Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Law briefs

Money votes

Though the Electoral College officially decides the 2000 presidential race Dec. 18, we already know who won the money race in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania congressional districts.

According to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, in Washington, D.C., the fund-raising champs in local races in each case also won their Nov. 7 elections.

  • District 14 (Pittsburgh): William J. Coyne (D), incumbent; unopposed, $126,572

  • District 18 (Pittsburgh): Mike Doyle (D), incumbent, $315,697; Craig C. Stephens (R), $6,009

  • District 4 (northwest of Pittsburgh): Melissa Hart (R), $1,371,461; Terry Van Horne (D), $549,322

  • District 20 (south of Pittsburgh): Frank R. Mascara (D), incumbent, $458,886; Ronald J. Davis (R), $0

  • District 12 (east of Pittsburgh): John P. Murtha (D), incumbent, $766,451; Bill Choby (R), $6,990

  • District 21 (north of Pittsburgh): Phil English (R), incumbent, $992,284; Marc Flitter (D), $236,018

A hand, not a hand-out

When a Pennsylvania construction company modified a dump truck for a one-armed driver, the company not only gained a more self-sufficient employee, it freed for other duties a second employee who previously had to ride along, and got a state reimbursement for the cost of the modification.

Site, building and transportation modifications, adaptive machinery and equipment, and specialized employer training for the disabled are eligible for up to $50,000 in grant funding from the three-year-old Independence Capital Access Network.

First, apply beforehand at the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which administers the program. After completing the project, submit expense receipts to the OVR. The agency reimburses in four to five weeks.

The disabled worker for whom accommodation was made must remain on the job for at least one year. An OVR specialist will check after about six months to confirm. How to reach: Stephanie Parker, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, (717) 787-5123

Appeal for calm

If you own commercial property in Allegheny County, you should have received Sabre Systems and Service's preliminary property tax valuation by now.

Sabre Systems was paid $23.9 million by Allegheny County to reappraise property values after a judge invalidated the existing tax system, then lifted an assessment freeze imposed by county commissioners.

The new assessments are supposed to be revenue-neutral -- for every extra $1 paid by one property owner, another owner should pay $1 less. Of course, that's cold comfort for the taxpayer with the higher bill. Local tax districts could raise their rates, though state law limits their reassessment windfall to less than 5 percent.

Keep these things in mind as you stew over your notice:

  • Sabre's appraisal estimates your property's value, not your property tax assessment. The latter is set by county commissioners, your municipality and/or school boards.

  • Go to www.reevaluation.net and enter the "e-code" on your Preliminary Notice of Market Valuation. Verify that Sabre's photo really shows your building, and that other data about your property is correct. Note any discrepancies.

  • If you want to challenge your valuation -- and everybody wants to -- contact Sabre. The information is on your notice. You'll be called to its Point Breeze office at 400 N. Lexington St. Business income and expenses, and sale prices of similar businesses, are key to estimating commercial property values. Find evidence to prove Sabre made a mistake in your case.

  • Your official valuation will be mailed around Jan. 1. Still not satisfied? Submit an appeal application to the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment. The appeals and review process is scheduled to end by Feb. 28, 2001. Get an appeal application from www.county.allegheny.pa.us, from the county, your municipality or a local library. Again, bring evidence.

  • Still unhappy? File an appeal with the Prothonotary's Office at the City-County Building within 30 days of the date on the letter deciding your county appeal. But unless you've got a very strong case -- or a really outrageous assessment -- you might bring along a signed check.

Midnight for regulators

A recent George Mason University study claims that -- like Cinderella racing home from the ball -- federal agencies rush to finalize pet regulatory projects in the final months of outgoing presidential administrations.

Jay Cochran, a research fellow at GMU's Mercatus Center, reviewed page counts of the daily Federal Register from 1948 to the present. He reports that average Register volumes swelled 17 percent in post-election November-to-January quarters, compared with the same months in nonelection years.

Opponents first noted those "midnight regulations" during the transition from Jimmy Carter's administration to Ronald Reagan's in 1980-81. Cochran says the phenomenon crossed party lines all the way back to the Truman presidency. Critics say counting Register pages is an inaccurate measure of meaningful regulatory work. Agencies say their processes -- often set to congressional and court-ordered schedules -- are largely independent of executive branch intervention. They dismiss Cochran's study as a public relations stunt by anti-regulation activists.

Good news for cell phone users?

The Federal Communications Commission may allow licensees of government radio frequencies to sublease them for commercial use in wireless and other services.

The FCC proposal seeks to encourage a "secondary market" in radio spectrum frequencies, to relieve demand pressures on the burgeoning wireless communications markets. "This demand threatens to outstrip supply and to impede the future growth of wireless services," the FCC announced Nov. 9.

If adopted, the proposal would be good news for wireless service providers and for consumers who use cell phones and other wireless telecommunications technologies.

Veterans need apply

The U.S. Small Business Administration is accepting public comment until Dec. 11 on a plan to set a 3-percent government-contracting goal for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The plan would implement parts of the Veteran Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act signed by President Clinton in August 1999.

The SBA wants additional government contract procurement assistance for veterans, including a requirement that federal agency chiefs move toward the 3 percent goal in their departments' prime contract and subcontract awards.

As part of the act, the SBA earlier this year established an Office of Veterans Business Development. The office seeks outreach to veterans, establishment of an information network and expanded access to technical assistance programs for service-disabled veteran-owned small companies.

OSHA's final ergonomics rule

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its controversial final "ergonomics program standard" in November.

No business will be spared, though companies with 10 or fewer employees won't have to keep records. More than 100 million workers at 6.1 million workplaces will be covered, with the exception of those in maritime, agriculture, construction and railways.

The rule becomes effective Jan. 16, 2001.

OSHA estimates the cost to business at $4.5 billion a year. Business groups argue it's likely to cost several multiples of that. Small business gets a few concessions in the final standard, OSHA says. In addition to the small business reporting exemption, the agency offers a "Basic Screening Tool" which companies can use to determine whether ergonomic issues require compliance action.

Employers with just one ergonomic-related injury in a job, or just two such injuries companywide in the previous 18 months, can apply "Quick Fix" solutions within 90 days. OSHA believes this will appeal particularly to smaller firms.

The final rule gives companies four years to install permanent ergonomic controls (See related article in this month's Of Counsel Quarterly.) William Hoffman is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Disabling disabilities

When Jeff Hadburg's eyesight deteriorated to the point where it became difficult to do his job, he easily could have found himself out of work.

Instead, Hadburg's employer, Highmark Inc., found out what could be done to accommodate his disability and keep him on the job in his position as a customer service representative, a job he had held for 14 years at the health insurance company.

But Highmark isn't simply being a benevolent employer; it is looking out for its own interests by enabling Hadburg and other employees with disabilities to continue to work. The tightest job market in three decades is encouraging companies to find innovative ways to attract employees and keep them.

"Quite frankly, it just made good business sense," says Elaine Gedman, director of corporate work force initiatives for Highmark, of the concerted effort it has made to keep employees like Hadburg on the job. "The unemployment rate is so low that finding good employees is a challenge for any organization."

In Hadburg's case, macular edema, a condition that makes it difficult to see small print and contrast on computer screens, threatened to prevent him from doing his job. In his position, Hadburg spends about 75 percent of his time at a computer screen. Through a process that involved consultation with his physician and an agency that helps individuals with vision impairments, Highmark fitted Hadburg's computer with ZoomText, a computer software package that magnifies text on-screen.

Had Highmark not been able to accommodate him, says Hadburg, "I probably would have gone on to some kind of permanent disability program." In that scenario, Highmark would have lost a valued, experienced employee and Hadburg would have lost a job that he enjoys.

Gedman says that achieving an accommodation is not always that simple. It sometimes takes patience and a coordination of efforts by the employer, the employee and other consultants. The effort is usually worth it, she says, because it often engenders a strong loyalty to the company.

For Highmark, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed 10 years ago and implemented in 1992, means access to a wider pool of employees to fill positions. The company long ago eliminated physical barriers for disabled workers; its focus in more recent years has been to help employees overcome less obvious obstacles that may prevent them from performing at their peak.

As Gedman points out, compliance is much less expensive when compared to the costs of recruitment and retention, lost productivity and the loss of business that could result if Highmark can't maintain its staffing levels.

Companywide, says Gedman, Highmark has about 70 employees for whom some kind of accommodation has been implemented. That doesn't include those with disabilities that don't impede their ability to do their jobs, such as a wheelchair-bound person, for whom accessibility to buildings and facilities exists. Fifth Avenue Place and the adjoining Penn Avenue Place, where Highmark has its offices, are both accessible.

Controlling costs

In some cases, says Gedman, agencies that advocate for individuals with certain kinds of disabilities will provide special equipment for them to do their jobs.

In others, they will work with employers to achieve a solution that works for both employer and employee. Most of the agencies, she says, are skilled at finding creative solutions that take into consideration the cost to the employer.

In one instance, an employee needed to have her legs elevated off the floor while she worked. The simple solution: a cardboard carton used to package computer paper put to use as a footrest. The cost: nothing.

Finally, Gedman emphasizes, providing accommodations isn't simply about complying with the law or about lowered expectations for employees who need some modification to their work environment to perform their jobs.

"It's not about lowering the bar," says Gedman. "It's about business, and it's about the bottom line." How to reach: Highmark Inc., www.highmark.com

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

The gift of giving

On page 16, SBN presents the winners of the 2000 Pillar Award, sponsored by Medical Mutual of Ohio. The award honors companies of all sizes for giving back to their communities.

Its purpose is to encourage a charitable environment and recognize creative efforts that make a difference through a four-pronged effort to:

Publicize the issue of community service as it applies to the realities of today's competitive business world; share creative ideas about how companies of all sizes are having a positive impact in their communities; honor companies that go well beyond the minimum expectation of community service; and create a sustaining fund, administered by the Cleveland Foundation, to aid local nonprofit organizations in their mission to serve the people of Northeast Ohio. Including this year's donation, the sustaining Pillar Fund contains in excess of $30,000.

This year marks the third year of the Pillar Award. Nominations are judged by an independent panel. For more information on next year's event, contact SBN at (216) 228-6397.

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Green Acres

We may never see the end of the industrial gray/off-gray walls and carpet, the windows that won't open or the constant parking battle that plagues the majority of the working masses.

However, recent trends reveal a genuine attempt to make the office a more pleasant place to visit or spend the better part of the day. Business owners have even been known to equip workspaces with couches, coffee bars and basketball hoops or buy $1,000 ergonomic chairs.

The concept of creating an alternative work environment was firmly entrenched in the mind of Marc Orzen, president of Progressive Computing Corp., a computer consulting and training firm, when he realized his company needed to move from its office space in Mentor. After investigating the cost to rent office space in a traditional corporate building, he decided to look into the alternatives.

Orzen ran the numbers on a few options, then invested in a 6.8 acre Mentor/Willoughby estate that includes a 160-year-old, 7,000-square-foot, six bedroom main house, a 3,000-square-foot carriage house, converted stables, a pool, a baseball diamond and lots of wildlife.

It may sound eccentric and expensive, but Orzen insists it's no more so than renting space in a high traffic industrial park.

"Costwise, we are paying less than three units," he says. "What you would pay for this (type of) square footage is outrageous."

But Orzen wanted the move to be more substantial than just acquiring more space; he wanted a long-term investment.

Although most of the main house has maintained a traditional domestic atmosphere, with a grandfather clock in the foyer, it needed retrofitting. Telephone and cable rewiring was needed to set up phones and a state-of-the-art computer training center, but it only took a week for employees to get in and start working.

Orzen and his staff admit there is a hefty amount of upkeep on the seven-acre ranch, but he argues the cost is comparable with maintenance fees in a corporate building and the decision was contingent on its cost-effectiveness.

Such an unique layout provides myriad opportunities for Progressive. The company holds frequent training sessions in either the main house (the old living room) or the carriage house, which has a full kitchen and a pool table. Customers are encouraged to bring bathing suits and swim during breaks or after the session.

They can have lunch in the full kitchen, at the picnic table by the pool or by one of the fireplaces. Orzen sees the campus extras as a plus for client retention.

"Our focus is to make the experience one that is not to be forgotten," he says.

Progressive's campus lends itself to a number of uses, including hosting large user-group meetings.

"The atmosphere allows clients to feel at home," Orzen says. "And, they love to come back. They look forward to coming, and that helps increase relationships."

But it's not only about the clients. Employees also benefit from the nontraditional environment. On nice days, they've been known to work by the pool, which is fully equipped with electrical and telephone lines.

"At our old office, you would go for lunch outside and be sitting in a parking lot," Orzen says.

As to whether a nontraditional office provides too many distractions to be a productive work environment, Orzen says it's not a problem.

"When you are here at your desk, you're working."

The Progressive campus is more than just a weekday office. The grounds are available to employees and their families after work and on weekends.

"My twin boys had their graduation party here," says Karen Lorenzo, director of operations.

Christmas parties, softball practice and afternoons at the pool all add to the insurance Orzen has to carry as a business owner, but he considers it a trade-off.

"I would rather have a few things and take a chance," he says.

As nontraditional as the Progressive campus is, it's also incredibly practical for a growing company. The seven acres allows it to make long-term plans, and with the extra space, there's no need to relocate any time soon. In fact, as Orzen walks Progressive's campus, he points out a building where he plans on housing a daycare facility and a workout center.

Recent studies show that a better work environment contributes to lower employee turnover and absentee rates. Orzen believes this applies to Progressive.

"Over a fourth of our employees have been here for more than seven years," he says.

And, while that may not be better than the industry standard, Orzen is sure his employees "have better tans, are better swimmers and better volleyball players (than employees at other companies)." How to reach: Progressive Computing, (440) 954-9589

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Family obligations

Running a business is difficult. The pressures on time and money can be extreme, and there is always the looming possibility of failure.

Add to this the needs of your children and elderly parents and you have a situation that is putting a strain on your sanity.

"People have to determine where their values are," says Shirley Duncan Garrett, a professional speaker and author on the issue of finding balance in your life. "Look at your checkbook and your calendar to see where you are putting your values. If you value family, then you need to create family time."

Garrett recommends picking one night a week, preferably Sunday to minimize conflicts, that will become a time for a ritual get-together. You can invite other adult friends and the children can invite a few friends as well, so you get to know their friends and they get to know yours.

"It can be something as simple as preparing and enjoying a meal together," says Garrett. "Don't make it too complicated, but don't just sit down and watch television, either. Play cards or board games. Don't make a big production out of the meal. People try to run their house like it's a business.

"It's not that big a deal. Just sit at a table and face each other and open up a time for some dialogue."

The family night chosen should become sacred. That means turning off cell phones and pagers and planning other activities around it.

Another issue that is becoming increasingly common is dealing with elderly parents.

"Most people have this belief that their parents aren't going to get old," says Garrett. "They think their responsibilities will be limited to talking to them on the phone on occasion and seeing them on holidays, then one day they will have a heart attack and you'll miss them. But as they age, they will have more and more needs."

It is important for you to become an advocate for your parents to make sure they are getting the best care. Ideally, you should talk to them while they are still well to find out what their wishes are

"Talk honestly about what you are capable of doing to help," says Garrett. "It's easy to make promises not to put them in a nursing home, but the level of care they need may require that. It's also important to understand their finances and insurance coverage."

A clear set of plans laid out in advance of any health concerns will help take care of problems, especially because this is a time when sibling rivalry or pecking order can come into play.

"To broach the topic, say, 'I am concerned about making sure that things are handled in a way that you want them to be handled,'" says Garrett. "Ask your parents if they have made arrangements in case they become ill, including living wills.

"The hardest thing about this is it is one area of our lives that we can't put off. You can't put off being with children, because you'll turn around and they'll be grown and gone. You can't say, 'Once I get my company to this level, I'm taking my parents on a vacation.' By the time you get there, they may be gone," she says.

"And if you can't find the time, maybe you need to look at why the business is controlling your life and carve our more time for yourself." How to reach: Shirley Garrett, www.shirleygarrett.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Published in Cleveland
Friday, 31 May 2002 09:41

Building an outlook

William Riffle, executive director of The Builders Exchange of Akron and Vicinity, can tell how the commercial construction industry is doing just by looking at the number of plans in the "plan room" for area projects out for bid.

"How we go in our local counties is how the state goes and how the nation goes," he says. "We are a pretty good representation of what's going on across the country."

Normally, there are 55 plans on an average day for members of the commercial construction industry association to check out. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that dropped to 20, and didn't improve for six months.

But Riffle says things are definitely looking up in the plan room. In March, the number of plans topped out at 65, the most there have ever been. When he logs onto the association's online plan room, he finds that 300 projects -- half of all those currently out for bid in Ohio -- are for $1 million or more.

"What I haven't seen here in the last six months that I'm seeing now -- in the last month, let's say -- are big projects," confirms Larry Thompson of Munroe Falls-based Thompson Electric Inc., one of the area's largest electrical contractors.

And according to Donzell Taylor, president and CEO of Fairlawn-based Welty Building Co., one of the area's largest general contractors and construction managers, there's a renewed sense of urgency to complete those projects, which is good for business.

"The year before last, when we got about 80 percent of the information we needed, we were being pushed to start and figure the rest of it out later," he says. "Last year, (customers) wanted all of the i's dotted, all the t's crossed, everything completely understood. And even when we got to that point, it was, 'Well, let's just think about this a little longer. Let's just wait and see what's going to happen.'"

Taylor and Thompson say many of the big projects are for institutions such as universities, hospitals and other health care facilities. Construction of elementary, middle and high schools "is really booming in the area, too, and it's going to continue to boom for the next couple of years."

Thompson mentions Medina County, where population growth has made building new public schools a necessity, and the city of Akron, where replacing aging schools is a state-mandated priority.

Riffle says light commercial projects -- strip malls, detached stores, offices, fast-food restaurants -- are also being built, many in distressed communities making a comeback.

"You need commercial services to support those areas," he says.

Conversely, Taylor has seen "a very severe drop off" in the construction of industrial facilities and warehouses.

Riffle estimates that 60 percent of new construction is "built for obsolescence," either in appearance or function. Institutional buildings usually have a longer useful life. But the use of high-end materials such as marble, terrazzo and solid cherry paneling to create landmark interiors is waning. Taylor says new structures also tend to be smaller.

"We are seeing most of our clients looking for a lower first cost on their buildings," Taylor says. "They want to put less bells and whistles in."

There are, of course, exceptions, such as an addition to the First Congregational Church of Hudson's 138-year-old sanctuary that Taylor's company recently completed. The structure not only matches the original Western Reserve architecture, it is endowed with extras such as 10-foot-high arched doors with large wood casings and detailed brickwork.

Riffle cites a new library to be built in Hudson, a community known for its well-preserved architecture, as an example.

"They are trying to design and build the library so that 300 years from now, not only will it still fit in with the community, but it will not be torn down," he says.

Structures in other communities are also being designed to complement their architectural surroundings. Riffle says a FirstMerit bank and a McDonald's restaurant in Barberton were modeled after the remaining barns built by O.C. Barber in the mid-1800s on his vast estate in the city he founded. Buildings in a new commercial area are being built in the same style.

How long will the building boom last?

"Next year, I think, will be better than this past year," Thompson says, "but I don't think it's going to be as good as what we've seen in the past." How to reach: The Builders Exchange of Akron, (330) 434-5165; Thompson Electric Inc., (330) 686-2300; Welty Building Co., (330) 867-2400

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 30 April 2002 07:03

Marsh madness

Cleveland is built on wetlands. Part of the reason it grew so quickly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was an absence of laws affecting construction on lands with watersheds that fed into the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.

In hindsight, there probably should have been a bit more environmental regulation. Not only would it have prevented widespread pollution, it might have spared the city from becoming a national punch line for every environmental joke.

But that's ancient history. Today, when an Ohio company wants to build on raw land, there are two governmental bodies looking over its shoulder. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demand strict adherence to environmental regulations affecting undeveloped land. What's good for the environment, however, adds considerable time and cost to any construction project on wetlands.

"It can take six to nine months dealing with the government before you can even start the project," says attorney Steven Marrer, a partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cleveland. "In some cases, it might not be worth it. You'll just have to look elsewhere."

If there is a piece of undeveloped land that's too perfect to pass up for your next construction project, here are the steps you must follow.

Step One: Get a wetlands delineation survey

Most companies need to hire an environmental consultant to perform this kind of survey, which will determine where wetlands are on the property, how they are configured and their category. The consultant will also serve as a representative when negotiating with the government later in the process.

Step Two: Fill out permits

If the construction project disturbs less than a half-acre of wetlands, your company will not usually need a special permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Ohio EPA. If the project will disturb a half-acre or more, you'll need to complete two permits -- a Section 404 Permit for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a Section 401 Permit for the Ohio EPA. Both ensure that your project meets federal and state wetlands regulations.

Step Three: Submit your plans

The wetlands permits require you to submit three versions of your construction project to the government. The first version is your ideal plan. The second is an alternative plan that will disturb fewer wetlands. The third is for the project not to disturb any wetlands.

"The third plan is usually something that can't exist," Marrer says. "It would just be too difficult to complete."

Once you have the two permits approved, you can start building. How to reach: Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP, (216) 241-2838

Categorical denial

There are three categories of protected wetlands.

Category one

These wetlands are very low quality and easily replaceable. You will not need to alter your construction project much, if at all, with this category.

Category two

These wetlands are more closely protected. They might include a water source or plant life that will be more difficult to replace. This category requires a more drastic change to the construction plans.

Category three

You can't touch these wetlands. They are considered irreplaceable.

There are Wetlands Mitigation Banks, like Trumbull Creek in Ashtabula County, where companies can purchase wetlands as a swap for the wetlands destroyed during building. Once purchased, the lands in a mitigation bank are blocked from development. Prices usually run $20,000 an acre.

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 30 April 2002 06:52

Wetlands on the Web

Here are some Web sites that can help you plan your next construction project involving wetlands.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

http://www.usace.army.mil

This site tells you the steps you need to follow for building on undeveloped land, who to contact and background on the Corps of Engineers.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency

http://www.epa.state.oh.us

The Ohio EPA's site has its Wetland Permit Application available online in PDF format. It also includes useful information about what not to do during your project -- for example, removing trees and shrubs around wetlands, since that promotes erosion.

The Ohio Wetlands Foundation

http://www.ohiowetlands.org

This nonprofit group offers wetlands mitigation bank credits with which you can buy wetlands in protected areas to replace land disturbed during construction. There is a database of available lands and how many wetlands credits are left in each area.

Eco-Pros.com

http://www.eco-pros.com/wetlands_resources.htm

If you want to learn everything possible about wetlands, the environmental education Web site Eco-Pros.com has assembled a list of resources that will make you an expert.

HzW Environmental Consultants Inc.

http://www.hzwenv.com

This Mentor-based environmental firm touts its wetlands assessment experts. The site also includes environmental legislation updates.

Ohio Association of Realtors, Wetlands White Paper

http://www.ohiorealtors.org/legal/white_papers/wp_wetlands.html

This site has an interesting but dated (1990) white paper on wetlands by the Ohio Association of Realtors. While it may not be up-to-date, the study includes a great, simply written overview about how to develop in areas with wetlands.

Compiled by Morgan Lewis Jr.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 29 April 2002 17:46

Taggarts Ice Cream

In August 1998, Ernie and Patti Schott purchased Taggarts Ice Cream for $295,000. Their goal was to bring the Canton landmark back to its original glory.

Since Joe Taggart sold the business in 1958, the restaurant has changed hands four times. As ownership changed, so did much of the devotion to the quality, until the Schotts stepped in with a mission to restore the Taggarts name.

So far, the Schotts have increased sales 110 percent since assuming ownership, and grown the employee base from 14 to 38 full-time and part-time workers.

Patti Schott, a nurse for 32 years, attributes the couple's success to their involvement with the community.

"It really has turned the place around, because the people prior to us were not really involved with the community and we have been, and we donate to any of the community organizations. It has come back to us one-hundred-fold," she says.

Along with reconnecting to the community, the Schotts invested $30,000 in restorations to the 76-year-old building, including general cleaning and painting, landscape improvements and repairs to the stucco exterior. They also replaced outdated kitchen equipment, restored much of the dining room furniture and replaced a player piano in the parlor with a more user-friendly model.

Their most noticeable improvement, however, may have been to the menu. Homemade favorites have returned, including 15 regular and 11 seasonal ice cream flavors, all made on the premises twice a week. The Schotts also use many of Taggarts' original recipes for hot fudge and the flavored syrups used in fountain drinks, homemade soups, salads and sandwiches.

Last year, revenue topped $500,000 at the 72-seat establishment, and the Schotts gave about $300 a month to local schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations. How to reach: Taggarts Ice Cream, (330) 452-6844

Connie Swenson

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 29 April 2002 17:37

Fishers Foods

Jeffrey Fisher says the consolidation of the grocery industry over the past few years has actually helped strengthen Fishers Foods position as one of the area's largest local grocery chains.

Fishers Foods, founded in 1933 by Jeffrey's grandfather, Joseph, has survived the Depression, recessions and influxes of national big-box retailers.

"There's been so many changes within the last five to six years that I think it's even strengthened our position to be an independent," Fisher says.

"As we become the lone ranger, we're the alternative to the big boxes, who really don't do what the customer wants."

Fisher, who has worked for his family's company for 20 years and as its president for the last 15, says quality and value have kept the chain in business.

Fishers doesn't strive to appeal to a particularly low-end or high-end customer, he says. In fact, he admits, "We don't have a target audience. We're not looking for low end or high end, but everybody in the middle. Then we get a lot of high-end customers and we get a lot of low-end customers."

He says a loose market definition works for the company because it has figured out how to truly deliver value to the customer. Fishers does this by offering everyday low prices that are often lower than the national chains.

"We have adopted an everyday low price strategy," he says. "No gimmicky card is needed. Even though we're a small independent, we buy directly from the manufacturers -- we don't buy through a wholesaler. We ship directly into our warehouse from the manufacturer."

He says the quality of Fishers food is exceptional, adding to the whole value concept.

"We're food people," he says. "The food should look good, the food should taste good, and the food is more important than the décor.

"You don't have to pay $25 a pound for great filet," he adds. "We have certain purveyors that work with us, and our meat cutters are trained to look for the quality, to cut it the right way."

The last key to providing value, he says, is always offering good customer service, no matter how low your prices are. That is accomplished by training employees at every level how to communicate. At the store level, he says, Fishers 1,000 employees are trained to treat the customer the same way they would want to be treated when they are grocery shopping.

At the corporate level, the company maintains a separate a separate customer service phone number, listed in the local phone book. It also is lucky enough to employ many long-term employees, who, as Fisher puts it, "carry the banner every day."

"The thing with this industry is that there's always another competitive force that's going to open up. It could be another independent, it could be a regional chain ... but there's never been a time where we felt that we couldn't deliver value." How to reach: Fishers Foods, (330) 497-3000

Connie Swenson

Published in Akron/Canton