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Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 11 years ago

No Rest

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The recession hasn't sent Adam DeClerico into a spiral. He has instead used the downturn to tinker with his dizzying array of businesses.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

REVIEW SUMMARY
Entrepreneur.
Adam DeClerico, Sarasota
Industries. Event planning, marketing, Web design
Key. DeClerico holds a leadership or ownership role in at least five businesses.

For a young entrepreneur and event planner who puts a premium on predictably, Adam DeClerico has sure found himself in some dire circumstances.

There was the cold winter night in suburban Washington, D.C. early last year when DeClerico received a panicked call from the caterer he hired for a high-end cocktail party.

Turns out the caterer's truck, which merely held the food, the wine, the equipment and the party staff, had broken down on the Beltway. The party, with 150 guests, was scheduled to start 45 minutes before DeClerico got the call.

The first thing DeClerico did was follow one of the top rules at Bonus Productions, the company he founded: Don't panic. He simply told the client he was going to step out for a minute, maybe grab something to eat.

Then DeClerico, a former star college soccer player, jogged to the nearest car rental place, which was about a mile away. He rented a van and sped to the scene of the breakdown. He returned to the party with a few minutes to spare.

Says DeClerico: “The client never knew what happened.”

The story is illustrative of another DeClerico rule: Total client devotion. It's a rule that has enabled DeClerico, 28, to build a trio of budding companies over the past five years, starting with Bonus Productions. The three businesses combined to produce more than $1 million in revenues last year.

Sarasota entrepreneur Jesse Biter, who has mentored and worked with DeClerico, says the young businessman has succeeded so quickly partially due to his earnest, gung-ho approach to pick up clients. Biter, founder of a $7 million dollar company that develops and sells inventory software for the auto industry, says DeClerico's business smarts also stand out.

“He's just one of those guys who gets it,” says Biter, a Review 40 under 40 recipient in 2007. “You don't have explain things to him more than once.”

Bonus Productions, which DeClerico essentially started five years ago so he could book limo rides and sell concert tickets to college buddies, had $850,000 in 2009 revenues. An despite a recession-induced, event-planning industry meltdown that has lasted 18 months, Bonus Productions has grown 267% since 2007, when it had $231,000 in revenues.

The company has about 20 employees, which includes full and part time workers. Current and past clients include BB&T Bank, Pepsi and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“We don't have a whole lot of customers,” says DeClerico, “but the ones we have keep coming back to us.”

DeClerico's two other companies, a web design firm and a promotional products and marketing business, have also enjoyed some early success. The latter company, Venice-based Intercoastal Promotional Products, nearly surpassed $300,000 in revenues in 2009, its first full year in business.

Intercoastal is a wholesale distributor of promotional materials, from pens and calendars to noisemakers and T-shirts. Clients include Mercedes-Benz, Ford and the YMCA. Another client is the Tampa Bay Lighting, for which the firm recently distributed 30,000 team magnets.

Meanwhile, the Web and software firm, Design 941, hit $100,000 in revenues last year, its first year of operation. The company has worked primarily with Realtors and real estate-related clients.

Those companies form the core of DeClerico's entrepreneurial DNA. But there are many other strands.

Cool factor
In fact, DeClerico is a classic inventor-tinkerer kind of entrepreneur. For example, he invented a patent-pending dog leash that can hold two dogs with the freedom to roam 16 feet from the post. He hopes to one day sell the prototype and manufacturing rights to the invention, which he says he created with a buddy while working in a garage.

DeClerico's eclectic list of other nascent ideas and businesses includes: A company that runs acting and drama therapy sessions for the elderly; a leadership role in a Sarasota short film festival; a founding role in a local social media company; and, in an admitted long shot, even for DeClerico, an effort to obtain financing to build a $40 million soccer complex in Sarasota.

All that, and last fall DeClerico took on one more task, when he was named head coach of Riverview High School's boys soccer team in Sarasota. The Rams went 10-5-5 in DeClerico's first season.

Between the companies, the inventions and the soccer, it's enough to make even a champion multitasker dizzy. But those who know and have worked with DeClerico say he seems to balance it all with ease. Like BB&T Bank marketing executive Monika Lindemann, who has hired Bonus Productions to host parties and events for the institution's new branches in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

“I need to know that if we need something taken care of that it gets taken care of,” says Lindemann. “He always follows through and makes good on his promises.
Lindemann has also been impressed by how DeClerico comes off older than his age, both in his demeanor and attire. He makes sure his employees follow his lead too, says Lindemann, which is important to her because a Bonus Productions employee is essentially an extension of BB&T.

DeClerico, whose personality lends itself toward showmanship, was fittingly born in Los Angeles. His father was a car salesman and his mother was an accountant and an office manager. The family moved to the Sarasota area when DeClerico was still a baby, and he has lived virtually his whole life in the region.

The only time DeClerico didn't live in Sarasota was when he was chased his first dream, to play professional soccer. First, in 2005 and 2006, DeClerico played at West Virginia Wesleyan University. He was a star midfielder for the Bobcats and was named to the conference all-star team his senior year.

After that, DeClerico spent most of the next two years in Italy, then Chicago and finally, in Tampa, where he played in various professional and adult amateur soccer leagues. An ankle injury forced DeClerico to give up his hopes of a long professional career.

When DeClerico pulled the plug on soccer he turned the light back on Bonus Productions, which he founded in college. Back in school, DeClerico says he liked the idea that classmates thought he was cool when he sold limo rides to events.

But his business sense didn't match his cool factor. “We didn't know a whole lot about what we were doing,” says DeClerico. “It was a joke.”

The company's first real-life, no-joke gig was when it put on a grand-opening event for a retirement center in Port Charlotte.

Deadline rules
DeClerico went on to grow Bonus Productions through a combination of in-person networking and online research. On the online part, DeClerico combed the Web to find organizations, businesses and nonprofits that put out bids for event planners.

That process, initially filled with rejections, taught DeClerico a valuable business lesson: Be thorough and precise when filling out bid forms.

“People need to understand exactly what you will be doing,” says DeClerico. “When someone reads our proposals, it's not often that they ask questions afterward.”

Indeed, DeClerico says the thorough approach was in full effect in 2008, when Bonus Productions won a $100,000 contract to put on a 5K walk and related events for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Northern California. The firm will be putting together events for the foundation in 2010, its third straight year working with the organization.

Another key practice for DeClerico is that he and his employees stick to deadlines, no matter what calamity might arise. He's maniacal about it, say some past and current clients.

“People love that sort of thing,” DeClerico says. “I've had so many clients tell me that is one of the greatest things about us.”

Nonetheless, deadlines and thoroughness can only go so far in a recession. Some clients have scaled down parties and events, DeClerico admits, while others have dropped parties completely. A few previous clients have simply gone out of business.

DeClerico's approach to a dwindling client base has been to get creatively aggressive. For instance, when DeClerico's business with BB&T shrunk in 2009, he decided to fly up to the bank's corporate headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., to attend the firm's annual meeting.

His goal wasn't necessarily to pitch his company's services, but more, he says, to just “stay in the picture.”

DeClerico picked up that business concept, to call on a client when you aren't selling something, from his dad, Bill DeClerico. The elder DeClerico sold Buicks and Cadillacs for 25 years at dealerships in Fort Myers and Sarasota.

Adam DeClerico says he also developed his entrepreneurial passion from his dad. That passion is why DeClerico says he balances so many businesses, ideas and projects.

“If something hasn't been done,” says DeClerico, “I get mad at myself if I don't at least try.”

Executive Tips
Adam DeClerico, 28, has picked up a sizeable amount of business wisdom in five years of running several companies. His largest and most time-consuming venture is Sarasota-based Bonus Productions, an event and party-planning firm.

Here are some of DeClerico's tips for other young entrepreneurs:

• Don't sweat it: DeClerico says it's essential to have a backup plan for every job or event. That includes maintaining an extensive address book of vendors and contacts.

• Don't say no: DeClerico says today's economy requires a can-do attitude. “If a client calls me with an odd request or something outside of what we normally do,” he says, “my response is always, 'absolutely, we can do that.'”

• Get a mentor: “Nobody does it perfectly from the beginning,” DeClerico says. A mentor, someone to talk ideas, strategy or just vent to, is crucial.

• Remember the clients: DeClerico says a top-notch customer service program has been one of his company's greatest achievements. “Design your own or use the resources available to implement one,” DeClerico says. “Using it in your business's plan and strategy can make a huge difference in longevity.”

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