T-Mobile, the fourth-largest cell phone and wireless network provider in the country, is aggressively working to win new customers away from its competitors – AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint – with its year-old “Un-carrier” strategy. And it’s working. T-Mobile added 4.4 million customers in 2013, making it the fastest-growing U.S. telecom last year.

T-Mobile experienced two other boons last year: It became an iPhone carrier and merged with Metro PCS, a prepaid wireless service. With business booming, there’s tremendous pressure on the supply chain to meet demand and operate efficiently. Companies dream of having this kind of “problem” — even the guy in charge of managing the supply chain. 

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In the burgeoning craft beer segment, it is better to create trends than follow them, says Tomme Arthur, director of brewery operations and co-founder of Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. “We’ve done a really good job of what we call being ahead of the curve,” Arthur declares. “We never look at the trend. We’re always evolving. One of the goals of the company for us is to not be concerned about what others are doing, but concentrate on what we are doing. If we focus our energy on what we can do, we should be OK. My point is that we don’t tend to react to trends or look to be a part of them.”

Port Brewing and Lost Abbey does not reason backwards by trying to find out what style of beer people want to drink and then brewing a product that matches consumers’ tastes. Rather, the brewery has proceeded confidently to brew what it likes and assume that drinkers will follow its lead.

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From its Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters, Pilot Flying J has become the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America. Today, it has more than 650 locations in the United States and Canada, while its Pilot Logistics Services subsidiary is one of the fastest-growing energy logistics companies in North America. The company is the top seller of over-the-road diesel fuel in the nation and one of the 40-largest private carriers in the country. Recently, it has reinvested hundreds of millions of dollars into existing facilities, remodeling travel plazas and renovating shower facilities.  

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Dr. Howard Murad’s unique path to becoming a dermatologist allowed him to pave the way for the creation of Murad Inc., the first brand of clinical skincare products. Dr. Murad had completed his studies as a pharmacist before attending medical school and opening a dermatology practice in Westchester, Calif.  His training as a pharmacist enabled him to compound custom formulas to help his patients, and he ultimately pioneered the medi-spa concept to give people broader access to high-performance skincare services. 

“I was struck by the number of patients who were not getting the help they needed from established treatment protocols,” Dr. Murad says. “I looked for innovative ways to help my patients. Back then, there were very few effective products available to address things such as acne, wrinkles, age spots and pigmentation.”

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Tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains in a small North Carolina town stands one of Main Street’s most iconic places: the Mast General Store. Established in 1883, the Mast General Store was not only the place community members gathered, but also the store that carried everything the residents needed. “If you can’t buy it here, you don’t need it” became its slogan and that tradition continues today.

When the doors of the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, N.C., closed in 1977, residents believed it was just for the winter and that it would reopen in April. Much to their dismay however, those plans didn’t pan out and local residents banded together in an effort to save the old store. But it wasn’t until 1979 when John and Faye Cooper purchased the old store and reopened it in 1980 that it regained its reputation of “the store that had everything.” 

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The word “innovation” has a very simple meaning: a new idea or method. It’s the ability to look at something and figure out how to do it better, faster and sometimes cheaper. Although many of today’s new ideas arrive with great fanfare and shareholder frenzy, often it’s the simple things that have the most impact on a business and its customers. 

So how do you create the optimal climate for creative thinking that solves problems and pushes boundaries? At the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the biggest purchasers of beverage alcohol in the world, Executive Vice President Dr. George Soleas says you focus on the strengths of your people instead of trying to fix their weaknesses, and you let their ideas be heard.

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Doris Italian Market & Bakery’s biggest business challenge is one that is well known to many of the “little guys” – the family owned, regionally based supermarkets doing their best to find their place in a retail market dominated by large national corporations. “We’re constantly fighting for our piece of the pie,” says Joey Alfano, operations manager of the Hollywood, Fla.-based specialty supermarket. “Our success has been a result of focusing on our niche market and being different and refreshing to our customers. That’s how we keep them coming back to us instead of going to bigger supermarkets.”

The market offers its customers a level of expertise and personal attention that is often difficult to find in its larger competitors. “Our employees are knowledgeable about our products and are able to assist customers with questions or offer helpful advice,” Alfano says. “They will go the extra mile to make customers satisfied. 

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In 2008, when DLR Restaurants LLC President and COO Ralph McCracken was researching the purchase of Dick’s Last Resort with the investment group Triton Pacific Capital, he would strike up conversations with people sitting next to him on airplanes who had visited one of the irreverent chain’s distinctive locations.

“The first thing they did was smile, and they had some kind of crazy story,” McCracken recalls. “They never remembered what they had to eat, but they remembered they had a great time.” That pretty much sums up the experience of eating at Dick’s Last Resort.

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