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 COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Aug. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Which is the best small business in America? According to Dun & Bradstreet Small Business Services, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Foundation and an independent panel of nationally recognized small business experts, it's the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.
 The Vermont Teddy Bear Company was named the national winner of the "Best of America" Awards, a program launched this year by D&B and NFIB to recognize small companies that are outstanding in the areas of growth, innovation and community service. The award carries with it a $25,000 cash prize.
 "Being called the best company in America is awesome," said John Sortino, founder and president. "Our goal has always been to make the best teddy bear in the world, and this kind of recognition really affirms our dedication to product quality."
 The Vermont Teddy Bear Company was one of four regional finalists selected by independent regional judges in July. After second review yesterday by an independent national jury, the company was declared the award winner. The awards were presented at a special ceremony last night at the NFIB Foundation Leadership Conference in Colorado Springs. The regional finalists -- EkkWill Waterlife Resources (Gibsonton, Fla.); Saturn Electronics and Engineering (Rochester Hills, Mich.); and the Fresno Surgery Center (Fresno, Calif.) -- each won $10,000.
 "This was really a case of the best of the best," said Bill Bak, executive vice president of D&B's Small Business Services. "Each of these companies was a winner in demonstrating the energy, corporate citizenship and dedication to customers and employees that exemplify this country's entrepreneurial spirit."
 From its origins as a streetcart enterprise to today's booming factory, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company is a success story marked with innovation and creativity. In 1983, Sortino saw a market void and set out to create quality American-made teddy bears. To expand his operation from a small streetcart in downtown Burlington, he and partner Spencer Putnam began selling bears wholesale to retail locations in New England. A dip in the retailing industry forced them to rethink the direction of the business. To differentiate their bears from the rest of the child-oriented toy market, they created the "Bear-Gram" -- a gift-wrapped, personalized teddy bear delivered by mail for special occasions. Starting with $100,000 invested in radio advertising, the company has doubled sales volume each year. The first quarter of 1993 saw sales of $4.4 million, and the business has room to grow, as the company operates in only 20 of the 30 major metropolitan markets in the country.
 When the "Best of America" program was announced in January, it was greeted enthusiastically by small business owners and advocates all over the country. The "Best of America" staff received over 5,000 calls for nominations and 585 applications from every state as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. The contest was limited to companies that have fewer than 250 employees and have been under the same management for five years.
 In speaking of the quality of the regional winners, Jane Applegate, a syndicated columnist and small business advocate who chaired the national jury, said, "It was a difficult decision, because the four finalists truly represent the best small business has to offer to America. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, however, emerged as the best example of how a business can provide not only for its employees but for the community as well."
 Other judges included Wally Amos of Famous Amos Cookies; Mary Brennan Lukens, former associated deputy of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Frederick Ruiz, head of Ruiz Food Products, a highly successful Mexican food company; and Richard Turner, an executive with Shorebank Corporation.
 Interesting trends were noted among the "Best of America" entrants. According to Bak, a preliminary analysis revealed that, while the kinds of businesses varied greatly including everything from a diving company in Hawaii to a fence and construction company in Texas, most companies exhibited:
 -- the ability to manage growth and not be overwhelmed by it;
 -- good management practices, particularly with respect to building a sense of spirit and teamwork among employees, and
 -- flexibility to respond quickly to changing economic or competitive conditions.
 "Through `Best of America,' we hope to send a message to businesses of all sizes that success goes beyond profits," Bak said. "Business excellence means ingenuity, teamwork, and community spirit. It's promising to see that these qualities are alive and well, particularly among this nation's small-business owners."
 Dun & Bradstreet Small Business Services provides a wide range of personalized products and services for small business owners. The NFIB Foundation is the research and education arm of NFIB, the nation's largest advocacy organization for small business.
 Entry forms for next year's "Best of America" Awards are available by writing to: "Best of America," P.O. Box NFIB, 899 Eaton Ave., Bethlehem, Pa., 18025-0030.
 -0- 8/22/93
 /CONTACT: Randy Mintz or Sabra Smith of The Tierney Group, 215-732-4100, for "Best of America" Awards/

CO: Vermont Teddy Bear Company; Dun & Bradstreet Small Business
 Services; National Federation of Independent Business Foundation ST: Pennsylvania, Vermont IN: SU:

MP-CK -- NYSU002 -- 4862 08/22/93 14:08 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 22, 1993

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