Mequon-based educational and office supply company BestEd Business counts some of the region’s largest employers among its clients, including Milwaukee County, Northwestern Mutual and Gilbane Building Co.
In the fall, it added Milwaukee Public Schools to that list after securing a $1 million contract award to provide N95 masks to all 132 sites in the school system.
Supplying PPE in the midst of a pandemic is one of the latest iterations of the company, which has evolved since its founding in 2004 as a vendor of school supplies to now working with a range of businesses on office design for new and existing spaces, construction materials and supplies and assembly of packages, such as school backpacks and parent education packets.
Helping drive that growth is co-founder and co-owner June Perry-Steven's “superpower” of building relationships in the community, said her daughter Krystle C.M. Perry, who recently joined her mother as a co-owner of the business.
“Watching (June) and seeing how she handles business, how she’s able to develop partnerships and relationships – that’s been her niche as a businesswoman,” said Perry.
From the start, BestEd has been women-owned and majority minority-owned. Perry-Stevens co-founded the company with business partner Beth Bauer, who recently divested her share.
The firm officially became a multi-generational, family-owned enterprise in the fall, with Perry acquiring a stake and taking on the role of business development manager. Perry, who has a master’s degree in learning and organizational development, also runs her own consulting and training business and works for Community Care Inc. as a learning and development specialist.
Entrepreneurship runs in the family. Perry-Steven's grandfather was the first Black licensed electrician in the state and owned an electrical contracting company, which her father and brother later joined.
Years before launching BestEd, Perry-Stevens founded Milwaukee-based nonprofit social services agency New Concept Development Center Inc. She retired in 2006 after leading the organization for over 30 years, which allowed her to dive into BestEd more fully.
BestEd’s 15-year-long history has been punctuated by several high-profile contracts, including a contract to provide gear and equipment for construction workers at Northwestern Mutual’s downtown office tower and a three-year contract with the city to provide safety equipment to the public works department.
As a growing number of large development projects in Milwaukee – including the Wisconsin Center expansion – are required to retain a certain percentage of minority- and women-owned contractors, BestEd is well positioned to bid on them.
“That’s a niche we have – we’re one of a few, if not the only, women- and minority-owned firms for office furniture installation for new and expanded construction, as well as PPE,” Perry-Stevens said.
In recent years, BestEd has also grown the furniture portion of its business. It was first asked to furnish the new Bader Philanthropies headquarters on Milwaukee’s North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which soon led to another contract with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin for its new office and coworking space, also on King Drive. That was followed by the new Running Rebels building on Capitol Drive and the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Ready Center, among others.