Honing their edge

  • Article by: WENDY LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2011 - 11:43 AM

To protect and grow their markets, companies are going green, investing in technology and educating workers and customers alike.

Cole's stylist Jen Strean demonstrated foiling techniques in the Burnsville Cole's Salon. Ongoing training is an integral part of working at Cole's.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Want to show your customers and employees you believe in your organization's mission and goals? Then put your money where your mouth is.

Companies in the Star Tribune's Top 100 Workplaces 2010 survey are investing in new technology, "green" efforts and employee training to prove their point. They say it helps them retain workers and makes them attractive to customers.

Professor Alfred Marcus, who holds the Spencer chair in strategy and technological leadership at University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said investment in these efforts also will help companies prepare for future challenges as the population ages and resources grow more scarce.

"Without technology,'' Marcus said, "most likely we would have to get by with less."

SMSC GAMING ENTERPRISE

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake has made extra efforts to use local resources to save on energy costs. The tribe's gaming corporation, which owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino, recycles soybean oil used to fry chicken, french fries and other foods at its restaurants and transforms it into biodiesel fuel for 26 vehicles, including five shuttle buses. So far, the tribe said it has taken 4,500 gallons of oil and processed it into 3,655 gallons of biodiesel.

"It's saved us money and it's an environmentally positive thing to do," said Stan Ellison, director of the community's Department of Land and Natural Resources. Last year, the tribe also erected a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine the height of a 38-story building. Ellison said the efforts support the tribe's belief in being a sovereign nation, relying on its land's resources to support its operations.

SPACE150

The Minneapolis-based digital marketing firm is taking its commitment to stay on the cutting edge of technology to a new extreme. Every 150 days, the developer launches a new website design for itself, and its 130 employees get new business cards with the design. April marked the company's 25th revamp of its website and logo.

"It's a formal way we're committing to change and evolving with the digital ecosystem we are in," said Marc Jensen, vice president of technology.

Jensen said the version upgrades have inspired clients to redesign their sites and attract new customers to Space150. It also allows the company to experiment on itself, rather than just talk about what's new and modern, Jensen said. The next upgrade comes in September.

TARGET CORP.

If you forgot your coupons at home but remembered to bring your cell phone to Target, you're in luck. Target became the first national retailer this year to scan barcodes from coupons downloadable to a consumer's cell phone at its stores. The Target coupons can range from discounts on mosquito repellent to video games.

"Our guests are using mobile more and more, so it made sense for us to do this now," said spokeswoman Leah Guimond.

Target is also continuing efforts to cut energy costs. The retailer is changing its overhead lights to use two bulbs instead of four, which is an annual savings to each store of $30,000, said spokeswoman Amy Reilly. So far, the company has made the modification to 200 stores. Target plans to complete the change in all 1,740 stores by 2012, Reilly said.

Target is also installing LED lighting in its refrigerated display cases in 350 of its stores by the end of this year that will cut energy use by 60 percent compared with fluorescent bulbs. That number is in addition to the 150 stores that were already converted as of April.

CARMICHAEL LYNCH

The Minneapolis-based advertising firm, known for using green to represent its Irish origins (the company was founded on St. Patrick's Day), has made it a priority to become more environmentally sustainable.

When the agency moved into its new building on N. 5th Street in 2007, the company converted the worn building's old fire doors into conference room walls. About 40 windows were added to allow more natural light. Recyclable materials were used in office chairs and workstations. Carmichael Lynch also subsidizes part of the cost of light-rail passes for its employees.

WERNER ELECTRIC SUPPLY

To educate its customers on how its technology works and how it can improve their business, Werner Electric holds large, two-day summits focused on various products twice a year. For example, 200 customers attended its software summit, where they learned about how to utilize Werner's software to improve productivity and efficiency. A recent power summit highlighted Xcel Energy rebates available for the use of Werner products.

"It's extremely important to educate our customers on the newer technologies," said Bob Ricci, vice president of automation for the Cottage Grove-based company.

COLE'S SALON

Training is important at the Burnsville-based salon, where more than 300 employees are urged to attend two training sessions a year. Cole's spends about $240,000 on training annually and offers 107 internal and external training opportunities. The sessions, which range from haircutting to coloring techniques, have helped retain employees, said Jill Haugen, who organizes and schedules the training.

"I think it's important for them in their careers to always be inspired," Haugen said.

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712

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