Nottingham Spirk: From Working with Family to Keeping the Innovative Fire Burning

Did you miss the recent Business Growth Boot Camp featuring Nottingham Spirk? Keep reading to learn their key takeaways to maintaining innovation and working with family.

Maintaining innovation over time, working with family, and knowing how to keep the motivational fires burning were just three of the topics addressed recently by the innovation experts at Nottingham Spirk during COSE’s recent “Business Growth Boot Camp: Creating a Culture of Innovation to Drive Business Growth.” Read on below for a deeper understanding of these issues and how Nottingham Spirk’s Co-Founder and Co-President John Spirk and his son Evan, director of open innovation, have used innovative tactics to make their company a success.

RELATED: Learn how One Cleveland Company Turned Innovation into Billions in Revenue

How it all began
The discussion began with learning how Nottingham Spirk got started. John Spirk met his partner, John Nottingham, at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he earned his undergrad degree. The two graduated and both had jobs lined up to start after they returned from a trip overseas, but while they were in Milan, Italy, they decided they would rather take a risk and start their own business.

The two started Nottingham Spirk in a small garage where they spent the first five to six years working before moving to what is now the Case Western Reserve Alumni House. The building they currently work in is in University Circle and was once an old, Catholic church. The design of this building has more of an impact on how they look at innovation than you might think.

John mentioned “vertical innovation” which refers to the building’s structure of five floors. The top floor is where the magic happens—it is where they work through different ideas. In contrast, the bottom floor is where the product and services are being developed and made. The key here is that each floor is a different department, or a different stage in the product’s lifecycle. Each department must work together to ensure they meet the client’s needs and goals.

The team is critical
So how does this tie into maintaining a culture of innovation over time? John’s main point on this topic was that the team is critical. You must hire the right people because they are what determines a successful company. After all, they are the ones taking the messages from the leaders, collaborating and using their expertise to make something great. So, what’s it like when you bring family into the mix? John and Evan would agree to make sure to only bring in family members that want to be there and hold them to a higher standard.

A family affair
Evan didn’t start out his career at Nottingham Spirk. In fact, he started his career as a photojournalist where he interned at the Boston Globe. It was around 2001 when he had his “A-ha” moment and decided to come back to Cleveland and give innovation a shot. When he asked his dad, “Can I try?” his dad said, “Yeah, but you have to go back to college.”

Fast forward to 2017. Evan has been in the family business for more than 14 years as a designer, program manager, and now director of open innovation. It hasn’t always been easy though. Because Evan is the boss’ son, he said he tries to work harder to prove he isn’t just there because of who is father is. He holds himself to higher standards to prove he doesn’t have what he does just because of his dad.

Stay passionate
What keeps the fire burning? John and Evan agree you must be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to work with people who are also passionate about what they are doing. If they’re passionate, they’ll work really hard. And don’t forget to trust them while they’re doing it.

The Business Growth Boot Camp series is just one example of the informative programming COSE provides each year. View a full list of upcoming events on the COSE Events page by clicking here.

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  • Next up: Q-and-A: Matt Radicelli, Rock The House

    Q-and-A: Matt Radicelli, Rock The House

    As part of an ongoing series, Mind Your Business will be sitting down with COSE Investor Level Members to get to know more about their business and the guiding principles they use to build their business. Today’s Q-and-A is with Matt Radicelli of Rock The House.

    Matt Radicelli is the founder and CEO of Rock The House, a Cleveland-based entertainment and production company and COSE member that provides world-class service for just about any type of event celebration. Radicelli founded Rock The House back in 1999 as a small, home-based business. Over the years, the company has rapidly grown and developed into the region’s finest interactive entertainment and audio-visual production company. Since 1999, Rock The House has exceeded expectations by providing amazing talent, cutting-edge products and services, and award-winning customer service. Producing more than 1,800 events per year, the dedicated Rock The House team spends countless hours on each event with one goal in mind: To make their clients’ events ROCK. Every time.

                        Matt Radicelli 



    Founder, CEO, Rock The House

    On the Web,

    Mind Your Business sat down with Radicelli recently to find out more about some of the guiding principles he uses to grow his business.

    MYB: What is the best piece of advice you've been given and who gave it to you?

    Radicelli: I think it was Beyoncé who said, “Put a ring on it.” That was for my wife. But with regard to business, during my time in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, Monika Moss-Gransberry said that “Anybody who can be your competitor can be your partner.” That stuck with me and had a real impact on our business practices going forward.

    MYB: What is one example of how you've applied this advice to your business?

    Radicelli: Many people don’t know it, but Rock The House is comprised of a number of divisions. Our audiovisual and production division is by far the largest, but two of the entertainment divisions are the result of acquisitions of previous competitors, Selective Sound Entertainment and Zone Entertainment. I believe that you can accomplish more if everyone’s interests are aligned. When you let go of ego and embrace opportunities to learn and grow as a team, amazing things can happen.

    MYB: Who would you consider to be a mentor for you professionally and how have you cultivated that relationship?

    Radicelli: In my early years, my parents were absolutely my entrepreneurial catalysts. They mentored me in various ways with regard to business practices, beyond just normal parenting. As my business started to evolve, my mentors were professionals in every walk of life, including some of my customers. Mentors became those people who were willing to answer all of the questions that an eager and knowledge-hungry young entrepreneur asked them. Flash forward to now. I believe it’s very important to be open to mentorship, education, and growth opportunities. That is what led us to be a part of Think Tank, a national benchmark group of entertainment and production owners, of which I am the director. Through national benchmarking groups such as this, I’ve developed relationships with a number of mentors. On a local level, each year the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) provides its members with mentorship as part of the program. I’ve been privileged to have a number of really strong mentors as part of that organization.

    MYB: How has your relationship with your mentors impacted the way you do business?

    Radicelli: Mentorship is about knowing and understanding that you don’t know everything. Having direct access to people who are willing to share experiences, good and bad, and to equip you to make the best decisions with what you have at hand is an invaluable asset. Between Think Tank, EO, and additional networking and professional relationships, I choose to surround myself with people who are open and willing to share experiences freely. We need to embrace our vulnerability and learn from each other if we are going to grow, personally and professionally. Without these groups and mentor/mentee relationships, it’s possible that we would still arrive at where we are today, but we’d be at least ten years behind.

    MYB: And now for some shameless self-promotion, we have to ask: What value do you get out of being a COSE member?

    Radicelli: We are honored to be a part of a thriving community of event professionals and entrepreneurs in the Northeast Ohio area. With that important relationship comes a dedication to innovation and involvement in the community. As a COSE member, we are empowered to connect with other small business leaders and share experiences through countless networking and educational opportunities. There are so many resources made available through the COSE website that are incredibly helpful for small businesses—from strategic planning courses and local business news to entertainment and insurance discounts.

    Learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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  • Next up: How to Prepare for Hard Times as a Business Owner

    How to Prepare for Hard Times as a Business Owner

    As part of an ongoing series, Mind Your Business is sitting down with COSE members to get to know more about the issues facing their businesses. Today’s Q-and-A is with Tim Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services.

    SACS Consulting and Investigative Services is a National Corporation based out of Akron. It is recognized as one of the national leaders for services in three main areas: human resources, security and investigations. SACS Consulting focuses strongly in “high risk” areas that includes Active Shooter, Workplace Violence/Bullying, Wide Spectrum of Investigations and Physical Security Analysis. SACS works with corporations, non-profits, education facilities and Houses of Worship of all different sizes across the U.S.

    MYB: What was the lowest or hardest time you faced as a small business owner and how did you get through it? 

    At one point the company grew faster than our cash flow could accommodate, which left us short of ability to make payrolls, pay bills, etc. even though our client demand for services was very healthy and we were excited about the future.

    MYB: What advice would you give to someone going through a similar low point in their business?

    My advice would be to think ahead of your potential challenges in order to be better prepared. Don’t get yourself caught unexpectantly dealing with challenges that can hinder or potentially negatively affect the success and growth of your business.

    In our situation we should have thought of ways ahead of time to be prepared for the need of greater cash flow. We should have already had a line of credit set up, evaluated tightening our collection process, understood factoring process, potential bank loan requirements, and more.

    MYB: What lessons did you learn through the experience?

    We learned to think ahead of potential challenges in all areas of business to be better prepared in all areas of business. Solving them as they come can be the death of your business.

    MYB: How are you adapting your business to minimize this challenge from impacting you again?

    We are continuously learning from other businesses and business leaders. You can’t be intimidated or hesitant to discuss with other business leaders’ lessons learned, mistakes made and solutions.

    MYB: What are some ways being a member of COSE has helped your business grow and overcome challenges such as the one you described?

    The best way to reduce business mistakes and to increase your ability to have a stronger growing business is be involved in organizations such as COSE that set the stage for you to meet other business leaders to have those important business survival discussions.

    President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at

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  • Next up: Reminding You of Your Power to Get What You Want

    Reminding You of Your Power to Get What You Want

    Your core values can help you get what you want, but it's not always an easy path. Get started on the right foot by keeping these nine things in mind.

    Humans—we all have something in common: figuring out how to get what we want. Our basic needs and desires lead our list of priorities. Some of what we need is concrete and some is abstract. But in reality, we want to be happy and healthy.

    We all have the power to get what we want. But figuring out the next step to how we get what we want, whatever that may be is our daily work—achieving our business goals, managing our households, staying present in personal relationships Our values guide us, but it isn’t always smooth sailing. Most of us try to get what we want by doing the right thing according to our values.   Our values guide our steps as we make choices.  It is important to pay attention to the values you live by and make decisions by verses those you may aspire to.  It is our core values that create the container by which we operate and our choices are shaped.

    The line between right and wrong is often gray and complex these days.  Those who have the belief that resources are limited are challenged to get their share.  Those who believe that there are unlimited resources, have more options and creative ways to move forward to get what they want within their personal value system. They have more opportunities to be open, generous and gracious to others.

    Our thinking plays a huge part in our experience. .   As human beings we have created everything in our modern world.  All of these creations started with a thought.  As much as it doesn’t always feel like it, we have the opportunity to use our thoughts to create our world anew each day by the choices we make and each action we take.  We can create a world that is more suited to our best and highest self, one thought, one action at a time.

    The Technology of “doing, creating and being” helps you incorporate this powerful concept and other spiritual practices into your everyday life so you can manifest what you want. This technology will help you create a life where you are healthy, happy, and whole; moving you steadily on your journey of self-mastery.

    There are nine human technologies that support us to manifest what we want in the immediate. These technologies are:

    • thought
    • vision
    • self-awareness
    • scanning
    • strategy
    • consistent action
    • relationship
    • listening; and
    • obedience.

    Click here to learn more about how these nine ideas can help you get what you want by watching my webinar (login registration required.)

    Monika Moss-Gransberry is the president of MKM Management Consulting.

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  • Next up: Resisting 'CuSpeak' Is Futile

    Resisting 'CuSpeak' Is Futile

    As a business owner (and therefore a salesperson), a main goal is to effectively communicate with customers and prospects. It’s not just a matter of speaking, but rather a matter of taking into consideration the five elements of speech explored in this article when you communicate. Give it a try!

    In his still-frightening classic dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell invented “NewSpeak”, the official language of Oceania used to control communication and thought.  

    So, let me pay homage to Orwell by inventing “CuSpeak” in his honor, the official language we should always use when speaking to customers and prospects and not nearly as creepy as “NewSpeak.” While it’s much harder to learn than “SAE” (Standard American English), it’s much more effective in influencing how our audience understands and views us.

    Here are five reasons why CuSpeak is superior to SAE when it comes to your business.

    Reason No. 1: CuSpeak is reader-centric.

    Too many small businesses still communicate with customers using a “writer-centric” dialect. It’s what they speak and are comfortable using. But few, if any, customers speak their dialect. So, the result is often miscommunication or annoying the very people they want to influence.

    Because CuSpeak is totally reader-centric, it embraces Dr. Tony Alessandra’s “Platinum Rule” concept and communicates with customers the way customers want to be communicated with. That’s the total opposite of their archaic Golden Rule approach—communicating with customers the way they want customers to communicate back with them.

    Using the Golden Rule requires little assessment and no adaptation. CuSpeak must be individualized, based on the specific customer’s industry background, organizational and educational level and preferred communication style. Mastering it demands time, effort and analysis—often in short supply with most small businesses.

    Reason No. 2: CuSpeak is buzzword-free.

    CuSpeak doesn’t use buzzwords because they may be too specific to the particular small business. Instead, it prefers a simple word or phrase that clearly, consistently and universally has the same meaning as the buzzword.

    If the airlines bought into this concept, they wouldn’t use the buzzword “deplane” but the more universally understood “exit the plane” or “leave.” Companies wouldn’t escalate” a problem, but “take it to the next level of (management or procedure).” Lawyers wouldn’t “execute” a contract, but simply “sign and date” it.   

    Reason No. 3: CuSpeak is acronym free.

    Acronyms are words created from the first letters of a name, like ABBA (Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, Annifrid) or group of words, like radar (radio detecting and ranging) that are pronounced as words. They’ve been around since the Roman Empire but came into popular use with the government or military, two institutions not known for effective customer communication. If you want to know for sure, look it up in the FAT (Federal Acronym and Terms) book. Really—I’m not making this up.

    Your industry or business has lots of acronyms. So does your customer’s business, but they’re different. In CuSpeak, you minimize their use and always spell them out the first time. So, a marketing proposal may include BOGO (buy one get one) promotions, a pitch from an accountant might mention RITA (Regional Income Tax Administration) or a real estate development might mention NIMBY (not in my back yard). The parenthetical definitions take up minimal space and add subtle and convenient value.

    Some words look like acronyms but are spoken as a string of letters, like FYI, R&D, Q&A or FAQ. While most of these are generally understood, you should define unusual ones by going beyond simply putting words to letter. For example, B&HU (Best & Highest Use) means the best return on investment for your time or resource, PBX (Private Branch Exchange) is telecom talk for switchboard and EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) refers to current operating profitability.

    Reason No. 4: CuSpeak is vague-free.

    CuSpeak is known for clarity. Simple, specific words rarely cause as much miscommunication for customers as vague references. So, opt for clarity wherever possible. Just so we’re clear, here are some examples.

    • “By Friday at 5” is better than “in a few days” or “ASAP.”
    • “Five complaints from three suppliers since Monday” is better than “a lot of complaints from some customers lately.”
    • If the project will cost $5,950, then say “$5,950” instead of “about/around $5,900” unless you need to indicate a range, such as “$5,800 - $6,100.”
    • Some vague references look like they’re hiding the truth. Isn’t “over plan by 27.6%” clearer and more honest than “more than a little bit over plan.”

    Reason No. 5: CuSpeak is lame-free.

     I use “lame” here to refer to ineffective style—using big words, wordy phrases or passive voice. CuSpeak doesn’t allow any of that—and I’m so glad. Check out the examples below.

    • “Telephone” becomes “phone,” “compensate” becomes “pay,” “finalize” becomes “finish,” and “modification” becomes “change”all with no loss of clarity or meaning.
    • Turn “fluctuation” into “change,” “commence” into “begin” and “utilize into “use.”
    • Instead of adding four words with “to the extent that,” only add one with “if.” Instead of “each and every one of you,” save three words with “each of you.”
    • There is no need to say ‘a check in the amount of $2,300’ when ‘a check for $2,300’ works better. And ‘at this present point in time.’ Is no clearer than ‘now.’
    • Avoid the redundant “consensus of opinion” when “consensus” means the same thing. Why ever say “red in color” when all we need is “red?”
    • CuSpeak loves active voice—it’s shorter, simpler and more conversational than passive voice. So, “The deadline will be determined” becomes “I/We/Anne will determine the deadline, ‘I/We/Hector will share the results Monday” is better than “The results will be shared Monday” and “I/We/Sue appreciate(s) your help” is more conversational than ‘Your help is appreciated.’

    By now, it should be obvious that resisting CuSpeak is futile and stupid. Embracing it is a great strategy for differentiating your business from the competitors who don’t get it yet. It’s well worth the time and effort to become fluent. So, try it and let me know how well it worked for you.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,,440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.  

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  • Next up: Selling to the CIO Part 1

    Selling to the CIO Part 1

    Tom Lucas, CIO of Sherwin-Williams, George Mehok, CIO of Revol Wireless and Pete Regan, Director with IBM share their insight into getting the attention of, and selling to, CIOs.

    Tom Lucas, CIO of Sherwin-Williams, George Mehok, CIO of Revol Wireless and Pete Regan, Director with IBM share their insight into getting the attention of, and selling to, CIOs.

    Listen here.

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