Author Archives: Allie Bell


Modern-Day Treasure Hunting, But Without The Pirates

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices.and support for the environment.

Getting started is easy, if you have the right equipment. A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache’s existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS unit can then try to locate the geocache.

There are many groups that participate world-wide in geocaching, and nonprofit organizations like Tread Lightly! provide reference materials to ensure the game is played safely, with minimal impact to the environment. When geocaching it’s important to make a realistic plan and stick to it; familiarize yourself with restrictions in your area before you decide where to place a cache; and in addition to your GPS receiver — always carry extra batteries, a map and compass, and know how to use them.

Always carry extra batteries, a map and compass, and know how to use them.Avoid placing caches in sensitive habitats such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands, caves and seasonal nesting or breeding areas. Avoid placing a cache or disturbing historical, archeological and paleontological sites.

Avoid “spooking” livestock and wildlife you encounter during cache placement, and keep your distance.

Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it. Cache placers avoid burying the cache in the ground. It is the cache owner’s responsibility to maintain the cache and the surrounding area. If a cache’s area is impacted, confer with the land manager on how you will mitigate the impacts, and seek their advice as to whether to relocate the cache. Never place food items in a cache. Don’t modify the environment for any reason, even when hiding a cache.

For cache seekers, use maps to find a route that will minimize impacts. Note waypoints during your journey to assist you on your return trip. If you notice a path has started to wear in the vicinity of a cache, notify the Experience Arizona, 2009cache owner via e-mail. Practice “lift, look, replace” technique. If you lift a rock to look under it, replace it exactly as you found it. After you’ve finished searching for a cache, the area should look as though you were never there, or better than when you arrived.

Minimize impacts left by others whenever possible. Carry a trash bag on your vehicle and pick up litter left by others. Pack out what you pack in. Practice minimizing impact by camping in established sites, 200 feet from water resources and trails. Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out. Following a trip, wash your gear and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.

By practicing these tips, you not only protect the outdoors while having fun, but you protect access to recreation opportunities for years to come.

Multi-Family Market - AZRE Magazine July/August 2010

Multi-Family Market: Its Recovery And What It Means

In this article, Allie Bell takes a look at the recovering multi-family market and what it means for Arizona.

Finding something “hot” in today’s commercial real estate industry is difficult, but as the residential market begins to recover, so does Arizona’s multi-family sector.

Multi-Family Market - AZRE Magazine July/August 2010“The Metropolitan Phoenix multi-family market is emerging from a 12-quarter downturn, which produced the lowest occupancy since the days of the Resolution Trust Corporation,” says Tyler Anderson, vice chairman of CB Richard Ellis’ Multi-Family Institutional Group in Phoenix.

According to M/PF Research, a national apartment survey firm, apartment occupancy nationwide declined about 3 percent in 2008, but leveled off in 2009. Annual rent change declined less than 1 percent in 2008, but fell more than 4 percent in 2009. “Rents across the country are anticipated to drop a bit more in 2010,” Anderson says, “but occupancy appears to have turned the corner as new construction tails off .”

Mike Sandahl, senior vice president of CBRE’s Multi-Family Private Client Group in Tucson, says Tucson’s multi-family market still experienced a steep decline in sales in 2009, despite government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) keeping liquidity in the market.

Only one project over 100 units sold, and it was sold at a trustee sale,” he says. “However, since the beginning of 2010, there has been renewed momentum in the marketplace. Sales volume has picked up, dominated by over-leveraged properties that have gone back to the lender.”

Multi-Family Development

“There is no new multi-family development activity going on and there doesn’t appear to be any on the horizon, which is both bad and good,” says David Dewar, a principal at Trillium Residential.

However, recovery of the multi-family market is imminent, says Ron Brock Sr., who is the president and CEO of Pierce-Eislen, a local apartment research firm.

We currently have eight properties in Phoenix under construction, and they will all finish this year with nothing else in the pipeline,” he says. “However, Phoenix has traditionally had one of the highest-rated development markets in the country for population — and that’s not going to change.” He adds that the multi-family market will begin its recovery in the latter part of this year, and take on substantial momentum over the next two years.

Market fundamentals in Tucson are showing signs of stabilization, Sandahl says. Occupancy has stopped its steady decline and rental rates appear to be following suit.

Construction in Tucson has remained in-check for the past seven years, sparing the multi-family market from the negative effects of overbuilding.

He noted that when it comes to construction in 2010, there are several properties in Metro Tucson potentially breaking ground this summer — a 330-unit community on the East side, a 300-unit property in the Northwest Central submarket, a 120-unit complex on the West side of town, and 168 units in the far Northwest.

“Overall, development continues to be very cautious,” says Brad Cribbins, senior vice president of the Southwest-Mountain Region for Alliance Residential. “People are very cautious about how to proceed forward, but we will see a very slow emergence into new development over the next 18 to 36 months.”

Investment Review

“The investment market nationally has picked up,” says Brad Goff, principal of Apartment Realty Advisors. “Our market in Phoenix saw only 17 trades in 2008 with more than 100-units, but in 2009 that doubled to 35. … It seems like the rest of the country is a year behind Phoenix — none of the other marketplaces have taken off like Phoenix has in terms of sales volume.”

Anderson agrees. Compared to other major commercial property sectors, multi-family looks very good at present, he says. One of the advantages in multi-family is that lease terms are relatively short, which means revenue can turn quickly after occupancy bottoms.
“The major challenge facing investors today is increased competition from other investors, who are seeking to take advantage of price levels not seen in Metro Phoenix for years,” Anderson says.

Brock reported that Greater Phoenix hit a floor in prices this past year and is holding up fairly well, which resulted in a lot of investment activity with people buying apartments that were previously waiting on the sidelines.

“It’s a very attractive time for multi-family investment as properties have been discounted substantially in most markets,” he says. “Certain areas like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Florida have some substantial reduction in prices, compared to what they were in 2003 and 2007, when there was also a lot of activity.”

He noted that Metro Tucson has not had the same amount of investment activity as Phoenix, as there has not been a great deal of condominium conversion activity or over development in the area.

Anderson says the Phoenix area also is experiencing some capitalization rate compression, as a result of the wide and deep interest in the area’s multi-family offerings among many investor groups.

“Some of the buildings sold in the last month or so were at sub 6 percent cap rates,” Goff says. “That’s a significant change from the 8, 9 and 10 percent rates we’ve seen previously. … I call it a ‘scarcity premium,’ created by the enormous amounts of demand chasing a limited piece of the market.”

Cribbins says, “Today people are purchasing notes, rather than the assets themselves. Right now, development costs don’t produce the yields owners are after, so the investment market influence is for bank notes versus new builds.”

Multi-Family Market - AZRE Magazine July/August 2010He adds that most investors in the Greater Phoenix marketplace are looking at corridors within the Camelback, Tempe and Scottsdale areas. “The demographics are there, as well as the general basic footprints in terms of a healthy multi-family market, so deals are happening,” he says.

When it comes to the types of property classes investors are targeting, Brock explains that, “Investment is like a thumbprint — each investor has their own view of what they want to pursue.” He adds that most of the activity in the Phoenix market is in the upper-end properties in the Class A and high Class B categories. However, buyers and sellers are having trouble capitulating over price points. As for Class C multifamily properties, Brock says those have been hit the hardest with the employment losses.

Sandahl noted that nationwide — no one product type is preferred, as there is strong investment demand across all asset classes.

cubes floating in air creating a map of the world

Global Negotiations: New Executive Certificate Program Coming Online

With globalization accelerating at an exponential rate, acquiring the knowledge and capability to achieve sustainable business success is paramount. It is important for executives to develop their understanding of cross-cultural negotiation tactics, and discover their power position and power approach for successful business.

“Global negotiation courses and cross-cultural communication are the two main focuses for business executives in 2010,” says Erin Wilson, associate director of executive education at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale.

In response to this growing demand, the school created a new online program, the Executive Certificate in Global Negotiations.

“Negotiation is an art,” the school states on its Web site. “All negotiations are delicate operations, and crafting agreements is a challenge no matter who the players are. Stakes are higher and negotiations trickier, however, when the parties involved come from different cultures and customs, it may result in a negotiation session hijacked by misunderstandings or unexpected culture clashes.”

Wilson says the executive certificate is an online program involving three, eight-week courses that may be taken anywhere in the world. Those who participate in the course will be able to interact with other executives via online discussions.

“The courses are designed so that they may be globally offered with no in-person interaction,” she explains.

The executive certificate program was first introduced in February, with additional program dates opening April 5 and June 7
The certificate program is designed for any professional — at various levels of responsibility — who works in a cross-cultural environment, or for those who want to gain more knowledge about working in this type of environment, Wilson says.

Taken together, these courses provide the participant with a comprehensive education in core global negotiation concepts and cross-cultural relations. While each component course may be taken separately for an individual certificate of completion, they must be taken as a three-course track to earn the Executive Certificate in Global Negotiations.

“The three courses that make up the Global Negotiations certificate have different focuses, but together make a comprehensive package,” Wilson explains.

Certificate participants will learn:
Negotiation approaches for global management.
Strategies appropriate for a wide range of negotiation situations.
Techniques for recognizing and leveraging trust in a multicultural context.
Strategies for identifying cultural preferences and gaps in a multicultural negotiation.
Key methods of preparing and planning for negotiation success.
Strategies for working through an impasse or breakdown.
Techniques for identifying and using “hardball” negotiation strategies.

The courses are broken down into:
Cross-Cultural Communications — Participants will learn to identify cultural communication nuances and strategies for achieving an even cross-cultural playing field. Students will gain insight into overcoming cultural communication obstacles through case vignettes, video role-playing and instructional checkpoints.
Course objectives:

  • Examine the definition of culture, cultural expectations and how these impact business relationships.
  • Review a “framework” for analyzing differences and similarities across multiple cultures based on 10 cultural dimensions.
  • Explore the impact of cultural differences on managerial communications and meeting etiquette.

Essentials of Global Negotiation — Students will examine the theory and practice of negotiation among individuals, organizations and groups in the context of globalization and multicultural social interactions. They will discover techniques for reacting to and addressing cultural differences in communication/negotiation style, while learning to adjust their own style to be most effective in the negotiation setting.
Course objectives:

  • Gain an understanding of the nature of global negotiations.
  • Define a basic framework for preparing to negotiate in a global/cross-cultural situation.
  • Learn why strictly following key strategy steps for problem solving is critical in a cross-cultural context.
  • Recognize the role of psychological, cognitive and social dimensions of negotiation.

Managing Conflict with a Global Mindset — Participants will examine the behaviors and conflict management negotiation styles of individuals, organizations and groups in the context of competitive, impasse, breakdown and difficult situations. They will learn to manage communication and conflict by understanding the cultural wants, needs and expectations of others — and adjusting their style and techniques to most effectively confront and overcome conflict.
Course objectives:

  • Explain how the attributes of a “global mindset” affect global negotiation and conflict management.
  • Learn the tools necessary for evaluating and managing conflict and divergent needs in negotiation.
  • Become more sensitive to key psychological factors, emotional issues and behaviors that can be destructive to problem-solving negotiation.
  • Enhance your awareness of the costs, privacy, flexibility and efficiency of alternative dispute resolution and problem-solving mechanisms and techniques.
  • Increase your knowledge of “breakthrough” strategies.

Program participants work independently, Wilson says, but there are three forums that will require class discussion.

“The facilitator will post a topic, which will then require input from the class or the online discussion board where participants are required to interact and respond to one another,” she says. “As this is the first time that Thunderbird will be running the class in this particular format on our own, we are not entirely sure what the class makeup will be. My estimation is that the majority of participants will be currently located within the U.S., though many will be executives that work abroad on a regular basis.”

For more information on the Thunderbird School of Global Management’s Executive Certificate in Global Negotiations, visit Allie Bell contributed to this report.

Social Media

How To Get The Most Out Of Social Media

“Are you taking advantage of Web 2.0?” This question has been circulating throughout the business world regarding the online world of mass collaboration and consumer-generated content. Web 2.0 is redefining public relations, marketing, communications and branding for businesses worldwide.

Nielsen’s 2009 Global Faces and Networked Places report states that two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visits a social network or blogging site, and the sector accounts for 10 percent of all Internet time. “Consequently, the global media and advertising industries are faced with new challenges around the opportunities and risks this new consumer medium creates,” the report states.

Ken Reaser, a partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design in Scottsdale, agrees. “People’s opinion is going to be out there,” he says. “You can attempt to influence it, but you can’t control it.”

Gabriel Shaoolian, founder of New York-based Blue Fountain Media, says social media can be tough to navigate at first, but once a company starts talking to its customers, “that dialogue is priceless. The persistent nature of online interaction means that (social media) has the long-lasting effects of traditional advertising, but the immediate interaction means it also has the revenue-driving power of traditional sales.” However, Shaoolian cautions that social media marketing is not for every business or marketer — but its impact is hard to ignore.

Businesses are all at some level of using social media networks, says Anthony Helmstetter, a partner at Spin Six. “Some are using it for reputation management, where social media is used as a function of customer service,” he explains. “However, 90 percent of the businesses out there will not stop using other marketing outlets.”

Forrester Research released its five-year forecast in July 2009, which states that spending on interactive marketing in the United States will reach almost $55 billion and represent 21 percent of all marketing spending by 2014. The report shows that social media spending alone will increase to $3.1 billion in 2014 from $716 million in 2009, representing a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent — the highest percentage gain in the marketing mix. This spending activity ranks social media as the third most prominent program behind search marketing and display advertising.

“Social media has its place, and we do find it to be a helpful tool, but only when it’s used correctly. … Be cautious with it.”

— Ken Reaser, partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design in Scottsdale

The following is a look at the top social networking sites on the Web:

Link it Up: Optimizing LinkedIn for the Business Owner

LinkedIn helps people manage and make connections with other industry professionals, and expand beyond boundaries companies have been unable to reach. The site is relatively easy to use and provides a helpful breadth of information, as well as multiple ways to expand small businesses.

Mashable, an online social media guide, posted “How to Build Your Company’s Profile on LinkedIn” in August 2009. Adam Ostrow, a regular Mashable commentator, writes that LinkedIn separates itself from other social media networks with its company profiles. Company profiles allow a business owner to provide potential candidates with a lot more information about the company and the people who work there.

Here are Ostrow’s tips on how to set up a company profile:

  • Go to the “Companies” menu on LinkedIn. Select “Add Company.”
  • Enter the company’s basic information, such as a description, number of employees and industry in which it operates.
  • Follow LinkedIn’s wizard for creating your company profile, which allows you to add a logo, locations and feed for your company blog/newsletter.

LinkedIn will pull data about your company from around the Web site to further enhance the company profile that already has been established. For example, all of the company’s job listings will show up automatically on the profile, along with links to profiles for current, former, new hires and recent promotions regarding company employees.

Inovedia Marketing provides several tips for small business owners when utilizing LinkedIn, such as:

  • Connect with customers and vendors.
  • Improve a company’s image by requesting LinkedIn recommendations from happy customers.
  • Answer LinkedIn questions to build the company’s brand and promote it within the LinkedIn community.
  • Keep track of all contacts. You never know when you’ll need them.
  • Test a company’s ideas by joining marketing groups and utilize the “Start a Discussion” feature to act as a focus group.
  • Connect with fellow small business owners and find multiple small business resources.

All of this aggregate data about the company provides potential candidates information to determine if the company is a good fit for them. If a company is concerned about the information available online, LinkedIn does allow edits to the company’s basic profile information.

According to Ostrow’s post, LinkedIn recently added a premium product, Custom Company Profiles, that allows a business owner to add more features such as videos about the company, positions, interactive polls and several customized options for recruiting. Ostrow adds: “These are worth considering for larger companies (they come at a price), but for small businesses, a basic LinkedIn company profile should be enough to add lots of efficiency to the recruiting process — both for candidates and for you.”

Face Off: Putting a Face to Your Business through Facebook

Facebook has become the largest player on the global social networking stage. In September, the company announced it had 300 million active users.

“Based on a simple design, broad demographic appeal and a focus on connecting, Facebook has become the most popular social network measured by Nielsen Online.” — Nielsen’s 2009 Global Faces and Networked Places report

Facebook started out as a service for university students, but now one-third of its global audience is aged 35-49 years, and one-quarter is over 50. In July 2009 alone, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the U.S., which was 14 percent higher than the previous month, according to comScore. In absolute terms, Facebook added about 10 million new visitors in July 2009 versus roughly 1 million new visitors for Twitter.

In August 2009, Facebook purchased FriendFeed for just under $50 million, which cost one-tenth as much as Twitter would have, had Facebook gone through with its plans to purchase the site.

So how can businesses capitalize on this growing social network empire? HubSpot, an inbound marketing system specifically for the Internet, published a report called “How to Use Facebook for Business.” The report outlines the difference between Facebook Profiles and Pages — the latter being specifically for business use.

  • Facebook Pages allow a company to designate multiple administrators to help manage the account.
  • Pages are by default made public and will start ranking in Facebook and public search results, and engines such as Google.
  • Pages are split into different categories to help the company get listed in more relevant search results.

For companies worried about privacy, Facebook is flexible in letting administrators control a business’ exposure. The creation of a Page is very similar to a user profile, except that you choose a category (i.e. brand or product) and a name for your Page (usually the company’s name). Once the creator is done setting up the Page, be sure to hit “Publish” to make it public.

Ken Reaser, a partner with Spin Six, strongly warns Facebook users to keep their personal profiles separate from their company pages. “You are now becoming a participant in a community where you no longer have control — be cautious,” he says.

There are various ways to promote company Facebook Pages, such as leveraging the viral nature of Facebook via the news feed, drawing on the administrator’s personal existing network, making the Page publicly searchable, and using Facebook Ads for an extra push, according to HubSpot.

Other areas Facebook excels at include:

  • Facebook Groups: Similar to Pages, but meant to be built around a group of people rather than an individual business or a brand.
  • Applications: Developers may write software to help promote a business on Facebook.
  • Polls: Marketers can use them to get quick answers about a particular feature, or find out information and opinions from specific demographics.
  • Facebook Connect: Helps integrate a company Web site with Facebook.
  • Facebook Ads: You can choose a specific demographic target, see how many people that demographic will hit and advertise to that demographic.

This point spotlights the biggest challenge for Facebook — turning its network into a revenue-producing mechanism. In 2008, Facebook earned around $300 million in ad revenue compared to MySpace’s estimated $1 billion. MySpace has primarily become an entertainment site. In September 2009, Facebook said it achieved positive cash flow for the first time since its founding six years ago.

Still, the fact that content supplied by the social network’s members is of a highly personal nature creates a Catch-22. The personal data is potentially one of the network’s most valuable assets, yet it provides a major obstacle in generating revenue as members see highly targeted ads as an invasion of privacy.

“If Facebook were a country, it would be the 8th most-populated in the world, just ahead of Japan.”

— Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, January 2009

A Birdie Told Me: Utilizing Twitter’s Real-Time Potential

The first reaction many people have to Twitter is bewilderment, which matches the reason for the name of the micro-blogging site.

“Twittering is the sound birds make when they communicate with each other — an apt description of the conversations held on Twitter,” says site co-founder Biz Stone on the Twitter 101 site. “Every day, millions of people use Twitter to create, discover and share ideas with others. Businesses can use the outlet to quickly share information with people interested in the company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about the company.”

Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO and co-founder, says that in the best cases, Twitter makes the public smarter, faster and more efficient. However, not everyone believes in the Twitter-hype.

Anthony Helmstetter, a partner at Spin Six Strategic Marketing Design, says Twitter, despite being hot right now, sees a less than 40 percent retention rate after someone has had an account for 30 days.

“What this shows is that this exuberant hype is short-lived,” Helmstetter explains. “What Twitter lacks is a ‘sticky’ component. There’s nothing to make people keep using it.”

He clarifies that Twitter is better for real-time information, but not to build legacy content. But that’s not stopping major brands across the nation from tuning into the world’s mind. Mashable’s commentator Ostrow reported in August 2009 that big brands are embracing social media, with Fortune 100 companies selecting Twitter as their choice of venue. According to recent study by the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller:

  • Among Fortune 100 companies, 54 percent have a Twitter presence, 32 percent have a blog, and 29 percent have an active Facebook Page.
  • Of companies using only one of these tools, at least 76 percent of them choose Twitter.
  • Of the Fortune 100 companies on Twitter, 94 percent use it for news/announcements, 67 percent for customer service, and 57 percent for deals/promotions.
  • The average Fortune 100 Twitter account has 5,234 followers. The median is 674 followers.
  • Many companies are simply avoiding blogs and going directly to Twitter instead.

One of the most well-known brands on Twitter is Starbucks. According to the Twitter 101 Web site, Brad Nelson tweets on behalf of Starbucks Coffee, and says he “loves” the 140 character limits for tweets. He manages it through a third-party application called TweetDeck that allows him to group his followers and see everything at once, from DMs (direct messages) and replies to searches and trending topics.

What a company chooses to post about depends on its goals for using Twitter.

“Listen regularly for comments about your company, brand and products — and be prepared to address concerns, offer customer service and thank people for praise,” Twitter’s co-founders say. But most importantly, don’t spam people.

“There’s the idea that social media is free, but it’s not free,” Spin Six Partner Ken Reaser says.

He adds that businesses looking to go into social media, especially sites such as Twitter, need to be consulted as to why they want to get involved, what their goals and expectations are, what they want to get out of it, how much money they have budgeted for it and the cost to manage it.

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Editor-in-Chief Janet Perez: @perezbizgal

Managing Editor Allie Bell: @alliemcbell

Marcellas Italian Kitchen

Marcella’s Italian Kitchen Opens At Scottsdale Fashion Square

Cue the strings, fire up the oven and pour a glass of fun while surrounded by friends and family. What better way to experience the comforts and flavors of Italian culture than in a boho-chic restaurant reminiscent of Mama’s kitchen? In fact, that’s where the idea for Marcella’s Italian Kitchen started.

Meet Marcella Libertini, the chef and house manager for the Tuscan villa where nationally acclaimed restaurateur, Cameron Mitchell, vacationed every summer.

“Marcella inspired me to bring authentic Italian cuisine and the atmosphere of a bustling Italian cafe in Rome to our guests in Columbus, Ohio, and Scottsdale, Ariz.,” Mitchell says.

The Scottsdale location, Mitchell’s second concept to hit Arizona — the first being CityNorth’s Ocean Prime — opened Oct. 15. And the best way to experience Marcella’s is to think big. Bring lots of family and friends to eat lots of savory food, and remember what Mama told you — share your food.

To start the night off right, you have to order the braised veal meatball appetizer — or as Marcella’s fondly calls it, The Eighth Wonder of the World. Is it the size that makes it the eighth wonder? Personally, I find the wonder in the presentation of the sweet meat surrounded in marinara and cheese. The way it melts in your mouth also makes this savory concoction live up to its nickname. Other great starters include the calamari with fried zucchini, roasted garlic aioli and a hint of lemon; as well as the roasted garlic and cheese bruschetta.

Executive Chef Geoff Baumberger does not disappoint, as we experienced the full Italian-style pantry Marcella’s offers, stuffed with antipasto, meats and cheeses, bread racks and endless reserves of wine.

“Our menu is unpretentious and we are committed to keeping things fresh every day — that goes for our food and our personality,” Baumberger says.

Prompt service provided by our server, Natalie, who has been with Marcella’s for the past two years and relocated to Scottsdale to share with us her knowledge of the delicious Italian fare, only made the night that much better.

The ravioli mezzaluna filled with goat cheese, cabbage, Italian bacon and mushrooms provided an explosion of flavor. The homemade pasta, sauce and mixture of flavors created a good balance of tastes paired perfectly with a glass of merlot. Another favorite was the salmon al fresco surrounded by brick-oven tomatoes, kalamata olives and roasted potatoes. Drizzled in a lemon juice and olive oil mixture, the savory fish was light and delicious.

And what’s an Italian restaurant without lasagna? Marcella’s lasagna is even better than what Mama used to make, with homemade pasta sandwiched between housemade sweet Italian sausage, juicy tomatoes and marinara layered with alfredo sauce.

Despite being stuffed, we couldn’t say no to dessert. An Italian classic, tiramisu, along with profiteroles, provided a terrific end to the night. The tiramisu was light with a delicate balance of espresso and creamy goodness.

The profiteroles followed suit, replete with creamy pistachio, chocolate and honey vanilla gelato melted between warm chocolate ganache.

For those who need a good meeting place, the 10,800-square-foot restaurant features three private dining rooms — all named after a region in Italy. The rooms accommodate 20 to 40 guests and are fully equipped with audio-visual capabilities. Additional seating also is available in the interior terrace, which seats up to 52 guests.

So make sure to follow the advice on the wait staff’s apparel: “For a good time, call (480) 947-2105 — for reservations silly.”


Cover Story: Monster Empire

Clarity in Chaos

Diving into the mind of Todd McFarlane, creator of “Spawn” and business entrepreneur


Most know Todd McFarlane for the work he did at Marvel as one of the top-selling artists for Spider-Man, or as the creator of the comic book creature “Spawn” and inventor of official sports figurines so realistic they seem to run, slide or jump right off of their plastic pedestals. One description he hears a lot is “that crazy guy who paid $3 million for a baseball.” However, after spending a few minutes digging into the business mind of McFarlane, supposed chaos turns into methodic choices to create successful opportunities.


Pinning down one title that accurately encompasses all that is McFarlane is impossible. He is a Grammy- and Emmy-winning producer and director, creator of one of the best selling independent comics, and official licensed creator of NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL toy figures—just to name a few of his ventures. However, McFarlane will be the first to say few things are impossible, especially in the business world.

“It’s easy for big businesses to fall into flat status quos and comfort zones, so when people come in with a radical idea and break the mold a bit, people get nervous,” he says. “They think if you do something different, it’s an insult to what they were doing before. But there are always other ways to ‘skin a cat.’” For McFarlane, his ways of “skinning” an idea involve what most businesses consider backward thinking.

McFarlane says toy creation is usually a formulaic process. Big businesses meet together, figure out how much money they want to make, come up with a business model and profit margin, and then determine the price of the toy before bringing the idea to artists. The end result—artists end up having to make a better toy for less than the previous one. But McFarlane flips the traditional business model. He approaches the artists first in order to make the best product possible, and figures out pricing later. This business model markets high quality and toy value rather than pricing. “As long as you give people the value of the price on the toy, the price isn’t really relevant,” McFarlane says.

Marketing to the consumer’s interest rather than his/her pocketbook seems to be one of the underlying themes of McFarlane’s success in all of his business ventures.

“Look at the stereotypes of toys and comic books—they equal a kid product. Animation is another one that equals a kid product, however, I rarely sell to kids,” McFarlane says. “We just have a stereotype that says, ‘when I was a kid I watched cartoons and now I don’t watch them anymore.’ The only reason you don’t watch them anymore is because nobody is giving you content that makes sense. So I come in, do ‘Spawn,’ make it R-rated because we’re doing adult theme stuff, and I can sell it to adults. It’s just content. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, it matters what the story is around it.” McFarlane applies the same theory of his comic book “Spawn” to what he does with his entertainment productions and toys.

“I make toys that look like something relevant to a 32-year-old,” he says. “Call it whatever you want, but all of a sudden it makes sense to that person because of it’s content. Ultimately as we grow up, we still buy toys till the day we die. We just convert the toy from a G.I. Joe to a cell phone or fancy car with spinning rims. We [as adults] just don’t want to acknowledge them as toys.”

Another marketing success for McFarlane is asking simple questions no one thinks to ask. “Most of what I do comes from the simple question—why isn’t anyone else doing this? And after awhile I go do it myself,” he says. “Luckily that ‘what if’ question is a question a lot of other people are asking, so all of a sudden you get a lot of credit for doing something there was a hunger for, just no one was feeding the hunger.”

Consumers’ hunger for more realistic sports figures was another easy space to fill for McFarlane. It was just a matter of waiting for old contracts to end, and creating enough buzz to enable him to step in as the new supplier. No amount of buzz could top McFarlane’s move to buy Mark McGwire’s 70th homerun ball from the 1998 season for a record breaking $3 million. That seemingly “crazy” purchase enabled McFarlane to step in as the new official producer for all major North American sports, including football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Another example of his avant-garde business approach is captured by McFarlane Toys’ extensive detail of official sports figures.

“The question isn’t how I got it to look that realistic, the question is how did they not get it realistic for hundreds of years,” says McFarlane. “How do people making a baseball player [figurine] who have access to magazines, TVs, movies, films and sports highlights, A—ignore that information, or B—look at it and still come up with the stuff they did. The real answer is A in most cases. There’s no way you can look at a guy in a costume with wrinkles in it and sculpt a guy in a costume without wrinkles, unless you’re intentionally making that choice.” McFarlane points out consumers became accustomed to bad quality because exclusive contracts permitted only one company to do it. “The only reason people weren’t complaining is because they didn’t think anyone could do it differently.”

But that’s the key to McFarlane’s backward business model—doing what everyone else thinks cannot be done, and doing it in an unconventional way.

“Most people don’t start their own companies. I got it. Most people don’t spend their own money, you’re supposed to go and ask for it somewhere else. I got it. You’re not supposed to do it this way. I got it,” he says. “But that’s what you guys think. It’s my life and I’ll do as I see fit, and I can live every single day of my life without guilt or remorse because I know the success or failure came from my actions and mine alone.”

And for McFarlane that’s the best success of all—freedom.

AZ Business Magazine June - July 2007“I only have one piece of advice, well, besides location, location, location. That’s pretty good. But for everyone out there, try it on your own once,” he says. “Here’s why—if you fail, you can go back to where you came from. Go back to corporate land; they’re waiting for you. But if you go, every now and then a couple of you succeed and that’s freedom. They do these commercials on what’s priceless, but what’s priceless to me is that I get to wake up and make the calls in my life.”


AZ Business Magazine June July ’07 | Next: Accounting Enigma
Photography by Cassandra Tomei

Cover Story – High Octane

High Octane

With two major NASCAR races and a huge impact on the region, Bryan Sperber and Phoenix International Raceway add plenty of fuel to the Arizona economy


Activity in the West Valley has hit an all time high as new hotels and mixed-use developments suddenly appear in what used to be stark dirt fields, but they are not for the upcoming Super Bowl XLII. The take-off of economic development is almost as fast as the blur of engine-revving cars circling at Phoenix International Raceway.

High OctanePIR pumps $473 million into Arizona’s economy annually, according to a recently released study on Phoenix International Raceway conducted by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. A staggering amount equal to what the Super Bowl is prospected to bring to the Valley. “The Super Bowl is predicted to generate $400 to $500 million,” says Julie Frisoni, marketing and communications director for the city of Glendale. “However, PIR happens every year.”

PIR’s economic impact figure is based on two NASCAR events, the second of which was added after heavy statewide lobbying in 2005.

The Study
Timothy Hogan, Ph.D., professor emeritus of ASU’s Department of Economics, directed the 2005 study. The new study updates the 2001 original study of PIR’s economic impact, but adjusts for inflation and increase in races and fans.

The raceway’s overall economic impact of $473 million takes into account visitor, organizational and induced expenditures, such as purchases by out-of-state visitors and business activities at PIR. The updated study identifies several other areas of growth including state and local tax revenues, as well as income generated directly and indirectly from PIR, which covers PIR employees’ wages and salaries and Arizona household additional income as a result of visitor spending, PIR operations and spending by PIR employees.

According to the study, visitors from out-of-state who attend PIR events spend $160 million annually on goods and services directly and indirectly associated with the raceway including dining, entertainment, lodging, recreation and shopping throughout the Valley. However, out-of-state monetary flow will shift away from dispersing over the entire Valley and become more concentrated in the West Valley as economic development increases in the area. “Over the years, with the University of Phoenix stadium and more hotels being built in Glendale, more activity will occur over in the West Valley,” Hogan says.

PIR President Bryan Sperber says the organization is working with ASU’s sports business program to conduct a complete study update, which should be finished by spring 2008. “It’s a pretty comprehensive program,” says Sperber. “The original study covered one NASCAR race, but the Valley has evolved and changed, and the landscape of the sport has changed.”

Preparing for the Rush
In preparation for out-of-state visitors, Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers says the city has two new Hilton hotels that are already sold out for the next three years during race times, and several mixed-use developments opening in time for Subway’s Fresh Fit 500 weekend in April. PIR holds two races a year bringing in a total of 375,000 race fans to the Valley. “I remember when we first started [PIR] 17 years ago, looking forward and dreaming of what NASCAR could be,” says Sperber. “I think we’ve reached or even surpassed that dream.”

Feeding the Economic Giant
Sperber says PIR’s success is due to two key pieces of legislation that propelled the growth of NASCAR racing in the Valley.

First, the creation of the bridge over Gila River. Second, the $5 million spent in widening access roads coming from the west, where most race car fans travel from to get to PIR. A little known fact about these public improvements is that racing fans paid for them. “The public enjoys wider roads and a bridge year round, while PIR uses it a couple days a year,” says Sperber.

In addition to public improvements and huge economic impact, PIR is a privately owned entity. “Most professional sports venues are owned by the public,” says Sperber. “New changes to [PIR] are all funded privately by us. That’s well over $150 million given to the economy in addition to the races.” Which is great news for the booming West Valley.

“The more the races grow, the more PIR puts into capital investments, which will make the experience better,” says Jack Lunsford, president and CEO of Westmarc. “As the experience gets better, there is more money spent that directly affects our communities.”

Capitalizing Success
Dina Serin, economic development specialist for the city of Avondale, says PIR was a vital component of their 2007 marketing plan, which introduces a new message point and brand awareness that uses PIR’s success to help promote the city.

Marketing materials for Avondale’s Economic Development Department display the city’s slogan: Avondale is on the move… And you are in the driver’s seat.Keeping with the theme, calls to action sprinkle fliers and brochures: Rev up your RPMs at local shopping and dining destinations; shift into low gear by relaxing at one of the Hilton hotels; and take the wheel and experience Avondale for yourself.

“[PIR] is a great asset to our community and we plan on continuing to work with them,” says Avondale’s Development Director Claudia Whitehead.

Statewide Impact
AZ Business Magazine April May 2007Jacki Mieler, director of media relations for the state’s Office of Tourism, says PIR attracts people who might consider doing business or relocating businesses to Arizona. “NASCAR has a lot of high-profile sponsors who will travel to come see the races,” says Mieler.

Lunsford says the hope is that those high profile sponsors will see the growth and development happening and create new jobs that will further propel the Valley’s economy.

As PIR races into another exciting season, the economy fuels up on visitors experiencing all the Valley of the Sun has to offer.

Evolution of PIR

PIR was founded in 1964 by a group of professional sports car racers that had a dream of building a racing facility. PIR was carved out of the foothills of the Estrella Mountains in the West Valley and was intended to be a new crown jewel of American open wheel racing. At that time the tourism industry in Phoenix was just starting to grow.

It wasn’t until 1988, when NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series racing came to PIR, that auto racing in Phoenix really became a major sporting attraction for the area. The Checker Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in November is said to be the largest one-day sporting event in Arizona. A study by Arizona State University proves PIR’s economic impact to be among the top in the state, and demonstrated PIR’s tremendous growth over just a few years.

PIR President Bryan Sperber has a few exciting changes for upcoming events that will further propel PIR’s growth. “With every event, we attempt to introduce and try new things. We live in an entertainment world where the lines are becoming more blurry in terms of live entertainment, music and sports,” says Sperber. “We have to keep [PIR] fresh, fun and exciting.”

AZ Business Magazine April May ’07 |  Next: The Road to Success