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Innovators Featured

6:47am EDT August 31, 2004
The employees at Avtron Manufacturing

Robert Fritz, president of Avtron Manufacturing, believes success comes as a result of many people working together to implement smart ideas.

Four years ago, after an analysis of its employee base, the company raised the salary level of entry-level staff approximately 12 percent. That, combined with an increase in the salaries of existing employees, has led to lower turnover -- approximately 5 percent -- and higher productivity.

Rather than using a shotgun approach for manufacturing test equipment, Avtron focuses on a few key segments and develops high-end technology-based products for them. Because approximately 80 of the company's 300 employees are graduate engineers, the company can tap into that knowledge base and continually innovate in each business segment that it operates within.

The Davey Tree Expert Co.

When your company is more than 120 years old and employs more than 5,000 people, there's probably a good reason for its success. Such is the case with Kent-based The Davey Tree Expert Co., which provides tree, shrub and lawn care, large tree moving, grounds management, vegetation management and consulting services nationwide.

CEO Douglas Cowan runs the employee-owned company by focusing on his work force and providing superior employee training. Among the company's innovative initiatives is The Davey Institute of Tree Sciences. Founded in 1908 by John Davey, the month-long training program provides field employees with scientific expertise.

These days, the company complements that and other related training programs with Web-based distance learning and certification and an extensive online resource database. All of this has helped ensure employee retention, increase the number of employee shareholders from an inaugural 113 in 1979 to more than 3,000 today and boost annual revenue to nearly $350 million.

Anthony Lammers, president & CEO, InnoDesk

InnoDesk's mission is to bring new and innovative products to the retail stationary and office products marketplace.

The company's design concepts focus on the fact that all businesspeople have a desk where they work, but that desk is not necessarily traditional -- it often is the front seat of a car, a hotel room, dining room table, kitchen counter or airplane seat. InnoDesk's products take location out of the equation.

Among the notable innovations the nearly 3-year-old company has developed are the hand-held battery-operated paper shredder -- which is mobile and fits in a purse, briefcase or car glove compartment-- and the Retrac-Tip line of retractable, capless highlighters and markets, which turns a traditionally two-handed product into a one-handed one.

Both have been well received and are being distributed in more than 8,000 retail stores nationwide, including OfficeMax, Wal-Mart, Office Depot and Rite Aid.

Joel Rathbone and Bruce Block, managing partners, Javitch, Block & Rathbone LLP

When Joel Rathbone and Bruce Block co-founded JB&R in 1991, they recognized that technology would be crucial to the creditor law firm's success.

They designed their own software and created a strategy of decentralization as they expanded. This has allowed JB&R to become the fourth largest creditors' law firm in the nation, with five offices in Ohio and one in Indiana.

Two years ago, JB&R designed a new software system that made the firm paperless, eliminating the reams of paper previously produced -- three copy machines churned out more than 140,000 copies each month. Today, every piece of paper that arrives at JB&R's offices is scanned into a networked computer system, categorized, then shredded when the hard copy is no longer needed.

The company's mail department scans more than 275,000 pages per month using just two machines and five people.

Dr. Scott Rickert, president, Nanofilm

Dr. Scott Rickert co-founded Nanofilm in 1985 as a spinoff of research conducted at Case Western Reserve University. Over the past 19 years, the company has consistently innovated in the field of protective coatings for optical surfaces.

Recently, Nanofilm introduced the Clarity Fog Eliminator, an anti-fog product for eyeglasses, goggles and facemasks for both sports and safety uses. The product is an invisible, dry film that absorbs moisture and disperses it across the film, allowing vapor to evaporate without forming fog.

Rickert's team is constantly working to expand the product line, which is used on products from touch screens in military fighter jets to high-end undersea cameras. Nanofim's success has resulted in double-digit revenue growth in 2002 and 2003.

Nicholas DiCello, president & CEO, Ohio State Waterproofing

What started with a telephone on a milk crate has become the largest business of its kind in the industry, with 80,000 customers and 17 franchise locations in 10 states.

Founder Nicholas DiCello developed, and in 1984, patented, a multistep foundation drainage system that changed the way basements are waterproofed.

That served as the catalyst for Ohio State Waterproofing's growth and led to Dicello's 1985 formation of EverDry Marketing & Management Inc., which licenses franchises under the named EverDry Waterproofing.

DiCello is always looking for ways to innovate. Over the past two years, he's been marketing two unique waterproofing products, Stabl-Wall and E-Z Breathe Ventilation Systems, which drastically improve upon previously existing waterproofing processes and create a new round of opportunities for the company's sales staff to pursue.

Daniel Zawadzki, COO, Royal Manor Health Care Inc.

Since his appointment as COO in May 1999, Daniel Zawadzki has implemented numerous initiatives to raise the level and quality of care at Royal Manor Health Care. Among these, he's spearheaded a "Real Time Quality of Care Process" and "Purchased Nursing Elimination - Zero Tolerance Process."

The first involved development of a measurement tool that reflects real time quality outcomes and allows for immediate feedback through correction and project improvements. As a result of Zawadzki's efforts, Royal has been able to identify and meet higher standards than previously thought possible.

The second initiative reduced the percentage of contracted and purchased nonemployee nurses from an average of 30 percent to zero. Zawadzki says that by employing 100 percent of the organization's nurses and nursing assistants, there is greater consistency, familiarity and commitment to Royal than previously was obtained through outside nurses.

Matthew Harper, founder, CEO & president, San Francisco Oven

Co-owners Matt Harper and Eddie Cerino aren't your typical restaurateurs. Rather than simply opening their first San Francisco Oven location, focusing on building it, then growing through cash flow, the pair recognized a niche that wasn't being served and set their sights on building an idea that could be easily franchised.

The owners of Eddie's Creekside Restaurant in Brecksville developed an upscale casual dining concept that utilizes the themes of the Bay Area in the menu, atmosphere and décor and makes a brick oven the focal point of the design and menu. They focused on creating a brand, and within two years of opening the first location, inked a franchise in Columbus.

Last year, franchise deals for more than 100 new locations started development, targeting Florida, Iowa, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and several more in Ohio.

John Turnbull, general manager, Thunderstone Software LLC

Thunderstone Software LLC is a pioneer in the field of search engine technology. Founded in 1981, Thunderstone develops and provides text retrieval products to industry, government and educational institutions.

The company's Texis software is at the heart of its patented Search Appliance. Texis integrates natural language and relevance ranking with structured relational database indexing and is used for online auctions and classifieds, automated categorization, litigation support, competitive intelligence, help desk, document and multimedia management, Internet publishing, real-time message handling and Web content searching.

Turnbull says the company's new Search Appliance is the fastest and most accurate single search device on the market. It can handle more than 45 typical queries per second -- more than 2,700 per minute -- allowing users to handle peak query times with capacity to spare.

Thunderstone's products are used on thousands of Web sites worldwide. Major customers include eBay, Corbis, QVC, About.com, ZDNet and HotJobs.

Todd Pugh, president & CEO, Todd's Enviroscapes Inc.

Three years ago, founder and president Todd Pugh was looking for ways to reduce his landscape construction and management company's labor costs yet increase productivity. He entered into a joint venture with an equipment manufacturer to design and develop a new machine called the Mulch Mule.

The conventional method mulch is to install one yard of mulch per man-hour, but the Mulch Mule can do three yards per man-hour. The machine, which reduces the human labor needed to shovel and unload mulch and bulk debris, was so successful that Pugh founded a separate company, Green Industry Innovators, to manufacture and market it.

Mulch Mules have been sold to landscapers in more than eight states, and the machine received a national industry publication's award as one of the top 10 labor-saving and profit-making tools of 2003.