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'Tis the season for alpaca products, fa la la la la

Beginning in December, Via Verde Farm will be opening their first pop-up store in Ada, displaying a wide variety of alpaca and fiber products for the holidays.

Tamara Miller, owner of Via Verde Farm, says the pop-up store will be based in Scooper's Ice Cream Store at 591 Ada Dr SE in Ada. 

Miller says the inspiration for the pop-up store was really just constant encouragement from her customers and demand for her products: "I had been to a few sales and things went well. There was demand and people were interested. This is the season for alpaca products."

The store will feature alpaca sweaters, coats, hats, mittens, and socks as well as carpets made from fiber from the farm. There will be also be hand-spun yarns and commercial yarns.

Miller says she will also have a unique product with a family twist. "I have several handmade dog leashes constructed out of hand-spun alpaca yarn and then twisted into rope. The handle is woven back into the rope and a clip is twisted into the rope so it is secure. My son makes the rope."

Besides the traditional alpaca products, the pop-up store will serve as a launching pad for a new venture that Miller and two friends are working on. "Two of us make the fabric by nuno felting alpaca fiber into silk or chiffon. Then our friend designs gorgeous pieces of clothing from the fabric," she says. "I will have several of the pieces in the store."

The store will be open until December 21st with operating hours of Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To learn more about Via Verde Farm, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Holiday gift program gets a makeover and investment through Start Garden

There is a personal backstory to the Elf Factory's tag line: "a handmade holiday school program specializing in gifts that parents don't have to pretend to like!"  

Kirsten Field, founder of the Elf Factory, explains the inspiration behind her new venture. "I volunteered at my kids' schools and I was disgusted at the products for the holiday workshop. I knew there had to be something better."

Describing herself as a "stay-at-home-mom getting back into the workforce," Field submitted her idea to Start Garden and received $5,000 in funding after she ran one pilot program with an elementary school. Field says she will use the Start Garden funding for  customer development experiments with five new schools and ultimately try to determine if the idea is scalable. "Our goal is to get a 75 percent participation rate at the schools."

Operationally, Field says that once a school decides to go ahead with the Elf Factory program, she partners with a parent organization and then provides all the craft materials  order forms, timelines, online training videos, and other tools they would need to run an Elf Factory at their school. The concept is designed to for simplicity (approximately four minutes to make a present), affordability, and a much higher quality product than existing holiday programs.

Currently, Field is the only full-time employee but she has four part-time staff that help with assembling the craft boxes.

To learn more, you can follow on Facebook for Elf Factory updates or check out their website at www.elffactory.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Dear Prudence adds some bling to downtown Grand Rapids' boutique scene, expands workforce

Another tiny boutique in the retail incubator space at MoDiv has opened, this one with a bit of bling and a lot of custom jewelry options including pieces crafted by local artisans. Dear Prudence, whose flagship store remains in East Grand Rapids (701 Bagley St. SE), jumped at the opportunity to open a second shop, this time in a central downtown location (40 Monroe Center Ave. NW).

Prudence and Brad Kauffman set up the new shop in just 200 square feet nestled next to bokay by Eastern Floral and Wolverine Company Store. The owners, who both have full-time day jobs, added a full-time position to the downtown economy when they brought Stephanie Wood aboard as shop manager.

"We wanted somebody who could be creative, and confident enough to make decisions on their own," says Prudence Kauffman. "We met Stephanie several months ago and she was available. She wants to eventually open her own shop, so she's getting a lot of experience with us."

Kauffman says she selected the most popular items featured at Dear Prudence in East Grand Rapids to sell downtown. Those items include custom monogrammed necklaces, phone cases, iPad cases, and wire jewelry in the shape of the state of Michigan. Other pieces include jewelry made from vintage maps -- customers can customize the pieces to any location -- and jewelry by local artist studios Luminous Creation and Lake Effect Studios.

"We lived in Winston-Salem for 20 years and saw how that city struggled because it didn't have a vibrant downtown district," Kauffman says. "So when we moved here and saw the big push to create downtown, we wanted to be a part of it. When we opened the first store, we couldn't afford anything downtown, but then we heard about MoDiv."

Dear Prudence will have a grand opening on Thurs., April 18 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Source: Prudence Kauffman, Dear Prudence
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Cabela's Grandville store to open soon bringing 200 jobs, some positions still available

Cabela's, which bills itself as the world's foremost outfitter, opens its third Michigan location in Grandville on March 21 and plans to have some 200 new part-time, full-time, and seasonal employees ready to serve customers.

The new 88,000-square-foot store (44th St. at Ivanrest) is part of a 43-acre mixed-use project under development by CWD Real Estate Investment, who purchased the former X-Rite property in 2009.

Cabela's, a stand-alone building within that development, will feature an indoor replica mountain populated with North American game animals, an indoor archery range where customers can try out archery gear before purchasing, a deli, and a 40-flavor fudge shop.

Although many of the jobs are filled, this week Cabela's website listed several positions still open, including retail marketing manager, boat/ATV service mechanic, power sports sales outfitter, and gun library manager.

Cabela's spokesperson Wes Remmer says the company encourages interested applicants to visit the store's website, complete an application, and submit a résumé.

"Being retail, jobs are always opening up," Remmer says. "We're looking for people passionate about the outdoors and who love to provide good customer service."

To review all of the jobs or to apply for a position, click here.

Remmer says the grand opening on Thurs., Mar. 21 begins at 11 a.m. and will run the entire weekend, featuring outdoor television personalities, product giveaways, and family events.

Source: Wes Remmer, Cabela's; Tyler Lecceadone, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Downtown Grand Rapids' new Kilwin's location is a great place for first time job seekers

For many high school and college students, summer doesn't just mean time off from school -- it also means landing their first job.

Tim Calderone, owner of the newly opened Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream franchise in downtown Grand Rapids (McKay Tower, 146 Monroe Center NW), is happy to employ first-time job seekers as well as those who have minimal work experience.

"We hire a lot of first time jobbers," Calderone says. "We've got seven or eight people who have never had a job before. One of our fudge makers, probably our best guy who works in the kitchen in production, never had a job before. Both my wife and I have a lot of leadership experience in our professional life, so we look forward to being able to help develop some of these young kids as we build the business."

The new franchise, which opened in May, currently supports 17 part-time workers and one full-time management position, most of them high school or college students. Calderone says he is still looking to hire additional part-time customer service and production employees for 25-30 hours a week.

Employees hired for production positions will work in the store's show kitchen making fudge, caramel and hand dipped chocolates, while customer service employees are in charge of all ice cream and chocolate sales.

Calderone says he is looking for outgoing people who enjoy interacting with customers and are willing to help create a unique experience for shoppers.

"The product is good, that's a given," Calderone says. "But the experience when people come into the store, we want them to go out saying, 'that was a really cool place to go because of the people.'"

For an application visit www.kilwins.com/career-opportunities.

Source: Tim Calderone, Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter

Independent grocer explores technology to serve customers

Although there have a been a great deal of technological advances in the grocery industry over the years, primarily operational, technology is not always the first thing that customers think about when grocery shopping.  

However, for independent grocer Forest Hills Foods, applying technology to  customer service will be one strategy they explore to better serve customers.

Jeff VandenBerge, president of Forest Hills Foods, singles out a mobile shopping application currently being developed in conjunction with Jonathan Engelsma at the Grand Valley State University App Lab as one example of how technology will be used for customer service. The  app will have several features, such as an interior map of the store and coupons to make the shopping experience easier and faster.

Forest Hills Foods' website also has a meal planning interface, daily recipes, information on cooking workshops at the store, exclusive email coupons and links to their Facebook page.  

VandenBerge is quick to point out that he is more concerned with not being "behind the curve" than being "ahead of the curve."

"Everyone in this industry is looking towards technological solutions to enhance the shopping experience," he says, "and we are a little ahead of the curve, but our resources are limited. The potential is tremendous, however."

Besides the application and web-based services, VandenBerge also focuses on non-technological ways to remain responsive to customers, pointing out the growth of their gluten-free products and the increase in locally-sourced produce. "Many of our marketing initiatives are the result of what our customers tells us," he says.

To learn more about Forest Hills Foods, you can visit their website here.

Source: Jeff VandenBerge, Forest Hills Foods
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor


Online buying club ready to roll after January Startup Weekend

At Startup Weekend last January, Paul Kortman pitched an idea and spent the next 48 hours working to start the development of a web-based buying club.

While Startup Weekend is an event with the intention of "starting something," some ventures move forward after the weekend, and others do not. In Kortman's case, the weekend proved to be the platform he needed.

Kortman came to the weekend with the concept partially developed, but stated "we wouldn't be here today without Startup Weekend. I formed a team, and am now lightyears ahead of where I would be without that experience."

Kortman, owner/founder of Connex Social, now has a dedicated team and is ready to test Bulko, a concept that "leverages the power of group buying by providing wholesale purchase discounts to subscribers of the service."

Kortman references the growing trend of discount buying services like Groupon and says his niche will be products versus services. Initially, Bulko will focus on three industries: wine, health food/natural products and consumer products in the green/energy sector.

The Bulko team is ready to test their concept with 25 participants in West Michigan and has plans to enter an expanded beta test this summer.

Kortman is also seeking investors for his venture, which is a change from his initial approach of bootstrapping the operation. "We are looking to get funding to have developers quit their day jobs," he says.

Team members include developers Joe Vanderstelt, Jack Slingerland and co-founders Sarah Cleveland and Paul Kortman.

Source: Paul Kortman, Bulko
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor


Website pitches discounts for active moms

John Rumery

MomsinTow.com is an online community in West Michigan providing area merchant discounts and information on networking opportunities to mothers interested in maintaining an active lifestyle.  

MomsinTow.com Founder Jenny White, 29, came up with the idea for the online venture soon after she moved back to Holland, MI from Colorado with her husband, a professional cyclist, and their newborn son, Macen.

While in Colorado, White had been involved with a group of young mothers that got together for hiking and biking and supported kid-friendly stores.  Wanting to meet other new mothers in Holland, who were interested in active lifestyles with their children, White had an idea for a website that would serves a platform for these moms to interact and to share ideas, plus serve as a catalyst to meet offline as well.   

Taking it one step further, White felt that besides being a resource site, why not use this community of active moms to approach local businesses to see if they would provide discounts on their products or services in exchange for patronage by this customer base?

According to White, "merchants have loved this concept," and she has very positive and encouraging feedback from everyone she has discussed this with. 

Which is good, because White, who has no background in sales, admits to being  "very nervous" when initially approaching the business community with the idea. But, local businesses immediately saw the benefits of direct marketing to young families early in developing their purchasing patterns.

White now has a core listing of select businesses that provide discounts to members of MomsinTow.com. There is no cost to the merchant to become part of the first level of the network. White also has a paid sponsorship program for businesses that will provide them extra visibility to this community.

For the moms, in order to get these discounts, there is a $30.00 annual membership fee, soon increasing to $48.00.  White says the primary benefit of membership is to "save money at local businesses." 

White is also quick to point out these businesses are not just mom-related, but family-related. For example: "We just partnered with a plumbing firm," White says. "Moms are usually the ones at home and have to deal with the plumber."

White will be relying heavily on word-of-mouth and social media to spread the word. She points to their Facebook page as key source of marketing. 

White also is very appreciative and amazed at the help she has received from the entrepreneurial community. She recently pitched MomsinTow.com at pitch night at Startup West Michigan and took first place.

"I am just discovering the support groups for entrepreneurs," she says. "Pitch night was terrific evening."  

For more information, you can visit the MomsInTow or attend their launch party on Thursday, October, 14, details on their Facebook page.

Source. Interview with Jenny White

 

John Rumery is the Innovation and Jobs Editor for Rapid Growth Media. He is an educator, board member of AimWest, WYCE music programmer, entrepreneur, raconteur and competitive barbecuer living in Grand Rapids, MI.  He can be reached at InnovationandJobs@RapidGrowthMedia.com

 For story tips you can e-mail info@rapidgrowthmedia.com


Grand Rapids technology startup releases iPhone music app for workouts

Grand Rapids-based Rehab Technologies, LLC has launched two technology products for the health and fitness industry with this week's release of its Cadence Desktop and Cadence App.

The Cadence products, released under the company's dba TrekoClinics.com, enable runners, walkers and other exercise buffs to sync their iTunes music library to match the pace of their workout.

Cadence Desktop analyzes a user's iTunes music and assigns a beats per minute (BPM) rate to each song, says Curt Kuiper, Rehab's managing partner. Using the Cadence App, users sync their iPhone (3.0) or iPod Touch (2G) to their computer and choose the BPM they want for their workout. By keeping in time with the music, the user can improve the consistency of their pace,  speed up their pace or slow it down while listening to their favorite music.

"There's a debate between whether you should try to change your stride length or your cadence to maximize your workout," Kuiper says. "Research shows that sticking with a cadence that works for your body is better."

To play songs with a faster or a slower BPM, users simply move a slider on their iPhone or iPod touch-screen.

Cadence Desktop includes a tap feature that set a song's BPM by clicking the mouse in time to the music for 10 seconds. They also can remove any song they don't want to use for their workout.
 
Cadence Desktop is Mac-based. Rehab Technologies plans to release a PC version in a couple of months, Kuiper says. However, the iPhone/iPod app is compatible with Windows.

The Cadence Desktop download is available free, or if purchasers would like to pay for it, they can pay what they choose. The Cadence App is $2.99 and available from the iPhone App Store or at www.cadenceapp.com.

Source: Curt Kuiper, Rehab Technologies, LLC


Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



Grand Rapids' Green Giftz on track to double sales, adds green impact to ArtPrize SWAG

By last spring, Promotional Impact's sales had already exceeded sales of the entire previous year, which had been a record year itself. Now the company owner, Karen Scarpino, says the Grand Rapids promotional advertising firm is on track for $2 million in sales – double last year's numbers.

Furthermore, Scarpino says the company held true to its prediction of creating two new jobs; the last of those jobs was filled this week.

Much of the success is due to Promotional Impact's eco-friendly SWAG (Stuff We All Get) company Green Giftz. Green Giftz' designers have been able to use client's scrap waste – such as fabric or scrap metal – to fashion upscale gifts for employees, clients, tradeshow giveaways and more. The company offers other eco-friendly options as well, including the items ArtPrize will give away during the 18-day event.

ArtPrize items include BPA-free reusable aluminum water bottles, wristbands made from sand-based chemicals that will biodegrade back into sand, tote bags made from 80 percent recycled materials and pens that are 80 percent biodegradable.

Scarpino sees the ArtPrize opportunity as a chance to get Green Giftz' unique approach to promotional items on the world stage and in front of thousands who will visit Grand Rapids, will volunteer or who will display their art.

In addition, Scarpino says that despite the tough economic times, repeat clients who have an eco-centric mission are still investing in green promotional products that illustrate the company's care for the environment.

Scarpino says the company has no immediate plans to add more employees. But she leaves the door open for possibilities.

"No one has a crystal ball to predict how business will be next year," she says. "But if we have the same kind of growth we've had this year, we'll need to add people."

Source: Karen Scarpino, Promotional Impact

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



Online wedding planner engages both brides and grooms, covers details beyond the special day

A new Grand Rapids web site proposes to take the worry out of planning one of the biggest, most stressful events in a couple's life – their wedding.

In just a few clicks, GRBrides.com provides brides, grooms and parents with detailed checklists outlining what to do before, on and after The Big Day. And it's all free.

The site is the creation of Denise Kolesar, owner of Grand Rapids-based Kohler Expos which produces three bridal shows a year at DeVos Place. Kolesar has been in the wedding industry more than 25 years, 13 of them with Kohler.

"Couples deserve a worry-free wedding and with proper planning they can have just that," Kolesar says. "[Brides and grooms] can go to GRBrides.com and get their to-do lists, and then the brides and their mothers can come to our bridal shows and get all the planning done in one place."

The checklists include detailed to-dos for the wedding day – the wedding announcement, music for the wedding and reception, photography, flowers, a groom's To Do list – and a surprising collection of information brides and grooms need to know:  expenses to include in a wedding budget, who pays for what, what to know about buying a first house and the legal requirements for getting hitched.

"There's a fun hot button for wedding flowers that tells what each flower means," Kolesar says.

Visitors to the site can link to information on Kohler Expos' West Michigan bridal shows, which, Kolesar says, feature between 75 and 125 wedding vendors each.

"At our bridal shows brides are saying how hard it is to find basic, simple guidelines for planning their weddings," Kolesar says. "Our site is meant to provide information in a very simple format and to keep you up-to-date on the bridal shows."

Source: Denise Kolesar, GRBrides.com; Mary Ann Sabo, Sabo Public Relations

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



Grand Rapids T-shirt design company makes wearable art for a good cause


Raising awareness about the sex trade of children in Southeast Asia and supporting the Zeeland-based Walk for Water project are just a couple of the causes the people at Citizenshirt support.

Citizenshirt, 837 Godfrey SW, designs and screen prints T-shirts for companies and events, and creates signature designs for sale on its own web site.

But the thing that really gets the company excited is using its equipment and expertise to support causes that help disenfranchised people, says President and founder Matt Fulk.

"We approach the 501(c)3 and say it's a down economy and donations are down, we support what you're trying to accomplish, let us help you," Fulk says. "We apply all the printing trades to the project and use our marketing streams to help the campaign produce a new cash flow for the organization."

Employees elect to work on these projects for a reduced rate, and many often go off the clock to keep costs down. Citizenshirt provides materials at cost, slightly above cost, and even sometimes below cost.

"We've made money on some, broke even on some and lost money on some," Fulk says. "We sit down with the organization and say we want to help, but the reality is we're running a business. You probably have some money available, where's the happy meeting point?"

Citizenshirt's focus is producing artistically rendered designs that reflect more beauty and skill than just a logo on a garment, Fulk says.

The company recently moved to the Godfrey location to have enough space for growth. Fulk and a former partner were the sole employees when the company launched three years ago; Fulk bought out the partner in September, left a business brokerage job to become full-time at Citizenshirt, and now employs four full-time and four part-time workers.

Source: Matt Fulk, Citizenshirt

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



Inventive new products launches Grand Rapids recognition company into new territory

Fun, upbeat and effective.

That's what Grand Rapids-based Baudville calls its new line of daily recognition products and e-cards developed to help companies show appreciation to their workforces.

"Gallup benchmarks how to have a workforce that's engaged in what a company is doing and wants the company to be to be successful," Baudville VP Kristy Sherlund says. "Gallup says you should recognize an employee every seven days."

Acting on that advice, Baudville repositioned itself around the concept of daily recognition, and re-launched ePraise, an existing line of free e-cards that help employers, managers and coworkers show appreciation at work. Each card has a sentiment and a space to write a message; there are even sample messages on the site to help anyone who isn't sure what to say.

Baudville's also launched its newest product, A Kit and Caboodle. The Kit contains 40 recognition items -- small photo frames, pins, magnets, and others -- with coordinating note cards. Each item is part of a theme in Baudville's product line called From the Office of Positive Mojo. Themes include Totally Awesome, You Made the Difference and Right On, Baby.  

The Caboodle is a staircase desktop display that keeps three Kits at a manager's fingertips.

"When you sit down and talk to employees about what motivates them, expression of appreciation is number one," Sherlund says. "When a boss writes a note and tells someone they've done a good job, people post those notes on their bulletin boards or set them on their desks. Gallup's benchmarks say companies who recognize employees every seven days have lower turnover and better productivity."

Source: Kristy Sherlund, Baudville
 
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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



Zondervan's aim to be "most progressive Christian company" creates technology opportunities

Zondervan in Grand Rapids aims to be  the most progressive publisher of Christian-based media by making every title they publish on paper available in digital format. And if that wasn't enough, the company will make each digital book available for their biggest customers, Christian retailers, to sell in their bricks-and-mortar stores.

To accomplish this, Zondervan recently reorganized the company, moving all information technology, Internet enterprises and the micro sites they operate into a new digital and emerging business division. Jon Nisper, a former director of technology at X-Rite Inc., came onboard last week as vice president of the operation.

"We most certainly have our eyes set on being the most progressive Christian company," says Steve Sammons, executive vice president. "Publishers traditionally are paper focused and online products are an afterthought. We've not experienced any cannibalization with our online products, so you can anticipate that when new books come to market multi formats will be available simultaneously."

Zondervan sells titles in nearly 200 languages and over 60 countries through retailers who are members of the Association for Christian Retail. And many of those stores' customers want to purchase books the same way they purchase music – digitally.

So last year, Zondervan launched Symtio, the publishing industry's first patented digital merchandising system for retail.

Symtio enables customers in the store to buy a merchandise card for a specific digital book, and then download it from the Symtio web site when they get home. They simply enter the card number and the book downloads in the format they choose, including downloading audio books as MP3 files or burning them on a CD.

"Giving customers the choice to purchase products through any channel and in any format they desire; that is our intent," Sammons says.

Source: Steve Sammons, Zondervan; Brian Burch, Lambert, Edwards & Associates

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.



X-Rite targets ‘prosumers’ with ColorMunki Version 1.1

Kentwood-based X-Rite Inc. expects to tap new markets by releasing version 1.1 of its ColorMunki photo and design software. ColorMunki works with design programs like Corel, QuarkXPress and Photoshop to assist users in managing the colors in their projects and designs.

X-Rite especially sees potential for growth with users it describes as “prosumers,” or non-professionals who are too advanced in their skills to be considered pure amateurs.

“It’s not going into an entirely new market, because there is some fluidity within the photo market,” says Iris Mangelschots, X-Rite’s vice president of sales and marketing. “For the prosumer, they have a tendency to emulate the professional.”

Brad Freiburger, X-Rite’s interim chief financial officer, declines to speculate about specific job growth numbers, especially given the recent state of the economy. Even so, he expresses confidence that the new version of ColorMunki would strengthen the company’s position.

“We certainly are optimistic this product, along with some of our other products, is going to help us in that regard,” Freiburger says.

Defined by Mangelschots as amateur photographers who spend more than $1,000 a year on camera accessories, prosumers are expected to embrace ColorMunki 1.1 because of their heightened interest in the presentation of their work.

“For these guys, it’s really important to create good quality images,” Mangelschots said. “For them, it is a hobby art. They spend a lot of time and a lot of money.”

Version 1.1 allows users to exercise more precise display control, including the adjustment of light functionality when color matching from display to display. Specific features include better and more precisely controlled display luminance, user-defined ambient light levels, better display contrast and brightness workflow.

Source: Iris Mangelschots and Brad Freiburger,  X-Rite Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.
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