No Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012
ABiz annually seeks nominations from readers and leaders throughout the business community for its Entrepreneur of the Year award. After evaluating the nominations, our editors and staff decide whether to bestow the honor on an individual. While there is no specific grading system, nominees are assessed on a range of criteria, including innovation, job creation and potential for job creation, vision, leadership, expansion, financial performance, community involvement and ethics in business. Only twice since ABiz introduced this feature in 2007 have we selected a winner: Dr. Kip Schumacher in 2009 and Scott Eric Olivier in 2011. Each year, however, we profile promising business owners - oftentimes those flying under the radar - who are working to impact Acadiana's economy and community in big ways. We found four such entrepreneurs we'll be keeping our eyes on in the years to come: Trip Gruver, Greg Trahan, Bobby Holbrook Jr. and Chris Rader.
This Entrepreneur is a Trip
No, really, that's his name - Trip Gruver - and he sees Lafayette as the next big thing in the commercial video industry.
By Walter Pierce
With bleached blond hair and a Left Coast fashion flair, Trip Gruver looks like the quintessential California dude. In fact, he was for decades - first in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles, where his creative filmmaking skills won him Emmy and Clio awards (a Clio is to advertising what an Oscar is to movies).
Trip Gruver / Photo by Robin May
After spending four years in Florida doing freelance work and getting reacquainted with his elderly father, Gruver found himself in Lafayette working on a three-month project with locally owned video-production company Vidox Motion Imagery creating an ad campaign for UL basketball. Lafayette got under his skin and he never left.
"I had the option of, am I going to stay here, am I going to leave here? But in that period of time I really grew to love this place," Gruver explains. "I've always gone for the next opportunity if I feel that it's a growth - a self-growth and a professional growth and a creative growth involved in that. And I saw a lot of that opportunity here."
Gruver is the creative mind behind some of the most successful ad campaigns in recent memory, many of them featuring babies - for Michelin tires, Huggies and Pampers, to name a few. "As soon as you get one successful baby commercial, you're an expert I guess," he jokes.
Since he's always looking for the next opportunity, for the next challenge, the Connecticut native and San Francisco State University film school alumnus saw a world of possibility in Lafayette, specifically putting the city on the commercial filmmaking map, in part because Lafayette is beginning to accumulate the infrastructure, but also in large part because of the local culture.
"Every single client I ever worked with never goes back to their hotel room; they want to be able to have experiences," he explains. "They want to be able to go to great restaurants. They want to listen to great music. They want to see culture that they've maybe not been that often exposed to; that was what was so great for them shooting in Toronto and especially Vancouver, BC, was they had all those things but it was a city you could investigate easily in a short period of time and really get to know it as a visitor."
Gruver noticed something about Lafayette once he got his sea legs - something that many in town now take for granted but was rare a couple of decades ago: "Apparently everyone who now works in Lafayette originally is from Lafayette then went somewhere else for a period of years for an education or for a first couple of jobs and then they all come back. I've been really impressed with that," he says.
Gruver has formed a partnership with two other local video-production savants - John Paul Summers (producer) and Adam Hoffmann (visual effects). Although as of this writing the venture hasn't been incorporated, Gruver says it will be called The Colony.
The trio has been working with the Russo Group in Lafayette to develop a branding strategy for the startup. He'll serve as director, and says he will lean on his many contacts in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest to reel in commercial video production to the Hub City.
"I've been waiting for an opportunity to form a company where I don't have to leave Lafayette on a regular basis," he says. "All I used to do was be in the air or on a cement floor for 20 years. Either you're on an airplane or you're on a stage - that's kind of it. I'm really enjoying the size of this community, the openness of this community, the fact that when they say, I'll make a call for you,' they really mean it. It's really nice."
Like Father, Like Son
After 35 years in business, Holbrook Multi-Media is becoming a one-stop production shop.
By Patrick Flanagan
For Bob Holbrook, some things never change, like his taste in clothes, he jokes. But after 35 years, what is changing is his business, Holbrook Multi Media Inc.
Spearheading that change is Holbrook's son Bobby Jr.
Bobby Holbrook Jr. / Photo courtesy Holbrook Multi-Media Inc.
"Bobby has really proven himself in the production realm on the local, regional and national stages, and in a way, what he's doing now is refocusing the company back to the original concept," says Bob Sr.
Basically, the idea is to make Holbrook Multi-Media capable of handling any project to come its way, which Bobby Jr. says is not the norm among most productions companies.
"Most production companies do just one type of production, and then outsource everything else," says Bobby. "We've invested [a little more than $500,000] in lighting, grip trucks, specialized camera technology. We can do what any production company in the country can do."
A new 25,000-square-foot facility also is in the works, with features including an auditorium-like studio for live orchestrated concerts, a green screen and fully specked out sound and video studios.
"This will give us a chance to work with everyone," Bobby adds.
Going forward, the Holbrooks will take on different roles geared toward their individual areas of expertise.
Bob Holbrook can trace the company's history back to his first production studio, which was housed in an old gas station in Jeanerette. That was 1977, and five years later - around the time Bobby Jr. was born - Bob seized on an opportunity to buy out what at the time was Lafayette's only multi-media production company. Now, 35 years later, the Holbrooks have become one of Lafayette's premiere multi-media producers of advertising jingles and marketing campaigns, which have reached both regional and national audiences. The Holbrooks' client base is diverse and includes companies like Vibram Fiver Finger shoes and DOW Chemical.
"Rather than be just a hybrid multi-media company, I'll be putting the focus strictly on production, and Bob's going to have his consulting firm," says Bobby Jr.
Though no ground-breaking date is set for the new studio, Bobby Holbrook says his plan is to get dirt flying by year's end.
Paying It Forward
Greg Trahan's good fortune is breathing new life into his hometown.
By Heather Miller
Lake Arthur native Greg Trahan has always branded his little hometown in Jeff Davis Parish as "Louisiana's best-kept secret."
And thanks to Trahan's creative concept, multi-million dollar investment and a drive to bring Lake Arthur back to life, thousands of Louisiana travelers are discovering the hidden gem when they visit Regatta LA Seafood and Steakhouse, Trahan's thriving waterfront restaurant that's having a "domino effect of a lot of positives" on a once-sleepy town.
Regatta LA Seafood and Steakhouse
Trahan, 47, began his professional life in the oil and gas industry in 1983 and in the mid-1990s earned the Certified Safety Professional designation. In 1998, he founded his own business, Safety Management Systems, unaware at the time that by 2006 the company would employ more than 400 people and reach revenues of more than $50 million a year.
The Lafayette resident sold his wildly successful business to Acadian Companies in 2006, remaining on board as president of SMS for three years before he decided to take his life in a new direction.
After taking a couple of years off to travel the world with his wife, Tressa, Trahan came back "somewhat energized" and began investing in Lafayette area real estate, such as Grand Pointe Village shopping center off Kaliste Saloom Road and other commercial ventures on Ambassador Caffery Parkway.
"All this time I would go back to my little hometown because of our lake house, and it looked like our town had lost foresight of what I call Louisiana's best-kept secret," Trahan says. "Because I've been very blessed, I approached our mayor and city council with an idea.
Greg Trahan / Photo by Robin May
Traveling around the world you see these restaurants on the water, and I thought it would be good for the town. I thought if I was blessed with being able to sell a $50 million company, I could create a concept and a great marketing plan and we could open a restaurant on the lake."
The Regatta restaurant has been open just 17 months, and already its 53 employees are serving 2,000-3,000 patrons a week and generating annual revenues of more than $2 million.
What's more important for Trahan, however, is the catalyst his business and ideas have become for improving economic development throughout Lake Arthur and Jeff Davis Parish.
When Trahan approached the mayor with his restaurant concept, the mayor and council in turn selected Trahan and Jeff Davis Parish Economic Development and Tourism Director Marion Fox to head up Team LA, a nonprofit comprised of 14 stakeholders who come together for infrastructure projects and other economic development needs.
"He's invested a lot of time, energy and personal money, and it's really made a difference," Fox says. "Now other people are doing the same thing. That's what it takes to have economic development. He not only put time and energy into that restaurant, but he's a moving and driving force behind the movement to improve Lake Arthur itself."
On Memorial Day weekend, the town brought back its Regatta Festival on the lake, welcoming "tremendous crowds and great sponsors," Trahan says.
"We've energized the town," he adds. "We've helped the real estate market because people are trying to buy up lakefront property. It's been a domino effect of a lot of positives.
"I could care less if that restaurant ever made a nickel," he continues. "This development/investment isn't about making the next million. It's about giving back and being able to help. If anything, God forbid when I have to lay in that box one day, I hope when people show up they say that guy was a blessed gentleman who stayed grounded, never forgot where he came from and always gave."
'Ungeeking' Tech Support
Rader Solutions serves as a virtual IT department for more than 150 companies both locally and nationwide.
By Heather Miller
If there's one thing Rader Solutions founder and CEO Chris Rader has learned through decades of experience in the IT business, it's that "the last person the CEO of a company wants to talk to is the IT guy."
Chris Rader / Photo by Robin May
That's been the premise behind Rader Solutions' key mission of providing high-level technical support to mid-sized companies, serving as each of their clients' entire IT department since Rader founded his business in 1998.
Rader and his staff of 12 - 15 employees manage IT systems for more than 150 mid-sized companies, typically adding one new client a week. Roughly half of his clientele is based in Louisiana while the other half is spread out nationwide.
"We have ungeeked IT support," Rader says. "I don't talk in real technical terms. Our customers feel like we're right next to them when we're on the phone."
A New Iberia native and Lafayette resident, Rader grew up around his family's lumber business. He later studied computer information systems at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., then obtained an MBA from Vanderbilt University and combined his skills by installing software in lumber yards for several years.
He credits the success of his company to the "solid and robust infrastructure" the business has been building for the past 15 years. With a private cloud system that Rader's company created seven years ago, "we've leveraged [our resources] so that we're able to respond quicker than other IT companies."
"Overnight is not enough anymore," Rader says. "When customers make acquisitions, we execute quickly and have strong relationships nationwide."
Today, his client list ranges from construction and building companies to the health care and oil and gas sectors. Clients can reach Rader by phone morning or night, as the company offers extended business hours of 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and year-round, 24-hour a day on-call availability.
As Opportunity Machine Executive Director Bob Miller puts it, to be a true entrepreneur, "you have to be a visionary."
"You have to absolutely love what you're doing and know the value of people," Miller says. "Be able to balance finance with the need to create. Love solving problems. Be able to change the path of your company based on what you find while you're working with customers to develop the product. Be persistent and not willing to be stop just because people tell you it won't work."
Rader Solutions also provides donations in the form of IT support to several area nonprofits, including the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, the Miles Perret Cancer Center and the Community Foundation of Acadiana.
"We spend a lot of time giving back to the community," says Rader, who also serves on the board of Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Coteau. "We treat out people right, offer free lunch to employees, full benefits and profit sharing. A lot of kids coming out of college don't have opportunities for that. At the end of the day the only reason we succeed is because of the people that work with me. It's all about them."