Akron/Canton (3279)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

1999 SCOPE Awards

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On April 29 at the Brookside Country Club, the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce honored this year’s winners of the sixth annual SCOPE awards, recognizing Stark County’s Outstanding Private Enterprises.

Businesses are judged on staying power, company and employee growth, service and product innovation, response to adversity and community involvement.

This year, the chamber cut the number of winners from 11 to six, making the awards more exclusive. After dissecting close to 70 nominations, these are the businesses that stand a cut above the rest. We at SBN would like to congratulate all the winners and wish them continued success.


The Amish Door Restaurant and Village Inc
A country inn, gift shops and a restaurant serving traditional Amish style food
Founded 1977
Employs 250
Philosophy to success: Keep an eye on your competition, but blaze your own trail.

In 1977, Milo Miller, president of Amish Door Inc., bought a restaurant in Wilmot because his previous job, as a mason, was killing his back.

Little did he dream that his 48-seat restaurant serving home cooked Amish style food would blossom into a whole village.

The restaurant, where all the food is made from scratch, now seats 450 and is accompanied by a 500-seat banquet facility, 50-room country inn, a bed and breakfast and six retail stores selling antiques, gifts and baked goods.

What the Amish Door Village has done is create a destination place.

“When I first got here, it was always, ‘What’s the competition doing?’” says Eric Gerber, vice president of Amish Door Inc. “We got to the point where we said, ‘Wait a second. Why are we always worried about what the competition is doing? Let’s take some chances ourselves.’”

By becoming involved with travel associations and attending bus company trade shows, the Amish Door has boosted its number of visitors and its revenue.

As the Amish Door grew, the one item that was the base of its success remained constant — the food. Gerber says the company could cut out some labor costs if it used some prepackaged foods, but it refuses to compromise the quality of the food.

“You can have a nice place. You can have a clean place. If the food isn’t good or the waitresses aren’t friendly and the waitresses don’t take care of you, you’re not going to have people coming back,” Gerber says. “Have we perfected that? No, but that’s our goal.”


Beaver Excavating Co.
Heavy construction company specializing in earthwork, site preparation, concrete foundations, underground utilities, roadwork, golf courses, landfills and maintenance to the industrial sector
Founded 1953
Employs 500
Philosophy to success: Provide excellent service and quality work at a fair price.

Founder Don Sterling started Beaver Excavating with a $4,000 loan, a dump truck and a back hoe. Initially, the company dug basements and sewer systems for home builders. Now it utilizes more than 300 pieces of equipment for major projects from construction to destruction in Ohio and bordering states.

W. Mark Sterling, president of Beaver Excavating, says the company “kind of grew in spurts.”

The first and largest division is Earthwork, specializing in moving earth for projects from site preparation for houses to building dams.

The company later formed an underground utilities division in response to customer demands. This division has installed sewer systems and pump stations for entire cities.

In 1982, working on a project for the Timken Company, Beaver prepared more than three million cubic yards of earth, laid more than 10 miles of underground utilities and started its concrete division by pouring a 26,000-cubic-yard foundation.

“We basically do everything but build buildings,” Sterling says.


Ernie’s Bicycle Shop
Providing new bicycles and repair service in Massillon, North Canton, New Philadelphia, Wooster and Canal Fulton. Ernie’s also sells fitness equipment and other wheeled recreational vehicles, such as wagons and skateboards.
Founded 1978
Employs 35
Philosophy to success: Find your customers, then give them what they want, even if that requires opening another store.

Ernie Lehman, owner of Ernie’s Bicycle Shop, says he got into the bike business by mistake. One day, while an employee at Brewster Dairy, he was looking through Mother Jones Magazine and saw an ad for a bike shop for sale in Bolivar. Thinking it might be a fun side business, he bought it, and after a month, moved it to Navarre, where it stayed for seven years. He worked the shop alone, part-time, while working at the dairy.

“We didn’t look into growing too much,” says Lehman, but slowly the bike shop took up more and more of his time and he eventually decided to dedicate himself to it full time. The majority of his customers were coming from Massillon, so Lehman moved his shop.

Once in Massillon, he noticed he was drawing a large clientele from the Canton area, so following the flow of demand, he opened a shop in North Canton.

“Once we opened the second one, we got a taste of running a shop you aren’t at,” he says. Ernie’s Bicycle Shops have since opened in New Philadelphia, Wooster and Canal Fulton, all following the flow of his customer base.

Lehman attributes his success to the fact that he loves the sport that is his business, as do his employees. For the betterment of the sport, the company has donated more than $10,000 to development of local trails. Lehman is a member of the Ohio and Erie Canal Corridor Coalition and the Ohio and Erie Canal Association and last year received a corporate award for support of the trail. Ernie’s was named a Top 50 Trek bicycle dealer in 1998 out of 3,000 dealers nationwide.


Meter Devices Co., Inc.
Designer and manufacturer of electricity metering products and equipment

Founded 1918
Employs 85
Philosophy to success: Have a vision to be number one and seek to achieve that vision in all aspects of your business.

Meter Devices Co. is a world leader in electricity metering products and equipment, serving customers in North America, South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Taiwan and the Philippines.

“We’re known as the market share leader in the product lines we sell,” says John Shincovich, group vice president. “So the utilities (companies) have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing — our quality level, our pricing, the whole nine yards.”

The deregulation of the utility industry has created more of a demand for metering products, and Meter Devices has accommodated the industry with short lead times and innovative quality products. The company has posted four consecutive record growth years, doubling in size every three years for the past nine.

To accommodate growth, this October the company plans to move into its new 70,000-square-foot facility in Canton Township, where new product lines will be opened, creating more employment opportunities.

Shincovich stresses that embracing technology in all aspects of the business has helped it achieve number one market status.

Meter Devices supports The Canton Rotary and The Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival. Earlier this year, the company donated $3,000 to Dueber Elementary School in Canton as part of its Corporate Adopt-A-School Program for the advancement of education at the primary level.


Navarre Industries Inc.
Manufacturer of fuel dispensing nozzles and components in use worldwide

Founded 1991
Employs 40
Philosophy to success: Keep the company simple and let your people be people. Provide for your customers exactly what they want exactly when they want it.

By paying close attention to their customers needs, Paul and Greg Miller, brothers and owners of Navarre Industries Inc., have devised a method of manufacturing in which they produce to an inventory instead of producing to fill an order. This way, when an order is received, it can be shipped out that day. This keeps their customers happy and turns into repeat business.

The simplicity of this system stems from the simplicity of the company itself. The Miller brothers started by doing all the work themselves. Currently, the company utilizes an administrative staff of four and the rest of the 40 employees are in production.

Ten percent of the production workers are in quality control, which translates into perfection of product and shipments. The company has not missed a shipment in four years, and shipping 100,000 pieces per month, it has had no rejected parts in three years.

For Navarre Industries, the trickle down theory of a company’s success has become more of a pour down theory. Last year, the company gave all employees a $1.50 per hour raise.

“We felt we were getting the right revenues per person that we were able to do that,” Paul Miller says. “As long as we can continue to pay them more money, we’re going to pay them more money.”

The company has never laid off one person.

Flexibility is the name of the game for Navarre Industries as federal standards continually force it to make adjustments to product designs. Its customers also come to it regularly with changes in design specifications.

But by far the biggest adjustment the owners had to make came a year into the company’s existence when the building was struck by lightning. A hydraulic press blew up and a fire broke out, but the Miller’s went ahead with business as usual, not missing any shipments.

“Our customers never knew it until we told them,” Miller says.

Miller knows his company would not have overcome this pitfall or grown to its existing status without his employees.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the years is you can’t do anything as far as being successful unless you have people out there really willing to do the job and do a good job for you,” he says.

Navarre Industries will add 15 employees this month with the introduction of two new production lines.

“That’s our focus right now, to make it the very best place to work in this county, so that we have a line of people, even in these employment conditions, dying to get in here because it pays well, because the conditions are good and because we’re fair minded people.”


Shearer’s Foods, Inc.
Family owned manufacturer of Grandma Shearer’s Snacks and manufacturer of private label products for select customers in the snack food industry
Founded 1974
Employ 235
Philosophy to success: Get the best employees, make the best product and have the best service.

What started out with Jack Shearer’s urge to make his own potato chips out of a kettle in Canton has grown into a $24 million operation in a state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar production facility in the one crossroad town of Brewster.

“First and foremost, what sets us out from our competition is the quality of our products,” says Jeff Vaughn, vice president of finance. He attributes that quality to the Shearer’s “obsession with perfection.”

Tom Shearer, vice president of the company, says it’s the little things the company does that keeps it ahead of the competition.

“In today’s competitive market, people still want a quality product, not necessarily the cheapest,” Shearer says.

The cooking oils, salts and spices are checked hourly in the plant, and with the recent additions to Shearer’s production facility, every stage of the process, down to grinding corn, is handled and monitored in the factory.

In addition, the plant is thoroughly cleaned and the cooking oils filtered daily, in an industry in which the average for cleaning is three times a week and for filtering, once a week. The result is that after 15 hours of cooking, the facility is still cleaner than most people’s homes.

The plant is regularly inspected by a rabbi so that all Shearer products may be kosher certified.

This commitment to quality has paid off as Shearer’s products continually win Gold Medal Awards from the American Taste Institute and top awards in virtually every other snack food competition.

Bob Shearer, president of the company, says that overall he is proudest of “The acceptance of the product we make by our customers and the double digit growth that we show and the expansion that we just completed.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

They might be giants

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When Michael Dunlap graduated from The Ohio State University in 1958, he found himself with an all-too-common problem: he didn’t have a job. With his girlfriend — now his wife — still in school, Dunlap’s first instinct was to look around the university for an employment opportunity.

The university’s new president was dealing with his own dilemma, and Dunlap thought it might be his ticket to employment. The university had just built a new cultural arts facility, Mershon Auditorium, with money donated by Col. Ralph Mershon. The problem was that the money ran out before the building could be equipped with seating, draperies, lights and speakers.

“I was too stupid to know I couldn’t go across the country and ask big companies to donate,” Dunlap remembers. The young opportunist raised $3 million in corporate donations to fill the auditorium by selling nameplates on seats and drapes.

The 22-year-old’s success in that venture shaped the way he views business. After directing the launch of five successful start-ups, and a full-time career as chief development officer for Diebold Inc., Dunlap is still knocking on the doors of large companies.

The strategy he stumbled onto now has a name: sponsorship marketing, or co-op marketing.


Two years ago, Dunlap founded a company, Petshealth Insurance, which — as its name suggests — provides insurance policies for pets.

Dunlap prepared for the launch by conducting demographic studies that pinpointed five major target audiences:

  • young professionals;

  • childless couples;

  • families;

  • empty nesters; and

  • those between 72 and 85.

He knows each group’s buying power and what percentage owns pets — what kind and how many.

For Dunlap, the next step was second nature. He identified the groups he needed to speak to, picked up the phone and called them.

“You’re going to get a lot of rejections, “ he warns. “For every one hit, you’re going to get 99 rejections.”

In the beginning, Dunlap went to his most logical ally, veterinarians. He was quick to get their approval and endorsement, but found it wasn’t enough. His acquisition cost per policy was still too high. That’s when he decided to look for sponsorship opportunities with larger corporations.

By attending trade shows and calling people, Dunlap started drumming up interest.

“I probably have 30 years of networking contacts,” he says. “They all came because I knew people who could open doors.”

From his Ohio State experience, Dunlap learned to go to the presidents of companies.

“If I don’t know him, I know somebody who knows someone to get me in,” he says.

He shows up with charts and graphs and summary information on how both sides can benefit. Petshealth now has partnerships with AAA, Chase Manhattan Bank, Iams Company and the ASPCA.

“We get to ride the coattails of the industry,” Dunlap says. “It allows us to come in as endorsed by AAA, and that means a lot to their members,” Dunlap says. “They can trust the new kid on the block.”

In the case of the ASPCA, Petshealth gets access to 260,000 pet owners or ASPCA supporters. With AAA, Petshealth gets thousands of people who know the value of preventive plans, such as a AAA membership. With Iams, it’s a 100 percent hit for his target market.

And what does the other side get? The buzz words are “value added service.”

With the ASPCA, Dunlap’s company offers members a free short-term accident policy. In exchange, when new clients are sent letters asking if they would like to pay and stay with the policy, there is a section they may check to donate $2 to the ASPCA.

With Iams, it’s a similar arrangement. Petshealth offers the free policy and Iams customers get the added value of a health insurance policy for their pets if they respond. Dunlap is betting that purchasers of high quality pet foods are the people who would be willing to pay for health insurance for their pets.


John Maggiore, executive vice president of the advertising and public relations firm Innis Maggiore Group, says these co-op arrangements follow a traditional model.

“One company offers a financial incentive to another for including them in their advertising,” he says. “Your local heating and cooling company probably takes advantage of their air conditioning manufacturer’s co-op advertising fund by featuring their product or logo in an advertisement.”

In the early ’90s, co-op advertising began morphing into co-op marketing. Maggiore says, “There’s a whole shift in the point of view that has kind of arisen from looking at target audiences more closely.”

Businesses have gone from co-op advertising, based strictly on financial incentive, to co-op marketing, based on co-operative partnering, target audience similarities and mutual gain.

Maggiore says the principle can be applied in various ways. You see Taco Bells in gas stations and ATMs in bars. Blockbuster video distributes promotional snack packs in conjunction with candy, soft drink and popcorn manufacturers.

The possibilities are endless and business people need to keep their eyes open, Maggiore says.

“The reason co-op arrangements have evolved so quickly is because people have begun to understand the synergies gained by integrating their marketing efforts with other marketers who share the same target audience,” he says. “It’s really finding ways to put your arms around the customer with other things that appeal to them.”

With the databases and demographic studies available via the Internet, it’s much easier now to find out exactly what other interests your customers have.

“You want to find all the ways you can to build relationships with your customers,” Dunlap says. “You want to thread and weave relationships and any way you can be a better service, or a value added service, will help.

“It’s all about networking and being aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Maggiore points out that Dunlap makes it sound too easy. That’s why advertising firms exist.

“In this case, he is more sophisticated,” Maggiore says of Dunlap. “He’s really understanding of all the avenues that his potential customers might come upon. What he’s done is he has identified some commonalties and he has gone out and talked to these businesses.”

Maggiore suggests a few simple steps for small businesses which want to reap the rewards of co-oping.

  • Identify the lifestyle type of your customers.

  • Identify other products and services that customer type uses.

  • Identify manufacturers and providers of those products and services.

  • Start talking to those people.

“It’s creating alliances by talking to people,” Maggiore says. “Who you talk with will help you determine the things you have in common with your product and the customer type.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Leap of faith

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Kevin Lamarr Jones has always believed growth through acquisition was the fastest way to build a successful business. That’s why, in 1995, he quit his day job as a venture capitalist for The Northcoast Fund investment group in Cleveland to solo-scout full time for deals with a promise of quick, aggressive growth. But never in his wildest dreams did Jones foresee fighting such an uphill battle to follow his faith.

When SBN featured Jones in April 1998, he had made his first acquisition seven months earlier. To close the deal, he put his home and life savings on the line to purchase Permold, a 77-year-old foundry in Medina that specializes in aluminum castings for the trucking industry and manufactures parts such as clutches and transmission casings.

At first sight and face value, Permold wasn’t a pretty picture. The business had been languishing in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 1996. It was furiously fending off impatient creditors. Looming large was $6.59 million in total liabilities.

The company’s lender declined to advance Permold money to continue operations. The plant was days from having its doors shut. The staff had dwindled from 300 to 100.

Despite all that, Jones saw promise in Permold. The company once had a robust reputation in the custom aluminum molding industry. It served myriad industries, boasting $10 million in annual sales. It listed $6.2 million in assets that Jones could take to the bank. And the aluminum industry was predicted to climb from $7.7 billion in 1996 to $10 billion in 2000.

Jones had a mechanical engineering degree, an MBA in finance and solid experience in the banking and venture capital sectors. But more than anything, Jones says his faith in God prompted him to pursue Permold as his first acquisition.

“My wife and I really committed ourselves to faith and prayer, and now I’ve come to believe that this is a ministry in terms of the impact we’ve had on the lives of so many employees, their families and other business associates along the way,” Jones says.

Homestead Capital LLC — the Shaker Heights-based private investment firm Jones formed in 1996 to acquire businesses in manufacturing and distribution industries — served as parent to Permold. Although Homestead (named after a street Jones lived on in his youth) was supported by a team of outside advisers and investors, the firm at that time was essentially a one-man band.

Jones set the bid price, wrote the proposal, met with creditors, organized financing, lined up investors and coordinated legal and accounting details. Since the September ’97 purchase of Permold, Jones, as president and CEO, has been nurturing the foundry past the problems that had plummeted it to bankruptcy. Jones feels as if he’s been climbing a mountain.

“It’s still steep, but not as steep now,” Jones says, adding that he still faces “an incredible number of challenges ahead.” Jones says restructuring Permold’s management was his first order of business, having determined the financial quandary wasn’t due to a deficiency in quality.

Permold’s predicament, he ascertained, was caused by a lack of leadership and strategic direction. He says he wanted to do business with a sense of honor, integrity and commitment to other people. That’s why, in addition to all the other elements that make a business successful, he wanted a united management team that engendered a sincere, caring atmosphere for the workers.

To do that, he had to bring in a completely new management staff. “And then, getting that team to gel, mesh and click — that took time,” Jones says.

For his executive vice president, Jones enlisted the support and sagacity of Richard E. Pelzer, a former president of ECC Financial Group (once a subsidiary of Eaton Corp). He tapped Doug Pohly, former president of Superior Diecasting in Cleveland, for his chief operating officer.

Stephen Olson, formerly with Amcast Automotive (one of the largest aluminum casting companies in the world), headed up day-to-day production for Permold. For quality assurance, Jones persuaded Fred Brady, a former Permold employee, to come back. Jones applauds his entire management staff and Permold’s union work force for their endeavors in seeking to revive Permold. Their goal is to return the once-prosperous foundry to its former position as a Northeast Ohio industrial leader.

The game plan was to go for low-volume production featuring large parts suitable for the heavy truck, HVAC and utilities industries. Even today, Permold continues to resist the temptation to target business from OEM automakers that require large part volumes at low cost prices.

Jones forges other revenue streams, such as machining and finishing, heat treat, casting impregnation, blast cleaning and quenching services. He acknowledges that since previous Permold management had “totally neglected the customers,” customer service has been an equally pressing priority. His team has made enormous investments of time and energy to repair relationships and build new ones.

“Another of our foundational beliefs is that we try to make the lives of our customers easier and better. So, whatever we’ve done has been geared to trying to produce the best part with the highest quality at a reasonable price, and trying to get the part there when they need it,” he says.

Then there’s that all-encompassing QS 9000 thing.

“It’s one of the most important things in the supply chain today, and it totally transforms how you do business from a standpoint of quality, consistency and efficiency. We’re striving to get there and we expect to have our QS 9000 certification by June. That process is making us a better company,” Jones says.

Another challenge is balancing cost structure with revenues.

“Just trying to be good at the basics and go from there, that’s been a day-to-day challenge,” Jones says, revealing that he’s done everything from scrutinizing the cost of paper towels at the office to raiding his kids’ piggy banks. “I did that in the beginning, but I don’t have to do that anymore,” he laughs.

Perhaps that’s because he recently refinanced the original high-interest loan he acquired to purchase Permold. When he rescued the foundry from bankruptcy, he was required to use a higher cost of capital for the loan.

“It was some pretty expensive money,” he says.

Last year, Jones worked with Strongsville-based Bennington Financial Group and Cleveland-based Knisely Consultants to deliver a proposal to The Money Store’s Commercial Lending Division and Business Alliance Capital (both Cleveland companies). The $4 million deal empowered Permold to climb out from under its original high interest loan.

Multiple lenders added to the complexity of the deal. The Cleveland District SBA Office provided $1 million; the State of Ohio afforded $750,000; The Money Store fronted $1.5 million; and Business Alliance Capital provided the credit line. Cascade Capital Corporation of Summit County was also a major player in pulling the deal together.

“This deal doesn’t happen without Cascade and Debbie Victory,” Jones says. “Because of her energy and enthusiasm for me and for what we’re doing, that transferred to a lot of the other people that were involved.”

Jones has one regret about the refinancing: “I only wish I’d done it much sooner.”

Why did he wait so long?

“It was challenging to get financing sources around here to back me. I think it was the credit and the perception of the deal. A company in bankruptcy that’s been losing money. A business person coming in who’s not a proven operator. A guy who doesn’t have a lot of his own money to put into the deal. Pick a reason!” he jokes.

Jones says the refinancing will greatly improve cash flow, enable him to upgrade and automate equipment and plan fo r future growth. The 188,000-square-foot facility houses 85 employees and he expects that, within the next three to five years, he’ll hire 20 to 25 more workers.

One of the biggest mistakes he made in the beginning, Jones admits, was failing to “right-size” immediately after purchasing Permold. He rationalized that if you have a highly skilled work force, you don’t want to lay those people off, because when business bounces back, you may not be able to get them back. He also didn’t want to adversely affect the lives of Permold employees and their families.

“A lot of people who work for us are the sole breadwinner for their family, so a layoff doesn’t just affect the employee. You have to multiply that number by four or five,” he says.

Besides, he’s an optimist. He thought he could turn things around sooner and regain more profitable business faster.

“We didn’t lay anyone off until six months into it. But on further review, we should have had downsizing immediately, to balance the cost structure of the business with the revenues.”

The steps he’s taken are finally leading somewhere.

“We are now approaching an annual run rate of $10 million,” he says. “What I’m focusing on now is growing the company internally and externally. Our plan is to turn it around in three years, reaching $15 million at that point. And our five-year plan is to grow this business to $30 million before we have to do a major plant expansion.”

With nearly two years of accomplishment behind him as Permold’s owner, Jones says his customers, suppliers and employees have had a chance to evaluate his modus operandi. The vote is in, he says, and he believes it’s a unanimous vote of confidence. And while he’s toiling for “metallurgical excellence,” Jones is also seeking capital to fuel growth and browsing for new acquisition opportunities.

His preferred approach is to find capital that buys into his growth strategy and use that money to acquire more companies.

In a corporate divestiture, leveraged buyout this past December, Jones acquired TRW’s high-performance forged piston division in Cleveland. The 160,000-square-foot Clarkwood Plant (TRW’s original headquarters) provides jobs for 55 people and complements Permold because, like other foundries and industrial companies, Permold tended to be one-dimensional.

“Our customers wanted us to be able to do more than just produce a raw casting,” he says. “We must be able to machine the casting, assemble other parts and weld if needed. Clarkwood has a very solid machining arm, so there’s a real fit there.

“And now, as we look at new business opportunities, we’re able to market our machining capabilities at Clarkwood along with our casting abilities at Permold.”

Jones is also buying more metal for both companies, creating economics of sale for raw materials.

“It’s been a great deal so far,” he says.

With annual sales of about $10 million, Clarkwood Industries falls in line with Permold’s rollup strategy of pursuing mid-sized industrial companies to grow and build through acquisitions. Not a bad choice for a second purchase, Jones notes.

In retrospect, he says that had Homestead’s first acquisition been any other company but Permold, his climb wouldn’t have been so steep. But then, the lessons likely wouldn’t have been the same. During the bidding process for Permold, Jones — originally

one of 50 potential owners — was notified of the loss of one of Permold’s major customers — a company that accounted for about 10 percent of the company’s estimated $10 million in annual sales.

It was a setback that left Jones unable to secure the financing for his bid and caused him to miss the Aug. 15, 1997 deadline to acquire Permold for $5.1 million. While he was upset about that at the time, he says everything happened for a reason.

Ironically, his opponent sought to reduce his bid price. Consequently, Akron Judge Marilyn Shea-Stonum reopened negotiations and allowed both parties to return with lower bids, with a stern warning that any new offers must be firm. In true winner-take-all fashion, Jones closed on Permold a month later for $4.5 million and a plan for payments to creditors that would bring the company out of bankruptcy.

In addition to financing from Gordon Bros. Capital of New York, money was raised from friends and business associates.

“That whole process was the catalyst that helped build character in me, in terms of the patience and perseverance, and the things you have to learn when you want something and it doesn’t happen the way you want it to happen,” he says.

While there have been other companies Jones passed up before and since the Permold acquisition, to every season there’s a time and purpose, Jones muses.

“When you’re making deals, timing is everything. When I originally looked at some of those other companies, the timing just wasn’t right. But later this year or a year from now, the timing might be just right,” he says.

Most important, Jones says, “This business has afforded us the opportunity to share some real business principles from a godly perspective. And if not for God, it wouldn’t have come together.”

How to reach: Permold, 820 West Liberty St., Medina, Ohio 44256, (330) 723-3251, or on the Web at www.permold.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Business Notes

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Jerry and Marianne Freymoyer have established Specialty Foil Printing, Canton, a manufacturer of foil-enhanced printed products and a sales agency for Kaeser & Blair specialty advertising products.

Graphic Enterprises of North Canton received an ADDY award from the American Advertising Federation District 5 for its GET Software stationery. District 5 winners will compete in a national competition later this month.

The United National Bank & Trust Co. of Canton has opened a Wooster office.

Wern Rausch Locke Advertising of Canton has been named agency of record for USA Floral, the largest wholesale distributor of flowers in the world.

The history of North Canton and its largest business, The Hoover Co., were showcased in a PBS documentary last month, “North Canton, Ohio: A Proud Past — A Promising Future.” The show was narrated by former WHBC radio personality Bob Krahling, produced by Milepost Productions of Massillon and directed by former North Canton Heritage Society Director Rebecca Hall.

Pat Conry, owner of PC Designs, North Canton, has added a new division, Conry Office Support Services.

Realty Executives Commitment recently broke ground on a 5,000-square-foot addition at 4200 Munson Road, brigning the total square footage to nearly 11,000.

Sharing the space will be a mortgage company and a title company, yet to be announced, creating a one-stop shopping place for home buyers. The oompany has nearly 8,000 sales associates worldwide.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

An ongoing battle

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An Ohio Supreme Court ruling handed down in April may make it easier for employees who are injured on the job to successfully sue their employers.

In Johnson vs. B.P. Chemicals, the court ruled in favor of an injured employee, setting a precedent for employee suits alleging that their workplace injury was “substantially certain” to occur. The case was brought by an employee in Allen County, Ohio, who was allegedly burned while on the job. Prior to this case, employees had to prove the employer deliberately and intentionally caused the injury to occur, and the number of workplace injury suits in Ohio substantially decreased.

“We can expect to see a sharp increase in litigation as a result of this ruling,” says Raymond C. Mueller, and attorney with Oldham & Dowling in Akron, which specializes in business law, litigation, estate planning and probate cases.

“Ohio businesses should not assume that by paying into the state’s workers’ compensation system they are automatically protected against litigation involving employee injuries. The court’s ruling reduces employers’ defenses against such lawsuits.”

Mueller says that prior to this ruling, the Ohio Employment Intentional Tort Act, enacted by the Ohio Legislature in 1995, made it virtually impossible for an employee to sue an employer successfully for a job-related injury.

“As an employee, you almost have no chance of winning your case,” says Mueller.

The Supreme Court has now declared the statue unconstitutional.

“There’s been an obvious ongoing battle between the Ohio Legislature, which wants to make things easier for businesses, and the Supreme Court of Ohio,” says Mueller. “This is the second time this battle has been fought, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the legislature come back and pass another statute, and for the battle to go on.”

This is not the first time this has happened, Mueller says. In the early 1990s, the Ohio Legislature passed a similar statute, and in 1993, the Ohio Supreme Court struck it down.

Mueller says that most attorneys have held off filing intentional lawsuits over the last four years. He now expects to see many refilings of old suits, as well as new suits arising as a result of this ruling.

“If there is a positive side to this ruling for Ohio employers, it is that insurance policies should once again be available to protect businesses from the high cost of employee injury lawsuits,” says Mueller. “Businesses should consult their insurance carriers and their legal counsel to determine what type of coverage is best suited to their situation.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Value-added sites

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Bruner Cox’s Web site used to be just a bland compilation of corporate information. Once potential clients saw it, they had no reason to come back, says marketing manager Diana McGonigal.

“It was terrible,” McGonigal says. “We took whatever printed material we had and just put it on the Web. But when you do that, there’s no value to clients and potential clients, no reason for them to come back or call you.”

Now, after months of retooling, the regional accounting firm with offices in Akron and Canton uses the Internet more as a sales tool and less as a brochure, offering “quick bits of information” at its site.

Just a few years ago, company Web sites were still unusual. As firms began jumping into the game, many just wanted to post something, anything, to represent themselves on the Internet. For most, that’s no longer enough.

“The change has been from providing basic information about companies, material usually used in brochures and contact information, to more interactive types of information, where transactions can take place,” says Jeff Bryk of Digital Ideas/Internet Solutions in Akron. “I can say without much hesitation that just like every business requires a phone, every business will require an Internet site.”

Summervilles’, an office furniture and supplies store based in Akron, with retail stores in Canton and Hartville, has had a Web site for years, but it didn’t do much, owner Skip Summerville says. On June 1, the company went online with www.theofficeplace.com, designed by Knight Ridder and advertised on the company’s newspaper sites nationally.

The older site, www.summervilles.com could take orders, but not many were coming in.

“The market is just becoming ready. People didn’t want it two years ago,” Summerville says.

The older site has become more business-to-business oriented. The new site is “strictly sales oriented,” Summerville says, with the company’s entire inventory of more than 20,000 items online.

“There’s no corporate information. People really aren’t interested in that,” he says. “They just want to know what the price is and they want to get it quickly.”

When buying over the Internet became possible, customers were hesitant about putting credit card information out into cyberspace. But as more people turn to the convenience of the Web to buy products and services, consumer reluctance has decreased, says Pamela Pierce, owner of Empowering You!, a full-service Web design firm in Akron.

“People should feel comfortable,” Pierce says. “We tell people they’re more likely to get their credit card stolen by giving it to their server (in a restaurant) than they are if they put it on the Web.”

Summerville agrees the reluctance is fading. While a few customers e-mail to ask someone to call them about an order, most do the entire transaction online, and, in fact, prefer to communicate via e-mail, he says.

To make buying online more attractive, companies are offering Web-only promotions or discounts. Summerville terms his company’s online pricing “very aggressive,” adding, “It’s a benefit to the buyer to buy over the Internet because of lower overhead.”

Theofficeplace.com offers e-mail specials to registered users, an inexpensive and effective way to keep in touch with customers, Pierce says.

“People are willing to give basic information in order to get information more targeted to their interests,” she says.

Contests can also drive traffic and generate excitement. Through mid-August, theofficeplace.com is accepting Web entries for the giveaway of a computer.

“That gives us a list of potential customers,” he says. In addition, “People talk about it and send it to their friends.”

Bruner Cox also wants people talking about its site, and offers a quiz to test browsers’ accounting knowledge. “Contestants” receive scoring, and, the firm hopes, pass the information along.

“Maybe people will tell their friends, ‘I found these questions. You ought to try it,’” McGonigal says.

Michael Murray, president of Convey.com in Garfield Heights, which designed the Bruner Cox site, says his client was looking for something to add value, to offer people in exchange for the personal information needed to gain a password.

“The more you ask from people, the more you have to give them,” Murray says. “That doesn’t necessarily have to be a gift certificate or a free booklet, but you have to give them value for their time.”

Items such as the quiz, or tax tips updated weekly, cost the company little, but make the site worth coming back to.

While many firms are using the Internet to add to their existing business, some entrepreneurs are using it as a starting point.

“Some businesses use their site as a full business,” says Pierce. “I believe in the next couple of years, more businesses will have their full business on line and decide to close their store fronts.”

Bryk agrees, saying the cost of doing business on the Internet is much less than doing it the traditional way.

“You can be one person in your basement running the business. You don’t need someone to answer the phone. It can work for you 24 hours a day at no cost,” Bryk says. “There’s been an explosion. That’s the only way to describe it. People are trying to capitalize on the Internet. If you’re in Akron, instead of just selling in Akron, you’re increasing your potential market dramatically.”

That levels the playing field.

“On the Internet, it’s not the size of the company. If you’re capable of producing the product, backing up the product, offer it at a competitive price, there’s no reason you can’t compete again the bigger companies,” Bryk says. How to reach: Summervilles’, (330) 535-3163, www. summervilles.com, www.theofficeplace.com; Bruner Cox, Canton, (330) 497-2000, Akron, (330) 376-0100, www.brunercox.com; Digital Ideas/Internet Solutions, (330) 733-9730, www.digitalideas.com; Empowering You!, (330) 375-0060; Convey.com, (216) 982-7617, www.convey.com

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

The apple fell far from the tree

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Many fathers hope their sons will follow in their footsteps. Especially if they own a business.

Take Gary Giller. Since he graduated from Emory University in 1980, he has worked for his father, Stuart, on two different occasions. First, he worked at his dad’s Coca-Cola Bottling Co. franchise in Detroit, then he served as president and CEO of Stroh’s Ice Cream Co., a distressed company in Detroit his father bought in 1990.

While Gary went off on his own between those stints — earning an MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University and working for five years at Cleveland’s Nacco Industries Inc. — he says he can’t help but hope that one day his son will work by his side.

“It’s a special relationship working for your father,” says Gary, 40. “What greater mentor or role model can you have in business than your father or grandfather?”

Gary Giller and his brother, Lee, 42, president of Macedonia’s B. Berger Co., a textile company Lee owns with his father, are an example of sons who work for their fathers but march to their own drummers. While many see a family business as destiny — if not duty — others take the business they grew up with in an entirely different direction when they take over, or use it as a launching pad to open a business of their own.

The Gillers buy companies that are in trouble, turn them around and sell them. But the sons took a few detours along the way. Lee, an attorney, practiced law in Akron for two years before leaving to work for his father’s Coca-Cola Co. franchise. In 1988, he returned to Akron to practice law for another two years. In the end, he says, “I decided I would rather be in a family business.”

In 1991, Lee and his father “stepped in at the eleventh hour” and bought the troubled B. Berger Co. with the goal of breathing new life into a corporation they knew had a great name.

“We’ve increased sales since then by four times,” Lee says. “We revived the energy in the company, and it’s back as one of the premiere companies for high-end textiles in the country.”

Gary and his father enjoyed the same success with Stroh’s Ice Cream Co., founded in 1919 by The Stroh Brewery Co. After Stuart bought the company in 1990, he and Gary — who served as president and CEO from 1996 until they sold the company last February — made it the leading ice cream company in Michigan. But none of this could have happened if the father-and-son teams weren’t willing to learn from each other.

“It’s a two-way street,” Stuart says. “I give them direction, and they do a lot to keep me up to speed. I learned that I better get into the new millennium — to become proficient with a computer. I’m learning from them all the time.”

Sometimes it’s not easy.

Phil Dannemiller, 56, always knew he would work for Canton’s Convoy Inc., his father’s company that manufactures industrial containers, “because I’m German and dutiful,” he jokes. But found that his eagerness to take the company into the future clashed with his father’s fears.

“After I graduated from Northwestern University, I worked for a plastic container maker in England for a year,” Dannemiller says. “Europe was ahead of American plastics — way ahead of us. I saw the future and came back ... But they weren’t quite ready.”

Fearing that a foray into plastics would cannibalize the company’s cardboard line, Phil’s father, Franklin, suggested they stick to what had made them a success. They decided Phil should go on the road and sell the product, not only to learn more about the market, but to give both of them room to breathe.

“It’s like cooking three meals a day with your mother in the same kitchen for the rest of your life, but it’s her kitchen,” Phil says of working in a family business. “If everything meshes — the temperments and everything — then it’s beautiful. But if there’s a difference of opinion, it’s difficult.”

While the company did integrate plastics into its product line throughout the 15 years Phil spent in sales, it didn’t fully embrace the newest technology until he took over as president after his father passed away.

“There’s nothing more difficult to change than a successful company,” he says. “We were very profitable, and he kept saying, ‘If I’m so dumb, why do we do so well?’ I kept saying, ‘It’s like bald tires on a car. They’re all filled with air, but the tread is going down. I don’t want to wait till they blow and we go over the cliff.’”

These and other reasons — such as different interests — contribute to the fact that many sons inherit their father’s entrepreneurial spirit but choose to work for themselves. Mike Schiltz, 30, co-owner of Massillon’s Milepost Production, a video and multimedia production company, always knew he didn’t want to work for Liquid Control Corp., his father Bill’s Canton company.

But, he adds, “When I worked for him as a kid during the summers, in the back of my mind I thought, ‘Some day, I’m going to do something on my own.’”

Mike’s main inspiration? Seeing how happy his father was going to work every day.

“He wasn’t waking up every morning saying, ‘Damn, I have to go to work,’” he says. “Now he has a multimillion-dollar corporation employing 100 or so people with plants in different states, and I have a three-man operation in Massillon, Ohio. But I’m doing what I love, and he’s doing what he loves.”

Mike’s brother, Mark, 32, is also doing what he loves — working as an applications engineer for his father.

“I always knew I didn’t want to work here,” Mark says with a laugh. “I saw myself working outside or moving out of the state.”

But when Mark got a job working at Canton’s Rice’s Nursery after attending Kent State University, his father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I had just bought a duplex. I was pretty serious with a girl. And he was concerned about my financial well-being,” Mark says. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come to work for me?’ It was his approach that made me think about it and take him up on it ... He’s been a good teacher and friend all my life.’”

Today, Mark is working his way up in the company with the hopes of one day running the whole operation. But Akron’s Mark DiFeo, 47, says he never planned on taking over DiFeo & Sons Poultry, his family’s well-known Grant Street business which was founded in 1918.

As the oldest of seven children, “I always thought a lot of people expected me to be the one,” he says. “But when I went to college, I thought, ‘What can we do with this family business? There’s seven of us. How are we going to survive?’”

His idea? Cook the poultry and serve it inside.

“Prepared foods. The wave of the future,” he says.

His father resisted.

“He was real leery about it,” Mark says. “He thought it might compete with our own customers. So for the first three years, it was a secret. We couldn’t advertise.”

In time, however, the business grew so much that Mark relocated to Fairlawn, where he says the concept exploded.

“They’d line up and order a half chicken and a pint of mashed potatoes,” he says. “Not only did they want it for lunch, they wanted it for organizations. ‘Could you put somebody on the grill and cook steaks for us? Could you get someone to park our cars? Could you get someone to decorate?’”

After throwing a successful fund-raiser for then-Gov. George Voinovich, he says, “I asked myself, ‘Why am I continuing to do this day-to-day work when I ha ve clients that are willing to do these types of events?’”

In 1987, Mark founded Corporate Caterers by Mark DiFeo, and his business has been going strong ever since. So are his brothers’.

Bob and Ed recently bought DiFeo & Sons Poultry from their father, Alfonso; brother Jim owns DiFeo Catering Inc. in Akron; and brother John operates DiFeo’s Chicken Carryout, which Mark started before moving to Fairlawn. Sister Lisa manages a health food store. The only sibling who works outside of the food business is Joe, 46, who started DiFeo’s Cellular Specialists in 1983 — a GTE wireless cellular phone agent which last year was named the top agent for GTE in the Akron and Canton areas.

Asked why he didn’t dig his heels into DiFeo & Sons Poultry, Joe says, “It just wasn’t in my blood.”

But that was OK with dad.

“I think my father recognized the fact that there were a lot of people who wanted to be a part of the business, and it wasn’t going to be able to support everybody,” Joe remembers. “He realized that this was probably a good thing.”

And sometimes, Mark adds, that’s better for the family.

“It’s hard for one brother to take orders from another brother,” Mark says. “It’s hard for one brother to be another brother’s boss. Some work longer hours. Some work less. Some run businesses in a different way. This way, with each of us having our own business, we are able to share ideas.”

Still, Joe adds, the reason each of them has that entrepreneurial spirit is because their father taught them to be independent thinkers.

“We all want to do it ourselves,” he says.

And it seems as if Alfonso’s grandchildren will eventually want to do it themselves, too.

Asked whether his children will eventually take over his catering business, Mark DiFeo begins a slow laugh.

“They’re young yet, and in a way they like it,” he says. “But when people ask, ‘Are you going to take over your dad’s business?‚ they say, ‘No. He works too hard.’”

How to reach: B. Berger Co.: (330) 425-3838; Mark DiFeo's Corporate Caterers (330) 869-8787; DiFeo's Cellular Specialists: (330) 773-6077; DiFeo & Sons Poultry: (330) 773-7881; Milepost Production: (330) 837-9251; Convoy Inc. (330) 453-8163.

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Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Planning for success

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Edward Tromczynsky, president and COO of PlanSoft Corp., makes raising capital look simple, but he says finding the money to grow a company is hard work.

“It’s not easy to raise capital,” Tromczynsky says. “You have to work hard, put together a good plan and a good management team and have some revenue already.”

PlanSoft, a technology company based in Twinsburg, is a worldwide provider of Internet-based, business-to-business e-commerce solutions for the meeting, convention and event industry.

“If you’re taking 500 people to Chicago, you need to find a hotel,” Tromczynsky says. “You have no idea what’s there. You need a convention center, off-site locations for dinner, you need to know what airlines go there, how to get from the airport, audiovisual equipment, centerpieces. All of that stuff is on our Web site.”

Tromczynsky and co-founder Bruce Harris started the business about five years ago in Tromczynsky’s home and incorporated in 1997. They initially raised $1 million, then a few million more in private commitments. Last June, the company closed on investments of $11.25 million.

“We sent out 75 business plans and got 50 venture firms very interested,” he says. “People say, ‘You’re a tech company in Twinsburg. You raised $11.25 million?’ They’re pretty amazed. I’m unaware of any other tech venture raising $11.25 million in Ohio.”

This spring, Tromczynsky attended Innovest, designed to bring entrepreneurs and venture capitalists together. While the experience was worthwhile, and PlanSoft attracted some interest, Tromczynsky said the company may be a little big for the concept.

“We’ve been valued by six to eight investment banks at $60 million, with shares between two and three dollars,” Tromczynsky said. “No venture capitalist interested in getting in on a deal wants to spend that much. They want 25 cents a share. There’s a chance $2 could become $10, but there’s more of a risk.”

Investors have found PlanSoft so attractive because it fills a needed niche. Internet users click on links on the company’s Web site for photos and panoramic images of every facility in North America with at least 5,000 square feet of meeting space; the company is in the process of adding 10,000 international hotels.

The site is free to planners. PlanSoft profits from selling enhanced listings to properties and suppliers, posting banner ads, and collecting commissions from hotels and facilities booked.

“If you took a meeting of 500 people to the Sheraton, that’s $200,000 to $300,000 worth of business for them,” Tromczynsky said. “For them to find you in Cleveland, they’re overjoyed. They can’t pay us enough to be there (on the Web site).”

A year ago, the company employed 19 people, “working seven days a week, from six in the morning until 10 at night,” Tromczynsky said. “Those guys became so unified, they became a skeleton for the company.”

The company grew five times in the past year, and although “we’re not going to grow five times again this year, when you have that skeleton, an amazing group results,” he says.

As it continues to grow, PlanSoft is looking toward another round of private financing of about $20 million and anticipates going public in the first or second quarter of next year.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Like father, not like son

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Many fathers hope their sons will follow in their footsteps. Especially if they own a business.

Take Gary Giller. Since he graduated from Emory University in 1980, he has worked for his father, Stuart, on two different occasions. First, he worked at his dad’s Coca-Cola Bottling Co. franchise in Detroit, then he served as president and CEO of Stroh’s Ice Cream Co., a distressed company in Detroit his father bought in 1990.

While Gary went off on his own between those stints — earning an MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University and working for five years at Cleveland’s Nacco Industries Inc. — he says he can’t help but hope that one day his son will work by his side.

“It’s a special relationship working for your father,” says Gary, 40. “What greater mentor or role model can you have in business than your father or grandfather?”

Gary Giller and his brother, Lee, 42, president of Macedonia’s B. Berger Co., a textile company Lee owns with his father, are an example of sons who work for their fathers but march to their own drummers. While many see a family business as destiny — if not duty — others take the business they grew up with in an entirely different direction when they take over, or use it as a launching pad to open a business of their own.

The Gillers buy companies that are in trouble, turn them around and sell them. But the sons took a few detours along the way. Lee, an attorney, practiced law in Akron for two years before leaving to work for his father’s Coca-Cola Co. franchise. In 1988, he returned to Akron to practice law for another two years. In the end, he says, “I decided I would rather be in a family business.”

In 1991, Lee and his father “stepped in at the eleventh hour” and bought the troubled B. Berger Co. with the goal of breathing new life into a corporation they knew had a great name.

“We’ve increased sales since then by four times,” Lee says. “We revived the energy in the company, and it’s back as one of the premiere companies for high-end textiles in the country.”

Gary and his father enjoyed the same success with Stroh’s Ice Cream Co., founded in 1919 by The Stroh Brewery Co. After Stuart bought the company in 1990, he and Gary — who served as president and CEO from 1996 until they sold the company last February — made it the leading ice cream company in Michigan. But none of this could have happened if the father-and-son teams weren’t willing to learn from each other.

“It’s a two-way street,” Stuart says. “I give them direction, and they do a lot to keep me up to speed. I learned that I better get into the new millennium — to become proficient with a computer. I’m learning from them all the time.”

Sometimes it’s not easy.

Phil Dannemiller, 56, always knew he would work for Canton’s Convoy Inc., his father’s company that manufactures industrial containers, “because I’m German and dutiful,” he jokes. But found that his eagerness to take the company into the future clashed with his father’s fears.

“After I graduated from Northwestern University, I worked for a plastic container maker in England for a year,” Dannemiller says. “Europe was ahead of American plastics — way ahead of us. I saw the future and came back ... But they weren’t quite ready.”

Fearing that a foray into plastics would cannibalize the company’s cardboard line, Phil’s father, Franklin, suggested they stick to what had made them a success. They decided Phil should go on the road and sell the product, not only to learn more about the market, but to give both of them room to breathe.

“It’s like cooking three meals a day with your mother in the same kitchen for the rest of your life, but it’s her kitchen,” Phil says of working in a family business. “If everything meshes — the temperments and everything — then it’s beautiful. But if there’s a difference of opinion, it’s difficult.”

While the company did integrate plastics into its product line throughout the 15 years Phil spent in sales, it didn’t fully embrace the newest technology until he took over as president after his father passed away.

“There’s nothing more difficult to change than a successful company,” he says. “We were very profitable, and he kept saying, ‘If I’m so dumb, why do we do so well?’ I kept saying, ‘It’s like bald tires on a car. They’re all filled with air, but the tread is going down. I don’t want to wait till they blow and we go over the cliff.’”

These and other reasons — such as different interests — contribute to the fact that many sons inherit their father’s entrepreneurial spirit but choose to work for themselves. Mike Schiltz, 30, co-owner of Massillon’s Milepost Production, a video and multimedia production company, always knew he didn’t want to work for Liquid Control Corp., his father Bill’s Canton company.

But, he adds, “When I worked for him as a kid during the summers, in the back of my mind I thought, ‘Some day, I’m going to do something on my own.’”

Mike’s main inspiration? Seeing how happy his father was going to work every day.

“He wasn’t waking up every morning saying, ‘Damn, I have to go to work,’” he says. “Now he has a multimillion-dollar corporation employing 100 or so people with plants in different states, and I have a three-man operation in Massillon, Ohio. But I’m doing what I love, and he’s doing what he loves.”

Mike’s brother, Mark, 32, is also doing what he loves — working as an applications engineer for his father.

“I always knew I didn’t want to work here,” Mark says with a laugh. “I saw myself working outside or moving out of the state.”

But when Mark got a job working at Canton’s Rice’s Nursery after attending Kent State University, his father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I had just bought a duplex. I was pretty serious with a girl. And he was concerned about my financial well-being,” Mark says. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come to work for me?’ It was his approach that made me think about it and take him up on it ... He’s been a good teacher and friend all my life.’”

Today, Mark is working his way up in the company with the hopes of one day running the whole operation. But Akron’s Mark DiFeo, 47, says he never planned on taking over DiFeo & Sons Poultry, his family’s well-known Grant Street business which was founded in 1918.

As the oldest of seven children, “I always thought a lot of people expected me to be the one,” he says. “But when I went to college, I thought, ‘What can we do with this family business? There’s seven of us. How are we going to survive?’”

His idea? Cook the poultry and serve it inside.

“Prepared foods. The wave of the future,” he says.

His father resisted.

“He was real leery about it,” Mark says. “He thought it might compete with our own customers. So for the first three years, it was a secret. We couldn’t advertise.”

In time, however, the business grew so much that Mark relocated to Fairlawn, where he says the concept exploded.

“They’d line up and order a half chicken and a pint of mashed potatoes,” he says. “Not only did they want it for lunch, they wanted it for organizations. ‘Could you put somebody on the grill and cook steaks for us? Could you get someone to park our cars? Could you get someone to decorate?’”

After throwing a successful fund-raiser for then-Gov. George Voinovich, he says, “I asked myself, ‘Why am I continuing to do this day-to-day work when I ha ve clients that are willing to do these types of events?’”

In 1987, Mark founded Corporate Caterers by Mark DiFeo, and his business has been going strong ever since. So are his brothers’.

Bob and Ed recently bought DiFeo & Sons Poultry from their father, Alfonso; brother Jim owns DiFeo Catering Inc. in Akron; and brother John operates DiFeo’s Chicken Carryout, which Mark started before moving to Fairlawn. Sister Lisa manages a health food store. The only sibling who works outside of the food business is Joe, 46, who started DiFeo’s Cellular Specialists in 1983 — a GTE wireless cellular phone agent which last year was named the top agent for GTE in the Akron and Canton areas.

Asked why he didn’t dig his heels into DiFeo & Sons Poultry, Joe says, “It just wasn’t in my blood.”

But that was OK with dad.

“I think my father recognized the fact that there were a lot of people who wanted to be a part of the business, and it wasn’t going to be able to support everybody,” Joe remembers. “He realized that this was probably a good thing.”

And sometimes, Mark adds, that’s better for the family.

“It’s hard for one brother to take orders from another brother,” Mark says. “It’s hard for one brother to be another brother’s boss. Some work longer hours. Some work less. Some run businesses in a different way. This way, with each of us having our own business, we are able to share ideas.”

Still, Joe adds, the reason each of them has that entrepreneurial spirit is because their father taught them to be independent thinkers.

“We all want to do it ourselves,” he says.

And it seems as if Alfonso’s grandchildren will eventually want to do it themselves, too.

Asked whether his children will eventually take over his catering business, Mark DiFeo begins a slow laugh.

“They’re young yet, and in a way they like it,” he says. “But when people ask, ‘Are you going to take over your dad’s business?‚ they say, ‘No. He works too hard.’”

How to reach: B. Berger Co.: (330) 425-3838; Mark DiFeo's Corporate Caterers (330) 869-8787; DiFeo's Cellular Specialists: (330) 773-6077; DiFeo & Sons Poultry: (330) 773-7881; Milepost Production: (330) 837-9251; Convoy Inc. (330) 453-8163.

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