiency Program.

Chuck Matthews: At our other facility up the street, yes, about four or five years ago. It was a good time because all of our old fluorescent fixtures were dying, our High Bays were dying. And so we heard about the program whereby we could not only save energy but have all those really old fixtures replaced, which were starting to fail anyway. In fact, I wish that I had them in two years prior because I had already replaced half the [inaudible 00:14:39] in those other lamps, in those other fixtures. So that was a few years back, I’d say three, four years ago. And then we were thinking, perhaps, because we had High Bays here in this new facility right up the street, which were failing, or failed, and we thought it might be a good time, opportunity for us to repeat the same measure.

Jamie: So really the driving motivation for energy efficiency work was that the long term maintenance on LED is much less than what you currently had, and you knew that they would have to take a lot of ongoing maintenance to keep them going.

Chuck Matthews: Well yes, because in our prior facility of which we replaced all those High Bays four, five years ago, we had the same High Bays here. Those mercury-

Jamie: 400 watt [inaudible 00:15:25].

Chuck Matthews: There you go. Right. And so LED is the new generation. And of course these dim on their own, I can see that one’s dimming out there on the outside office. And they dim and they all, what I also liked about it is they also become security lights, so when I walk into the building and if I have to come in because there’s an emergency or something’s happening, or the employees are coming in in the morning and it’s 6:00 in the morning and everything’s dark, the lights will come on by themselves and no one has to fumble around for a switch. In the past, we had to walk that long dark corridor through the warehouse and flip breakers. So for us it was a no brainer in that it brought security to the building, it brought safety to the employees, and it brought us energy savings. And light, because we were losing High Bays, the High Bays were dying.

Jamie: Yeah, so the yellow lights were kind of dimming over time, and yeah.

Chuck Matthews: They were not only dimming but they were also, they were dead. There were a few that were dead.

Jamie: Yeah. Well, cool. I love that, I love that there’s a lot of reasons people do. That’s why I love interviewing customers because there’s 500 different reasons people do it, and it doesn’t all come down to ROI, it doesn’t all come down to saving the earth, and I think that’s a really great, valid point that really drives a lot of decision.

Chuck Matthews: With most businesses, I mean, I think there’s going to be a selfish drive to make certain decisions. But at the same time sometimes those selfish drives are actually good for the economy at large, but also the earth.

Jamie: Well, thank you so much Chuck.

Chuck Matthews: You’re very welcome.

Jamie: It’s great talking to you and I look forward to seeing you again.

Chuck Matthews: Perfect, thank you.

Tips on Increasing Your Adaptability
business energy efficiency

Adaptability is a concept that many businesses strive for, but many miss in the busy-ness of the day-to-day. When routines are established and business seems easy, it’s hard to think, “hmm, I really need to shake this up, I really need change!” Don’t let that security fool you, allowing this monotony of how you do business and a “set-in-my-ways” attitude can be extremely detrimental (moment of silence for Blockbuster). Allowing yourself to grow and change with the market and challenges that arise can not only allow you to thrive, but can actually be the factor that
saves your business

Companies don’t fail because of changes in the environment, they fail because their leaders are either unwilling or incapable of dealing with said change. Boss, Forbes

Being adaptable has a plethora of benefits, some including increased recognition, creating an edge above the market, and sparking creative thinking within your company.

So your feet are dipped into the adaptability pool and you want to spark the change, where do you start? The following are some helpful tips on how to increase adaptability within your company:

  • Encourage new ideas and new mindsets on how to tackle problems and achieve goals. By instilling an environment where outside of the box thinking is
  • Shifting focus when necessary is a huge part of being more adaptable within your company. This also includes changing priorities, which can be hard, especially for those who see a task and want to tackle it right away before hopping to something else. Knowing when to put a task on the backburner, or sometimes even scrapping a full idea, is crucial for your company to be flexible and current. If you run a bowling alley and one of your projects is finding cheaper candy for concessions instead of tackling the larger issue of severely declining bowling patrons you might want to worry about the candy cost later, eh?
  • Have core values that you follow to help you stay grounded in the times of change. While being adaptable may seem like changing drastically, throwing around change at any cost and anywhere isn’t the goal. Did you create your company with the values of open communication and transparency? Then keep those values! Don’t throw them away in the name of adaptability, simply adjust actions to better fit the market and your values simultaneously.
  • Make sure your changes are clear to your staff. If your company establishes change and parts or all of it is missed by your employees, confusion will ensue and your desired goal will not be met, or at least not be met easily. Make sure everyone is on the same page and explain why change is taking place.
  • Create communication with your customers. Allow for channels of interaction where any concerns, needs, and wants can be addressed and hopefully met. Notice that a lot of your customers are all asking for a certain product or service from you that you currently do not have? Adapt! Finding that a certain aspect of how your business runs is leaving many customers disgruntled? Adapt! Utilize your customers as a resource for tips and advice to constantly be adapting.

Alienation and isolation will kill success.

Allow yourself room to grow, learn, and adapt throughout your business. Include everyone in your journey and allow adaptability to be interwoven throughout the core thinking and executing of your company, because if you don’t adapt you might end up as a business that once was, not a business that is.

Organizational Growth with Karen Chiu of Project Vision Podcast

Project: VISION

organizational growth of project: vision Karen Chiu from Project Vision a non-profit dedicated to providing support and guidance to the youth of the community, discusses her and Project Vision’s organizational growth throughout the years with Verde Founder Jamie Johnson. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder, starting her career in non-profits in 2003 during med school with four other young professionals she knew

Organizational growth is the main topic of this episode 2 of the Chicagoland Small Business Stories Podcast, with Karen explaining how organizational growth has changed from the start of the non-profit, her challenges with growth, and her hopes for the future. Hear as Karen’s genuine passion for helping kids prosper and grow shines through along with helpful insights about starting and running a non-profit. Lastly, hear why Karen decided to utilize Verde for her energy efficiency needs and how it helped Project Vision.

“Do what you love. Find something that you want to do. You don’t have to stay inside the box and do exactly what everyone expects of you.

Karen Chiu – Organizational Growth

Want to learn some energy efficiency tips to start saving money on your energy bill like Karen did? Download our energy efficiency checklist to get started. It’s free!

Jamie: Hi, and welcome to our second ever podcast. We are here in China Town of Chicago with Karen Chew, the founder of Project Vision. This is a great meeting for me for two reasons, or interview for me for two reasons. First, is I just came back from China, from my first ever visit there last week, and it’s fun to be in China Town in Chicago and feel like I’m much more familiar now, with it than I was two weeks ago. Also, Karen, the founder Project Vision and I, go way back, for, we decided 27 years,

we met ago, so we grew up together. I remember a couple years ago, Karen had started this organization and she notified everyone through Facebook, through a page that she had. I’ve been following her ever since. We’ve gotten to overlap professionally the last couple years, which has been really fun. Karen, welcome.Karen: Thanks, Jamie, for having me.Jamie: Yeah, really excited to have you here. Karen, if you don’t mind, just tell us a little bit ofthe background with Project Vision and why you started it, and what you guys do.Karen: Sure. Project Vision really started off as a really small, grassroots, nonprofit organization growth back in 2003. It was really just an idea that grew out of my apartment when I was in med school, at the time, with four other friends.We had all been connected to, either youth education or the neighborhood, in someway. For myself, I grew up, part of my childhood, in China Town, and I had always loved education and tutoring, and working with kids.So, when I was taking time off of school, I actually was working with youth at that time, and other organizational growth, and met a couple other really great volunteers, and had other friends that were also interested, so we all felt like this neighborhood could use something like this.A place where kids could come and hang out and a place they could call their own, and get support that they … The support that they need to basically navigate through their adolescents, which isn’t an easy time for anyone.Jamie: No, I don’t think, no matter where you grow up, its not easy.Karen: Yeah. Yeah.Jamie: Yeah, that’s great. How big is your organization now? How many employees and volunteers, and students are involved?Karen: Yeah, so we’re still pretty small, but we definitely have had organizational growth. We started in 2004, just kind of as a drop-in program. We were maybe seeing 20 kids, or something like that, every week. This year, we’re serving 175 kids.Jamie: Cool.Karen: Both middle school and high school kids. We have five full-time staff, and a slew of other part-time staff that are … Serve as our tutors, and admin folks that help us bring this organizational growth together, basically.
Jamie: Yeah, thats awesome.
Karen: Yeah.Jamie: Thats a lot of kids-Karen: Yeah.
Jamie: 175, thats a pretty decent impact.
Karen: Yeah, we’re really excited.
Jamie: Yeah. Cool. What are some of your favorite parts of running your own nonprofit, your own organization? What are the things that you really like about it?Karen: I think the day to day of running a non-profit, it can get really difficult and it can become really tiring, but I think going back to our roots and working with the kids, thats really my favorite part.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: From time to time, and Im always told that I should not be working with the kids anymore, because I should be running the organization, but I love still jumping in, tutoring, teaching where I can, heading out to a service project with them-Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Or whatever it can be just to get to know the kids that were serving, thats really still my favorite part.Jamie: Yeah. Thats a good trait of a leader of an organization, that if they love doing what the organization growth does, that’s great.Karen: Yep, yeah.Jamie: Helps keep it throughout the fabric of the organization-Karen: Right.
Jamie: That’s cool. I love the story that you went to med school and-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: Found a passion in doing this, so I think it’s pretty interesting.Karen: Yeah, it’s kind of an atypical path, a lot of people have asked me about it-Jamie: Yeah.Karen: I mean, I think one of the things I always think about is … Think about also passing on to the kids, is do what you love-Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Find something that you want to do. You don’t have to stay inside the box and do transparent; exactly what everyone expects of you.

Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Try to find something that you’re really passionate about.

Jamie: Curious when you were undergrad, what was your major?Karen: It was biochemistry.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: I was definitely on the med school path-Jamie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Karen: And that was really my mindset, just staying on that path and this is what is expected of me. Jamie: Yeah.Karen: It wasn’t until I got to med school and figured actually, “What am I doing?” That I decided to take time off and re-evaluate.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Yeah.Jamie: Sounds familiar for myself, too.Karen: Yeah.Jamie: I was biology undergrad-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: I don’t think I liked a single thing about biology, so-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: One of the questions I like to ask people is what is the most challenging time you recall-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: In your … From 2003 until today.Karen: Yeah. Thats a tough question, because I feel like, as a small non-profit, we’re always struggling with something. I think, at every stage, I would’ve called it The most challenging time.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Probably getting it started, obviously, would have been one of the more challenging times, because we needed to build up that momentum to actually commit to doing it-Jamie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Karen: But I would actually say a close second would be right now, because were kind of on the cusp of doing something more. Serving more kids. Being able to be that more …Organizational growth from that grassroots type of organization to a more sophisticated, sustainable operation that can continue making an impact.Jamie: What … So, you said you could see growth. What would be the ideal, in a couple years, how many kids could you serve?Karen: Well, thats a good question, too. We’re always trying to figure out what is the need. Its really hard to tell.Jamie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Karen: We just know that every year, that we’ve added seats to the program. Theres always still more kids that want to join the program.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: We already have, for example, a waiting list this year, and we moved to a bigger space just last year.Jamie: Yep.Karen: If I had to put a number to it, in a couple of years, we’d love to be serving at least 250 or 300 kids even, but of course I know there’s a lot of work that would have to go into that.

Jamie: Yeah. I mean, that’s doubling and-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: I’ve definitely, in our business, we’ve experienced-

Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: Doubling of organzational growth for a couple years in a row, and it makes every process break-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: It’s really challenging.Karen: The scaling, scaling anything, as were finding, is really tough.Jamie: I’m sure you think about, do you get another space, or do you just more maximize-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: This space, and you’ve got a limited time, because kids are in school-Karen: Yes.Jamie: Majority of-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: Well, that’s cool.Karen: Yeah.Jamie: I can see it on your face, and I empathize, because I’ve been there-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: It’s tough, but its important work, so I’m glad you’re doing it.Karen: Yeah, I’m really happy to be able to do it.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: I don’t think many people find something that they’re really passionate about. I feel lucky that I have.Jamie: Yeah, it’s a rare thing to find someone who loves what they do-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: So … In fact, the last guy that I interviewed is a guy named Buddy Green-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: And I’ve known him for a long time. It was one of our first customers, and he said he worked for something like 50 years, or 40 years in his business, and he never felt like he worked a day, because he loved what he did-

Karen: Yeah.Jamie: And I feel like that’s so rare, to hear someone-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: It was rare, it took me a long … 15 years to find it, so-Karen: Yeah.Jamie: It’s hard. Finally, just to warp up, one of the last questions, and this is just for my own personal passion, what I love to hear people talk about is-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: We did work together twice. We did-Karen: Right.Jamie: Work together at your old space and we did work at the space, and our business focuses on energy efficiency, so I’d love to know what motivated you, in all the things you have to do in running your non-profit-Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Jamie: What motivated you to spend at least some time and energy on upgrading and improving the energy efficiency of your business?Karen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so as a small non-profit, I think all … A lot of the time, we’re caught up in keeping our head above water, just trying to survive, but one of the things that I, along with our board, one of the things that we wanted to try to do better was get into the mindset of, How do we have a bigger vision? How do we look forward into the future and do things that make an impact, or have a sustainable impact.Jamie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Karen: Becoming more energy efficient was one of those things that fits in to that. Saving money on energy bills is going to be a sustainable thing that we can continue to do and all of those funds that we do save can be then placed back into where we need to, which is the kids.Jamie: Yep.Karen: And the organization.Jamie: That’s a great way to put it.Karen: Yep.Jamie: I love working with non-profits-Karen: Yep.Jamie: Because it’s … Yeah, they can put more money into their mission than into their … The utility bills, which is great. I’ve always … Not said it quite as eloquently as you have, so I appreciate hearing that. It aligns more with your strategic vision, I guess.Karen: Yes, definitely.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Yeah.Jamie: Well, Karen, I know this was a brief catch-up, but it was fun talking to you, and I appreciate the work you’re doing here, and I will definitely have links to your website and we’ll send this out and hopefully people can hear more about how Project Vision’s organizational growth. Karen: Okay.Jamie: Yeah.Karen: Okay. Thanks so much for having me again.Jamie: Okay, thanks, Karen.Karen: Yep. Thanks.

Loving What You Do: Buddy Greene of Dearborn Wire and Cable Podcast

In our first Chicagoland Small Business Stories Podcast, Verde sits down with Buddy Greene to hear why loving what you do is as important today as it was when he grew his business in Chicago in the 60s and 70.

Buddy Greene is a well-accomplished man. He was an active-duty marine, then ski-bum in Utah, then became a full bonafide businessman when a high school friend asked him to be a salesman for his step-father’s company. Later on in life, Buddy created a company called Dearborn Wire and Cable with that same friend, Dick, with a little over 2,000 dollars between the both of them. Dearborn Wire and Cable designs and manufactures advanced data transmission cables as well as other components required to build high telecommunications infrastructure. Throughout the years there were rough times, but overall, Buddy’s passion and genuine love for his work and business shines through as he speaks with Verde Founder Jamie Johnson about his business and career:

“I never worked a day in my life because I loved what I did so much. That is a statement I will stand by.”

Learn about Buddy’s favorite parts of business, his struggles, and the stroke of luck he had in a situation where all cards were stacked against him. Lastly, hear him explain to you why he decided to choose Verde for his energy efficiency needs forDearborn Wire and Cable, and the amazing program he was able to utilize to help with the costs.

Verde helps buisnesses put their money back into their craft, not their bills. If you want to learn more about what we do click below.

Jamie: Hi my name is Jamie Johnson and I am the founder of a company called Verde that does energy efficiency in Chicago. And each week I interview small business owners that we’ve worked with just to hear a little bit about their story and their background. And today we are here with Buddy Green, one of our customers from 2014. So Buddy and I have known each other for quite a long time and we’ve actually become friends. So this is a fun … fun to sit down together. And we’re enjoying a coffee from D’s Coffee in Highwood, which is … which, in my opinion, has the best coffee in Highwood.

Buddy: Very good.

Jamie: Other than perhaps Froggy’s French Café. But they weren’t open this morning so we did D’s coffee.

Buddy: They’re not open for breakfast.

Jamie: They are not. So Buddy, if you could, tell me a little about your background of why you started Dearborn Copper and Wire, and give me a little bit of the background about it.

Buddy: Well when I … when I got out of the service … out of the Marine … You don’t get out of the Marine Corps. When I left active duty and I went … I ski bummed for a couple of years in Alta, Utah. Then I came back to Chicago and to be perfectly honest, I bounced around from job to job to job. Anyhow, to make a long story short, my very close high school buddy and friend, Dick Rosenberg, asked me if I would come … become a salesman for his stepfather’s company and they were primarily magnet wire distributors in the Chicago area.

And, you know, I agreed and I met with some immediate success there. I called at the electronic supply office up in Great Lakes back in those days, and this was the late 50s. And they bought for the whole Navy. And I created a good relationship with the purchasing people and we were very competitive and we were getting a lot of awards. A lot of government awards. So that worked well and then, in those days, Chicago was like the manufacturing capital of everything. We were the largest manufacturer of radios in the country. Largest manufacturer of transformers in the country. Motor manufacturers … Everything that sucked up wire and cable up. Fixtures, all that kind of stuff.

And so, I was doing pretty well. And how we got into our own business, Dick, for various reasons, did not get along with his stepfather very well and he was fired and it was right around Christmas time, well it was 1961. Very late, Christmas time, ’61. I was living in a coach house in Highland Park. There was a knock on the door and it was snowing and then I opened the door and there’s Dick. He says, he didn’t even say hello, he says, “You want to go into business for ourselves?” I says, “Sure but why?” He says, “Well the old man just kicked me out.” And that’s basically how we got started. Each with about … I remember pretty correctly, $1100 … We had $2200 total between us. Everything.

Jamie: Wow.

Buddy: Total. No more.

Jamie: Yeah.

Buddy: And that’s how we got started in the wire and cable business. Dick was like Mr. Inside and I was Mr. Outside because I could sell.

Jamie: Yeah. And did … How long did it take before you got your first customer from that time he knocked on your garage door?

Buddy: Probably … As soon as we went into business. We got a place to rent on Grand and Ogden Avenue in Chicago.

Jamie: Yeah, yeah.

Buddy: And we got started in there. We got credit and was buying product that we knew moved and to build an inventory in this little tiny shop, so to speak. And that was a start. And I went out on the street and got orders right away. You know, from customers that I already had, where I had a following. And it was so easy in those days to knock on doors in Chicago. Oh, we were like the organ manufacturing capital of the world too.

Jamie: Really?

Buddy: Yeah. And pinball machines, slot machines. It just … Boy there was a lot of business in Chicago.

Jamie: So you had confidence that the business model was good? You already knew you could make it work. It just was a matter of executing it, at that point.

Buddy: Oh we were fully confident … yeah. But we were working … We’d meet for breakfast at between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning and go to work and we never looked at a clock, ever. Seven, eight, nine, ten o’clock at night … Whatever the hell it was. And many later. When we progressed, we started entertaining customers and stuff, we wouldn’t get home until 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 in the morning depending on the customer. That kind of stuff.

Jamie: Well you’ve told me many times and I always love hearing this, although I don’t always feel the same, but you say you’ve never worked a day in your life cause you loved what you did so much.

Buddy: Absolutely. That’s a statement that I will stand by.

Jamie: Yeah. And I hope to get there someday. I …

Buddy: Oh Jamie you will. You’re bright, you’re young, and I see from the board how it’s very different from back in “my day”.

Jamie: Sure.

Buddy: I mean this computer knowledge that you all have and the way you use the Internet and all those systems. You know, we had none of that.

Jamie: Sure.

Buddy: You know, a girl would stand there and file and did everything by hand and it was a different world. When you went to look things up, it would take 10-15 minutes. You couldn’t push a button and there it is. So, different from that, but still works, so …

Jamie: Well you built quite a successful business so you definitely knew what you were doing.

Buddy: Yeah. Took awhile. There were the couple of hiccups but it … To be perfectly honest, it worked out pretty damn well.

Jamie: Good. When … So about that quote, you never worked a day in your life, what were your favorite specific parts of running your business? What was it that loved so much?

Buddy: Oh I think that’s kind of an easy one and that’s the relationships. Many of the buyers or purchasing people or people that worked at the companies we sold, became pretty friendly with some of these people and I mean these were true friendships. How are your kids doing? Go to their christening, go to their bar mitzvah, whatever the hell it was. That kind of stuff. And friends for life, really. And some who died too young, good people. You know it’s going through my mind, some of them.

Jamie: Sure.

Buddy: But I … The relationships were key. Supplier relationships, all that kind of stuff.

Jamie: So you enjoyed the … I mean I don’t mean to assume here but it sounds like you enjoyed the relationships outside the company, your own company. You enjoyed the vendors and the people you sold to.

Buddy: Oh absolutely.

Jamie: Yeah that’s … I enjoy that too.

Buddy: Absolutely. And meaningful. You know, Jamie, I’m sure, like you, you’re happy, you got a great wife, you got children, just like I have. But business is just a huge, huge part of your life. There’s no two ways. In fact, you better enjoy it or get the hell out.

Jamie: Well and I think that’s why I think you and I have connected so much because I enjoy selling too. And I don’t think I would be very good at sales anywhere else. But I love talking to business owners because of all the … You could look at a person and you can totally understand they know what you’re going through. Someone can say, oh it’s hard to make payroll, but until you’ve lived through it and felt it, it’s like an instant connection that is hard to meet with … It’s hard to, it’s hard to feel that with anyone else except for another business owner.

Buddy: Oh sure and yeah, they do understand. Unless it’s Daddy’s company and that’s a whole different thing.

Jamie: It’s a different story.

Buddy: And some of them are great and some of them are … They can thank Daddy or they’d be out selling whatever somewhere.

Jamie: Well everyone gets their start in a different way. But I love your story because you, you’ve built it from the ground up and you and your partner and I think that’s also interesting that you were able to stay connected with your partner for so many years. Because I’ve not often seen that.

Buddy: Yeah, let’s see, I think our total business career, ’62 … We both left the company in ’03. So how many years was that? Whatever number of years. You’re good with the numbers.

Jamie: Yeah it sounds like …

Buddy: 40-some odd years.

Jamie: Yeah just about 40. That’s a …

Buddy: And to this day, you know, I’m very friendly with my partner. The problem is he had a couple of strokes so I’m not sure he knows me anymore. But I take him to dinner and try to make conversation. You know, he’ll converse to a degree. He doesn’t … I don’t think he even knows his own grandchildren. It’s a shame. Cause he was … Dick was … Dick was a hell of a guy. I mean if I had to go away for six months and there’s $1000 on the table, when I came back there’d be $1000 plus interest. That’s the way Dick was, or is.

Jamie: No that’s great. I’m definitely envious of that cause I definitely doing this on my own with support of many people. But it’s … I definitely could see how that would be a huge …

Buddy: Well what I also found out, Jamie. We had partners. Let’s see, we had partners … We started with them in ’67 and the relationship was good. They treated us good. They paid us well. They gave us nice bonuses, all that kind of thing. But in the 90’s … So that’s 30-some odd years, ’67, ’97. Maybe a little less. They had other ideas. And I think they thought we had built the company to a position just because of inertia, it would run for awhile by itself. But we also were making acquisitions and everything, which was another of our skills because we’re working in our own business. We weren’t going to outside and that’s a whole other story. But they tried to push both Dick and I out. That was, that was a bad part of the whole story. Fortunately we overcame in a court battle.

Jamie: So that was the most challenging time, when you had some partners that had owned a portion of the company, that were investors and they tried to steer in a different direction.

Buddy: They controlled the company. They had the controlling interest. This was a family held business and we went to court and we were told the odds are stacked against you and the judge ruled for us. They were calling it findings of facts. They were seven findings of facts of why our partners didn’t have to do what we asked and should succeed in removing us and the judge found for us on everything single finding.

Jamie: How about that?

Buddy: Pretty amazing.

Jamie: Probably a good day for you, huh?

Buddy: Oh, it was a … That was one of the greatest days.

Jamie: One of the greatest days.

Buddy: One of the greatest days, yeah.

Jamie: Well just to kind of wrap up, I mean I have a tremendous amount of respect for you Buddy. You’ve been a great friend and mentor to me. You’ve been over for dinner and I love … You mentioned inventory and I love talking to you about all things inventory and sales and everything in between. And so, one of the reasons …

Buddy: That’s pretty mutual Jamie.

Jamie: Good, I appreciate that, Buddy.

Buddy: I really respect and admire what you’ve done and accomplished already. And also I know a little of your background. Pretty fascinating stuff. It might … One day you might sit down and write a book.

Jamie: Yeah well I appreciate that. So, but I well I appreciate that. So, the … In 2014, we did some work together to reduce energy in your offices, which we’re in now. Which is obviously not the offices of Dearborn, your previous company but it’s a … it’s a place that you work professionally and you have … And just to summarize, you basically took some really old fluorescent lighting and upgraded it to the time to what was the most efficient solution and I think we put in a programmable thermostat and a couple of LED light bulbs. Tell me why you did that. Like what motivated you to make that investment in this space?

Buddy: Well when you’ve … However, [inaudible 00:14:24], the landlord, Joe might have even called me first but I can’t remember. I think I knew you were coming.

Jamie: I think he called and offered to buy you dinner, if I remember correct. If he hasn’t bought you dinner, I think he owes ya.

Buddy: Getting a dollar out of Joe, that would be a good thing. But anyhow, you came up and you were talking about the Commonwealth Edison deal and all these things and my question was well how much will it cost you and you said nothing. And I says, “Go right ahead, baby.” I had nothing to lose. And as it turned out, [inaudible 00:15:04] much better, needless to say.

Jamie: Yeah and I think at the time that was a special geo-targeted campaign that the utility was running just for Highwood and they were covering 100% of the costs and it was a really good deal. You’d be surprised some of the skepticism … People didn’t want to take part in this program.

Buddy: Oh I can understand that.

Jamie: But you’d …

Buddy: There’s no free lunch. This was a free lunch.

Jamie: Yeah it was, at the time. And everyone … You had paid into it for all the years you paid your electric bill so you had kind of prepaid for the work we did. But yeah, that was … You were one of my firsts. I think you were probably my seventh or eighth customer ever.

Buddy: And it went well.

Jamie: Yeah, I remember sitting here and talking.

Buddy: Your mechanic was good, I remember.

Jamie: We were talking about … I think it was … We were talking about Polish soccer, I think at the time it was around the World Cup.

Buddy: That’s exactly right. You do have a memory. That’s exactly right.

Jamie: Well just to wrap up here. This is Jamie Johnson and Buddy Green. We had a nice conversation about his founding and running and eventually selling his company, Dearborn Copper and Wire.

Buddy: Dearborn Wire and Cable. But the majority of it was copper. Insulated copper.

Jamie: And I think I learned from this podcast to take notes beforehand so I don’t say the wrong thing. But I enjoyed our time together, Buddy, and I look forward to many more.

Buddy: You got it, Jamie.

How to Overcome One of the Greatest Business Challenges
core values verde

It can be hard to stand out in the crowd as a business. When looking at the stats it can seem quite scary: There are almost 28 million small businesses in the U.S. with approximately 543,000 new businesses starting each month That’s a whole lot of businesses trying to grab customer attention like you are. Not only that, but if you have customers, how are you going to keep them with all these other options available? Customer loyalty was deemed “one of the 8 greatest challenges every business faces it doesn’t have to be. Welcome to the stage a term called social responsibility

The idea that businesses should balance profit-making activities with activities that benefit society; it involves developing businesses with a positive relationship to the society in which they operate.

As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’”. Back in the day, a company didn’t have to worry about the externalities of doing business, but rather the amount of money they could make their investors. If customers were able to buy the goods they wanted then it was smiles all around. Today, however, that isn’t so much the case. The 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report by Nielson gave the impressive fact that, globally, of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand That’s not merely buy, that’s spend more. Millennials alone were 73% more willing to

money savings and business challenges

The numbers may be shocking, but customers wanting businesses to care is not. Two-thirds of CFOs and three-quarters of investment professionals who responded to a survey agreed that value is created through environmental, social, and governance activities. The value can also be seen in your business’ revenue and pre-tax profit. CECP, a CEO led coalition, published a study showing how companies that increased their giving by 10 percent between the years of 2013 and 2015 saw increased revenue and pre-tax profits. Their competitors who did not do the same saw a decrease in both.

“OK, but what about my customer loyalty problem?”. We know that customers want to feel good about their purchase, and to know that their purchase is bettering the world in some way, but is that enough for them to switch to your brand? Yes, it is! Haas School of Business at Berkeley conducted a research study and found that more than 9 in 10 millennials would switch a brand that they use to another if it was associated with a cause. That’s 9 in 10 who will either leave your brand for one with a cause or 9 in 10 who will leave a brand for yours. Your pick.

Love They Neighbor

Be active in the betterment of whichever issue(s) you chose by not only addressing the issue itself but by attempting to solve the actual problem.

Prioritize making an impact in the world, don’t make it just seem like this is a stunt to pull people in. Let your customers know this is something you care about and something your company cares about.

Your efforts should be shared! Customers want to see what you are doing and to get excited about it as well, however, make sure you are being honest. Nothing like telling a bunch of people you cleaned up the entire ocean when really you just had your dog fetch left behind tennis balls at the beach. Not good PR, although very productive dog.

Give your customers an opportunity to get involved with you. If you volunteered with a company, worked hand-in-hand with their employees on bettering a community, wouldn’t it be hard for you to buy from someone else who hasn’t made an impact or put forth an effort?   Pull people in, show them you care about issues they care about and work together to solve them.

These changes to your company won’t happen overnight, but letting these ideas simmer and discussing them with your team is a great start. What does your company care about? What do you want to focus on? How can you establish this change within your company? Within your community? Customers of today’s age are changing, make sure you are changing as well.

3 Ways to Improve Employee Health and Satisfaction in the Workplace
multifamily energy efficiency

The workplace environment that your company establishes has a huge effect on your workers. In a report done by Bosti Associates — an organization that analyzes different workspaces in order to find effective business strategies — it was found that the workplace makes a 3-10% difference for individual performance, 6-15% difference for team performance, and an 8-32% difference in individual job satisfaction. Knowing this data, what are some ways that a company can create a more satisfying workplace for their employees?

Give Your Employees Control

Jennifer Veitch, senior research officer at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, conducted a study thatshowed when employees have control over their lighting in their own workspace, they become more upbeat, feel more committed to their employers, and improve their overall well-being.Advanced lighting controls are a wonderful way to provide this type of control to your employees, giving them a way to adjust the light as they see fit.

Let The Sunshine In

Remember earlier how it was mentioned that the workplace makes a big difference in individual job satisfaction and performance?Well it turns out that naturallight is the most wanted feature by employees in the workplace.

The UK Green Building Council is just one of many who have reported on this dire want by employees for natural light. These reports state that employees have improved sleep, concentration, creativity, and learning by utilizing natural lighting at their place of work.Utilizing adaylight harvesting system is an excellent way to work with natural light in your workspace. These systems use a sensor to quickly respond to the level of light coming in, thus adjusting the level of artificial light that must be produced inside. This also equates to savings for your company due to less energy being required to light your work space.

Beware of Glare

We’ve all been in this situation: You’re staring at your computer and all of a sudden the sun rises or sets and a glare with a menacing ferocity hits your eyes.This glare (and bright lights/flickering), while obviously annoying, can also induce migraines due to the boosting of certain chemical levels in the brain. So, as a company, how can you fix this?

For starters, the flicker is a problem traditionally found in fluorescents, a problem that modern LEDs do not have. The glare, however, can be found in some LEDs, but this issue can easily be avoided by making sure you get LEDs with a ‘low glare index’. Read here to find the best places for LED’s in your commercial office.

Advanced lighting controls are another way to battle glare through the actions of turning lights up, down, or off.

Making these adjustments takes little to no effort at all and can make monumental differences in your office. If your office isn’t already retrofitted for peak employee satisfaction, change it! A Verde energy efficiency expert would be happy to walk through your officefor free to show you all the ways your lighting can be updated to ensure optimal employee satisfaction and health.

How Maintaining Your HVAC System Saves You Green

HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) are an important part of every home and business. They allow us to sit comfortably even when the conditions outside are bitter cold or sweltering hot. These systems can also gobble up a lot of energy, sometimes accounting for as much as half of our energy use. Yeah, definitely hungry machines. However, do not fear, because there are ways to significantly save on your energy bill each month dealing just with HVAC systems alone. Let’s explore how.

Smart Thermostat or Programmable Thermostat

Installing a smart or programmable thermostat will cause your existing equipment to run less. This will maximize your current systems efficiency, as well as lead to less maintenance as it will be used less – less usage of the heat exchanger, compressor, fan and all of the equipment.

Check Those Filters

It’s hard to remember to check a HVAC unit’s filter — I mean, it’s not exactly the top thing on everyone’s “to-do” list — but it’s an important to check your filter every month. Summertime and wintertime especially, since we tend to blast the heat/cool air during this time.If you happen to win a three month excursion

So why do you have to actually come home from Maui to change the filter? Why do they matter? Well, a dirty filter will significantly slow down the air flow and make your poor HVAC

sytem work way, way harder than it has to. When it works harder it wastes more energy, meaning it wastes more money. Basically, it’s like wearing an air-restricting mask while you run. Can you do it? Yes. Do you want to? Definitely not.

Duct, Duct, Seal

Ducts are the part of your HVAC system that distributes the conditioned air throughout your home or business. Leaks, holes, and improper working ducts can attribute to 20-30 percent lost air within the typical home (imagine the lost air in a business, oy). “How will I know if I have a faulty duct?” you might ask. Here’s how:

  • High summer/winter utility bills
  • Difficulty heating/cooling rooms
  • Rooms that are stuffy
  • If your ducts are located in an attic, crawlspace, or garage
  • Tangled/kinked flexible duct

Voilà, you are now that much wiser in ducts.

Update That Old Thing. Treat Yourself.

If your HVAC system is older than your kid born in the 90’s, you might want to consider replacing it (the HVAC unit, not the child). A system over 10 years old should be checked by a professional HVAC contractor to see it’s performance. If it is not performing efficiently, consider replacing it. This investment could potentially save you more than 115 dollars annually on your energy bill. Ca-ching!

HVAC systems are truly a gift, so show them you appreciate them by keeping them clean, changing their filters, checking their ducts, and updating them when necessary.

5 Facts About LEDs
facts about led

Most of us have heard of LED lighting, but many may not know much about them. Let’s start the conversation about LEDs and why they are the true shining stars in energy saving.

  1. The Light-Emitting Diode (LED) was invented in 1962 by Nick Holoynak, Jr., and have gone on to grow in popularity
  2. The savings for LEDs are momentous. It is estimated that by 2027, the annual energy savings from LEDs could save the equivalent of 44 large electric power plants (1,000 megawatts each). These electrical savings equal out to more than billion
  3. LEDs life is also worth praising. Traditional light bulbs dwindle in comparison with longevity, with LED boasting more than a 25 times longer life. If you’re running LEDs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it comes out to an additional three years of life.
  4. Most non-LED lighting has to reflect the light to specific locations by utilizing reflectors and diffusers in order to trap the light, resulting in more than half the light potentially never leaving the fixture. LEDs are different since their light is emitted in aspecific direction. This helps utilize your energy most efficiently.
  5. Putting LED into a close-to-home perspective: If the U.S. switched entirely to LED lights over the next two decades the energy savings could amount to $250 billion, and reduce our electricity consumption for lighting around 50% while eliminating 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

There. You’re now an LED expert! These facts are bound to pop up in a trivia game someday, so when you win that million dollar prize, you’re welcome!

To learn more about how these lightbulbs work, journey over to our postThe Facts of Light: Understanding Lighting Facts Labels.