Disrupting an industry with a new product, service model, or workplace culture takes innovation. For these 8 Chattanooga businesses, it takes knowing what’s standard practice and leaning into new ideas with passion despite the risk.
If Joshua Simmons and Trenn Carnes are on the fence about trying to disrupt an industry with a new consumer retail product, they start with reverse engineering something already seeing record sales. In 2017, frustrated with the cost of Bluetooth-enabled premium headphones, they tackled a pair of Beats by Dre and found they could manufacture an identical product at minimal cost. Simmons and Carnes launched The Culture V1’s last fall, and they didn’t simply match the technology offered by premium brands at just $150 – they upped the ante with new features of their own.
The Culture V1’s are outfitted with a combination of smart features not fully bundled in the high-dollar brands: an ambient setting, sensors that automatically pause your tunes when you remove the headphones, and a swipe setting across the right ear-cap for changing the song or volume. Competing directly with BOSE, SONY, and Beats by Dre, the headphones also feature noise-canceling technology, are phone call ready, and handle 20 hours of wireless play before needing to be charged. “You’ll find a pair of SONYs that have the swipe sensors on the ear-cap and have the ambient setting, but they’re $450. You’ll find a pair of BOSE headphones that have the same noise-canceling qualities as ours, but you won’t get the features,” Simmons explains.
Culture Audio formally launched in October 2018 and sold over 500 units in the first three months. The company also leaned into social media influencer marketing. Hip-hop disc jockey Tony Neal has been spotted online repping Culture Audio gear, as has rapper Ponce De’Leioun. Simmons and Carnes have also partnered with Compassion International, donating 10% of the net profit from each order.
While they are now Amazon Choice Certified at Amazon.com, Simmons and Carnes anticipate retail placement is where they’ll make 75% of their sales long term. Their first contract is with InMotion Entertainment in airports nationwide. Culture Audio will also launch the headphones in a red and pink colorway this spring. Simmons says the team has even bigger innovation plans after that. “We’re about to surprise a lot of legacy brands in the industry.”
Photos by Rich Smith
Owned by Don Godsey, formerly of Gold Bond, Avenger Logistics launched in 2015, capitalizing on the talent pool and traffic that has made Chattanooga a transportation and logistics capital. The company connects carriers to shippers who need their goods transported by van, open deck flatbeds, refrigerated trailers, or heavy haulers. If you’re a manufacturing company that needs 30,000 tons of steel moved from Chicago to Atlanta, for example, Avenger Logistics can make it happen. And the company’s cradle-to-grave service model allows for a single point of contact for each customer.
Beyond ditching the split-level service model popular in the industry, the Avenger Logistics workplace culture propels company success. “The open floorplan is everything. It’s absolutely intentional,” says director of business development Jason Roberts. “When you are out on the floor and somebody gets their first new customer, they go ring a bell on the wall. The entire floor applauds, and there is not a better feeling.” Employees also have access to a long-term training program (no more trial-by-fire), an exercise facility, and a chapel.
Avenger Logistics has grown from $9 million in revenue in 2016 to more than $63 million in 2018. The company ended the year with nearly 100 employees, moved to an 11,000-square-foot office on Shallowford Road, and is prepping to move again to double workplace square footage.
Avenger Logistics projects $100 million in revenue and new hires that will result in 170 employees between its Chattanooga office and another in Minneapolis by the end of the year. Long term, the goal is a branch in every time zone. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, freight brokers were thought of as middlemen who didn’t really provide a lot of service. We want to change that,” Roberts says. “We’re kind of avenging the reputation of brokers and logistics providers.”
Photos by Scott & Kate Veltkamp and Our Ampersand Photography
Tech professional Aaron Hoffman has always had a side gig. In December 2014, he created a home batch of everyday hot sauce to give away at Christmas, custom label and all. Within a few months, people wanted more. Made 100% from Tennessee ingredients, last year Hoff & Pepper products used 15,000 pepper plants from L&D Swafford Family Farm in Dayton. The limited-edition Hoff’s Hot Bourbon Sauce was aged for a year in Chattanooga Whiskey barrels. Hoff’s Wake-Up Call is made with Frothy Monkey Cold Brew Coffee.
Pick up a jar of hot sauce at the grocery store and it’s bound to be produced with fermented chilis. For layers of flavor, Hoffman packs three different chilis into vinegar instead, preventing fermentation. And Hoff Sauce is meant to elevate your meal, not bring the pain. “There are plenty of companies that make what I call ‘Dare Sauces,’ and they use chili extracts to get their extreme heat,” Hoffman says. “We only use real chilis. I am more about adding flavor to your food than covering it up.”
Hoff & Pepper won first place at the New York City Hot Sauce Expo for the best Louisiana-Style Hot Sauce for the third year in a row, tying for the most consecutive wins. Hoff Sauce also snagged a mention on Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram page as well as a contract with national hot sauce of the month club Fuego Box, which distributed a Hoff Sauce custom blend created specifically for its 10,000 subscribers.
Hoff & Pepper has consistently seen company growth of 300% per year. Now in 350 stores including Heatonist and Grand Central Station in New York City, impressive sales at Elder’s Ace Hardware led to shelving with Ace Hardware nationwide. Hoffman notes the brand is targeting additional large retail chains for distribution this year.
Photos Courtesy of Fillauer and Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
At 8 years old and living in Knoxville, Michael Fillauer would leave school in the afternoons and walk across the street to his father’s orthotics and prosthetics patient care clinic. In a way, it seems he was destined for a future in the field. In 2007, Fillauer relocated to Chattanooga to run the manufacturing division of the family company. Now three years in as CEO, he has pushed for research and development in high-performance feet and upper extremity prostheses that are changing the evolution, design, and technology of the entire industry.
The launch of the Nexo System is a return to body-powered prosthetics for durability, lightweight frame, and low cost. “There are no electronics. There’s no battery. There’s no microprocessor,” Fillauer explains. The Nexo System is the first major change in body-powered upper extremity prosthetics in the last 60 years. The AllPro foot, which combines a carbon composite running blade with a standard foot for use as a cross-trainer, has also put the company in the spotlight. This lower-limb prosthesis can serve both everyday walking needs and high-performance athletics.
With divisions in Chattanooga, Salt Lake City, Asheville, and Sweden, Fillauer saw double digit revenue growth last year, much to the credit of new product lines. In addition to Nexo and AllPro, the company became a distributor for TASKA™, the world’s first waterproof myoelectric hand with multiarticulating fingers. The grips can support gardening, tying shoes, holding cutlery, and writing with a pen.
This year, Fillauer projects his company’s carbon composite feet will continue to take market share, and Nexo technology for upper extremity will evolve. “Right now, we have a below and above elbow system, and we’re coming out with a myoelectric version of it,” he explains. “We’re going to continue to expand and really redefine the way upper extremity prosthetics are fitted to patients.”
Photo by Kim Nix
Danette Newton has a secret about the vodka industry. Not only does the distillation process contribute to the smoothness of the vodka, the water and post-distillation filtration play a huge roll too. Newton has professional experience as a biomedical engineer, and all that time under the microscope primed her for a career as chemist-meets-entrepreneur. The co-founder and CEO of Lass & Lions Vodka, she’s now known for award-winning Tennessee craft vodka made with Appalachian spring water and the first vodkas in the world to be infused with all-natural, functional botanicals. “It’s made by a bunch of scientists,” says Newton. “We science the heck out of it, and that’s why it’s so smooth.”
Infusing a vodka with oils or extracts for flavor has been done before. Infusing vodka with a cold compound of the herb itself is what makes Lass & Lions unique. Unwind, which won a gold medal at The Fifty Best awards last year, is infused with chamomile and lemongrass for relaxation. Desire is infused with Madagascar vanilla beans, hibiscus, and damiana to complement sensuality. Each bottle is topped with a scented wax to reflect the flavors of the blend.
Last year, Lass & Lion’s straight vodka won an award at every competition it entered, including silver at the American Distilling Institute and gold at the International SIP Awards. Newton also saw her vodkas receive menu placement at more than 25 locations in Chattanooga including The Moxy, The Edwin, London Calling, The Westin, The Chattanoogan, Public House, Scotties, The Marriott, Blue Water Grill, and Taco Mamacita.
Lass & Lions will launch a new flavored vodka, Refresh (infused with spearmint and rose), this spring. Newton also hopes to open a local tasting room and expand her retail shelving from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Atlanta, and Los Angeles to include Nashville as well, while continuing online retail distribution via Great American Craft Spirits, which currently ships Lass & Lions products to 22 states.
Photos by Rich Smith
Builder Brock was living in the Florida Keys working in digital media and sponsorship sales for three fishing television shows when he realized the producers needed help staying relevant. In the cord-cutter era of television, younger generations are ditching cable packages for streaming video with Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire. In 2015, Brock and the producers he worked with joined “tech wizard” Jason Fisher to launch streaming platform Waypoint TV in Chattanooga. Waypoint partners with producers of hunting and fishing television who want to have their shows included, and viewers simply download the app and watch for free. They’re now leading a community of over a million outdoor enthusiasts.
Waypoint TV’s top strategy for changing the television industry is minimizing commercials and helping producers integrate sponsored brands into content instead. It’s also capitalizing on the trend that viewers expect flexibility in how they watch their preferred shows. “We basically allow you to watch it on your own time, any time, wherever you are, with whatever device you want to watch it on,” Brock says. Skipping on subscription costs for viewers was also a priority.
Committing to content that tells a story, Waypoint TV doubled the content library on their platform and had 40 million minutes of hunting and fishing television watched on the app last year. In addition to viewers from Florida to Alaska, South Africa to Japan, the company also gained 1.5 million followers on social media and doubled its number of employees.
Waypoint TV will soon expand its content to include adventure shows focused on rock climbing, snowboarding, and surfing. Forecasting suggests they will surpass 100 million minutes of viewed content this year, and they hope to ink some major partnerships. The company will also launch a podcast network called Waypoint Outdoor Collective. First in the lineup are Off the Grid with Ralph and Vicki, Foul Front Outdoors, and the Tom Rowland Podcast.
Photos by Rich Smith
A large corporation’s supply chain consists of inbound products, manufacturing, warehouses, and distribution. LYNC Logistics President and CEO Cindy Lee knows the system well. Her husband’s family has owned commercial truck dealership Lee-Smith for over 80 years, and in 2014, fed up with the brokers she contracted with as she managed its trucking branch, she and her daughters decided they could do brokerage better. Backed by contracts with Coca-Cola, Dairy Farmers of America, and FEMA, LYNC Logistics has grown to 38 employees and an annual revenue of $30 million.
If a truck needs transloading 300 miles from delivery – or a cracker company needs a truckload of cheese to make a tight product launch deadline – that’s when LYNC shines. “No brokers, just fixers. That’s what we like doing,” says Vice President of Sales Mathew Soloff. In an industry historically dominated by men, LYNC is also known for intentionally hiring female brokers. Employees are treated like small business owners and encouraged to hire others to work under them. “We give them all the tools, but it’s their business to grow,” Lee says.
Originally LYNC America, the company rebranded to LYNC Logistics last year. It was also ranked No. 415 on the 37th annual Inc. 5000 List of fastest growing companies in America. Lee’s team is still in the same 8th Avenue location it occupied for the 2014 launch, but they recently took over the shared space used by Lee-Smith, gutted the 10,000+ square feet, and remodeled with modern fixtures for continued growth.
Supported by Chief Happiness Officer LeBron (the office golden retriever who sleeps under conference tables and walks by for a head scratch throughout the day), LYNC has doubled its revenue every year, and Soloff projects the company will end 2019 with 20 new employees and close to $60 million in sales.
Photo by Rich Smith
Public surveillance is not a new concept, but Security Centres International (USA) LLC is making it less intrusive and more effective. Originally from the Grand Cayman Islands, Stuart and Roberta Bostock were first introduced to Chattanooga when their son attended Baylor School as a boarder. They opened a U.S. office in Chattanooga in 2017 and launched their newest product, the Mobile Advanced Safety Tower (MAST). MAST supports law enforcement, state and federal government agencies, commercial customers, and others clients with off-the-grid surveillance technology. It provides 24-hour, high-quality CCTV (closed-circuit television) surveillance with live/recorded footage and a public address system.
Why purchase expensive security equipment if it will soon be obsolete? MAST can be leased for a week, for a month, or indefinitely, and SCI USA will upgrade each unit as new features become available. The tower can be set up in 30-45 minutes, runs on solar power, can serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot at an event, and can be wrapped in promotional materials for aesthetics.
For the Bostocks, 2018 was all about finalizing design, tech offerings, and local manufacturing partners. SCI USA won the Chattanooga Technology Council Early Innovator Award, and MAST was unveiled locally via a European trial model at Riverbend 2018. A MAST prototype was used in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, and completed units were used as a part of Super Bowl LIII security efforts in February 2019.
With no infrastructure requirements, the Bostocks predict MAST systems will provide a layer of security to locations previously difficult to protect, as well as sporting events, concerts, festivals, and school events where safety is high priority. “We see ourselves as the friendly giants,” Stuart says, “providing services and safety for all in a very discreet manner.” CS