But every year it was a learning experience for business owner Andrew Kohlmann. Every time he learned more about making his company more efficient and profitable, how to improve employee relations and how to ramp up its community involvement.
“We strongly believe in the (Small Business Celebration) because of the introspection it created for us and how we do what we do,” Kohlmann said. “I’d still like to be part of it, even after winning it.”
Andrew and his wife, Amy, purchased Image360 back in 2008 when it was known as Signs Now. He’d worked at the graphic design/communications firm since he was in high school, and the couple jumped at the chance to become owners of the company. A year later they entered the Small Business Celebration for the first time, and immediately took away positive experiences from their participation.
“Even just filling out the application form, it makes you think ‘Are we doing the best we can or are there areas where we can find improvement?’” he said.
Image360 finished among the Top 10 SBC finalists for four years, before finally reaching the pinnacle in 2017. There were numerous benefits from participating, he said. Taking part in the SBC Candidates Showcase, which is open to all companies that apply, was always a productive team-building exercise as the company’s employees brainstormed on the best ways to present and promote their business products and services. Taking part in the SBC Meet the Top 10 Breakfast was also a highlight, he said, as he learned a lot from the other SBC finalists.
“I found that I always took away points and lessons from the other businesses that I could take back to help our business,” he said.
Meeting with the Small Business Celebration judges was another highlight, he said, as their questions and observations were another source of helpful feedback for the company.
The positive experience of the Small Business Celebration was the reason Image360 kept on participating – but winning the competition was like a cherry on top of a sundae.
“All the recognition you get from it – it’s hard to measure – but for us it’s been huge,” Kohlmann said. Beyond the Chamber’s recognition, the SBC receives extensive media coverage from Midwestern Broadcasting, 9&10 News, along with the Traverse City Record-Eagle and The Ticker.
The company and its employees have also benefited significantly from the professional development training offered through event sponsors Hagerty and Northwestern Michigan College’s Technical Service program. Hagerty also provides a matching community grant for the SBC winners, which Image360 will use to support Bay Area Recycling for Charities (BARC).
Image360 won’t be part of the SBC this year – but Kohlmann will still be part of it. As a past SBC winner, he will join the impressive panel of Small Business Celebration judges for this year’s competition. He’s anxious to spread the knowledge he’s gained through the program as others have shared with him.
“To me, it’s almost like why would you not want to participate,” he said of the Small Business Celebration. “There have been so many positives for us to be associated with it.”
Applications for the 2018 Small Business Celebration will open in early February. Follow the Chamber Bulletin and our social media platforms for information on how your company can participate.