Brown has subscribed to that philosophy from Day One. She founded the business, which specializes in electronic workflow solutions, out of her home in 1992. As she added employees over the years, she found that she could tap into a wider and better-qualified pool of job candidates if she completely disregarded where they were located.
It actually happened by default rather than design, she says. When I decided to expand my staff, the virtual office had already been working for me for years, and we decided to try it in an expanded version and it worked really well.
Now, with 20 employees, DataNow still has no offices. All employees work out of their homes, and interact with customers and other employees via e-mail and the Internet. Staff meetings are conducted over the companys intranet.
With todays shortage of good tech people, Brown uses programmers as far away as New Zealand, most of whom specialize in Lotus Notes and Java. On certain projects, its just as seamless to the customer as using someone whos entirely local, she says.
In England and New Zealand, Brown says, the technology job market is flooded with Asians and Russians who will program more cheaply than their counterparts in this country. Because of the competition, she says good programmers often look to make money outside of those countries, which creates a great opportunity for U.S. companies with virtual offices.
Brown is able to give her employees the freedom to think creatively by avoiding traditional job descriptions when they are hired.
Generally, when we hire someone, instead of saying, This is our definition of this job, we talk to the person and find out where they will bring value to the company and what makes them happy, she says. We try to tailor each job to the individual persons skills. If we like somebody, well make a job for them that fits.
This month, Brown will break another rule, this time one of her own. Shes opening a physical office in Barberton, a think tank place for developers, she says.
While she wont require employees to work out of the office, she says it will provide a place for people to work collaboratively, when necessary. We decided that we were getting better results out of our developers when they could work in teams. Its going to be interesting to see what they come up with.
So far, Browns strategy seems to be working. DataNow has been recognized in its industry as a finalist in the Lotus Beacon Awards for the last two years. Brown has been selected as a regional finalist in the 1999 Working Woman Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards in the Innovative Approaches category.
How to reach: DataNow, (330) 645-1255
The United States Parachute Association warns that skydiving is a potentially dangerous activity, but that the sport can be safe when a jumper exercises proper precautions.
Some entrepreneurs say that starting and running a business is like strapping on a parachute and jumping out of a plane. To do either, youve got to have guts and a contingency plan.
Barb Casey agrees business ownership and skydiving are much the same. Five years ago, she invested $20,000 to establish Faircrest Door in Canton, a garage door sales and service company. She says it was her life savings, a big risk, and she could have lost it all.
The scariest thing about running a business is that it might fail. But youve got two chances of surviving when youre skydiving. If your main parachute doesnt open, you can pull your reserve, she says.
Casey speaks as one who knows. As an avid skydiver, she spends her weekends at Canton Air Sports, a popular northeast Ohio drop zone. And each October, she travels to New River Gorge in Fayetteville, W.Va., to participate in Bridge Day where, in a legal base jump, more than 350 skydivers parachute off an 800-foot-high bridge, cheered on by a crowd of about 150,000 spectators.
Greg Pigott, owner of Professional Carpets Inc. in Canton says that plunging into business ventures and free falling from high altitudes are similar. The giddiness one gets from catapulting a new business equates to the euphoria of human flight. But theres tranquillity in free falling thats seldom found in piloting a business, he says.
First, there the rush of free fall, says Pigott, whose signature jump is every Friday at sunset. Then, when you open your parachute, theres just total peace and serenity under a 120-square-foot canopy.
More notable is the fact that business failures far exceed skydiving fatalities.
According to the Small Business Administration, of the more than 500,000 new businesses launched each year in the U.S., eight out of 10 crash, most due to a lack of expertise and planning.
Conversely, the USPA says that of the 3,250,000 skydives made in the U.S. last year alone, 47 resulted in a fatality. Most accidents occur during landing and could be prevented if jumpers used proper caution, says the USPA.
While their skill and chutes safeguard them in the air, like most company presidents, Pigott and Casey have contingency plans for their businesses.
If her business gets into trouble, Casey jokes, I can always go for a loan.
Primarily, she says she relies on her partners expertise. As vice president of Faircrest Door, Bill Bird oversees overall operations. Ironically, he was also Caseys jump instructor when she decided to take a skydiving course seven years ago at Canton Air Sports. Since then, Casey and Bird have shared an entrepreneurial spirit at the office and an adventurous spirit in the air.
Today, Casey says she wouldnt trade her parachute for anything. But she wasnt always so courageous in her business pursuits and recreational activities. In contrast, Bird says the risk taker spirit runs in his family.
Im an army brat. My dad was a chief warrant officer and my uncle was a paratrooper. So I was around a lot of it. One day I just went out and made a jump. Actually, I made four jumps that first day, he says.
Until last year, Bird held a 19-year record for being the first-time jumper with the most jumps the first time out. Last year, his 16-year-old son took the title from him, beating the record with five jumps on his first day of training.
Bird, whos logged 3,285 skydives, says he doesnt really think of parachuting as a dangerous sport.
My job is more dangerous than skydiving, he says, explaining that when hes not juggling daily operations, hes making repair calls with his crew. Installing rolling steel garage, fire and overhead doors isnt the safest profession. A garage door spring is under hundreds of pounds of pressure. That can do you a lot of damage.
We work from ladders, and we work in a lot of hazardous environments. We also have to drive from call to call, and thats a risk right there. Just having a business in the 90s is a big risk. Hiring employees is a risk. You never know what youre going to get, he laughs.
Leap of faith
Its a glorious Saturday afternoon and a big day at Canton Air Sports, located in the heart of the Berlin Lakes Recreational Area near Alliance. Greg Pigott and Lloyd Smith are checking their gear, preparing to board the Twin Bonanza that will take them to a drop height of 14,000 feet, where they will make their 1,000th jump together.
As owner of Airgasmic Photography, based out of Canton Air Sports, Smith specializes in photographing and videographing static line, tandem and relative work jumps. (A static line jump is the standard skydiving training method in which, after the jump, the parachute is deployed from a static line attached to the aircraft. In a tandem jump, two people jump together, wearing linked harnesses and sharing one parachute. Relative work jumps are made by experienced jumpers who freefall in varied formations.)
It wasnt long after Smiths first jump in 1992 that he decided to take up aerial photography as an entrepreneurial profession.
I would see people with cameras on their helmets and I thought, That doesnt look hard I can do that. I went out, bought a system and the very first roll of film I shot, I sold, he says.
Since then, hes photographed hundreds of skydivers in the act from CEOs to secretaries. And he has his own theory about why they do it.
Corporate people are generally power types who look at skydiving as their equal, he says. A lot of them see it as a way to overcome their fears. They realize theres danger there, but their skill level enables them to be safe.
Smiths rationale isnt just from an observational point of view. Before he took on a position as a training officer for the State of Ohio Adult Parole Authority, he was a SWAT team officer for a maximum security prison. And he reveals that he started skydiving to overcome his fear of heights.
I knew I had to beat that fear because I wanted to be in control, he says.
Watch that first step
Pigott says that after a grueling 60-80 hour week on the ground, theres no greater exhilaration than plunging from high altitudes at an initial drop speed of about 120 miles per hour. But accidents do happen, he says.
Pigott once had a scare when his main parachute was rendered useless, due to his own negligence. His reserve saved his life. And Bird once broke his leg during a landing. But he didnt stay grounded for long he was back in the air six months later.
Both have since become USPA licensed instructors and jumpmasters. They say that, compared to other sports, theres less risk involved in skydiving.
As far as the most dangerous activities in the world, skydiving is like No. 9 on the list, says Pigott .
I scuba dive, too, and parachuting is far safer than diving. Its just a different element, Bird says. Once you learn how to survive in that element, its just a calculated risk. Its like, Well, this sport might break every bone in my body, but that one, I might get eaten by a shark. I have control over breaking every bone in my body when I parachute. But I dont have any control over that shark.
That calculated risk, say these business owners, is the correlation between stepping into business ownership and plunging from a plane.
Like in any extreme sport, theres some risk. But you minimize it by playing it smart, paying attention and not being a daredevil, says Pigott. If you disrespect the sport, it can kill you.
Skydiving has advanced dramatically during the past few decades and the equipment has become more reliable, simpler and more durable, says the USPA.
Parachutes never fail, says Pigott. Its people that fail to use them properly.
Reserve parachutes are inspected and repacked every 120 days by an FAA-certified rigger, whether theyve been used or not. Student main parachutes are packed by a rigger or are packed under direct supervision of a certified rigger.
The mentality is, I hope my main parachute works, but I know my reserve will, says Phil Mihai, a certified FAA senior rigger and owner of S.O.L. (Skys Our Limit) Rigging Loft in Canton. You learn to trust your gear and know that its going to work.
Mihai says that of the hundreds of reserve chutes hes packed for jumpers, 23 people have had to rely on those reserves when their main chutes failed.
The Internet has made not only accessibility to information easier and faster, but accessibility to money as well. A Web site with increased traffic over the last few months, www.unclaimed.org, has links to most states departments of commerce, including the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Visitors to the site can immediately access information on any unclaimed funds in their or their familys names, then click on a form to request those funds.
In Ohio, funds belonging to some 200,000 people are turned over to the state each year, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Since 1968, businesses have been required to report any unclaimed funds on their books. The most common types include payroll or expense reimbursement checks, accounts receivable credits or checks, security deposits and pension account balances. The problem with this requirement, though, is that many companies have never actually filed the report, says Jeffrey Dimos, an accountant with Bruner Cox, with offices in Canton and Akron.
Historically, the state has not enforced this law, and generally has not pursued or penalized nonfilers. This year, however, The Ohio Department of Commerce has subcontracted to agencies and private organizations in order to expand its audit effort and enforce penalties for noncompliance.
Ohio businesses were required to file a report to the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Unclaimed Funds by Nov. 1, whether or not they possess unclaimed funds. The department recently extended the deadline to Dec. 31. The only businesses exempt from reporting are some hospitals and government offices.
Even if you do not have unclaimed funds on your books, you are required to file. For accounts of $50 or more, a notice must be sent to the owner at his or her last know address before reporting to the state.
Basically, its a chance for people to step forward without getting themselves into trouble, says Bill Teets of the Department of Commerce. The thought is that there are people out there who are fearful of repercussions.
Businesses which meet the extended Dec. 31 deadline will be exempt from penalties and interest. The extension only applies to funds reportable to Ohio, not other states. The Ohio Department of Commerce is requiring that a written request for the extension be filed, but if they dont give us one [an extension request], they will still be free from penalties and interest, one commerce department staff told SBN on the condition of anonymity.
Noncompliance penalties can add up to $500 per day, plus 2 percent of the balance of the unclaimed funds, says Dimos. But he adds that the increased stringency of the law will also make it easier for business to claim funds they might be owed.
How to reach: The Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Unclaimed Funds, (614) 466-4433; Bruner Cox (330), 376-0100
Connie Swenson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
When Akron-area Federal District Court Judge James Gwin ordered the small law firm of Willis & Linnen to file a case electronically this spring, the firm was forced to quickly come up to speed on the Internet. After all, it didnt so much as have a Web page.
Initially, the firms principals shopped for some high-speed alternatives to connect to the Web. They were very fast, recalls partner Mark Willis, but with no speed requirement, he ultimately decided, Theres no need to drive a Ferrari in a parking deck.
Instead, with the help of Akron information-technology consultant Jeff Satterfield, the firm opted to employ the open-source software, Linux, to facilitate its connection to the Web. The firms new Linux server now sits quietly in its offices, out of sight.
Its in this little putty-colored box, sitting down in their basement. No one ever sees it or touches it. Its not even in their computer room, says Satterfield.
A subject of fascination among the computer geek subculture since hundreds of programmers around the world collaboratively cobbled it together under the loose direction of Finnish-born Linus Torvalds, Linux has more recently had a splashy introduction to the general public. This summer, a North Carolina company named Red Hat, which packages the otherwise free software on a CD-ROM and adds an instruction manual, went public, creating a number of paper millionaires.
Besides being free (downloadable at no cost from www.debian.org), Linuxs popularity has risen along with its reputation as a nearly crash-free alternative to the Windows, Macintosh and Unix operating systems. While the first fully usable version was released just five years ago, reputable industry estimates call for installations of the software to grow at a rate of about 25 percent a year over the next five years. That would mean that by 2003, its market penetration would be within striking distance of the vaunted Windows NT networking platform.
For his part, the 38-year-old Satterfield, a lifelong Akronite whos pained to admit that he was in the same Boy Scout troop as infamous mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer when the two were growing up in Bath likes to think he has a three-year head start on the coming Linux boom. It was precisely three years ago this month that the former IT staffer for the economy hotel chain Knights Inn and the accounting firm SS&G first bumped into the then-novel software.
Hed recently left SS&G to strike out on his own as an independent consultant, when a client was in need of a networking solution that seemed to fit Linuxs strengths. Satterfield recalls a lot of late nights spent toying with the collaboratively created software, teaching himself the technology in the process of assembling a workable configuration for his client.
Of course, cutting-edge technology solutions, even the most reasonably priced, arent for everyone. Even with all the attention its been receiving, Linux is likely to retain its outlaw image among many business users for some time. A case in point: Satterfield laughs at a page from the Web site of the Cleveland Linux Users Group (www.cleveland.lug.net), where a slovenly self-proclaimed Linux master lounges in bed, his pet bird Hercules perched atop him. Not exactly the best advertisement for dependability in a business environment, he admits.
I mean, do you want that couch potato in your business, playing with your companys IT family jewels? he asks rhetorically.
With that hesitation in mind, and perhaps also because competing software platforms are better for certain tasks, even confirmed Linux enthusiasts such as Satterfield continue to offer more familiar IT fixes to clients.
We do [Windows] NT as a back-office solution. Thats because its a solution thats understandable, he says. If you tell people youve installed a Microsoft product in your business, people wont wrinkle their nose at a cocktail party, he says.
In fact, the mixing and matching of various networking platforms probably matches the comfort level of many businesses these days. Thats been the case for 79-year-old Amer Insurance. The downtown Akron insurance agency, which specializes in property and casualty coverage, called on Satterfield to install a Linux system for front-end connectivity to the Web. But it continues to rely on more traditional platforms for other, even more vital, pieces of its network architecture, says executive vice president B.G. Labbe.
We have a Novell server for applications such as running credit checks, and a Unix system for the agencys internal management system. Were insurance agents, not computer experts. But were pretty advanced in our technology, says Labbe, who claims to know just enough about IT to be dangerous, but also knows when to summon an expert.
It wasnt too long ago that Labbes young nephew was constructing Amers Web site. Now, through the Linux server, Amer has taken a considerable leap in sophistication, beginning to perform some basic customer service transactions, such as soliciting client policy changes and application forms, through its Web site. Satterfield heartily approves.
If a business owner is not looking at Web-enabled applications as we go to the 21st century, theyre going to be screwed. Theyre going to lose sales as a result.
And Satterfield thinks that, against the backdrop of that new competitive pressure, Linux will win more than its share of that emerging Web-solution market. The popular attention from the Red Hat IPO has helped, but perhaps even more important in demystifying it has been the recent decisions of large industry players such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard to climb aboard with their own Linux applications and pledges to support the software.
For all its funky reputation in the corporate market, Satterfield thinks Linuxs cost advantage, coupled with its growing reputation for reliability, will slowly but steadily win business converts.
You can just set it up and leave it, he says. I have clients who havent touched their Linux box in months. It seems like youre [fixing] an NT box every 30 days.
How to reach: Jeff Satterfield (330) 666-7897, www.sattco.com
John Ettorre (email@example.com) is a contributing editor at SBN.
Roberts Express, Akron, has named David H. Carline as information technology manager and Virginia C. Albanese as managing director, service and safety.
Spector & Saulino, Akron, has added Angela Alexander to its tax staff; Jeffrey Neuman to its audit staff; Tammi Lewis as marketing assistant; and Jennifer Hura as staff accountant
John V. Lund has been appointed vice president of business development for CTI Environmental Inc. of Green.
Saltz, Shamis & Goldfarb Inc. has promoted the following to partner/director in its Akron office: James M. Dannemiller, Bruce H. Friedman, Carolyn H. McNerney and Mark L. Mussig.
John M. Dohner has been accepted as a member of the Leadership Akron Class of 1999/2000. Dohner is a shareholder in the Akron law firm Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs.
Debra Radecky has been named new executive director of Sunrise Assisted Living in Bath.
Kim Hurray has been named convention sales manager by the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Suzanne M. Church has been named account executive for Wirtz Integrated Marketing in Akron.
Ted Curtis, former partner with Curtis and Rasmussen architectural firm, was named to the Summit County Chapter of the American Red Cross board of trustees.
Second National Bank of Warren has appointed Rick L. Blossom as president and CEO of the bank and president and COO of Second Bancorp., the holding company.
Kathy Reid, owner of Prudential Kathy Reid Realty, Akron, was chosen as one of the 500 most powerful women in real estate by the National Relocation and Real Estate magazine.
Babcock, Schmid, Louis & Partners, a Bath design firm, has appointed the following to its staff: Kara Levee as interior designer; Craig Griffin as senior designer; Michelle Kaser as special projects manager; Thomas McNair as retail designer/specifier; and Terri Sefcik as production manager.
The Cuyahoga Falls City Council has elected John C. Weisensell to its Zoning Appeal Board. Weisensell is a partner with Amer Cunningham Brennan, Akron.
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, Akron, has added Aaron W. Sarra to its complex litigation practice group.
Melanie McDougal has been hired as provider relations representative for Ohio Comp Network Inc. of Stow.
John Cassiday has joined Winer & Bevilacqua, a CPA firm in Fairlawn.
Mozes Cleveland & Company of Hudson has named Jim Zedella as CEO. Zedella most recently served as co-president of DMAC, a Cleveland finance company.
Bober, Markey & Co., Akron, has added: Al Palfi as staff accountant; Tricia Scoville as tax senior; and Ray Dunkle as supervisor.
The Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co. has promoted Robert Hoch to manager of Acme No. 7 on State Route 59 in Kent.
Lewis W. Adkins, general counsel for the Summit County Executive Office, will join Akron law firm Roetzel & Andress as a partner early next year.
The Anderson Group, Akron, has appointed Kenneth J. Klika as vice president; Mark Byers as technology support manager; and Jack Sporup as logistics manager.
Szalay Design Associates Inc., an Akron communications and design company, has added designer Michael Fraser to its staff.
Timothy A. Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc., of Akron, has been named vice chairman and chair-elect of the Akron Regional Development Board's Small Business Council.
Bob Cohen tends to see people at their most stressful moments.
The Akron-based turnaround consultant once presented a business pitch to a troubled retailing company. A year and a half passed, and no word. Then, he gets a panicked call from the owner, telling him that payroll is due on Friday, and theyre going to miss it by 90 percent. Can you come right away to help?
A lack of communication and deep denial of their troubled situations are the classic hallmarks of companies in trouble. But it can get even worse, says Cohen, founder of Centrus Consulting, which recently merged with a New York/Philadelphia practice to form Nachman-Hays-Centrus Inc.
I always watch for when a client moves from denial to the next stage: blame. When you find a client is into blame, theyre probably beyond turnaround.
Whats the difference between turnaround artists and general business consultants?
As a general rule, a consultant goes in and asks, How do we make this business better? A turnaround guy asks, Is there a core business here? Thats a key difference.
Beyond that, the immediate priorities are assessing the adequacy of the management already in place and figuring out if theres some form of bridge financing to buy time to fix the problems.
Sometimes, of course, theyre not worth fixing. In more than half his engagements, Cohen winds up overseeing the sale of the company. Some are simply liquidated, with the turnaround consultant focused on trying to squeezing as much debt out of the business as possible.
In this business, there are few routine assignments. A bank once hired him to try to get its money back from a troubled fireworks company in this area.
We did some homework and found out the owner liked to punch peoples lights out. So we showed up with five armed guards, [with guns] fully loaded, and went after the cash register. He was going to punch our lights out, too, until he looked out the window.
Of course, the cash register didnt contain the full $4 million the bank was seeking, so it had to file suit in Stark County court, as well.
As you might expect, it helps to have a loose and easy demeanor in this line of work. And Cohen, who once borrowed heavily to buy a six-figure seat on the Chicago Board of Trade at the age of 22, indeed has something of a cowboy reputation. He recalls once literally roaring into an engagement, overseeing a troubled coal mine in central Ohios Amish region, aboard his Harley Davidson.
Every troubled company is different and every owner of a distressed property has his or her quirks, but they all have one thing in common, he says.
The owners are concerned that the employees will find out, but the employees already know. And them thinking that they dont want anyone to know is a kind of joke, cause everyone knows.
John Ettorre (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing editor at SBN.
When the Disney Institute came to town in late October, more than 300 area CEOs, CFOs, entrepreneurs, administrators and customer service agents rolled up their sleeves and put on their thinking caps rather, their Mouse ears to ponder the “Disney Difference.”
These professionals each paid $300 for a day of The Disney Keys to Excellence Walt Disney’s management secrets. The Institute assures that the core concepts of vision, involvement, organization and change are applicable in any organization, regardless of the industry.
Cindy Lewis, executive director of the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, says Disney is recognized worldwide because of the intense service training employees receive and the special Disney touch that exceeds customer expectations.
“It’s all about taking that extra step for customer service,” Lewis says.
“While we all know Disney is a huge corporation, I was surprised to hear them say they are much more high-touch than high-tech,” says Susan Hamo, president of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s nice to hear that great ideas don’t necessarily have to have great price tags.”
The Institute teaches that decisions dictated by any corporate culture have a trickle-down effect on the customer, from employee selection and training to organizational communication, comprehension and concern. Not only is it critical to understand the values and behaviors of individuals in the organization, it’s crucial to comprehend the needs and expectations of customers, from product or service price, quality and features, to company performance and customer service.
Seminar facilitator Jeff Soluri said that, if anything, he hoped attendees would grasp his main message.
“The way to build relationships between your company and your customers is as much common sense and people effort as it is processes and systems. The key to success is being able to figure out what expectations are, and not only deliver on those expectations, but go beyond them.”
Brian Carney, executive vice president and CFO of Hudson-based Jo-Ann Stores Inc., says he was intrigued to learn that 68 percent of customers who leave a business do so because of indifference on the part of associates that serve them.
“We will adapt some of what we learned to our company,” Carney says. “That includes a commitment to recruiting and training, and continuously surveying our customers to measure their level of satisfaction.”
As Walt Disney once said, “There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting.”
“We’ve all been trained in the old business models,” Soluri says, “and although there are good things about top-down management, there’s a new generation of end-users and front-line people that is uniquely capable of coming up with new ideas to build better relationships.”
Creativity and innovation are significant in the process of building better relationships, Soluri says. Creativity is the production of new and useful ideas. Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas.
A company can maximize creative potential by seeking opinions from employees and customers. Those opinions can lead to ideas, big or small, that can satisfy employees and customers and boost profits.
Thomas Hilston, regional director of operations support at Ohio Edison Co. in Akron, recognizes the importance of involving front-line employees to generate new ideas.
“They’re really the people who create the impressions with customers,” Hilston says. “We’re going to re-emphasize our efforts in that area and involve our employees in creating an even more customer-friendly atmosphere.”
Jack Hayes says he was relieved to learn that a company guided by creativity and innovation can succeed and prosper, because those are the ideals upon which he founded Connecting Touch Therapy and Wellness Center Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls.
Newly inspired by the “Disney Difference,” Hayes says, “Now I will encourage new ideas from my staff and I will push the envelope when implementing ideas that seem a little bit too innovative, because if it can be imagined, it can be done.”
Joseph Prehodick, an Ohio Edison area manager, says he didn’t realize how a relatively simple new idea and the slightest alteration in service can dramatically impact the bottom line of a major corporation.
“The ‘Disney Difference’ is a whole attitude of understanding, stressing and accomplishing what is necessary for your business to succeed,” Prehodick says. “I work for a utility that has always emphasized customer service, but hearing about the Disney methods has given me some new and higher goals to achieve.”
Karen Hasley, human resources vice president at Kent Adhesive Products Co. (Kapco), defines the “Disney Difference” as “sincere respect for employees and customers, displayed in behaviors, not just in words.”
Lewis says she came away convinced there’s always one more thing a company can do to provide better customer service if people involved in the business will take time to come up with new, creative ways to please customers.
“That applies whether you’re a for-profit or nonprofit. Any business can take that information and run with it,” Lewis says, adding that the chamber will do just that. “We’ll be giving even more personal attention to our members than we already do.”
Stow Mayor Donald Coughlin says he wants to bring the Disney magic to the administration of a city. As for how he plans to do that, Coughlin proclaimed, “I’m packing my bags and going to Disney World!”
Lamancusa appeared with contributors to her latest book, “Flowers Are Forever,” including Canton business owners Kathy Wise, owner of Wise Nutrition Concepts, and Lois DiGiacomo, founder of The Rainbow Repertory Company in North Canton.
They were part of a segment called “Remembering Your Spirit,” and talked about the ways in which flowers have enriched their lives.
But even national exposure on a top-ranked show can’t help if the timing isn’t right.
“It was a little bit bittersweet when they called,” Lamancusa says. “Any publicity done now on Oprah isn’t going to sell any books.”
Her book, to be released by Simon & Schuster in February, was featured five months too early, she says. “We decided we obviously didn’t want to tell ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ no.”
Lamancusa is hoping that the connections she made will help her land a bigger part on the show when her book is out.
“It’s definitely a possibility. They are interested.”
Mike and Debbie Bacon have won 52 Emmy awards since 1990, and their phones ring nonstop. And because their television production company’s hallmark is to do things faster, better and cheaper than the broadcasters, their burgeoning customer base necessitates more employees, more equipment and more space.
“What’s frustrating about growth is that it’s so capital intensive,” says Mike Bacon, vice president of Twinsburg-based Classic Teleproductions Inc.
Bacon launched Classic in 1980, working from his home as a free-lance producer.
“The Virgil Dominics of the world would seek me out because I would work like a dog for next to nothing,” he laughs. (Bacon began working with Dominic in 1981, and in 1997, Dominic became Classic’s president of new programming.)
Bacon says Classic grew by focusing on niche markets and matching its forte to the needs of the community.
“We found our niche in sports programming and broadcasting community events,” Bacon says, confiding that Classic earns about $1 million annually from lucrative contracts with television stations and community organizations.
“I never thought we would be this successful,” he says, crediting spouse Debbie, Classic’s president, and the firm’s 12 employees for the business’ success. “But when you grow, everything grows. As our customer base grows, so does their level of expectation. That calls for more investments,” which include high-end edit systems (their first was $100,000), nine broadcast cameras (about $40,000 each) and a digital production truck (worth about $750,000).
“You’ve got to have the equipment to be a player, and you’ve got to have good people to operate the equipment. We hire only the best and that takes a lot of money, too,” he says.
In 1995, Classic spent $200,000 for a 7,500-square-foot expansion and in 1998 purchased more space next door. The current 15,500-square-footage comprises a television studio, 7 edit suites, an audio studio, conference rooms and office space.
To manage growth and maintain profitability, the Bacons have sought good advice, bought wisely, fostered relationships and valued their employees.
“If I’m going to overpay for anything, it’s for good advice,” Bacon says, explaining that expert advice saves money in the long run.
In terms of purchasing, Bacon says many entrepreneurs jump to buy the latest equipment.
“Sometimes it’s better to wait for the second or third version of a product, after the bugs have been worked out,” he says. “You must also contrast the money you need to spend against what you could earn if you had a certain piece of equipment.”
Fostering professional relationships also pays off. “Make friends with your banker!” Bacon exclaims.
And don’t hesitate to do favors for professionals who can’t always afford first-rate prices for first-rate services.
“You’ve got two choices: reduced rate or favor. You’re a lot better off doing it as a favor because if you charge them, they remember that. But if it’s a favor, they become loyal clients when they do have money. But don’t treat it as a favor give them the full service.”
Empowering employees is also important, Bacon says.
“If they know the ‘why’ behind a directive, and if you give them the authority to do what it takes to make your clients happy, they can respond faster and better to do that.”
How to reach: Classic Teleproductions, (330) 963-7763