By Christine Myers, Region 2 Small Business Advocate
In the News, a plaque company based in Tampa, Fla., has been in business for more than 31 years, but it took the break-up of the Bell System to make it thrive. How could the break-up of the largest telecommunications business in the world have an impact on a small plaque company in Florida? It seems very disconnected, no pun intended, until one spends time with its owner, Barry Murante, and understands his business model.
Barry and his partner Tom began Laminations Unlimited in Jacksonville, Florida in 1982. They sold laminated plaques using a company in Georgia to produce the plaques. But there wasn’t enough revenue selling plaques in the local Jacksonville area to support two partners, their families and a building. They knew they needed to expand across the South and perhaps across the nation. However, the business couldn’t absorb the costs of all the long distance calls required to tele-market to other states, or provide appropriate customer service which, before the internet, would have to be done over the phone. So Barry left and went to New Jersey to start a painting and wallpaper business.
In January of 1986 Tom called to tell him the news: The U.S. Justice Department broke up the Bell System, allowing companies like MCI to compete for long distance customers. The impact was not lost on Barry and Tom: Long distance charges were going to go down! Tom had also found equipment to cut and make plaques, allowing their company to produce and sell their own products. Barry recognized the newfound potential in their plaque business and moved back to Jacksonville. A year later they moved the business to Tampa.
Since then, they have grown from a local business to serving customers nationwide. Most of their customers are repeat customers, including our own Bruce LeVell who has worked with Barry since 2005 for all of his recognition plaques and banners. The 64 employees are equally loyal — Many of them have more than 20 years of service and a few started with Barry and Tom 31 years ago. Although Tom has now retired, Barry continues to grow the company. In the News used to operate out of a rented building, but in 2008, Barry bought land and built his own 22,000-square-foot building.
A key to their success has been the streamlining and modernization of the operations. Long gone are the days when Barry cut the wood for all their plaques. Now they have standardized using ¾” birch they source from two suppliers. In addition to wood plaques, acrylic plaques are also available. When they began the business, they used actual newspapers and magazines, but regardless of how good their lamination process was, eventually those articles would yellow. Now articles are found online, downloaded, and professionally edited by Barry’s graphic artists. They remain in pristine condition using that same lamination process. One employee is responsible to work with the publishers to verify usage terms and conditions. The fact that major news outlets know “In the News” by name is, indeed, good news.
In the News has more than 2 million customers and is the largest plaque company specializing in newspaper and magazine articles.
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Christine Myers is the Office of Advocacy’s regional advocate representing New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our Regional Advocates in the 10 SBA regions stand ready to hear from you about small business concerns and to help you level the playing field for small businesses in your state.