Lynne Thompson

Wednesday, 30 January 2002 10:46

The taste of success

Allison Waggoner thought she'd done it all at Harry London Candies, the North Canton chocolate manufacturer that bears her grandfather's name.

As a kid, she worked wherever her mother and father needed her, from the factory production line to the retail stores. During her tenure as director of marketing and new product development, she'd even recorded radio commercials.

But she was stunned when brother-in-law Peter Young, then Harry London's president and CEO, walked into her office in early 2000 and asked her to serve as the company's television pitchwoman on the Home Shopping Network.

The company had just inked a deal to develop and produce a few products to be included in the endless line-up of diverse items the Tampa, Fla.-based television network presents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. HSN executives wanted someone to go on the air and extol the virtues of Harry London confections, just as soap diva Susan Lucci peddles her collection of shoes and handbags and actress Suzanne Somers pushes her line of costume jewelry.

"Peter came into my office and asked, 'Do you have a videotape of yourself?'" Waggoner, now 35, remembers. The fact that she had no on-camera experience hardly mattered -- Young had already chosen Waggoner for the job because of her title and, she suspects, a lack of interest from brother Joe, the company's vice president of technology and product development.

On March 1, 2000, she flew to Tampa to make her HSN debut with a 5-pound box of assorted chocolates, "nervous as all get-go."

"I found out when I got down there that I was supposed to be there for a training day, but Peter had never given me the paperwork," she says.

She also found out during a 5 p.m. production meeting that her 8 p.m. spot would be live, not taped as she had expected.

"It was horrible," she admits. "I thought, 'I won't make it. I'll get on the air and pass out.'"

Much to her surprise, Waggoner's eight-minute appearance went off without a hitch. Now she regards her television stints as a matter of professional course. She estimates she'll make 16 trips to Tampa between October 2001 and April 2002.

The chocolates are selling so briskly on HSN that they now warrant hour-long shows of their own. When the product Waggoner is touting is a "Today's Special" (HSN's featured offering of the day), she makes multiple appearances throughout the day, into the wee hours of the morning.

Waggoner says the company may sell 80,000 to 100,000 units during these 24-hour periods.

In fiscal year 2001, Harry London Candies' gross sales totaled between $20 million and $30 million, she says. Ten to 15 percent of sales are from HSN orders.

"We went on the air thinking that we would have one or two items that we might feature seasonally through the year," Waggoner says. "We're now going into our second anniversary and selling huge volumes of multitudes of different packaging. Our customer base has almost quadrupled in the last two years."

According to Waggoner, HSN contacted Harry London Candies about 3 1/2 years ago.

"Someone had recommended our chocolates," she says. "They tried them and fell in love with them."

She says that, unlike many companies that have brought their chocolates to a mass market, Harry London chocolates are still made by hand using her grandfather's recipes, fresh cream and butter from local dairies, and the top 4 percent of cocoa beans.

"It's very hard to find good chocolate anymore," she says. "A lot of companies have done a lot of things to cheapen chocolate with ingredients or processes. You can add fillers. You can take out the cocoa butters, which are extremely pricey in today's market, and put other fat solids in."

After a year-and-a-half of negotiations, Waggoner made her debut on HSN with that 5-pound boxed assortment. Today, the company offers about 25 items on the air.

"We've sold over 50,000 of those this year alone on HSN," Waggoner says.

Price is undoubtedly one reason; the box, which sells for more than $50 in retail stores, is sold for $24 on HSN. Waggoner admits profit margins are slim, from 10 to 20 percent. But she points out the company is able to move a large volume of product quickly, greatly reducing overhead.

"HSN has something like 4 million viewers," she says. "It's almost like an advertising tool for us, to get our chocolate into every home that we can possibly get it into and get that kind of exposure."

Rex Mason, president and CEO of Harry London Candies, says the company's HSN-generated sales over the last year were triple what they were the previous year.

"It's a business that's growing very rapidly, a very important part of our business, and one that we want to continue to develop," he says. "Through the relationship with HSN, it helps us build awareness of the Harry London brand, so it's a part of our broader marketing strategy."

Mason says the company has not had to add to its approximately 250 employees to fill thousands of HSN orders within the stipulated 72 hours. Harry London manufactures a finite number of items for any given sale date. At the end of the 24-hour cycle, the network sends an electronic data file to Harry London, which it downloads and prints.

Each order, Mason says, is accompanied by a bar code. The order is packed, and the corresponding bar code is scanned to produce a UPS mailing label bearing the HSN customer's name and address.

"We (send) a lot of things UPS anyway," Mason says. "But as we get bigger and do bigger quantities, we've got to apply more and more technology to remain efficient."

Waggoner scoffs at the notion that she is, as she jokingly puts it, "a national television personality." But some people do recognize her, even without the on-air hairstyle and makeup.

"It's not embarrassing, but it's a little awkward because I'm kind of a private person," she says of the attention.

Her television appearances aren't the only new thing she's seen at the company; she's also seen changes at the home office. Many of those changes were instigated by Mason, a one-time general manager at Matrix Essentials, a Solon-based manufacturer of hair-care products owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb during his tenure.

It was the 50-year-old Mason who replaced Young a little more than a year ago when Young returned to Washington, D.C., with Waggoner's sister, Mercedes, to pursue a career in international law.

"When we as a family asked Peter (Young) to come and join us ... he said that he would stay for a maximum of two years," Waggoner says. "He ended up staying for seven."

Mason says he's spent his first year at Harry London implementing systems and processes appropriate to the company's size and mentions financial management systems as an example.

"If you're going to grow and double your sales in a couple of years, you've got to have sound control systems in place," he says.

He's also spent considerable time and effort on improving operational performance and customer service.

"When I arrived, customers told me, 'You have the best products in the world, but we can never count on getting them on time," he says.

According to his figures, productivity is up about 20 percent from a year ago, and workers have done "a substantially better job" of meeting delivery dates.

"Most corporate people come in and say, 'How do we do it faster? How do we do it cheaper? How do we make more money?'" Waggoner says. "Rex has instead said, 'How do we do this better without compromising the quality?' He's brought a lot of new ideas to the table."

One challenge Mason faces is expanding the Harry London brand name "in a way that is consistent with the quality for which the company stands." Another is to continue increasing sales, something he says his predecessor accomplished.

"We had a fair amount of private-label business that we did," he says. "We are doing less of that and emphasizing brand development much more. We have to continue to make that shift." How to reach: Harry London Candies, (330) 966-5531

Monday, 31 December 2001 06:05

At your fingertips

Less than thrilled about the prospect of boarding a plane to make that next business trip?

Thanks to technology, you may be able to see that customer by simply picking up the telephone.

According to Susan Kristof, public relations manager for Sprint PCS, the telecommunications provider will launch a nationwide system in June or July that will provide transmission speeds up to approximately 144k -- up to 10 times faster than the system currently in place. The high-speed transmission system should support the use of videophones like the ones television network correspondents employed to broadcast reports from the front lines of Afghanistan.

"It's kind of like a computer," she says. "If you have a real slow computer, and you try to put a movie on it, it looks really bad. Phones are the same way. You need to have a good transmission speed in order to be able to have a good picture on your phone."

A representative of electronics producer Sanyo's North American marketing and distribution operation describes videophones the size of a regular cell phone with liquid crystal display screens that provide a "pretty good" picture, although there is a slight drag in movement. A tiny camera mounted above the screen relays images of the caller when held 18 to 20 inches from the face.

A combination earpiece/microphone allows users to watch and talk at the same time. Some open like a checkbook, with an LCD screen and keypad on each side -- one for downloading data, the other for viewing images.

Kristof says the high-speed transmission system provides access to advances in wireless technology other than the videophone. In addition to streaming video, the system will provide streaming audio, which means the phone can function as a radio.

"You're going to see your phone become a lot more like a computer," Kristof says. "It will be more of a mobile companion. It will be a really useful item for anyone who's on the road."

Users will be able to take pictures with a phone equipped with a digital camera and e-mail them from the phone. And because more customers can use a high-speed telecommunications network without the addition of transmission towers, the system is good for the environment.

"That will make a lot of people happy," she says.

She admits, however, that getting on the Internet won't be that much different than it is today using an Internet-capable phone and service -- just faster.

Prices for the videophones and access to Sprint's high-speed network were not available at press time, but the Sanyo rep points out that technological gadgetry is seldom cheap when it first arrives in stores. The manufacturer's cell phones currently retail for as much as $499.

A clerk at Radio Shack's West Market Street location in Fairlawn says high volume stores, such as the Radio Shack in New Philadelphia, could have videophones in stock sometime in 2002.

As for high-speed network access, Kristof says it will probably be priced differently from access to Sprint's current counterpart.

Thursday, 29 November 2001 06:04

Work with a purpose

Ask Stanley Gault what he's been doing since he resigned from his job as chairman of the board and CEO of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 1996, and the energetic 75-year-old just may invite you to hop into his Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle so he can show you.

One of his first stops is the home he shares with wife, Flo. The red brick home is lovely but surprisingly modest compared to the houses that have sprung up in The Meadows subdivision a few miles away. Although a man of Gault's means could spend his golden years anywhere in the world, he chooses to make his primary residence in the Wayne County college town of Wooster, where he grew up.

"We do have a very attractive property in Canada, and we have a nice place in Florida," he says. "But I do not want to live full time in Florida. I'm great there for about 10 days at a time, and then I come back here for four or five days."

As he continue to drive, it becomes clear that Gault's retirement project isn't the house but the city of Wooster itself. While many of his peers spend their days golfing, fishing and sleeping in the sun, the man lauded by Business Week and Fortune is making a second career out of civic-mindedness.

The city is full of causes he's championed -- a shelter for battered women, a drug treatment center, even the department store downtown. Gault hopes the projects "serve as an incentive, motivation and encouragement to other communities to show what can be accomplished when the private sector, the public sector, individuals, organizations, all get together for a common cause."

One of the first examples Gault points out is the future site of the Wayne County Public Library, a city block on the south side of West Liberty Street that Gault and his wife had paved and landscaped so it could be used for parking until ground is broken for the building. In 1998, Gault led the drive to secure a new downtown site for the library, currently located on Market Street, and, along with a handful of others, subsidized $1.3 million of its purchase price.

"Some of the board members wanted to put this thing out in the country," he remembers. "I don't know how they thought people would get to it."

Gault uses the word "we" when he talks about obtaining funding for the building's construction -- an indication that he'll probably be involved in that, too. But he's a much bigger fan of restorations such as that of the Gault Liberty Center, located at the east end of Wooster's downtown area. The turn-of-the century buggy works now houses the offices and programs of Substance Abuse Treatment Education and Prevention Services and Every Woman's House, which operates a battered women's shelter next door.

According to STEPS/Every Woman's House Executive Director Bobbi Douglas, the nonprofit organizations, which serve Wayne and Holmes counties, approached Gault in 1996 about co-chairing the capital campaign that raised $4 million to rehabilitate the factory and construct the shelter.

"Usually people of his position might be honorary chairs, but he was a working (chairman)," she recalls. "He ran the meetings, he oversaw the results, he reviewed all the spreadsheets, he made a lot of the requests for funding himself. He and Mrs. Gault also donated a substantial sum."

Gault was even a member of the building committee, which met as often as once a week.

"He's very warm and down-to-earth," Douglas adds. "His experience in the world has lent a lot of wisdom to the projects that he's been associated with, particularly in Wooster."

Douglas says Gault still supports STEPS and Every Woman's House, both financially and otherwise. (He recently hosted a luncheon for Timken Foundation representatives who came to town to see the center and shelter.) But much of his time and energy is devoted to the renovation of the Beall Avenue School, a 100-year-old structure Gault attended as a child that is being converted into the Family Learning & Development Center.

The facility will accommodate preschool classes run by the Ida Sue School and Tri-County Cooperative Preschool, nonprofit organizations that offer programs for disabled children; some of the College of Wooster's early childhood education classes; offices for the college's Wooster Volunteer Network; and Wayne County Career Center programs.

According to the center's executive director, Melody Snure, Gault came up with the idea for the center, purchased the building at public auction in July 2000, and is paying for 80 percent of its multimillion-dollar renovations.

But his involvement hasn't stopped with writing the checks. Gault says he meets with project management teams and architects every two to three weeks.

"He has been very hands-on in everything from selecting the color of paint for window trim to all of the key discussions we've had," Snure says. "He asks the right questions. He's very much a good motivator. And he can work with anybody. He's equally as comfortable with your average third-shift guy in a flannel shirt as he is with another CEO."

Gault's sole for-profit venture in the city is Freedlander's, the downtown department store he bought from fellow stockholders in 2000 after a couple of board members said they could no longer devote their time to the enterprise. The purchase, he says, has streamlined decision-making at the store and will protect a hefty chunk of the downtown area.

"There are very few cities our size in the nation that have a department store that's comparable to this," he declares with pride as he cruises by the store.

The establishment sells items such as Estee Lauder cosmetics, Florsheim shoes and Hart Schaffner & Marx suits and offers free alterations, gift wrapping and delivery. He calls Freedlander's "an emotional investment" because "I don't intend to ever make any money on it."

The problem lies in a lack of convenient parking, he says.

"People will park in the outer fringes of a Wal-Mart parking lot because they can't get any closer than that," he says. "Yet those same people won't walk that distance, or even half that distance, to get to a store downtown."

Gault's foray into local philanthropy began during his days as chairman of the board and CEO of Rubbermaid Inc., a position that brought the General Electric senior vice president back to his native Wooster in 1980 after 31 years with that company. In 1984, he was the driving force behind the Rubbermaid Foundation's purchase and renovation of the Walnut Street School, a "cookie-cutter" of the Beall Avenue School that now serves as the Wayne Center for the Arts.

According to Gault, the facility offers classes in "everything from aerobic dancing to basket-weaving" to 2,200 members from ages 5 to 85. The foundation funded the construction of a building for United Way of Wooster -- "the first time in America that any organization had ever built a headquarters for United Way from scratch," Gault says -- and in 1991 donated the land on which the new Wooster High School sits.

"We needed a new high school," Gault says. "I made a deal with the city that we would buy the land, which was worth $2 million, if they would organize a campaign (to pass a bond issue), get good people behind it and aggressively go after it. As a result, it won."

He also chaired the fund-raising effort for and was a major contributor to the adjoining recreation and fitness center, a facility used by both students and the community at large.

Gault's combined activities require the services of a full-time administrative assistant and a spacious office on the north end of town where he puts in 40-hour work weeks. He still serves on the boards of Avon Products, Wal-Mart, Timken and his alma mater, the College of Wooster. (He and his family made a parting gift of the money needed to build a new admissions center when he resigned as chairman of the university's board of trustees last year.)

He is also active in a Louisville, Ky., real estate and commercial development concern run by his son and son-in-law. And although Gault enjoys puttering around his house near Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and spending time with his three children and six grandchildren, he doesn't think he'll ever retire.

"There are too many worthwhile opportunities to not take advantage of them," he says.

He encourages others to get involved with their communities to the extent their personal circumstances permit.

"There's no such thing as a self-made man or a self-made woman, as some people would like to designate themselves," he says. "We need to do everything we can to provide the facilities and the opportunity for everyone to improve themselves."

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 06:31

Free speech

Barry Romich describes the company he built with Ed Prentke as a '60s spinoff of a medical engineering research project he worked on while attending what was then known as the Case Institute of Technology.

The young electronics engineering student met Prentke, an engineer on staff at Highland View Hospital in Warrensville Heights, while both were devising methods of controlling powered upper-extremity orthotic systems -- methods that would allow, for example, a person paralyzed from the neck down to control a mechanism to move his or her arms.

"While the research project was looking decades into the future, the patients who were there in the hospital and were the subjects of the research had very real needs right then," Romich remembers. "The technology did exist to do some things for them. We started to build some things for people on the side."

The devices were simple at first -- nurse "call" switches that could be activated by blowing into a tube or rolling the head, for example. But Prentke and Romich soon graduated to environmental control systems that allowed patients to turn on the lights or a radio, or even dial a phone.

"Once they had that first taste of control, they started to ask for more things," Romich says.

By the mid-'70s, the duo's sideline had become a full-time business, Prentke Romich Co. Prentke retired from the company in the late '70s to concentrate on his position at the hospital -- a job he held until he was almost 88. Romich, a Creston native who had tired of city life, moved the company to Wooster and became its chairman and CEO.

Over the years it has grown into a global pioneer among the relative handful of companies that specialize in augmentative and alternative communication. The electronic devices produced by Prentke Romich, which employs about 100, allow those unable to speak due to a physical or cognitive disability to communicate effectively and independently.

"The founding of Prentke Romich essentially predates the field," says President Dave Moffatt. "Most people would say the real field of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) in terms of people being able to communicate with any of these electronic devices is about 20 or 25 years old. Barry and Ed Prentke were in business doing some of these kinds of things before there really was a field."

The company's products are used by everyone from children with cerebral palsy -- a term used to describe a variety of chronic conditions in which brain damage, usually incurred at birth, impairs motor function and control -- to adults stricken by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive malady that causes paralysis via degeneration of the spinal cord.

Even older adults recovering from strokes use augmentative and assisted communication, if only while working to regain their ability to talk.

Although some businesses manufacture simple devices geared toward people with severe cognitive disabilities, Prentke Romich's high-tech aids are designed for individuals who, as Moffatt puts it, "are able to acquire and use language in some reasonable, normal way."

Indeed, the most advanced product pictured in the latest catalog resembles a laptop computer more than anything else. Prentke Romich's communication aids utilize a language system called Minspeak, exclusively licensed to it by Semantic Compaction Systems of Pittsburgh, in which the sequencing of icons determines their meaning.

Hitting the "rainbow" icon followed by the "frog" icon, for example, yields the word "green."

The advantage to such a system, Moffatt says, is that it keeps the number of icons on the keyboard of any device relatively small. Many users eventually become "touch typists," although not at the rate those with normal motor functions enjoy. In addition to a color display screen, the ingenious devices "speak" in age- and gender-appropriate voice options.

According to Moffatt, these aids offer advantages such as longer battery life and better durability over the traditional laptop, a valid communication option for some individuals. He adds that most of Prentke Romich's products allow users to access a computer through a cable or infrared connection.

"When you unplug my laptop from the power source, it works for about two or three hours reliably," he says. "Someone who depends on a device to talk really needs that device to work for them all day."

The Prentke Romich Co. ships its devices all over the world. An international network of distributors in more than 20 countries, including some in Africa and the Far East, is managed out of a London office. Sales and service for the United States and Canada are handled by the Wooster headquarters.

The company advertises in Exceptional Parent, a magazine for caregivers of physically and mentally challenged children, and participates at events such as the Abilities Expo last month at the I-X Center in Cleveland. But both Romich and Moffatt say their most effective sales tool is professionals who evaluate and support their clients.

"Because the actual end-user world is so diverse and so wide-flung, what we typically do is educate those people -- for example, those speech pathologists who work in AAC -- to make sure they understand what our devices will do, how they can be accessed and the kinds of people who benefit from having our devices as opposed to another approach," Moffatt says.

The task, Romich says, is a big one.

"People who need this kind of stuff are relatively few and far between," Romich says. "Consequently, the people who serve them often do not have much of a vision of what's possible, and they haven't had very much experience. Even in those centers that have had a lot of experience, they, in general, haven't taken a very scientific approach to service delivery."

To that end, the company has established a nonprofit organization, the AAC Institute, to provide information and services for end-users and professionals. The group is developing a Web site featuring language samples collected from AAC users, a tool Romich says will clearly illustrate what can be achieved in the AAC field to anyone with access to a computer.

Romich says technology is bringing exciting changes to the field of augmentative and alternative communication. He talks of a computer mouse that could be operated by simply moving a knee or raising a shoulder -- an alternative for those who can't use the mouth-operated joysticks and headpointing systems already available.

Moffatt says it is the people making such options available that set Prentke Romich apart from other businesses.

"On the average day, just interacting with the employees makes it a very rewarding place to work," he says. "And when you get a chance to go out and talk to parents, watch people who use our products, see people succeeding in school, working on their own, it's pretty exciting."

How to reach: Prentke Romich Co., (800) 262-1984

Lynne Thompson is a free-lance writer and regular contributor to SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Revving up sales

To the untrained eye, State 8 Motorcycle Mall in Cuyahoga Falls looks like any other motorcycle dealership, especially at closing time.

That's when young, mostly male employees, dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, hurry around gleaming motorcycles displayed at the front of the store, trying to wind up the day's work. In the back, a ponytailed woman behind the service counter surveys the selection of dirt bikes and four-wheelers stretching out before her as she answers one last phone call.

Nearby, dealership President Kirk Compton chats with a customer who's watching his grade-school-age son straddle a shiny yellow dirt bike.

But appearances can be deceiving, as Compton points out after sitting down in his cramped, no-frills office. Today, the store, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in April, boasts sales figures roughly five times those on its first year-end report.

"We started with about $250,000 worth of inventory," he says. "Now we have over $5 million."

Compton and his partners, brother Paul and father Gar, aren't exactly surprised by the growth that has forced them to begin construction on a new store twice the size of their current State Road location. In fact, it was almost a sure thing, according to Compton.

"The motorcycle industry as a whole has been growing in leaps and bounds for the last couple of years," he explains. "What we've done is just realize a demand that has been here for quite some time. This part of the country is historically known as being one of the top-selling motorcycle areas, and for quite a while, we haven't had the dealer representation in this area that the demand required.

"By putting the dealership in here, we pretty much knew from the demographics of the area that it was going to be growing large quickly."

Compton says the industry's growth has been driven by two factors that help dispel the notion of a motorcycle as a bad boy's toy: a strong economy and an aging population with disposable income to spend on everything from computers to pleasure boats.

But the "cruiser segment" -- people who hop on their bikes as a Sunday afternoon escape from stresses at home and at work -- aren't the only customers frequenting the Comptons' store. Some are serious racing enthusiasts, while others are simply looking for a more economical form of recreation and transportation.

"One of our biggest booming businesses is scooters," Kirk says. "Scooters, for years and years, have been a real typical form of transportation in Europe. Now, with the higher gas prices, we see people who are not interested in motorcycles."

Many customers, he adds, are putting bags and computer notebook holders on their purchases for commutes to and from work.

Yet another chunk of business is provided by women, most of whom fail to fit the biker babe stereotype.

"We have women who are making very good incomes," Compton says. "They have taken control of their lives and are doing the things that they want to do."

State 8 has courted this rapidly expanding segment of the market by educating employees about the special needs of the beginning rider. Compton says that novices -- both men and women -- generally do better on a lighter machine until they develop the upper body strength to handle something bigger.

Perhaps as surprising as State 8's customers are the men who own and run the place. Paul Compton was a disenchanted 27-year-old high school teacher working as a crew leader for a Washington, D.C., landscaping company when he received a call from his brother, Kirk, then 31, in 1990. Kirk, who was selling motorcycles for another dealership, offered to share the contacts and expertise necessary to help Paul start his own wholesale used motorcycle operation. Their father, Gar, a retired Huntington Bank executive, bankrolled the venture and kept the books.

Paul suddenly found himself combing classified ads, searching for motorcycles in good condition to buy.

"It was trial and error at first," admits Paul, State 8's vice president. "I'd go out to see a bike, and I didn't know what it was supposed to look like. I needed to educate myself on all these different models, which year came in which color, what was stock and what was after-market, whether it had been wrecked or not."

Soon, however, he was shipping used bikes to countries where a weak dollar made them a good buy.

"We've shipped bikes to England, Wales, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Australia, South America, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Czechoslovakia," says 66-year-old Gar, State 8's secretary and treasurer.

Soon Kirk left the dealership to work with his brother and father full time. (Younger brother, John, State 8's 27-year-old finance manager, joined the business in 1996.) By 1995, the trio had outgrown its rented self-storage spaces and needed a bigger facility. They bought their current site, a former Continental Baking Co. warehouse, and decided to open a retail used-motorcycle shop.

The move turned out to be a good one. Kirk says customers have traveled from as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Lexington, Ky., to buy a good used bike, something they can't find at just any dealership. The Comptons began selling new bikes in 1998, when they added a Suzuki franchise.

Yamaha and Aprilia franchises followed. Kirk says the former is the top-selling Japanese motorcycle maker, the latter, a high-end Italian manufacturer popular with world-class racers.

"We've run out of space," Gar says. "Volume is too big for this store."

Kirk says the new location a mile down the road will have a state-of-the-art service facility. The family is banking on a consistently high level of service to keep the dealership roaring along in the face of an ever-changing economy.

"No matter how big Internet purchasing goes or how many dealers there may be, we know that with customer service, we can keep people happy and coming to this part of Ohio," he says. How to reach: State 8 Motorcycle Mall, (330) 929-8123

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Beyond recognition

Many business owners and executives delegate the responsibility of shredding documents to an office staffer, perhaps a secretary or an administrative assistant.

But would they be better off hiring someone else to do the dirty work?

Al Piteo, owner of Kent Office Supply in Kent, is so sure of it that in January, he began operations as a franchisee of Shred-it, a decade-old Toronto-based concern that boasts 60 franchises and 25 company-owned branch offices around the world, as well as clients such as Microsoft, Aetna, Prudential, General Motors, General Electric and Parker Hannifin. While the idea of a shredding service may sound superfluous to some, Piteo says it offers a number of benefits, not the least of which is eliminating a menial task that keeps employees from more pressing duties.

"In any company, the greatest asset is people," he says. "Trying to make sure that those people are doing tasks that are the most beneficial to the company is what an owner or a manager is supposed to do."

Piteo's franchise provides a licensed, bonded, security-trained representative who will go to a business location and destroy confidential materials, either on a schedule or on an as-needed basis. His truck contains a shredder driven by a 200-horsepower engine that Piteo says operates 50 times faster than a typical trash-can counterpart.

"If you have an employee who spends an hour shredding, we can do that in five minutes," he says.

The truck's shredder destroys more than just paper. Piteo says it will "eat" videotapes, compact discs, even circuit boards and prototypes for new golf balls produced by a golf equipment manufacturer. All shredded materials are taken to a recycling center, where paper is baled and sold to a mill that puts it back on the market in the form of low-grade paper.

The service, according to Piteo, offers advantages besides saving manpower hours. He says the fine-furniture-quality console Shred-it provides to regular customers may be more secure than what they've been using to store to-be-destroyed documents. A flanged slot prevents documents from being removed after they've been deposited in the console, which is secured by a deadbolt lock; only the Shred-it representative and the business owner or a designate have a key.

Because the shredding is done on site, there's no chance of confidential materials falling into the wrong hands while they're being transported. (Piteo says one client used to pay a company to pick up classified records and haul them to its recycling center -- until a truck was involved in an accident and scattered those documents all over the highway.)

And since shredded documents are immediately removed from the premises, there's less chance of their being recovered from trash cans and Dumpsters. Piteo points out that computer software can reassemble documents left in long strips by a typical wastebasket shredder.

"The stuff we shred comes out in gum-sized pieces," he says. "There is no software to reassemble that."

Piteo adds that Shred-it's processes are earth-friendly. The representative separates documents from vinyl ring binders, plastic dividers, film, etc., and takes them to a facility that recycles them. Separating paper from contaminates in turn results in a better grade of recycled paper, one free of the black dots caused by bits of plastic and vinyl.

He's also observed that his own employees are more conscious of the console than they are of plastic and cardboard recycling bins. Even papers that don't need to be shredded end up in the console and enter the recycling circle. How to reach: Shred-It, (330) 673-6115

Lynne Thompson is a free-lance writer for SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Built to last

After 20 years in the same location, North Canton-based Liquid Control Corp. did what successful businesses often do -- it outgrew its manufacturing and office space.

Additions had been built as needed over the years, almost doubling in size the 18,000-square-foot warehouse on Freedom Avenue that CEO Bill Schiltz chose in 1979. The designer and builder of resin metering, mixing and dispensing machinery for the electronics, automotive, general assembly and composites industries had even overtaken a small building next door.

But the resulting layout was anything but efficient, according to President and COO Ken Jacobs. Goods had to be moved from the receiving area through entire departments to be assembled, and space for displaying and demonstrating products was limited. In 1996, Liquid Control began running out of room.

"It was very, very tight quarters toward the last year or two," Jacobs says. "We needed to do something."

Instead of simply living with the situation or moving into a cheap place that met its space requirements, the company spent approximately three years and $6 million to design and construct a 75,000-square-foot facility in the new Port Jackson Industrial Park, just south of the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. Jacobs admits that the company's handling and processing of chemicals requires certain features -- exhaust systems and testing facilities, for example -- not found in most existing warehouses and assembly shops.

But he and Schiltz think of Liquid Control's year-and-a-half-old headquarters as more than a necessity. They believe it's an impressive recruiting and marketing tool well worth the time and money spent to build it.

"Obviously, when you spend this kind of money, it's a long-term commitment for the future," Jacobs says. "That's one of the main messages we wanted to get across to our customers who do come and visit us."

Jacobs says Liquid Control was the first tenant in the industrial park, which meant company officials spent a considerable amount of time getting building permits and completing paperwork.

"It took us a little longer than if you went into an established industrial park," he says.

But the location was worth the effort. The company's 12-acre parcel, a two-mile drive from its previous address, offers plenty of room for future growth and easy access to restaurants, motels and the airport. Yet it sits next to a scenic nature preserve with trails workers use for lunchtime walks.

"Everybody, almost without exception, was absolutely thrilled and excited to get out here," Jacobs says. "They were, in almost all cases, moving to bigger work areas, moving to nicer offices. Their own little physical space was better."

According to Schiltz, a lot of time was also spent discussing the building's layout with architects. He wanted to avoid previous mistakes such as putting the engineering department -- an integral part of every machine built -- on a floor above the production area. A well-designed facility, he asserts, reinforces the notion of a well-designed product.

"We had a number of sessions where we sat down around a table with a dozen people and a CAD operator," he says. "As we talked, he could make changes in the floor plan."

According to Jacobs, the company's 100 employees in North Canton (approximately 65 others work at locations in Indianapolis and Palm City, Fla.) helped design the building by indicating their most-wanted amenities in an essay-type survey.

"The No. 1 requirement was they wanted to be able to look outdoors and see that it was sunny or rainy or snowy," he says.

That request is reflected in the 8-foot-high windows surrounding the office area, many of which overlook the nature preserve. Even the manufacturing area is flooded with natural light.

Other creature comforts include a 1,500-square-foot lunch room with a wall of windows (an improvement over the single table in the old 8-by-10 kitchen); showers in the rest rooms; air conditioning in the expanded manufacturing area; and an open office floor plan where partitions are arranged in a herringbone pattern. Schiltz says individual work stations are 10 square feet, 25 percent larger than the average size.

"People wanted to have a little elbow room, but they also wanted to have the ability to communicate readily with their co-workers in different departments," Jacobs says. "We did have a fear that there might be a tremendous din of noise throughout the facility. But having this big, open atmosphere where 60 people are all working within relatively close proximity to each other, the noise level has not been a problem at all. In fact, it's extremely quiet."

Even the fully-enclosed spaces Jacobs and Schiltz occupy have walls of floor-to-ceiling glass that make them visible at all times, a complete change from the windowless inner walls and doors of their old offices that kept workers from seeing whether the big bosses were even in.

"We didn't want to build solid walls between us and the employees," Jacobs says. "Any employee can walk by, see that we're in here. If I'm talking on the phone or if I'm sitting here with somebody, they know not to come in. And our doors are open 99 percent of the time."

Schiltz believes this attractive, comfortable, modern workplace has made it easier for Liquid Control to attract quality employees.

"They see that we are neat, clean, organized," he says. "That always speaks well for the management."

The first major test came late last year. In October, Liquid Control announced it would move the manufacturing operations of Dispensit, the company's Indianapolis-based producer of dispensing valves, to North Canton at the end of January. None of the 15 or so employees the company hoped to move accepted a relocation offer.

"It's difficult to relocate people when wives work and kids have friends in school," Jacobs observes.

At press time, 10 of those positions had been filled by locals.

According to Schiltz, the company had struggled with operating two virtually duplicate facilities since Dispensit was purchased in 1991.

"We operated it as an almost autonomous division with its own engineering department, its own assembly, even its own sales group," he says. "But it had gotten to a point ... where it was getting more complex. More and more of the solutions that we design for customers are in the form of a work station that involves movement or robotics as well as the dispensing equipment.

Schlitz says customers were expecting to deal with one source.

"They contact that source, and they're able to work through solving a problem designing the equipment, building it, shipping it, and servicing it. What we were getting into was part of the equipment was being designed and developed in Indianapolis and part of it being designed and developed in North Canton, which required people driving back and forth between the two facilities as well as shipping equipment between the two facilities.

"It's very difficult to make one piece in one facility and one in another and have all of the interconnections, even the thinking of the design, come out the same."

Both Schiltz and Jacobs admit it's impossible to measure to what degree the new building has influenced sales, which have increased more than 15 percent in the last fiscal year. But Schiltz says some customers have indicated the facility figured prominently into their decision to buy.

The five private demonstration rooms off the production area are particularly important.

"Many of the projects that we work on are done under confidentiality agreements," he explains. "We're able to work on those without disclosing to even the rest of the employees what we're doing."

Jacobs believes the building inspires a confidence that Liquid Control will still be in business when one of its machines needs parts or service five or 10 years from now.

"It's one of five factors people might look at when considering you as a potential supplier," Jacobs says.

That doesn't mean, however, that customers are met by marble floors and suites of solid mahogany office furniture.

"We don't want our customers to feel like, 'Well, we can see why we're paying so much for our equipment. It's because you guys have too much (invested) into your facilities,'" he says. How to reach: Liquid Control Corp. (330) 494-1313

Lynne Thompson is a free-lance writer for SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Shutting down

Last year, a fledgling dot-com venture launched by a local computer concern went out of business after its lifeline of investment dollars slowed to a trickle.

The owner, in his infinite wisdom, handled the situation by letting the last of his employees go, then turning off the lights, locking the door and disappearing from sight. Wages and bills were left unpaid, and messages left on the business' still-functioning automated telephone system were not returned.

The only reason some creditors knew of the dot-com's demise was because unfailingly responsible employees took it upon themselves to contact them after they'd been dismissed.

The idea of simply walking away from a business can be attractive to an owner, especially one with a failing company. But the reality is that closing a business in a manner that is less than considerate of employees, customers and creditors causes more problems than it solves.

Experts say unethical actions exacerbate legal and financial matters. Worse, they can create a public relations nightmare that haunts the perpetrator, making it difficult, if not impossible, to go into business again -- particularly if his or her name is associated with the defunct enterprise.

George Prough, a professor of marketing at the University of Akron, utters an often-overlooked truth: People don't forget when they've been burned.

"You have to look at the idea of lifetime value of relationships," Prough says. "It's easy, especially if a person stays in the community, to get a lousy reputation that's going to last for a very long time."

So just how does one go about "successfully losing a business," as Prough calls it? According to Norma Rist, an Akron-based marketing and business strategy consultant, two telephone calls must be made immediately, regardless of the reasons for calling it quits. The first is to the company's attorney; the second is to its certified public accountant.

John Guy of the Akron law firm Guy Lammert & Towne, says that call to the attorney is needed so the obligations accumulated by a business over the years can be addressed, from terminating vendors' licenses and leases on rental properties, automobiles, office equipment, etc., to taking care of outstanding debts.

"First of all, you have to address the issues with your secured creditors," he says.

In most cases, that means the banks from which money has been borrowed to maintain cash flow and finance equipment purchases and operations. Guy points out that banks require the owners of virtually all small businesses to personally guarantee their debts -- a fact with which most entrepreneurs are all too familiar.

If liens on a business's assets aren't enough to pay its debts, "the bank is going to come knocking on the door of the individual who guaranteed it," Guy says.

Sharing the first line on the to-pay list are the employees.

"You always give the employees the No. 1 priority as a practical matter because there are so many issues and so many governmental agencies that you'll become involved with if you don't," he says.

Although secured creditors legally have first dibs on a business's assets, they usually consent to the payment of wages and related withholding taxes.

"There are laws on the books that give the employees certain rights," Guy says. "Unless they're paid, they can complicate the lives of secured creditors."

All federal, state and county and city tax returns also must be filed and the taxes paid.

"I've had people who thought, 'Well, I shut my business down. I'm done,'" says Dave Smith, manager of taxation services for the certified public accounting and consulting firm Brockman, Coats, Gedelian & Co.

Another surprise is that final annual returns, W-2 forms, etc., normally due in January must be filed in relatively short order after the closing. And even after the final returns are filed, a limited liability company or corporation still technically exists until it is legally dissolved.

Smith says one client decided against such a move because he thought he might go back into business and wanted to avoid the cost and red tape of forming another corporation.

"Some people seem to move from business to business to business," he says.

According to Guy, unsecured creditors are paid last.

"If you don't have enough money to pay them in full, you need to at least pay them on a pro-rata basis whatever remaining proceeds you have," Guy says.

He strongly recommends contacting creditors and letting them know exactly what arrangements are being made -- filing for bankruptcy, for example, or auctioning off the business -- instead of dodging phone calls and ignoring past-due and collection notices.

"Really, it's a waste of time to try to hide or keep your creditors in the dark," he says. "The best way to do it is be up-front and have your lawyer send a letter out to them."

Prough suggests the owner in question compose a few key messages that explain why, when and how the business is closing its doors, then disseminate those to employees, customers, suppliers and other creditors, the media, etc. Employees in particular, he says, have a right to know the reason they're losing their jobs. He stresses the importance of giving the same information to each group, some members of which are bound to compare notes. Conflicting stories will "tarnish the image from Day 1."

Rist concurs.

"Honesty and integrity in information released to the community will help the owner in any future endeavors," she says.

Rist says owners can take other actions to engender goodwill. She recommends they sit down and think of how they can help each group adversely affected by the closing. Employees, for example, will appreciate letters of reference and introductions to companies where they might find work, while customers will find referrals to a reputable competitor helpful.

"Everything doesn't have a cost," she says. "But it does require some thinking and planning and consideration." How to reach: Norma Rist Consulting, (330) 865-5900; Guy Lammert & Towne, (330) 535-2151; Brockman, Coats, Gedelian & Co., (330) 864-6661

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Last of his breed

Thom Mandel doesn't remember a time when he wasn't in love with radio. Ask him how long he's been in the business, and he'll reply, "All my life."

He saw his first concert, a show headlined by the blues band Canned Heat, when he was still an adolescent. And he began producing rebroadcasts of live performances by area bands at local bars for the John Carroll University radio station WJCU-FM before he graduated from Shaker High School in suburban Cleveland.

"Back in those days, WMMS-FM in Cleveland was doing their Coffeebreak Concerts," he says. "We were doing our Teatime Concerts. I was taping those in town and bringing the tapes back to the station and editing them. ... We'd just go around to wherever we could find interesting people to record."

The kid who turned out imitations of one of the most popular programs ever launched by the once-venerable rock powerhouse is now at the helm of a fledgling radio empire. Mandel is majority stockholder and managing partner of Rubber City Radio, a small, privately held corporation that owns Akron classic rock station WONE-FM, country station WQMX-FM and talk radio station WAKR-AM, as well as four stations in Lansing, Mich.

The 45-year-old is a dying breed in a world where more and more radio stations are being snapped up by huge corporations such as San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications (owner of Cleveland radio stations WGAR-FM, WMJI-FM, WMMS-FM, WMVX-FM and WTAM-AM) and New York City-based Infinity Broadcasting (owner of Cleveland radio station WNCX-FM). According to the Spring 2001 edition of the Standard Rate and Data Source Radio Advertising Source, Clear Channel owns a whopping 768 stations in the United States and Puerto Rico; Infinity owns 159.

"The independent stations are few and far between," says longtime radio consultant John Gorman, the former WMMS vice president and director of programming often credited as the architect of the station's rise to national prominence. "He is one of the few small broadcasters left."

Gorman explains that the Federal Communications Commission, operating under the theory that radio frequencies belong to the public, at one time limited the number of stations any one company could own to seven FM radio stations, seven AM stations and seven television stations. (The number was upped to 12 of each in 1980.)

That regulation, he says, promoted diversity of ownership.

"It allowed a lot of people to be involved in the process of owning a radio station," he says.

Moreover, owners were required "to serve the city of license" by broadcasting a certain amount of public affairs, public service and news programming -- the renewal of their licenses depended on it. During the renewal period, opposing parties had the right to petition to deny that renewal and file competing applications to obtain the license.

"Anybody could challenge the license if they felt the station was not doing a good job," Gorman says.

It was in this environment that Mandel bought his first radio station, WDBN-FM in Medina, with a group of investors in 1988. The Syracuse University alumnus had always wanted to own a place on the radio dial, and life as an on-air personality had lost its charm at country station WKSW-FM (now WGAR-FM) in Cleveland, where he landed a job after graduation.

"Putting 40 hours a week into sitting in a radio studio and playing the same records over and over gets tedious," he says.

WDBN, a station that played what Mandel calls "automated elevator music," had turned a healthy profit for owner Bob Miller.

"But by the late '80s, the audience for it was pretty much all in the graveyard," Mandel says. "It had to change. The previous owner knew it but wasn't prepared to do it."

Mandel renamed the station WQMX and changed the format, first to adult contemporary, then to country.

"It just took off like a rocket," he says.

In 1993, he acquired WONE and WAKR after the stations had changed hands three or four times in seven years.

"They were damaged in the process," he says. "We were able to buy them at a very favorable price, significantly less than our seller had paid for them. Because we were local and in town, we knew we had the ability to catch them and turn them around."

But the system under which Mandel and others had built their businesses changed dramatically in 1996 with the passage of a telecommunications act that eliminated the restriction on the number of stations a company could own (although it still prohibits owners from buying up an entire market); amended the licensing period from five to eight years; and eliminated a citizen's right to file a competing application. The FCC still allows petitions to deny radio station renewals but no longer considers whether the public interest would be better served by someone other than the original owner.

"Now, if you own a license, you really own a license," Gorman says. "It suddenly made a license far more valuable."

As a result, many of Mandel's independent peers have cashed in and sold their stations to the corporations which can afford to buy them.

"Many of us have sold out just because the dollars are so high," he say. "That's why so many stations have fallen into the hands of five companies that own virtually everything."

Mandel doesn't begrudge the big guys their holdings. He contends that the state of radio is similar to that seen in the '60s, when each market was dominated by three or four operators. The only difference is that the single one-format-fits-all station each then owned has been replaced by a number of stations that cater to very specific tastes.

"We slice and dice rock six different ways, we slice and dice country two ways," he says. "We have a couple of different adult formats, we have five or six different talk formats."

Of course, he's looking to add stations to Rubber City. The radio stations in Lansing -- alternative rock station WWDX-FM, mainstream rock station WJXQ-FM, classic hits station WVIC-FM and all-sports station WQTX-FM -- were purchased just last year. He likes medium-sized markets that provide a respectable return on an investment in the station, yet are small enough to "wrap your arms around."

These markets, he adds, generally require fewer dealings with unions such as the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists.

What bothers him, however, is the fact that many companies are cutting costs by eliminating the local programming that made each station a city's own and replacing it with a generic counterpart. He describes a scenario in which a disc jockey in Cleveland gets off the air and tapes breaks for sister stations in smaller markets, perhaps Findlay, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Ind.

"When the entire radio station, 24 hours a day, is made up of canned disc jockeys that phone their shows into a computer, the local community loses something," he says.

In contrast, the importance of community service is stressed at Rubber City Radio. Mandel calls the stations' participation in and sponsorship of events such as First Night Akron, the city's family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration, and the Jewish Community Center of Akron's KidsFest "the most important thing we do."

He spends considerable time and effort home-growing on-air talent, making names instead of hiring them. ("We don't have a lot of people banging the doors down to come work in Akron," he admits.) WONE did try running a syndicated morning show, "Bob and Tom," for a year after Mandel failed to find local personalities he thought could turn in a consistently competitive show.

The Indianapolis-based duo was subsequently dropped in 1999 because many listeners complained they didn't play music; others dismissed them as Howard Stern wannabes. One of Rubber City's stations in Lansing, however, still carries "Bob and Tom."

"In most towns, there's room for one of those kinds of shows," Mandel says. "The one that gets there first is the one that's going to be successful."

Mandel admits that advertising sales for 2000 weren't "exactly to my satisfaction." However, first quarter revenues are up 10 percent over last year.

"Nationwide, the industry is soft right now," he says. "We consider ourselves very lucky."

He says the price of ad spots was driven up in many markets by free-spending dot-com concerns, driving away traditional radio advertisers such as car dealerships, grocery stores and department stores. Rubber City never benefitted from the dot-coms' spending spree ("They spent it all in Cleveland"), but it didn't suffer when the dot-coms went belly-up.

"When all the regular advertisers went away, we got busy last year and started mining the local community to replace that business," Mandel says.

Some may wonder why Mandel continues to come into Rubber City's midtown Akron offices/studios and worry about advertising sales when he could follow other independent radio owners into a lucrative early retirement. The answer is simple: He's not ready to retire.

"From where I sit, it looks like an awfully long time at the beach," he says. "What am I gonna do? Take the money and buy another radio station that's overpriced? I might as well keep the ones I have." How to reach: Rubber City Radio, (330) 869-9800

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Creating an image

Zoar, Ohio, is the kind of place that attracts day-tripping history buffs like Don Whitemyer. The little village, nestled in the rolling hills south of Canton, was founded in 1817 by German separatists who created a communal society that prospered until the turn of the last century.

The architectural remnants of that settlement, largely undisturbed by residential and commercial development, inspire entrepreneurial types to conjure up visions of opening a cozy bed-and-breakfast, an antique shop, maybe a restaurant serving homestyle dinners that taste like Mom's own. Starting an advertising agency -- or anything that doesn't cater to the tourist trade, for that matter -- does not come to mind.

After all, the only traffic in this "mini Williamsburg," as one man calls it, appears to be that created by Sunday drivers.

But in 1971, Whitemyer opened a full-service business-to-business advertising agency here that has thrived for 30 years, much to the surprise of friends and former business associates. Last year Whitemyer Advertising did more than $18 million in capitalized billings. Today's high-tech communications minimize, if not eliminate altogether, any geographical barriers, as executive vice president Tom Simmelink points out.

At the time he started his business, those barriers still existed. But the 64-year-old Whitemyer believes the agency's unusual location has, in fact, contributed to its growth. Even in the early days, clients were eager to travel to Zoar, if for no other reason than to get out of the office.

"When I chose to come here in the first place, I was not oblivious to the fact that it would actually be an enhancement and not a deterring factor," he says. "I felt at the time that it was much smarter to start an advertising agency in a place like Zoar than it was in a place, let's say, like Cleveland, Akron or Canton, which would be the normal thing that someone might do. I felt strongly that it was going to call attention to us and be important to our success."

Whitemyer came up with idea of owning an "agency in the woods" while he was working as an account executive at the now-defunct Cleveland advertising agency Fuller, Smith & Ross.

"I was born and raised on a dairy farm in Louisville, Ohio, and lived on the farm as a young man," Whitemyer says. "Of course, I couldn't wait to live in the city. But as soon as I got to Cleveland, I decided that I wanted to go back to the country. In the process of looking at several different places, Zoar popped up."

The name of the town on an exit sign caught Whitemyer's eye while he was driving from Columbus to Cleveland on Interstate 77. He remembered passing through Zoar as a teen-ager on Sunday drives with his parents, and, curious, he got off the highway and headed southeast.

"I looked around the little village and said, 'Hey, that's the place to be.'"

In Zoar, Whitemyer found "a nice combination of history, country and strategic location." The nearby freeway provided easy access to Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Pittsburgh, as well as the Akron-Canton Regional Airport -- a benefit many out-of-the-way sites did not offer. Whitemyer announced his plans to friends and co-workers in February 1971.

"Most of my friends thought I had completely lost my mind," he recalls. "I remember one of the VPs at the agency where I was employed went to great lengths to save me from myself. He recruited an agency client, a bank president, to talk some sense into me. Obviously, it didn't work."

A few months later, Whitemyer Advertising was operating out of Whitemyer's new home, an efficiency apartment just outside of Zoar. He decided to stick to business-to-business advertising instead of pursuing retail or regional consumer advertising -- areas in which he began his career and really enjoyed -- because that's where "the real money in advertising in (the Northeast Ohio) market is."

His first customer was the TRW Automotive Replacement Division, a client of Fuller, Smith & Ross' which threw special projects his way. Soon after, Whitemyer was chosen as the agency of record by Invincible Vacuum, a manufacturer of industrial vacuum systems located in Dover. Winning the account was a particularly sweet victory because Whitemyer had to compete against his former employer for it.

The following year, Whitemyer received calls from Merit Plastics in Dover, Ray C. Call Inc. in Canton and Rog-Win Construction in Bolivar after a story on the agency ran in a New Philadelphia newspaper.

"All of those companies are gone today, but they provided a sound business foundation at the time," Whitemyer says.

Over the years, the agency has built a client roster that includes Marlite, a maker of interior wall products in Dover; Gradall, a manufacturer of construction equipment in New Philadelphia; Marsh Industries, a producer of blackboards, pegboards, etc. in New Philadelphia; Dover Chemical; Allied Machine and Engineering in Dover; the Kimble Mixer Co., a manufacturer of cement mixers in New Philadelphia; Kidron Inc., a manufacturer of refrigerated and dry-freight truck bodies and trailers; JRB Corp., a maker of couplers and attachments for backhoes in Akron; Royal Sheen Products, a producer of car wash chemicals in Canton; the Seaman Corp., a maker of high-performance industrial fabrics in Wooster; and Fasteners for Retail, a producer of retail display fixtures and hardware in Cleveland.

Whitemyer points out that many of these companies are a short drive from Zoar.

"Frankly, there's more business-to-business business out there that we haven't even touched," he says. "There's tremendous growth potential in our own back yard."

Although Simmelink says most of the agency's clients are in Ohio, it does do business over state lines. Two of Whitemyer's biggest customers are NSK Bearings, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., and McConnellsburg, Pa.-based JLG Industries, which Simmelink describes as the world's largest manufacturer of aerial work platforms. The agency landed the latter's business after JLG acquired another Whitemyer client, Gradall.

According to Simmelink, the agency utilizes direct mailings and advertising -- including a billboard at Akron-Canton Regional Airport -- in its quest for customers. He says Whitemyer is able to attract large corporations by demonstrating a strong commitment to understanding their needs, an effort that results in a closeness that builds long-lasting relationships.

"We actually become, in many cases, members of their internal team," he says. "We are typically invited to their sales meetings, strategic planning sessions, trade shows. Sometimes we're asked to provide some market intelligence work, some comparative analysis. ... We get involved, and we make suggestions."

As the agency increased its business, Whitemyer kept moving it to larger quarters -- a couple of rooms rented in a private home, a new house he built, space leased in the historic red-brick Zoar Hotel. Around 1980, Whitemyer purchased a building that once housed the German separatists' print shop.

The agency has since expanded and taken over a neighboring structure known as The Hermitage, a building Whitemyer says influential Cleveland businessman Alexander Gunn purchased from settlers and used as a country retreat.

"I am sort of obsessed with him," Whitemyer admits. "My own personal office is in The Hermitage, and I sit here and can't help but delve into his past. I've been doing major research, trying to find out more about him."

Simmelink says the old print shop, like the village it's located in, may be one of the agency's greatest assets.

"Every agency obviously wants to set itself apart from every other agency in terms of its thinking and capabilities," he says. "When a person walks into an 1817 log cabin that's decorated with furniture created in the same period, they can't help but get the idea that something different is going on here."

The place is so inviting that clients have called Simmelink and asked to use his office for the day.

That "something different" has also helped attract quality workers. Some commute from the Akron/Canton area; others have taken up residence closer to Zoar. Simmelink describes the agency's 25 employees as a young, athletic group that enjoys the natural environment.

"It's a very tranquil place, very conducive to the creative process," Whitemyer says.

Another perk is the boss's habit of treating the work force to a wide range of leisure activities, which he believes helps break down barriers to creative thinking. Cleveland Indians' home openers are celebrated with cookouts on Whitemyer's 20-acre farm. On a recent afternoon, he closed the office and took everyone to the movies.

And in May, employees and their spouses/significant others went to Cleveland for the weekend, where they checked into the Ritz-Carlton, went to a play and took in an Indians game. The question, "Why do you do it?" surprises Whitemyer, even in this age of employee benefit cuts.

"The people who work here are pretty much considered to be family," he says. "We work very hard together, and we like to play hard together. We put a premium on enjoying what we do for living. That's just how the business was founded." How to reach: Whitemyer Advertising Inc., (330) 874-2432