But behind the punch lines, lawyers aren't laughing.
"We've gotten a lot of bad press locally and across the country for cases we have nothing to do with," says Gary Rosen, a partner at Goldman & Rosen Ltd. in Akron.
Disheartened by stereotypes, Rosen says that if people would look past the labels and look within their communities, they'd see attorneys as more altruistic than materialistic. Besides being a vital part of business, they're giving their time and talents to many charitable causes.
"When you think of the skill set lawyers can bring to an organization, that's what we do -- we bring our expertise to the charitable stuff we do," says Rosen.
The American Bar Association's Pro Bono Challenge urges law firms to volunteer 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual total hours worked as pro bono services. Similarly, an executive order by Gov. Bob Taft encourages Ohio lawyers to devote at least 50 hours annually of pro bono service.
"Most of us exceed that," says Rosen. "Regrettably, lawyers don't receive much credit for what they give back to the community as professionals."
While Ohio has no official reporting system for legal volunteerism, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF) tallied about 250,200 volunteer hours for Ohio attorneys in 2001. But according to Dave Ball, OLAF's associate director, this represents volunteer hours reported by less than 10 percent of the Ohio State Bar Association's active members who are involved in organized pro bono programs.
Last year in Summit County, Community Legal Aid Services recorded 1,154 volunteer attorney hours through its Volunteer Legal Services Program. The program's director, Elayne Siegfried, notes that less than 7 percent of Akron Bar Association's active members reported their volunteer hours.
In Stark County, 1,063 volunteer hours were reported through the program, representing about 11 percent of the Stark County Bar Association's active members.
But those number aren't evidence that only about 11 percent of attorneys volunteer their time, because most attorneys don't report their pro bono efforts. Why not? In the words of one lawyer who chooses to remain nameless, "I'd rather do this without getting credit for it."
The bottom line is, for whatever reason, many counselors at law don't get credit for the hours they contribute to their communities. And it's not just in terms of serving on committees for the bar association, says Rosen's partner, Irv Sugerman.
For starters, local attorneys serve on the boards of social service agencies, nonprofit organizations, professional clubs, and charitable and religious groups.
"This profession is probably more represented than any other on most of the boards in this community," says Sugerman. "That's because a lot of organizations look to lawyers for leadership."
You'll find attorneys serving meals at homeless shelters and offering their legal expertise to victim assistance, battered women's shelters and relief organizations such as the Red Cross.
"A lot of lawyers do what we do, spending our free time serving as volunteers and giving advice, time and sweat equity to organizations in our communities," says Rosen.
In conjunction with the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations, OLAF has a program that links corporate attorneys with small nonprofits that provide services to impoverished Ohioans. Through the Charitable Organizations Representation Project, corporate counsel voluntarily helps these organizations with legal issues from leases to employment matters and tax problems.
Other pro bono programs include the Disaster Legal Services Program, which provides services following natural disasters, and the Equal Justice Foundation, which undertakes complex litigation across the state.
"Private attorneys also accept clients who are not referred to them from the Volunteer Legal Services Program on a pro bono basis," says Siegfried, director of the program.
Party of the first part
Marc Merklin serves as board chairman for the Akron Community Foundation, vice chairman of the board for United Way of Summit County, and trustee for organizations including Child Guidance Centers of Akron, Family Solutions, Jerome Lippman Jewish Community Day School and Akron Bar Association Foundation. He's also president of the Jewish Community Board of Akron Inc., but he doesn't do it all to enhance his image.
"I've never had a Fortune 500 company say, 'You're the guy we want to represent us because you're so involved in the community,'" says Merklin, a partner at Brouse McDowell in Akron. "In terms of business development, I would do far more for myself if I learned to play golf."
With all the volunteer hours he puts in, Merklin is frequently asked why he's not at home, spending time with his kids.
"I'm doing this for my kids, because hopefully, I'm teaching them the importance of making your community a better place to live," he says.
Robert Friedman, an idealist who believes a community mirrors its citizens, says his professional training makes him a problem-solver who must give of his time and talents.
"My legal training is helpful in bringing people together and in promoting the social agenda within the community," says Friedman, a partner at Black, McCuskey, Souers & Arbaugh LPA in Canton.
Besides serving on numerous boards and committees, Friedman is former chairman of Leadership Stark County and prior president for organizations including Interfaith Campus Ministry, Canton Jewish Community Federation and Temple Israel.
"In volunteering, I get a sense we're helping create a better community we can all be a part of," Friedman says, "and if we do this in our own community, we're all moving toward a better world."
"Giving back is critical to who and what you are -- that's how I was raised, and that's why I do it," says Rosen of Goldman & Rosen Ltd. in Akron. "I wouldn't know how to do what I'm doing without being involved with community work."
Rosen and Sugerman devote much of their time to faith-based causes. Sugerman is secretary of Ohio Jewish Communities (a statewide lobbying/public policy organization), trustee for the Jewish Community Board of Akron, and past-president of the Jewish Community Center. And when he's not racking up pro-bono hours on the Akron Bar Association's Lawyers Assistance Committee, he coaches the Revere Baseball U-12 travel team and youth soccer and basketball teams.
"I'm grateful I'm in the type of business where I can take time out to give back to the community," says Sugerman.
Besides lecturing at universities, law schools and high schools on bankruptcy and commercial law, Marc Gertz, also a Goldman & Rosen partner, has served as president of Western Reserve Human Services, chairman of Akron Bar Association's Bankruptcy & Commercial Law Section, president of Jewish Community Center, and trustee for Akron Jewish Community Federation, among others.
"My days go 150 miles an hour at breakneck speed, and if you don't stop occasionally, breathe and think about what you're here for, life will pass you by," says Gertz. "I find that community activity grounds me, slows things down a bit and lets me think about other issues besides bankruptcy law, which can be pretty depressing."
Although Larry Vuillemin deals with trial law issues as a partner with Mentzer, Vuillemin and Mygrant Ltd. in Akron, he's better known as the counselor at law who brings human issues into the workplace.
"Years ago, Larry decided there was room to think about who we are and what we do, and room to bring our spiritual and religious values into the workplace," says Rosen. "His groundbreaking work goes beyond the more traditional involvement the rest of us have had in volunteerism."
After suffering a stoke in the courtroom during a highly publicized case, Vuillemin, then 35, had an epiphany.
"In this adversarial system, you become a trained gunfighter, and I had this attitude, 'Look what this profession is doing to me,'" says Vuillemin. "I almost quit, but then I realized, 'Larry, the problem ain't your profession, the problem is you -- is this profession here to serve you, or are you here to serve your profession?'"
In 1990, together with the Rev. Norman Douglas, Vuillemin co-founded Heart to Heart Communications -- a nonprofit organization that serves as a catalyst to strengthen the connection among a person's inner spirit, ethical values and daily work.
"Although that might have been a new endeavor for me, I'm not so sure I was doing anything new," says Vuillemin. "A lot of fine people who call themselves lawyers have always integrated their values and ethics in what they do."
Besides sprouting vocational reflection groups for doctors, lawyers, teachers, mental health professionals and others, Heart to Heart creates workplace curriculum and programming on topics ranging from ethical leadership to renewing spirit at work. FirstEnergy Corp., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Akron General Medical Center are a few client companies.
"It's vital for me to continue this because it blesses me," Vuillemin says. "It's not so much what I'm giving, but what I'm getting for my own sense of meaning and purpose in the profession -- and for my very wellness." How to reach: Goldman & Rosen Ltd., (330) 376-8336; Mentzer, Vuillemin & Mygrant Ltd., (330) 376-7500; Brouse McDowell, (330) 535-5711; Black McCuskey Souers & Arbaugh LPA, (330) 456-8341
There's strength in numbers.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
You can't always get what you want.
As those apply to seeking a business loan for working capital, equipment and inventory purchases, or business expansion, it doesn't matter whether it's is a small business or a Fortune 1000 firm. The fact is, all companies are equal in the eyes of commercial lenders. Without a clear and concise plan, a company seeking a loan won't get the cash.
"People who have been turned down for a loan will often tell you, 'Banks only lend money to people who don't need it,'" says Richard France, vice president of Middle Market Commercial Lending at Fifth Third Bank in Akron. "In reality, banks lend money every day for working capital, for equipment, for all kinds of assets -- but banks only lend money to companies that can prove they can repay the loans."
France says even though business loans are a commercial banker's bread and butter, banks are lending depositors' money, so they must be strict in their due diligence, requiring companies to prove creditworthiness. And even if Donald Trump were to apply for a $5 million business loan, he'd need to present a plan that assures the lender of his abilities as a prudent businessperson.
A plan should detail who the borrower is, the requested loan amount, how the funds will be used, how the loan will be repaid and the collateral being used. The borrower should include a concise business plan outline with information such as the date the company was established, the type of legal entity it is, pertinent management or organizational information and the product or service offered.
In analyzing a commercial loan application, the lender also considers a company's financial condition, sales and profit trends, revenue projections, cash flow, credit history and the experience and integrity of management. (See sidebar.)
"Regardless of what the capital will be used for, companies get turned down for a business loan because they don't have sufficient cash flow to repay the debt, they don't have adequate collateral and they have a troubled or insufficient credit history," France says. "But if you do your homework and you can convince the lender that the funds can and will be repaid, you will get what you need." How to reach: Fifth Third Bank, (330) 252-2000
Perhaps you've got a gut feeling that your company's sales will skyrocket this year. But it's the company's past performance -- not your premonition -- that significantly influences a lender's verdict.
"Banks look for three to five years of history that shows you can repay the amount of requested credit," says Richard France, vice president of Middle Market Commercial Lending at Fifth Third Bank in Akron.
The bank will request your current business balance sheet, profit and loss statements, financial statements for three years prior, income expense projections for three years out, accounts payable and receivable aging, a listing of fixed assets and a schedule of business debt. Other documents in a loan package, depending on the business entity, may include personal financial statements, tax returns for three years prior and the owner's resume and business references.
"Meetings are an important communication tool for organizations, but too often they're nonproductive and a waste of the employees' time," says Norma Rist, president of Norma J. Rist CEO Consulting Inc. in Akron. "That's because the person in charge hasn't properly planned the meeting."
The meeting planner's challenge, says Rist, is to first decide what sort of meeting is in order, depending on the desired result. What the employees get in that meeting should be what they see -- in advance.
For example, if the meeting is to disseminate information, circulate a timeline agenda beforehand that conveys the meeting's purpose and what will be discussed. In planning, consider the important points to be made and anticipate the group's concerns.
At the meeting, explain the purpose, cover the agenda topics within the designated timeline, distribute and discuss applicable handouts, and call for questions to be sure the group understands the information.
"If the meeting planner follows this format, everybody leaves and says, 'Wow, that was a great meeting!'" Rist assures.
If the meeting is to develop new ideas, the invitation should note that, as well as the topic to be brainstormed. This gives attendees time to prepare. In addition to stating the rules for brainstorming (for example, there are no bad ideas and no one may criticize another's idea), the agenda should briefly explain the brainstorming process, the outcome expected and the criteria used to evaluate the outcome.
How about a monthly meeting to analyze information?
"Here, participants can review important measurements to make decisions for the future," Rist says. "Those measurements include budgets, financial reports and other reports created specifically for that company that can measure and benchmark results."
This sort of focus can increase profitability, efficiency, quality, sales and revenue, Rist says.
Similarly, a future focus meeting may include a forecast for the current fiscal year and the five-year strategic plan.
"Beforehand, create a list of company opportunities to be prioritized at the meeting, based on your own unique set of criteria," Rist says. "But first, you must develop that set of criteria."
Rist suggests compiling a list of all current projects, juxtaposed with a list of possible projects most valuable to the company. The list should indicate the individuals responsible for each project, and a deadline.
"If the deadline hasn't been met, discuss what resources you need to accomplish the project and who will provide those resources," Rist says. "You'll be surprised how much will be accomplished with this focus." How to reach: Norma J. Rist CEO Consulting Inc., (330) 865-5900 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The more, the merrier
It doesn't matter whether a company has 50 employees or 500, says Akron consultant Norma Rist. If that business doesn't have the right reports, it's wasting money and missing opportunities.
"There are many things a business needs look at to run a tight ship," says Rist. "Each month, a business needs to produce reports that measure quality, monitor waste, set standards for product line achievement, and things of that nature."
That's where Rist comes in.
"I help companies decide what's important to measure, how to measure it, and I help them create reports that give them a laser-like focus on results."
Health benefits consultant Dan Pearce says that's because many employers have received premium increases of 20 percent or more this year, due in part to higher health care costs, legislative mandates, life-saving measures and managed care backlash. But properly structured premium contributions can achieve savings greater than the actual amount of the redirected premium assumed by employees.
"Contributions reduce the amount of employees carrying duplicate coverage on themselves or dependents, protecting your plan from subsidizing other employers' benefits plans," says Pearce, director of group benefits at Sequoia Financial Group LLC in Akron.
Employers who pay the entire cost of employee health insurance are increasingly subsidizing other employer plans, Pearce explains, noting that an employee who is required to contribute just $20 per month will waive coverage if his or her spouse's employer provides free benefits.
"Recent HIPAA legislation makes it easier for employees to waive their employer's plan by guaranteeing them the ability to re-enroll if their coverage changes," he says.
Pearce recommends establishing employee contributions as a percentage of the premium charged by the insurance carrier. Explain to employees their cost will change annually when premiums charged to the employer change. This can help reduce resistance to contribution changes and guard against reluctance by employers to address increases.
Contributions based on a percentage of the premium mean different amounts for single and family coverage. This can reduce or eliminate the number of employees carrying unnecessary duplicate coverage on their dependents and save an employer the difference in premium and potentially large claims in their group experience.
"Some employers establish contributions of one percentage for single coverage and a higher percentage for family coverage to further discourage double coverage on dependents," Pearce says.
Either way, finding a happy medium is key. Contributions of less than 10 percent of premium have little effect on an employee's decision to carry duplicate coverage. Excessive contributions compel too many employees to waive coverage, resulting in excessive rates and ultimately causing insurers to decline quotes for your group.
"Once you establish the percentage employees contribute, review it annually and be willing to change as need requires," Pearce says, "even if that entails lowering the percentage, to encourage employees to accept benefit alternatives that save the company money." How to reach: Sequoia Financial Group LLC, (330) 375-9480 or www.sequoia-financial.com
Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.
A national study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average monthly employee premium contributions for 2001 were $30 for singles and $150 for family coverage.
The employee-paid premium percentage varies by industry and employer size. Reported averages from various studies range from 10 percent to 35 percent, and show that public sector and larger employers tend to require lower employee contributions than smaller private sector employers.
Insurance contracts usually require minimum enrollment levels and minimum employer contributions of at least 50 percent of the premium, and allow for revised rates if the number of covered employees decreases by more than 10 percent during the contract period.
The companies that have trekked from pre-Civil War to post-Civil Rights Movement share one attribute: they've struggled to change with the times while preserving the identities symbolic of their origin.
Perhaps there's no better example than Westfield Group, a 150-year-old insurance and financial services firm in Westfield Center. In striving to steer the company successfully into the future, its leader says the challenge lies in knowing when the time is right for change -- and how much change is necessary.
"I tend to have a very good vision about where we're going, and I know that what we've done in the past won't take us into the future," says Cary Blair, a 40-year veteran of the company and its chairman and CEO since 1998.
Problem is, Blair says, resisting change can repel consumers. Embracing too much change can upset insiders. The trick is to drive systematic change while fostering both pioneering and progressive philosophies.
"If you ask a lot of our employees, they would say that what I'm driving is not systematic change, because some people in our organization feel we're moving too fast," Blair says, noting that Westfield Group has about 2,300 employees and comprises 20,000 independent insurance agencies across 16 states. "But that's natural in the change process -- the buy-in is often difficult."
Off the fence
Blair says there was a time when a company's identity endured for decades. Those days departed with blue suede shoes and black-and-white television.
To compete with a dynamic media and connect with restless consumers, companies need to revitalize the messages behind their corporate identities, and in some cases, reinvent their trademarked icons. Time and again, this company metamorphosed with that mandate in mind.
Initially known as the Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of Medina County, it sprouted in 1848 when a group of Ohio farmers formed the company to protect their properties. In 1851, it was renamed Ohio Farmers Insurance Co. -- a name it held for the next 114 years. In 1965, it changed to Ohio Farmers Insurance Group, then to Westfield Cos. in 1971. In September 2000, to reflect the multifaceted enterprise it had become, Westfield Group became the name.
As the company evolved, so did its corporate icon. There was no definitive logo until 1878, when the image of a farmer sitting on a fence was used in an advertisement to symbolize its independent and hard-working philosophy. Over time, the image was altered as it tried to enhance its identity.
The farmer grew a thicker and longer beard. Flowers cropped up around his feet. Then, a tie appeared around his neck. Eventually his image transformed into a smiling Irishman.
Then he climbed off the fence and posed with a gray-haired wife. He was pictured holding an American flag. Later, he dressed in elegant striped pants and held a fashionable hat in his outstretched hand.
Concerned that the old man had wandered too far from his symbolic origins, in 1920 the firm restored its corporate symbol to the original farmer's image. But when the name changed again in 2000, Westfield Group gave the 19th century image a most-deserved retirement after more than 120 years of service.
"In 1999, through an outside research firm, we'd started soliciting feedback from consumers, agents and employees in different locations throughout the country," says Pat Schiesswohl, Westfield's senior executive of corporate marketing. "What we got back were ideas and even sketches of images that depicted trust, knowledge and innovation -- things they all wanted from an insurance company."
Based on that feedback, and more fitting for a 21st century audience, the company's new logo links three stylized triangles that graphically gain momentum in a three-dimensional effect which draws the eye to the center. The triangles, Schiesswohl says, represent the relationship among Westfield Group, the agent community and the policyholders. The perceived motion exemplifies working together toward a common goal. The focal point represents Westfield's most important audience -- the consumer.
"While it's a new look, what we're really saying is what we've always believed," Schiesswohl says.
She says that ever since The General Assembly of Ohio granted Ohio Farmers Insurance Co. a unique charter in 1851, enabling it to operate as a stock insurance company without shareholders, it has operated solely for the benefit of its insureds, independent agents and employees.
And that, Blair assures, will never change.
Expanding the brand
The test of today's CEO is to envision the future, then coax the company culture to a state in which that vision can evolve. Blair's vision for Westfield Group is for it to become a worldwide financial services organization.
"To many people in our company, that sounds a very big stretch from the regional property and casualty company we are now," says Robert Joyce, Westfield Group's chief operating officer. "But if you look at the change we've had in the last three years, we've already taken a giant leap to becoming a worldwide financial services organization."
Joyce says that, just as the company's image has transformed over time, its services have been expanded and redefined to meet the needs of the market.
For example, in 1997, the company made a strategic decision to divest itself of its life insurance division and focus entirely on its property and casualty (P&C) business. Under the Westfield Group umbrella today, Westfield Insurance provides for about 99 percent of Westfield Group's revenue.
The P&C business offers a range of products and services for individuals and businesses: automobile, homeowners, inland marine, farm and livestock, burglary, general liability, fire and allied lines, business owners, umbrella coverage and package policies, and fidelity and surety bonds. Within its P&C category, personal lines account for 49 percent of Westfield Insurance revenue, with commercial lines providing 51 percent.
Scrutinizing the marketplace, Westfield executives acknowledged the Internet, financial service reform and other factors have significantly affected its core area of commerce. Cognizant that so much of Westfield's capital was tied up in insurance risk, management decided to diversify and invest in other businesses with a different risk profile.
To that end, Westfield Services Inc. debuted in 1998 to provide business processing solutions and data management for P&C and life carriers, in addition to other outsourcing services for insurance agencies.
At first, Joyce says, the venture was unsuccessful because the division marketed its services to Westfield's reinsurance partners. Due to changes within their own marketplaces, the reinsurers failed to develop the markets Westfield envisioned.
"Consequently, we had to reshift our focus to primary companies, insurance companies like ourselves and the independent agent," says Joyce.
The delivery model also had to be revamped.
"Our initial vision was that we would create and build a policy delivery system, put the client's policies on it and service it that way," he says. "What happened was that we had to create a mechanism where we actually brought their system in house and serviced it. To do that, we had to bring in people resources."
Charter effort, charitable endeavor
To insure the survival of Westfield's sales channel -- the independent agency model -- the company had to change in other ways. After Westfield Group's bank charter was approved in fall 2000 by the Office of Thrift Supervision, Westfield Bank debuted in February 2001 to provide a growing customer base with myriad investment services and insurance needs.
Jon Park, the bank's president, says the idea was to leverage a multitude of relationships Westfield Insurance had with independent agents, small business customers, 1 million-plus policyholders in 16 states and the company's own employees.
"Looking at where Westfield was historically positioned, we'd realized we had relied almost entirely on the independent agency system that is now under competitive threat from direct insurance carriers," says Park, referring to '1-800-call-for-your-insurance-quote' carriers.
"Our strategy now," Park says, "is to provide customers with much easier access to decision-makers than they'd have in a large bank, while providing a full range of individual banking services at highly competitive terms and rates."
To accommodate changes in its most notable diversification into the financial services industry, Westfield Group made a substantial investment in technology.
"Like most of the companies in this industry, our major systems were built about 25 years ago, so we're all mainframe oriented," Blair says. "Now we're transforming into the online real-time environment with up-to-date systems that are also Internet based."
Finally, in the spirit of corporate citizenship, Westfield Group Foundation was formed in December 2000. As a 501-C-3 charitable organization, it positioned the company as one that promotes scholarship, benevolence, competitive spirit and outstanding ethical conduct among young men and women.
"In the past, we had quietly contributed a great deal of resources to youth-related activities, and it was a coincidence that our foundation came about at the same time as our branding initiative," says Dan Shumaker, the foundation's executive director.
"But it didn't hurt to be able to get in front of 15,000 kids and all their families with our Junior PGA sponsorship," he says, referring to Westfield's five-year agreement with the PGA of America to host and title-sponsor the 72-hole Westfield Junior PGA Championship, held for the first time in summer 2001 at Westfield Group Country Club in Westfield Center.
Breaking the mold
As an old-line company, Westfield Group is committed to its strategic rebranding, which is a recreation of sorts. The challenges in that can sometimes be overwhelming, says Park. The successes speak for themselves.
Compared to an old company like Polaroid, which couldn't evolve because it couldn't break free of its culture, Westfield is a very old, traditional and conservative company, Park observes.
"But we're committed to breaking out of our mold, and we've already overcome several challenges by creating entrepreneurial pockets of businesses that can evolve under the corporate umbrella," he says.
Sizing up the firm's revamped identity, Blair says the new name encompasses all of Westfield's business ventures, the logo illustrates its forward-thinking philosophies and the new tagline, "Sharing Knowledge, Building Trust," is as authentic today as it was in 1848.
"As we continue to write our own history as an independent group of companies in the insurance and financial services arena, it's important to know where it all began and how we got to this point," Blair says. "But to get everyone to buy into the vision of the company as a whole, it's a process of good communication, over and over and over again." How to reach: Westfield Group (800) 243-0210 or www.westfieldgrp.com
Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.
Today, an investment in livestock still shares many desirable characteristics of investments in stocks, bonds and real estate. Desirable, that is, if the livestock is in demand. Among all livestock, none represents a greater investment value than alpaca.
Cuddly, cute-faced cousins of the llama, alpacas were domesticated thousands of years ago by the Incans of the Andes Mountains in Peru and first imported to the United States in 1984. Now being raised throughout North America and abroad, alpacas are typically about 36 inches tall and weigh about 150 pounds.
Alpacas are valued worldwide for their luxurious fleece, once reserved for the garments of Incan royalty. The rare fabric comes in about 22 colors and is warmer and stronger than wool, yet softer than cashmere. Textiles produced from alpaca fiber are coveted in the fashion centers of Paris, Milan and Tokyo.
As this fiber gains greater commercial value, it's predicted that continued demand will exceed current supply. That makes breeding alpacas a profitable business, as Mike and Stephanie Barnhart discovered two years ago when they started seeking alternative investments.
"My wife was raising and showing Arabian horses, but there were no tax advantages to help offset the expenses since the IRS classified it as a hobby. So we looked for another animal we could raise that would bring additional cash," says Mike Barnhart, co-owner of The Alpaca Trading Co., the ranch he and his wife officially debuted last year as a business.
Today, their livestock investment yields tax-deferred building of wealth through herd compounding, exemption from state sales tax on items purchased for their farm, deduction of expenses for the farm against other active or passive income, favorable treatment of land in property tax valuation and treatment of many sales as capital gains.
On their 19-acre farm on Lake Center Street N.W., south of Route 619 in Uniontown, the couple raises 32 alpacas of their own, including three high-quality studs. And for as little as $2.50 a day per alpaca, they board alpacas for investors who don't have their own farms. Alpaca Trading also boasts a store selling items made from alpaca fleece.
Unlike many animals, alpacas eat very little, require minimal care and space (a single acre of fenced pasture can comfortably accommodate a half dozen alpacas) and require a low capital investment. Barnhart estimates a small shelter costs $2,500 (or if preferred, a small barn is about $10,000). Basic farm equipment costs less than $1,000. Wire mesh fencing for an acre of land runs about $1,500. Feed amounts to about $300 a year.
A typical female alpaca fetches between $15,000 and $30,000, but depending on breed quality can bring an auction price of $250,000 or more. This fall, the Barnharts purchased a rare suri for $160,000, the fourth-highest price paid for an alpaca in the world.
Stephanie Barnhart says the animals also shave taxes. Depreciable over five years, sales of alpacas and their offspring are posted as capital gains from which expenses can be deducted. Because Alpaca Trading Co. is an agricultural business, the Barnharts also derive property tax advantages.
Best of all is their return on investment.
"Even though Alpaca Trading started with two alpacas and we reinvested most of our income into breeding and purchasing additional animals, we've still realized a 25 percent return on our investment to date," she says.
Barnhart says that once the hoped-for herd population is reached, the rate of return can be as high as 70 percent over three years of breeding.
How to reach: The Alpaca Trading Co., (330) 244-9313
Adorning a wall in the operations department at Carter Lumber Co. in Brimfield Township, a mural depicts a logging truck rolling down a dirt road, approaching what appears to be a growing business district.
Proudly, Neil Sackett recounts the painting's symbolism.
"That old lumber truck is rolling through time, starting in the 1900s when my grandfather, W.E., earned his apprenticeship in the timber trades," says Sackett, president the Carter Lumber Co. stores nationwide. "He worked at a lumberyard in southeast Arkansas, doing everything from sawing logs to leading mule-driven logging teams through the woods."
Sackett refers to the company's founding father, Warren E. Carter, who came to Akron in 1927 to visit a brother who worked at Goodyear. While here, Carter drove by the Gough lumberyard on North Case Avenue in Kent and chatted with owner Clyde Gough.
Gough offered him a foreman's job at $22 a month. Five years later, Carter and a co-worker, T. Neil Jones, bought the lumberyard's assets from the bank, which had foreclosed on the company during the Depression.
"That was the beginning of Carter-Jones Lumber," says Sackett, one of 20 family members currently involved in the business. "So the buildings in the mural represent the lumberyard he took over, and the many yards and stores he built after that."
Today, the Carter enterprise has a presence of 220 locations in 10 states. Annual sales top $560 million and the company provides jobs for 4,000 people, 200 of them at the 50,000-square-foot corporate headquarters on Tallmadge Road in Brimfield.
"We've grown to be more of a contractor-oriented store that also services retail trade and do-it-yourselfers. But recently, we've gone back to the basics of our founding business plan," Sackett says.
Those basics are the core business strategies W.E. Carter used to build his empire -- keystone philosophies that foster a corporate culture based on hard work and customer satisfaction.
The giant speaks
For years, this lumbering giant intentionally kept a low profile, avoiding publicity. But in 1998, the family acknowledged that its silent approach had a negative impact on the bottom line.
"Most consumers weren't really sure who Carter Lumber served. Some thought we catered exclusively to contractors. Some contractors thought we just serviced do-it-yourselfers," Sackett says, explaining that about 70 percent of Carter's business was with contractors, with 30 percent stemming from DIY sales.
An image-building campaign was crucial to Carter's success as a smaller chain, and timing was critical. Housing starts were booming. Home improvement superstores were taking root. Americans were spending billions annually on home improvements.
The family turned to Hitchcock Fleming and Associates Inc., an Akron-based advertising and public relations firm, to launch a massive marketing campaign. Through television and radio commercials, a Web site and a newsletter, the campaign branded the company as "The Yard at Carter Lumber" and promoted its founding principles of customer service.
"We also made it more convenient for contractors to do business with us by designating contractor sales representatives who travel to a contractor's job site to offer advice, provide material supply lists needed for construction jobs, track inventory for the builders, and take orders right on site," Sackett says.
This necessitated automating a company that was still handwriting tickets after 60 years.
"Our new point of sales computer system at each store enables us to give customers better service, make better decisions on the products and inventory levels we need and better market to our customers," says Jeff Seder, vice president of technology.
Seder notes that the Enterprise software system databases information including the customer's identity, and product types and quantity each contractor typically purchases. Since companywide implementation was completed in March 2000, Carter Lumber sales representatives and the company's marketing and purchasing departments have benefited by the on-time access to this data.
Unit of one
"W.E. believed that, no matter how many stores you have, if you run the whole company like one store, your customers are better served," Sackett says.
How does Carter Lumber achieve that goal with its 220 locations?
"You build your one store, decide how many people you need there to serve the customer, the management style that's needed, and the amount and quality of products you need," he says.
Typically staffed by eight to 10 employees, each store is about 6,000 square feet, situated on six acres, with two or three pole buildings. The company seeks to position its stores on a main thoroughfare into a city, targeting areas that big competitors avoid.
"Most important, to duplicate your business model, you have to run each store based on your foundation philosophies," Sackett says.
Instilling those principals in 4,000 employees calls for constant training within the ranks and communication from the top down.
"The more your people know what's expected of them, the better your customer service is, and that all ties back into sales," says Jeff Donley, the company's senior vice president and chief financial officer.
It starts with Carter Lumber's human resources department, which conducts training at the company headquarters and in the stores.
"We start with the basics, teaching the value of a customer, why customer service is so important and what's expected of our employees," says Donley. "The basics are courtesy, helpfulness and speed to ensure the customer's overall experience is a positive one. Our contractors' time is money to them, so we honor that and try to get them in and out of the store as quickly and efficiently as possible."
Training also covers product availability and quality issues.
"That involves offering quality products that are competitively priced, making sure we have the product we say we will and taking care of any problems right away," Donley says.
District managers instruct yard managers and store employees about the company's products and how they should be used. This level of management also ensures that each employee lives up to the company's and the customers' expectations.
"Through our district managers, we're trying to send a consistent message from the top right on down, so that we can run each store like one store, and the result of all our efforts to train and communicate is good customer service," says Donley.
Neil Sackett says his company subscribes to the philosophy that, if top management believes in the company's business philosophies, district managers, yard managers and employees will emulate that example.
"When our leaders work hard, that dedication is a role model to the district managers. They see that and we expect that to trickle down," he says. "We try to create an environment people want to come into every day, and a big part of that is integrity."
Of course, money is always a motivator, so compensation plans reward managers with "a piece of the bottom-line pie," Donley reveals.
Unfortunately, Donley's predecessor wanted too big a piece, and Carter Lumber is still rebuilding after the incident that happened last summer.
In October 1999, Kenneth J. Azar Jr. was fired from his position as senior vice president and chief financial officer, a position he'd held for eight years. Then last July, according to Emily M. Sweeney, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio, Azar was charged with three counts of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud.
Between 1994 and October 1999, Azar allegedly embezzled about $6.2 million from the Carter enterprise. He was also accused of committing bank fraud for his alleged role in making fraudulent loan applications.
Forward-looking, looking back
Asked how the current economic downturn might affect the company's bottom line, Sackett remains optimistic.
"I believe our type of business will maintain and continue to grow during this time, because a lot of our business is through the small pro that does a lot of remodeling," he says. "People still have to remodel bathrooms or do a small addition vs. building a new home, so we're not hit quite as hard during recession periods as larger builders."
In view of the company's 6 percent increase in sales last year, Sackett says the refocus on W.E. Carter's founding principles will continue to pay off.
"We saw our market increase at a slow rate between 1995 and 2000, but that was because of the heavier competition," he says. "Now, we're growing at a sound pace, and we'll continue to do that." How to reach: Carter-Jones Lumber Co., (330) 673-6100 or www.carterlumber.com
When W.E. Carter and T. Neil Jones established Carter-Jones Lumber Co. in 1932, the partners made $1,600 in their first year in business.
Five years later, Jones sold out to Carter, and within a year, Carter expanded to two more lumberyards in Wooster and Fairlawn. He also began constructing tract housing in several Ohio cities.
"W.E. had good business sense and believed in putting everything back into the business. He lived in an apartment above the first lumberyard and only took out $12 a week for himself so he could keep building on what he had," says Carter's grandson, Neil Sackett, president of Carter Lumber Co.
Then, when Van Carter returned from the war and began working alongside his father, the company began expanding throughout the Midwest as Carter Lumber Co.
"Dad wanted to begin a cash-and-carry lumber company called Cashway Lumber Co., which became quite successful. In the early '60s, we changed the name to Carter Cashway Lumber Co. and eventually became Carter Lumber Co.," says Bryan Carter, CEO.
By 1965, Carter Lumber Co. had grown to 12 lumberyard stores. Van Carter was president and CEO until he died in 1988, and W.E. continued to work in the business until he passed away last summer at the age of 101. At that time, the company was doing $550 million in annual revenue.
"Today, the parent company is Carter-Jones Cos. Inc., and we have eight subsidiary companies in the lumber retail business doing business in nine states as Carter Lumber Co.," says Jeff Donley, senior vice president and chief financial officer.
There's also Carter Development Co., which does various land and development projects in Ohio, and Carter Woodcraft Centers, which manufacturers doors and trusses. The company's building and supply distribution center outside Columbus feeds the company's lumberyards.
Bryan Carter notes that, by design, Carter lumberyard stores offer environmentally responsible products and energy conserving items such as engineered wood products, fiberglass and cellulose insulation. Commendably, he says, Carter Timber Co. owns 72,000 acres of Arkansas timberland, operating under the industry's best-management guidelines.
"We actively plant about 500,000 tree seedlings annually, and our foresters practice clean harvesting techniques on our land, selectively harvesting trees," he says.
And to honor the firm's founders, the original store on Case Avenue in Kent still does business today under the name Carter-Jones Lumber Co.
When Steve Brand goes grocery shopping, he can't wait to get to the checkout counter. The interactive cash register, that is.
"I actually scan my own food products these days because it's an interactive process for me and I'm having a blast -- it's like a little boy's toy," he laughs.
The do-it-yourself checkout counter typifies the experience trend that's becoming a defining characteristic of a successful company competing in today's experience economy, one in which goods and services offer consumers unique and memorable experiences. Richard G. Barlow put it simply in the April 17, 2000, issue of Advertising Age.
"What captivates us now is special stuff ... that symbolizes something. And, more compelling than stuff, are experiences -- events, trips, places, sights, sounds, tastes that are out of the ordinary, memorable in their own right ... and fulfilling in a way that seems to make us more than we were," Barlow wrote.
"That's what I mean by the interactive cash register at Tops," says Brand. "Not a lot of people are using it, so I don't have to wait on line, and it makes buying easier. It's an experience that takes me, the customer, out of the spectator role, and puts me into the interactive state."
In their book, "The Experience Economy," authors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore point out that goods and services are rapidly becoming commoditized. Excellent customer service is no longer enough. Companies are now under pressure to create enticing experiences for consumers.
Of course, this trend is partially due to the advent of e-commerce. Spoiled by interactive buying experiences in which they have more control and more choices, consumers have come to expect similar interaction from bricks-and-mortar businesses -- particularly in the retail and service industries.
"If you want your company to stand out from the competition, you have to create experiences that engage customers in a personal way," Brand says.
As president of The New Enterprise Factory in Akron -- a marketing firm dedicated to helping businesses create unique ways to add value to their offerings -- Brand helps businesses do just that.
"It's like the next step after guest services. The whole concept is to surround people with experiences because people want to experience life," he says. "As consumers, we want to have enriching experiences that spark our emotions and our imaginations."
Who better to help stage those experiences than this self-dubbed "branding expert." Before becoming "chief imagination officer" of his own firm in 1996, Brand was president and director of Inventure Place--The National Inventors Hall of Fame; vice president of exhibits and education at Liberty Science Center in New Jersey; and new ventures consultant at Ford Motor Co.
Brand is also host of Enterprise Factory Radio, broadcast each Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. on WERE 1300 AM. A new concept in public entertainment and communication, the interactive radio and Internet experience challenges listeners to think in innovative ways about business, and life itself.
As an expert in experience development in museum and corporate arenas, here are Brand's "Top Five Characteristics of Compelling Consumer Experiences."
1.Surround the consumer experientially on as many sides as possible, tapping into as many senses as possible. Whether your image is a soothing or vibrant approach, it must consistently surround the customer on all sides, Brand says. "Borders appeals to senses of sight, sound and touch with interactive experiences that make you feel intelligent. All these experiences, in turn, generate sales."
2. Challenge customers by building their self-confidence. "Customers actually want to be challenged because it makes them feel intelligent and capable. For example, I am not a handy guy -- I hate home-improvement projects -- but I go to Lowe's and I walk out with projects," Brand laughs.
"They have workshops and salespeople that show me how to do something, without insulting my intelligence. They sell me the products that will help me get it done. And they assure me they'll be there as a resource if I need them."
3. Intrigue multiple age levels simultaneously by creating an entertaining experience. "At Joe's Crab Shack, every hour the servers start singing and dancing, and it's hysterical," he says. Many sports venues "create experiences for all ages -- the adults get into the excitement of the sport, and the kids get excited by the mascots, the vendors and the children's competitions held between innings. These experiences are entertaining for all ages."
4. Create memorable experiences that are not likely to occur elsewhere. "(Akron's) First Night keeps people coming back because it's so unique and memorable, it creates such a buzz. Where else can you see all the cultural arts, in one huge space, on one night that's like no other night in the year?"
5. Connect to different types of learners when introducing them to your products and services. "Some people like to read. Others prefer to watch a video. Some like watching others learn. Others want to ask a barrage of questions," Brand says.
"If you want to compete in this experience economy, you have to think differently about your business, and stage memorable experiences that customers will want to have again at your establishment." How to reach: The New Enterprise Factory (330) 864-1518 or www.enterprisefactory.com
Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.
Some HR professionals laud the ADA as a statute that prohibits discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. Other groups see it as legislation resulting in more regulation, increased litigation and greater expense.
"What I was surprised to learn was that it's not that difficult or expensive to comply with ADA or to employ the disabled," says LeMond, marketing manager for Time Warner Cable in Akron.
According to the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 50 percent of workplace accommodations cost less than $50; 31 percent cost nothing.
For example, to prevent computer screen glare for an employee with an eye disorder, an employer purchased an antiglare screen for $39. For a plant worker who had difficulty using the telephone due to a hearing impairment, the company installed a $48 telephone amplifier.
A person in a wheelchair could not use a desk because it was too low; the solution, which cost nothing, was to raise the desk with wooden blocks.
"The four most common disabilities among noninstitutionalized people are arthritis, hypertensive disease, hearing impairment and heart disease," says John P. "Jack" Harris II, Ph.D., a professor of business administration at Malone College's School of Business. "Accommodating employees with those disabilities is often just a matter of making small changes."
People who are blind or in a wheelchair know what they needs, says Harris, who teaches LeMond's HR management class at Malone. An employer must only ask how to adapt equipment to accommodate their impairments.
While there are costs involved with ADA compliance, the government provides ADA-specific tax refunds for businesses. And employing people with disabilities creates an opportunity to better reflect America at large and, therefore, better positions a company to capitalize on the $796 billion in annual aggregate spending power of people with disabilities.
According to Alan Reich, president of the National Organization on Disability, one of five Americans is disabled. Considering all the advantages, says Harris, employers pondering staffing solutions would do well to recruit people with disabilities -- the single largest and most diverse minority in the nation and a major untapped source of high-quality employees. How to reach: Malone College School of Business (330) 471-8247
Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.
A mission for modification
With a mission statement to hire people with disabilities, Sage Computer Services Inc. hasn't found it that difficult to accommodate its work force of 200 employees, about 30 percent of whom have disabilities.
"Whenever an employee needs special accommodations, the HR department and our CEO review a request for the equipment, with an accompanying medical form," says Debra Prioletti, chief officer of the Akron data processing firm, a subsidiary of Kent-based Coleman Professional Services.
"In our 14 years of operations, I can't think of any request we've turned down, be it a spring-loaded pair of scissors or a special chair," she says. "But the most expensive accommodations included ramp installations, larger parking spaces and handicapped-accessible restrooms."
For accessibility guidelines and standards, contact the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board at (202) 272-5434, or visit its Web site at http://www.access-board.gov.