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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Sunrise Businessman In Running For National SBA Award

By Marcia Heroux Pounds

MAY 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Laptop in tow, Wilson Alers was just back from a three-week trip, to Las Vegas, Chicago and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

This week, Alers travels for a different reason -- to represent Florida in Washington, D.C., as the 2002 Small Business Person of the Year for Florida and for South Florida.

Living out of suitcases and trunks is a way of life for Alers and his staff at Media Stage Inc., a Sunrise-based firm. The heavy trunks of audiovisual equipment are shipped worldwide to provide video and sound for meetings of large companies including Motorola, Burger King, Warner Brothers and Allstate.

Alers, 45, never expected to be running a $5 million business. Just 12 years ago he was working out of his car. Starting with rented video equipment, Alers and his partner, Oscar Colom, built a reputation for top-notch work in the audiovisual industry.

"Mr. Alers' story of success is based on fundamentals. He was aware of the need to develop solid business relationships," said Francisco A. Marrero, director of the SBA's South Florida District Office. "He earned client trust and respect by delivering the services they needed, plus."

Alers is one of 11 South Floridians being honored today by the SBA. Also this week in Washington, he is representing Florida at the National Small Business Week ceremony at the White House. As the state's representative, he is in competition for the national title (a nominee from Hawaii won).

Alers' company has managed to grow along with its clients by continuing to reinvest in the company, Alers said. In the audiovisual business, he said, "you're only as good as your last show."

Media Stage provides audio, video, lighting, computer graphics and video systems for corporate meetings and conferences.

The company has staff members who are fluent in English, Spanish and French. The company has worked in locations including Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Vancouver, British Columbia, Cancun, Mexico, and Cartagena, Colombia.

A job at Media Stage is interesting but not easy: the company's 22 employees are cross-trained to do each other's jobs and have to be ready to travel at a moment's notice. Even Alers keeps his trucking license, just in case he would need to step in and drive a truck to a show.

Business came to a stop for nearly four months after Sept. 11. Alers instituted a four-day work week, but no employees were laid off.

Instead, the company tried to make good use of the down time.

"We made sales calls, marketing calls and did charity work. Anything to keep our name out there," Alers said. Since January, business has steadily come back.

Media Stage's first-quarter revenues are 20 percent higher than the first quarter of last year, which was its best ever, Alers said. Media Stage expects to do $5 million in revenues for the year compared with $4 million in 2001.

Some company presidents move their businesses to where they reside. Not Alers.

Missing the land he had in Puerto Rico, Alers built a home on five acres in Martin County, where he resides with his wife, Wanda, and his daughters, Alicia, 19, and Willie, 17. That decision means Alers drives 90 miles to work each day. But most of the firm's employees reside in southwest Broward, so it made more sense for him to commute, he said.

Alers said another factor to Media Stage's success is that it is debt-free except for its building mortgage, which is held jointly between the SBA and Bank of America, which nominated Alers for the SBA award.

Born in Spanish Harlem in New York City, Alers began his career as an audiovisual technician in Puerto Rico, a site for many corporate events. He met Colom in Puerto Rico and they both later went to work for a New York media company.

But the friends soon decided they could produce quality audio-visual presentations on their own. Alers founded Media State in 1990 with the financial help of James Pabon, a childhood friend, with money Colom had socked away for a house and with his own savings. Their first piece of video equipment cost $12,000 and "we had no idea how we were going to pay for it," Alers said.

Media Stage's first major client was Burger King. With few credits to its name, the small firm convinced the agency representing Burger King's then-parent Grand Met, that it could handle the audio/visual presentation needed for a meeting. "We guaranteed we could provide the best product at the most competitive price," Alers said.

That job helped Media Stage get its foot in the door at other large corporations. Within three months, Media Stage was profitable and the firm was able to buy more equipment and hire employees.

Today, Media Stage operates out of both Sunrise and Puerto Rico, producing corporate events around the nation, and often the world.

Steven McDermott, who oversees conventions at Phoenix Life Insurance in Hartford, Conn., said Alers hasn't forgotten about his smaller clients even though he now works with Fortune 500 companies. "He always takes care of us and works within our budget."

To make sure their shows come off without a hitch, Media Stage brings its own electrical connections so it doesn't have to rely on a venue's equipment.

Alers sees his business growing on the entertainment side, but Media Stage has no plans to open an office in Manhattan. "That would require that I travel more," he said. "I love staying at home."

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