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40 posts from August 2011

August 31, 2011

Two growing area businesses make Inc. 5,000 list

Dramatic revenue growth has landed two area businesses — WaterFilters.Net and AffordableButtons.Com — on Inc. magazine's just-released annual list of financial rising stars.

Inc5000-logo A striking revenue climb of 566 percent from 2007 to 2010 scored WaterFilters.Net of Zumbrota its third appearance on Inc.'s fastest-growing list in the 576th spot.

AffordableButtons.Com of Rochester hit the list for the first time at the 3,620th spot. It tallied its own impressive three-year growth of 45 percent to hit $3.3 million in revenue for 2010.

Still growing in Zumbrota
For WaterFilters.Net which opened its 20,000-square-foot distribution center in Zumbrota in 2008, making the list again is "… a strong validation of our core values as a company," says Karl Rist, the online retailer's marketing specialist.

Waterfilters In 2008, the company, which sells water filters and filtration products online, had a staff of three. They have about 30 employees today, he says.

The company that was originally started by Jamin Arvig in his Twin Cities apartment collected $10.3 million in revenue for 2010.

Her dream made real
Seeing her business on Inc.'s list is simply a dream come true for AffordableButtons.Com's founder Linda Christopherson.

"I've always wanted to make the Inc. list. I think it makes a huge difference," says Christopherson, who runs the family-owned company with her husband, Tom.

Like WaterFilters.Net, AffordableButtons' name is pretty self-explanatory.

It makes custom buttons with messages and designs for about 40,000 customers, including presidential candidates, high school sports teams, Fortune 500 companies, kids' birthday parties, Hollywood movie studios and many others.

AffordableButtons_9374 "In our category of advertising and marketing, we're ranked at 327. That's a huge industry that includes a lot more than just button makers," Christopherson says.

Its 35 employees make and ship out tens of thousands of buttons a day from its facility on Rochester's 19th Street Northwest.

As candidates are starting to jockey for position in the 2012 presidential race, AffordableButtons is starting to see a surge in its political business.

About 50,000 Ron Paul buttons have already be made as well as about 6,000 ones for Rick Perry.

Roch. software firm launches pro-am contest for app makers

Here's some from a piece I wrote about Vacava and its new web app creation software.

Take note professional and wanna-be app makers. They are offering $4,000 and two iPads for the best apps submitted to their Application Invitational.

Check out the print edition for the whole story.


A Rochester software firm is confident that its new product can make anyone into a programmer.

Logowhite200straptm To prove it, Vacava is giving its RapidBiz system out for free to both programmers and non-programmers to compete in a contest to see who can create the best web applications.

Winners in each of the pro and rookie categories will receive $2,000. Runners-up will get Apple iPads.

Competitors will also be able to earn for money directly from the marketplace for their work.

All of the business-focused applications will go into Vacava's online "catalog." Following the model of the Apple App Store, customers can directly purchase the applications.
The creators will receive all of the money generated by any sales.

August 30, 2011

Top Roch. real estate sale for month - $3.5 million

Looking at Olmsted County's property records online today, I noticed a southwest Rochester office building just sold for $3.5 million. Sold_sign_423

OK, it didn't actually 'just' sell.

Property sales are not updated regularly. This sale happened on Aug. 18, which is the most recent date available as of Aug. 30.

Anyway, this sale is the top one for the month, so far.

This building last sold in 2007 for $3.9 million.

I'll flesh this out in my print column soon.

And yes, that means I'll say what building sold and who bought it.


Downtown Roch. art shop growing naturally

A clever buy is giving Jim Krom a blank canvas to display more and larger artwork in downtown Rochester.

Jameskromlogo He is expanding his well-known James Krom Natural Images art shop in the Marriott Hotel subway under First Avenue Southwest.

His glass display kiosk in the subway by the Mayo Store and the Chocolate Oasis has been a landmark for local art lovers as well as for visitors to Mayo Clinic for the past 14 years.

Kromowl In July, he purchased inventory of the Clever Kids toy store and across the hall from his art kiosk.

Krom has now sold off all of the toys and is creating a small gallery there to complement his kiosk. He will still use his longtime glass kiosk to display artwork.

"Now I'll have space to display larger bronzes, pottery and more paintings," he says. "This gives me room to show about 40 artists. Right now, I display work from about 30."

As an example of what is to come, Krom says he plans this fall to display a life-sized statue of an older woman created by an award-winning wood carver.

Passers-by in the subway should see displays being installed this week as he prepares the new space. Look for it to fully open later week.

In addition to space for more art, the new space will give him room to create. He plans to set up his own easel and work on his art projects as he staffs the gallery.

Krom's expansion is the latest example of the artistic activity growing downtown.

Virginia Woodruff, a master book binder, is moving her Artpacks store from the Marriott Hotel subway to a larger space on the lobby level of the Kahler Grand Hotel. Look for the specialty arts store to open in early September.

Carson Framing is moving to 211 S. Broadway in early October. Owner Mike Carson moves to eventually create an art gallery there to operate with his framing business. He hopes to have that going in 2012.

In May, Barbara Truax launched Gallery On First in the Marriott Hotel's subway.

Those are just a couple of examples of downtown Rochester's colorful artistic side that also include places like the SEMVA Art Gallery on the Peace Plaza, Art Bitz on South Broadway and, of course, the Rochester Art Center.

August 29, 2011

IBM's Watson and Jeopardy - the rerun

It seems unlikely that anyone in the Rochester area (who wanted to watch it) missed the TV showdown between Watson IBM's big brain computer and the top Jeopardy! quiz show contestants back in February.

Watson runs on Power 750 servers, which are manufactured as well as partially designed here.

However, if you did miss it or you just want to re-live the moment, "an encore presentation" (better known as a rerun) will air in mid-September.

Here are the details from a press release that rolled in today


IBM and America's Favorite Quiz show Jeopardy! today announced that Jeopardy! will broadcast an encore presentation of the first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy! competition between IBM's "Watson" computing system and the show's two greatest contestants -- Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Ibm-watson-jeopardy Millions of North American viewers will be able to again witness TV history as Watson successfully competes against two human champions in two matches played over three consecutive days. The episodes will air on September 12, 13 and 14, 2011.

"With the Jeopardy! challenge, we accomplished what was thought to be impossible - building a computer system that operates in the near limitless, ambiguous and highly contextual realm of human language and knowledge," said Dr. David Ferrucci, IBM Fellow and scientist leading the IBM Research team that created Watson. "Watching the match again reminds us of the great power and potential behind Watson to be able to make sense of the massive amounts of data around us and to solve problems in new ways."

Six months after the original competition, Watson's Deep Question Answering (QA) technology has already driven progress in new fields such as the healthcare industry. IBM is working with Nuance Communications, Inc. to explore and develop applications to help critical decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, process large volumes of health information in order to deliver quicker and more accurate patient diagnoses. Working with universities and clients, IBM is identifying many potential uses for Watson's underlying QA technology.

Jeweler to shine in new setting

It is time for a Rochester jewelry shop to shine in its new setting.

NewStore Hight & Randall, Ltd. Personal Jeweler is opening today in their new locationin the 19th Street Financial Center at 2048 Superior Drive N.W.

The long-time Rochester closed its well-known downtown store earlier this summer to create the new place in northwest Rochester.

Barbara Hight-Randall owns the store with her husband, Randy Randall.

"This is going to be unique and different. There's not another jewelry store like it in Rochester," she says. "It's Art Deco, but it is still modern and chic."

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for the first weekend of November.

August 25, 2011

Flapdoodles on the go

It has been a big summer for Rochester's new handmade premium ice cream shop.

Matt and Vicki Tierney opened Flapdoodles Ice Cream in May at 3525 22nd Ave. N.W.

3315-vphAs the hot summer has rolled on, it is has not been unusual to see lines of customers stretching out the door of the former Subway sandwich shop building.

Now those ice cream fans can get their scoops of Salty Caramel or Carrot Cake ice cream without leaving their cars.

Flapdoodles opened a drive-through window this week.

Matt Tierney says they waited to open the drive-through, because they wanted to be sure of their service.

"We didn't want to bite off more than we could chew," he says.

While a cold dish of ice cream is a popular treat on a hot summer day, does Flapdoodles have a plan for when the Minnesota nights get colder?

"We have some ideas," Tierney says. "We will introduce some premium hot cocoa and coffee drinks in October."

IBM and HP tied up on servers

In their ongoing server cage match, IBM and HP wrestle to the mat in a tie.

IDC server report However, it looks like the Big Blue Bomber might be starting to get an upper hand.

International Data Corporation released its quarterly report on the world server market today.

With IBM servers being linked so close with Rochester, I always try to glance at this.

Here's some from IDC's release about the second quarter of this year:


IBM and HP jointly held the number 1 position in the worldwide server market with 30.5% and 29.8% factory revenue share respectively for 2Q11, a statistical tie.

Ibm-logo IBM experienced 24.5% year-over-year growth in factory revenue gaining 1.6 points of share in the quarter on the performance of System x, Power Systems, and System z.

HP's factory revenue grew 9.3% year over year in 2Q11 based on solid demand for x86-based ProLiant servers and blades.

Dell maintained third place with 13.8% factory revenue market share in 2Q11. Dell's factory revenue increased 5.1% compared to 2Q10, driven in part by strong demand from SMB customers.

IBM's System z servers experienced the fourth consecutive quarter of positive revenue growth, with 61.1% year-over-year growth in 2Q11 to $1.2 billion, representing 9.0% of quarterly server revenue worldwide. This was the fourth consecutive quarter that IBM System z revenue exceeded $1 billion, driven by new product introductions and demand for capacity within the IBM installed base.


Hormel's optimistic with solid 3Q numbers

Here's some from a quick piece I whipped together this morning on Hormel Food's third quarter earnings report:

Third quarter increases of earnings and sales are buoying Hormel Food Corp.'s optimism.

The Austin-based food processor rolled out a solid earnings report this morning showing a 15 percent increase in earnings and a 10 percent growth in sales, both compared to the third quarter in 2010.
With those increases, Hormel improved its economic forecast for the fiscal year.

“As a result of our solid results in the third quarter, we are raising our full year guidance range to $1.70 to $1.75 per share from $1.67 to $1.73 per share,” said Jeffrey M. Ettinger, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer.

For the third quarter, the company showed year-over-year gains in many of its segments.
Grocery products, which contribute about 21 percent to Hormel's total operating profit, grew profits to $30.43 million. That's up 19 percent compared to the same quarter last year, and sales were up 4 percent.

"Our grocery products segment generated solid results, benefiting from strong sales of Mexican products by our MegaMex Foods joint venture, and of our Spam family of products," stated Ettinger in the report. "I was pleased to see sales of our Hormel Compleats microwave meals grow nicely in the quarter."
Also, Jennie-O Turkey Store posted a 14 percent profit increase over 2010.
The "all other" segment, consisting mostly of the Hormel Foods international operations, posted a whopping increase of 67 percent compared to 2010.

Hormel's largest segment, refrigerated foods, had a 12 percent drop in profits despite a 10 percent increase in sales.

"Lower pork operating margins hindered our refrigerated foods segment results," said Hormel's CEO.

August 24, 2011

Tech start-up gets a room of its own

Here's some from my column in today's Post-Bulletin.

For the full piece check out our print edition.

A young Rochester technology start-up firm now has a room of its own.

StackTech, LLC, which offers on-site information technology consulting and computer support, expects to move into its own office space in mid-September, says John McMahon, one of the three owners and chief marketing officer.

195799_236984989653928_6035602_n The trio are setting up their office at 4104 18th Ave. N.W. in the Cedarwood Plaza.

Since Kyle Button and Jack Leland formed it in the spring, StackTech has been kind of a virtual company with no defined base of operations.

Most of its support and consulting work is done at customers' offices or homes.

But McMahon says as StackTech's service of creating customized computers on demand has grown, it became apparent that it would be handy to have one central spot to do that work.

StackTech does this for individuals and for businesses, he says.

"People call us up and say 'I'm looking to buy a computer. What can you tell me?' We say, 'Well, we can build you one,' says McMahon. "Tell us what your needs are and we'll build you a computer to meet those needs."

They have been doing that work at their individual home workshops until now.