Monday, February 15, 2016 @ 8:00AM
Over the past 38 years, I have pursued a unique journey that has been – at its best – a remarkably rewarding experience and – at its worst – a dismal source of frustration [but through it all, I have enjoyed every moment]. The success or failure of everything we have done has brought us to this juncture. The Advantage Co today is the result of our successes and failures and how we reacted to either fortuity along the way. They are both the building blocks of who we are. Business is all about success and failure, and to pursue one to avoid the other misses the point completely.
This morning I am going to profile over 16 business opportunities, and the success or failure of each one will be determined by us. Some of these seeds of opportunity will find fertile ground and their roots will find water, while other will die on the rocks. I have no idea which ones will succeed and which ones will fail. 20 years ago if you had told me that Lifetime Service would be a huge success and a restaurant owner from Buffalo would be the architect of a world class IT company in NY and London, I would have thought you were crazy [especially if you added that Stereo Advantage and the Aussie T Co would be a thing of the past]. But such is the way of the world, especially the business world. It wasn’t so long ago that AOL was king of the internet and Blackberry had a cult following that gave them a stranglehold on the smartphone market. Yet, today, they are barely a blip on the screen. So it goes.
At the Advantage Co, we are not looking for the latest trends to follow or successful business models to imitate. We are built and determined to be the vanguard. From the first moment the Stereo Advantage shook the local audio market in 1978 to the bold disruption of our national wholesale network in 1982 to the visionary Computer Head Start in 1983 to the impossible-to-imitate Lifetime Service in 1987 to the groundbreaking Home Theater mall concept in 1991 to the innovative Smart Link kiosk in 1992 to the explosion of Aussie Outfitters across America in 1994 to the deft understanding of the internet with the introduction of MyWarehouse.org, GetSony.com, and iWorldFundraising.org in the late nineties to all of the more recent business launches during the past 15 years, the Advantage Co’s Root Philosophy has been the foundation of a myriad of successful businesses [and, admittedly, quite a few failures as well].
At the Advantage Co, we operate an eclectic mix of successful businesses; and in 2016, they will renew themselves once again with a myriad of opportunities. Our current business operations must continue to innovate and grow or be cast aside, while our new businesses will attempt to find their way and their success in a dynamic environment that is our playground.
I currently break down our Advantage Co operations into 4 categories:
- G8 Partnerships [c1 Resources, Capax Group, AP Group, ABX, etc.]
- Walker Center [TW&Co, Advantage Brands, Giancarlo’s, Properties, etc.]
- 8 Cylinder [LTS, Stereo Advantage, iFul, ATG, ATI, etc.]
- Walker Global Solutions [investments].
We recently laid the foundation for a couple of new businesses born of the original Stereo Advantage root that I have been an advocate of for some time now. Just as a potential real estate partnership had been blowing in the wind for the past 25 years, the same could be said of wholesaling parts and offering our Lifetime Service Warranty nationally. Now, in just the past couple of weeks, all three seem to be coming to life. It started with the new Advantage Gallery Residential and Commercial Real Estate Agency that Butch and I are launching, and it culminated a couple of weeks ago with laying the foundation for Walker Global Parts and iTech Protect. Walker Global Parts and iTech Protect are two new enterprises that I am launching with Dej and Al.
Walker Global Parts will source, manufacture, and distribute parts worldwide; while iTech Protect will create, market, and sell our extended warranties nationally. We’ll see how they all turn out when it’s Merchant Harvest time in three years.
I appreciate you joining me this morning, and I look forward to building with you. One caveat is that I am an awful manager, and if any of these new ventures are to reach their potential, they will most certainly have to have you as the Battery Attached. I am good at Supply Time, but Delivery Time comes from those of you that take ownership of the challenge that each each opportunity demands of us. Be big, be a builder.
Director: Brittany Thomson
It’s been quite a long time coming, but we are finally getting ready to launch iWorldFundraising.org. Jamie and Shauna are working on an engaging and fully functional new BigCommerce template for our iWorldShoppingCenter.com ecommerce website [our long-awaited all-inclusive jumpsite marketplace].
iWorldFundraising.org will provide a revolutionary online vehicle to raise money for organizations and events. iWorldFundraising.org is a totally free web-enabled fundraising program designed to help facilitate organizations and individuals raise money and create awareness for their cause, all without the hassle of traditional fundraisers and their often onerous fees. Unlike fundraising services like GoFundMe [who charge an 8% service fee], iWorldFundraising.org will charge no fees and take no commission on any transaction. All of the functionality and support will be donated entirely by the Walker Kids Trust.
In addition to providing a totally free venue for direct online cash contributions, iWorldFundraising.org will also provide members access to our online marketplace, iWorldShoppingCenter.com, where the entire revenue from donor purchases goes entirely to their fundraising effort. Manufacturers and retailers will be encouraged to provide their goods and services through this iWorldFundraising online marketplace at their wholesale cost and to donate the handling and delivery of the donor purchases.
Supporting worthwhile causes is our top priority with this initiative. We will be the complete ecommerce solution for an event, organization, or individual’s fundraising efforts. The days of dangerously selling Girl Scout Cookies door to door are over. There will no longer be a need to for anyone to handle cash contributions, especially children. All transactions will be online and fully recognized. We will provide all fundraisers with full access to our resources. This is truly a unique fundraising opportunity. All that’s necessary from the organization is to promote access their fundraising venue, iWorldFundraising.org.
2. Grivani Corporate Gift Giving
Director: Emily Donnelly
Grivani Corporate Gift Giving will provide our corporate clients with a full array of premium gifts as well as white glove gift giving facilitation [including the sourcing, shipping, and return processing of all gifts].
At Grivani, we will also offer our corporate clients gift suggestions, gift sourcing, and a gift giving concierge service that will provide notification of gift giving events with our soon to be developed Gift Giving Registry. Additionally, Grivani will provide our corporate clients with corporate branded specialty product.
Corporate gift giving is a giant business. In addition to gift giving to clients, customers, and suppliers, companies give for charitable reasons [allowing the company to become more recognized and appreciated in the community] and for tokens of appreciation to employees [allowing for job recognition and a subtle advertisement of the company]. We offer a suite of services unlike any other.
3. Advantage Business Exchange [ABX]
Board of Directors: Joe Kreuz, Butch Kreuz, Kelly Cultrara, Tom Thomson, Mark Pautler, Dave Pfalzgraf, and Tony
The Advantage Business Exchange will provide a trusted one-stop venue for all of our commercial, institutional, and government clients by enabling direct access to premium resources to facilitate and enhance all of their various business activities. All of our services, programs, and products will be fully vetted for our clients’ assurance that they are receiving the finest resources befitting their specific needs.
By identifying, certifying, and making available the key resources of our Advantage companies and affiliates in our ABX Resource Library, we will be able to develop a worldwide network of sales agents, as well as provide a more universally accessible resource for our current sales groups. The Smart Card will detail the certification process, the value proposition, the contact process [subject matter experts], the marketing process, the agent authorization process, the sales process, the client engagement process, the fulfillment process, the payment process, and the commission process of every service and offering the ABX Resource Center provides.
The ideal ABX Agent should have existing relationships as a trusted advisor within their customer base. Their ability to leverage these relationships to get more bites out of the apple would enable them to sell the ABX Resources to their clients. The ABX Agent will be responsible for cultivating opportunities through their existing network. When the ABX Agent creates an introduction that in turn generates a business opportunity for an ABX Resource, the ABX Agent will be commissioned a percentage of the resulting paid business.
We are working on a basic outline for commissions that will eventually have to be locked in and promoted throughout the ABX network of agents. For example, the current commission program at Giancarlo’s for events and catering is 5% for the booking and 5% for the planning and execution. We have suggested that we have an extra 5% for ABX for the booking, which ABX would split with the ABX Agent who did the booking based on their ABX Agent Status. This would mean that the ABX Agent who did the booking would get the initial 5% booking commission, plus some share of the additional 5% paid to ABX based on their agent status. Furthermore, the ABX Agent who did the initial booking would continue to earn commissions on future bookings provided they meet certain criteria, not the least of which is continuing to book new clients for Giancarlo’s every quarter.
ABX agents and affiliates will be able to take advantage of our ABX presentation and Office HQ spaces through monthly and annual rentals. Throughout the ABX center there will initially be 12 presentation displays available for rental on a monthly or yearly basis. The presentation spaces will vary in size, but the prototypical display will be 6’ x 6’ and have a 40” LCD monitor. ABX will also provide a shared website, blog, various social media, and catalog resources for all of our agents and affiliates.
Additionally, ABX has recently merged with AP WNY. This has allowed Kelly Cultrara to join ABX as a lead partner and to fully integrate her outstanding team into the ABX operation. AP Professionals of WNY will now become ABX Professionals.
One of the key components of the ABX Resource Library will be the ABX Professionals Affiliate Program. We will be able to seamlessly furnish the prominent legal, accounting, or insurance firm in each market with partnership level access to our ABX international network of resources. This will provide these trusted advisors with a new revenue stream that can easily be built on their current client relationships. I am confident we will be able to open a full network of ABX Professionals affiliate offices worldwide. The affiliate membership fee will be $10k, and the ABX agent who sells the ABX Professionals affiliate membership will keep the entire $10k fee.
4. Grivani Wine Cellar
Directors: Katherine and Gabriela Ragusa
Our Grivani wine collection from our winery in Tuscany, Italy, will be the main focus of our new premium wine shop located in the Walker Center nestled between TW&Co and the new Cento Club Room. We will also sell premium international wines and liquors.
The Grivani Wine Cellar will provide cross marketing and selling opportunities with both Giancarlo’s Corporate Catering and Grivani Corporate Gift Giving. Our target opening is April 1, 2016; and we better hit that date because our first harvest of wine is showing up in March. Our Grivani wines can be sold internationally.
5. Cento Club Boutique Hotel
Director: Katherine Ragusa
This summer we will begin building the Cento Club’s 6 room boutique hotel on the second floor of the Walker Center. We plan to have two suites [one modern and one traditional] and 4 additional premium guest rooms.
I believe our Bridal Suite will add to our lineup of wedding services that will make us the premium boutique wedding venue. Our wedding package will include 20% off at TW&Co for the wedding party the day of the wedding, massage for the groom, facial, make-up and blow-out for the bride.
6. Giancarlo’s Corporate Catering & Events
Event Director: Emily Dehlinger
Catering Director: Olivia
We have been building an excellent reputation for our corporate event catering, along with raising the bar on all our catering services, especially weddings. And now we have added our new Cento Club Room for even larger hosted events. This Spring at Giancarlo’s, we will be unveiling our new bar, and when we add our new boutique hotel, our facility will be the premier meeting, event, wedding, and party venue in WNY.
7. Fashion Resource Group
Director: Ron Bellus
The fashion industry has been dismissive of boutiques ever since the recession of 2008 wiped out most of them. There is an opportunity for us to organize the premium boutiques into a powerful buying group. What makes us so uniquely prepared to offer this type of association to premium boutiques is the the wide variety of services and resources we can offer in addition to buying power. Here are some of the services and resources we can offer premium boutiques:
- Negotiate a group discount for members with every vendor.
- Negotiate for the acquisition of lines for individual accounts as well as for the entire group.
- Negotiate the terms of every aspect of the vendor relationship.
- Develop proprietary and exclusive products with vendors for the group.
- Purchase entire end-of-life product at a substantial discount for the group exclusively.
- Create and brand proprietary products for members only.
- Unique access to all Advantage Brands with additional discounts.
- Brand Online Partnership.
- Instant access to authorized inventory [Never Lose A Sale with Mywarehouse.org].
- Design service for websites, emails, brochures, catalogs, videos, signs, etc.
- Supply purchasing resource.
- Accounting, legal, tax preparation, and all backend support.
- Health Care and Benefits.
- Corporate Sales.
- Training Seminars and Assistance.
- Seamstress services.
8. Advantage Brands
Partners: Juliana, Katherine, and Alison Ragusa
We now have several brands that have the potential to sell worldwide: Bogavia, Piece Apparel, Modern Luxuri, Pure+Fresh, Grivani, Aussie T Co, Forrestel, RiOT, …
Our current strategy is to sell our Advantage Brands through the development of iWorldShoppingCenter.com jumpsite programs, however, we are considering a new charter store program to launch TW&Co stores nationally [based entirely on our brands and programs]. We will be looking to possibly develop our first two locations in Rochester and Naples. This will allow us to build out a TW boutique that is home to all of our Advantage Brands, along with a cafe’ and ABX HQ.
Additionally, we now have the opportunity to sell Bogavia through Whole Foods nationally. And we are also working out a rep program for Modern Luxuri to be presented nationally through the EC Scott sales organization.
9. David Anthony of London, Ltd
Board of Directors: Mike McGrath, Dave Pfalzgraf and Tony
Dave is a close friend as well as our corporate attorney, trusted advisor, and board member in several of our startups. He is also the managing partner of Rupo Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham, LLC and a great squash player.
David Anthony of London, Ltd will offer a resource for professional services that will facilitate international operations and trade, including a focus on international law and transfer pricing solutions. Caitlin Brown is currently our London development intern.
10. CISO Sentinel
Directors: JJ Contessa and Maggie Thomson
CISO Sentinel is an independent IT security, compliance and systems management firm addressing the stringent demands of US Government mandates and Cyber Security policy. We are pioneering intelligent security solutions for the extended digital enterprise with our CISO Sentinel management platform and related offerings. Our approach institutes continuous compliance management and security maturity frameworks for government designated critical infrastructure industries in public and private segments. Our continuous monitoring platform, the CISO Sentinel provides critical benefits to for the digital enterprise.
To manage cybersecurity risk, organizations need to develop, implement, and maintain on an ongoing basis a mature security program. Utilizing our proprietary cloud based tool set, CISO Sentinel will assess the current state of your security program and present our findings, plan of action and milestones to remediate vulnerabilities and gaps, align the organization to a strategic/required framework, and enable ongoing continuous security/compliance management.
11. Capax Information Insight Platform
Partners: John Baiocco, Tom Thomson, Jeff Wynn, and Tony
The Capax Information Insight Platform is a highly scalable and flexible consolidated archiving solution that captures and preserves email messages, files, documents and other content in a way that both optimizes long-term storage and allows immediate access for Mailbox Management, Compliance, and Legal Purposes. Engineered for easy deployment, Capax iiP is essentially invisible to end users, who continue to use their existing and familiar processes and clients without the need for training.
12. Walker Sports Audit
Battery Attached: None
Walker Sports Audit [WSA] provides an independent third party audit service that will autonomously evaluate our client’s entire portfolio of endorsements, contracts, investments, compliance, and tax reporting for a fixed or contingency fee. WSA will also evaluate and rate all of our client’s financial relationships, especially with their agents, lawyers, accountants, coaches, doctors, trainers, advisors, family, and friends. Additionally, WSA will provide our clients with an independent continuous monitoring service for all of their financial activity. Our WSA services are available on a fixed or contingency fee basis.
Most importantly, no WSA service provider will ever be able to be engaged by our clients beyond our WSA engagement. We will not be looking to solicit clients beyond our stated services. We will never attempt to replace our clients accountants, agents, etc., we will simply be offering them a very valuable and necessary audit and evaluation with a degree of separation that ensures no compromising agenda or misplaced loyalties.
Although we will initially be addressing athletes and celebrities [who fill the news every day with horror stories of how they were ruined by embezzlement from their most trusted advisors], we feel our independent audit and continuous monitoring services will also prove valuable to clients who have considerable estates with little personal business acumen or experience. Estates acquired through inheritance or divorce are particularly at risk from unscrupulous or indifferent fiduciary oversight. There are four main components of our WSA services:
- WSA Adversarial Audit
- WSA Recovery of Funds
- WSA Continuous Financial Monitoring
- WSA Rating Service
13. The Christian Co-Op
Director: Jeff Wynn
As we build our expertise with Gift Giving Registry, Fashion Resource Group, and various other sourcing operations, we can easily translate that skill set into a buying service that will give organizations a reliable clearinghouse for all purchases. It will be a contingency fee based business. Our fee will simply be 25% of the savings we generate for our clients. This is something that we will be developing over the summer.
14. Walker Global MA&O
Board of Directors: Tom Thomson, Mike McGrath, Dave Pfalzgraf, and Tony
Over the past few years we have been engaged with a few premier Merger & Acquisition firms, and none of them could provide us with the effective representation we required. With the sale of Autonomic Resources, Tom and I eventually did the presentation, marketing, and sale on our own. And that experience has led us to launch Walker Global Mergers, Acquisitions, and Origination.
15. Advantage Gallery
Partners: Butch Kreuz and Tony
I have been trying to launch an Advantage Co real estate agency for nearly 25 years. Butch Kreuz and I have created a new partnership to bring this to fruition.
16. The College Rep Program
Director: Jamie Welsted
And, finally, the College Rep Program lives on in my heart. I can’t help but think of what an incredible marketing resource it would be to have a thousand or so college reps spread out across the campuses of America [and the world].