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ESPN 760 Nominated for Business of the Year

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Linen. Radio. Security.

In many ways, they're old businesses, with roots in bygone eras.

But leaders at three companies found ways to make them new. And that is what makes them finalists for this year's small business award presented by the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches.

"Whether a younger business or an older one, everyone needs to be constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of their customers," said Dennis Grady, CEO of the chamber. "These finalists are excellent examples of businesses who have done just that.

Renewing a family business became the unexpected challenge for Angela Barnard, vice president of Audio Video Systems Inc., which provides security and alarm systems in West Palm Beach.

AVS was started in 1981 by her father, Robert Ingui. It was originally a repair facility for closed-circuit video surveillance equipment. When he became ill in 2001, the business was, in her words, "nearing financial ruin."

She had grown up in South Florida but lived out of state for 10 years, working as an information technology analyst. With her husband's encouragement, she decided to come back and make the business her own.

"The next few years were a struggle," she recounted. "The day after my father's funeral, our largest supplier called and requested immediate payment of all outstanding invoices. I cried and then called the bank."

She also had a newborn daughter to care for, but took no salary at first and had to lay off a long-time employee and cut expenses to pay the two who remained. She read everything she could find on the security industry.

Like TV repair shops, which saw consumers increasingly finding it cheaper to buy new sets than repair old ones, her firm had to adapt.

Her IT experience helped her guide the company from simply repairing equipment to selling new gear. Revenues grew every year since 2002 to more than $800,000 annually, and the firm added three employees in two recent years.

Customers today range from government agencies to Nutrition S'mart organic grocery stores.

And then there's the radio business.

In 2003, Good Karma Broadcasting acquired the 760AM signal to serve the largest market in the country without a sports radio station: West Palm Beach. General manager and co-owner Steve Politziner took up the challenge with on-air talent led by Evan Cohen.

Among the hurdles Politziner and company saw: "growing and gaining success in an industry that is stagnant."

By their count, the radio business is growing only 1 percent a year. So they got into more than the radio business, branching into TV, online and social media.

Today, ESPN 760 operates the sports department for two local TV stations, WPTV NewsChannel 5 and WFLX Fox 29.

"By launching a new website and using social media as a tool to engage with fans, ESPN 760 has stayed ahead of the curve," the station's award application says.

The station has secured local broadcast rights for the FAU Owls, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Heat, Florida Panthers and Miami Marlins as well as national events.

Meanwhile, a growing focus on high school sports has proved especially successful, station leaders say. Football Night in South Florida coverage has led to extended high school sports programming throughout the year.

At Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach, President Penny Murphy has seen successive generations put a new stamp on an old business.

Her grandfather Max Greenberg came from Austria to sell hammers, nails and dynamite to American settlers, then kerosene lamps, ice boxes and blankets. By 1930, the business had become a general home furnishing store in downtown West Palm Beach.

Her father, George, made it a fine linen store.

"When I joined Pioneer in the '90s, it was the beginning of the information age," Murphy said. "I decided that Pioneer Linens should have an Internet site. Friends asked me, 'Who would buy linens over the Internet? People like to touch and feel linens.' We were one of the first linen stores to be online."

She took over the company in 2007 after her father died, only to see the stock market crash and Madoff scandal ensue not long after. The business hit, she said, "an all-time low."

Her grandfather had survived the 1929 crash, but now she faced a staggering challenge of her own.

Her strategy: Concentrate on the "meat and potatoes" of white sheets, white towels and blankets. Customers still needed the basics.

"I did not want Pioneer Linens to end after 97 years and on my watch," she said.

It worked. The company survived to celebrate its 100th anniversary in February.

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