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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 10 years ago

On the Mark

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Job growth at a Gulf Coast health and beauty products firm has come fast and furious. The company set ambitious goals to keep pace.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

A Bradenton network marketing firm is on a hiring binge that's so hot, it's enough to make Gov. Rick Scott drool. The company, It Works Global, has hired about 40 people since February, when it relocated its corporate headquarters to east Manatee County from Grand Rapids, Mich. It plans 20 more hires by September, and at least 90 hires in total by 2014. It's the kind of hiring done in bunches, not piecemeal, that Gov. Scott has pushed for statewide.

“In this economy,” says It Works founder and President Mark Pentecost, “people want something to believe in.”

That belief is rooted in the company's core products. The list includes nutritional supplements, botanically based skin care products and the Ultimate Body Applicator. It Works says the applicator, part of its body-slimming unit, is a non-woven cloth wrap infused with a formula that tightens and tones the body when applied to the skin.

Says Pentecost: “Our products help people live longer and look younger.”

It Works' business model, meanwhile, works by using a burgeoning organization of home-based independent distributors to sell the products — similar to Amway. The firm has distributors in 11 countries.

The corporate office hiring boom and the decision to move was aided by state and county subsidies. The firm can receive up to $800,000, split almost evenly between Florida and Manatee County, it if meets job growth and average salary projections. “The tax incentives were very much a big part of the attraction,” Pentecost says.

Pentecost also wanted to move the firm to a place where he could fly in clients with a smile and recruit employees with ease. “Not a lot of people want to come to Michigan to see a company,” admits Pentecost, a Wolverine State native.

It Works also benefited from the soft commercial real estate market. It took over a 16,000-square-foot office on State Road 64, a mile west of Interstate 75. It's space formerly occupied by Cemex, a concrete and building materials firm. Manatee County fit Pentecost's wish list so well, actually, that he also bought a golf course near the It Works office for $3.5 million.

A move to a new office, anywhere, was an immediate necessity because of It Works' rapid growth. Revenues have grown 480% since 2007, from $5 million to $29 million last year. Pentecost projects $45 million in 2011 revenues, a forecast based partially on record sales months in each of the last five months, from March though July.

“We've got a big appetite,” says Pentecost. “We've got a lot of big goals.”

Pentecost is big on big goals, a philosophy he picked up when he was a high school math teacher and a varsity high school basketball coach. He did that for 16 years, but he says he was really an entrepreneur at heart, the type who always had a “how to succeed in business” book on his desk.

In the early 1990s, Pentecost had his first foray into network marketing, which is sometimes called multi-level marketing or referral marketing. The strategy is to have a sales force that earns money on sales and on the sales of other distributors they recruit into the network.

Pentecost worked for other networking marketing firms part-time at first. He founded It Works in 2001. The growth came quickly, and, based on Pentecost's projections, shows no signs of a slowdown.

“I wasn't looking for the (growth) spike I see in some companies,” says Pentecost. “I wanted to build a foundation for growth.”

Golf Growth

Mark Pentecost, having led a company on a near-500% growth surge the past four years, clearly knows something about how to run a business.

Yet late last year he still made a move not many other entrepreneurs would make, when he bought a golf course in east Manatee County. Golf courses are notoriously tough places to make a profit — in boom times. A recession makes it a true long shot.

“It's a tough time,” says Pentecost. “You don't buy a golf course right now for profit.”

Instead, Pentecost bought the 18-hole Stoneybrook Golf Club off of State Road 64 in east Manatee County. It's a place where he can entertain clients, independent distributors, employees and friends. And play some golf, too.

Pentecost and his wife, Cindy Pentecost, paid $3.5 million for the course, which includes a 20,000-square-foot clubhouse, a restaurant and a 7,500-square-foot maintenance building. The Pentecosts bought the course from Lennar Homes last October. They hired Sarasota-based Redwire Sports to overhaul and manage the facility.

The overhaul includes fresh paint and carpet, new furniture and the addition of a 4,000-square-foot outdoor patio area.

While a golf course purchase in a recession is unusual, Pentecost says it might not be a one-time purchase. He's currently scouting other courses outside the U.S. he might buy, including one in the Bahamas.

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