40 Under 40 Business Section
We sit down with some previous 40 Under 40 alumni for a Q&A about the state of business in Erie.
In the spirit of the annual Erie's 40 Under 40 issue, we checked in with three alumni to see how their businesses, lives, and goals have changed over the past year or two.
Here are the responses from 2013's Chris Sirianni, president and general manager of The Brewerie at Union Station, 2014's Anthony Pribonic, president of FitnessU (formerly iRock Fitness), and 2014's Kaitlyn Slomski, creative director of Niche Team and founder of The Epilepsy Project.
Erie Reader: How has your business changed since you were on Erie's 40 Under 40 list?
Anthony Pribonic: As of Jan. 26, we acquired Nautilus Fitness Center and Creative Learning Child Care located at 2312 W. 15th St. We had a re-branding and grand opening as FitnessU on March 21. We had a huge turnout and the community rallied behind the event. What we are gearing up to do at the 15th Street location is unprecedented in our community; I think we're going to surprise a lot of people.
Chris Sirianni: Our special events and community fundraising efforts have really peaked. We've also done a complete overhaul of the brewing operation by bringing in a new head brewer, Tate Warren. Quality, consistency, and efficiency are at an all-time high. You'll also be seeing off premise distribution in the upcoming weeks, which is new to us.
Kaitlyn Slomski: The Epilepsy Project has created and maintained an Advisory Board, obtained its 501c3 designation, and held its first major event, Noble Night for Epilepsy in November 2014 — which will be repeated in November of 2015.
Erie Reader: What advice would you give someone starting a small business in Erie?
AP: We walk a fine line in our community. It's a glass house — no room for mess ups. I am blessed to have 65 great employees. One slip up, though, and that reflects on me. Success requires precise action, especially in our community. However much action you think it takes to create success, just multiply it by 10 and that's about realistic. When everyone is sleeping: Work; and when everyone is cutting out early on Friday and not working Saturday: Work! It will pay off! I promise.
CS: A great idea simply isn't enough. You have to be willing to make serious sacrifices with your time, money, and many other things you might value. Success, more often than not, comes with a great price. If you're not all in, then I'd recommend staying out.
KS: Take calculated risks and treat the business like it's human. Surround yourself with trustworthy individuals who have your best interest in mind and be ready to take criticism and turn the failures into successes. The most important piece is to never get discouraged and to always keep learning.
Erie Reader: What are your thoughts on the state of business in Erie?
AP: I have learned a lot about a variety of businesses in our community from spending time with my members. I hear a lot of great things. Everyone is staffing up and staying busy. I'm not hearing sob stories. I truly believe business in Erie is moving in the right direction.
CS: I honestly think Erie is on the upswing — downtown in particular. If you're under 30 years old, you might not remember what downtown was like 10 or 15 years ago. We've seen a lot of positive changes in the past 10 years, and I think our best years as a city are still ahead of us.
KS: Erie is an interesting market. It's certainly a place that has a lot of potential!
Erie Reader: What makes Erie an opportunity-rich city to begin and grow a business?
AP: Our city's size and concentration has been a great help to us with new business and the need to brand and re-brand. When you advertise on TV or Radio for example, you can really impact the entire community. If you have a great product or service, it won't take long for Erie to know.
CS: Erie, for the most part, is slow to change. Locals make fun of that fact, but it presents real opportunity. For us, it was watching the Craft Beer movement explode around the country 15 years ago. We knew the growth in the market would get here eventually, and we wanted to be ahead of it.
KS: It's proximity to major markets for learning and growing. It's Universities, which are full of young and eager people. And the changing climate from manufacturing to technology. It's an exciting and challenging time to live in Erie, Pa.
Erie Reader: Conversely, what makes Erie a challenging city to begin and grow a business?
AP: It may take time for people to "make the switch" to your new product or service. We also don't have a high concentration of incoming residents or "new blood" into the area so you have to be a little patient.
CS: Slow to change. It can be both beneficial and a hindrance. Funny, but true.
KS: Erie is a place where there can feel like there's one degree of separation between yourself and any given person in the area. Having such a small pool of people can create a barrier to entry in some cases, or it can cap the opportunity on your sales potential.
Erie Reader: If you were King or Queen of Erie for a day, what would you change/do first?
AP: I always think about JFK's inaugural address in 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." I would rally our entire community toward a "Unify Erie Initiative," have meeting places, and tackle issues and needs in our community. I think we can all agree great things can be done by a few and greater things can be done with many.
CS: My first order, without a doubt, would be to install a left hand turn arrow at the intersection of 12th & State streets. That would bring me sheer happiness. Then I'd call for an European-style market to be built... It'd be a busy day.
KS: That's so hard, but I think it would have something to do with creating an oasis from the winter weather!
Erie Reader: In the spirit of the 40 Under 40, tell us how you think young people make Erie special?
AP: I believe young people in our community have a sense of urgency to get things done. Our generation understands that time is fleeting and success requires massive action. Young professionals are the driving force of a new generation of economy in Erie.
CS: Involvement. Just looking at some of the names on these 40 Under 40 lists the last couple of years, that's one common thread you see. These people are engaged and active. That's the true fabric of a great and promising community.
KS: Young people breathe life into Erie. I think that young people, particularly in our generation, are less afraid to take risks. Risk taking coupled with access to so much information at the tips of our fingers can lead to some exciting business ventures, as well as social causes.