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The Players

With consumers having more choice in the products they buy and in the ways those products are advertised, Bing Howenstein has to make sure they know what BackJoy Orthotics offers them. As the president of the Valencia-based manufacturer and distributor of the BackJoy Core neck and back supporter, Howenstein isn’t out to make a sale to every man, women and child but he does want to fix the way the world sits. With consumers so in control in how and when they make their purchases, operating in a specialized and niche market is more important than ever, Howenstein said. This is a lesson learned by a number of companies making this year’s Fast Growing Private Companies list. And if these companies aren’t finding the dollars by offering consumer niche products they can also find money in the business-to-business segment. For a second year in a row the Fast Growing list is filled with companies offering a product or service that is necessary for business owners to operate or that consumers find difficult to live without. Take the back pain that Howenstein wants to eliminate with the BackJoy Core. “You are willing to spend dollars you may not have,’ Howenstein said. “Living with back pain is not something you want to do.” BackJoy Orthotics ranked No. 1 overall on this year’s list with a 675.68 percent growth over a three-year period. In 2007, the company brought in $740,000 in sales and two years later it went up to $5.7 million. The many technology companies on the list serve business clients with essential products and services needed to get through the day. To keep growing, these companies develop new offerings for their clients and adapt to changing industry patterns. Staying ahead Take for instance that ITS – Integrated Telemanagement Services stayed ahead of the curve by being able to offer a service where a phone call can be made over the Internet using a mobile device. Fulcrum Microsystems, a developer and manufacturer of Ethernet switch chips, uses its technology to operate at a faster speed than traditional chips. Although just a small piece of information technology spending comes its way, the company is still able to track spending by businesses, said CEO Bob Nunn. The first half of 2010 had been going well but the second half has seen a cooling off, Nunn said. For Fulcrum, purchases of its Ethernet chips have been by companies transitioning from 1 gigabit chips to 10 gigabit chips. “People are spending money on our product, but then they spend more in some areas than others depending on what they see in the economy and in their own businesses,” Nunn said. Business spending is often seen as a good indicator at how well the economy is doing, and recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce show no consistent pattern. Capital goods spending (excluding aircraft) by businesses went up 4.8 percent in August and then dropped by 0.6 percent in September. Consumer spending, meanwhile, went up 0.4 percent in both July and August, according to Commerce Department figures. When the economy was in dire straits a year ago, there was already spending going on at the consumer-oriented businesses making the Fast Growing list. For a third year, Filmtools in Burbank makes the list. A retailer of supplies used for film and television production, Filmtools has turned its attention to the “prosumers” making their own indy videos and less on what the major studios and production companies are doing. Revenues will exceed $10 million for the first time ever in 2010, owner Stan McClain said. The collectables and toys distributed by Entertainment Earth may not be essential but it is part of a multi-billion industry. Exclusivity has been a big part of what’s behind Entertainment Earth’s growth with limited editions collectables. This year the North Hollywood company began distributing limited edition action figures and bobble heads from Bif Bang Pow! Keeping customers Offering personal service, a mint condition guarantee, a knowledgeable staff, and generous return policies also brings customers back, said co-founder Aaron Labowitz. “We’ve been very service oriented,” Labowitz said. “That has kept up in a slightly different league than other companies out there.” As long as people experience back pain, a business like BackJoy will continue to have customers. With commutes taking longer and employees spending more time at a desk, relief will always be sought. Howenstein believes he has the solution because the BackJoy Core puts the spine in a more natural position when the person sits. “The fact is in a category like this, when you have back pain you want it fixed,” Howenstein said. “If someone has an extra couple of bucks they will do so.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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