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Paragon 360, led by Donnie and Karen Brawner, placed on the Inc. 5000 for the first time.
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
Paragon 360, led by Donnie and Karen Brawner, placed on the Inc. 5000 for the first time.

7 local firms make Inc. 5000

Fast-growing companies share tips from the trenches – and what’s getting them through COVID-19

Posted online

Amid months of disruption from the coronavirus pandemic, seven local companies were recognized in the annual Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies.

The rankings are based on three years of revenue growth through 2019, and the local business owners credit their strategic plans for getting their companies on the national list – and for keeping afloat during the pandemic.

“We decided a few years ago to focus on processes and getting the right people in place, and that’s fueled our growth,” said Brett Curry, owner of e-commerce and digital marketing firm OMG Commerce, which placed No. 1,679 on the list, up 737 spots from last year. “Our services are in high demand right now, so growth has accelerated in the last few months. … June was our biggest month in company history.”

OMG Commerce was the highest ranked of Springfield businesses in its second year on the list, with 2017-19 revenue growth of 256%. The company last month also won its category of 8-15 years in business for Springfield Business Journal’s Economic Impact Awards. OMG Commerce reported 2019 revenue of $5.7 million.

Overall, it was a down year for Springfield businesses on the Inc. 5000. The seven companies are the fewest listed since 2014, when nine companies made the list, according to past SBJ reporting. Inc. magazine did not include 2019 company revenue in this year’s list.

Some companies are no stranger to the national recognition, such as OMG Commerce, GigSalad and Russell Cellular Inc. But it was the first year making the list for Paragon 360 LLC, which has started to grow a local footprint after nearly two decades working on a national scale. Paragon 360 placed No. 2,472.

Co-owner Donnie Brawner said the audio-video and lighting company has gained local clients, such as CoxHealth, James River Church Inc. and OakStar Bank. Paragon 360 revenue grew 166% from 2017-19.

“We’ve taken what we do nationally and figured out how to do the same thing on a local level. We’ve put a lot of energy into that,” he said. “We’ve spent several years working on strategic planning, and in the last three years, we’ve seen the results.”

The company has nearly tripled its staff to 70 full-time employees over the last few years, he said. Paragon Fabrication LLC, a sister company, recently opened an office on the Paragon campus off of South Kansas Expressway. Paragon Fabrication makes interior architectural elements such as kiosks and illuminated wall features.

Like others, the company has been met with challenges in recent months, but Brawner said Paragon 360 has seen an uptick in business amid the pandemic because houses of worship were seeking audio, visual and lighting solutions to help stream services online or because clients took the opportunity to update their equipment during months of low traffic.

“A lot of people in this business have been decimated because of the pandemic. We’ve positioned ourself well,” he said.

Staying afloat
This year marked Russell Cellular’s 10th time on the Inc. 5000, placing No. 3,006. Vice President of Operations Jeven Russell said it’s largely because of the company’s banner year in 2019 with two large acquisitions, new distribution channels and its partnership with Verizon Wireless.

Russell Cellular was named the fastest-growing company in the Ozarks during SBJ’s Dynamic Dozen awards in May, posting a record $600 million in 2019 revenue, according to past reporting.

Russell said last year’s revenue has positioned the company well, though 2020 growth won’t be as planned.

“There’s no doubt this will be an outlier year for us,” said Russell. “Our business has absolutely been impacted, and like most retailers, there’s been a tremendous hit to volume and traffic. It’s been a catalyst to change our business quicker. … We’re growing in the digital space and introducing new concepts like touchless retail and contactless payment.”

Mark Steiner, CEO and co-founder of Gig Salad, said his company’s ability to weather the storm this year is because of its success in 2019. The company placed No. 1,881 on the Inc. 5000 and ranked second of the local companies, with 224% revenue growth.

“We had some extra cash and wanted to manage that well, so we did some things like pay against our lease … and we had a nice reserve in the bank when COVID hit,” said Steiner.

In spite of large events being canceled, he said the company made a profit in March and had a more profitable June this year than last with 6% growth. He said many private events, such as birthday parties or small weddings, were not canceled because of coronavirus and gross booking revenue increased by 79% from May to June.

“Getting on the list again was fantastic but going through COVID is the real award,” he said.

Marketing moves
Local business owners also say they’re able to leverage the Inc. recognition as a marketing tool, especially during a time when consumer confidence is volatile.

Curry said he highlights the award on OMG Commerce’s website and often mentions it at virtual speaking events.

“We try to get as much leverage out of it as we can,” he said. “It validates us, so when we communicate what we do differently and why that works and talk about client success stories, … the recognition supports that.”

Curry said June sales were up about 30% year over year, and since the shutdowns began, the company has added four employees to its staff this year.

Jamie Grigsby, a marketing professor at Missouri State University, said marketing strategies are even more important now that consumers are more selective on spending money and where they go.

“People are using a little bit more caution in terms of what businesses they’re going to use. The Inc. 5000 award gives some evidence to the consumer that the organization has grown,” she said. “If they can show past success, that they’ve overcome challenges in the past, been successful, then it suggests that they can overcome the COVID challenge and continue to grow the economic growth of Springfield.”


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