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Dane County Small Business Awards: Small business, big impact

We honor six local companies that embody the best in Dane County small business.

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

This year the Dane County Small Business Awards program marks a transition in its history, as In Business magazine has taken the wheel after 36 years. However, one thing will never change. This awards program has and will continue to put the spotlight on small businesses and the contributions they make to the economy and community.

Each application for the 2018 awards program was evaluated on three main criteria: company growth and success since its inception; the company benefits package provided to employees; and the contributions and impact the company makes in the community. The following companies scored highly in each category and are profiled inside these pages. They will be be honored at an awards program in July.

  • Artisan Dental
  • Berndt CPA LLC
  • The Digital Ring
  • Settlers bank
  • Yahara Software

We also recognize a company for its longevity with a “legacy” award. This year’s legacy winner is Michael F. Simon Builders, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

The celebration of their success will be held Wednesday, July 18, starting at 4 p.m. in the Overture Center’s upstairs Promenade Hall and Lobby.

A special thanks to our judging panel, which consisted of IB Publisher Jon Konarske, Editorial Director Joe Vanden Plas, past DCSBA winner Doug Fearing of Fearing’s Audio/Video Security, and Joe Pleshek of Terso Solutions, the 2018 winner of IB’s Executive of the Year Award in the small business category.

Michael F. Simon Builders: Constructing a legacy

Throughout the 125-year history of Michael F. Simon Builders, there were several points — Great Depression, Great Recession, or garden variety slow down — at which the company’s survival was threatened. True, you could say that about any longstanding business, but it’s particularly true of residential builders. For Michael F. Simon, one thing that has kept the wolves at bay is product and service diversity.

The company’s calling card is the construction of large custom homes, but it also remodels homes and light commercial structures. In 2009-10, when only a limited number of new homes were selling, the company was able to concentrate more on remodeling, which kept workers busy.

“We have a very flexible team here, very skilled with a wide array of skills,” says Co-owner Phil Simon. “We’re able to go from building to remodeling. I wasn’t around for the Depression obviously, but the Great Recession in 2009-10 was the hardest for us because 2008 was actually one of our best years ever.”

“It’s humbling to be selected by your peers for something as prestigious as this. We know it’s not just because of the two of us — it’s the 125 years and the great leadership that’s been here, and the teamwork, the employees, and the great clients that we’ve had through the years. It’s really 125 years in the making.” — Phil Simon, co-owner, Michael F. Simon Builders

That was due to the fact that larger custom homes take up to two years to build, and those contracts were signed in 2006 and 2007. Co-owner Paul Simon started with the company on a full-time basis in 2009, which was about the worst time to join the outfit if you expected things to be smooth and level.

“I got to see how hard it was, how much work went into following up with every client, every lead,” he recalls. “It’s a roller coaster and that obviously was the bottom of that roller coaster. We’re fortunate enough that now that’s not the case in residential home construction and things are much better than they were.”

So much better that inventories of new homes are at record lows. While Michael F. Simon prefers the larger, more complicated projects, it will do almost anything for a past client, no matter how large or small. “We do have a lot of big projects going on right now like whole house remodels before people will move into them,” Paul says, “but we also have a handful of one-bathroom, a few windows, small kitchen, back projects, screen porches, and those are much smaller.”

Culturally, the staff engages in a bi-weekly culture meeting aimed at making the employees’ jobs easier while looking for areas of improvement, but with an emphasis on making each individual’s job fun. Pages and pages of little changes have resulted, from process modifications to the timing of on-site deliveries for a company that, even after 125 years, still tries to learn from each project.

“The emphasis there is everybody on the team has a say in how to improve the company and how to improve the product we’re putting out to the clients,” Phil states. “We say we address the heartburn for clients, trade partners, suppliers, and our team.”


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