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Three area businesses make Inc. 500 list

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Two Springfield businesses and one Mount Vernon-based company climbed into Inc. magazine’s 2011 Inc. 500, based on revenue growth. Six area companies were among 66 in Missouri to make the 2011 Inc. 5000 list, published in its September issue.

The lists rank private companies that submitted applications for consideration based on percentage revenue growth between 2007 and 2010. Eligible businesses recorded revenues of at least $100,000 in 2007 and $2 million in 2010.

A common theme among these local companies is that the recent economic recession has provided opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. JMark Business Solutions, No. 1,397; Healthcarefirst, No. 1,425; and Russell Cellular, No. 1,634, round out the area companies on the fast-growth list.

ECS, No. 69
Springfield-based Electronic Check Services Inc. is the highest-ranked local company at No. 69 with 3,188 percent growth 2007–10. With 13 full-time employees, ECS posted revenues last year of $81.2 million.

President Derron Winfrey attributes the company’s move into the prepaid wireless phone service market as the reason behind its meteoric rise. The company’s expansion beyond electronic check services began in 2007 with the purchase of Austin, Texas-based Softgate Systems. Winfrey said that allowed the company – which is shifting to the preferred name of ECS – to offer prepaid cellular service to retailers, bill pay and gift cards via a single terminal.

Winfrey said that foresight on the edge of a recession and in a changing marketplace accelerated its growth into all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with the help of roughly 270 commissioned sales agents. ECS provides prepaid cellular service, private-label gift card programs, bill pay and checking services to nearly 6,500 retailers such as convenience stores or cellular phone distributors, such as Verizon or AT&T.

He points to the company’s relationships with contract sales agents in the field.

“I think the independent sales channel finds us comforting in a lot of ways because we are family owned. They are small-business people,” Winfrey said of the independent agents who want to speak to someone if they have a question or concern. “They are handshake people, by and large, and we are very much that way.”

He said prepaid cellular service has totally changed the dynamic of the company, which started in 1998 and just a few years ago provided checking services in Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Kansas only.

Earlier this year, ECS received top honors at the Springfield Business Journal Dynamic Dozen awards for its revenue growth between 2008 and 2010. ECS ranked No. 449 in the 2010 Inc. 500 list, and No. 2 in Springfield Business Journal’s 2010 Dynamic Dozen honors.

IWS, No. 288
Chris Reynolds, president of Springfield-based Intuitive Web Solutions, said his company’s customer base – insurance carriers with annual revenues between $2 million and $30 million – has been relatively unfazed by the economic recession and eager to invest in software that simplifies business.

The company’s niche – Web-based property and casualty insurance administration software – has enabled 1,142 percent revenue growth, from $190,000 in 2007 revenues to $2.4 million in 2010. IWS ranked 288 on Inc.’s list.

“That industry is still fairly stable despite what big media tends to talk about with companies like AIG, which is not one of our clients. We deal with small insurance companies which are very, very stable,” Reynolds said.

He said the recessionary period also has opened up a pool of qualified job candidates – something that might not have been possible in a booming economy.

“We are at the smallest end of the insurance market … and the trend is to move up market,” Reynolds said. “We have a tremendous space to grow in.”

Only in its first year on the Inc. 500 list, he said IWS has yet to secure major multibillion-dollar carriers such as American Family or State Farm. The company now claims 35 clients in 16 states.

Reynolds intends to manage the next growth waves closely in order to keep the company’s culture intact, a lesson he’s learned while doubling staff to 10, then 20 and now 40 employees.

“I don’t think I’d want to be the fastest-growing company in America,” Reynolds said.

That label belongs to N.Y.-based Ideeli, an Internet fashion company that reported three-year revenue growth of 40,882 percent to 2010 revenue of $77.7 million.

Red Monkey, No. 465
First-time Inc. 500 entrant Mount Vernon-based Red Monkey Foods cracked the Top 500 at No. 465 on three-year revenue growth of 753 percent to $6.3 million in 2010.

“A lot of it is due to the reputation we’ve established in the marketplace during the last eight years combined with all the retailers moving toward private labels and building their own brands,” said President Jeff Brinkhoff.

He said it hasn’t hurt that the sour economy has pushed more people to grocery stores, either.

Red Monkey produces spices, rubs, spice grinders and other food products under Brinkhoff & Monoson Inc. Its lineup includes private-label seasonings for Target, Safeway and Cost Plus World Market, as well as its own Red Monkey brand launched in 2004.

Its ability to produce unconventional spice combinations with top sellers such as Mango Habanera rub and Roasted Raspberry Chipotle also has fostered rapid growth, Brinkhoff said. The company also offers a Sugar Twister line that comprises natural sugar blends, such as Cinnamon Swirl or Vanilla Vortex, for coffee or baked goods.

Brinkhoff said Red Monkey is still growing, but it has had to “put the brakes on” to some degree in 2011 as it adjusts its operations to deal with the demands of its growth. He said he wants to make sure the company is satisfying the customers it’s worked hard to earn and not just growing blindly.

Red Monkey, he said, is now focused on attracting more online customers and new industrial clients as ways to improve its bottom line.

Red Monkey Foods, which employs 43, expects to sell roughly 5.3 million spice units this year compared to 4 million in 2010. The company was No. 4 on SBJ’s 2011 Dynamic Dozen.[[In-content Ad]]

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