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Monumental success Featured

1:19pm EDT June 22, 2004
The destiny of small family businesses isn't set in stone. Maria and Vincent "Jim" Milano Jr. are proof of that.

Thirty-five years ago, Vince Milano Sr. established Milano Monuments, supporting his family with a small but steady business designing and creating cemetery stones.

Since 2001, when Vince Sr.'s two children took over the business, Milano Monuments has grown into three separate yet related companies -- imported religious items, fresh and artificial flowers, and monuments and signage. It produces more than 3,000 monuments each year for customers throughout Northeast Ohio.

Jim and Maria grew up in the family business. The siblings worked summers for their father, and as they grew, so did their ideas about how the company could reach monumental proportions. When they purchased the company, they liquidated their personal assets and risked everything to invest in it.

"I kept thinking, 'What if we don't do this? We'll always wonder what might have been,'" says Jim, Milano Monuments' president.

The very nature of the business -- one that is tradition-laden, highly personal and primarily cost driven. -- presented obstacles. The Milanos knew growth wouldn't come from a sudden surge in demand but from a planned expansion through a holistic approach to pre- and post-burial needs.

They invested in state-of-the-art engraving and recycling equipment to reduce manufacturing costs and increase efficiencies. Then they expanded the flower business, added a statuary and religious items store, and purchased a building 10 times the size of the one they had to accommodate all services under one roof.

The Milanos hired a full-time sculptor and an artist to offer one-of-a-kind monuments and statuary. Jim designed a marketing plan targeting funeral directors and insurance consultants rather than relying on retail advertising. And they added a high-tech AutoCAD design program, which allows clients to see their monuments in full-scale form prior to manufacture. How to reach: Milano Monuments, (216) 362-1199 or www.milanomonuments.com