Remote deposit capture is a treasury management service that allows your company to deposit checks immediately upon receipt by using an electronic scanner, without the need to visit a bank. It saves time, increases productivity and lets employees focus on areas that most benefit the business, using resources in the most cost-effective manner.

“Remote deposit capture reduces your transportation needs substantially. A courier may only need to travel to the bank once per week, as very few items need to go to the bank in paper form — an 80 percent reduction in transportation,” says Kerri Werschky, retail sales manager at First State Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Werschky about how remote deposit capture enhances your banking and business.

How can remote deposit capture improve your operations with time and cost savings? 

By using remote deposit capture, substantial savings come from reducing your transportation expenses and allowing employees to focus on other tasks. Most items can be captured, with just a few that must be deposited in paper form at a bank. According to, a business depositing 10 checks daily to a bank 5 miles away, could save $722 on mileage, $3,930 on recovered labor, $393 on increased productivity and improve cash flow acceleration annually by using remote deposit capture.

This banking service also provides quality control when your accounting system directly receives the data. With this, businesses can access copies of prior transactions, save time and paper because deposit tickets aren’t needed, and still print reports identifying the day’s deposit.

How does remote deposit capture accelerate the collection process?

As payment technology evolves, remote deposit capture has become a fundamental part of the collection process that businesses should be using. Checks sitting in a drawer don’t help cash flow and availability of funds, especially if you are unable to drive to the bank daily to make deposits. You need to quickly process checks through the system for collection.

Remote deposit capture allows extended deposit cutoff times for same-day ledger credit and more flexibility. With the convenience of scanning and depositing checks electronically from your office, employees can easily incorporate the service into your daily business processes. No more rushing to the bank at the end of the day to beat the closing time. In addition, a company with several locations can consolidate banking relationships, even if a bank is not in the same geographic area.

How are remote transfers tracked?

Just by handling transactions through remote capture banking at your own office, you increase accuracy and control. As transactions occur and are finalized, you can keep a close watch on them through online banking. This secure information is convenient, which gives flexibility when transferring money and making payments.

You can make deposits from multiple and/or remote locations, and then centrally track deposit reporting and reconciliation. This consolidation gives businesses a chance to vastly improve payment reconciliation management and the ability to research prior deposits.

What has been done to reduce fraud with remote deposit capture?

Banks work hard to mitigate and manage the fraud risks related to check processing. Remote deposit capture reduces this risk, though, as returned check deposits can be recognized earlier with accelerated clearing.

However, it is vital that businesses also take precautions on their end. Put strong, effective control measures in place around remote deposit capture and check processing to limit exposure. Have written policies and procedures for employees to regularly follow, as well as established security measures for handling checks after scanning.

By utilizing a cost-effective remote deposit capture service in your business, you stand to gain a wide-range of benefits — accelerated clearings, improved availability, enhanced cash flow with better cash management, reduced return item risk, transportation savings and convenience, and the ability to consolidate deposits from multiple and/or remote locations — that all translates to better operations and more profitability.

Kerri Werschky is a retail sales manager at First State Bank. Reach her at (586) 863-9485 or


Find out more about remote deposit.


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Published in Detroit

Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.

In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.

After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.

Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.

Different points of view

The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.

For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.

The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.

Re-engineering and realigning perspectives

As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.

Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.

Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.

For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.

Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.

Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or

Published in Houston
Saturday, 31 March 2012 21:01

How Lean Six Sigma can help trim waste

If you’ve tuned into a news program or read a newspaper recently you’ve undoubtedly noticed that health care providers are struggling with increased cost, increased workload and funding cuts.

While looking for ways to deal with these problems, some health care institutions have found a possible solution in a very interesting place. Taking a page from the manufacturing industry, health care institutions are incorporating the Lean Six Sigma methodology. “Health care providers have started to understand they need to look from a process-based approach to gain efficiencies,” says Ed Siurek, Director of Quality at Corporate College. “Because of the increased scrutiny on costs, they have to find ways to keep patient care at a high level while minimizing as much process waste as possible.”

Smart Business spoke with Siurek about using Lean Six Sigma within health care institutions and its impact.

What does health care see in Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a process-based set of tools. It can be applied to anything that follows or should follow a standard process. While the practice of medicine doesn’t really fall into this category, most things within a health care facility do. Think for a moment about all the administrative processes involved in running a hospital. Optimizing these not only increases efficiency, but the ancillary benefits to the staff, doctors and patients can be significant.

What’s driving this approach?

Quite simply, these organizations understand they must become more efficient in order to maintain their current business. Patient populations are continuing to grow, procedures are becoming more expensive and liabilities are a real part of everyday life. There is also the push from the ‘payers.’ Insurance companies and the federal government continue to push the industry to reduce costs.

In addition, there is the availability of information to the consumer. Consumers (or patients) have increased capabilities to understand their choices. While some individuals might not have the luxury to evaluate which facility they will use, many outpatient or elective procedure patients do. They shop for the best services available and hospital patient satisfaction results play a big role in some of these decisions. Creating the best possible patient experience means eliminating waiting times, paperwork and any other problems.

Is there a difference in the approach taken by health care versus manufacturing?

Essentially, there is no difference. Because Lean Six Sigma is a process-based tool, it can apply to any individual process. However, many health care facilities choose to use their own terminology to ease the process. Because Lean and Six Sigma are often associated with a manufacturing environment, the difference in terms and even modification of the key practices allows a smoother transition into the ultimate goal of continuous improvement.

Are there any pitfalls or obstacles to implementing this type of program in a hospital?

Many Lean Six Sigma practitioners have seen some level of resistance. Although this isn’t unusual, it is a bit different in clinical settings. Lean Six Sigma is not something to be applied to the practice of medicine, but rather to the processes within the institution. It has been applied to the transport of patients, medical billing, and redesign of work cells to optimize the flow of information and to reduce the amount of waiting by doctors, nurses and patients. If this point is carefully defined in the early stages and there is diligence in keeping a processed-based approach, individuals can see the benefits and ultimately adopt the program. Unfortunately, there have been examples where the lines between process improvement and patient care have become blurred and the program most likely fails to achieve any positive impact.

What are the benefits to using Lean Six Sigma in health care?

Lean Six Sigma is merely a tool used in the continuous improvement process of an organization. With the external regulatory and financial pressures placed on health care today and the increased demand from patients for the best possible experience, these organizations need to have a way to continuously monitor and improve all of their processes.  In the end, the benefits are seen not only by the institution, but much further into the community. Better processes make employees feel better about what they are doing. Customers (or patients) have a better experience and the institution is able to eliminate wasteful processes that can directly impact their bottom line.

In addition to improving the patient experience, health care institutions can and have seen significant impact within the administrative portion of their business. As it does in any office setting, Lean Six Sigma can help to reduce variation and waste. Determining root causes and then streamlining processes saves time, effort and headaches for everyone involved. Consider the number of transactions conducted in one day at a typical hospital that do not directly involve the treatment of a patient. If you are able to cut even 5 to 10 percent, you can achieve significant cost savings.

What do you see as the end result of these programs?

Continuous improvement is a critical component to any business. In the field of health care, it can result in organizations increasing their internal efficiencies, patient satisfaction, employee involvement and overall strength of the business.

For medical staff, optimization can lead to the elimination or reduction in wasted time and effort, allowing more time with patients. Health care professionals always say they became involved in the field to help people. Elimination of wasted activities gives them that opportunity.

Lean Six Sigma is a preventive medicine that can be used on processes to avoid problems in the future. Many institutions have become more involved in using these techniques and the success stories become more significant every day.

Ed Siurek is Director of Quality at Corporate College.  Reach him at (216) 987-2838 or

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Published in Cleveland

Lisa Huntsman knows that the key to success in today’s economic climate isn’t just finding ways to do more with less but, in many cases, just doing more with the same.

“Those that can respond quicker with good information are the ones more than likely that will get awarded the business,” says Huntsman, the president of the New Philadelphia, Ohio-based manufacturer Lauren Manufacturing.

Huntsman has been focused on this task since the recession first impacted the manufacturing industry and Lauren’s 250 employees back in 2008.

“There is a whole crunch of everything has to be the same quality but just continue to push it on the lead-time standpoint,” says Huntsman. “I think we’re doing a good job of delivering on that.”

To keep up with increasingly shorter lead times, get the highest return for shareholders and meet the needs of new and potential customers, the company had to reevaluate its systems and staffing to make efficiency the top priority.

“If we just keep doing what we do then we’ll always get what we get,” Huntsman says.

“There’s a lot of revenue invested from the company’s standpoint to get new projects launched, and we’re really working closer with our sales teams and with our customers to make it quicker when possible and make sure we’re not dropping the ball anymore.”

The first step was looking for inefficiencies in staffing, including duplicate personnel or areas of waste in the administrative process.

“It’s not just saying, ‘OK, it’s just getting too busy over here,” Huntsman says. “It’s do we look at the job content? Are there some things our folks are doing that seem unnecessary?”

The organization has also been more conscious about adding new people, ensuring it builds its team with talented people, who have targeted roles and are capable of making informed decisions to drive results.

“We all make mistakes, but there are some people who are very conservative and are never willing to put themselves out there,” she says. “We’re looking for the people that are willing to take a very educated set of information and say, ‘Let’s go with this.’”

Empowering employees to make decisions enables a faster speed to market for products and services by elimination bottlenecks in decision-making that slow progress.

“We believe in driving the decision-making process to the front line as much as possible from customer service and engineering, giving them the tools so they can make those decisions and feel empowered to do that,” Huntsman says.

Part of that empowerment is also the result of coaching. Huntsman says she takes time to talk to employees regularly on an informal basis or after the big meetings in order to learn their challenges and figure out how the company can facilitate and empower their decision-making.

“I think knowing that they have our support that it’s OK,” she says.

Huntsman says the other key to increasing operational efficiency is setting clear priorities so that people don’t get distracted from the most important goals, for example, speed of service. By making sure that your company continues to partner with the right customers, work on the right projects and keep people focused in the right areas, you can continue to deliver at a competitive level.

“No. 1 is making sure that we don’t get distracted trying to be everything to everyone, and then nothing gets accomplished,” Huntsman says.

By being able to do more with its people, operations and systems, the company was able to achieve 12 percent sales growth in 2010.

“We have made positive strides,” Huntsman says. “Our business has continued to increase in sales, and I think everybody, not just Lauren, has to work harder with less people than we did prior to the recession. I don’t see that changing.”

How to reach: Lauren Manufacturing, (330) 339-3373 or

Divide and conquer

One of the reasons Lauren Manufacturing has accomplished growth despite operating in a challenging industry is by continuing to be diversified in the business sectors that it serves.

“We have a couple targets that we’re always going after,” says President Lisa Huntsman. “It’s just trying to keep a balanced portfolio of customers in the industries that we’re in that has been the key to our success. That’s how it started and that’s how we continue to move forward.”

This diversity gives the company the advantage of increasing penetration in a range of industries, including transportation, solar and lighting. While many of these sectors haven’t grown on their own, the company has taken more of the market share from its competitors by targeting business opportunities and focusing its efforts where they are most needed.

“I always go back to say making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket keeps the company healthy,” Huntsman says. “We really try to make sure that no one customer has more than 10 percent of our business to make sure that we’re serving multiple sectors.”

Again, this is only achieved by having team of people who can effectively make good decisions based on their knowledge of customers and the business.

“In our business, from the time you quote to the time when you can turn it into production can be six to 12 months,” Huntsman says. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions upfront, because that’s going to have an impact down the road.”

Published in Akron/Canton

Joe Gingo, chairman, president and CEO of A. Schulman Inc., was brought in to sell the struggling company in January of 2008. But by focusing on improving processes and operational efficiencies, Gingo led A. Schulman to generate $200 million in cash by the end of that same year. Undertaking several acquisitions, the company was no longer for sale.

A. Schulman is now a leading international supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins, with 30 manufacturing and support centers worldwide employing approximately 3,000 people.

Gingo served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.

What are keys for operational efficiencies?

One, you have to have a process, and two, you have to have a leadership that drives it — a leadership that actually believes in it and makes it happen.

Continuous improvement has to be driven from the top down. It has to be something that’s built into your culture, where people actually look to improve everything they do, every day of the week.

How do you look at waste reduction?

People that look at lean tend to just look at it from a manufacturing standpoint, and that’s a big mistake. Everything can be processed, and some of your biggest savings come from that type of thing.

A good example for us was working capital. We had a great deal of concern about working capital when I first came to the company, and we laid out a program and actually developed it down to a board game.

We made a tremendous reduction in working capital. Why? Because the people that actually controlled working capital learned about working capital.

What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?

Take your time upfront to get your team behind it. I don’t believe that you can just force these things. You really need to do a lot of work up front in designing the process and getting buy in from your global team.

What I’ve learned in the past is that without this buy in upfront, without this agreement as to what the process is, implementation gets sidetracked. Things start to happen along the way and delay everything.

How do you get buy in for initiatives?

Don’t give them the solution. Give them the problem.

Communications have to go up and down in this process. From the top is, ‘Here’s what our issue is and here’s why it’s an issue. Here’s why it’s important to us. Here’s how it affects you. This is how you benefit if you do this.’ Then listening to the people when they say, ‘OK. Well, if that’s the real problem, here’s how you solve it and this is what we need. These are the tools we need.’ Then you as the leadership have to provide these tools.

What processes does A. Schulman have to maintain continuous efficiency?

What we attempt to do is, through the Lean process, not only identify the problem areas but establish a priority for them. Priority can come two ways. One way, obviously, is ‘What’s my biggest problem?’ But sometimes that’s really hard to solve.

Sometimes you actually take a little problem that you know you can resolve extremely quickly through that whole chain. Solve that problem, give people credibility that this is going to work, and then you attack each problem along the way. And my experience is you keep redefining the process.

How long should initiatives take?

I look at it as a payback within two years — two years or less — especially for a major initiative (that) is going to cost us a lot of money.

We look at ROI. It’s a very important thing. If it’s going to be over two years, it better be really strategic and it better be really critical to our long-term situation.

Published in Cleveland

Acquisitions left Omnova Solutions Inc. with a fragmented IT platform composed of 27 disparate systems several years ago, complicating communications for the emulsion polymer specialty chemicals and decorative and functional services company.

Omnova decided to standardize and streamline its platform using lean Six Sigma in its process improvement efforts, eventually choosing a new platform with SAP. This change cut costs and improved communications for the 2,300 employees among its facilities in America, Europe and Asia.

Chairman, President and CEO Kevin McMullen served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.

What are keys for operational efficiencies?

It starts with a culture that is embedded with continuous improvement mentality. In everything you do, there’s an opportunity to improve it tomorrow better than you’re doing today. If you don’t have that as a culture, then a lot of the other things fall short of the mark.

Secondly, you clearly need to have solid leadership and solid capability for people to work on solving problems and improving process.

Third, it’s a framework. We chose lean Six Sigma as our primary framework for problem solving and operational excellence. It allows us to get a lot of people involved — the people that are closest to the action who know the most about any individual process.

What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?

Are you really defining the problem that needs to be solved? Or are you trying to solve a symptom of the problem? Getting to the root causes of what the problem really is, and getting a very clear definition of the problem that you’re going to charter a team to go solve, is job one.  You need to involve a lot of people to get a lot of different perspectives on that to ensure you have the right problem.

One technique in lean Six Sigma is called the ‘five whys.’ We don’t do anything until we’ve asked the question ‘Why?’ five times to try to get to root cause.

After that, it’s making sure that you have the right team in place and the right resources in place to do it. Make sure that they understand what the business case is for — ‘Why is this worth me spending my time doing this? What are we going to achieve if Fraunhofer F we’re wildly successful?’ — so that everyone who’s involved in it understands what the goal is.

Who decides what the problem and goals are?

We will have top-down ideas of areas we think that there’s opportunity. We will then charter a team to study that and potentially redefine the problem but working in that area.

We will have a framework of what we think the improvement can be. We’ll ask the team as they are getting chartered and getting set up to reaffirm that ‘Yes, in fact, after we looked at this, we believe that this is the right problem to solve. Here are the metrics we think we should be held accountable for.’

Surprisingly enough, the metrics that they come up with are frequently tougher than the metrics we had from our top-down standpoint, because they’re closer to the issue and they believe that they can achieve things at certain rates.

How do you get buy-in for initiatives?

Once you really nail what the issue is and what the impact will be on your enterprise if you’re able to go from here to there, once you get that and you are able to communicate that effectively to people, all of a sudden buy-in becomes a lot easier.

I’ve seen a lot of situations with organizations where someone is promoting going one direction or another and they don’t really have a strong business case. People are questioning, ‘Why do we want to do that? Is this motivated out of some other reason?’

The biggest detractors of saying, ‘There’s no way we should do that,’ you want to get them involved. Maybe they have a great idea that’s actually going to help improve what you’re going to do from A to B.

If they’re involved in coming up with the answer, they’re very enthusiastic about seeing it through.

Published in Cleveland
Friday, 29 April 2011 13:39

Keeping growth in check

Surviving this economy has been a challenge for all companies, especially those in commercial real estate like Casco Contractors Inc. But it’s not the biggest challenge on President Cheryl Osborn’s mind.

Her sights are set higher – on not just surviving, but maintaining stable growth through the downturn. She achieves this by creating open lines of communication to stay in tune with her employees’ workloads and putting technology in place to manage projects and keep everyone in the field informed, as well.

These processes have helped the firm, which specializes in Commercial Tenant Improvements, keep efficiency, quality and consistency first. And now, Osborn is looking forward to projected 2011 revenues that nearly double last year’s.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Osborn to the class of 2011 Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she maintains quality during growth and applies innovative technology to better manage her team.

Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Stable, managed growth is probably the biggest challenge that we have faced. Maintaining stringent quality standards can be challenging when a company is growing quickly, but our reputation has been built on the quality of our service, so quality control is something we take very seriously and always have in mind every step of the way. To maintain quality:

  • I provide my employees with every possible tool to help them manage their responsibilities.
  • I maintain open lines of communication to stay aware of workloads. And when someone is struggling, I work with them to determine if they are actually overloaded or if perhaps they need help managing time and resources better.
  • When I deem necessary, and once I’ve assessed that the company volume can support it, I hire additional people to fill positions at various levels of management or support.

Surviving in a struggling economy (is another challenge). I take pride in the fact that I have been able to maintain my workforce with no layoffs, even when the economy has taken a serious dip and other companies were closing their doors. We have done this by adapting – not only our services to our clients, but internally adapting the way we do business. By shifting responsibilities and rallying everyone to pitch in, even if it sometimes means handling tasks that aren’t generally in their job descriptions, we’ve managed to weather leaner times and keep our valued employees on our team.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We have created processes for the field and the office that specifically focus on efficiency, quality and consistency. We also use technology to improve communication and ensure that everyone involved has the latest information – something that is critical in an industry where changes are frequent and not having the correct information can cause major setbacks to both the budget and the schedule. Our superintendents all have e-mail via BlackBerrys, access to high-tech cameras, and we can send them drawings electronically – which is something that is very cutting edge.

Our in house team uses a specialty software program to manage our existing workload, our pending projects and our projects in closeout, which helps keep our coordinators organized and able to handle all the “balls in the air.”

We communicate with our clients constantly using technology, which helps give them the peace of mind that the projects are going well. Communication is key, and technology is an amazing tool for that process.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

By maintaining a stable workforce, I provide my employees with job security and an excellent benefit package that we continually work to improve. By providing employees with the peace of mind that comes with job security and good benefits, they are more confident about their spending capability and ability to support their local businesses. I also offer them flexibility with their hours so they can implement my “family first” ideal, which furthers their performance and the company’s success.

I also encourage and support charitable work throughout the community by funding causes employees bring to my attention, allowing employees to take time off for charitable causes in order to make a difference. I am a huge believer that giving back is a definitive fueling mechanism for the local economy.

How to reach: Casco Contractors Inc., (949) 679-6880 or

Published in Orange County

Robert Eves has been using a technology for 20 years that is still relevant today and has likely saved him millions of dollars in that same time period.

As founder and president of Venture Corp., a commercial real estate development firm, he began using content management software about 20 years ago as a way to keep all of his contacts, to-do lists and projects organized in one place. As the company grew, it became even more important to the business.

“This is Ground Zero — it’s the base of our operations,” he says. “Everything that we do is controlled by or metered by or recorded by Commence (the software Eves uses). It is, without a question, the most important program that we use in our company, by far. It’s far and away the most important software that we use all day, every day.”

To start, Eves uses it for to-do lists, notes on topics of interest to him, quotes he’d like to remember and other things along those lines. If he needs to schedule a lunch meeting with a co-worker, he can go into the software and put it on the calendar. A second later, it copies over to his Outlook, and a second after that, it copies over to his iPhone. At that same time, it sends a message to the person he’s having lunch with and puts the time on his or her Outlook calendar, as well. Everything is updated for everyone in real time.

It also reduces clutter because he keeps all files and records in the software instead of having manila folders everywhere — in fact, he has the equivalent of about 80,000 manila folders stored in the program.

Additionally, he uses it to target customers and manage the relationships with them. His target client isn’t necessarily someone who’s looking to buy his commercial spaces. Instead, it’s the commercial real estate brokers whom he’s trying to reach, and the software allows him to do just that. He now has more than 210,000 broker contacts in there to customize his searches.

“We can go into Commence and say, ‘Give us all the commercial real estate agents within these ZIP codes surrounding my new project,’” he says. “I enter those search parameters in Commence, and it takes me about 15 seconds, and there on the screen is every broker that fits those qualifications.”

He sends out about 100,000 e-mails a week, and because brokers want to know what’s available for their clients, they’re not going to delete these e-mails, so it’s highly effective marketing.

The program is also helpful for his website. He creates spreadsheets of all the available real estate centers that Venture has available, and these include asking price, square footage, property taxes, acres, how many phases there are and will be, and other numbers along these lines. Using SQL Server technology, the software is connected to the company’s website, so if he makes an update in the spreadsheet in Commence, it’s then updated to the website in real time, so customers always have current information. These updates can be done in real time like Eves does, or they can be programmed to update at a certain time on certain days.

“That kind of connectivity is great,” he says. “We don’t need a programmer, we don’t need anyone to go to change the price — it changes dynamically.”

And not needing a programmer saves big bucks on his IT budget, which can add up very quickly.

“We measure it more in increase in efficiency and productivity,” he says. “I would say that the savings are perhaps millions over the years and certainly many hundreds of thousands in payroll to make changes to it — there are changes to it every day. Just to have it, productivity goes so much higher.”

How to reach: Venture Corp., (415) 464-2000 or

Set it up

If you want to save money and efficiency by using content management software like Robert Eves, founder and president of Venture Corp., then it’s simple. First, find the software that fits your needs. If you don’t want to deal with IT people, then find one that has templates that can help you get started.

“Use the templates that come with it and then begin to customize them,” he says.

For example, you may have a contacts template, but you may add to it a column to put people’s spouses names, so when you see that person at a function, you can also greet his or her spouse — you remember the name because you had it in the program, which translates through to your smart phone, too. Or maybe you’re a car enthusiast and want to keep track of the type of car all your contacts drive — you can do that through customization.

“If you want your notes to get linked to your to-do list or your to-do list to be linked to your appointments, that’s what a relational database does.”

Published in Northern California
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 13:48

A different approach

I want to take you back a few months, and let’s all pretend it’s October. Yes, that month is typically the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs, but that really isn’t what I want to chat about. What I really want to discuss is Halloween. No, not the costumes you or your family might have worn or the candy you handed out during trick-or-treat. What I want you to think about is how you carve your pumpkin — yes, your pumpkin.

I have actually presented this at a number of conferences in the past, and what I typically do is bring someone randomly up on stage with me. After a quick introduction, I give the volunteer a magic marker with a picture of a pumpkin and one simple instruction. Tell and show us how you carve your pumpkin. After a few seconds of amazement and looking at me very strangely, the person starts to follow the task. Here is what everyone usually does:

1. Go to the store and buy a pumpkin.

2. Cut the top off.

3. Take out all of the seeds and guck.

4. Stencil a picture of what he or she wants to cut out.

5. Cut out the picture.

6. Move the pumpkin to the front stoop or the window.

7. Put a candle in and enjoy his or her masterpiece.

Sound familiar? Most people I have ever spoken to about this do it the exact same way. When I ask the volunteer who taught him or her how to do that, he or she quickly and proudly responds “my parents,” and when I ask who taught the parents, again, the volunteer proudly answers “my grandparents.”

It is safe to say that learning has been passed down for a number of generations. I then ask the volunteer, “What if there was a better way to carve your pumpkin? What if there was a more efficient way to do it? Would you be open to that?” Most people, with hesitance, respond with a quiet, “Yes — we have been doing it this way forever, but yes, I would be open to that.”

I then say, “What would happen if you carved your pumpkin from the bottom?” In other words, different and the exact opposite than you have done in the past. After looking at me very oddly, they say, “Why would I do that?”

By carving the pumpkin from the bottom, three things will happen:

1. Gravity will allow some of the seeds and guck to fall out naturally.

2. By cutting off the bottom, the pumpkin is easier to carry, since you will be holding it by the stem.

3. It is much easier to light the candle, and you won’t burn any of your hair on your arm like most of us (including myself) have done in the past.

What’s really funny is most people really get my point. They understand what I am saying and more than 60 percent of the audience actually agrees to change and do it that way in the future.

That’s great, Merrill — but, really, what’s your point?

I have celebrated my 26th year of being in business, and for me, the past few years have been the hardest business environment I have ever, and perhaps will ever, be involved with. As a business leader, all of us have reviewed our business systems, procedures and technology in an effort to increase efficiencies and improve the bottom line.

The pumpkin story is a little way to illustrate that just because we have been doing something for hundreds of years doesn’t mean it is the most efficient way of doing it. All of us need to look at what we are doing, how we are doing it and find ways to increase efficiencies. So I ask you — how do you carve your pumpkin?

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, one of the top 25 market research companies located in Dallas. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. Reach him at (972) 983-0416 or

Published in Dallas
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 11:26

A more efficient flow

When Marty Field purchased a money-leaking Chicago packaging company about a decade ago, he didn’t want excuses. In early production meetings, he learned the company, which was operating at 42 percent efficiency, was late delivering to more than half of its customers — because that’s the way it’d always been.

That wasn’t going to cut it.

“If we could create a manufacturing facility that would always be on time and if we were to meet every customer’s request, that would be a wonderful way to create sales,” says Field, the president of what is now Field Packaging Group LLC. “We couldn’t do that because we didn’t have an efficient manufacturing facility. That’s when we created our efficiency bonus program.”

He told his 80 employees they could receive monthly performance bonuses for hitting certain ranges of labor cost and efficiency, as well as delivering on time at least 98 percent of the time. They’d earn $50 for reaching 70 percent efficiency and an extra $10 for every percent over that — minus any deductions for quality incidents.

But first, Field had to define efficiency.

“The key was to find a way to accurately measure efficiencies and then determine what reasonable industry standard is,” says Field, who purchased industry-specific software loaded with standard machine setup times and run speeds. “Then communicate to your employees what’s expected of them, monitor their performance and then, at the end of the month, communicate to them how they performed.”

For transparency, Field installed chalkboards on each machine to track efficiency. Now, if the previous day’s numbers aren’t posted by noon, employees come looking for reports.

Sure, that breeds some peer pressure, but Field sees it as motivation.

“An awful lot of the increased efficiency is created internally by [employees] themselves,” he says. “If a crew is waiting for the paper, the guy in charge of the paper has a lot of pressure on him through his fellow employees. Peer pressure has caused people to act as a team. They’re able to perform together and to perform a lot better.”

Field brings employees together once a month to recap performance and other influencing factors, like the economy and competition. They also go over quality issues, discussing improvement opportunities.

All employees — from the receptionist to the customer service rep — attend those meetings and participate in the incentive program. Employees need to understand the connectivity of how each role must seamlessly set up the next to achieve overall success.

“Without teamwork from everybody, we won’t be able to get the efficiency,” Field says. “If the order goes out to the factory and all the information is accurate and provided, that saves time from a crew having to try to figure out what they’re supposed to do. If the people who are supposed to provide the tooling are not efficient in what they do, then the crew is waiting for the tooling.

“Everybody in the whole company affects efficiency, and everybody in the whole company should be rewarded for it.”

The reward itself is motivation enough — with some employees earning monthly bonuses of $220 — but it’s also the concept. Employees know they have a hand in controlling not just their bonus but the company’s overall success. Employees took the reins and led Field Packaging to 2009 revenue of $40 million and are still improving efficiency.

“They really are self-motivated, and it’s not only for the bonus,” Field says. “They need to see that the company is successful, especially these days where there’s so much unemployment.

“They have a greater desire to perform better because we’re creating more business. The more business we have means more work for everybody. People have really bought in to it, because it’s good for the company and it’s good for them.”

How to reach: Field Packaging Group LLC, (708) 594-5260 or

Never say no again

There’s one word Marty Field doesn’t want to hear.

“If a customer calls and has an unreasonable request for a delivery, a customer service person is not allowed to say no,” says Field, president of Field Packaging Group LLC. “We have to find a way to get it done.”

It was bad enough that late deliveries were the norm when Field bought the company. He envisioned the other extreme where they’d not only be on time but meet any request.

There are a few exceptions, of course — like acts of God or unavailable tooling. Aside from those, Field never wants to be in a position where he has to say no.

“The more efficient we are, the more capacity we have,” he says. “The more capacity we have, the more flexibility we have to be able to take care of customers’ requests. The more customer requests we have, the more successful we’re going to be.”

One machine used to take a half-hour to set up and another hour to run. Now, because Field’s employees understand efficiency goals and use teamwork to achieve them, they’ve cut out dead time. They can set up the machine in five minutes and run it in 20.

“We have put ourselves in a position where we always will have more capacity than we have business,” Field says. “We should never be in a spot where we can’t say yes.”

Published in Chicago