Dustin S. Klein
In a special report in February, SBN told you about the threat of deflation and how it could affect your business.
In March, the D word popped up again, this time at an economic briefing by Harris Bank.
Sherry Cooper, a former Fed economist now with Nesbitt Burns Economics of Canada, and Don Coxe, a Harris Bank economist, said inflation has become essentially nonexistent during the current economic boom. Prices of durable goods, commodities and computer-related products continue to head downward, which means deflation has arrived.
Theres too much capacity chasing too few buyers, Coxe says. Theres going to be a squeeze on corporate margins this year. Manufacturers are going to feel it.
But Coxe is quick to point out that deflation isnt necessarily a bad thing. The kind of deflation that made the Great Depression so depressing only arises if wage rates are sucked into the downward spiral, and Coxe says that isnt likely to happen.
Driving the decrease in prices are a slew of technological advancements over the past decade that have resulted in lower production costs. That, in turn, has caused a surge in supply thus pushing down prices for durable goods, commodities and computer-related products, Cooper says.
A new wrinkle in the formula is the involvement of foreign manufacturers, who are mired in their own regional economic woes. These companies are trying to export their way out of trouble, Cooper says. Thats turned the United States into a port of last resort.
But both economists agree that the U.S economy is stronger than its been in more than 40 years, and should remain that way. Why the prosperity? According to Cooper, it has a lot to do with the end of the Cold War.
In the late 1990s, there has been a massive transfer of technology from the military to the private sector, she says. Thats resulted in widespread use of the Internet, which has really driven this latest surge.
Coxe is a bit more wary. Although he doesnt expect the economy to lose ground, he isnt so confident about the stock markets recent love for Internet-related companies. Coxe expects economic reality to eventually step in and make those companies accountable for their lack of profits.
Day players and those who keep buying tech stocks have seen the equity in their accounts grow tremendously, he explains. But their focus on the idea that you can grow by hundreds of percent on a regular basis will get blown away soon.
But that, he says, should only be a minor correction in an otherwise strong economic year.
At the April Corporate Club Breakfast, the regional head of the former Star Bank (now Firstar) told local business execs that his financial institution was well-positioned to survive any merger and acquisition shake-out in the banking industry.
There are more and more consolidations occurring as banks try to cover the U.S. from coast to coast, said Andrew Randall, executive vice president and regional chairman. Firstar could be part of that consolidation.
But unlike Key Corp and National City Bank, both considered by industry experts to be prime future targets for consolidators, Firstar most likely would be on the acquiring end of any deal. Thats because the recent merger between Star Bank and Milwaukee-based Firstar not only strengthened its assets (from $17 billion to $39 billion) and reach (from four states to eight), but also allowed the new company to retain Star Banks high performing stock ratio (53 times earnings last year).
That high earning multiple made Star the top performing bank stock in the U.S. last year and provides Firstar with a powerful bargaining chip in any merger talks.
But, says Randall, the stocks strength has forced Firstar to make its acquisition strategy a very calculated equation. We view the price of our stock as an asset. It gives us a very strong currency to acquire or merge. But it has to be a complementary bank, and finding those opportunities is really a matter of finding the banks who want to be a part of what we do. And it has to be able to avoid dilution of our stock value.
That said, Randall said Firstar views Cleveland as a growth market and expects the bank to continue its upward surge along with the city.
SBN is a sponsor of the Corporate Club breakfast, which is conducted in an interview format and is followed by a question and answer period. The events are held Tuesday mornings at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven, with breakfast at 7 a.m. and the speaker at 7:30. Cost is $25 per person.
Ups to Dick Jacobs. The venerable owner of the Indians is looking for a buyer. With professional sports franchises valued at an all-time high, its a good time to sell. Besides, Jacobs isnt getting any younger and he gets to choose his successor. If youre interested in forming an ownership group, give us a call and bring your portfolio statement.
Ups to TRW. The aerospace giant is investing $250 million in a $3.6 billion Internet satellite venture with Lockheed Martin and Telecom Italia. The high-speed, high-capacity link-up will be through millions of tiny satellite dishes. Maybe well finally answer the question: Is there any intelligent life out there?
Ups to McDonalds. The burger boys couldnt make their home-grown pizza formula a success, so they bought their way in through Donatos Pizza. Wed like one large pepperoni with a Happy Meal toy on the side, please.
Ups to Lubrizol shareholders. They voted against the wishes of management and approved a resolution asking directors to alter the companys poison pill takeover defense. Its not often the guppies get the last bite in room full of big fish.
Downs to Diebold. Plans for the North Canton companys new ATMs include commercials that pop up while you wait for cash. Its a windfall for marketers, but for consumers, its one more sales pitch while youre a captive audience. If they toss in a few coupons and waive the transaction fees, we may change our minds.
Ups to National City Bank. Its probe into buying Key Corp. signals good news for the Cleveland banking system and local landlords. A merger would end speculation about outside buyers and create a strong financial institution that could set its sights on other acquisitions. Besides, with the flight of BP, the city doesnt need any more available office space.
For as long as Ive covered business, Ive written about companies that succeeded and others that failed. Despite their eventual fates, there was one common theme among many of the business owners I interviewed they claimed to have great ideas.
When I was a recent college graduate, I probably didnt examine that notion as closely as I should have. Perhaps I didnt understand the fine line between those two extremes success and failure well enough. Or maybe I just falsely assumed the difference was as simple as the ones who succeeded had the good ideas they claimed to possess, while the ones who failed did not.
Unfortunately, as I have learned in the years since from speaking with hundreds of business people from a wide spectrum of industries, its not that simple. Good ideas do drive success, but theres a lot more to it. Success depends on a delicate balance of many factors, including a strong management team, reliable employees, a forward-thinking business plan and solid financial backing.
But Im still drawn to the fact that at the root of any successful business is that singular idea. The one innovation, be it a product, process or service, that makes a company better than its competitors. Those are the brainchildren of innovators. Since success is what most people are judged by, rarely are people recognized purely on the basis of their innovations.
Thats why Im excited that SBN has joined with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to create the Innovation in Business Conference, which will be held in October.
The conference is designed to bring together Northeast Ohios best innovators and recognize them for their smart business ideas. You may be one of them. Well honor innovators in three categories:
First, the Rising Stars. You may not have heard of these people, but their ideas are steps ahead of the competition. Listen carefully to what they have to say because one of them, if not several, may very well lead the next great IPO.
Next are the Visionaries, who own or work for established companies. They integrate smart ideas into their businesses every day. The companies may not have revenues or assets in the billion-dollar range, but they are helping pave the way for change.
Finally, the Master Innovators. These are those rare breed of business owner who have the innate ability to turn every innovation into a successful business venture. Well bring these honorees together at the conference for a unique panel discussion, where theyll explain how they take smart ideas and apply them to their operations. And youll learn about them in the pages of SBN.
The end result of the evening should be an eye-opening experience where everyone leaves with a better understanding of how smart ideas can be applied to growing businesses just like we write about every month in the pages of SBN.
Winds of change
Its common for people to view change with a hint of skepticism. But for most companies, change is good.
SBN is no different.
Recently, weve undergone several changes to our editorial staff. As you look through this months issue, and the next few issues, youll see those changes. But what youll quickly notice is that besides a few new names, were not much different than we were before. Were still committed to providing the type of stories you, as business decision makers, can use to make your own companies better.
So glance through the magazine, and if you have any thoughts about what you read, or ideas concerning business issues your company faces, let us know. After all, we write this magazine every month with you, the readers, in mind.
For Lou Joseph, owner of Brewer-Garrett Co., these are the salad days. Business, he says, is fun.
“This isn’t a job; this is a sport,” he says. “Work is play.”
And if Joseph a former college wrestler is the proverbial ace pitcher who controls the pace of the game from atop the pitcher’s mound, then his 350 employees at the Middleburg Heights-based mechanical engineering firm are the trustworthy teammates who ensure that victory is always within reach.
“Everything in my business is about people,” explains Joseph. “We bring in high quality people and provide them with an environment for success.”
That environment includes a 50,000-square-foot facility tucked neatly away in a four-and-one-half acre wooded lot. The building, designed with interior glass windows instead of walls, includes all the amenities and atmosphere of a posh health club. Joseph says it creates a family atmosphere where employees view the office as a home away from home.
Louis Joseph was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in the business services category.
Joseph is modest when discussing Brewer-Garrett’s success under his leadership, crediting his employees for the company’s growth. Last year, Brewer-Garrett’s sales increased 29 percent as profits skyrocketed 40 percent. Over the last six years, since Joseph took the reins, revenues have increased more than 300 percent.
Much of that growth is due to long-term relationships and repeat business, explains Joseph. Some can be attributed to an active sales force that doesn’t wait for the phone to ring. The rest comes from the more than 600 service contracts that provide a constant source of recurring revenue.
It’s a long haul from when Joseph was hired away from Honeywell in 1981. Then, Brewer-Garrett’s mechanical system service maintenance division was not the company’s primary focus, and Joseph peddled $3,000 service contracts out of a dismal basement office while his co-workers chuckled behind his back.
“They did construction contracts for $50,000,” says Joseph. “But what I was doing was building relationships through the service contracts. I was thinking a lot longer term.”
Joseph’s instincts were sharp he saw where the construction industry was headed and beat his competitors there. By 1987, the perseverance paid off and Joseph was promoted to vice president. He bought a minority stake in the company and began to fervently implement his vision for success into the company’s culture.
Four years later, Joseph was president of Brewer-Garrett. Two years after that, he controlled a majority of the company, founded in 1959, which was now mostly devoted to facilities management. “I saw a diamond in the rough and knew what I wanted to do to polish it up,” he says.
One of factors driving the company’s high profit growth is that Brewer-Garrett doesn’t rely on outside help on its projects. “We’re an inverted company,” Joseph says. “We’re a mechanical contractor, but we don’t subcontract anything out. We do the sheet metal work, the planning, the service and the applications all in-house.” All of which lowers overhead.
Another factor is the expanding demand for construction projects. Joseph was ahead of the curve there as well. Two years ago, Brewer-Garrett opened offices in Akron, Columbus and Cincinnati. Joseph’s goal at the time was to put key people in place and establish a market presence. Results have exceeded expectations and Joseph’s expectations have shifted.
“I want to capture all the mechanical systems down there,” he says. “Heating and cooling, electrical, the whole thing.”
At the root of Joseph’s business philosophy is relationship building. It is what he believes Brewer-Garrett is all about. “If we do one job for you, we did something wrong,” Joseph claims. “We want something long term. We want to be part of your budget and part of your process.”
That down-to-the-bones thinking starts at the top, but doesn’t just trickle on its own. Joseph actively instills it within every employee he hires, and has made great efforts to provide his staff with a vision that caters more toward team building with clients than focusing on landing one project at a time.
And rather than espouse the usual catch phrase if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will Joseph subscribes to a different, more practical, credo: “Take care of your people,” he says. “They will take care of your customers.”
So far, the philosophy has paid off.
Judge’s comments: “This was an individual who started as an employee and was able to (show a) vision in a relatively mature industry. He worked with the owners over time to convince them that his vision was the right vision for this company. And they bought into it. And he was able, over time, to buy the company.” Kathryne W. Dindo
He had no experience in the business of matchmaking; he regularly turns away business; he doesnt actively pursue repeat customers; and his business model is designed in such a way that he only receives a one-time flat fee.
That said, Green has turned Lunch Date which links white collar professionals for casual dates over coffee or lunch into a success over the past five years. I realized it was difficult to meet other single people in Cleveland, he says. Im filling a real need.
The companys client list has grown from 20 of Greens friends and acquaintances to more than 1,200 active clients from all over Northeast Ohio. They range in age from 25 to 72.
Greens practices arent really all that different than other business owners; hes just tailor-made them to fit the matchmaking business.
Learn on the fly
Theres an old writers adage that says, Write what you know. The same usually holds true in business. People who found engineering firms are usually engineers, not architects.
Greens background, however, is in medical sales, not dating services. And he readily admits hes never even tried a dating service himself.
So what qualifies Green as a matchmaker?
Ive become a good judge of character over the past five years, he says. Its a matter of reading people and making the right matches.
Intuition, he says, drives the entire process.
You get a feel for it., he says. We do face-to-face interviews and get a comprehensive view of each person. Then, when were ready to match two people up, we call and give them each an accurate description of the other.
As the process goes on, we learn more and more about people.
Its hard to argue with Greens results.
More than 70 couples have gotten married after meeting through Lunch Date, many of whom have already had children.
We call those Lunch Date babies, Green says.
Be choosy about your clientele
We only take people that we feel we can match and are consistent with the rest of our client base, says Green.
Thats drastically different from other dating services, where an entrance fee may put your video or photo on file with hundreds of other people looking for Mr. or Ms. Right.
We do all the leg work and were narrowing the field for them, says Green.
Legwork involves comprehensive interviews with Green or his staff, where dozens of topics and interests are explored and background information is gathered. The staff makes physical notes about the person and observations about their personality.
Then, a rigorous background check begins. Green verifies the applicants age, marital status, education, occupation and criminal background. He says only three times have there been discrepancies between what an applicant told him and what the background report showed.
Weve never had a problem in six years, he says.
Green says Lunch Date only accepts white-collar professionals, and does turn away people who dont fit that profile.
All our clients are corporate people who are ground in what they do, he says. Or new transplants to town who simply dont know how, or dont have time, to meet people. We bridge the gap. People you meet through us you wont meet anywhere else.
Charge a one-time flat fee
Greens business model is designed to provide one payment from each client a flat $595 fee to participate in the service. For that, each client receives six dates over six months.
While that may not sound like much, those six dates are only the ones Lunch Date provides. For example, two people are brought together downtown for coffee after work. They hit if off and plan three more dates before coming back to Green to pursue someone else. That still counts as only one of the six dates, explains Green.
Its six different people over six month.
And Green hasnt buttonholed himself into pushing clients away after theyve exhausted their six dates in six months. If they wish to continue, a practice Green doesnt actively chase, they can renew for $395.
Discourage repeat business
Our goal for the clients is to hook them up and never hear from them again, Green says. I dont want someone to come back and say they had a bad time.
Realistically, though, that doesnt normally happen on the first lunch date. And since the service provides six dates over six months, it may be a few dates before two people click.
The biggest challenge is making sure everyone is happy, he says. We want to hear from both sides. Thats how we modify our approach for the next date or match.
But nothing is more satisfying to Green than when it truly works out and he loses his clients.
A couple walked in a few weeks ago (in May) and knocked on my door. They met a year ago and had just got engaged. They wanted to stop by and show me the ring and thank me for having this business.
While Green would rather not have his customers renew after their initial six-month membership, he does hope his clients pass along the word about Lunch Date.
If someones made happy, theyll tell two of their friends about it and theyll join, he says. Thats the kind of repeat business we do look for.
Ups to Ohio legislators. They finally bit the bullet and passed electricity deregulation. Consumers will be able to choose their power supplier by 2001. The move leaves just one unanswered question: Whos going to pay for those stranded nukes? Unfortunately, its the same question thats been around since Day One.
Downs to Hechinger Co. After promising former Builders Square employees severance pay for sticking it out to the bitter end, Hechinger filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and shut the workers out. Its a serious blow for other employers who ask workers to show loyalty during tough financial times.
Ups to doctor unions. Its about time the other side of the health care industry started flexing its collective muscles and demanded a larger voice in managing health care costs. Could this be yet another shift in the ever-moving insurance pendulum?
Downs to J.C. Penney. Sure, it pulled the offensive AND1 T-shirts from its shelves after complaints that the T-shirts messages were demeaning to women. But thats not the point. We want to know what marketing genius advised the department store to put them on the shelves in the first place.
Ups to LTV Steel. Its decision to remain neutral while the United Steelworkers of America tries to unionize the Trico steel mill in Alabama goes a long way in assuaging the long-running battle between LTV management and its workers. Now if only the companys stock price would start rising again, too.
Ups to Invacare. The Elyria health care product manufacturer is at it again, trying to buy Danish rival Scandinavian Mobility International A/S. You have to admire A. Malachi Mixons straight-forward business philosophy: If you cant beat em, buy em!
If you’ve received holiday cards over the past few years from the Salvation Army, Greater Cleveland Literacy Coalition, Cleveland Sight Center or the Alzheimer’s Association, you’ve probably seen Marcus Advertising’s work.
That’s because each year, the Beachwood-based advertising agency leverages its expertise to design cards which assist nonprofit organizations, solicit donations and round up volunteers.
“It helps bring professionalism to not-for-profit organizations which are competing in a very competitive environment for money, attention and volunteers,” says President Harvey Scholnick. “If you can help them have a more professional and exciting look, it suddenly becomes an organization that more people pay attention to, both for donations and volunteerism.”
Marcus Advertising accompanies those cards with a financial donation. Last year, it donated more than $40,000 in pro bono services to 25 organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Jewish Community Federation, Menorah Park and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. It served as the volunteer agency for the Junior League of Cleveland, and designed a new letterhead and identity system for the group.
Marcus Advertising also created a radio campaign and new logo for Cleveland Reads, a United Way agency.
But the agency’s longest continuing commitment has been to the Cleveland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Since 1986, it has helped create and produce public service commercials and ads; designed brochures, logos and posters; and created a variety of invitations and announcements for fund-raising events. In 1998, its television commercial “Words,” was a Telly award finalist, and this year, it created and produced the materials to support the Awareness Week Campaign.
The company’s annual tradition of designing holiday cards is only one way the group gives back to the community, says Scholnick. This past summer, Marcus Advertising collaborated with the Cleveland Ad Association and participated in Colin Powell’s “Work America” program by providing a summer job to a minority high school student. It also established the Donald H. Marcus Scholarship Fund at Cleveland State University, which awards tuition money to deserving students studying communications.
The agency and its employees raise money each year for the United Way and Harvest for Hunger, and a number of the staff members serve on a special task force for United Way’s Small Business Campaign. Employees are actively involved in Junior Achievement, the YMCA, March of Dimes, Boy Scouts of America, Meals on Wheels, the Jewish Community Center, St. John’s Westshore’s Mental Health Program and PASS (People Actively Supporting Schools).
Don Marcus, company chairman, is a member of the development board for Cleveland State University and a board member of the American Cancer Society. Scholnick is chairman of the Cleveland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association Advisory Committee, a trustee and chairman of the PR and marketing committee of Menorah Park, and is on the Executive Committee of the Community Service Planning Committee for the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.
“We lend counsel in other areas, such as volunteering our time on a consulting basis to organizations where we feel we can be of the most help,” says Scholnick, “But if we can also help through the creation of materials organizations can use to solicit donations and volunteersthemselves, we do.”
How to reach: Marcus Advertising Inc., (216) 292-4700
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN magazine.
Bob Leon had seen everything. At least that’s what the president and owner of Colortone Audio Visual Staging and Rentals thought before he was hired in 1995 to stage a program for News America Corp. on Marco Island, Fla.
After all, Leon had toured as a roadie with the Allman Brothers Band and Billy Joel during the 1970s, where he experienced first hand the chaotic rock and roll lifestyle.
“One of my jobs for the Allmans was running out on stage between songs to pour shots for the guys,” he recalls with a devilish smile.
If you look closely at Leon, past his gray-streaked, short-cropped hair and businesslike manner, you can steal a small glimpse of his rock and roll past. And, if you’re willing to press hard enough, the energetic and engaging Leon will grin and finally tell you, “I lived on a bus during those years. We did a lot of wild things. Looking back, it wasn’t my idea of fun.”
But even the most raucous adventures Leon experienced before turning in his backstage pass for a corporate job with a New York audio-visual firm, didn’t prepare him for what happened in Florida.
“It was the last day of the conference,” Leon recalls. “We’d come down to Marcus Island with the Big Apple Circus to stage News America Corp.’s team building exercises. At the end of each day of the conference, the company’s employees were broken up into small groups and worked with the circus performers clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers.
“They were learning things like building pyramids, walking tightropes and playing sonatas by rubbing the edges of water glasses. And on the last day of the conference, a Saturday, the company execs took all the employees out on a dinner cruise.”
The employees, Leon says, didn’t know their destination was a deserted island just across an inlet bay from Marcos Island.
“While they were out on the cruise, we were supposed to set up a circus tent on the island and run generators because there wasn’t any electricity available. They provided us with some pontoon boats to get the equipment over there.”
Shortly after the first boat left filled with clowns, circus rings, trapezes and other circus props a storm hit.
“We’re loading the pontoon boat with all our electrical equipment and listening to the radio,” says Leon. “And we hear the clowns on the first boat tell us they’re passing through the inlet bay and taking on water. They say the water is extremely rough and they’re not sure if they’re going to make it. So I look at all our electrical equipment and my staff and say, ‘No way, we’re not taking the chance.’”
Meanwhile, the dinner cruise was slated to dock at the deserted island in a few hours, so Leon improvised.
“We scrounged up a 65-foot yacht, quickly loaded up the equipment and cruised over to the island. Half our crew never made it to the island. The clowns helped us set everything up.”
When the cruise ship finally docked, the tent was set up. And, as they say in show business, the show went on.
“The employees got a real treat that night,” Leon recalls. “The Big Apple Circus performers put on their show, then the employees dressed up in the clothes of the groups they worked with all week and performed their own stunts in front of the rest of the employees.”
Such is the life of Leon. His company, Colortone, is in the business of creating illusions for its clients in the form of business conferences, symposiums and events. Put another way, Leon develops and presents experiences for his clients’ clients, who are the ones the events are designed to impress.
In the five years since Leon bought Colortone from its New York-based owner, he’s yet to face anything quite as daunting as that Florida experience. He has, however, built a growing upstart company, which raked in more than $3 million in revenue last year and is on pace to eclipse that by year’s end.
Along the way, he’s developed a laundry list of rules, three of which Leon swears are necessities in the event staging business.
Maintain good communication between your office and the client
“We’re in the miracle business,” explains Leon. “You can’t pull off a miracle unless you know what it’s supposed to be.”
That requires constant communication among everyone involved Colortone, the client, catering managers, drayage companies and contact people at the location where the event will be held. “Without a doubt, good communication is the most important thing.”
Conversely, bad communication can kill an event. “We did a house tour for Owen-Corning in October,” says Leon. “They gave five houses a $100,000 makeover with some new products. An ad agency in Chicago hired us to do the unveiling of each house.”
Leon’s team designed 20-foot-high towers with big pink drapes in the front of each home, then awaited Owens-Corning’s tour bus, filled with 80 vendors.
“They were going house to house showing off the new products. The plan was that when they pulled up, stopped and got off the bus, we’d drop the drape,” he explains.
The first house unveiling went off as planned. The bus pulled up. The vendors climbed off. Colortone dropped the drape. But there was one problem: the ad agency Colortone’s client never explained Colortone’s staging plans to its client, Owens-Corning.
Says Leon, “They (Owens-Corning) hated it. And they cancelled it on the spot. We did that first house and that was it. Bad communication is always a terrible thing in our business. Especially when you consider that everything we do is unique. Every time we go out there, it’s to try and do something with an event that’s never been done before.”
As anyone who’s ever been in charge of an annual conference or overseen a symposium knows, putting on an event can be a stressful job. It’s not uncommon that somebody’s neck is on the line for the success or failure of the event.
“And more often than not, we deal with meeting planners who aren’t really meeting planners,” says Leon. “They’re receptionists, assistants and sometimes managers who are booking space.”
That’s why it’s important for Leon and his staff to be professional and maintain level heads, no matter what problems crop up. If, for example, the keynote speaker’s microphone fails, or the video you’re supposed to show happens not to have any sound, it’s easy to let the entire event fall apart rather than think quick on your feet, says Leon.
“We’re very good at remaining calm,” he says. “Part of that is the relationship we build with the client. If they’re comfortable with us, then we don’t stress out when something doesn’t go exactly that way it’s supposed to. We just find a good solution.”
A good show, explains Leon, is the one where no one even realizes Colortone is there.
That ability to stay calm makes it easier to be prepared for anything, says Leon. Like the time a few years ago when the company staged Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year awards conference in Cleveland and everything that could go wrong did.
“We set up and rehearsed all day,” recalls Leon. “Everything worked fine. Then, we opened the doors.”
As the award winners, finalists and other conference attendees walked into the room, a sudden power surge knocked out half the video system and all the sound equipment. Says Leon, “The emcee goes up to the podium to speak, and the front speakers aren’t working. We look at the screens behind him and realize the cameras have lost their balance as well. It was too late to do anything then, so we ran a video.”
While the attendees dined, Leon and his staff hurriedly went to work behind the scenes. They had brought enough back-up equipment wires, cables, microphones, duplicate video units to replace the bad parts. They quickly rewired the entire sound system, tested it, then plugged in new video equipment to replace the components which were fried.
“By the time dinner was over, we were up and running,” Leon says. “Nobody was the wiser.”
The near-tragedy became a running joke between Leon and Ernst & Young.
“They told me they expected to be redeemed for the mix-up,” he says. “About a year later, after we handled four other of their events, I got a message that said, ‘You’ve been redeemed.’ I keep that message on my wall.”
Leon claims it’s that unique ability to hide the mistakes that sets his company apart from the competition. “We’ve never had a show crash,” he maintains. “That’s about the closest it’s ever come.”
ast year, Leon’s efforts caught the attention of the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee, which contracted Colortone to stage the worldwide unveiling of the 2001 Winter Olympics mascot.
That spurred Leon to open an office in Salt Lake City, which in turn led to other business opportunities in the West. Besides the unveiling, Colortone Utah has staged numerous events over the past 18 months, including a conference for 12,000 people at the Delta Center, a medical conference for 1,500 in Dallas and a 5,000-person event in San Francisco for the Direct Marketing Association. He operates a five-person staff in Utah that complements his 20-employee operations in Cleveland.
The Olympic Committee was so smitten with the success of the mascot unveiling that it contracted Colortone for two other jobs. The first covers 68 separate small meetings, at which Olympic Committee officials pitch potential corporate sponsors for the 2001 Winter Olympics. Colortone has been handling the meeting staging, including wall-to-wall screens and a full-scale presentation for the corporate prospects.
The second job is more expansive.
“We’ll be projecting images of the slalom, giant slalom and speed skiing events at Snowbird Resort,” he says. “It’ll be a direct feed during the event, so people at the resort can either watch the guys coming down the mountain on the giant screens, or watch the guys outside.”
More recently, Leon’s company has branched off into once-familiar territory staging concerts. It’s an outgrowth of some of the larger business conferences he’s staged, where entertainers were used.
“We use a lot of color and sound,” he says. “That attracts attention and creates excitement. We’ve taken that theater philosophy that we use to stage business conferences and applied it to the entertainment field.”
The irony hasn’t been lost of the former roadie.
“It’s kind of fun to be working again in the entertainment industry,” he mused a few months ago. “I’ve learned a long time ago not to be surprised by anything that happens. Every time I think I’ve got it figured out, I’m off by a long shot.”
How to reach: Colortone Audio Visual Staging and Rentals, (216) 741-9600 or www.colortone.com
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
(Ups) to the stock market. After a rocky start early last year, the market rebounded and soared, mirroring the robust economy and giving new life to the old phrase, You cant keep a good man down. SBNs advice: Ride it as long as you can.
(Downs) to computer viruses, which got meaner and more destructive as the year progressed. One of the nastiest was W95.Babylonia, which came disguised as a Y2K fix and spread through Net chat rooms. This makes us wonder about the future of cybersubterfuge. Will we one day log on to the Net and watch our computers explode?
(Ups) to corporate community giving, which is on the rise. Last months Medical Mutual of Ohio Pillar Award for Community Service demonstrated that business owners do make a difference in their communities 12 months a year. Keep up the good work into the next millennium!
(Downs) to the Y2K bug. The repair bill hovers around $100 billion. Thats the equivalent of $365 per person in the U.S. No matter what happens next, this is the most expensive modern peacetime catastrophe ever. All this over two lousy digits.
(Ups) to productivity, which continues to climb. Companies are more efficient with fewer workers. At the same time, labor costs continue to decline, keeping inflation at bay. The good times continue to roll.
(Downs) to business owners who eschew technology and e-commerce. You know who you are if you still do all your business on paper and by hand, clinging to the false assumption that the Internet is a passing fad, this is the year youre in for a real surprise. Our solution: Adapt now or get ready to close your companys doors. Remember, dinosaurs once ruled the world.