In celebration of the magazine’s 30th anniversary, the editorial staff took the opportunity to explore how Nevada has changed over the last three decades and what that’s meant for business. In addition, six resident companies have been highlighted in the following pages. Each has also met the three-decade milestone. Each of their stories show a resilience that speaks to why these companies have enjoyed both longevity and success.
An Evolving State
The executives interviewed for this article shared what they believe have been the biggest changes over the past three decades that affect businesses in the Silver State. Nevada population and city growth and the consequences of that growth topped the list. The burgeoning metropolises have afforded companies here the opportunity to expand along with the state.
The changes have created a robust ethnic mix of residents, which requires businesses to better understand a variety of cultures. They’ve also resulted in a more formal, structured business environment. Deals that used to get done with a handshake and phone call now require a contract, or at least a confirmation letter. There are also far more rules and regulations, making it more difficult to navigate the state processes here. And, success is measured in different ways.
“Now, the highest premium is actually on delivery,” said Billy Vassiliadis with R&R Partners. “There has to be a return on investment. There have to be measurable, tangible results.”
Additionally, new, increasing and changing technologies have sped up and depersonalized communications. Customers want companies to be available around the clock and immediately responsive.
“The energy with which we do work has increased substantially,” said Chris Kaempfer of Kaempfer Crowell. “We’re always going.”
An advertising, marketing, public relations and public affairs firm, R & R Partners is best known for the campaign, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” created for 30-year client, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.
R&R grew dramatically in the last four or five years. That growth has been partly in response to the recession and partly to hire additional talented people for new ideas and ways of thinking, said Billy Vassiliadis, CEO. Along with the firm’s Las Vegas and Reno offices, it has seven out-of-state locales.
In Nevada alone, the firm’s 2014 capitalized billings totaled $179 million. The “tremendous” and loyal teams are the reason for the firm’s success in large part, Vassiliadis said. It helps that founder, Sig Rogich, established a culture in which employees are engaged in the community and with issues they care about, such as public education. The firm’s staff also appreciates internal friendships and benefits such as flexible work schedules.
Vassiliadis and Bob Henrie acquired the firm from Rogich in 1994. Today, about 180 people work in Las Vegas alone, one fondly referred to as “Pop”, having been with the the company since the founding by Rogich. A handful of other employees are near or hit the 20-year mark.
The firm’s people strive to stay current with trends and information and improve methods where possible. “Listening more than we’re talking” to customers and competitors and adjusting as needed is Vassiliadis’ best business advice. From the way campaigns are run to the win-or-lose finality, the firm’s political roots (via Bush Sr. and Jr., Obama and Reid campaigns), have had a significant influence on politics.
“We always keep score,” he added. “We’ve always measured our successes and failures. We always go back and see what worked, what didn’t work and try to learn from it, try to do things differently.”
It was ideas from Rogich’s experiences in Washington, D.C., which he brought to Nevada that sparked R&R’s expansion beyond The Silver State starting in the late 1980s, Vassiliadis explained. Had the firm begun that more quickly, it might’ve been able to do some better work earlier on and achieve faster success.
Vassiliadis’ primary goal for 2016 is for R&R to keep improving and for him to release more control to his capable people.
If he could redo his career path, Chris Kaempfer, attorney, family man and baseball aficionado, would somehow incorporate that sport into his practice of law more than merely being the general counsel for and co-owner of the Las Vegas 51s, he said. However, his 40 years of specializing in land use law in Nevada have served him and his firm well.
Today, Kaempfer Crowell Renshaw Gronauer & Fiorentino, called Kaempfer Crowell, is a busy land use and administrative law practice comprised of 25 attorneys and 56 employees, many of whom have been with the company for over 20 years. The company has offices in Reno, Carson City and Las Vegas. The firm, as it’s known today, was founded in 2009 as an offshoot of Vargas & Bartlett, which was launched in 1974 and which Kaempfer joined in 1977.
“We are a firm that prides itself on getting the work done and getting it done timely,” Kaempfer said. “We’re successful, and we always will be, because we act as if our clients’ money and interests are our own and always try to have our clients feel as though they matter as people and as friends.”
Kaempfer Crowell’s people also strive to extend that courtesy and respect to the staff members of various counties and cities with whom they work. They listen to what residents near a project have to say and try not to put commissioners or city council people in difficult positions.
“When we have a project, our goal is to see if we can get the neighbors, staff, county or cities to all be in agreement as to what’s going on,” he said. “We are known as a firm that tries to resolve problems, not create them.”
The greatest challenge Nevada businesses face today is continuing economic uncertainty, Kaempfer said. He suggests that it’s prudent to “hope for the best but plan for the worst.” He’d recommend business owners, “never promise more than you can deliver and always deliver what you promise, make your word count, never lie and never neglect yourself or your family.”
Near-term plans for the firm include hiring additional people, including a litigation attorney, and continuing what’s worked so far.
A Las Vegas-based company, Kaercher Insurance has provided an array of insurance services for 61 years.
Earlier this year, the owners purchased Sundance Insurance Co., affording the agency additional experienced people and greater product diversification. Today, Kaercher Insurance’s clients range from individuals to large corporations, such as Boyd Gaming, and encompass specialty markets—medical, legal, construction, gaming and hospitality and others. The company has about 50 employees. Two have been on staff for 35 years, first working for the founder, William Franklin Kaercher, and then the current principals who include his son, Allen Kaercher, the president, who started with the company in 1975 after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The key to the company’s success is customer service and satisfaction, Allen Kaercher explained, and a commitment to anticipating, understanding and meeting the clients varied and evolving needs. Honesty and integrity are essential—his main tip for other enterprises.
“We’re in a service industry,” he added. “We specialize in taking care of clients. We are always responsive. We work hard, and what we say is what we do.”
Kaercher adheres to a philosophy of giving back to the community. He donates time and money to many organizations and encourages staff members to be involved with one or more charities of their choice.
A major headwind for Nevada’s small and medium-sized businesses now and into the future, Kaercher said, is federal regulations, including additional taxes, mandated employment practices and the Affordable Care Act.
Despite that, the executives plan to keep growing the agency, opening an office in Chicago this year and broadening its product offerings, including those in cyber liability and the bond and construction sectors.
Dr. John Shepherd began an eye care practice in Las Vegas in 1968, and today, the Shepherd Eye Center has 13 ophthalmologists, 160 employees and four Southern Nevada offices. Its offerings range from routine eye exams, eyeglasses and contact lenses to cataract and other eye surgeries. Last year, the physicians saw about 88,000 people, performed more than 4,000 cataract surgeries and conducted about $20 million worth of business.
The group’s success began with Shepherd’s business savvy and a vision to always make patients the priority, provide them with the best care and to keep up with the rapidly changing technological advances in ophthalmic surgery, said Christina Kennelley, administrator, who has been a Shepherd employee in various capacities since 1988. This philosophy, along with always knowing and managing expenses, is Shepherd’s primary advice for fledgling medical practices.
This is especially important today because the biggest challenge for all healthcare providers is meeting Affordable Care Act’s and other requirements, which demands additional resources and involves financial penalties if not done, Kennelley said. Consequently, the physicians of solo or small practices that abounded 30 years ago can’t or won’t do it, which likely will continue the consolidation trend among medical groups. Attracting high-caliber physicians also remains a struggle.
“It’s harder and harder to find excellent physicians and then be able to keep the practice healthy enough financially that it makes sense for them to want to buy in, be an owner and stay for 30 or 40 years,” she added.
The positive work environment that Shepherd Eye Center provides has resulted in numerous long-time workers (many as long as 10 and 20 years or more).
“A lot of our employees see this as their second family,” Kennelley explained. “We’re very close, and we like being that for each other.”
Near term, Shepherd plans to continue enlarging the practice, likely adding another office within three to five years.
When Russ Romine bought Griffin Transport in 2008, the Reno-based logistics and supply chain business already had a 30-plus-year run under then-owner Jeff Griffin. As a prospective buyer, Romine was a good fit as he’d worked for the company for about seven years developing its international network.
Under his ownership, the enterprise began as a freight forwarder and customs broker, then expanded into trucking and warehouse distribution. It grew in square footage and locations, adding offices in San Francisco and Dallas, and three key employees became co-owners.
Despite a hit during the recession, business subsequently recovered due to extreme sales efforts, hard work, diverse services and the industry bouncing back. Along the way, Romine and his partners investigated a few companies as potential acquisitions, hoping such a move would get them a foothold in other areas of the U.S.
“We were looking for a strategy that would help us grow out of market,” Romine said. “We needed to be in Chicago, New York, the big markets.”
Ultimately, in 2011, the partners sold Griffin to Legacy Supply Chain Services, a Portsmouth, N.H., warehousing/distribution company. Since then, Romine has worked for Legacy in Reno as its vice president of transportation services, still capitalizing on that worldwide network he helped establish decades earlier. Today, Legacy’s transportation business spans the U.S. and extends into Canada, Europe and Asia. Additionally, the company boasts 6 million square feet of warehouse/distribution space and sector presence throughout the U.S. and into Canada.
“If you have the right people who are focused on the customers, quality and performance and you have a business that’s willing to invest in the resources to support the needs of clients, you can go a long way,” Romine said. “If you provide a high level of service to clients and you can develop relationships with those customers, they’re loyal to you.”
He advised business owners to take care of and invest in people, especially because finding talent is tough in this state. He added, “Don’t lose sight of your customers, stay close to the market and stay strategic.”
Were he to do it again, Romine said he’d start expanding internationally sooner. He added that selling Griffin was the best decision, but his entrepreneurial spirit remains.
I enjoy Legacy,” he said. “I’m part of a leadership team. I have responsibilities I enjoy. I’m challenged. There are a lot of positives, but I can’t deny that there is a part of me that kind of itches to do my own thing again at some point.”
To the Next 30 …
Longevity in business is no small feat, especially considering the state’s recent recession. As Nevada’s long-time executives have shown, it’s vital that if a business wants to survive its 20s, customer service, integrity and a certain amount of flexibility are key.
These businesses, and so many like them in the Silver State, are living testimonies to the results of hard work. And, while business trends change, the world becomes smaller through connectivity and company’s take on different forms, the fundamentals of business will not change.
Here’s to Nevada businesses that have held true to those fundamentals and are now happily ensconced in their thirties. Nevada Business Magazine is in great company. And, here’s to the next 30 years…