Benchmarks: Innovation

Highlights from the Arkansas business community.


Gearhead-logoGearhead’s Wheels Spin Fast With Expansions

With seven current locations across Arkansas run by 80 employees, it’s hard to imagine that outdoor apparel company Gearhead Outfitters, founded by Ted Herget in 1997, began as a one-man show.

The Jonesboro native had contact with outdoor-supplies sales reps from a previous job, and for his first year in business, he sold inventory online out of a spare room at a friend’s house. Herget recognizes the irony in moving from online sales in the ‘90s to a storefront at the turn of the century. “I thought brick and mortar was the future,” he said.

Since then, Gearhead has been selling footwear, clothing, hiking gear and camping accessories from well-known vendors such as Chaco, North Face and Patagonia, and in recent years has branched out to carry Arkansas brands like Fayettechill and Nativ.

To cater to those specifically interested in cycling, in 2011, the company opened Gearhead Cycle House in downtown Jonesboro across the street from its flagship shop. The Cycle House is dedicated solely to cycling, offering services such as bike fittings, maintenance and safety checks, in addition to having a showroom floor.
Besides its two locations in downtown Jonesboro, Gearhead has a third location at the city’s Mall at Turtle Creek and plans to open a fourth in November. The company also has two Little Rock locations and storefronts in Fayetteville, Rogers and Shreveport, Louisiana. A Bentonville store opens in September 2015. Herget, who co-owns the company with his wife, Amanda, said the company’s growth has come naturally. “We don’t have a master plan—if something pops up and it’s an opportunity, we go,” he said. “We continue to invest in ourselves and in our people.”

RealAgentGuardReal Agent Guard App Pins Down Realtor Safety

The founders of smartphone application Real Agent Guard are working toward making real estate agents and their families feel safer in what can be a high-risk profession.

Justyn Hornor, who is an armoneyandpolitics.com contributor, said he realized a need for the app when a Little Rock real estate agent was killed in September 2014. He and co-founder Tim Brasuell noticed lots of talk about ways to make showing properties safer for real estate agents, “but we also realized nobody was pulling all of these together into an effective set of training tools that leveraged technology, especially our smartphones,” Hornor said.

Brasuell has 13 years of experience in law enforcement, and Hornor’s background is in personal security detail for the Army. “Chaplains, certain kinds of medics and diplomats who go into combat zones are not allowed to carry a weapon,” he said. “So my training was to protect these folks.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Real Agent Guard is its countdown timer. If an agent fails to input a secure PIN following a scheduled showing, the app can send management the agent’s location and a previously uploaded photo of the client. The app also features a panic button and allows users to make calls.

Hornor said Real Agent Guard, which officially launched in February 2015, currently has about 600 users across 30 offices, mostly in Arkansas—though he expects expansion in California by this fall. In partnership with the Arkansas Realtors Association, the company’s most recent innovation is REALTOR Safe Harbor, a tool for agents to secure safe locations to meet prospective clients.

Paul Michael Co. Backs Buying American, Upcycling

Drive through Lake Village, a town of around 3,000 in Chicot County, and it’s hard to miss Paul Michael Co. The warehouse-sized store’s collection of vintage-inspired furniture and home decor sits right off Lake Chicot on U.S. Highways 65 and 82 South, across from the Lake Village Welcome Center.

Owner Paul Michael founded the company in 1985 as a diamond broker and sterling silver jewelry distributor to Dillard’s and other department stores. His expansion into home wares started with the Lake Village store in 1993.

The motivation for getting into furniture and decor was driven by both his interest in collecting antiques and in his belief that customers were looking for original pieces at a fair price. To provide this, Michael said he started manufacturing his own line, starting with cutting boards made from “locally harvested woods.”

“We got involved in upcycling components from all kinds of things, and recycling antiques as well,” he said. “Our hottest-selling series right now is made from the flooring out of tractor-trailer trucks.”

Other goods you’ll find in the 35,000 square feet of Paul Michael Co. are handmade Adirondack chairs, mirrors, rugs, candles and lanterns, and a sprawling collection of Christmas decor. Sprinkled among new and handmade inventory are antiques Michael has found on buying trips both across the country and abroad.

Though some pieces are imported, Michael also emphasizes the importance of selling American-made products. “American wood species—the grain of the wood, the color and texture—appeal in a way that foreign wood species cannot,” he said.

Since 2003, Paul Michael Co. has expanded to three out-of-state locations: Monroe, Louisiana; Canton, Texas; and Lafayette, Louisiana.

Supreme Fixture Opens Test Kitchen, Showroom

As a commercial food service contractor, Supreme Fixture Co. does everything from design and complete engineering drawings for commercial kitchens to manufacturing the stainless steel workspaces and granite countertops that fill them. “Everything is a one-off,” owner Tim Hampel said. “Everything we manufacture is hand built, handmade; there’s nothing that goes through this manufacturing facility that’s ever the same.”

To provide an even more customizable experience for customers, Supreme Fixture opened an expanded and renovated facility in Little Rock at the beginning of this year. Improvements include the construction of a new 10,000-square-foot office building, which freed up the old office spaces to be converted into a test kitchen and showroom.

According to Elliott Thomas, purchasing manager and showroom and test kitchen manager, Supreme Fixture is the only kitchen equipment dealer with a test kitchen in the state. “Our main goal with the test kitchen is to provide an area for the chefs to come in and utilize the equipment before they make a purchase,” Thomas said. “It gives them an area to get out of their normal, everyday work atmosphere, experiment and be creative.” Also in the works for the new space are community cooking classes, demonstrations by local chefs, and webinars, as the kitchen is set up with audio and video capabilities.

Hampel said Supreme Fixture’s clients include restaurants, schools, sports facilities, churches and correctional facilities across the country and as far as the Caribbean and South America.

Next on Supreme Fixture’s to-do list is an expansion of the company’s Dallas office. “I’ve got a reputation for never being able to sit still,” Hampel said.

Strong Suit Offers Inventive Design at Reasonable Prices

Little Rock designer Jamie Davidson says the creation of menswear label Strong Suit was inspired by two factors: passion and market opportunity.

“I love tailored clothing, and I felt like the market was underserved for a really well-made garment with a sophisticated point of view that could retail for under $600,” he said. “My idea was to launch the brand through the very best specialty stores in the country and let the business grow organically.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Davidson introduced Strong Suit in fall 2013, and the line of high-end quality suits, blazers and tuxedos is stocked across the country, from Washington to Florida, with Davidson handling the business end of his company out of a River Market District office.

According to Davidson, the trick to a classic suit is in the way it’s made. “We use a canvas interlining, also called a canvas front, in our jackets,” Davidson said. The canvas construction allows the suit to fit and move with a body more naturally, and it also makes for a longer-lasting garment. “It’s an old-world way of making a garment and unheard of at our price point.”

That price point, by the way, is exactly what Davidson intended when he founded Strong Suit — all his suits start at $595.

Before he jumped into designing his own lines, Davidson worked at local men’s clothing mainstay Mr. Wick’s for seven years. He launched his first label, Normandy & Monroe, in 2001, and has designed a line for Dillard’s called Tre Vero for the past 10 years, which is currently in its final season. Davidson said a Strong Suit storefront is in the works.

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