I happened to see your Akron editorial about dot-coms (SBN, October 2000). One thing you failed to point out was that whenever you are approached by a start-up, do two things:
1) Analyze the revenue model.
Take two minutes and ask yourself: Is this a simple idea? The simpler the idea the better. Take Hotmail, for instance. A very simple idea. Give free Web-based e-mail to people to drive traffic and sell banners. If the revenue model is too complicated, chances are, the business won't do well.
2) Ask to see the business plan. I've been approached by headhunters looking to staff start-ups. I ask to see the business plan. There isn't one. Sorry, not interested.
If a start-up fails these two simple tests, then pass on it.
Dot-coms aren't the only businesses to go belly up in a strong economy. They've just been the "sexy" ones which get all the press lately. You can apply these two simple tests to any start-up.
Internet System Specialist
Penton MediaBad taste or bad timing?
I just received my October issue of SBN Akron and was very disturbed by the title of an article on the cover.
On the cover is Bill Crocker and the article inside describes how he is overcoming a tragic shooting and murder at his restaurant, and right next to Mr. Crocker's picture is a promotion for another article in the magazine entitled "Shoot All The Lawyers?"
I feel this is in bad taste or, in the very least, bad timing on the part of your magazine. I am an avid reader of this publication, and I don't understand why an article had to be given such a violent title, especially in this day and age ... and quoting Shakespeare does not make it right.
The same story can be written with a more sensitive title.
I personally found the headline offensive, and I hope that in the future, your headlines will reflect the positive outlook of all business professionals, promote the positive trends in business and focus on the growth of business in this area.
Connecting Touch Therapy & Wellness Center Inc.
A local husband-and-wife technology team recently told SBN that, as a result of having a successful business in Akron, their most cherished "possession" is freedom.
"More important than any house, car or prized possessions, we have freedom," says Barb Vasaris, CEO of the anderson group. "We live in a nice home, not an estate. We drive a nice car, but not a Mercedes. But I would have to say our freedom represents 'The Good Life' for us."
A.J. Vasaris, her spouse and the company's president and chief technology officer, agrees.
"Our freedom is something we're really unable to put a price on," he says.
The couple does confide, however, that they have differing views of what 'The Ultimate Good Life' might be when they retire.
"My husband wants to live downtown in a big city, on the 15th floor, with a TV in every room. He wants to have his groceries delivered and have a chauffeur drive him around everywhere he goes," Vasaris laughs. "But I want to be nestled in a log cabin on 20 acres of woodland, growing my own food and driving my own Jeep."
The dream they do share is the desire to have a fabulous library.
"Who knows -- maybe our dream lifestyle will be chosen by a computer program one day," says A.J. Vasaris. "But on second thought, I hope not."
FedEx Custom Critical has announced it is in negotiations to construct a new headquarters in Green. The proposed site is on Boettler Road, across from Green High School.
Class Act Copywriting, formerly of Kent, has opened a new office on Barlow Road in Hudson.
Sequoia Financial Group of Akron, and Cohen & Co., a Cleveland-based accounting firm with offices in Akron, recently finalized an agreement in which they will share similar ownership interest and act as preferred service providers for each other.
Williams & Stevens Inc., an advertising firm based in Stow, was recently named a winner in the category of brochures/collateral material in the 2000 American Graphic Design Awards competition sponsored by Graphic Design: USA.
Ferry Industries Inc. has purchased the assets of the rotational molding division of FSP Machinery Inc. of Canada. Ferry has formed a new company called FSP International Inc., which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ferry Industries Inc. of Stow.
The Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce has recognized the following companies for their contributions to the city's economic growth and development: CVS Pharmacy on State Road, Cuyahoga Falls Public Schools, Katherine's Collection, FirstMerit Bank of State Road, Sunrise Assisted Living and LeFever's River Grille.
Lougheed Home Furnishings, owned by Doug and Deborah Lougheed, has opened a new location in the Medina Shopping Center.
D&D Desktop Publishing, founded by Nardella Owens and Donna Carter, has opened on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.
Pinnacle Communincation Group Inc. of Stow, has been named the public relations agency of record for the DynoMax Performance Exhaust and Rancho Suspensions brands of Tenneco Automotive Inc.
October Research Inc. of Richfield, publisher of The Title Report, has launched a new publication, The Legal Description. The publication takes an in-depth, analytical approach toward deciphering legislation and legal news from a title insurance and real estate settlement services industry perspective.
DigitalDay of Fairlawn has launched a Web site for National City Bank, www.national-city.com.
On page 16, SBN presents the winners of the 2000 Pillar Award, sponsored by Medical Mutual of Ohio. The award honors companies of all sizes for giving back to their communities.
Its purpose is to encourage a charitable environment and recognize creative efforts that make a difference through a four-pronged effort to:
Publicize the issue of community service as it applies to the realities of today's competitive business world; share creative ideas about how companies of all sizes are having a positive impact in their communities; honor companies that go well beyond the minimum expectation of community service; and create a sustaining fund, administered by the Cleveland Foundation, to aid local nonprofit organizations in their mission to serve the people of Northeast Ohio. Including this year's donation, the sustaining Pillar Fund contains in excess of $30,000.
This year marks the third year of the Pillar Award. Nominations are judged by an independent panel. For more information on next year's event, contact SBN at (216) 228-6397.
Chairman emeritus of FirstMerit Corp. Howard Flood says there's a big difference between local entrepreneurs and CEOs of major corporations. What sets them apart is pride.
"Entrepreneurs are prouder of who they are, what they are and what they do. And if they do something wrong, their attention to remedies will be so much quicker than the hierarchy of a major corporation," says Flood. "That's because the entrepreneurs are generally stalwarts in the community who are well recognized, and a mistake affects them more when they walk into church or into the grocery store."
E-Debt acquires competitor
Akron-based E-Debt.com was listed in a September issue of Business Week magazine as one of the leading Internet sites in the debt sales industry. The company has acquired Debtforsale.com, another of the debt sales dot-coms listed in the Business Week article.
The acquisition will add several hundred new potential buyers and dozens of additional portfolios to the E-Debt.com site, says CEO Michael Zoldan. E-Debt.com is a Web-based marketplace for the real-time trading of debt portfolios, with an emphasis on security and customer service.
Back and forth
As technology makes it easier to work from just about anywhere, more Northeast Ohio residents are commuting to Summit County than ever before.
The total number of daily work trips to Summit County has increased 36 percent over the last 20 years. Of note: 16,000 workers commute to the Akron area from Stark County; 10,000 workers commute from Cuyahoga County; and 16,000 commute from Portage County. But about 27,000 Akron-area residents commute to Cuyahoga County to work. Source: ARDB Workforce Development Department
One would expect to find differences in hospitality staples like front-desk greetings and breakfast menus when traveling from the Marriott property in Akron to its counterpart in Tokyo, Japan.
In Fairlawn, smiles and waffles are served counterpoint to the bows and miso soup served up in Tokyo. But beyond the cultural accommodations, one notices more parallels than differences in the basic management principles practiced at both hotels.
According to Akira Suzuki, vice president of marketing for Marriott Japan, and Jolene Robinson, manager of the Montrose Courtyard Marriott, the formula for a hospitality business' success is based on obsession with the root cause of guest satisfaction: employee satisfaction. In Tokyo, Suzuki says, "our people in the company must be happy first, otherwise they cannot do a good job for the customer."
Thousands of miles away, Robinson independently mirrors this approach, observing, "If you have happy employees, you have happy guests."
For these operations, employee spirit is directly impacted by managers who are hired and promoted on their ability to win respect through collaborative, not hierarchical, decision-making.
In the Japanese Marriott operations, managers practice nemawashi, in which they talk to key staff to gain informal understanding and agreement prior to a formal decision-making meeting. Managers wanting to change staff uniforms allow that decision to evolve through conversations between staff and department managers.
Formal decisions become the logical endorsement of consensus organically cultivated in a team environment.
In Montrose, the decision-making practice is equally collaborative. Robinson says that continuous employee inclusion is necessary.
"Because they interact with guests more than managers do, employees know better what guests' wants and needs are," she says.
The consistency of attention to detail within each hotel is not subtle.
"You want guests to experience the same all the time," says Robinson, even in details such as where a towel is placed in a room. According to Suzuki, training is the key to consistency -- something honored by managers in both operations as they practice managing by walking around.
Marriott managers, according to Suzuki, strive daily to blend the best of Japanese-style hospitality management practices with the American-based Marriott approach. Employees are treated as family, and managers "have to be respected as a human being in order to be effective."
Robinson shares similar sentiments, in an environment in which "people have to love the business" in order to be successful.
Perhaps the principles of consistent service and the leadership rigor required to sustain it are more universal than we would expect. Jack Ricchiuto is a management consultant and author, who recently returned from a working vacation in Tokyo. He can be reached through his Web site at www.newpossibilities.net.
Marlite a specialty interior wall system manufacturer in Dover, has redesigned its Web site at www.marlite.com to provide better information to its customers.
The Hoover Company, North Canton, has been awarded the Supplier Performance Award by Retail Category for the fifth straight year for the floor-care category.
Excell Consulting Group of Wooster and Palitto Consulting Services Inc. of Wadsworth have formed a partnership with the intention of improving both companies.
Waikem Auto Group of Canton has completed the purchase of Petty's Jeep in Massillon. The dealership has selected Innis Maggiore Group to handle advertising and promotion for its 14 area automotive franchises.
Cohen & Co., Canton, has merged with Mather, Pfeifer & Potts Inc., a Stark County CPA firm.
You may think you've found a valuable service for your company at a remarkably low price when you sign up for free Web hosting services.
But Don Reinhart cautions that you should scrutinize the fine print and think twice before you click on that acceptance box.
"It's like that old cliche, nothing is free. If they say it's free, count on the fact that somebody's paying for it and it's probably going to be you -- you just may not realize it until it's too late," says Reinhart, president of Incipio Inc., an Akron Internet and electronic commerce solutions provider.
To show why it's often better for businesses to purchase Web services from a tangible provider, Reinhart takes you behind the scenes of the "free" Web hosting world.
- Typically, free hosting is supported by some form of advertising, either distracting page banners or pop-up ads. If someone is going to make money by advertising on your page, shouldn't it be you?
If the host claims it won't advertise on your site, ask if your customer profile will be sold to other companies for marketing. If so, you may be bombarded with junk e-mail and unsolicited postal mailings.
- Check for clauses that oblige you to use its Web page development or other services. Will you have to pay inflated prices for other services you'll likely need, such as additional server space and e-mail addresses for your staff? Ask for a price list of all services before signing up, and shop around for prices of other providers.
- Considering that image is important, will your URL address be www.YourCompany.com or www.SomeOtherCompany.com/free/~YourCompany? Will your e-mail address be Don@YourCompany.com or Don@SomeOtherCompany.com?
- Some free hosts don't offer the features a robust site may need, nor do they allow you to control your site. Ask about features such as configuration and front-page extensions that allow your own site developer to create your site, file transfer protocol so you can place your own files on the server, and common gateway interface access for an interactive or database driven site.
- What about traffic statistics? Will the host provide information that tracks your site visitors?
- Is the host overselling server space to offer such low rates? If so, you might get slow response times. Ask about the speed and connection type.
- Free hosting companies often cut costs by providing inferior customer service. Some merely provide an e-mail address that responds with automated generic messages. Is there a live voice telephone number to call if you have a problem?
- Some hosts have terms of service that allow them to repackage your site for their own marketing purposes. If so, you have no control over how your site may be portrayed.
If you can determine how the host is making money, you can decide if the offering really is a good deal. Scrutinize the terms of service and the FAQ. Call the customer service number (a good host should have one) and ask questions.
But beware, says Reinhart: "Free anything is bound to be full of gotchas." How to reach: Incipio Inc., (330) 923-9703 or www.Incipio-Inc.com
One key to business success is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
Too often, companies find themselves in trouble because they venture outside of what they are good at. Quite often today, you hear that you should really know your core competencies -- what it is your company does or specializes in that will give it a competitive edge in the marketplace.
In any leadership position within a company, it is very important to know what sets the company apart from others. It is important for this message to be articulated throughout the organization so each person is on the same page.
For example, we at SBN Magazine are in the publishing business. When someone asked me what our core competencies are, I said we write stories, sell ads, mail out our publications to top decision-makers within each company and gather information about our readers to develop our database.
After giving it more thought, I realized the importance of the answer -- so much so that we decided to focus on each point to see how we could further develop these areas. Below is a detailed version of our core competencies and how we are mastering them.
1. Content generation -- Our unique approach to local business coverage has the garnered the recognition of the journalism community, as well as of our readers. In the last year alone, SBN Magazine has received eight awards for excellence, including SBN Magazine Cleveland being recognized as the best business publication in Northeast Ohio.
2. Sales and marketing -- SBN Magazine has developed an extensive client list that includes an array of industry-leading organizations such as UPS, PNC Bank, AT&T and Arthur Andersen.
3. Market reach -- SBN Magazine saturates almost 100 percent of its desired targeted audience in its markets. Out of our targeted audience, 92 percent of the people who receive our publication are decision-makers by title.
4. Market knowledge -- SBN Magazine has developed an extensive database of buying trends of middle market companies.
I challenge each of you to put yourselves through a similar exercise if you haven't done so already. If someone were to ask you to name your core competencies, could you? Once you have outlined each of them, come up with a plan on how you can focus on each area and take it to the next level this year.
Are you performing as highly in each area as you should be? Outlining your competencies and examining how well you're performing in each area can give you insight into which parts of your company need the most attention.
Performing this type of analysis is another way to keep your edge in an increasingly competitive environment. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.