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Diversity Dynamos

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People call 1st Choice Industries and its CEO Gary Simone for all kinds of requests.

Bat in the office? Call 1st Choice. Dead deer in the parking lot? Call Simone. Need a Starbucks built? Call 1st Choice.

The diversity of requests isn't only quirky. It's the key reason why Manatee County-based 1st Choice has rebounded from the recession.

Annual revenues were up 30% in 2010, from $9.4 million in 2009 to $12.21 million last year. While that figure is short of 2008, when the company had $13.2 million in sales, Simone projects at least $15 million in 2011 revenues. The firm has 65 employees, and has made 18 hires in the past six months.

“What kept us alive is that we did anything people asked us to do,” says Simone, who adds that the firm will even take $200 jobs for clients. “I'd rather make a little bit a lot of times than make a lot once.”

Simone founded 1st Choice in 1983 in his native New Jersey. Several immediate and extended family members have since taken jobs at the firm, including Simone's wife, who now runs human resources and most of the accounting department.

Simone started strictly in homebuilding, but diversity came quickly, especially with the recession of the late 1980s. Simone opened several divisions, including inside maintenance; outside maintenance; new construction; remodel work; electrical work; and cabinet and millwork.

The move paved the way for 1st Choice to build an eclectic client list. Simone and his family relocated the business to the Sarasota-Manatee area in 2003. Clients since then have ranged from Home Depot and Denny's to Starbucks and Michaels crafts stores. Locally, the company has done work for Lakewood Ranch Realty in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Business diversity is certainly a big part of the 1st Choice rebound, but it's not the only part. Another facet is a risky move Simone took when the downturn hit. That's when he slashed prices.

In fact, Simone went to clients, including Starbucks, and delivered a “we're all in this together” pitch. Simone reasoned if he lowered prices when clients most needed a break, it would benefit the firm later. Says Simone: “I'm not afraid to take chances.”

The gamble paid off. Starbucks, for one, recently came back to 1st Choice with a request for repair, maintenance and build-out work on several stores. Simone says 1st Choice will work with Starbucks in 23 states this year, up from eight states two years ago.

Simone hopes the jolt of momentum the firm has will stick through the rest of the year and in 2012. For instance, the company just picked up new work from Burlington Coat Factory.

Plus, Simone recently went to Oregon, where he met with Nike executives about some potential commercial construction projects. He also plans to go to Rhode Island soon, to meet with CVS executives.

“We've had some tremendous growth and we see it continuing,” Simone says. “The phone is still ringing for new construction.”


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