If you could invent an innovative gadget for use in the corporate arena, what would it be? Patrick J. Kelly has a product idea to boost employee morale in Ohio's corporate environments.
"I want to develop a screen saver for cubical dwellers who don't have any contact with the outside world, and for those of us who don't have a corner office with windows," says Kelly, principal economic development executive for FirstEnergy Corp. and chairman of The Ohio Economic Development Council. "This screen saver would have a picture of a tree with foliage that changes to correspond with the changing seasons and weather that coincides with what is really happening in the climate."
On second thought, says Kelly, perhaps that's too dreary a depiction. After all, this is Northeast Ohio!
Breaking on-hold boredom
Fed up with boring, on-hold messages, Stephen Brand encourages businesses to emulate the recent experience he had when calling a California vendor.
"Before I was put on hold, they gave me an option of choosing the kind of music I wanted to listen to -- soft popular or rock," says Brand, president of The New Enterprise Factory in Akron. "I laughed, selected rock music, and didn't feel bad about being on hold for a minute or so."
Brand notes that Southwest Airlines has an even better idea -- a humorous on-hold jingle that addresses the frustrations of being put on hold.
"The song asks the question, 'Why can't Southwest get their act together and answer the phone?' When you hear it, you just have to laugh," says Brand. "But because Southwest is so good at answering the phone, you rarely get to hear the recording."
Tell-tale deposit slips
If you've ever scrawled a note on the back of your bank deposit slip, perhaps you should keep some notepaper handy instead.
Bank officials at North Akron Savings on East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue recall the bank robber wannabe who passed a note demanding all the cash in the teller's bank drawer. After seizing the currency and fleeing the scene, police and the FBI arrived, only to discover that the suspect had composed his demand note on the back of his own bank deposit slip.
"They couldn't believe the bank robber would be stupid enough to use his own bank deposit slip, but when they reviewed the surveillance tape, one of the detectives recognized the suspect as the same person who's name was printed on it," says Daniel Zampelli, a captain in the Akron Police Department's services subdivision.
The suspect was apprehended a short time later, Zampelli chuckles.
"Thank God for dumb criminals. It makes our job easier."
Business camp for kids
Michael Kolk reveals that, when choosing their children's summer camps, shrewd entrepreneurs are sending their kids to "business camp."
"By working at their parents' businesses, youngsters can learn responsibility and work skills while deriving tax and financial benefits," says Kolk, a certified public accountant and partner at Cohen & Co. in Akron.
For example, $4,400 of earned taxable income is free to the child and fully deductible to the parent's company. (Caveat: if the parent business owner claims the child as a dependent, the child can't take the personal exemption.) If your company is an unincorporated business, you don't even have to pay FICA taxes, Kolk says.
"Of course, you must ensure that your child earns his or her paycheck," Kolk warns, explaining that excess compensation can be disallowed and payments for work not performed can be considered fraud.
Considering the benefits, perhaps you should reconsider whether you want your child digging a latrine in the hot sun or photocopying documents in your air-conditioned office.
Four for franchising
Is franchising for you? Although you give up the total freedom associated with being an independent owner to become part of a group of people committed to building a brand, franchising is all about risk reduction and safety, say four local women.
Partners Julie Price, Paula Cutillo, Becki Crawford and Libby Hackel opened the first Hoohobbers franchise in Ohio in the West Market Plaza of Fairlawn in November 2000, followed by their second store in Beachwood Place in December.
Just what is a Hoohobber? It's an innovative store owned by a Chicago-based company that designs and manufactures its own product line of award-winning merchandise for children. "The company owns over 75 patents," says Hackel, "and a lot of the products we have they've been making for years, so they are very durable, hard goods."
While franchising may ease some of the complications of starting a business, hefty franchising fees can be a hindrance. But with a franchising fee at less than $100,000, the biggest concern for the four Hoohobber franchisees was receiving the proper training to operate the stores successfully. The partners enrolled in a two-week program to train and work in Hoohobber stores, followed by training in their own stores.
"They really have held our hand along the way," says Hackel.