Akron/Canton (3279)

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Test your IQ

Written by
How much do you really know about your peers? Here are some questions gleaned from articles in last year's issues of SBN Magazine.

1. This Massillon manufacturer did a tremendous amount of market research before starting his kitchen and bath business. So far, it's paying off.

2. This Canton-based bank was one of the winners of the Pillar Award for Community Service in December. Last year, its employees pledged to give more than $45,000 to local and national charities.

3. What Akron-area company won Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur Of The Year award in the e-services category, shortly after winning the bid to redesign National City Bank's Web site?

4. All that glitters sometimes can be gold. This Fairlawn-based company, with stores in Canton and across the country, is the second largest retailer in the country.

5. This local dot-com has been in business for 16 years. Hint: It's known as the "dot-com behind the dot-coms."

6. This Canton music production company held a summer concert at Blossom Music Center. We talked to the owner last July about his success with self promotion.

7. This local CEO started at his company as a truck driver. Back then, he told the owners he wanted to someday own the company. He kept his word. Do you know who he is?

8. This local business owner grew up shooting pool. He is one of maybe a few who can say his pool hall education paid off. Who is he?

9. This Akron-area company develops e-commerce applications for the convention and meeting industry. In July, it won Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur Of The Year award in the business-to-business category. Three months later, it laid off 40 employees. Do you know which Twinsburg company this is?

10. This Kidron hardware store is known all over the world for its "nonelectric catalog."

Answers:

1. Todd Werstler, owner, Tower Industries

2. UNB Corp.

3. Digital Day

4. Sterling Jewelers

5. Data Direct Inc.

6. Spectacular Music Productions

7. Ted Hawk, Park Farms

8. Kurt Immler, Ohio Billiards

9. PlanSoft

10. Lehman's

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Competing in the big leagues

Written by

Five years ago, at the age of 30, Scott Wakser left a high-salaried sales position with a national medical device manufacturer to set out on his own.

He had one mission: to show his former employer, and a handful of national, billion-dollar companies, that he could compete in their exclusive arena.

Today, Wakser is president of DiaMed Inc., a company which has grown to more than $6 million in sales, and is doing exactly what Wakser and Vice President Doug Sharpe said it would when they founded it in 1995. By staying local and focusing on customer service, the medical supply distributor has carved out a niche in an industry that has historically been dominated by a small handful of national players.

"I've always had the entrepreneurial spirit," Wakser says. "I didn't see myself working for someone else my whole life. When I was growing up, I had my own lawn service. I've always been a hustler that way."

While Wakser and Sharpe have focused on building business one physician office at a time in a limited territory that includes Ohio, Michigan and Western Pennsylvania, the two received confirmation of their success late last year when they won a $2 million contract from University Hospitals of Cleveland.

DiaMed is now the exclusive vendor of physician supplies to UH's 170 physician offices. And that hasn't gone unnoticed.

When Wakser and Sharpe left their sales positions at New Jersey-based Q-Med Inc., which develops, manufactures and sells medical devices and systems, to start DiaMed, they were told, "We'll have you out of business in six months," Wakser recalls.

"At the time we started, they [our competition] laughed at us," he says. "Twenty-four months later, they tried to buy us."

Physician Sales & Service Inc., a $1.3 billion medical supply distributor, based in Jacksonville, Fla., approached DiaMed with a $2 million purchase agreement in 1997, he says. The partners refused, but Wakser keeps the agreement in an easily accessible desk drawer, pulling it out on occasion as if to remind himself how quickly things can change.

Today, he says simply, "They respect us."

What makes DiaMed's success noteworthy is not necessarily the exclusivity of its industry, but the fact that the small North Canton company does not sell on price or product.

"We sell the same thing that the billion-dollar businesses sell," Wakser says. "There's no difference. Price does not create loyalty. The difference is what you will do."

So far, Wakser has shown his customers that there isn't much of a limit to what he will do for them. Rosanna Boveington, lab manager of Ohio Family Practice in Fairlawn, has used several suppliers over the years, but five years ago switched to DiaMed for the majority of her practice's supplies.

"When I need something, I call and talk to the same person every time. That's very important," she says. "If I have a problem, Scott sometimes comes himself."

It was that personal attention that Wakser noticed was missing from the industry when he decided to leave Q-Med. He and Sharpe gambled on the idea that enough of the industry's clients would sacrifice a big name for the personal attention they had never received.

"I thought, 'What a great idea,'" he says. "We would be the guys to service the equipment, to train the doctors how to use it, to show how to bill the products, and to really focus on service.

"Make the customer feel like a king, that was our goal."

While many entrepreneurs make that promise in the start-up stage, few are personally overseeing its execution five years down the road.

One of the ways Wakser personally monitors every customer's satisfaction with DiaMed is by sending out, reading and responding to customer surveys. He asks every customer to grade DiaMed's performance on a quarterly basis in areas such as customer service, sales representatives' knowledge and responsiveness and product quality and delivery.

The last question asks whether the customer would recommend DiaMed to an associate. Wakser says that if any of the questions come back with a poor rating, he calls the customer to attempt to rectify the problem.

But that's not to say he takes sole responsibility for maintaining high customer satisfaction levels. Visitors and clients will spot customer service programs in nearly every area of the company, starting with the friendly voice that answers the phone, "Hello. DiaMed: the company that cares."

Other customer-satisfaction measures include:

  • A training program in which every new employee works a shift in every department of the business.

    "I've worked the warehouse, and everyone here has packed a truck," says Wakser.

    This training corresponds with his belief that every position is as important as the next one.

    "I'm no more important than the delivery guy. He's the guy who's going to see the customer five times as much as I am," he says. "If you can't focus on 'we,' you have no company."

  • All new customer service reps are given mirrors for their desks. This one's simple: Wakser believes that a smile is heard through the phone, and he wants to make sure his employees are smiling when they're talking to customers.

  • The first office visitors approach upon entering DiaMed is Wakser's. His office, while small with barely room for two guest chairs, is the first in the building.

    "I want everyone to know they have a right to see me and to talk to me," he says.

Last year, DiaMed expanded its reach, opening a retail store out of its Belden Village office.

While the showroom houses an assortment of products including diabetic shoes, scooters, wheelchairs and walkers, for most customers, it's easier to shop from the convenience of their homes. DiaMed staff brings the products to the customer, then helps them with assembly, usage information or insurance coverage needs.

Wakser plans to continue to grow the retail side of the business, which accounted for $1 million of the company's sales in 2000, again selling the products on service, not price.

"We believe that within the next five years, we will be the dominant force in medical distribution in this area," Wakser says. "We know this marketplace. That's all I want to understand. I stay with what I know, so I don't lose my focus." How to reach: DiaMed Inc., (330) 966-7264


Going up against the big boys

Scott Wakser looks at his company's size as an advantage, not a weakness, in going up against his billion-dollar competitors for contracts. Here are three ways he uses DiaMed's size to his advantage:

1. As a smaller company, he is able to respond to the needs of his clientele more quickly, because he doesn't have bureaucracy to go through, he says.

2. A more focused organization can bring better service to the table, he says. A large company has lots of contracts, so each customer is one in a million. As a smaller company, the bottom line is that each company's business is imperative.

3. Selling by reference. Sell through other customers. Wakser develops a referral list that includes letters from happy customers on why they have chosen to do business with him.

"Whenever I have a good client, I always ask them to write a letter about why they chose us, and why they continue to do business with us."

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Borrowed advice

Written by

It's that time of year again to make New Year's resolutions. If this isn't a tradition you follow, you may want to reconsider.

And what better time could there be to set new goals than the start of the new millennium? (No, that wasn't last year.)

Consider this: Research shows that those who make New Year's resolutions are far more likely to achieve those goals that those who don't. So, what do you have to lose?

Here are some ideas I've borrowed from the many businesspeople SBN's editorial staff spoke to over the past year:

1.) Lose weight. In November, Twinsburg-based PlanSoft, one of the area's most prominent Web companies, laid off 40 employees. The company cut its staff to turn a profit after investors started to grumble.

A sign of another dot-com in trouble or a smart business move that could serve as an example to businesses in all industries? You decide.

2.) Jump out of a plane. That's what Don Taylor, owner of Welty Building Co. in Akron, did when he agreed to take on the renovation of Portage Country Club. He knew the project would either help or destroy the reputation of the company he had just taken over. His work was scrutinized by 600 of Akron's most prominent citizens during the months his crew worked on the project.

The outcome? The country club's membership loved the work. And, it was done within budget. The project was risky, yes. But Taylor will tell you he'd do it all over again. In less than a year, he gained 600 new fans. Business has never been better.

3. Take a vacation. In October, Lee DiCola, chairman of Galt Industries in Canton, did just that when he took a sabbatical from his job and traveled to Burma, Cambodia, India and Egypt (among other locales) with his wife. Can you think of a better way to refresh a high-pressure position?

4. Buy that diamond you always wanted. Heck, give me a few. That's how Sterling Jewelers (based in Fairlawn) grew to $1 billion in sales. The company owns a diverse group of jewelry stores that appeal to just about every customer profile. If you're not a Roger's customer, you probably shop at Osterman. Or Jared. Or Kay ...

5. Forget about the money for once. Linda Smithers, owner of Susan's Coffee & Tea (with locations in Akron, Canton and Massillon), sold her company to an investment firm last year, then bought it back when she suspected the company was sacrificing quality to save money.

Her story showed us that very few decisions are as permanent as they may appear at the onset. While the jury's still out, Smithers insists that profits can be maintained by prioritizing quality, not sacrificing it. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Newsclips

Written by
Addresses of originality

E-mail has changed the way we work, play and bond. While some say e-mail is an impersonal means of communication, an e-mail address can provide a unique way to project a personalized image.

Some e-mail identities are downright eye-catching, with hidden meanings that reveal a slice of personality. For example, the '70s Beatles hit record "Revolution" obviously had an impact on Howard Cleveland, because 20 years after it was released, the Internet linchpin and CEO of Digital Day in Akron chose a personal e-mail address that reflects his perspective on how computers have changed the world: DigitRev@xxx.com.

With an e-mail address like Isenborg@xxx.com, it's not hard to guess that Bob Isenberg, creative director for Wern Rausch Locke Advertising Inc., is a devoted fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." His colleague, Betty Williams, office manager at the Canton advertising agency, designated flair@xxx.com as her e-mail identity -- inspired by the vanity license plate on her little red Corvette that has, you guessed it, flair.

When presentation skills consultant Leslie Ungar incorporated her company, she named it after her world champion show horse, Electric Impulse. For her business e-mail address, Ungar combined her first initial and last name with the horse's nickname, Impi. "What I didn't realize is that in computer language, it's all translated to lower case. So instead of getting LUngarIMPI@xxx.com, I ended up with lungarimpi@xxx.com!"

Even if you don't know Rick Mullins, a sales associate at an Akron area Radio Shack, it's not hard to figure out what his passion is. With the personal e-mail address runmoose@xxx.com, Mullins is unmistakably an avid runner -- and his alter ego is Bullwinkle.

Sheri Roberts Tennant, owner of Shericho Diversified Office Services in Minerva, is addicted to Looney Tunes, as evidenced by her e-mail address, SheriTunes@xxx.com. Her spouse, Doug Tennant, a creative designer at Star Bronze in Alliance, says he uses his initials in the prefix of his e-mail address, DETbunchie@xxx.com, but reveals the "Bunchie" is his wife's pet name for him.

Stacy Wessels, president of the Image Factory Inc. in Akron, protests that, despite how her business e-mail might be misconstrued, she's not a fink. "The IF in IF-inc@xxx.com stands for Image Factory, of course. But I included a hyphen before the 'Inc' so it wouldn't be misread as 'I Fink' -- which is certainly not the image I want to project!"

Online expertise

Stark and Knoll, a 15-year-old Akron law firm, is tapping into the full potential of the Internet. In September, it launched an affiliate e-company, Transaction Support Group, to provide 24-hour assistance with mergers and acquisitions.

The site is supervised by a corporate attorney, who acts as transaction manager. Services include examining due diligence, reviewing contracts and documents, preparing schedules, obtaining consents and waivers, processing financial documentation and coordinating payoffs, lien releases, mortgage filings and funding. The site can be accessed at www.transactgroup.com.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Crash course

Written by

What's the cyberworld equivalent to a devastating fire that burns your office building to the ground?

For Jacob Mathew, Ph.D., president and owner of International Cyber Business Services Inc. in Akron, it was a catastrophic disk crash that knocked his award-winning site off the Internet.

International Cyber Business Services Inc. develops interactive Web sites, electronic commerce and enterprise solutions for businesses.

In 1998, Mathew established HolisticOnline.com, a site providing information on all aspects of health, emphasizing mind-body and alternative therapies. Comprising about 4,000 pages of research and the largest herbal database on the Internet, the site draws more than 20,000 users weekly.

Last August, HolisticOnline.com was growing rapidly and attracting even more visitors. The site had just been named No. 1 for alternative therapy research by Psychology Today magazine, and was rated among the top five health sites on the Internet. Physicians at Case Western Reserve University, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and Mayo Clinic were also recommending the site.

Then, Mathew received a barrage of e-mails from users complaining that the site was inaccessible. Concerned, he contacted his hosting company -- a Maryland firm that had acquired the company that had previously held his three-year server contract.

At first, Mathew thought the dilemma was a disk crash that could be promptly resolved. But when the hosting service admitted it hadn't backed up the site files for months, Mathew was devastated. It seemed his livelihood had vanished overnight.

With contributions from an international team of physicians and other experts, the dynamically generated site provided the world with information on everything from nutrition and herbs to stress management and alternative therapies, diseases and preferred providers for various health conditions. Horrifically, all that content had vanished, and the guest book additions and discussion pages were also lost.

A self-described optimist, Mathew was determined to get back online to provide the services that millions of people had come to rely on. But his task was even more arduous, because he was immobilized from neck surgery four days earlier.

"Scrambling to get back online was like chaos. The host was unbelievably uncooperative, so we ended up going to someone else. And since the site had to be rebuilt anyway, we decided to redesign it with easier interface and better content," he says.

The undertaking was quite costly, and not just in terms of lost revenue. Mathew hired a team of experts to work around the clock for several weeks to recreate the site design and content. He also decided to use multiple servers in different locations.

"The site is like an airplane now because we're using three servers, so if one or two of the engines blow, we can still fly," he laughs. "And even though the new servers back up daily, we also do it ourselves."

The silver lining is that the new site is easier to navigate. Faster servers make for faster downloads. Database bottlenecks are minimized to handle a broader visitor base with no delays. Before the crash, the site wasn't Web TV accessible. Now it is. The new design also incorporates many interface modifications suggested by users.

Ultimately, the crash taught Mathew a crucial lesson in crisis management.

"You can make all kinds of contingency plans, but this experience taught me that the crises you plan for aren't the ones that will happen," he says. "It's the little things you don't even expect that will bring you to your knees." How to reach: International Cyber Business Services Inc., (330) 733-4283

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Business Notes

Written by

Whitemyer Advertising Inc. of Zoar has been chosen as the agency of record for JLG Industries Inc. and will be responsible for creating marketing communications programs and materials.

United National Bank & Trust Co. is renovating its 34th Street financial center. In addition to remodeling the interior, the bank will be equipped with a new client service counter and a remote teller system.

Stark County Regional Planning Commission is accepting applications from small businesses for its Micro-Enterprise Loan Program. The program offers loans of up to $10,000 to owners of qualified Stark County businesses. Contact the Stark County Regional Planning Commission at (330) 451-7402 for more information.

Transitions

The Will-Burt Co., Orville, has named Andrea Russell marketing communications specialist for its Mast and Lighting Division.

Marlite, of Dover, has promoted Don Froelich to senior vice president of finance and administration, Dan Delehanty to vice president of sales for North America and Steve Davis to vice president of marketing.

Jill Lifer has been named assistant treasurer of Johnson Brothers Rubber Co. of West Salem. Lifer joined the company in 1996 as a staff accountant.

Thomas H. Yu has been named vice president of engineering at The Hoover Co. of North Canton. He will oversee the department that researches, designs and tests products.

Loree Beeching has been promoted to assistant branch manager of Cambridge Home Health Care's Canton office.

To submit notices of business expansions, additions and moves, and management-level transitions, write: Editor, SBN Magazine, 84 W. Bowery Street, Akron, OH 44308; or fax: (330) 535-6491

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Recession-proof

Written by

Whether or not the predictions we're hearing are accurate, the economy is in for some kind of a change. If you read everything you get your hands on, you might believe that we're in for a recession soon.

My peers in the journalism community are poising their pens to write about what they deem inevitable. A turn in the economy is great fodder for business journalism.

Most of the business owners I talk to don't seem as concerned. They're not hoarding their cash. They're not laying off employees. In fact, the growth-oriented businesses SBN Magazine has been covering the last several months are talking about the investments they plan to make -- or are now making --- to prepare for long-term growth.

Why is this? For one, when the U.S. economy is facing a predicted recession, money gets cheaper. That means many businesses take the opportunity to invest in new technology and equipment at lower rates. But even at those costs, if a company is not poised for growth, why would it invest in that direction?

The answer is, at least from the company owners I have spoken to the last couple of months, that they indeed are poised for growth -- even (and especially) if their competitors aren't.

Whether or not you believe that President Bush's tax-relief package or Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's rate cuts will spur the economy, economists will tell you that monetary policy actions take at least 18 months to yield results. While these actions can have immediate effects in terms of convincing businesses and consumers that better times are around the corner, they can't affect the current economy.

Savvy business owners know that this forecast is not a bad omen. They see it as an opportunity to jump ahead. They know that they must build upon the policies put in place today to reap the benefits when the economic landscape evens out a year or year and a half from now. There will be some fallout, as we've witnessed in the dot-com industry of late, but these savvy business owners say, better our competitors than us.

Now is not the time to sit still. Better times are ahead, but we won't all be here to enjoy them. On a large scale, you can learn from companies such as Apple, which is preparing to boost its position in the marketplace by adding extras, such as standard CDs, DVDs and increased power levels, to its computer products.

On a local level, you can learn from our cover story this month about a company increasing its capacity so that it can expand its product line.

These companies are staying within their areas of expertise, but expanding their capacities. Their strategies share a common philosophy. They are positioning themselves for growth by sticking to what they know best.

It may not be the time to take on a big risk, but as they'll tell you, it's certainly not the time to be stagnant. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Movers & Shakers

Written by

The Tallmadge Chamber of Commerce has elected to its board as trustees John Bokas, Billow Funeral Homes and Crematory; Tony Fanizzi, Anthony Fanizzi Realty; Larry Basler, CITGO Petroleum Inc.; Karen Fuller, Alpha Graphics; Heather Menendez, PAK Computers; and Don Rainey of American Express Financial Services.

Dale A. Ruther, partner at Bober, Markey, Fedorovich & Co. of Akron, has been elected to serve as a member of the Polaris International National Construction Industry Committee for 2001.

Joe W. Woodell has joined Brouse McDowell of Akron as its director of human resources.

Digital Day of Fairlawn has hired Cindy Nelson as director of marketing and Lisa Bachman as business development executive.

Cross Town Traffic of Fairlawn has added Howard Zoss as CEO.

Mark E. Krohn has been promoted to partner of the Akron law firm Brennan, Manna & Diamond LLC.

Kristen Simpson has been promoted to vice president of public relations for The Urda Co. Inc., an Akron-based marketing, advertising and public relations firm. Diane Kell has been hired as director and Sarah Snyder as administrative assistant.

Hitchcock Fleming and Associates Inc. of Akron has promoted Pat Kunklier to vice president, public relations, and Eric Hartline and Rene McCann to ergotechnologists.

Gigi Doney has been hired as administrative assistant for Akron's BCG Systems, the systems affiliate of Brockman, Coats, Gedelian and Co.

Robert R. Renner, manager of Brockman, Coats, Gedelian and Co., has been appointed to serve on the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants Committee.

Bob Cohen, an Akron executive, will host a nationally syndicated talk show that will draw upon his professional background. Listen to him at www.renaissanceradio.com Mondays at 1 p.m.

ShipLogix in Hudson has added Mary O'Connell, Merrill Watts and Harrison Baker as directors of business development.

Kent State University has appointed Ronald H. Stolle as the 18th Goodyear Executive Professor in Business Administration.

The Home Builders Association, which serves Portage and Summit counties, has elected as its 2001 officers President Fred Ayers, F.G. Ayers Inc.; Vice President John Galehouse, Galehouse Construction; and Secretary Treasurer Steve Conant, Steve's Best Built Homes. The Executive Committee consists of Fred Zumpano, Fred Zumpano Design and Construction, and Patrick Williams, WCCV Floor Coverings. The Portage County representative is Bob Cady.

System Optics has added Kirsten Baughman-Harvey, director of marketing, to its system optics and cosmetic and surgical arts center.

Joyce Beck has been promoted to team coordinator of the Intensive Treatment Services program at Portage Path Behavioral Health.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP, Akron, has appointed Joseph H. Scarcella to director of finance and Lance A. Lanier to its Litigation and Creditors Rights/Bankruptcy Practice Group.

Urology Inc. announced the retirement of Dr. Wesley H. Van Fossen, who served the Akron area for 31 years. Ahmad Z. Vafa has been appointed to the staff of doctors.

To submit notices of business expansions, additions and moves and management-level transitions, write: Editor, SBN Magazine, 84 W. Bowery St., Akron, OH 44308; or fax: (330) 535-6491

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

After the fallout

Written by
Whatever industry we scan, e-commerce is the future of business as we know it.

The Akron Regional Development Board recently added an interactive feature to its Web site, which offers its 2000 members the option of communicating with each other through the site.

The impact of this feature has been most significant for the ARDB staff, which attributes a 50 percent decline in the management of inquiry calls from members, students and educators to the new feature. This has liberated staff time for the information management and research tasks that drive value to members.

"It's gotten us a lot more efficient in house," says Rebecca Guzy Woodford, ARDB's senior director of research and communications.

Without changing ARDB's mission, the Web has become an efficient information distribution method.

"We're still in the same information business," notes Woodford. "We don't see e-commerce as a change in our mission -- just more added value."

The ARDB is planning to add more value to the site by creating a B2B e-commerce portal, now in the formation phases of development. With the ability to attract, recruit and promote business growth in the region, Woodford projects the organization's future Web strategies will allow it to "be more focused and provide more services."

U.S. Office Products' (which bought out locally-based Costigan's) venture into the e-landscape began in 1993 with direct dial modem-to-modem hook-ups. Although Web sales increased more than 30 percent last year, many of the company's customers still rely on fax and phone transactions, largely because of customer access, bandwidth and adaptability to change issues.

Today, its Web catalog boasts more than 25,000 items, fulfilled within 24 hours. Even at the current level of customer acceptance, "our Web-based business has changed the organization dramatically," says Richard Costigan, vice president of business development. Customer service representatives inputting orders "now have the ability to provide true customer service."

This aligns well with the fact that most customer service reps prefer interaction and solution development with customers rather than the restricted venue of key punching and input processing.

The challenge has been to help customers embrace the new media. According to Costigan, "as much as we promote (our e-commerce) with incentives, training and promotions, change is hard for people."

U.S. Office Products' e-sales picture is bright nevertheless. E-commerce has fed sales growth, punctuated by the fact that last year, all of the company's new customers were Web-based.

Advanced Elastomer Systems, an Akron manufacturer of thermoplastic elastomers, is eagerly instituting the launch of its e-commerce strategies. According to Margaret Mattix, AES' senior vice president of E-Business and Strategic Alliances, AES sees its Web site as "a very effective tool for increasing reach and supplying information in a cost-effective way."

Even with a healthy 12- to 18-month sales cycle, e-business payoffs are already being calculated.

As Mattix indicates, "There's a cross-section of employees who are very capable, excited and supportive, and if you can tap into that, they can help middle managers who may see this as a threat to their need to be in control."

As AES management has learned, the transition to e-business and e-commerce requires more adaptability than control. Employees who bring a personal Web enthusiasm and savvy are utilized to help demystify fears and energize managers.

AES has discovered that a commitment to e-business is a commitment to eliminating fear in the organization -- fear of the loss of control, not being in mastery over new technologies and the hyped fear of job loss. At AES, this effort has been facilitated by the fact that the company began the process with a strong ERP system.

So far, customer reactions have been a mix of excitement and wait-and-see reluctance. Because commerce is a relationship, moving the customer forward has become as important as moving the organization forward. To this end, AES has smartly collaborated with 10 "competitor" raw material suppliers to form ElastomerSolutions.com, an industry-specific marketplace for light e-commerce and information exchange.

As far as e-business impacting the AES core mission, Mattix isn't worried. As she suggests, embracing e-business and e-commerce "doesn't really change who we are -- only how we do it."

From the technology expert side, Akron-based Interactive Media Group provides empathy and cross-industry Web design experience. According to IMG President Andrew Holland, many companies launch an ambitious or cautious courting of e-business with considerations of supply cost management. This is especially beneficial for companies selling late-cycle commodities that compete for fractions of market share.

Other objectives getting equal play are focused on using e-business to support field sales and to provide multiple points of access.

The biggest challenge for any successful e-business plan is making sure all of the company's disciplines are, in Holland's words, "getting their silo 'Towers of Babel' together." Marketing, engineering and operations must be equal partners in e-strategies, since at the end of the day, each significantly impacts and is impacted by business mediated by the Web.

Holland has found that although e-business doesn't dismantle the corporate mission, it does call for a significant reinvention of how business is done -- in many cases, with commensurate rewards from an equally ready marketplace.

"Companies must understand that creating an electronic channel has an advantage in terms of bricks-and-mortar and traditional sales force investments," Holland says. "Each of the elements of service must be examined in the light of the products and services that are being delivered. If they are not existent in the traditional organization, they must be created. If they are currently in place, they must be analyzed and effectively translated into the new electronic channel."

Without hyped reliance on feckless forecasts, it seems clear that businesses are already moving productively and intelligently into a venue that shows evolutionary promise.

Though no two companies may move in the same way or at the same pace, the next economies will be significantly energized by the next technologies and innovative applications used by growing enterprises.

Jack Ricchiuto is a management consultant and author.