Akron/Canton (3279)

Thursday, 23 October 2003 10:50

A room and a view

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Fortney & Weygandt's employees say they can't live without the company's custom-designed administration Superview 2000 software. But cutting-edge technology is nothing new at the company, which is in one of the oldest, most traditional industries.

The main component of the can't-live-without-it-technology connects in-house and out-in-the-field employees with computerized timesheets, phone logs, daily field reports and schedules.

"The most successful part of Superview is the increase in efficiencies," says Chris Lutjen, marketing director at Fortney & Weygandt. "It allows supervisors to spend more time on the project than filling out reports."

Employees are equipped with laptop computers that allow them to use the program in combination with a fax and e-mail server. Electronic notes are posted and updated daily for all members to see. Users claim the program has saved about 60 percent of the time it took to fill out the hand-written paperwork.

Lutjen says the program was designed specifically for users who are not necessarily computer literate, so minimal instruction is required.

Bob Fortney, president of Fortney & Weygandt, attributes the efficiency of the program in part to his direct involvement in the design process. During development, hey frequently met with programmers to ensure the program would be compatible with the company's internal structure.

Although, Fortney hired an outside contractor to design the first version of Superview, the second version was created by the company's MIS department, which has continually upgraded and improved each version of the custom software. For example, the first version took hours to synchronize daily updated information, but it now can process that same data in minutes.

Fortney says cutting-edge technology is one of the reasons his company has grown and now generates approximately $70 million a year. But it's all part of doing business in this day and age for Fortney.

"You can't shoot for numbers, you have to shoot for improvement. Growth and profitability are a byproduct of that improvement," says Fortney. How to reach: Fortney & Weygandt, (440)-716-4000 or www.fortneyweygandt.com

Monday, 22 September 2003 11:44

Don't drink the water

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There's been a lot of media attention on SARS and its effect on business-related overseas travel. But there are much more common -- and sometimes more dangerous -- infectious diseases that business travelers come into contact with abroad.

In 2000, 35 percent of international travel by U.S. residents was work-related. Each year, 7 million to 8 million Americans travel to countries where malaria is present; in 1998, 636 travelers returned infected with the disease.

"Companies need to be aware that when employees travel, they need to make them safe," says Joyce Almasy, R.N., of Passport Health, a national travel health company that consults with traveling employees. "OSHA has recently gotten into the picture and issued a tech bulletin regarding the safety and health of employees and international travel."

Almasy says there is no one way to stay safe and healthy while out of the country. Different destinations require different precautions and medications, but with a little education, travelers can familiarize themselves with what infectious diseases they may be exposed to.

There are specific threats for employees traveling to underdeveloped and tropical countries.

"The three to watch out for are Hepatitis A, which is transmitted through food and water; typhoid, also transmitted through food and water; and malaria ... transferred by mosquitoes," says Almasy. "We do encourage a personal first aid kit with what you use when you get ill -- decongestants, topical antibiotics, antacids. Whatever you use at home," take with you, she says, because buying medication in another country can be problematic. "It could have a different name, or be hard to come by."

Know your blood type, and if you're traveling to underdeveloped countries, to bring a wound kit with, among other things, a sterile syringe.

"I've heard stories of people getting sick in these countries, and they are sent out to buy a syringe from a street vendor," says Almasy.

Depending on the length of the trip, some businesses provide employees with supplemental travel insurance that covers hospitalization and medical transportation.

"Many people don't know this, but Medicare doesn't cover anything overseas," she says.

The optimal situation, however, is not to get sick in the first place, and Almasy has some suggestions for staying healthy.

* "No. 1, wash your hands in soap and water often," she says.

* "Only drink bottled water ... and beware of ice cubes."

Also beware of water bottles without a seal, and use bottled water when brushing your teeth and washing your hands before changing your contact lenses.

* "If you can't boil, cook or peel it, don't eat or drink it," says Almasy.

Lettuce is a good example of a food that is prone to harbor disease because it can be grown in contaminated soil. Avoid anything unpasteurized, undercooked or from a street vendor.

* Don't go barefoot, and get a tetanus shot. Don't swim in fresh water, unchlorinated lakes, pools or rivers.

* Make sure all prescriptions, including those for the trip like anti-malaria drugs, are with you at all times. In some cases, it's wise to have an antibiotic prescribed before the trip, but don't take it unless needed.

Employers and employees should take Centers for Disease Control warnings to heart and follow medical instruction.

"We are spoiled, when you think of how many diseases we have eradicated," Almasy says. How to reach: Passport Health, (216) 591-9380 or www.passporthealthusa.com

Most dangerous places

There are some places best avoided by American travelers right now. The U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for the following countries.

* Liberia -- Rebels are engaged in clashes with government troops in a number of areas throughout the country. The president of Liberia has called for the resignation of his cabinet, which may lead to further instability.

* Yemen -- The security threat to all American citizens in Yemen remains high due to credible reports that terrorists have planned attacks against U.S. interests in Yemen.

* Kenya -- Terrorist actions may include suicide operations, bombings or kidnappings. U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites.

* Saudi Arabia -- This travel warning is being updated to inform U.S. citizens that the Department of State has ordered the departure of all non-emergency personnel and family members from the U.S. embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia.

* Iran -- Tensions generated by the situation in Iraq have increased the potential threat to U.S. citizens and interests abroad posed by those who oppose U.S. policy. Some elements of the Iranian government and population remain hostile to the United States.

Monday, 22 September 2003 11:38

Out of paper

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When Marjorie Zychowski purchased Medina-based The Mail Room Inc. from its corporate parents in 1994, it was a far cry from the simple print shop it started out as in 1972.

Until 1994, The Mail Room was more of a traditional printer, direct marketer and distributor offering black-and-white and color printing and binding. In the early 1990s, its more technologically-savvy clients asked if materials could be distributed electronically.

Zychowski was one of the first printers to recognize that the Internet would become one of the most popular -- if not the most popular -- way of ordering and distributing business-to-business printed materials such as marketing kits, technical and user manuals, and fliers.

"In many ways, we've had two CEOs," Zychowski says. "There's me, and then there are our clients who needed the newer dissemination of information. We were always willing to take the chance to invest in technology."

Formerly owned by a large trade show marketer, The Mail Room split off from the main corporation in 1991, with Zychowski as president. Under her leadership, the firm grew to 110 employees, with more than 100 clients ranging from small businesses to large corporations including Rockwell Automation, Philips and Sealy.

Listening to her customers and adding those digital services they requested proved to be a turning point for The Mail Room. To date, all of its sales have been generated solely through word-of-mouth.

"We have never had a sales force," Zychowski says. "We've never really needed one."

But that may change now that many of The Mail Room's competitors are adding more digital printing services like CD-ROMs, DVDs and Internet distribution of materials.

"We're just a very creative, nimble little company in Medina that services some major corporations," Zychowski says. "We're always ready to change." How to reach: The Mail Room, (800) 325-5095 or www.themailroom.com

Monday, 22 September 2003 11:35

Displaying success

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When it comes to retailing, everything revolves around the product.

DARKO Inc., an in-store marketing company that designs and produces point-of-purchase displays, custom fixtures and signage, makes sure that customers pay attention to its clients' products.

The Twinsburg-based company deals with major retail players like Target, Sears and Wal-Mart, and works with the likes of Sherwin-Williams and Fisher-Price to help sell more products through special displays.

The company has gone from about $8 million in revenue to $15 million since 2000, says Dean Rinicella, president. That growth comes despite a lull in the retail market that has cut promotional budgets for displays and advertising.

The goal is to be at $25 million in the next five years.

A history of innovative designs and a broad range of services have helped the company grow.

"Anything in the retail environment that displays a product or helps sell a product is the gamut we cover," says Rinicella. "We don't manufacture in-house, because it would restrict what we could design."

By relying on a pool of local manufacturers, DARKO can provide clients with displays that are limited only by their imaginations, rather than by the capabilities of DARKO-owned machines.

The company recently opened DARKO Services, an 85,000-square-foot facility to complement its design capabilities.

"Its sole purpose is distribution fulfillment and inventory control," says Rinicella. "This facility allows us to control the inventory, which in turn controls quality."

Rinicella credits his employees with the firm's success, which requires a balance of creative design and engineering to produce a product that is attractive but easy to install and maintain. From beginning to end, a project can take anywhere from three months to a year-and-a-half, so keeping an eye on cash flow is important.

DARKO is family-owned, and family values run throughout the company.

"We don't even have to talk about team effort," says Rinicella. "It is implied through everyone's talk and work. It starts from us as a family owning it, and runs through the design, shipping and warehouse staff. We have a nice family of people here." How to reach: DARKO Inc., (330) 425-9805

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 10:53

Too much innovation?

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What happens when you take innovation too far?

James Griffith, president and CEO of The Timken Co., says it cost his business one-third of its overall annual revenue. It happened in 1981, when the bearing manufacturer's sales and profits were at record highs and foreign competition was just beginning to rear its head.

In response to suddenly aggressive offshore manufacturers, Timken invested heavily in product improvements that extended the useful life of its bearings by 10 times.

In theory, says Griffith, the move made good business sense because it differentiated Timken products from those of its competitors and underscored the company's commitment to continuous process and product improvement. But in its haste to one-up the competition, Timken forgot a basic tenant of business: New products are only as good as your customers' ability to use them.

"Few customers could take advantage (of the new bearings)," says Griffith.

The new -- and higher-priced -- bearings far outlasted the equipment they were used in, and competitors quickly flooded the market with less expensive, lower-performing ones. Within a year, Timken's sales dropped by one-third and the company posted losses for the first time in 50 years.

Griffith says it took more than a decade to return to the basic principles that had vaulted Timken to the top of its industry.

"Value must be defined through the eyes of the customer," Griffith says, repeating the mantra as though it were gospel. "Timken was smart enough to learn from its mistakes."

By the end of the late 1990s, Griffith and his management team set two priorities -- profitability and growth. They also developed several avenues to get there, including globalization, customer centricity and agility intertwined with innovation.

"Innovation is far more than just new processes in the manufacturing plants and new products," Griffith says. "It's about change."

The company looked to new services, strategic acquisitions, joint ventures with competitors, unconventional alliances and restructuring of customer relationships as ways to provide the much-needed spark to revenue.

Griffith points recent joint venture with competitors INA US Corp. and Rockwell Automation as one example of Timken's new strategy. The venture, Colinx LLC, allows the three companies to serve distributors better and reduce asset intensity by sharing a common distribution logistics platform that provides distributors with the ability to order online. Products are shipped from a common warehouse in Crossville, Tenn., on a common truck.

The distributors enjoy the economies of truckload shipments and ease in processing. The suppliers enjoy increased sales.

"The challenge is getting past the paradigms of working with competitors," says Griffith.

As proof of Timken's commitment, approximately 70 percent of its orders are processed through a shared distribution point. And it has a plant under construction in China that will produce high-volume standardized products in partnership with a Japanese competitor.

"When our customers have a need that can better be solved by joining forces with our competitors, we see this not as something we can do, but something we must do," Griffith says.

But while partnering with the competition is helping the company further its priorities, Griffith says it has not lost sight of the importance of controlled innovation. Timken recently invested in new technology centers in Romania, France and India, and acquired Torrington, a $1.2 billion manufacturer of specialty bearings that is heavily entrenched in the European market.

The moves are paying off. Last year, shareholder return was greater than 20 percent; the S&P 500 delivered losses of 20 percent.

So has Timken learned its lesson? Griffith says it has.

"The passion for innovation is still what's driving the company," he says. "But by focusing on the needs of the customer, we're confident we'll keep the legacy of Henry Timken alive for many years to come." How to reach: The Timken Co., (330) 438-3000

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 10:49

Dream home

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Gary Habeeb, CEO of United Mortgage Group, not only makes people's dreams of home ownership come true, he's making his own dreams come true by building a 10,800-square-foot luxury home nestled on two-and-a-half acres in the woods of Hinckley.

"Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn't change a thing about this house," says Habeeb, in his black wingtips, carefully negotiating the gravel and mud of the construction site. "We got everything we wanted."

Construction on the $1.5 million home began in May, so when Habeeb visited the site in late July with Smart Business, only the foundation and about half of the exterior walls were built. The rest of the home was still a dream.

The lot

Gary and his wife started planning for a new home five years ago when they began to outgrow the 3,100-square-foot Colonial in Strongsville where they live with their four children. Originally, the Habeebs thought they would move into an existing home.

"We looked and looked," Habeeb says. "We wanted to buy something, certainly it was a good market, but we couldn't find anything that met our needs."

When the house hunt came up dry, the Habeebs decided to buy a lot and build their dream home. Two years ago, Habeeb found and bought the lot in a new development in Hinckley on the site of a former Christmas tree farm. Finding the lot, however, was no easy task.

"We both wanted country," Habeeb says. "I wanted land, and my wife wanted development. I would find a nice property on Ridge Road, but she didn't want to be on a main road. She would find something in a development, but I didn't want to be that close to the neighbors. This lot really complemented what we wanted. We're in the country, yet so close to the city."

The builder

Once they found the site, the Habeebs drew a rough outline of what their dream home would look like.

"I had her draw her floor plan, and I drew mine," Habeeb says. "It's amazing how similar they were. We had been in so many houses, and we watched a lot of HGTV, and we got a lot of ideas that way. Believe it or not, we have not argued over anything -- not one thing because we have very similar styles."

Part of United Mortgage Group's business is construction loans, so Habeeb knows the major home builders in the area. He first met with Tony DiBenedetto of DiBenedetto Fine Homes to discuss the project.

"I wanted a builder with a proven track record, and DiBenedetto Fine Homes has 50 years experience in custom homes," Habeeb says. "There's a difference, too, when you're building a home that's already been (designed). It's basically the same plan for every house and people do some tweaks. This is a truly custom home. There won't be another one like it unless I sell my plans."

DiBenedetto recommended architect Daniel Margulies of Daniel Margulies Co. Inc. in Rocky River to design the home.

"He's incredible," Habeeb says. "He was with us the whole way. He knew exactly what we liked. He knew the changes. The builder would say one thing and he recognized it wasn't what we wanted. He remembered who the client was. He knew what we were looking for and he gave it to us."

Before the blueprints were drawn, Margulies gave the Habeebs a virtual walk-through of their home using an architecture software program. This was critical for the Habeebs during the planning stages.

"As important as it is to have the outside appealing, the inside is what's really important," Habeeb says. "You determine the inside first, and that determines what the outside looks like. We got the best of both worlds because we got the inside, and we really love the way the outside looks."

The home

The Habeebs' six-bedroom, seven-bathroom home is scheduled to be completed in June 2004. Habeeb has memorized all its dizzying features and can rattle them off at a moment's notice. Here is a brief summary.

The exterior will be stone with stucco accents done in a French country style, with a Mediterranean decor on the inside. Inside the main double doors, handcrafted out of eight feet of solid mahogany, there will be a two-story foyer and an adjacent two-story parlor. The main suspended curving staircase is one of three that will extend from the basement to the second-floor bedrooms.

The great room will be 53-by-26 and will feature a 10-foot-wide, 24-foot-high limestone fireplace, and a 73-inch TV built into a cabinet. Next to the larger TV will be two smaller cabinets with 27-inch TVs inside.

In the basement, a mud room will feature metal lockers and one of two laundry rooms. Next to that will be a home theater with a 110-inch TV with state-of-the art theater surround sound. For the true theater feel, there will be a candy counter, fountain drinks and popcorn machine.

The master bedroom will have a 14-by-17 walk-in closet with a center island, three angled mirrors, and a personal dry cleaning machine called a Mini-Valet. The master bath will be equipped with a 5-by-7 walk-in shower, a pedestal whirlpool with nine Jacuzzi jets, and a fireplace -- one of seven in the home.

For landscaping, Habeeb will plant hybrid poplar trees every 30 feet on the southwest side of his home, which faces the neighbors, creating a natural wall. A long stone wall will surround the 83-foot long patio.

Be patient

Habeeb is eager to move into his dream home, but he's seen many construction projects ruined by a lack of patience and poor planning.

"You have to do your homework," he says. "We had everything picked out. There's not one thing we don't have picked out besides the furniture. We did it all in advance, which is kind of backwards, but it makes the process easier.

"Being in the mortgage business, you always hear about the nightmares of building. So far, we've had no nightmares because there have been no surprises, and if there's a tweak here or a change there, it's nothing drastic." How to reach: United Mortgage Group, (440) 260-2390 or www.umgloans.com; Daniel Margulies Co. Inc., (440) 356-0888 and DiBenedetto Fine Homes, (440) 734-3434

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 10:45

On time delivery

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Alan Robbins, president of Akron-based The Plastic Lumber Co., ran into a problem that many manufacturers face: Getting employees to show up on time for work.

With multiple shifts, it 's important that the person on the next shift be there on time so that the machine can seamlessly be handed off without disrupting the production process.

"When the person shows up 10 or 15 minutes late, it ends up being disruptive to the business," says Robbins.

When the company went through rapid growth -- going from three employees to as many as 62 -- the problem became even bigger. The result is the no-fault points program, which can be customized to emphasize the areas that are important to your company.

For Robbins, it was tardiness and attendance.

An employee might be allotted 10 minutes of tardiness for the entire week. Anything over that results in a two-point penalty. Being late an hour is five points. If someone doesn't show up, it's 15.

"At certain thresholds, we monitor it," says Robbins. "At 20 points, we physically sit down with the person and talk to them to try to understand what is going on. We explain how important it is that they come to work on time."

Sometimes there are issues outside of work that are causing the behavior, such as a terminally ill family member, but Robbins says it's often just irresponsible behavior.

"You have to think of all the human scenarios," says Robbins. "Just having a points system doesn't do everything. You have to have an assistance program and give counseling."

As points accumulate, more intervention occurs. When employees reach the 30-40 point range, they are counseled again and asked if they need outside help or something other than what is offered in the assistance program.

"At 50 points, they are gone," says Robbins. "There is no saving them. From our side, it provides a way of measuring and getting rid of unmotivated employees."

Employees with excellent attendance records earn financial bonuses.

The program has also had other benefits: The company has not lost any contested unemployment claims since it was implemented.

In the seven years the program has been in place, it has been fine-tuned a few times but has worked well for Robbins. The accountants handle the tallying of points by examining time cards to see when people punched in and out.

"That's good, because it diffuses hostile issues with the supervisor," says Robbins. "Otherwise, people might try to play favorites and not recognize points."

The system is also used as a punitive measure for employees who miss a safety meeting or face other disciplinary issues. An employee who tests positive for drug or alcohol is assessed 15 points.

"You have to decide what's important to your business and design it accordingly," says Robbins. "It has to be modeled properly. If someone decides to circumvent the system and gets away with it, that's a bad thing. If that becomes prevalent, it can blow up the whole system.

"The system is probably not for everybody. In a manufacturing environment with growth issues, it has worked very well explaining the issues of good attendance and showing up to work clean and sober. These are all paramount to running a successful business.

"We wanted to be firm but fair in resolving these problems with something that wasn't overly punitive. We had to look at how we could create a scenario that supports good behavior and protects us from bad behavior, and the no-fault program does that." How to reach: The Plastic Lumber Co., www.plasticlumber.com

Monday, 28 July 2003 05:46


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During a flat economy, employment laws concerning overtime, health care benefits and employment terminations may become a lesser priority as businesses focus on increasing efficiency.

No matter how your business is faring in the current economy, familiarity with recent employment law changes can benefit your bottom line and reduce the risk of costly legal battles.

Generally, federal and state wage and hour laws require that hourly employees be paid at least minimum wage and an overtime premium if they work more than 40 hours in a work week.

Employees are exempt from the overtime premium requirement if they perform certain types of managerial, administrative or professional duties and if they are paid on a salary basis, but many employers incorrectly classify employees, creating costly overtime liability.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed new rules designed to make it easier to determine whether an employee is eligible for overtime. The proposed rules update the original overtime rules, which were established more than 50 years ago.

Most employers' health benefit plans are subject to COBRA, which allows eligible employees to continue coverage in their group health plan at their own cost. The Department of Labor proposed rules requiring covered employers -- generally, those with 20 or more employees which offer employees a group health benefits plan -- to update the forms they use to notify employees and their dependents about their COBRA rights as well as the procedure for notification.

Another health care issue arises under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which imposes privacy rules on employers' group health plans to protect individual health care information and control the way such information can be used or disclosed.

HIPAA regulations became effective for most employers in April, and in April 2005, new security rules will require policies to prevent improper disclosure of protected health information.

As our economy wanders along, some employers face staff reductions. It's best for employers if personnel are "at-will," meaning the employer or employee may terminate the relationship at any time, with or without cause.

Employers should strive to maintain the at-will status of their employees by using appropriate language in employment application forms, policy manuals and other written materials pertaining to employment-related benefits.

But even at-will employees cannot be discharged for reasons prohibited by law -- for example, because of age, sex, race, national origin, color, pregnancy and disability -- so it is important to thoroughly and accurately document the reasons for a termination decision.

Employers should also create and circulate harassment and discrimination policies and train employees regarding such policies to avoid liability for harassment and other discriminatory conduct.

Knowledge of these and other employment law issues can help employers avoid costly legal pitfalls and take advantage of the benefits of having employees. Daniel L. Bell (dbell@brouse.com) is a partner with Brouse McDowell. Reach him at (330) 535-5711.

Monday, 28 July 2003 05:43

Blocked call

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By July 1, more than 15 million people had added their names and phone numbers to the Federal Trade Commission's national do-not-call list. The free service blocks telemarketers from calling registered numbers; if they call anyway, they will be faced with a maximum fine of $11,000 for each violation.

The legislation was celebrated by consumers. When the list opened June 27, as many as 158 phone numbers per second flooded the FTC's system. The list is expected to reach 60 million numbers in the first year, which leaves the remaining 100-plus million registered U.S. phone numbers potentially under siege.

The legislation has some loopholes. Calls from charities, nonprofits and political organizations are exempt. Calls from banks, telephone companies, insurance providers and airline companies are also not affected by the legislation due to the FTC's limited jurisdiction, but that loophole quickly disappeared when the Federal Communications Commission unanimously endorsed the do-not-call list the day before it launched.

No one has watched this legislation with greater interest than Gary Taylor, president and CEO of Akron-based telemarketing firm InfoCision Management Corp. While he supports the idea of a national do-not-call list, he says the FTC's rules behind the list are unfair to his industry and could devastate his business.

"Our philosophy has always been, we don't want to call people who don't want to be called," Taylor says. "We don't want to waste their time or our time."


Taylor's firm, which he started alone in 1982, has grown into the eighth largest outbound teleservice"company in the country, with 3,000 employees located in 21 call centers in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. he began with one client and $1 million in sales and has grown his company to dozens of clients across several industries, racking up $130 million in sales.

Taylor says InfoCision has always maintained its own do-not-call list and added its list to those of the two dozen states which have their own do-not-call lists. But the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule, which includes the national do-not-call registry, goes too far, he says.

"They didn't pay attention to the input the industry gave," claims Taylor, who sent his senior vice president of corporate affairs, Steve Brubaker, to Washington, D.C., to lobby for changes to the Telemarketing Sales Rule legislation. "Everyone I've talked to doesn't know how they're going to comply with it."

Taylor's main concern is the mandate for "abandon rates" included in the new rules. An abandon or hang-up happens when a telemarketer has more people connected to phone lines than it has operators to serve them. If that happens, the person on the phone usually gets a dial tone when they answer.

In the new rules, the FTC requires all telemarketing firms to reduce abandon rates to a 3 percent maximum per telephone campaign. That means only 3 percent of the calls per campaign can be hang-ups. InfoCision performs about 130 to 150 campaigns per day, and has about a 5 percent abandon rate per day.

"The (Direct Marketing Association) standard is 5 percent per day," Taylor says. "It took us quite a while to comply with that because we had to improve our productivity by 18 percent. We had to get more efficient to meet a very difficult, stringent standard. Three percent is an impossible standard in and of itself on a daily basis, let alone per campaign."

One way to circumvent the 3 percent rule is to play a recorded message instead of hanging up, which states the name of the company, the reason for the call and an 800 number.

"If anything, that will create more criticism," Taylor says. "It's one thing to pick up the phone and have nobody there, but it would be far more annoying for me to call you and say, 'I'm calling for Bank One and our 800 number is this.' People are not going to be very responsive to that kind of intrusiveness."

The FTC disagrees. In the Telemarketing Sales Rule's Statement of Basis and Purpose, the FTC claims that abandon calls " ... frighten consumers, invade their privacy and cause some of them to struggle to answer the phone, only to be hung up on."

"The whole dialer issue was the subject of a lot of discussion in forums," says FTC staff attorney Katie Harrington-McBride. "The 3 percent amount was based on comments from all sides."

Taylor's other main gripe with the legislation is that telemarketers will not be permitted to call customers unless they have done business with the company in the last 18 months.

"That's ridiculous," Taylor says. "If you buy a car from Ford today, I can't call you up in three years or four years when your warranty expires -- even though you own a Ford product, and spent thousands of dollars for it -- and offer you a Ford warranty. It would be illegal because you haven't done business with me in the last [18] months."

The FTC claims that calls placed two years after a transaction would conflict with a consumer's expectations. The legislation reads, " ... [A] company should be able to claim the exemption only if there has been a relatively recent transaction between the customer and the seller ... The Commission believes that 18 months is an appropriate time because it strikes a balance between industry's needs and consumers' privacy rights and reasonable expectations about who may call them and when."

InfoCision, however, is somewhat protected from the new Telemarketing Sales Rule. About 80 percent of its business comes from charitable and nonprofit companies like the Salvation Army, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, UNICEF and several Christian ministry organizations. All of those are exempt from the new regulations.

Taylor predicts the remaining 20 percent of InfoCision's business, its commercial division, will suffer.

"Our big growth opportunity is the commercial area," Taylor says. "That's why this FTC legislation is very concerning to us. Our growth opportunities in the nonprofit marketplace are a lot more limited than they are in the commercial marketplace."


Taylor started his career as a director of marketing for evangelist Rex Humbard's television ministry. He left Humbard in 1982 to start his own marketing consulting company, only to find himself traveling all over the world to clients' offices, which quickly grew tiresome.

"I focused on the telemarketing fairly early on because it was a way you could earn money without having to travel every single time," Taylor says. "We started off strictly raising money for Christian organizations because of my background working with Rex Humbard and I knew most of the television ministry marketing people."

Taylor's three-year plan from 1982 to 1985 was to become the leading fund-raiser for Christian organizations to establish his credibility, and then expand to other nonprofit organizations. The plan almost never made it past year one.

"There's nothing quite so motivating to find new business as when you have just enough in the checkbook to cover the next house payment," says Taylor, who can now laugh about his start-up days. "I've found the key to breaking any new market is having two credible clients."

The two-client rule proved out for InfoCision. From there, Taylor was able to add staff and expand his business beyond Christian organizations and nonprofits. InfoCision's largest commercial client is Bank One and its credit card subsidiary FirstUSA. Internet service providers Earthlink and Microsoft MSN are also big names on InfoCision's commercial roster.

Eventually, InfoCision grew to the size where Taylor had to delegate more responsibility to his staff and trust their judgment on more decisions. It was a gradual process, he says, but crucial to the development of the company.

"I used to have a very autocratic style because I knew everything that was going on and I felt like I knew more about it than anybody else," Taylor says. "You have to defer to the people's opinions that are closer to the situation than you. It's something I've done pretty successfully."

Taylor's role is now often one of devil's advocate.

"My job has become trying to poke holes in their thinking," Taylor says. "If I have a gut impression -- and my gut instincts are pretty good -- I will push and I will question and I will make the person explain why they came to this conclusion and try and poke holes in their argument.

"If I can't poke holes in their argument, then I know it's the right decision and I go with it."

Bad reputation

Taylor bristles at the overriding public perception of his industry as a fly-by-night, boiler room operation looking to rip people off.

"It makes me very angry," he says. "Every telemarketing scam you ever see on TV is how our industry is portrayed."

Taylor continues, "The hilarious thing is we enact all these laws when 99 plus percent of problems come from illegitimate operators who aren't complying with any law whatsoever."

That's why he has carefully branded his company as the antithesis of the stereotypical telemarketing firm.

The company's stately Akron headquarters, which opened in 1988, could pass for the offices of a large, upscale accounting or law firm, with a glass and brick exterior, plush green carpeting, rich hardwood desks, leather furniture and carefully placed ferns, flowers and potted plants. The main office's 340 employees dress only in business attire.

"We're not into wasting money," Taylor says. "But we've found by having a nice environment to work in, people don't mind working the long hours as much and pour their hearts into it and feel that it's a sound, real company."

Taylor is working with the University of Akron to create an institute for direct response marketing, a degreed program modeled after the university's Fisher Institute for Professional Selling, which trains students for a career in sales management.

"The idea is to -- not to just provide a degree program -- but to educate students that it is a legitimate and worthwhile career opportunity and to elevate the image of telemarketing," Taylor says.


It's not uncommon for CEOs to downplay a crisis facing their industry or company. Former WorldCom chief John Sidgmore spun his company's largest-ever Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by saying, "We still haven't lost any substantial customers," adding that the filing would allow the company "a better chance to get our message across."

Less than four months later, Sidgmore resigned.

Taylor isn't quite so chipper about the looming Telemarketing Sales Rule, which the FTC and FCC will begin to enforce Oct. 1.

"It's going to be a severe challenge," he says. "No, I am not confident. We have got to dramatically expand our inbound opportunities because I think this will cripple the outbound. For commercial applications, it could destroy the industry, literally. It's that onerous."

He is focusing on landing more inbound telephone services as the way to expand InfoCision's commercial growth. Two new contracts, the U.S. Golf Association and St. Jude's Hospital, are primarily for inbound work, and InfoCision handles several inbound projects for Alltel Corp.

"Customer care for Fortune 1000 companies is what we really want to focus on," Taylor says. "We would handle their inbound questions. Ideally, we would like to work with clients where we're online with their database and are their partner long-term."

It's clear he isn't wasting any time to save his company from losing 20 percent of its business. After all, his may be one of the few remaining outbound telemarketing companies by this time next year.

"This industry is responsible for almost $700 billion in sales," says Taylor, quoting statistics from the Direct Marketing Association. "The outbound industry alone employs 6 million people and accounts for more of the Gross Domestic Product at 7 percent than the restaurant industry at 6 percent. If somebody instituted legislation that put an end to 50 percent of restaurants, don't you think there would be some backlash to that law?" How to reach: InfoCision Management Corp., (330) 668-1400 or www.infocision.com