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Business Observer Friday, May 21, 2010 10 years ago

Risk Brothers

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Quadrupling the size of a company's workspace while knee-deep in a recession might sound crazy. But to entrepreneur Leo Riza, it's the natural next step — he hopes.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Leo Riza puts a premium on his product design company's anonymity because that's how he says he's been able to land such good clients during such a bad economy.

But Riza is on the verge of a big — and risky — move that could put a swift end to the secrecy he so values at his firm, Sarasota-based R&R Associates. The counterintuitive move is both physical and literal: The company plans to expand its 5,000 square feet workspace by at least 200%. In the process, Riza plans to create a product assembly and budding manufacturing facility in Sarasota.

Says Riza: “If I'm not aggressive, there is no way I will be successful.”

This nonetheless could be the second-riskiest decision Riza has ever made, just slightly less dicey than the day in 2001 when he moved from Turkey to the U.S. with $70 in his pocket. He was 29 years old when he immigrated to America.

Riza ran a successful design business in his native country for several years, up until he was a in a horrific car accident in 2001. The crash, says Riza, was an awakening.

“I felt God saved me and he gave me a second chance to make my dreams come true,” Riza says. “And my dream was to come to the United States.”

Once here, Riza, the son of college professors, set out on an ambitious path. He worked for a design company in Massachusetts, and later, in New Jersey. In 2007 he moved to Sarasota to start his own company in conjunction with his brother, Erkam Riza, who remains with R&R today.

The firm finished 2009 just under $2 million in annual revenues, a figure Riza predicts will at least double in 2010. It has 16 employees, up from six last year.

The employees work in one of three product divisions: Transportation, medical and consumer. Past clients have included Tropicana, Timex and Samsung, in addition to the U.S. military. Products range from medical equipment to vending machines.

Innovative products, however, isn't what necessarily differentiates R&R from its competitors. Instead, that aspect lies in the fact that the company manufactures the products it designs, somewhat unusual for a small firm.

The company uses third-party manufacturers, mostly in China.

“I try to keep my business as diversified as a I can,” says Riza. “That's why I'm still here.”

It's also why Riza is going gangbusters for new space.

The company's current downtown Sarasota quarters, a four story, loft-style office across the street from a movie theater and restaurants, screams urban hip. But several clients approached Riza recently with a concern: While the company's product designs were excellent, the final quality of the products didn't always match up.

That brought a bubbling problem to the surface in that Riza had long worried about quality control with the company's products being made on the other side of the world. Says Riza: “I have to double and triple check everything.”

So Riza decided late last year he would seek to put together his own assembly and a light-manufacturing center in Sarasota. With lease rates low and available space high, Riza has had a multitude of options.

He plans to have a lease signed for new space by the summer. After that, possibly by late summer or early fall, Riza plans to shift the company's product assembly from China to Sarasota.

The parts for most of the big machines and equipment R&R designs will still be manufactured overseas. But eventually Riza hopes all of the injection molding and welding will take place in Sarasota.

“It's exciting because I believe in our products,” says Riza. “Of course, like any businessman, I realize I am taking a risk.”

— Mark Gordon

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