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March 17th, 2010
12:05 PM ET

Building up America: The business on the side of the road

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Rolling north out of Montgomery, the Wetumpka Highway cuts through one of those sprawling, sketchy industrial areas that crouch along the tracks near every medium sized town. Dotted with farm equipment dealers, natural gas suppliers, scrap metal yards, and the odd factory, it seems the most unlikely of places for an Internet boomer.

Enough so, that even as we pull up to the low, non-descript, and beaten up building that houses the Online Commerce Group I have my doubts about what we will find. A hand lettered sign on the front door points us to a side entrance, and my expectations drop even lower.

Then I meet Gerry Monroe. He is 43 years old. A graduate of Auburn University who wanted to build up his business in his home state. Monroe is one of the founders of this company and he goes to work each day with a simple belief about what that takes. “Every day you’ve got to make something happen.”

With that mantra he has fashioned an aggressive and growing company despite the recession, despite all the uncertainties that any new business faces, and despite his location. “We’re in an old building that used to be a boat dealership,” he says as he leads me into a room of cubicles and intensely focused young web designers, who are the key to his trade. “We’ve got young people who don’t have a lot of experience with business, but they have a tremendous amount of knowledge about the Internet.”

Monroe has leveraged that skill to create a dynamic and ever changing suite of sales websites which swirl around his key products: custom-made outdoor cushions for patio sets, umbrellas, pillows, picnic tables and much, much more. He says his company’s goal is being the masters of ones; meaning, they want to win every customer in America who needs a custom-made cushion for a window box, or a cover for a porch table, or…or…or…

They make some of the products on site. Many other deals are contracted out to suppliers. But the unique combination that he has found, of basic supply and demand, coupled with highly effective web sales, has created a winner. The company started six years ago, and now employees 30 people. Sales have more than doubled each year, except for last year, when they went up by only 50 percent. But if that is the cost of bad times here, Monroe will take it. After all, he has plenty of consolation.

"We started this company without borrowing any money. We're still debt-free. That motivates you every day."

And it gives him a rare and valuable cushion against the next downturn, as he keeps building up.

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.


Filed under: Building Up America • Tom Foreman
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. alice

    I think its time that Americans begin supporting American Companies, and buy American goods.

    Is there a website that list companies that sell products made by American workers here in the U.S.? I would love to know.

    March 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  2. Karla Wilson

    Such stories are inspiring. Still, most of the young men out of work lack the creative spark to start their own businessess. We need to do something soon to put our unemployed back to work! Why don't we hear more about stimulus projects? Where are the bridges being rebuilt, the dams being rebuilt, the transportation projects being started?

    March 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  3. Tonda Yandell

    Building Up America, inspiring article. Tom Foreman's wordsmithing skills are excellent. .

    March 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm |