Ross Youngs is putting the fate of his company in the hands of 12 interns.
The chief executive officer of UniKeep LLC, based in Columbus, is using a reality-show spin to save his company, which markets a patented polypropylene binder.
Youngs introduced the UniKeep Viewcase Binder in 2002. Since its founding, UniKeep has struggled to gain sell-through, even though it has national distribution.
``The story is about two underdogs [the company and the interns] coming together to try to be successful, and it's that adventure that we're filming,'' Youngs said at his Columbus offices. ``We think one, it will make good TV, but we think that there will be a lot of things that can be learned from it as well. This is real. My company is at stake. I am the manager of these people. I have a lot of confidence in the people I hired.''
Youngs will manage 12 interns who were selected from a pool of 300. From June through August, the interns will take on New York, ala The Apprentice. In four weeks, the group will canvas the financial and creative industries in the Big Apple to create awareness for the product. The main goal is to create exposure. The interns will call on the media, public relations firms, marketing and advertising agencies, magazine publishers, and marketing departments in Fortune 500 companies.
Unlike Donald Trump, Youngs will not utter ``You're fired!'' unless circumstances demand it.
``There's always the possibility that one of our interns may not make it through the end, just because they decide they don't want to do it,'' Youngs said. ``Theoretically, we do retain the option of eliminating them at any time we want. That's not our intention, to do eliminations.''
The interns will be ranked by a grading system, which will be based on grades from peers, Youngs, and a panel of advisers. The incentive? A portion of the profit.
``What we're hoping for is, essentially, the interns participate in our bottom line all the way through March 31, 2005. We've got to get profitable for those rankings to mean anything,'' Youngs said. ``Those with the highest ratings will get more of those dollars. So it's a little bit of a game show, but it's also that they run the situation where they could walk away, just like the company could walk away, with no gain and no benefit. In that case, we kind of walk away with our tail between our legs and our head down.''
If the bid to save UniKeep fails, UniKeep could cease to exist. But he won't give up on the product itself. His success with Univenture, another Columbus-based firm that he owns, has taught him otherwise.
Univenture, which makes media packaging, has been in business since 1988. It lost money the first two years, breaking even the third.
``It has never lost money since, even being in a tech marketplace where sales dropped,'' he said. ``Ten years from now, there will be 500 million UniKeeps sold worldwide annually. I believe that. The only reason our sales aren't going straight up yet is because of awareness.''
Meanwhile, Univenture itself is undergoing some changes. Youngs will move the operation from its leased, 105,000-square-foot site in Columbus to Marysville, Ohio, by the end of summer. The new space is 136,000 square feet.