Friday, March 31, 2017

Fin Fun officers named Idaho Small Business Persons of the year.

Fin Fun, an Idaho Falls company founded in 2010, sells swimmable mermaid tails in more than 180 countries.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has named Eric Browning, CEO, and Steve Browning, chief financial officer, of Fin Fun its 2017 Idaho Small Business Persons of the Year. The company markets swimmable mermaid tails and other products in more than 180 countries.

Fin Fun started as a home project in 2009, when Karen Browning of St. Anthony got a puzzling request from her granddaughter Emily, to make her a mermaid tail. "Having sewn for over 50 years, I laughed and said, 'I don't know how to make mermaid tails,'" she told BizMojo Idaho in 2014. "Well, she soon showed me that by ingenuity and working together, we could do it."

Using spandex swimsuit material and rigid material for the fin, Browning applied her sewing skills to the project. "It proved so popular as she and her sister Sarah swam in them that soon her friends were asking where they could get their very own tail," Browning said. She knew she was onto something. She began selling them on eBay and set up a store on Etsy.

As demand took off, Browning’s sons Eric and Steve, came back to eastern Idaho to run the company. Sales have increased from an average of 200 mermaid tails per month in 2011 to more than 500,000 mermaid tails sold in 2016. In addition to tails, the line includes a patented monofin, swimwear, animal blankets and other accessories. Fin Fun also has used the Internet imaginatively, offering, a page with "Mermaiden Tales," games, videos, contests and giveaways.

In 2015, the company moved to a 10,000-square-foot building on Lewisville Highway, acquired with an SBA CDC/504 loan.

“The Small Business Person of the Year Award is an opportunity to recognize the impact small business owners have on our local economy,” SBA Boise Acting District Director Shannon Madsen said. “Fin Fun has created more than 75 full-time and part-time jobs for the Idaho Falls area. I am honored to celebrate these dedicated, hard-working small business owners who are using innovation and creativity to make a difference in Idaho.”

Eric and Steve Browning have made a point of giving back to children’s causes, and Fin Fun has given a percentage of its profits to more than 18 charitable organizations annually for the past five years.

Small Business Person of the Year winners from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam will converge in Washington, D.C. in May, when one of them will be selected as the National Small Business Person of the Year during the SBA celebration of National Small Business Week April 30-May 6, 2017.

A celebration honoring the SBA Idaho Small Business Persons of the Year will be May 5 in Idaho Falls, as part of National Small Business Week, which is held every May to recognize small business owners who demonstrate staying power. Winners must have been in business three years and shown growth in net worth and business expansion, increase in jobs and sales, innovativeness of products or services, response to adversity, and contributions to community-oriented projects.

“Steve and I are honored to be recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Idaho’s Small Business Persons of the Year,” Eric Browning said. “We are grateful for our company’s rapid revenue growth and ongoing success.”

For more information about National Small Business Week, visit

Monday, March 27, 2017

Black Rock moving to Park Avenue location, plans opening Thursday

Black Rock owner Chuck Chute at his new location
Saturday night was Black Rock Fine Wine and Craft Beer's last night at 439 A Street, where it has been for two years. It is preparing to open Thursday at a new, smaller location, at 343 Park Avenue, next door to the Samoa Club.

Owner Chuck Chute admitted that the move took him by surprise, but that his lease on A Street was up at the end of March. When the building’s owners, Jerry and Jeannie Frazzel, told him they had a prospective buyer for it he didn’t have much choice other than to relocate.

There are indications that Pachanga’s may be moving there. Panchanga’s owner Antonio Meza applied to the Idaho Falls Building Department on March 8 for a remodeling permit, and the permit was issued March 22. Meza said he started looking for a new location when Thomas Development, the owner of the Earl Building, where Pachanga’s has been for several years, told him they had a new tenant interested in their space.

Despite the smaller square-footage, Chute said he is trying to bring as much of what he’s done with Black Rock on A Street along with him to Park Avenue. The remodeling has been extensive, and the race is on to get it open by Thursday.

In some ways, being on the same block as The Celt Pub, Villa Coffeehouse, Samoa Club and Karen’s Park Avenue Club is going to have some advantages. “I really like the space,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A new franchise possibility for Idaho Falls?

The Pizza Press in Pasadena, Calif. The chain has announced plans to expand, possibly into Idaho.
It’s been kind of slow on the franchise restaurant front — a source of endless fascination for BizMojo readers, I know — but I ran across this in PR Newswire this morning and thought it might be a live one for any enterprising would-be franchisee.

According to the report, The Pizza Press Marks Fifth Anniversary With Plans for Nearly 150 New Stores & International Expansion by End of 2018,
The Pizza Press, a company based in Anaheim, Calif., is planning 30 new openings this year, including locations in Texas (Austin), Nevada (Las Vegas) and North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Raleigh). “The company is actively looking to expand into Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Canada,” it says.

So there you have it. Does the greater Idaho Falls area need another pizza restaurant, you ask? Silly! There’s always room for one more.

Should the chain ever come here, it will be the second restaurant with a newspaper theme. Black Bear Diner, which opened earlier this year, also goes with this gimmick. As a former newspaper person who can actually remember the sensation of banging on a manual typewriter, I find this sort of cute but mostly sad.

Anyway, The Pizza Press. You first heard of them here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Iteris opening office in downtown Earl Building

Iteris' Vantage Vector detection sensor
Iteris, Inc., a company based in Santa Ana, Calif., that specializes in traffic management and agricultural systems, is opening an Idaho Falls office in the Earl Building on Park Avenue. Development of the project has been managed by Thomas Investments and Thomas Development Co. of Boise.

Dating back to 1969, Iteris is the global leader in applied informatics for transportation and agriculture, collecting, aggregating and analyzing data on traffic, roads, weather, water, soil and crops to generate precise informatics that lead to safer transportation and smarter farming.

Its markets roadway sensors and vehicle detection systems for traffic intersection control and traffic data collection. Its products include Vantage series video detection system (such as VantageView, Vantage Vector), SmartSpan and SmartCycle, VersiCam, Pico, and Abacus.

In addition, the company’s transportation systems segment focuses on transportation engineering and consulting services, information systems and decision support systems. Its iPerform segment is concentrated on transportation performance measurement. In 2013, the company launched SmartCycle, which can detect vehicles and bicycles accurately with a single video detection camera facing a dedicated approach.

In agiculture, Iteris produces systems that process weather and agronomic data with land-surface modeling and machine learning to help farmers and agronomists simulate field conditions and determine how new products may perform on a crop. Growers can leverage the company's ClearAg Advisories to determine best times to plant, spray, fertilize and harvest.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

EIRMC, Blue Cross of Idaho, reach 'in network' agreement on private, ACA policies

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and Blue Cross of Idaho have reached an agreement that significantly impacts consumers who purchased Blue Cross of Idaho individual health coverage either privately or on the Idaho Healthcare Exchange. These two Blue Cross products are known as “Hometown East” and “Connected Care.”

There are two important elements to this agreement:

  • Emergency services provided at EIRMC will be covered as an in-network benefit. This includes basic ER care; intensive care (ICU); pediatric intensive care (PICU) for children; neonatal care (NICU) for babies; and emergency surgery as a result of an ER visit. ( EIRMC is the only hospital in Idaho Falls with Emergency Services, and the only hospital in the state with a Level I ICU.)
  • All other referral -based services obtained at EIRMC will be covered as in-network by Blue Cross of Idaho. Examples include -- but are not limited to -- maternity services; cancer treatment; cardiovascular services, including heart surgery; medical imaging procedures such as X-Ray, MRI, CT-scans; mammography; physical therapy; wound care; electro-physiology; stroke care; neurosurgery; in-patient behavioral health care.

Employees with Blue Cross of Idaho insurance through their workplace are not impacted by this change, as they have always been covered as “in network.”

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Two new permit applications for Idaho Falls projects worth watching

Recently we pointed out that the permit action in the city of Idaho Falls Building Office was bound to pick up now that the weather is getting warmer. Since then, two new permits have been applied for that we think ought to be of interest to the ever-patient BizMojo Idaho faithful.

The first, applied for March 3, is for work at 1976 West Broadway, a project called Iron Oak Retail Center, 5,200 square-foot retail building. The job value is estimated at $390,000, and the applicant is  Construction Solutions Co.. The owner is JET Real Estate Holdings, which shares the same Ammon address as Construction Solutions. If you want to see what the city has available online, here’s the link:

Here is more information about the property from LoopNet, including a rendering:

The second permit application, far more tantalizing, perhaps because of its mysterious name — “Project X” — comes from our friends at Snake River Landing Development. It is for new construction at 1220 Event Center Drive. No square footage detailed, but the job value is estimated at $1.1 million, which would indicate it is not the long-anticipated Event Center. We will be staying on top of this one. Permit information is here:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Greater Idaho Falls Chamber picks new CEO

Robert “Chip” Schwarze has been selected as the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce’s new chief executive officer, starting March 1. Schwarze succeeds Michelle Holt, who stepped down after three years as CEO to accept a position at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

“Chip has extensive experience in leadership, and we are excited about the vision that he will bring to the chamber and our community,” said Eric Hess, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

Schwarze most recently worked as district director of the Boy Scouts of America in Olympia, Wash., where he was the lead administrator for three districts covering all of southwestern Washington. A graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, he has ties to the Idaho Falls area, as he previously worked as a financial advisor and sales manager in Idaho Falls for several years.

“As a former small business owner, I know what business leaders look for in their chamber,” he said. He and his wife have five grown children, three of whom reside in the Idaho Falls area.