by Richard J. Alley
Marriage, like soccer, is a team sport, and Natalie and Alfredo Cerpa — owners of Greenfield Arena — appear to have the fancy footwork for both.
Avid soccer players, the Cerpas met in 2010 as their leagues and worlds overlapped. The Cordova facility where they both played indoor soccer was busy, yet poorly run, and Natalie knew it could be done better. With a background in her family’s longtime, Memphis-based business, Hill Services, she drew up a plan and began talking with people in the business community who, as she says, “were committed to the city.”
At the same time, Alfredo was organizing and running a variety of soccer leagues around town. Originally from Chile, he’d been a member of that country’s national gymnastics team before switching over to soccer and playing in a second-tier division with a professional organization. An injury sidelined his career, and he came to the University of Memphis in 2001 to learn the English language, staying for work as an IT consultant and, eventually, his new family.
They looked into building a new facility but quickly realized that wasn’t economically feasible. The search for an existing structure — one with enough wide-open space for a regulation field (pitch, as it’s called in soccer), viewing section, bathrooms, concession stand, office, etc., but with no obstructing columns — led them to a compound of pre-fab buildings housing a tennis facility and former soccer and field hockey field in Midtown, nestled beside a railroad overpass on South Willett Street just off of Central Avenue.
The team signed a two-year lease (optioned twice again since), and put a six-figure sum into clean-up and renovation. “When we walked in, it was full of antiques, [the landlord] used it as storage,” Natalie says. “Basically the shell was here and we had to get everything out. Everything you see on the inside, we did.”
Greenfield was opened for business in 2011. Natalie and Alfredo were married a year later.
They kicked off with four leagues playing two seasons. Where adult soccer was the focus in the beginning, now the kids’ leagues and skills training programs have become part of the mix.
“We felt like the kids would only come inside in the winter, but the business has changed and we’ve been able to establish a brand, and now I think people see that this is a soccer place and want their kids to learn, and want them to come here,” Natalie says. She adds with a laugh, “And it’s kind of nice to sit inside as a parent.”
The leagues are the mainstay, the meat of the business, and the gaps are filled with open play, skills training, and the like. But the key to success is in filling up an entire day with play at Greenfield, so another aspect to their business is late-night leagues accommodating the second-shift workforce and restaurant employees just clocking out. These are matches that can go until one or two in the morning.
The soccer community has grown over the years. Natalie grew up playing in competitive leagues, with her church, at the Hutchison School, and in college. Now there are more and more local leagues and clubs every season, with heavy growth in the youth arena. The Cerpas have tapped into that community and at the end of 2014 (the same week their son, Alexander, was born), the couple opened Greenfield East off of Sycamore View near Summer Avenue.
Today, there are about 10 recreational leagues that run the gamut — men’s and women’s over 35 (years old), laid back, co-ed pick-up, etc. — at each location. Leagues vary in size for each of two seasons with 50 to 70 teams in the spring, and up to 100 teams for the winter. That puts anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 players on the pitch during a given season.
With two full-time employees, and one part-time between the two locations — and their own hands full with family and careers — Alfredo works overseeing the facilities and developing new leagues to broaden the reach and continuing to fill in the gaps.
“I’m always looking to see, ‘What is the market?’” he says. “All these people who played high school soccer, but they’re not as skilled and didn’t make college, but they want to play, what is out there for them? For these people who want to come and run, get some exercise, safe and not get injured; that’s where our focus has been.”
For more on Greenfield Arena and indoor soccer, visit greenfieldarena.com.
Fortunate: Memphis is represented by two on the Fortune magazine list of 100 Best Companies to Work For
Richard J. Alley
In Memphis, everyone knows someone who works in the healthcare industry. Likewise, everyone knows a lawyer. In March, Fortune magazine named two of the largest Memphis employers of medical staff and attorneys to its list of The 100 Best Companies To Work For. Those two companies sit side-by-side on page 152 of the magazine — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.
Fortune partnered with Great Places to Work to come up with the best workplaces in the country. Scores were based on the results of the Trust Index Employee Survey, sent to a random sampling of employees from St. Jude and Baker Donelson. “This survey asks questions related to employees’ attitudes about management’s credibility, overall job satisfaction, and camaraderie.” Another part of the score is from responses to the Culture Audit, and its focus on pay and benefit programs, and a series of open-ended questions about hiring practices, methods of internal communication, recognition programs, and diversity efforts.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Though it took St. Jude a couple of tries to find its place on the notable list, this marks the sixth year the hospital has made it. “What we did was we listened to our employees and what they valued and what they were looking for, and over time we were able to make changes,” says Dana Bottenfield, vice president of human resources for St. Jude. “At the end of the day, the reward and the recognition of that is getting on the list. It’s recognizing the efforts the organization has made to truly make it a great place to work and listen to our employees and understand what they value.”
Specifically, the hospital has recognized the high-stress environment many of its employees work in and created ways to relax and celebrate their accomplishments through programs such as employee appreciation days throughout the year.
Another item of importance was a way to increase communication between employees and administration. “We’re constantly trying to come up with new ways for our leaders to get information to our employees,” Bottenfield says, “but one of the things we’re focusing on right now is having more vehicles for our employees to speak to our leadership.” Topics of concern are gathered and voted on with the most prevalent and important being presented at a town hall event with the CEO and supporting groups on hand to field questions.
St. Jude is below the national average when it comes to employee turnover, especially where the healthcare industry is concerned. “Healthcare runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, and since right before the economic downturn in 2008, we’ve remained under 10 percent,” Bottenfield says. “The last couple of years we’ve hovered around 7 or 8 percent turnover, which is very low.”
The Fortune list remains a strong recruitment tool as St. Jude searches globally to boost its roster that now stands at 4,300 strong, with plans to grow by 1,000 over the next six years. “Knowing you have an atmosphere that is full of pride, of camaraderie, of communication, and fairness, those are things that appeal to every person, and so us getting on that list is definitely one of the main things we try to leverage in recruitment.”
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
The law firm of Memphis-based Baker Donelson includes a massive workforce of more than 1,300 spread out across 20 cities, yet the culture of the firm remains consistent from office to office. And it’s this culture that has seen Baker Donelson on the Fortune list for seven years. “In a nutshell, we’re committed to the development and the morale of our people, which empowers them and motivates them to serve our clients, our communities, and each other,” says CEO and chairman Ben Adams.
A lot goes into that. At the top of Adams’ list is strong communication to help everyone understand their role in the mission of the firm so they know that they matter. “We have a number of ways where people can communicate directly,” Adams says. “Every day we have what we call our ‘Daily Docket,’ where groups of folks throughout the firm spend 10 minutes talking about different things going on in the firm, talking about various client service standards that we’d like to highlight, different things going on with our clients. That’s an ideal vehicle where people are together and you get a lot of feedback from that.”
The firm hosts gumbo and chili cook-offs, and a birthday beer car. But there are also programs and initiatives such as eight hours of paid time off to spend in community service, and the firm’s ongoing commitment to pro bono work. These are programs, Adams says, “that let nice people be nice.”
When traveling from office to office, Adams speaks with lawyers and staff about what’s going on in the firm and to learn what questions they may have. This is done at all levels throughout the company. “One of the things I think we’ve done a really good job of is bridging the stratification that occurs in most law firms between lawyers and non-lawyers, between partners and everybody else,” he says. “That is something that is a typical problem in a law firm, sort of a caste system, and I think we’ve done a really good job of blurring those lines and making every person feel like they have a role to play.”
Knowing the importance of that role, and holding its place on the Fortune list, goes a long way to retaining its great people. Being on the list, Adams says, “is an objective outside measurement that we have a great culture.”
View the full list at fortune.com/best-companies.
by Richard J. Alley
In a 10,000-square-foot warehouse just off of Broad Avenue in the Binghampton neighborhood, there is an assault on the ears. An autoCAD machine grinds its way through wood panelling as a table saw growls nearby; a bundle of lumber falls to the concrete floor. Everywhere there is dust and splinters, a hive of activity.
But escape through a couple of doors and down a hallway, and find bliss. Among bookshelves and in low lighting, I sit on a leather couch surrounded by silence until Jim Thompson, co-owner of EgglestonWorks, touches the face of his smartphone and music floods the room. It’s a drum and bass riff that brings the speakers Thompson and partner John Callery produce to life. And there is so much life in those woofers and tweeters. As I listen, oddly, it’s difficult to know where to look as every snare lick, every hi-hat sizzle, every run up the fretboard appears to come from a different part of the room. Instead, I close my eyes and let the music wash over me.
The speakers — and they look more sculpture than speaker — at the front of the room retail for $155,000 a pair. It’s not your everyday sound system but then, they were never intended for any everyday customer. The speakers were designed for sound engineer Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering who has worked with such notables as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and KISS, among many others. “Bob fidgets,” Thompson explains, “and he likes to stand up and walk around, so anything shorter and he loses the sound.” The Ivy Signature speakers stand six feet tall, putting the backbeat and vocals at the master’s ear level.
Ludwig and The Ivy are the exception to the rule as Thompson insists the recording studios are not why their company exists. Still, he says, there is not another brand of speaker in as many studios. “Engineers have just adopted us,” he says. “This is not a professional product. We don’t make speakers for mastering studios, we make speakers for people’s homes. However, what a mastering engineer wants out of the speaker is exactly what you do, you just don’t know it. You want to be able to listen to the speaker for a long period of time without getting tired, you want it to sound accurate to what you think that piece of music should sound like, and you don’t want to have to turn your speakers down every couple of hours because it’s bothering you. These goals that we approach towards a mastering engineer are exactly what somebody at home would want.”
There are other catalogue options for those of us with holes in our bookcase and a smaller sum in our checking account. Products start at $3,500 for a pair and go up to, well, you’ve just read where they top out. Still, though, 10 pairs of The Ivy sold last year.
But what makes a great speaker, one that is worthy of listening to the playback of Keith Richards’ guitar or Bruce Springsteen’s vocals? “The cabinet,” Thompson says. “The care and the thickness of that cabinet and all that goes into making that piece is unusual.” With other, lesser-quality speakers, he explains, the cabinet itself is going to participate in the sound, meaning the vibrations will make a noise that can then color what is happening with the speaker component itself, known as a “driver.” You don’t want that. “The cabinet is our highest value piece.”
After the cabinet, the quality of the electronics — the tweeters and woofers — make all the difference. These are sourced from places like Israel and Denmark. While the resistors and capacitors are built in-house, Thompson says,“Building a driver is like a laboratory-condition type of thing, you couldn’t do that in our factory.”
To put it simply, Thompson says, “You get what you pay for.”
The majority of EgglestonWorks’ business is not in the U.S., but with 37 distributors in 42 countries, and over 100 retail stores around the world. While market sizes fluctuate depending on the economy of a country at any given time, Asia remains one of the strongest and earlier this year Thompson and Callery opened a distributorship in Shanghai.
With 10 employees, the Memphis-based company sells about 450 pairs of speakers per year with annual revenue around $1 million, though Thompson is optimistic that they’re on pace to surpass that this year. “We’ve got good momentum,” he says.
The company was founded in 1993 as a furniture maker building speakers that looked like furniture. Thompson began working part-time in 1996 and became general manager in 1998. “I fell in love with the business,” he says, and about that time the original investors fell out of love. Thompson purchased the business shortly after.
He’d grown up in his father’s music instrument store where he became interested in the repair and technical side of the operation. When it came time to buy the speaker business, he called in longtime friend Callery, a true audiophile whose passion for music would be key. In 1998, the company had one product; today they offer 14.
Those products are lovingly made with pieces fitted together by hand. The colors are automobile-quality and applied in much the same way as an auto — sprayed, sanded, polished, and buffed — before the electronic components are put in and the whole thing quality checked, boxed, and packed in a shipping container to be sent overseas. If you were to follow one speaker from raw piece of wood to packaging, the process would take a week and a half, and it would be touched by human hands more than 100 times.
It’s that quality that resonates with customers across the city and halfway around the world. “My favorite emails are when people get their speakers and they send us pictures of them still in the box,” Thompson says, “and they say, ‘I spent six hours going through all of my music.’ That’s the biggest compliment, that you want to listen and to keep listening.”
by Richard J. Alley
I stand in the goal and sweat bullets as a dozen people run towards me. The sound of feet and guttural shouts is deafening, and my heart pounds in my ears as I ready myself knowing that one of these amateur athletes will take the shot. As keeper, it’s my job to stop that speeding soccer ball from getting past. Or, at least to keep from getting injured.
This is relaxation for me, this is how I decompress from work and responsibility. And granted, this is an over-35, coed league, so perhaps they’re not running as fast as they seem, but I’m also 10 years past that cut-off age, so my chances of stopping the ball are greatly diminished.
Some of those angling to score on me include doctors, business owners, salespeople, logistics managers, nurses, and hospitality executives. It is a cross-section of Memphis industry that shows up at Greenfield Arena — the indoor soccer facility in Midtown — every Tuesday night for exercise, camaraderie, and fun.
In this summer issue of Inside Memphis Business, we look at what happens once the workforce clocks out, how it spends its downtime. There are CEOs who eat their way through New Orleans, fish for trout, ski in Montana, take a day trip to Hot Springs, or simply drive down to the white-sand beaches of Destin.
Despite the travel anecdotes, Americans typically leave four days of vacation on the books, so we also look at what it might take to get us to take all of our paid time off (spoiler: you first, CEO).
If you do take that time, and plan to travel, odds are you’ll be doing so from Memphis International Airport. A year ago we looked into the changes happening after the de-hub by Delta Airlines. There was hope in the air then, and we find that the hope has come in for a landing as reporter Toby Sells revisits the airport.
Some might prefer to stay closer to home for what is known as a “staycation.” And for more than four decades those homebodies have shopped for fun at Outdoors Inc. (it truly is Memphis’ toy box). I recommend taking that new bike or hiking equipment out to the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park whose conservancy is now under the direction of Jen Andrews, profiled in our pages.
But maybe you’re the indoorsy type. If you prefer sitting in your living room to the poison ivy and insects found without, I suggest listening to your favorite tunes through a new set of EgglestonWorks speakers; we’ll show you how they’re made and what goes into them.
Near or far, we all need to clock out from time to time. I wish you all a safe and happy vacation this summer. And if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for some excitement, stop in at Greenfield and take your best shot.
The latest articles from the print version of Inside Memphis Business — plus excerpts from our weeklyTip Sheet.
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