This year, 20 businesses graced the list of Tampa Bay's Top Workplaces for the first time, standing out as great places to work. The Tampa Bay Times talked with the owners and operators of two of them to find out what put them on top.
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Barbizon Modeling USA began in New York City more than 75 years ago as a modeling and acting school for youth ages 8 to 18. After changing hands a few times, Barbizon is now run by Dave Harris, who purchased the company with a partner in 2000, and is headquartered at 4950 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.
About 65 full-time and 300 part-time employees work to recruit and train students from all over the country.
"People come to Barbizon for all different reasons and get all sorts of things out of it," said marketing director Kelly Friar. "Some have very legitimate model potential and others just want to find the guts to try out for their school play. They all feel success in different ways."
Chief operating officer Laura La Belle says company leaders made a concerted effort about six years ago to become an employer of choice.
"The economy was growing again and we knew we needed to be competitive," she said. "We decided to focus on customer service not only externally, but internally, making us stronger overall."
Communication between departments got stronger with weekly meetings.
A sense of community grew with the opening of a company clothing exchange — a space employees can donate professional clothing to other employees who may be in need.
Staffers were energized when a department head started pushing a three-minute office dance party at 7 p.m. each day.
"We try to have fun and enjoy the time we spend with each other," Friar said.
La Belle says the company culture at Barbizon is unique because it is female-driven.
"In normal corporate environments, women are forced to tamp down their nurturing qualities, pressing out the most beautiful things about themselves," she said. "Here, we look at how to embrace that and use it to better our corporate environment. It's empowering."
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The Gold & Diamond Source was founded in 1984 by Steve Weintraub. It started out small, then expanded into nine stores before everything was consolidated into one 10,000-square-foot space at 3800 Ulmerton Road in Clearwater. Since 2004, Weintraub and his wife, Julie Weintraub, have run the business, which boasts more jewelry inventory than any other store in the southeast United States.
The couple says their secret to good business is treating everyone — from employees to customers — like family. And it starts the moment a person walks in.
The store's showroom is designed to resemble a living room, complete with comfortable chairs, a children's area, a television, a grand piano and refreshments, to give a welcoming, at-home feeling to guests.
"People sometimes drive a long way to get to us, and we want to make sure they are met with a nice environment and a smiling face," Julie Weintraub said. "We do a lot to add comfort and make it a great experience."
She says they do little things to make their roughly 70 employees comfortable, too, like providing snacks, hot Crock-pot meals and access to a full-body massage chair. The company offers maximum 401(k) matching and paid days off, and staffers are encouraged to paint and decorate their offices how they please.
"We do a lot of things as a family owned business that may not have a place in the corporate environment," Julie Weintraub said, recalling setting up a mini day care center at the office when the company's accountant had a baby. "They are things that maybe sound like little things, but they make a big difference."
Steve Weintraub says he and his wife have created a company culture that differs from others by integrating charity work through Hands Across the Bay, a nonprofit they founded in 2009 to help struggling individuals in the Tampa Bay area.
They require employees to regularly attend charity events and often donate their products to philanthropic auctions.
"We aren't just a fine jewelry store; we help people in the community," he said. "That is something we impart to our employees that makes them feel like an integral part of the company and makes them proud to work here."