Locally rooted companies
* Local roots: Founded in Chattanooga in 2009 as Goodhew, launched spinoff Sockwell in 2011* Consolidated both names under the Sockwell brand in 2015* Headquarters and warehouse in Chattanooga* Production facility in East Ridge* 19 employees in Chattanooga* Broad reach: An additional 20 employees in 15 states, with another 150 employees in nine countries outside the U.S.* Sales in 22 countries and the U.S.* Online: sockwellusa.com* Co-founder Jim Markley: We have major accounts that come in for meetings, and they love this city. We’ll have our international sales meeting here with 55 people from Australia, Japan, Canada, Dubai. We have people that say, ‘We don’t want you to come here to Denver or L.A. to meet with us — we want to come to Chattanooga.’
Stacked on a pallet in an East Chattanooga warehouse, the boxes of wool socks bound for Bulgaria make Jim Markley's point perfectly.
"We're in 22 countries plus the U.S.," says Markley, co-founder of Sockwell. "Over the last two years, we've managed to position ourselves in every critical selling strategy: brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, international, and now direct-to-consumer."
As Sockwell has expanded over the last decade, there's never been a reason to consider relocating from the city where he has lived since 1991, Markely says. The wool socks he and business partner Thomas Lee sell across the globe are manufactured in East Ridge at Heritage Hosiery, as well as mills in North Carolina and Alabama. The warehouse and office space that serves as Sockwell world headquarters is off Glass Street in East Chattanooga. But the power of digital marketing and online storytelling means there's no limit to the markets they can reach from their homegrown headquarters, Markley says.
"We're seeing growth across every platform," he says. "We've reached over 5 million people through digital advertising."
Digital marketing has helped transform what's possible for businesses that want to stay local but grow nationally or even internationally, says Ryan Russell, a lecturer in marketing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and a partner at Lift Media Group.
"Previously, the big guys always won," he says. "Digital marketing offers small businesses a way to cut through the clutter and get directly to their consumers. It has given local companies the ability to have a global reach."
But that doesn't mean the digital connection is the only game in town, Markley says.
"Brick-and-mortar retailers are still phenomenal partners for us," he says. "People still like to go to a store and buy."
* Local roots: Founded in Chattanooga in 1999* Broad reach: About 30 franchises from San Diego to New Hampshire* Online: educationaloutfitters.com* Vice President of Operations Julie Batycki: “In the 17 years I’ve been here, Chattanooga has really gone through a renaissance. I’m very thankful to live here.”
Julie Batycki, vice president of operations for Educational Outfitters, can certainly attest to that. The company was born when founder Jamey Elrod discovered that the private school her children attended wanted them to mail-order their uniforms.
"She wondered why there wasn't a store here that does that, where they could try the clothes on," Batycki says. "She sold her car and used the money to start the business out of her garage."
From their first retail location on East Brainerd Road in 2000, the business has grown to about 30 franchised stores across the country.
"We have stores from San Diego to New Hampshire," Batycki says. "We have the largest charter school uniform contract in the country. It's in Texas, and we serve 30,000 kids through five of our stores there."
Growing through the franchise model gives Educational Outfitters access to lots of great talent, and it allows founder Elrod and her husband Brian, who are both from Chattanooga, to keep the company based here at home, Batycki says.
"We have a home office on Main Street," she says. "Chattanooga is such a tremendous place for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. It has really lent itself to us being able to find the right support staff we need, (and) good office space."
* Local roots: Founded in Chattanooga in 2008* Participated in the Chattanooga INCubator program* Moved into Chestnut Street headquarters in 2016* 22 employees in Chattanooga* 30 employees and contractors in Tennessee* Broad reach: 130 employees and contractors in 23 other states* Clients in 19 states and five countries* Online: codescience.comMarketing Director Molly Walsh: Gig City is amazing in terms of connectivity, there’s a wonderful employee base, the incubator we participated in was a great first step for our company. Our roots are here. This town has been wonderful for us, we have deep ties, and our employees are here.
For CodeScience, a software development company founded in Chattanooga in 2008, the company's roots are central to its human-centered culture, says CEO Brian Walsh. CodeScience also has offices in San Francisco and Atlanta. It has brought over 250 commercial software products to market on the Salesforce AppExchange, and is growing fast and hiring all over the country, Walsh says. But the headquarters on Chestnut Street in downtown Chattanooga is home base, he says.
"It's important to have a home," says Walsh, who lives in San Francisco. "I just adore Chattanooga - the food, the people, everything about it."
Walsh is also a fan of Chattanooga's high-speed internet and the local start-up culture that fostered CodeScience. The business grew up in the Hamilton County Business Development Center. Every quarter, all new hires come to spend a week in the Chattanooga office and get a sense of the culture at the heart of CodeScience, Walsh says.
"Our office is in an awesome location," he says. "I came in for a meeting six or eight months ago, and during the team breakfast, the mayor came in just to say hello. You don't get that in many places."
* Local roots: Founded in New York in 2013* Relocated headquarters to Chattanooga in 2014* Broad reach: 525 Mannies in New York, and 1,275 Mannies nationwide* Have placed Mannies with families in seven states and two countries* Online: mymanny.com* Co-founder and CEO John Brandon: I’ve proven that I don’t need to be anywhere specific to make this successful. It doesn’t require my physical presence.”
That small-town feel is one of the most important factors that led John Brandon to make Chattanooga the headquarters for his childcare start-up MyManny. Brandon and a roommate co-founded the business in New York City in 2013, and grew a strong client base in that market. But Brandon moved home the next year - and kept growing the business from here.
"I love New York City, but Chattanooga is more my pace," Brandon says. "I can do a good workday, and then get in the car and go to the Cumberland Trail. It helps me be more productive."
MyManny sources male nannies who act as mentors, tutors, coaches, and role models for families seeking male caregivers. Even as he runs the business from Chattanooga, the MyManny New York client base has remained strong, and the company's online presence has led families in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix to their site. The work can all be run from his home in Red Bank, Brandon says, and when an in-person meeting is important, he makes it happen.
"I need great internet service, which Chattanooga offers, and I need to be able to talk with clients and create what feels like a very personal experience," he says. "When I need to get on a plane, I love the direct flights to New York."
The business is growing slowly by design, he says, testing and learning in limited markets for now.
"It's a childcare company," Brandon explains. "We don't want to grow quickly. We intentionally take it easy and deal only with users who find us organically."
But as he tests and proves out the business strategy, and slowly expands the marketing approach, there's no limit to potential locations where MyManny can serve families, he adds.
"We can do this anywhere," he says. "Moscow, Kuwait, London."
That said, he's not planning to move MyManny headquarters out of Chattanooga. Brandon and his wife had a daughter a year ago, and the resources he has found here have proven out his theory that there's no place like home.
"There are good developers in town, our marketing team is local, and I would put their skills up against anyone anywhere else," he says.