8 employees plus freelance employees
Where some see trash, others see potential. Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay, who met at a city cleanup event, enjoyed cycling around Detroit in search of usable roadside castoffs and architectural salvage. They transformed pieces of reclaimed wood, metal, signage, and similar items into tables, cabinets, and other furnishings. “We didn’t have much money, so it was a great way to make some of our decor,” Bo recalls. In 2013, they began selling their wares at a local vendors’ market, naming their business Woodward Throwbacks–a nod to Detroit’s storied manufacturing and architectural history. National retailers took notice of their vintage-inspired, upcycled creations, and orders for signs, beer flight boards, and other items began rolling in. In 2017, they moved their operation into a 24,000-square-foot former car dealership in the Hamtramck neighborhood, which now houses their showroom, workshop, and salvaged materials warehouse.
The only thing Deana Neely knows better than electrical contracting is the city of Detroit. After a decade working for the Detroit Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department, she decided to use her knowledge and experience to found Detroit Voltage in 2016, offering a reliable contracting service to the underserved residents of the city. “Many contractors refuse to come into the city itself,” Deana explains. “But this is the city that raised me. I feel an obligation to serve my community in a way that others won’t.” Detroit Voltage has used digital tools like Google Ads to reach customers looking for skilled and conscientious electrical contractors, and their Business Profile on Google helps them highlight and showcase their many positive reviews from customers they’ve already helped.
When COVID-19 suddenly short-circuited business as usual in Michigan, Detroit Voltage turned to Google Analytics to understand exactly what customers were looking for, and quickly pivoted to serve their needs. They started offering germicidal UV lighting options for safety-conscious customers, and smart home devices for increasingly house-bound customers. Google Workspace products like Gmail and Google Sheets have helped them communicate efficiently and easily keep track of all their contractors remotely. Thanks to Deana’s innovative thinking, Detroit Voltage maintained 40-percent year-over-year (YoY) growth in 2020, and they plan to expand and hire additional contractors in 2021. “Google has really helped us grow and scale our business, and that empowers us to keep doing more for our customers and our community,” she says. And that’s how this Detroit business is engineering a brighter tomorrow.
Suburban Bolt and Supply
In 1971, two veterans, Jerry Kelley and Carl “Pete” Peterson, founded Suburban Bolt and Supply, a company that provides industrial products to clients in the greater Michigan area. More than 40 years later, the company is flourishing under the leadership of their children, Jerilynn Pintar and Eric Peterson. “At first, we both did pretty much everything we could to run away from the family business,” said Eric. “But eventually we decided to make a go at it because it was something our dads created and it’s filled with good people who care.” Jerilynn was driven to get Suburban Bolt and Supply’s employees familiar with digital. The company established an online ordering system in 2006 but quickly moved away from e-commerce when the team realized their digital strategy wasn’t driving enough sales. “We didn’t have an awareness campaign,” said Jerilynn “So while you could place orders online, no one knew we offered that option.”
In 2016, Suburban Bolt and Supply brought on Nikki Gordon, a digital marketing specialist, to iron out its digital strategy. Nikki started using Google Ads and Google Analytics to reach potential clients and learn more about their search habits. “We found that there was a strong need for the services that we provide and the commodities that we sell,” she said. “There was a huge amount of search volume out there, so we utilized it.” Based on that information, Suburban Bolt and Supply began tailoring its search campaigns to better reach consumers and drive traffic to its website. “Google Analytics gives us the data and metrics we need to make smarter marketing decisions,” Nikki said. The company also uses Google My Business to boost visibility on Google Maps and Google Search and to respond to customer reviews. “Within a couple of clicks, we know how people found us,” said Nikki.
Today, Google Ads accounts for about 40% of the company’s website traffic. According to Nikki, search campaigns generated 1,300 leads that resulted in 126 new customers. “We plan to continue to grow moving forward — even more so now with Google behind us,” said Eric. Having established a successful digital strategy, Suburban Bolt and Supply plans to reinstate e-commerce sales in the near future. But for now, the company is focused on sustaining its growth, taking care of its people, and making an impact within the local community. “Donating to charities is important to our staff,” said Jerilynn. “The best part of working here is that we really are a family. We look out for each other. That’s one of the reasons our employees love being here and our customers love buying from us.”
When Frank Venegas won a car at a raffle in 1979, he drove it around for only nine days before selling it to finance his first business. Fast forward 38 years, and that business is now one of seven under the family-owned parent company, Ideal Group. “We provide everything from general contracting, to ballistic barriers, to hard-to-find parts that are used in manufacturing facilities throughout the world,” explains Vice President Linzie Venegas. One of their businesses is Ideal Shield, a Detroit-based manufacturer of bollard covers—plastic sleeves that are placed over bollards to protect them from wear and tear. “Ideal Shield was the first company that we started to use Google products for,” shares Linzie. With an average growth rate of 25 percent per year, it is also one of the fastest-growing businesses in the Ideal Group family.
Ideal Shield has been using AdWords, Google’s advertising program, since its inception in 1997. “Not that many people know what a bollard cover is,” says Linzie. “So if somebody is told to go buy one, we know they’re going to go to Google. It’s important that we show up on there when they do.” About 50 percent of Ideal Shield’s sales leads now come through Google Search and ads. The company uses insights from Google Analytics to optimize their AdWords campaigns and improve conversion rates. “For every dollar we spend on AdWords, we get roughly 22 dollars back,” Linzie estimates. And YouTube provides them with a platform for sharing helpful content, such as installation tutorials.
Today, Ideal Shield sells about 25,000 bollard covers a month to customers all around the world. The company operates five plants in Southwest Detroit, where they proudly manufacture their products. They also employ 60 people, most of whom are manufacturing professionals. “We’re committed to making our products here in the U.S.,” says Linzie. To further that commitment, Ideal Shield offers education and training programs for students of all ages. Elementary school students are paired with mentors and introduced to the world of engineering and robotics, while high school and college students are given the opportunity to work as construction interns. “There is a lot of growth going on in Detroit, and we want to do our part to prepare the workforce of tomorrow,” Linzie shares. “After all, the greatest thing about Ideal is our people.”
130 employees during peak season.
“A relentless pursuit to protect athletes” is what drives Xenith, an industry leader in football-helmet technology. Before Xenith, decades passed with only minimal innovation in helmet design, President Ryan Sullivan says. The company’s mission, he adds, is to “develop the most advanced protective equipment, from helmets to shoulder pads and other accessories.” They proudly make their gear in Detroit and outfit athletes of all ages and skill levels. “We could assemble helmets for a youth organization across the country and, later that day, make one for a Detroit Lion right down the street,” Ryan notes.
Xenith launched in 2006 and had their first helmets on the field three years later. “Today, we’re third in the market for football helmets. We’re also the fastest growing,” Ryan says. The company doubled their revenue from 2014 to 2016 and sells their products to hundreds of thousands of customers around the world. Web-enabled tools power their growth. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, is their go-to marketing tool, and when their products are in-season, over half of their online sales come through Google. They consult Google Analytics to measure their web traffic, gain customer insight, and make data-driven decisions. And YouTube enables them to share their brand anthem as well as tutorial-based videos showcasing their products. “There’s a real education process to inform potential customers about our products. YouTube is a great platform to grow our brand awareness and build our football community,” Ryan explains.
For the Xenith team, the most rewarding part of the job is being able to build relationships with sport communities worldwide and affect the lives of young athletes. For the 2016 high school season, the company supplied helmets to all Detroit public school teams, two of which won state championships. “Seeing our hometown teams, who wore our product, win state titles and have their parade go right past our office—that’s a pretty cool moment,” Ryan remarks. Committed to innovation and safety for all athletes, Xenith’s ambitions and vision for the future don’t stop in the football market. “We’re building a world-class company to help keep all athletes safer, and we’re doing it here in Detroit,” says Ryan.
Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment
Sterling Heights, Michigan
Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment has provided a range of marketing services to enhance and extend their customers’ brands since 1996. They offer everything from branded merchandise and fulfillment services, to sweepstakes and promotions, to digital storefronts. Mercury has a satellite office in downtown Detroit and participates in efforts to revitalize the city. “It means a tremendous amount to see our city come back alive,” says Tina Harmon, Managing Partner. “We’re committed to Detroit. We moved in here because we wanted to be part of the action of what was happening.”
To do their part in this revitalization, they are focused on growing their business and creating jobs. Maintaining a strong online presence and taking advantage of digital tools are critical in today's marketplace. “You can’t just hand out brochures today. You have to have an online presence and it has to be robust. That’s the way people find you,” Tina says. They rely on numerous Google tools to stay productive and efficient, including Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Groups. “We use all of the Google tools in our business,” Tina says. “Wherever we are in the world, it’s easy for us to access our information and it’s so reliable.” As a minority business enterprise (MBE), they are also involved in the Google Small Business Supplier Diversity program. According to Tina, working with Google has increased business by 15% and “has helped us put Mercury on the map in a big way.”
Mercury’s approach is clearly working. They’ve seen strong growth in recent years, have increased office space, and have increased employment by over 10%. The Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council named the company Supplier of the Year in 2013. Two publications named them as one of the best places to work in 2015. Mercury’s prosperity is often reflected by their suppliers’ growth as well. Some suppliers report that they’ve added second shifts just to accommodate the increase in business from Mercury. “You can just imagine what that means for the economic impact,” Tina says. "Our growth has contributed not only to morale, but also to the community and the revitalization of Detroit. We’re proud to be a small part of a larger impact.”