A sketch of an ear-to-ear grinning Eskimo and his slobbering dog, Buffy is the nationally renowned trademark of a 35-year-old college town company whose sales now gross more than $18 million with about 550 employees, thanks in part to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without SBA,” said Stan Clark, owner of Eskimo Joe’s headquartered in Stillwater, Okla.
In July 1975, two months after college graduation, Clark and a childhood friend had an idea to open a bar in the ground floor of a two story building next to Oklahoma State University. Clark used his life savings of $1,200 to help finance the venture. A freshman art student used a magic marker to sketch the now famous company logo on a large art pad.
They had the logo transferred to some t-shirts and opened for business selling ice-cold 10 cent draws and playing red-hot music on a pieced-together stereo. By the end of the first week end, the t-shirts featuring the company logo were sold out. Joe's soon had a loyal following and quickly became known as "Stillwater's Jumpin' Little Juke Joint."
In the fall of 1983, Oklahoma legislation increased the drinking age from 18-21, dramatically impacting Eskimo Joe’s target market. The company expanded to add food to the mix and extend their hours of operations. “What at first seemed to be life-threatening proved to be the greatest change we could ever imagine,” said Clark. "I was thrilled to find out that more people eat everyday than drink everyday!" He said, guests loved the juicy burgers known as the "Joe's Special," scrumptious chicken sandwiches known as "Fowl Things TM", thick old-fashioned shakes, and Cheese Fries that were actually endorsed by President Bush in 1990.
As Joe's popularity grew, so did Joe's annual birthday bash. By the 18th anniversary, 65,000 fun-loving Joe's fans packed Elm Street in Stillwater to celebrate the weekend reunion.
After selling hundreds of thousands of t-shirts over the bar inside Eskimo Joe’s from 1975 to 1987, Clark opened a free standing retail store next to the bar in September, 1987. They began direct marketing Joe’s Clothes via catalogs and Joe's toothy grin was sent all over the world. In November 1988, a Tulsa World newspaper article reported that the company’s t-shirts were one of the most collectible in the USA, second only to Hard Rock Cafe.
In 1985, Clark received a $500,000 SBA loan. The loan was used to consolidate many smaller loans. “This loan was certainly significant at the time,” said Clark. “Without the SBA guarantee, we’d likely not secured the financing at all.”
Today Eskimo Joe’s employs roughly 550 people, owns and operates three full-service bar/restaurants—Eskimo Joe’s, Mexico Joe’s and Joseppi’s Italian Kitchen. Clark also owns three retail clothing stores, all selling the Eskimo Joe’s branded products, Eskimo Joe’s Promotional Products Group, a promotional products distributor servicing companies and institutions across the Southwest, a real estate company, and a management company that provides strategic direction, accounting, graphics design, marketing and public relations.
“Eskimo Joe’s is all about fun,” said Clark. “Our mission is to make people smile as big as Eskimo Joe himself, to treat people so well they can’t believe it! And every time they visit us, hopefully they’ll leave with a smile they can wear on one of our T-shirts. Thankfully, since 1975, millions and millions have done both.”
Contact: Stan Clark, Owner
Address: 501 W. Elm
Stillwater, OK 74074
Phone: 405-880-2668 (cell)
In 11 years, Michael O. Lyles transformed his one-man information technology company into a workforce of almost 200 employees located in 10 states and the District of Columbia, supporting customers around the world. How did he do it? Mr. Lyles said that his secret to success is simple – Find out what the customer truly needs and then find the best way to meet that need.
In 2009, Leader Communications, Inc. (LCI) graduated from the 8(a) program, having benefited for nine years from the advice and assistance provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration. LCI boasts a strong customer focus, a clear commitment to quality, and an exceptional team of LCI professionals.
The company is an award-winning, ISO 9001:2008 certified, CMMI© Level 3 rated, Small Disadvantaged, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned, information technology and management services firm committed to providing the highest level of professional services and cost-effective solutions for today’s challenging requirements.
From information technology services and database administration to system engineering, software engineering, web development, information and computer system security, program and acquisitions management, help desk support, software development, network services, data/records management, contract support, telecommunications support, training, advisory and assistance services, financial/accounting services, document production/printing services, and administrative/clerical support, LCI consistently provides qualified, customer-focused professionals able to rapidly respond to workload fluctuations, additional requirements, and new technologies.
Recent customers have included the Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Defense Information Systems Agency, Army National Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, General Services Administration, Defense Logistics Agency, State of Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma, Indian Health Services, and several large prime contractors providing services to the named Government organizations. LCI also provides information technology services to several local Oklahoma organizations, including banks, churches, medical offices, and other small businesses.
After high school, Mr. Lyles, a Sacramento native, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he spent 21 years mastering the skills of radio operations and systems management. He worked his way through the ranks as shift supervisor, training manager, and work center supervisor in a variety of radio facilities before he took these experiences to the Air Force Communications Command in 1991. Over the next six years, his job titles reflected his work to gradually consolidate high power, high frequency (HF) radio systems throughout the world. His work changed the shape of the USAF High Frequency Global Communications Systems; in his first two years, he saved the Air Force almost $15 million.
When Mr. Lyles retired as a Senior Master Sergeant in June 1998, the Air Force was still interested in benefiting from his leadership and services while he worked as a consultant with a Government contractor. After three months with the company, Mr. Lyles realized that a smaller, more efficient company could provide the Government with better products, better people, at a better price. That’s when he formed the Information Technology Company and, three months later, he incorporated Leader Communications, Inc. (LCI) in California. Today, LCI is headquartered in a 21,000 square foot facility in Oklahoma City and supports Government agencies with the “Best Products, Best People, Best Price™” in information technology and business services.
What is it about Mr. Lyles’ leadership that has produced this record of success? The answer is that he leads by example. Mr. Lyles sets high ethical and performance standards for himself and his managers through an Ethics Code, Business Conduct Guidelines, and online communication in the “President’s Corner.” His standard is to do the right thing even if the result is an unfavorable position for LCI.
Mr. Lyles has established a set of Core Values that drive each business decision. ACHIEVEMENT – LCI aspires to the highest level of excellence in their products and services. COMMITMENT – LCI keeps their promises to clients, employees, and their families. HONESTY – LCI tells the truth, even when it places LCI in a less than favorable position. INTEGRITY – LCI does the right thing, even when no one is watching. ACCOUNTABILITY – LCI takes responsibility for its decisions at the individual and company levels. COMMUNITY – LCI donates time, money, and resources to local charitable organizations; employees build key relationships by supporting the communities in which they live and work.
Another factor in LCI’s success is Mr. Lyles’ commitment to serving not only LCI’s customers, but also LCI’s local communities. LCI donates time and resources as a company and encourages and offers opportunities for LCI employees to volunteer and contribute as well. LCI contributes to a number of youth sports teams and groups, including football, basketball, cheerleading, choir, track, and Scouts. LCI personnel have volunteered as tutors for local schools. LCI is devoted to education by sponsoring the Dr. Ernest L. Holloway LCI Scholarship for Langston University. LCI recently donated 13 computers to Wilson Public Schools after hearing of their need during an Aerospace Education and Training Day. In conjunction with the Oklahoma Aerospace Summit and Expo, LCI has established a program to mentor 11 Oklahoma teachers from across Oklahoma. Members of LCI’s staff provide resources to the schools and present briefings to students and teachers on relevant topics. Since the community outreach program began, LCI has supported more than 100 charities with financial support. LCI employees have contributed thousands of hours to local agencies and events. “The hardest part is not being able to give even more time and money,” stated Mr. Lyles.
Mr. Lyles’ innovative approach and forward thinking will continue to provide LCI with many business successes. In spite of difficult economic times, LCI expects to finish 2010 with a record number of new contract wins. LCI’s achievements are due to outstanding leadership, employees who are dedicated to success in every aspect of the business, and LCI’s business approach that emphasizes excellence in business and support to community.
Contact: Michael O. Lyles, President/Chief Executive Officer
Address: 6421 S. Air Depot Blvd., Suite A
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73135