When Forrest Ritzman opened his Wadsworth pharmacy in 1953, there were no Walgreens, Rite Aids or CVSs choking suburban street corners. He made a living selling pharmaceuticals, school supplies, toiletries and candy bars.
Five of Ritzman's six sons graduated from pharmacy school and opened stores of their own. The Ritzman name became somewhat of a local icon with eight stores from Rittman to Hudson. But a trusted name isn't enough anymore.
More and more consumers were being lured to the "big boxes" of the pharmacy arena where they can buy everything from prescription drugs to barbecue grills.
"With prescriptions alone, there really is no income, even for the larger drug stores," says marketing director Robin Barnby. "The money is made out front with school supplies and Band-Aids. It gets to a point where you cannot compete."
The Hudson and Wadsworth stores were converted into combination pharmacies and natural-health centers earlier this year. These stores are the pilot projects for the company; converting more stores is under consideration.
"Even though the converted stores have been in existence for a while, it's really like opening entirely new businesses after the changes were made," Barnby says. "We've had to put a great effort into marketing the stores and into consumer awareness."
The new stores offer a selection of health foods, natural products, vitamins, minerals, herbs and dietary supplements-even a juice bar. Customers can purchase "cruelty free" skin-care products and makeup as well as soy milk or vitamins.
"More and more of our patient/clients were asking about natural products and prescription drugs," Barnby says.
The two stores were remodeled. Natural woods, spectrum lighting, earth tones and greenery replaced the stark white, institutional style. Traditional products carried by every other drugstore in the United States were replaced by coolers housing organically grown rice and other packaged, natural foods.
With the change also came another challenge-credibility.
Vitamins and other food supplements are not standardized by the Food and Drug Administration.
"There are a lot of people out there selling 'snake oil.' That's why we are truly trying to integrate the worlds of research and health products," Barnby says. "You can buy a $3.99 bottle of St. John's Wort at any discount drugstore. I guarantee you won't find any of those bottles on our shelves. We'll offer a $12.99 bottle of St. John's Wort, but there will be a vast difference.
"In the discounted products, two capsules may look the same, but one capsule may have grass, dirt or inactive parts of plants in it," Barnby says.
Ritzman went so far as to send one of its lead pharmacists to the rain forest to assist other physicians and botanists in researching newly discovered plants for drugs.
"Four out of six prescription drugs originate in the rain forest, and there are still countless plants that haven't even been classified yet," Barnby says.
An added assistance for the company has been the addition of a lecture room, resource books for use in the store and a computer reference area.
"We encourage people to sit and read our books," Barnby says. "We also have an ongoing educational project to educate our staff with constant updates on research.
"Our philosophy is: We would rather a person walk out with a handful of literature rather than a handful of products so they can read and decide truly what is best for them," Barnby says.
The mortar and pestle are not on the shelf as a decorative tribute to the past. Customers can watch while traditional and alternative prescription drugs are made behind a glass wall. Pills can be transformed into transdermal creams for patients who can't swallow, and children's prescriptions can be flavored to their specifications.
"We're specializing in flavoring oral medications," Barnby says. "Especially for children who are on chemotherapy and often won't take their medicines. Sometimes the pharmacist involves the child in selecting the flavor. When the child has a choice they tend to take ownership."
The pharmacy's patients are not limited to the two-legged variety. Ritzman has also targeted the webbed-footed and four-legged market by working with local pets, Sea World of Ohio and the Akron and Columbus zoos.
"Our marketing has focused on getting the word out about the change and getting the customer to know what we're doing and what's available," Barnby says. "This is certainly not a product drive. It's more information driven than product driven."
I braved the journey to Blossom Music Center this summer to accompany my daughter and a few thousand of her closest friends to see the group I refer to as the "Pre-fab Four"-the Spice Girls.
I planned for a long, hot evening filled with the screams of prepubescent girls dressed in a variety of precocious ensembles, too much makeup and wobbling around on the same 6-inch platforms my own mother clamored about some years ago.
As expected, "Scary," "Baby," "Sporty," and "Posh" delivered a prepackaged musical performance, maneuvered a few poorly choreographed dance moves and changed costumes more often than Barbie herself.
But I was impressed by the performance ... honestly!
Going in, I expected the worst but left with something never anticipated. The Spice Girls are stellar performers in the marketing and sales arena. Who knew?
As superficial as they may seem, the four 20-something Brits have cleverly concealed their true talent with the language of pop culture.
What they really mean by "Girl Power" is the "buying power of girls ages 12 to 24."
The first hint of genius came at 7:30 p.m., when the concert was scheduled to begin. Rather than the traditional warm-up band, concert-goers were greeted with a few popular music videos on three immense screens. After the first few music videos, the audience had been captivated and eagerly awaited another on-screen musical performance. As the fourth video began, its format was so similar to the music videos that proceeded it, no one seemed to notice it was a commercial for an acne treatment. More musical ads followed for everything from nail polish to motorcycles.
An hour into the concert, when the singers took a break, 30 minutes of non-stop commercials followed. It appeared to be a Spice Girls music video repeated several times, but after a few minutes, but I realized it was actually a commercial for the many "Spice" products available in booths at the concert.
When the girls returned to the stage after the break, clad in red, white and blue-they were singing a song I knew I'd heard before but couldn't quite remember where. Was it a tribute to their own Union Jack or to Old Glory? When the red and blue logo of Pepsi- Cola appeared on the big screens, however, I quickly remembered. The Spice Girls gave Pepsi a new variety of commercial by singing and dancing it live as part of their performance.
With sponsors like Pepsi, Revlon and Gillette, it probably doesn't matter if the Girl Power phenomenon doesn't last for more than a few years. If the four invest well, they will probably never have to work again.
But if they do, I'd want them on my marketing team.
Residents of Bath Township may have gotten what they wanted last year when Biskind Realty Co.-the North Olmsted developer behind the sprawling Great Northern shopping complex on Cleveland's far west side-withdrew its proposal to develop the former Firestone Estate. But what they end up with as a result could be far worse for Bath and greater Akron.
Environmental groups paid close attention to the events that eventually persuaded CEO Dan Biskind to walk away from his plan to use the estate to create a "sustainable community." In a rare twist, however, these groups-often written off by developers as "tree huggers" and worse-actually supported Biskind's unique development plan.
For Biskind and Jerry Gould, the company's president, the experience involved a love affair with a 1,500-acre urban anomaly: a large tract of undeveloped land with rolling hills, rich forests and flowering meadows. They also admit to being a little too enamored with their idea of using the land to create a neotraditional development in which homes are clustered in small segments of a much larger property while most of the land is left untouched.
That kind of plan runs counter to the usual pattern of dividing most or all of a tract into even lots for development-a pattern that zoning boards are used to dealing with, but which many urban planners now view as inefficient and burdensome on the infrastructure.
Scott Davis, spokesman for the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, says he believes Biskind was also trying to show the world that developers aren't to blame for all that is wrong with the environment.
"In Ohio, home-builders are taking a public-relations beating," Davis says. "They're blamed for traffic, the loss of green space and natural areas. "There's a point where the quality of life and the standard of living intersect. We're reaching this point in Ohio where the quality of life starts taking a downturn. We're paying more and more just for a clean glass of water. Home-builders are taking most of the blame for this."
"Our idea was so old it was new," Gould says. "The concept is hundreds of years old and can be seen in New England, where people lived together and stayed in a community from cradle to grave."
The creation of a sustainable development requires an enormous amount of property near a metropolitan area. The idea is to create a community of various ages and socioeconomic levels that is sustained by the employment opportunities in nearby cities-in this case, Akron and Cleveland.
"This was a unique situation to find 1,300 contiguous acres, unspoiled near a major city like Akron," Gould says. "From an environmental standpoint, this would have been beneficial, but it also meant interaction of people young and old and the ability to recruit executives to the Akron area."
The plan cost Biskind more than $500,000 to create, incorporated homes for seniors, assisted-living facilities, starter homes for young couples and singles, as well as the usual mix of large, upscale houses. It promised to leave nearly 80 percent of the property untouched with the exception of a few footpaths connecting areas of development. The green space would come with a permanent easement, effectively preventing any further development.
Biskind claims he was prepared to give more than 300 acres to the township. Another piece would have gone to the Medina parks system.
Biskind made a down payment for the 1,500-acre parcel-1,300 acres are in Bath; 200 are in Akron-and was ready to ante up the $13 million purchase price.
All he needed was a zoning variance to allow houses to be built on lots below the 1.5-acre minimum established by Bath law. Such minimum lot sizes are a common method for upscale communities to limit growth and crowding. Ironically, in this case, it might have the opposite effect.
Under Bath's zoning ordinance, an ordinary subdivision approach to the Firestone Estate could mow down all the trees, flatten out the hills and build 650 to 750 evenly spaced homes. (Wetland areas would go undeveloped, in accordance with the law). And there's nothing anybody could do to stop it.
To make any money, Biskind's idea required more housing units-1,000 in all-but on smaller, tightly clustered lots. Not only would that preserve much of the estate's natural beauty, it would also minimize the cost to build and maintain roads, lighting, water lines and sewers.
"We invested quite of bit to complete the plan and brought in experts from across the country," Gould says. "We had support from everywhere except the Bath government. We would rather walk away from the opportunity than develop it in a way that would spoil the beauty of it."
But Biskind never got to the zoning board. First, he held town-hall meetings for residents to learn about the plan and ask questions. The bitter reaction told Biskind that he had walked into a war against the zoning board, township trustees and residents.
"Proposing 1,000 units for 900 acres in Bath just doesn't fly," says Bath trustee Elaina Goodrich. [Biskind] didn't invest a lot. What they did was to put their toe in the water with community leaders, who were very vocal against them. The people wanted to keep the land open and not develop it."
In the end, the people are likely to be disappointed. The land has too much value and is already being developed.
Biskind consultant Bill Bryant foresaw a lengthy appeals process and the prospect of huge financial losses. Despite support from the outside, Biskind realized he couldn't win. Rather than exercising his option to bulldoze the land and build the usual subdivision, Biskind dropped the project.
The opportunity is now gone, but the Nature Conservancy's Davis says there is plenty to learn from it.
"Biskind tried to think ahead and develop a community on this property," Davis says. "Instead of building across a grid, he looked at the topography to fit the houses with the natural landscape. He had everything from $500,000 homes to a senior citizens' development, so if you wanted to move your parents into the neighborhood, you could.
"That kind of development will command a higher price. It makes good business sense and people will pay more to live there," he says.
But, Bryant says, "Bath township is difficult to do development in because the people there just don't want any development That's why they live in Bath. They want it to stay pristine with open space, but the problem is there's 1,500 acres there that something will be done with sooner or later, and no one wants to face up to that."
The land divided
Ohio State University, which owned of the property, sold the entire estate in October 1997 for $12 million to Commonwealth Properties, based in Akron.
John Chlebina, president of Commonwealth, readily agrees that the Biskind plan represented a higher use of the property than is now going to be the case.
"Biskind's plan had a lot of resistance," Chlebina says. "It was a good idea, but the people of Bath aren't used to smaller lots."
The property has already been cut up. Chlebina has kept about 317 acres. Of that, he plans to use about a third for his own family home while selling off two-thirds in parcels ranging from five to 25 acres-each of which might again be divided and sold.
He sold 370 acres to developer Tom Merryweather, who plans a traditional housing development under existing zoning laws.
Bath Township paid about $3 million for 400 acres, a third of which is classified as wetlands and could not, in any case, be developed. Twenty-five acres will be used to build a ballfield. The rest will be maintained as a nature preserve.
The Medina County Park District spent a reported $1.6 million to buy 211 acres, which has been added to the existing Allardale Park.
The Revere School System purchased 69 acres for the "future growth of the school district."
Whatever else remains-fewer than 200 acres-will be offered to adjoining land owners.
Fences go up
There is no way of knowing what will happen to the former esta te. Certainly in the near-future, fences will outline the new property lines, roads will be built across it, trees will be plucked from it, and houses will start to go up.
The way the estate has been divided still leaves opportunity to build more than 500 homes. While that prospect may be of comfort to township residents, the tract of land-which was unanimously viewed as a rare and special resource-seems destined to become just another bedroom community.
"We drew this plan up because when we looked at the land and saw the beauty of it, we didn't see it any other way," Gould says. "But eventually it will be developed and the Bath people can't stop that."
Would Biskind risk it again if the right parcel of land came on the market? Gould says it's a possibility, and that the company has already identified at least one other potential site in the state. But, he adds, they won't do anything without a written invitation.
If you want to increase sales, conventional wisdom says launch a high-voltage marketing campaign with radio ads blaring about 20 percent discounts and coupons offering buy-one, get-one-free specials.
From her first day in business as owner of Ace Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning nine years ago, Sharon Schweitzer vowed she would never offer even so much as a penny off her base price. Discounts, she believes, can crucify a business almost as fast as sluggish receivables or underperforming employees.
It's a contrarian view, to be sure, one of many for the third-generation owner. Her workload has stayed between 700 and 800 jobs per year after her first year, and she's raised prices only three times. Her growth has come from bigger jobs from the same customers. If they're happy with their living-room cleaning, they'll get the whole downstairs next time.
Sales during the last five years have grown a modest 18 percent, providing her with predictable cash flow and unwavering profit margin.
Fulfilling a goal
Sharon Schweitzer worked for five years as an industrial engineer for The Timken Co., focusing on plant efficiency and setting production and piecework rates. Employee incentives were based on her findings-making her unpopular with some but also shaping her into a good judge of the value of time.
Her father, Albert D. Schweitzer, ran Canton-based Ace Carpet, which he had taken over from his stepfather, Leroy Hossler. The company was founded in 1948 and passed to Albert Schweitzer in 1957.
Sharon Schweitzer, who earned her M.B.A. from the University of Akron while working at Timken, says she knew she would one day become the third owner of the small, residential carpet-cleaner. "My long-term goal my whole life was to take over the business," she says.
Schweitzer's layoff from Timken in 1985 pushed up the planned succession, and Schweitzer bought the name, equipment, customer base and goodwill.
Since then, she's been content to keep the company fairly small, with only herself and three employees, two of which are part time.
Taking away excuses
Carpet cleaning is one of those services people get because they need to. If people think they can get a better price next week or next month, that's all the excuse they need to put it off.
Schweitzer aims to take the excuse out of the equation.
"You'll never find a coupon or hear of a discount advertised," she says. "My customers all know that."
Her rationale is twofold: First, she doesn't want people to think they can haggle her down or benefit from waiting. Second, she wants all customers to be charged the same price for the same service. "I don't want to tick anybody off. Everybody gets a fair price."
The one-price strategy succeeds in making her life easier. Further, it helps establish an expectation of quality. She doesn't have to worry about someone thinking she's hurrying through jobs to keep her profit margin up. Discounts are funny that way, she muses. They might increase the quantity of jobs, but you earn less or hurry to save the additional required time.
Even though her flat 25-cent per square-foot rate sounds simple, she still has trouble communicating it to some who rationalize they deserve a discount for multiple rooms or if two neighbors get their carpets cleaned on the same trip. Sure, Schweitzer's travel time and transportation costs are lower on these jobs, but that's figured in her pricing to make up for clients located 45 minutes away with only one room. If she's inclined to reward volume, she makes it up with a complimentary spot-remover kit.
Schweitzer often gets requests to submit bids on jobs. If price is the definitive issue, she says she'll almost always lose. Her price seems reasonable and is competitive among the six other certified carpet cleaners in Stark County.
The competition is thicker than that, however; 58 non-certified cleaners are listed in the Yellow Pages and often have lower prices.
"Someone will say, 'I had an estimate for $400, and you'll charge $700. Will you match their price?' I'll say, 'No way. Here's my estimate. Call me if you want me.'
"You get what you pay for," she says. "I'm not price-competitive."
Schweitzer tries to convince people that carpet cleaning is no different from other industries: There are different levels of quality and service.
She points out that some companies might charge extra to move a sofa or treat a spot-basics that she thinks customers should expect to be included.
The three-year freeze
While she's proud of what she considers higher-end prices, she's reluctant to raise them. Her last price increase, which was three years ago was 3 cents per square foot, meaning a price increase of $15 on the average 500-square-foot job. Her price on stairs rose from $1.50 to $2 per step.
"I don't think I lose any customers over the increase," she says.
"I stay really busy at the price I'm at," she adds. "I could work 12 hours a day, but I won't."
Schweitzer, who books jobs generally a week in advance, has a client base that's 90 percent residential. She shuns business customers because they expect discounts for high volume, and they often require cleaning at night.
She accommodates same-day emergencies, perhaps involving a disobedient pet, as best she can with no extra cost. Pets, in any event, help drive her business because of the hair they shed. About 70 percent of her customers own pets, and Schweitzer makes a point to become friends with the animals as well. "I carry dog bones in my truck. The dog is my bread-and-butter."
Raising awareness, and then sales
Schweitzer believes that many consumers get misled or receive poor service and that affects all carpet cleaners.
Schweitzer has produced a Consumer's Guide to Carpet Cleaning, which she distributes free on request. The booklet outlines 18 carpet-cleaning rip-offs, common mistakes and misperceptions, as well as maintenance tips. She also offers a free five-minute consumer awareness message-accessible through a separate phone number-to help people know what questions to ask of a carpet-cleaning company. She also tries to reinforce the importance of value and price.
"Whether they're going to become my customer or not, I want to educate them," she says. "Maybe I didn't get them this time, but I'll get them next time."
I'd like to ask you for two small favors. But, first, let me provide some relevant background about the publishing business. Except for a notable few, publications do not live by revenue from subscriptions. The money is in the advertising.
Many charge readers anyway, though the price doesn't nearly cover the cost of selling, and then servicing, each subscription. They do it to show advertisers that people are so devoted to the publication, they'll pay to read it.
It's an accepted business model, but when applied to specialty publishing, it has some weaknesses. Chief among them, from our perspective at SBN, is that it doesn't manage the makeup of the readership. Under the paid subscription model, you develop a product and then see who shows up to read it.
At SBN, we work under the "controlled circulation" model, which essentially starts at the other end. We began with a desired readership-entrepreneurial business owners and high-level decision-makers-and then developed a product to serve them.
Several times a year, we pay an outrageous sum to an independent auditor, BPA International, to go over our circulation list and postal records in detail. That's how we prove to advertisers that the magazine reaches this intended audience.
But how can we prove that the audience is paying attention? By collecting "direct requests" from people like you-signed documents, containing information specified by BPA, that say you have asked to receive the magazine.
We often obtain our direct requests through telemarketing-one of the methods approved by the auditor-and we have it down to a dull but reliable process: For every $1,000 we spend, we know precisely how many direct requests we're going to get.
But this time, we're trying something new; we're asking that you respond in writing using a simple form, which appears on the inside of the magazine's outside cover (in our jargon, it's a cover wrap). The bean counters at HQ are shaking their heads right now; they would have preferred to do another round of telemarketing.
I, on the other hand, am excited at the chance to improve on this ordinary piece of business.
Which brings us to those two favors I want to ask:
First: Think about how you feel toward SBN. All things being equal, would you wish for our success? Or failure?
Second: If you feel any warmth toward the magazine, please take the few moments it will require to fill out the reader survey on the inside of the "cover wrap" and fax it back to the SBN circulation department at (888) 329-7261. We're not offering any incentives. No trips to Europe, no free car. Just the chance to make it a little easier for us to go about our business-which is to help you improve your business.
The box labeled "Subscription renewal information" will be used for only one reason: to collect those important direct requests for our auditors.
The other information is used to help us better focus our content to serve your interests, and to help our advertisers fine-tune their messages-again to ultimately serve your needs. But if you resist such surveys, at least fill in the "Subscription renewal information" box and send it back before the end of September.
Thanks in advance.
Bob Rosenbaum can be reached at (216) 529-8584, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You get a volatile, dynamic and sometimes rewarding phenomenon: the business partnership.
The IRS knows of more than 1.6 million partnerships in the United States, and the total has been growing nearly 6 percent a year since 1990.
But if there's anything that rivals the staggering 50 percent divorce rate of married couples, it's probably the failure rate of business partnerships-though you won't find any reliable statistics to back that up.
Most of us don't have to scroll too far on the mental Rolodex to come up with acquaintances who used to be someone's partner.
John Blickle, who served for three years as president of Sorkin Thayer & Co. in Akron, couldn't imagine ever being in a partnership. "As an accountant, I saw a lot of horror stories I just didn't want to be a part of."
Today, however, he is half-owner of the well-known enterprise Heidman Inc., which runs 30 McDonald's franchises in Greater Akron. His partner, Richard Heidman, founded the company more than 40 years ago.
If longstanding marriages are harder to find nowadays, longstanding partnerships between unrelated, hands-on owners is even harder. How do the successful ones make it work?
SBN talked with four sets of partners, each facing a different set of circumstances. Within their success stories you'll find some common threads, based on principles of mutual respect, compromise and commitment.
Picking battles with care
Richard Heidman and John Blickle
Heidman Inc. dba McDonald's
When McDonald's corporate office this summer rolled out plans for a throwback promotion in which the workers would wear tie-dyed shirts, John Blickle cringed. Oh, he liked the idea, but he wasn't eager to spring it on Richard Heidman, his partner in 30 McDonald's franchises in Greater Akron.
At 77 years old, Heidman is Blickle's senior by 30 years. Blickle knew that his partner's age and old-fashioned work ethic would combine to make him explode at the thought of seeing his workers in tie-dye.
"I knew Monday morning at 8 o'clock wouldn't be the right time to talk to him," Blickle smiles. When they did talk, Heidman reacted as Blickle expected. "He said, 'No, it would look like hell. You don't want to buy something from someone wearing a T-shirt like that.'"
While Blickle favored the idea, he had already decided not to push it if Heidman felt too strongly.
That diplomacy is a staple of their business relationship.
"Some things are really critical to Richard but not as much to me," Blickle says. "If either one of us feels strongly about something, we'll say so ... Invariably it works out."
"We're both control freaks," Heidman laughs. "It's amazing we get along."
For the record, Heidman did grudgingly agree to the three-week tie-dye promotion because he thought the teen-age workers--who are well aware of how in-demand they are in this tight labor market-might enjoy it. "It's something that's different and keeps them interested," Blickle says.
While he's glad his partner agreed with his idea, Blickle notes, "It's not about winning or losing. If it had gone the other way, I'd have been OK with that."
Heidman says a good partnership should be built on respect. For them, that means understanding what's important to the other person. "Give in when you have to and fight when you have to," he says.
That respect also means appreciating the other person's areas of expertise. In their case, Heidman is the McDonald's veteran who is battle-tested when it comes to marketing and politics. Blickle, an accountant and lawyer by trade, has gained expertise in operations and today handles the general administrative responsibilities. "I might have an idea," Heidman says, "but he can come up with very good reasons why it's not good because it would hurt the bottom line too much."
Heidman and Blickle are also careful not to second-guess each other once a decision has been made. A comment that's strictly off-limits to both: "I told you so."
For example, Blickle recalls a difficult time several years ago when an employee was failing at the job, even though the person was well-liked. Heidman wanted to fire the person and Blickle resisted. That went on for three years, until Blickle finally concluded the situation had to be addressed.
"I just told him he was right and I was wrong and that was it," Blickle says. "He didn't throw it back at me."
Blickle joined the company in 1983 by buying out the interest of four other partners. At the time, Heidman owned 18 McDonald's. With nearly double the number today, the company employs 1,500 people (equivalent to 800 full-time employees).
Blickle acknowledges he was apprehensive about becoming anybody's partner, but says today, "I've never had an issue that I wasn't treated fairly on."
While Heidman had equity partners before, none were active in operations. Having a hands-on equal stirred his fears about coexisting, but under McDonald's Corp. requirements for franchisees, Heidman had little choice as he started to look toward succession. Owners must be active operators. "It's been better than I thought," he says. "Two heads are definitely better than one."
First friends, then partners
Linda Littler and Laura Carey
Carey & Littler Staffing Inc.
Linda Littler and Laura Carey started Carey & Littler Staffing Inc. two years ago knowing almost nothing about running a business. But the two felt confident because they knew each other well.
Their unexpected path to ownership occurred after Littler was fired from a temporary staffing firm, where she'd been for seven years. In a show of support, Carey quit the same company three days later-after working there five years-and announced they would form their own company.
It seemed logical because together they knew the industry. Littler had worked on placements; Carey had worked in outside sales. For five years, the women had worked side-by-side and, despite a 14-year age difference, they had become close friends.
"We had sort of a partnership even before we were partners," Littler says.
"It was such a natural," Carey says, "because of our work habits and ethics and friendship. When we clash, that is our foundation."
Carey & Littler have a somewhat unconventional partnership: They own equal shares even though Carey works only part-time in the office so she can maximize time with her three children, ages 3, 9 and 11. She spends about 20 hours in the office, and puts in perhaps 15 more at home, while Littler holds down the fort full-time in the office.
They reason that the pendulum will swing in a few years when Carey's children are all in school and Littler scales back to take care of an elderly aunt.
Littler acknowledges the arrangement is less than risk-free, and says people are surprised to find they have equal ownership. But it goes back to the friendship and trust.
While they haggled about whose name to put first in the company, Littler eventually agreed to put Carey's first for the practical reason that it appears earlier in alphabetical Yellow Pages listings.
Littler says it's important for prospective partners to iron out basic goals and philosophies ahead of time. But Carey goes a step further. "I would never have started the business with her if I hadn't known her for so long."
The women spend a good amount of time together outside of the office, too. Like many partners, they say they usually know how the other feels about an issue. In their case, one often catches herself finishing the other's sentences.
While their start-up phase has been successful-they became profitable at seven months and have opened a second location-they realize sustaining a business is even harder than starting one.
They agreed from Day One on a way to keep the peace in case they ever encountered a colossal disagreement. "We sa id if we ever had an impasse, we would hire a mediator to work it out," Carey says.
Knowing they have that option helps them discuss issues more freely. "It's a safety net," Carey says. "We're glad though because we haven't had to use it yet."
Left brain meets right brain
Marie Collins and Kathy Gargoline
Control Systems Inc.
For 22 years, Marie Collins ran Control Systems Inc. with her husband Ray. When he expressed interest in semi-retirement three years ago, she sought out a hands-on partner, even though she and her husband still owned the whole company.
She turned to Kathy Gargoline, a 17-year-employee who had started at Control Systems as a receptionist and progressed over the years to assistant accountant and then director of finance. Gargoline was promoted in 1995 to general manager, with responsibility for day-to-day operations of the Hudson ignition-equipment manufacturer. Collins, who is president, focuses on the big picture.
While Gargoline didn't own any equity three years ago, she was passionate about Control Systems and took some of the credit for its growth. "I already felt like I had ownership," she says.
For her part, Collins says, "I trust Kathy's judgment like my own."
Collins this fall decided to formalize those sentiments by making plans to offer a minority interest to Gargoline and possibly to a couple other key employees as well.
Collins sees the move as a sort of reward for two decades of dedication. But in reality, she has considered Gargoline a partner for years.
"A lot of companies, when they're small and family-owned, they like to have their hands in everything," Gargoline says. "I've had the flexibility to basically run the company as it needs to be run."
Collins and Gargoline say they've made their relationship work by focusing on their own areas of the 10-employee manufacturer. Collins handles strategic issues and marketing. Gargoline handles finance, including monitoring cash flow and margins, as well as daily operations.
It seems to be working: The first year after they entered their new roles, sales grew 20 percent, followed last year by a 38 percent increase.
"I might look at what we want," Collins says. "She's looking at what we can afford."
She describes it as a powerful combination of left-brain/right-brain personalities. "We're a good match that way," Collins says. "I think it would be detrimental in a small company if you had two people who thought a lot the same."
The women say they do have disagreements occasionally but work through them logically. "You need to listen to each other and you need to look at the issue from the other person's perspective," Gargoline says.
And once a decision is made, it's a joint decision. They succeed together and they fail together. "It's not, 'You shouldn't have done this. 'It's more like, 'We shouldn't have done this,'" Collins says.
Gargoline adds: "We learn from our mistakes."
Values steer the relationship
Vince DeCarlo and Frank Paternite
DeCarlo, Paternite and Associates Inc.
Vince DeCarlo and Frank Paternite were co-workers for one year in 1973 at Tremco Manufacturing in Cleveland in the fledgling field of computer systems.
The two went their separate ways and met up again a few years later on a moonlighting project in Chicago.
In 1976, they formed DeCarlo, Paternite and Associates Inc. as a two-man company developing custom software for manufacturing applications. Today DPAI is the oldest and one of the three largest privately held information technology consulting firms in Ohio, with sales nearing $20 million, 170 employees and offices in Independence, Akron and Orlando, Fla.
Even though DeCarlo is president and Paternite is vice president, each owns 50 percent of the business.
One of the secrets to the longevity of their partnership has been dividing the primary areas of responsibility. They capitalize on their own strengths and stay out of each other's hair.
Paternite oversees technology and legal matters while DeCarlo handles sales and marketing and finances.
"That's pretty much the line we divided," DeCarlo says. "To make a partnership work, you each have to have your own role, and those roles have to complement each other."
"Vince is the visionary," Paternite says. "I'm more the analytical type who figures out how to make it work. He's the dreamer. I act as a pessimist. Together we come to an understanding."
"I dream about all kinds of stuff," DeCarlo laughs. "Frank's role has always been to bring me back to reality."
DeCarlo says their ability to sustain the business revolves around three values: communication, dedication and determination.
"Our communication skills are textbook," he says. "We have an open dialogue and each person is given the opportunity to make his case.
"There has never has been a decision we haven't been able to agree on," he adds. "We might have to go have a cup of coffee. Sometimes we might even have to go down to the bar, and it might take two or three drinks, but we come together."
Stark State College recently opened its Environmental Resource Center to the business community. The lab holds a dozen Internet-accessible computers with faculty and student assistants to help you maneuver through various sites.
The focus of the center is to aid business owners in navigating through environmental information that affects them.
"Because of rapidly changing environmental regulations and concerns, many businesses need an up-to-date resource," says David Roth, director of marketing and communications for Stark State. "We know that many business owners don't have the time to do an exhaustive search of what environmental resources are out there-they have a business to run.
"Since we offer an environmental technology degree program, this is a logical extension of that program for the business community."
Roth says the lab assistants were trained to help direct visitors to environmentally related Web sites.
"That's what the primary focus will be, but the primary intent is certainly to offer the availability for other research as well."
The lab is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The staff will also be available to help users over the phone.
How to reach: Environmental Resource Center (330) 494-6170
Take a workshop...have some fun
Taking a workshop in OSHA safety standards probably doesn't sound like a load of laughs. You might expect hours of dry lectures and massive binders filled with mind-numbing text. But the "Scaffold Safety Standards" workshop offered by the corporate and community services office at Kent State University's Stark Campus may be a bit more lively than you'd expect.
"In the scaffold workshop, the participants actually erect scaffolding," says Connie Collings, spokesperson for the program. "This is a really fun workshop."
In a networking workshop for small business owners, participants practice "working a room" in the classroom. An opportunity to test their skills comes during an arranged visit to an area chamber of commerce event.
New workshops offered this month include "The Power of Leadership Style" to evaluate management styles and "The ABCs of Activity Based Costing" to determine the real cost of a product or service.
The university offers several complete series of seminars on subjects like human resources, safety and general management. Classes range from $35 to $225.
For more information, contact corporate and community services at (330) 499-9600.
Y2K, it just won't go away
You think there may be something to this Year 2000 problem after all, and you're ready to do something about it. Or maybe you need to know if what your doing is enough. Stark State College may have the answer.
The school's continuing education department is offering a one-day "Y2K: What Does it Mean to Me?" workshop for both the computer novice and expert.
Cliff Diehl, technical recruiter for Manpower Technical, will guide participants through general strategies and detailed information such as process control, risk-management methodologies and forecasting systems.
The workshop is divided into morning and afternoon sessions on Oct. 7. For more information, call (330) 966-5455.
How to reach: Cliff Diehl, Manpower Technical (330) 454-5656
Stark County manufacturers reduce deadly emissions
A report released by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency shows the amount of toxic releases in Stark County has dropped significantly even as the number of manufacturers increases.
The annual Toxic Chemical Inventory Program measures the presence and release of approximately 600 chemicals and ranks the state's 88 counties from worst to best each year. Toxic Release Inventory reporting was mandated by federal law in 1987 for manufacturers using hazardous materials.
The Ohio EPA uses the data collected for air monitoring evaluations and countywide air-pollution studies as well as to place limitations on companies discharging wastewater.
Stark County slid from the second-largest producer of toxins in 1987 to the seventh in 1996 while the number of reporting facilities increased from 52 to 63.
"I am pleased to see a continuing decrease in toxic releases to the environment," says Don Schregardus, director of the Ohio EPA. "While recent reductions are not as large as the historical reductions ... they reflect a continuing commitment by Ohio facilities to reduce TRI releases and improve Ohio's environment."
More than 370 facilities statewide implemented programs to reduce the number of toxins released in 1996. The total includes routine and accidental chemical releases.
How to reach: Ohio EPA (614) 644-2270 or www.epa.ohio.gov.
We all probably know at least one business owner or top executive who's been struck with a serious illness. In most cases, the person, and the company, would probably have benefited from early detection.
Executives are not immune to health problems, and they might even be more susceptible if they're so busy that they neglect regular checkups.
That's the reason that the North Canton Medical Foundation launched its Executive Health Program. The full-service medical practice is targeting the 50 largest-area employers in hopes of providing annual physicals to all of their executive staffs. The marketing push focuses on how much companies suffer if a top executive is off work for an extended time or even dies from an undetected ailment.
The physicals, which are paid for by the employer, generally include a head-to-toe exam, a pulmonary check, blood count, cancer screening, chest X-ray, urinalysis, hearing and vision exams and other basic screenings. This level of exam costs $640 per person.
"If they invest in their executives, they're investing in the future of their companies," says Joan Bowser, Executive Health coordinator.
So far, about a dozen Stark County companies have contracted with North Canton Medical, including The Hoover Co., The Timken Co. and Diebold Inc.
At Hoover, the program covers the top 10 officers and managers. "So far we're very, very happy with the program," says Hoover spokeswoman Jacquelyn Love. "It's very positive for the employees and the company."
North Canton Medical provides red-carpet treatment for the executives, including opening at 7:30 a.m. to accommodate work schedules and avoid typical doctor's office waits. "It's pretty elite treatment," Bowser says.
Executives benefit by having their companies pay for comprehensive physicals. The companies benefit by keeping their important executives in better health.
Dr. John Humphrey, medical director for the practice, says the program serves as a sort of kick in the pants for executives who might procrastinate. "Most of us have access to health services, but this motivates them and systematizes their exams," Humphrey says.
"Most of us know what we should do, but we put stuff off because we have anxiety over it. Every intelligent woman knows you should have a mammogram every year, but so many women don't get them. This makes sure they get them."
Humphrey adds that the exams don't substitute for regular care, nor is the practice trying to steal business from existing family doctors. "This should supplement your health care, not compete with your primary physician."
The practice forwards information to the employee's family doctor, but not to the company management. "I enter into a doctor-patient relationship with these people just like everyone else," Humphrey says. "Clearly the companies have to honor that."
Many major clinics nationwide have started offering such executive programs, Humphrey says. Popular executive choices are the Mayo Clinic and Greenbriar Clinic.
"We, as a country, are getting a lot more into early detection and preventative care," Bowser says. "The bottom line is we're pushing this as an investment in a company."
North Canton Medical Foundation, which has 44 physicians and 270 employees, launched the program earlier this year, both to provide a community service and to try to build a business. "If they need a specialist down the road," Bowser says, "maybe they'll think of us."
How to reach: North Canton Medical Foundation (330) 305-5060
Planning for your future requires one important element: organization. It involves taking the various components of your life and assembling them into a systematic routine aimed toward a particular result. Absent organization, you can look forward to frustration, wasted time, poor performance and lack of perspective.
Organizing your life yields three priceless resources: time, efficiency and perspective. Everybody has the first of these. Each day contains 24 hours that can never be captured again. If the average life of a person is 73.5 years, that's 26,827 days, or 643,860 available hours.
But time is finite. When we waste it, we can't simply go back and make up for it. Like cash in the bank, it must be managed. And by managing our time, we gain control of this resource, and can accomplish more in a shorter period.
The dividend of time management is efficiency, the ability to do more with less. The wealth and ease that most people have in the United States is a direct result of increased efficiency. The evolution of the world from agricultural to industrial and now to an information age is tied to ever-increasing productivity. We thus need to look for ways to continue to increase our own productivity. Are we involved with overlapping activities with negligible rewards? Every wasted activity eliminated is time discovered to produce more results.
Perspective is the ability to form a clear view of your environment. How often have you felt so overwhelmed, only to realize that you were going in circles? The person without perspective cannot see their path. But when we can step back for a moment and consider ourselves as outsiders might, we can correct our course. The Portuguese navigators of the 14th century kept detailed log books and records of their voyages to uncharted waters. In fact, they were considered state secrets. In our life's voyage, it's only by keeping detailed records of successes and failures and the choices that brought us there that we're able to adjust our course for more profitable waters.
So where should we begin? First, take an honest look at ourselves. Three major steps will follow:
No. 1, examine every aspect of your life--work, leisure and spiritual-and make an inventory. Assess the tools you have at your disposal. What is your expertise? Who is around who might give you insight? What are your assets and liabilities? Where are you wasting time? Are you spending too much time relaxing? How much time do you spend at work? What are your work processes? Where is your work being duplicated?
No. 2, group the different parts of your life into components. Ask yourself, what is important? Then incorporate these various aspects into one central command post, sometimes called an organizer.
The Roman army was one of the most successful in history because it was one of the best-trained and best-organized ever. It was divided into divisions, or legions, of 6,000 men. These were in turn divided into cohorts, which had several centurions over various units. Through superior organization, Caesar was able to conquer the larger but less-well-organized armies of Gaul in a few years. Your organizer can likewise become a central command post from which you will be able to direct the needed resources to win the war. It should contain some lever of control over every aspect of your life.
No. 3, execute your plan of attack. Do you need to make more sales? Do you need more products? More locations? More quiet time? With a panoramic view of your personal battlefield you can begin plotting your strategy for the rest of your life.
We are only given one life, and now is the time to make it count. We can't go back and capture lost time. We can only look forward and make the time we have left count. By organizing ourselves, we can all get there.
Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.