Enter Stage Left

Posted on Sep 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo by Rick Berg

The day before 9/11, entrepreneur Frank Micale purchased land off U.S. 41 in Neenah, poised to expand his business office space and launch a new venture. Not being able to foresee what would happen the next day – or in the next 10 years – Micale still knew he was taking a risk. But, he assumed, the time was right. So he took the plunge: securing the financing and planning to build Perfect Presentations, an innovative audio/visual conference facility aimed at servicing professional speakers, business managers and professional entertainers.

Then, a few years ago, an economic slump prompted many businesses to cut back on “luxuries” such as off-site meetings, and Micale was forced to switch gears with his business plan. That versatility and flexibility, however, may have been just the recipe Perfect Presentations needed to stay viable in an ever-changing business climate.

For years, Micale, a self-professed “entrepreneurial sales professional,” has operated Micale Media, a sales agency for manufacturers of print-related materials, from his home.
“To expand my business,” he says, “I had to move out from my home office to add employees. The logical step would have been to rent office space.”

But Micale didn’t relish the idea of relocating from a comfortable home office to utilitarian space. “We wanted to incorporate the best elements of a home office,” he says. “That’s what we wanted to have for clients.”

Micale says he always intended to rent out the facility. “I was moving from low to no overhead to something with significant overhead,” he says. “My plan was to offset the cost of the building by renting it out and developing this other business.”

Micale paid off the 1.25-acre site in less than three years and spent an additional three gaining more equity in the property. He then secured a Small Business Administration 20-year loan to finance the 6,500-square-foot venue.

Before opening, Micale researched what today’s business owners were looking for. He attended several presentations given by CEOs. After he listened to their presentations, Micale inquired why many of them didn’t use more visual aids. “They said the facility usually let them down,” he says.

Micale’s goal with Perfect Presentations was to change that – allowing speakers to customize their audio/visual equipment, sound, lighting, temperature and other tools to make their meetings, training seminars and events more comfortable and effective.

“Starting from the ground up is an advantage,” he notes. He was able to plan his facility to provide all the technology clients might need, including video conferencing and teleconferencing. “We try to sell this as more than just a place to rent,” he says. “You’re getting an experience. This place is about image.”

The first year, about 80 percent of Perfect Presentations’ clients were corporate, with about 20 percent private groups. But, Micale adds, “I did not foresee the coming recession. As we’re into this deep recession, businesses have put off some off-site training.”

Now that balance has seesawed, with about 35 percent corporate clients and the balance of revenues coming from private bookings and Micale’s latest venture, the on-site PrimeTime Dinner Theatre, which produces original shows and hosts theatrical troupes.

“We definitely saw sales fall off in 2008 and 2009,” Micale says. “When you start to see your revenues drop, you try to get your costs in line with your revenues. I like to do a lot of contingency planning, trying to diversify risk. We started this dinner theater venue and that has grown.

The Odd Couple kicked off the first season, and, Micale says, it went over so well, “The phone just kept ringing. [We thought], ‘Let’s see if we can build off this.’”

Not only has the theater taken off, Perfect Presentations has reaped residual business from getting extra people into the building. “It’s symbiotic in that regard,” says Micale.
Hugh Begy of Appleton is just one of the regular theater attendees.

“The productions are always very good,” he says. “It’s an intimate little place. This is a unique experience; it’s almost like you’re family when you’re there.”

Maintaining that atmosphere and loyalty has been Micale’s goal, both to foster new clientele for his venue and to keep business running smoothly, no matter what the economy.

He advises other business owners to consider such diversification in the face of potential adversity – and do it sooner than later.

“We’re well situated in that when the business rebounds, I can’t tell you which portion will rebound faster.”

But, he cautions, “Don’t wait for the storm to clear because it may be here a bit.”