The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

June 14, 2013

No small feat

ENID, Okla. — Fuel Conversion Solutions won top prize Friday at a business luncheon hosted by Grow Enid Inc.

FCS converts vehicles to run on natural gas. David Yelle, a business partner for the firm, accepted the $15,000 prize for first place. The business also earned a year’s membership in Autry Technology Center’s Center for Business Development.

A video produced for the luncheon for FCS noted the business hopes to hire additional marketing staff and engage in a campaign to get more personal vehicles converted to use natural gas.

Prize money worth $28,000 was given out at the luncheon. Over the Fence Farms, an Enid business that makes breads and “unique mixes and goodies,” took home second place.

Third place went to Joe Lamerton, who is a local woodworker who produces custom furniture.

Southard House Bed and Breakfast was the fourth-place winner. Tres Sucre Chocolatiere was the audience pick among those attending the luncheon, which was held at Oakwood Country Club.

Brian Gaddy, coordinator for the James W. Strate Center for Business Development at Autry, presented the awards.

“We’d like to say thank you to the small businesses that are in Enid today, and operating, and making Enid a great place to live,” he said.

Gaddy noted that more than 99 percent of employers in the United States are considered “small businesses.”

“The more of those we have in Enid, the healthier Enid is,” he said. “No matter who the winners are, the individuals who participated are winners. They’re winners because they represent individuals who are contributing to the health of the community.”

The keynote speaker for the event was Stewart Kennedy, an Oklahoma inventor and entrepreneur. Kennedy invented P.B. Slices, the serving-size peanut butter slices that debuted in 2001.

In his speech, Kennedy urged the business-owners in attendance to persevere, even when they fail.

His own story is fraught with disappointment. When he finally got the OK to sell P.B. Slices in Walmart, he had planned for a large marketing campaign. What he couldn’t plan for was that the campaign eventually would coincide with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The product was popular, however, and before long, it showed up in Walmart stores across the country.

“In 12 months we’d gone from 400 Supercenters to 1,700 Supercenters. Things were going great,” he said.

But then, a labor strike at one of the five peanut butter manufacturers shut down his supply. Because of that, he broke Walmart’s cardinal rule of keeping stock on the shelves.

“I lost my Walmart account overnight,” he said.

Kennedy wasn’t done, though, and he started selling to prisons — an ideal choice because the peanut butter didn’t require a knife to spread it on a sandwich. He also began marketing his slices as a doggy treat.

Federal regulations finally did the business in when the Food and Drug Administration required labeling on all foods that could come into contact with peanuts. That forced his manufacturers to stick with only their main sliced product: cheese.

“We have a choice,” Kennedy said about entrepreneurs. “Either we get up, get over and get on with life, or we get down and we give up and go away. We always have a choice.”

Now, Kennedy works in the field of hydrophobic materials, which can be used to insulate pipelines, shoes and other products from corrosive liquids by strongly repelling them.

He also has converted the Tulsa Public Schools bus fleet to operate on natural gas, he said.

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