Welcome to the Dec. 19 Monday Business Briefing, your private business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.

JCPenney agreement helps lift GE Appliances sales

GEA’s coffee-brewing refrigerator.

GEA’s coffee-brewing refrigerator

After a slow start this year, GE Appliances has recorded solid sales growth, in part because of a new agreement with a venerable retailer.

Sales for core industry products, which include refrigerators, ovens and laundry equipment, rose just under 5 percent, said Robert Rogers, GEA’s general manager for strategy and market development. GEA sales have improved along the same lines.

“It’s gotten better as the year goes on,” Rogers told IL.

Appliances industry sales started slower than expected this year, accelerated in the second half and in the fourth quarter increased more than expected, he said. An agreement with JCPenney helped lift its sales.

The Plano, Texas-based retail giant announced in January that it would begin selling appliances again — after a hiatus of more than 30 years — to take advantage of demographic trends, including more millennials who want to buy homes and an increasing number of homeowners who want to update their homes.

JCPenney this year opened 500 showrooms across the nation, including at Jefferson Mall in Louisville, to display a broad range of appliances, but from a limited number of manufacturers, including GEA. For example, on its website, the retailer offers 202 refrigerators, with 184 coming from three manufacturers: Samsung (34), LG (61) and GEA (89).

According to Forbes, JCPenney got back into appliance sales as rival Sears has been struggling.

Before the retailer returned to appliance sales, company leaders asked GEA officials if they were interested in participating in the rollout, Rogers said.

JCPenney leaders decided early on that they wanted customers to see appliances in a variety of ways, including in vignettes that display a whole appliances line, such as GE Slate, he said.

After some long conversations, GEA executives decided that being able to display their products in 500 dedicated showrooms would be a great opportunity to bolster sales and would offset the required significant commitment for support and distribution.

“We are very pleased with early results,” Rogers said. He did not want to provide details for competitive reasons.

JCPenney said in an earnings release last month that while sales in comparable stores fell 0.8 percent from a year earlier, appliance sales improved the figures by more than 2 percent.  The major appliance market is a $38 billion business, according to Euromonitor International.

CEO Marvin Ellison said he was excited about the company’s initiatives, including the “increased appliance penetration,” which he has said is part of the company’s turnaround strategy.

JCPenney could not be reached to talk about its agreement with GEA.

GEA, which is owned by China-based Qingdao Haier, employs about 6,000 people at Appliance Park in Louisville. The company and its hourly workers are in contract talks. Workers rejected a proposal in late November. —Boris Ladwig

Behold the Bourbon Bat Cave: Maker’s Mark goes underground

Inside the Bourbon Bat Cave | Courtesy of Maker's Mark

Inside the Bourbon Bat Cave | Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Innovation and bourbon go hand in hand, as evidenced by the daily news coming out of the industry. But this time, one Kentucky distillery has truly outdone itself — Maker’s Mark has built a Bat Cave.

Well, officials actually are calling it a “cellar,” but we think the former description is much cooler. On the distillery’s Loretto, Ky., campus, the bourbon cellar will age more than 2,000 barrels of Maker’s 46 and the Private Select brands.

Before Maker’s decided to blast into its limestone shelf and go underground, it could only produce Maker’s 46 in the winter months. But now, the cellar will keep the barrels cool in the summer months and also offer visitors a glimpse of the private barrel selection process.

Insider got a sneak peek of the Bourbon Bat Cave last week, and found it well worth a return visit to tour the distillery. Maker’s says it’ll add it to the tour “soon,” and will include some unique activities, like a coopering area, where visitors can learn all about Maker’s 46 and what sets it apart from all the others. —Sara Havens

Tractor Supply Co. building large store in southwest Louisville

Tractor Supply Co. logoBrentwood, Tenn.-based rural lifestyle store Tractor Supply Co. plans to invest more than $1 million in a new store on Dixie Highway, according to a city building permit.

The company confirmed that it planned to open a 20,000-square-foot store at 10713 Dixie Highway. The open date is sometime in mid-May, a company spokesperson told Insider Louisville in an email.

The store will include a sales floor, support service space, and a fenced exterior for storage and for displaying items such as fencing, sprayers and livestock equipment. It will employ 12 to 17 people.

“As a growth-minded company, Tractor Supply is always looking for potential new store locations that are a good fit,” the company said in a statement. “This is especially true in that the area was attractive due to the part-time and hobby farmers, and horse owners in the area.” The company says its lawn and garden and animal care products can serve the needs of these customers. —Caitlin Bowling

Local chefs to spice up Louisville with ‘all-star’ Latin dinner

Chef Anthony Lamas will host the "all-star" dinner at his restaurant Seviche, A Latin Restaurant. | File Photo

Chef Anthony Lamas will host the “all-star” dinner at his restaurant Seviche, A Latin Restaurant. | File Photo

Three well-respected Louisville chefs will share one kitchen Jan. 30 for a benefit “Latin All-Stars Dinner.”

Chefs Anthony Lamas, owner of Seviche, A Latin Restaurant; Fernando Martinez, partner in restaurant company Ole Restaurant Group; and Bruce Ucán, owner of the Mayan Café, are teaming up for the dinner, which will benefit Partners in Health.

Partners in Health is a nonprofit that brings modern medicine and medical techniques to the poorest areas of the globe.

“It is an honor to partner with Chef Martinez and Chef Ucán, two talented, local chefs that fully embody the culture and expertise of Latin-American cuisine,” Lamas said in a news release. “This is a topic near and dear to our hearts, and we wanted to partner with an organization that benefits the Latin American community in our beloved city.”

The seven-course dinner starts at 6 p.m., with hors d’oeuvres and Champagne at 6 p.m. Seviche, 1538 Bardstown Road, is hosting the event.

Reservations will be taken by phone, (502) 473-8560, and the cost is $225 per person. The price includes the dinner, hors d’oeuvres, Champagne, wine pairings, tax and gratuity. —Caitlin Bowling

Herelancer is a new startup pairing freelancers with project work

Zack Pennington and chia. Photo provided by US Chia.

Zack Pennington and chia | Photo provided by US Chia.

If you have a startup in Louisville, you know Zack Pennington.

The US Chia CEO has been a mentor at Velocity and XLerateHealth. He’s a certified facilitator for Startup Weekend and has traveled the country to work at events. He’s the go-to emcee for many startup-centered events. Pennington has had several of his own startups and has worked for several more. He’s currently the COO of the future Butchertown ax-throwing venue, Flying Axes.

The size of Pennington’s network is sure to help him out in his latest venture, Herelancer, which is a startup that pairs freelance workers with people who have projects. Herelancer pairs people up, makes introductions, and then if a match is made, the client pays Herelancer 10 percent of the total freelance contract.

“The thing to know about Herelancer is that there is a big community need that myself and my network have been providing for one another informally for years,” Pennington told IL in an email. “I’m constantly being asked for help finding talent to perform work and freelancers asking if I know of any clients who need their help. I think this initiative will help us grow the community and economy more effectively.”

So, freelance writers, designers, developers and artists can sign up online to receive a weekly post of open projects, and those in need of talent, can fill out the online questionnaire to have projects considered by Herelancer and its stable of freelancers. —Melissa Chipman

Local energy software startup lands contract in Vermont

William Burke

William Burke

Louisville’s Virtual Peaker has partnered with Vermont’s Green Mountain Power to help consumers save money and reduce emissions using Virtual Peakers software. Virtual Peaker’s software lets GMP share access to internet-connected appliances and devices and allows the company to change those devices into energy-saving modes, which it says will reduce grid demand and lower costs for all customers.

Founder and CEO William Burke left a job as an engineer at GE in the connected products division to start his first startup, Calculingua, a web application for scientists and engineers, in 2014. When Calculingua didn’t take off, Burke tried entrepreneurship again with Virtual Peaker. The company now has five employees, although only one full time.

The work with GMP came about after a six-month trial run during which the Virtual Peaker software was used in 30 homes, Burke told IL. GMP’s goal is to now have more than 1,000 devices engaged over 18 months.

Renewable energies are tough for energy companies to measure, Burke said. Virtual Peaker’s software helps. “Basically, renewables make the power company’s job of balancing the grid harder because they can’t control the power output. VP helps with this by allowing the power company to control the residential consumption to help balance the grid.”

GMP is known for its energy innovation. It has a “cow poop to power” program and also deals in solar, wind and hydro energy.  Melissa Chipman

Anchal Project releases first Louisville-made product

Anchal Shibori ornaments | Photo courtesy of Anchal Project

Anchal Shibori ornaments | Photo courtesy of Anchal Project

Anchal Project, a Louisville-based nonprofit that uses social entrepreneurship to help and empower exploited women, typically works with women in India, but has extended its work to its homebase.

Anchal is working with a group of women from the Center for Women and Families and has taught them how to make heart-shaped Shibori ornaments. (Shibori is a Japanese dying technique, according to a quick Google search.)

This will be a limited collection and every ornament was hand-stitched and hand-dyed by women in Louisville. The dyes came from Anchal’s dyeScape Garden, winner of one of the city’s Lots of Possibility grants for land in Portland and a small amount of money.

According to a news release, “Each purchase will fund career opportunities and additional training for women in Louisville.”

The handmade ornaments are available for $8 online and at Revelry Boutique Gallery. —Melissa Chipman

Kentucky Humane Society asserts independence in light of negative ads

In the push to raise money from donors in the busy holiday season, some local radio stations have been running advertisements against a national humane society group.

The ads do not target the Kentucky Humane Society, but the local organization has issued a plea to supporters anyway to stipulate its independence.

Kentucky Humane Society

Kentucky Humane Society

“KHS is not a branch of any national humane society and does not receive funding from the group that is being targeted. KHS is a private nonprofit animal shelter located in Louisville. We do not receive government funds, and we rely on donations to care for and find homes for more than 6,000 dogs, cats and horses a year.”

December accounts for a quarter of all donation, KHS said, which is why it sent a note to supporters in an effort to clear up any confusion. KHS uses 82 cents of every dollar donated to support pets and pet services, the group said, adding that many people assume that local humane societies are chapters of a national humane society or that they report to an umbrella organization. “That is not true” for KHS.

“When you donate to the Kentucky Humane Society, your donations stay in the community and help local animals,” KHS said. Mickey Meece