One of the life lessons you learn as a Soldier is that there is no such thing as failure. You adapt and overcome. You are part of a team, and that team depends upon every member. That means you can’t personally fail, because your team fails. And in the Army, failure can be a matter of life and death.
Christine Zika of CZ Concierge Services is a former Staff Sergeant of the Missouri Army National Guard with 13 years of experience as a Military Police (MP). She served in Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Germany, and here in Missouri. Failure is not a concept she understands.
Zika started her business much as she went into her career as a Soldier—as a matter of happenstance. She joined the Guard two years into college after her parents told she’d better find a way to support herself because they couldn’t pay for college anymore. She was taking a Military Basics course while studying Public Relations in college so she could learn to rappel off a building. To finish the course she had to talk to the Major in charge of the program. Her friends told her he would try to recruit her. She responded that she was a tree-hugging pacifist who would never join the military and she needed the “A”. The Major told her about the GI Bill, Student Loan repayments, and bonuses, and since she was about to leave college she listened. She went to see a Guard recruiter. Zika laughs and says, “The recruiter told me the Guard wasn’t stressful and they never see action.” That was in May of 1990. In June she was in Basic Training and she was back home in November. In December she was activated, and in January of 1991 she was in Saudi Arabia guarding prisoners with an M16 in hand and a .45 at her hip thinking it looked a lot like war. (She was later on the other side of that fence as a recruiter. A friend’s son wanted to join the Guard but his mother didn’t want him to see combat. In one of life’s ironic twists, she recruited him into Field Artillery but the Guard later made him an MP.)
Zika happened into the business world in much the same way. She was working for the Shriners and her position was eliminated after 7 years. . She had never even worked in the for-profit world and had no desire to start a business. She and her aunt were having “what if…” conversation. Her aunt was joking about starting a business where women could fool their husbands into thinking they were doing more at home than they were actually doing in a day. In order to do that, they figured they would need an errand runner. That conversation sparked an idea with Zika and within a week and a half she was in the Veterans Business Resource Center’s (VBRC) Bootstrap Program. (The VBRC is partially funded by the SBA and is one of SBA’s resource partners along with SCORE, the Small Business Technology Development Centers, and the Women’s Business Center.) She attended classes for several hours two nights a week for six weeks. During that program she put together her business plan and less than a month later she was in business.
Zika is an enthusiastic supporter of Darcella Craven and her staff at the VBRC. She speaks of Craven’s passion for the Veterans she serves. Zika says she wouldn’t have the business she has if it wasn’t for Craven and her staff. They not only taught her how to write a business plan, but how to hire employees, how to handle business finances, licensing, and other information. They consult with and mentor their clients.
So what exactly does Zika’s company do? She says they are “that extra pair of hands everyone needs” and that “no task is too big or too small”. They create time management solutions, plan and execute special events and projects, assist with work/life balance, provide relocation services, do research, or just about anything else you need done. If your business or your employees have an issue, Zika can handle it. To paraphrase Ghostbusters, “Who you gonna call? CZ Concierge Services.”
Zika has a network of service people at her fingertips. If your plumbing is backed up and you have to be at work, she’ll get a plumber to your house. If Fluffy needs a walk, and you have to work late, Fluffy will be walked and the pooper scooper will be used. If your dry cleaning or your library books need to be picked up she’ll make it happen. If the cable installer is coming, someone will be there to let them in. If you need your shopping done, she’ll do that. If you need a birthday party planned for your child she can do a great party. She can also do a fantastic corporate event. One company had seven executives come into town for several weeks. She found them housing, picked them up at the airport, made sure they got lunch delivered daily, made sure they were transported where they needed to go, and kept them within the company’s budget. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and anyone who works for her better not be either. She is willing to tackle any job. She frees a company’s employees up to do the jobs they need to do. She takes on tasks within the company or within the employee’s lives that are distracting them from what they need to focus on at work. She’s like a combination of the shoemaker’s elves and a fairy godmother—although you do have to pay her! One’s mind spins at the distasteful tasks that could magically be done. In a cost/benefit analysis, there are some things that are not worth personally. Imagine handing off those tasks!
Zika is also a huge supporter of St. Louis. She loves the area and considers it home. Those out-of-town executives noted how enthusiastic Zika is about St. Louis. She told them all about all the great things to do in the area while they were here. She gives back to the area by volunteering to do all the social media for the Shriners Hospital Ride (a 75-mile motorcycle ride to benefit the Shriner’s hospital). She plans to do more in the future and has done more in the past, but her hands are full since she’s the only business concierge service in the St. Louis Metro Area and one of her employees just went back to school full time. And yes, Zika did finally finish college, even though it took her 16 years. Remember, she never gives up! And if you thank her for her service, she’ll tell you she is thankful for the opportunity and for what she learned while serving.
St. Louis has one of only 15 VBRCs in the country. The VBRC can be reached at www.vetbiz.com or 314-531-8387. SBA’s St. Louis District Office can also put you in touch with the VBRC, the WBC, the SBTDCs, or SCORE. You can reach the St. Louis District Office at 314-539-6600.
When you think of tool companies, green doesn’t generally spring to mind. One tends to think of dirt, grime, and the smell of oil. US Tool Group, formerly known as U. S. Tool Grinding, and now commonly referred to as US Tool, is putting the color green and the smell of money into the equation.
In this disposable age, US Tool is bringing back the concept of repairing and reconditioning. The average drill and boring tool can be recycled four times. The environmental impact is the equivalent of four million pounds of raw material each year. The reduced mining, smelting, and grinding, creates a substantial energy saving, along with preserving natural resources. Additional transportation savings are gained because the tools don’t have to go through as many stops to get to the end user. Pollution is reduced. The earth itself is just a little greener.
But all that wouldn’t make much difference in the corporate world if it didn’t save businesses money too. After all, businesses want to maximize profits. There are clear cost savings to reconditioning tools. These savings can be realized as profits, expansion, advertisement, or just staying afloat in tough economic times.
The quality has to be there, too. US Tool couldn’t stay in this business, supplying aircraft manufacturers along with other businesses if they weren’t producing quality products.
US Tool has received some assistance along the way. They’ve received a couple of SBA guaranteed loans. They took out a 7(a) loan that has since been paid back and they currently have a revolving line of credit. A lot of extremely successful businesses have received similar help and gone on to do great things. US Tool is well on its way to great things, too. The SBA’s programs are there to help small businesses like US Tool.
US Tool performs so well in this and other aspects of its business that Mr. Bruce Williams, President and CEO, and Mr. Brent H. Williams, Vice President of Operation, were recognized as SBA’s Region VII Small Business Subcontractor of the Year during National Small Business Week 2011. The Daily Journal covering St. Francois County wrote up their successes May 21, 2011 edition. After all, US Tool is based in the small southeastern Missouri town of Desloge. With approximately 475 employees, they’re big news, as well as a big employer, down there. Maybe some of the “waste not, want not” values of our grandparents are maintained in that small town. They’ve definitely found a way to make a profit from re-using what is available.
So, the newer concept of being green merges with the older concept of using what you already have. The end results are the green that pays the bills. So, now when you think of tool companies, maybe you’ll think of a greener earth and the green of good old cold hard cash. And a successful small business in Desloge, Missouri, called US Tool…
If you have a stereotype of typical owners and managers of a manufacturing company, throw it out the window right now. Taylor Packaging Company manufactures plastic packaging for products. The technical name for that process is thermoforming. They produce packaging for the fishing and hunting products, electronic products, automotive parts, Crown Royal, and other products. They also have a small line that folds and assembles boxes. If you’ve bought a fishing lure it was quite likely in packaging manufactured by Taylor Packaging. But, if you have a stereotype of a brawny guy with a ball cap who owns and runs the plant, you need to adjust your mindset.
Taylor Packaging is owned by the mother and daughter team of Ginger Taylor and Sara Taylor Hardy. Ginger is energetic and radiates so much confidence you almost don’t notice how tiny she is. Sara is quieter, but no less impressive. Their different personalities create a dynamic and successful business team.
Taylor Packaging was founded in 1980 by Ginger and her ex-partner/ex-husband. When they founded the company Ginger worked for free. They took out an SBA 7(a) guaranteed loan that year. In 1988, they were up to 10 employees with revenues of $1 million and they took out an SBA 504 loan. They took another SBA 7(a) loan out in 1993 when they changed banks. At that point they had 12 employees and revenues of $1.2 million. Sara started working for the company part time in high school and continued working there part time through college. After her graduation in 1991 from the University of Missouri, Sara came to work full time for the company. In 1996 Ginger bought out her partner and Taylor packaging is now owned by mother and daughter. Taylor Packaging now has 35 full time employees and revenues of about $3 million. They recently bought out a competitor—Ginger had to bring the machines up to her standards before she would allow them to be used in her plant.
Ginger proudly states she can operate any machine on the floor and one would never doubt her. She also says she has the safest thermoforming company in the U.S. and she has lower Workmen’s Comp rates to prove it. Safety is a huge issue for her—she has fired employees for removing safety devices on the machines. The machines she recently acquired had the safety devices removed and that was one of the things that had to be fixed before she would operate them in her plant.
Ginger and Sara run a plant with family values—they feel like the employees are part of their family. The plant manager is “really good” and they emphasize quality and loyalty to customers and vendors along with safety. They do packaging for 15 different 3M plants—getting that contract required they meet 3M’s exacting standards. They also run a green plant—95% of the scraps from the production process are recycled.
Taylor Packaging creates custom molds for their clients. They use computer- aided design (CAD) to design the model, then they create a model, and then the mold. They’ve come a long way in that respect considering they got their first computer in the mid-90s for accounting and some processes. Ginger detested the 1990s accounting before computers.
As is true for many successful companies, Taylor Packaging also gives back to the community. They hold the Glen Taylor Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament to provide $2500 scholarships. They have been active with the Boys and Girls Clubs for years and work with Clarkson Eyecare Foundation to provide glasses for underprivileged children in other countries.
Manufacturing has long been considered a man’s world, and Ginger and Sara have found challenges along the way. But once you meet them, you cannot doubt their competence and dedication to the business. Taylor Packaging continues to grow and thrive even during tough economic times and that fact speaks for itself. So throw away those old stereotypes and meet the new faces of manufacturing. They are tough and yet very feminine and don’t look at all like burly guys in ball caps.
For further information on Taylor Packaging, visit http://taylorpackaging.com/, call (636)464-0003, or visit them at 925 Jeffco Executive Drive, Imperial, MO, 63052.