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Monumental success Featured

1:16pm EDT May 25, 2006
Jim Milano knows it takes money to make money. Twice, the president of Milano Monuments has borrowed funds to give his enterprise the injection it needed to grow.

Seven years ago, Milano, president of the company started by his father in 1969, borrowed money to move into a new 50,000-square-foot shop just 100 yards down the road from the original Brookpark Road site.

“Our previous location was maybe a total of 3,500 square feet,” Milano says. We didn’t have room for the displays and everything inside. People were on top of each other. We utilized every part of the property. We had employees working outside in the parking lot — on the manufacturing side — because we ran out of space.

“We were hindered by the location and we were renting forever. My dad was a tenant there. The old landlord would not sell the property. He would not let us expand, so he was basically suffocating our business.”

Since the move, business has increased 100 percent, and it now produces about 3,000 monuments a year. But that wouldn’t have been possible without changes to the new facility.

Almost right away, Milano knew the size of the showroom was a problem. He had always wanted to add religious gifts to the already crowded showroom, and knew that if he wanted to continue growing, he had to invest in his company’s infrastructure. He did so to the tune of a $300,000 loan.

“One thing I really learned — presentation and display are so vitally important,” Milano says. “I learned that when we first moved in. The more I thought about it, I knew we had to take it to the next level. That’s why we did the refitting.”

Milano took out a combination fixed rate loan and a line of credit from Liberty Bank about five years ago.

“We were at a point where we had no choice,” he says.

The money has allowed Milano to add a religious gifts section, purchase new equipment and expand the crowded showroom. As with the original site, the new showroom was simply too crowded. People who came into purchase graduation gifts were standing right next to people planning a funeral.

“Customers couldn’t even pull into the parking lot,” he says. “Families were on top of families. We’d have them anywhere we could sit them down to write up orders. At the time, we only had the flower, wreath and monument businesses. When we moved into here, I thought we’d never use all the facilities we had. We started with the religious gifts — bibles, art and crucifixes.”

Today, the two sections of the showroom are distinct.

With the new equipment, Milano can now show families full-sized replicas of the monuments that will mark their loved one’s final resting place. The company also purchased new equipment to help polish, cut and prepare the monuments on the property, something it wasn’t able to do in the past. And, with the help of a $40,000 loan from workers’ compensation, Milano extended a crane that can lift the heavy granite monuments the full length of the facility.

Milano now has his showroom and facility designed to his satisfaction. And it’s not an operation he plans on going through anytime soon.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have to move again,” he says. “I don’t think I’d want to.”

HOW TO REACH: Milano Monuments (216) 362-1199 or www.milanomonuments.com

The value of service
Jim Milano knows treating his customers well is vital to his company’s success. So it’s no wonder he expects similar treatment from his bank.

Milano, president of Milano Monuments purchased his new site in 1999, shortly before interest rates began to drop. He had called his long-time bank but wasn’t getting a response — the community bank had been purchased by a larger enterprise and no longer provided the same service.

“We used to work with (another bank),” he says. “We knew the CEO well. We needed something, it was like the old community banking. They were bought out, and everything changed. We kept calling the bank, ‘Hey, I need to get something done’ — probably 10, 12, 15 messages, never a returned call.”

A family friend suggested Milano call Twinsburg-based Liberty Bank.

“It was great; it was just like how it was” before with the other bank, Milano says.

Liberty refinanced with a new rate, and that relationship led Milano back to the bank a few years later when he wanted to borrow $300,000 to remodel his showroom and purchase new equipment.

“We called up our banker and borrowed the money, the same bank that has the loan on our property,” he says. “They see our returns every year. I asked them for the money, and it was, ‘Sure, whatever you need.’”