Inside Edge News Service

Oct. 17, 2014

Oak Park’s Own: Q & A With viaForensics Co-Owner Andrew Hoog

In 2010, a tech start-up with the intriguing name of viaForensics began popping up in the Oak Park media. This was about all I knew: it was operated by a husband-and-wife team, Andrew Hoog and Chee-Young Kim, and it was growing fast.

Together with VOP-TV’s Joe Kreml, I arranged to interview Hoog and Kim to learn more about their roots, both in business and as Oak Park residents, about viaForensics’ distinctive place in the market, and about their aspirations for the future.

What follows is an edited transcript of my interview with Andrew Hoog, portions of which are included in a video segment online at the Village of Oak Park’s YouTube channel and which is airing on VOP-TV.

You can see that segment here.

Q: What brought you to Oak Park?

A: The first thing that brought us to Oak Park was our kids and finding them a great public education. We lived in Chicago, where we started our company, but realized they weren’t going to go to school in the city.

Andrew Hoog & Chee-Young Kim, co-founders of viaForensics. (Inside Edge News Service photo)

So we did some research, looked at a number of suburbs, but Oak Park was really the only place for us. It’s on the Green Line, has a lot of restaurants, and is very diverse community. We’ll be here for a long time.

Q: Tell us about your office space here and the history behind that and where you’re headed with that.

A: We’re really excited about our space in Oak Park—this is our third spot now. We’re right next to Chase Bank on Lake and Marion. It’s been great for our employees; we have a lot of restaurants around here.

We walk to work in the morning and it’s fantastic to walk down Forest Avenue right past the Frank Lloyd Wright homes. We have a really great space—we have invested pretty heavily in an area where our employees would enjoy working, where we could really see growth and expansion.

We’re here for a long time. This space will definitely remain a big part of what we do and there are options for us to potentially move down to the first floor, maybe move laterally, so we definitely see expansion in Oak Park coming up, probably relatively soon.

Q: You’re in uncharted territory every week. It’s a new ‘going west.’ So what do you to make sure you’re going in the right direction?

A: It’s a tough question. There’s a trick to being an entrepreneur.

Some of it’s luck, some of it is intuition, some of it is timing, and a lot of it is hard work. You have to be able to combine those things. The way I look at it, you get one shot. And this is clearly our shot. I’ve started a few companies in the past—they’ve been fine, they were successful, they were small and we combined with other companies.

But this one’s a game-changer. Everything is lined up. We don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know for sure the path ahead, though we know it’s a narrow path. But we focus very hard on understanding our customers and realizing what the challenges in this space are. We invest heavily into research so we know where things are going and then we basically try to aim for that. It’s worked for us so far, and we hope it continues to.

Q: What sets viaForensics apart from other competitors in the marketplace?

A: viaForensics has been around for six years now. We’re a bootstrapped company. Unlike a lot of startups, we figured out what were the problems our customers were facing and we built product on top of that. We’re very focused on mobile security and our mission is to advance mobile security worldwide.

So by looking at that problem, by trying to understand what are the issues in this space, we’ve got a great company, we have a great list of customers, and we’re growing very quickly.

Q: When you got started, what industries did you serve?

A: viaForensics started out in the e-discovery space and we quickly realized that’s not an area where we wanted to focus. We moved into forensics, which is a specialized area of helping, typically, government agencies and law enforcement agencies obtain information they need as part of an investigation. And we do that only on the mobile side. But we quickly expanded into mobile security.

As soon as we did that, our main customer base became the financial industry: banking, insurance, and the like. That industry has always remained highly focused on security. But since then, the company has expanded. We’re in healthcare, we’re in oil and gas, we’re in real estate. Really mobile security is an issue that affects everybody, whether you’re a business or an individual anywhere in the world.

Q: What is the difference between people here in the U.S. versus other countries, in terms of their mobile security needs?

A: The great thing about being here in America is we do a lot of innovation; we’re really on the forefront of the mobile side of things. One of the things that developed countries have that other countries don’t have is an infrastructure in place. A lot of us have Internet at home.

And so when you look at some countries, let’s say in Africa as an example, they don’t have Internet to the home. So the mobile phone has actually become more important to them on a daily basis. Transactions that we might do on our bank account online, they’re doing these over SMS on their smart phones.

With viaForensics, we really put an emphasis on advancing mobile security worldwide. It’s a key differentiator for us because it’s not just people here in the U.S. who need support. It’s really people around the world whose financial security and identity could be at risk.

Q: What are some examples today of what viaForensics is doing in the everyday lives of people?

A: viaForensics started out on that business-to-business type model, and while that remains the largest part of our business, we’re now also reaching out to consumers directly. The first way that a person would probably interact with us is to install a free app that we have on the IOS and Android app stores called viaProtect.

The idea behind that app is to help people understand what are the risks on their device that they need to try to address. What are those apps that are leaking their information? We try to present that information to them so they can make good decisions about protecting their identity and protecting their financial services on their devices.

Beyond just the consumer side, we work closely with larger enterprises. Banks are a great example—to make sure that the banking app that you use on your iPhone or Android device is secure and will protect you in environments where somebody is trying to intercept your traffic.

The final piece of it is large organizations or law enforcement agencies who, as part of a crime investigation, let’s say, need to be able to recover information. We’ve been able to help people solve cases, to help protect children, to deal with the types of unfortunate issues that come up from a criminal standpoint. Mobile phones are more and more a part of that. So we really have a very diverse offering.

Q: That must give you great satisfaction in terms of helping achieve justice. Can you talk about that and any other areas where you personally get the most satisfaction from what your company does?

A: On a personal level, my dad was a police officer. I was always very interested in that and while that wasn’t my path, we’ve been able to help, pro bono, a lot of different cases. So on a very personal note, it means a lot to us to be able to help out on a case where the technology that we have developed, the patents that we have developed, can really change how a particular case works.

At the same time, it’s very satisfying for us to see that we’re making mobile secure around the world. To know that our friends and family can have a safer experience—safer apps, safer devices—for us and for our employees, we’re drawn to this big goal that we have, this kind of disruptive worldwide goal of saying, ‘We want to make mobile more secure.’

Online: www.viaforensics.com.

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

Sept. 12, 2014

Owner: Fleet Feet Oak Park Aims to ‘Create Community’

Early this winter, when Fleet Feet Sports Chicago expects to opens its newest location in Downtown Oak Park, they are looking to build not just a business, but a community, said co-owner Dave Zimmer.

“We want to create raving fans of our business,” Zimmer said in a phone interview Friday morning. “We don’t just want customers.”

Dave Zimmer, co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago (Photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago)

“Eighteen years ago we started that way,” he continued, referring to the first franchise location in Chicago that he opened with his wife, Lisa. “Our whole culture is about creating community and trying to enhance the community that already exists.”

Toward that end, Zimmer said his interest in opening a shop in Oak Park was piqued when he learned earlier this year that Tim and Tyna Eggert were planning to close The Competitive Foot at 102 N. Marion St. A mainstay in the community since 1977, the store closed on July 21st.

“We were always respectful of The Competitive Foot and love what they built in Oak Park,” said Zimmer. “When I heard that Tim was going to be closing down the spot on Marion, I reached out to him…that’s how the whole thing started.”

[NOTE TO READERS: To see the initial story about Fleet Feet Chicago Sports locating in Oak Park, scroll down to the Sept. 11 entry.]

Did Fleet Feet wait to make the move out of respect for The Competitive Foot? Or was it based on a sense that there was not enough market share to go around?

Zimmer declined to address those questions head-on, instead saying, “The timing was right for us to move in there.”

Dave and Lisa Zimmer at a Fleet Feet event. (Photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago)

“We know from just looking at our customer data base, we serve a good number of people in Oak Park,” he added. “We know that we have customers who live and run in that area.”

Zimmer made multiple trips to speak with Tim Eggert and identified the shop as the ideal site for his sixth Fleet Feet franchise. Along with his wife, he owns three in Chicago, one in Elmhurst and has another site in Chicago, along the Southport corridor, that is slated to open sometime in the fourth quarter of 2014.

With their Old Town location in Chicago, the Zimmers own the highest-grossing Fleet Feet franchise out of more than 130 operating in the United States.

Zimmer said he will not seek any financing support from the Village of Oak Park as the store prepares for its opening. The building owner is R.P. Fox & Associates, whose president, Mike Fox, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Zimmer declined to say how much the renovation will cost, or how that cost will be distributed between Fleet Feet and R.P. Fox. However, he credited Mike Fox with “doing a tremendous job helping bring our vision to life.”

“We’re working with the landlord on completely re-doing the retail level of the store,” said Zimmer. “It will have a much different look and feel than what was in The Competitive Foot.”

As work continues on the former space of The Competitive Foot, the business name fades from view. on an interior wall. (Inside Edge News Service Photo)

“Looking back at the history of the actual unit itself is like turning back the hands of time…it’s been a very fun process to be able to work with him,” Zimmer added.

Fleet Feet is targeting a late-December or early-January opening. The planned hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The store will create four full-time and six to eight part-time employee positions, said Zimmer.

Operating under the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago banner, the Zimmers are the franchisees of locations in Lincoln Square, Old Town and South Loop, as well as one at 124 E. Schiller St. in Elmhurst.

Over the years, the stores have proven to be fertile turf for lifelong relationships. Zimmer noted that 26 people who have met through his shops—some employees but mostly customers participating in special events like fun runs—have gotten married to one another.

“When we talk about building community,” he said, chuckling. “We really talk about building community.”

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

On Heels of The Competitive Foot’s Closure, Fleet Feet Makes Quick Dash into Oak Park

Sept. 11, 2014

The intrigue of a “Leased” sign that went up last week at 102 N. Marion St. has given way to no-doubt-about-it construction work as Fleet Feet prepares to move into the space that was long occupied by The Competitive Foot.

The inside of 102 N. Marion St., midday on Sept. 11th. (Inside Edge News Service)

Dave and Lisa Zimmer, the franchisees of three Fleet Feet stores in Chicago and one in Elmhurst, are aiming for a late-December or early-January 2015 opening, according to spokesperson Robin Monsky.

“Oak Park has a fantastic and very active running and fitness community so it only makes sense for us to be there,” Monsky stated in an email.

With their Old Town location in Chicago, the Zimmers own the highest-grossing Fleet Feet franchise out of more than 130 operating in the United States. They were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

The Downtown Oak Park space had been operated by Tim and Tyna Eggert at the corner of Marion Street and North Boulevard from 1977 until its closure in late July.

This week, activity that had previously occurred slowly and quietly, picked up momentum as renovation and build-out is under way on the inside. Outside, a contractor has been installing new windows.

“Fleet Feet is renovating the entire space with the landlord, planning on opening up more windows and increasing the sales floor,” Monsky stated.

Kate Pezalla, co-owner of Lively Running, 109 N. Oak Park Ave. in the Hemingway District, said the arrival of the business a half-mile to the west will not alter her shop’s approach as an athletic boutique for women. The store is in the process of shifting its name to Lively Athletics.

A worker in the midst of build-out. (Inside Edge News Service)

“Fleet Feet is a successful national chain,” said Pezalla. “We hope they are successful here. It doesn’t really change anything we’re doing.”

Since Lively Running’s soft opening in late July, followed by its Aug. 9th grand opening, the response from customers has been “fantastic,” she said. “We are overwhelmingly grateful to our community.”

In an interesting twist, Pezalla was a sales associate at Fleet Feet in Chicago for six months until this May, and Lively Running co-owner Anne Pezalla, her older sister, previously worked at The Competitive Foot. They grew up in Oak Park, and are graduates of Oak Park-River Forest High School.

Their business is not a direct competitor of Fleet Feet, said Kate Pezalla, who dubbed Lively Running “very niche” as an independent store operated by homegrown Oak Parkers.

Operating under the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago banner, the Zimmers are the franchisees of locations in Lincoln Square, Old Town and South Loop, as well as one at 124 E. Schiller St. in Elmhurst. They franchised their first store in 1996.

In addition to the Oak Park site, they have previously announced a planned store in the Chicago’s Southport corridor.

There are more than 130 Fleet Feet stores across the country, and another 14 locations in development, according to Fleet Feet’s national website. The Old Town store has been the highest-grossing Fleet Feet franchise in the country every year since 2000, Monsky stated.

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

Slow-Going Debut For Downtown Oak Park’s Valet Service

August 4, 2014

A few minutes before 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 4th, Hector Maraz stood ready to valet park cars from his post on the south side of Lake Street just east of Forest Avenue.

Well, at times, “sat ready” was more accurate–and you really can’t blame the guy.

After all, through nearly 5 1/2 hours on the job, Maraz noted that he had parked a grand total of one car. The solo customer parked for about one hour, he added.

Eventually, the Village of Oak Park expects Maraz and his colleagues will become a lot busier. That’s what prompted the Village Board to hire LAZ Parking Chicago, LLC to provide valet parking service starting on Aug. 4th.

The board, which made the move last month, was anticipating a parking shortage triggered by the closure of the village-owned Lake Street and Forest Avenue garage at the end of the weekend. The garage closing sets the stage for a 21-story mixed-use development project that is anticipated to require about 18 months before completion.

If it takes shape as planned, the development will feature 270 rental apartments, 25,000 square feet of ground-level retail and an integrated garage totaling 588 parking spaces.

Hector Maraz stands sentry on the first day of the new valet parking service. (Inside Edge News Service photo)

Meantime, on this steamy Monday, Maraz said he would remain on his shift until 5:30 p.m., which echoes multiple press reports that indicate the valet service is slated to operate during regular weekday business hours. The fee is $5 for up to three hours of parking and $12 for three to 10 hours.

In exchange for operating the service, LAZ is receiving about $8,300. To recoup its investment, the village would need to have roughly 80 drivers served daily. The village can nix the agreement with a month’s notice.

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

Wake Up, Oak Park! Sleepy’s Opens on June 25th

June 24, 2014

A brief swing by Sleepy’s mattress store this afternoon in Downtown Oak Park found a store taking shape and poised to open any moment.

In fact, a few friendly folks tried to sell me a mattress on the spot (1120 Lake St.) and said that they would be officially open for business tomorrow (June 25th). Store hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Sleepy’s on Tuesday might have seemed to be in a bit of disarray, but that’s the way stores often look when they are within 24 hours of opening. (Inside Edge News Service photo)

Armed with a photograph from Inside Edge News Service, the Oak Leaves two weeks ago first reported on Sleepy’s arrival.

The move to Oak Park comes after there were rumblings last summer that the New York-based mattress store chain was pondering a move to the former Borders location at 1144 Lake St., on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Harlem Avenue.

A small, vocal band of village dwellers went into a state of collective apoplexy at the notion that something so pedestrian, so plebeian as a mattress store would move into that hallowed space.

A placard on a wall inside the store includes “The Sleepy’s Promise.” (Inside Edge News Service photo)

Sleepy’s has more than 900 retail locations, mostly along the East Coast, and last year opened two stores in Chicago and seven in the suburbs.

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

July 20th is Finish Line for The Competitive Foot

June 23, 2014

Clarifying news first announced last week, The Competitive Foot’s 37-year run in Downtown Oak Park will come to an end on Sunday, July 20th.

Last July, the store begun by Tim and Tyna Eggert closed its original Western Springs location, which had opened in 1974.

Employees this afternoon posted a giant hand-written note in the south-facing window of the shop at 102 N. Marion St., which has been a mainstay at the corner of Marion Street and North Boulevard since 1977. The note thanked customers for supporting the business over the years and urged them to continue running.

The store has long touted itself as “the first athletic shoe store in Illinois.” For some historical context, many of the shop’s current customers were not yet born and that is the same year Jimmy Carter was U.S. President and Bruce Jenner was the reigning Gold Medalist in the decathlon, not a reality-show punch-line.

The following is the content of the note:

Around 1:30 p.m. on June 23rd, a pair of employees posted this giant note on the window of The Competitive Foot. (Photo by Inside Edge PR)

“We have been proud to serve as your local athletic shore store for these many years. For 40 years, Competitive Foot has strived to fit you and your family in quality footwear. We thank you for shopping locally, for returning time and again, for sending your friends, and for your patience while you waited for orders. We know you had a choice–we are glad you chose us! Our doors will close for the final time July 20th. Tim will retire, but we hope you….KEEP RUNNING! -Tim & the C Foot Staff”

News of The Competitive Foot’s closing was first revealed publicly June 18th via the Downtown Oak Park e-newsletter. To keep pace with store information and promotions between now and the shop’s final day, visit The Competitive Foot’s Facebook page.

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.

June 19, 2014

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market Coming to Site of Former Dominick’s in River Forest

No official date has yet been announced, but it appears to be only a matter of time before Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a new specialty retailer, occupies the former River Forest Dominick’s site that closed six months ago.

On Thursday, a Fresh Thyme spokesperson told Inside Edge News Service she did not know how soon the location at 7501 W. North Ave. is expected to open.

And another publicist for the company stated in an email: “At this time, Fresh Thyme is not commenting on potential future grand opening plans beyond what has already been published.”

Any move would be part of an overall focus on rapid growth in the region, which is scheduled to include openings later this year in the Columbus and Cincinnati markets in Ohio and the Fort Wayne and Indianapolis markets in Indiana.

“We have an aggressive growth plan over the next couple of years,” said Jodi Marsh.

This spring, Fresh Thyme introduced its farmers market-style theme to Illinois with the opening of a store in Mount Prospect. Next week, it is opening a Deerfield location, which had been the subject of some controversy among neighbors concerned about the store’s impact on their property values and who contended the village improperly granted the store a special use permit.

The site of the former Dominick’s, 7501 North Ave., in River Forest has been vacant for nearly six months. (Inside Edge News Service photo)

According to a news release the company issued on Wednesday, Fresh Thyme is looking to open 60 stores over the next five years. In an earlier interview with Natural Foods Merchandiser, company CEO Chris Sherrell stated that he sees opportunity in the area because “the conventional (grocery store) leaders in the Midwest are somewhat in flux.”

The stores, wherever they open, can “add some local flair…and bring natural foods and farmer’s market concept and a healthier lifestyle to the masses.”

At the State of the Villages Economic Luncheon on May 16th, sponsored by the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci said the site was “at the top of our list for redevelopment.” Site co-owner Mid-America Real Estate Group, she said, was searching for a new tenant to assume the lease on the space.

“It takes time to find the right fit for that site,” Adduci said.

The Chicago area is an area of interest for Fresh Thyme on the heels of Dominick’s closing of 72 stores. The River Forest location closed on Dec. 28th with more than three years remaining on its lease.

From Fresh Thyme’s grand opening on June 12th in Greenwood, Indiana. (Courtesy Fresh Thyme)

Referring to shuttered locations in the previously published report, Sherrell stated, “Second-generation space is always great. Not only can you open quicker, it will also help regentrify some of these shopping centers, and that’s where we get tons of excitement from some of these landlords.”

At 25,000 square feet, the building on River Forest’s northern border was among the smallest of the Dominick’s stores and is located directly across North Avenue from Johnnie’s Beef.

Given Fresh Thyme’s ambitious plans throughout the Midwest, it appears doubtful that the store would open in River Forest during 2014, so any official announcement may not come for some time.

In Oak Park, the Dominick’s that closed at 259 Lake St. will be occupied by Pete’s Fresh Market, which is hoping to open by the end of this year.

In its press materials, Fresh Thyme refers to itself as a new full-service specialty retailer focusing on fresh, healthy, natural and organic offerings.

“The store’s signature offering is an extensive produce department with organic and local fruits and vegetables,” Fresh Thyme states. “In addition, Fresh Thyme’s full-service offerings include a natural meat department, healthy deli foods to go, bakery goods, 400 bulk food bins, natural and organic groceries, dairy and frozen, as well as vitamins and body care products.”

[On Sept. 16, 2014, the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest first reported on this development, with additional information. You can find it here.]

Inside Edge News Service is part of Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. Online: www.InsideEdgePR.com. When attribution is given and a link to this page is provided, media outlets and others are permitted to use portions of this story. Story tips? Questions? Call Matt Baron at 708-860-1380 or email Matt@InsideEdgePR.com.