Nicholas Maschari

Tuesday, 31 August 2004 07:09

Strategic alliance

Securing your company's intellectual property is paramount these days. And Gabriel Torok, president of PreEmptive Solutions Inc., is doing his part to develop the next big thing in code security software.

Over the past seven years, Torok has positioned PreEmptive Solutions as a leader in commercial obfuscation, optimization and size-reduction software. Several Fortune 1000 companies use its products and software developments.

With hackers attempting to find holes in security codes and tap into computer systems, innovative software is on the top of almost every CEO's wish list.

"Providing access to source code and creating compact and efficient applications are two of the most important issues in developing applications," says Torok, whose business received a boost last year when Microsoft chose it to provide a "lite" version of its Dotfuscator, to be packaged in Visual Studio.NET. The program helps developers with code protection right out of the box.

Torok's passion is to constantly pursue innovative ideas that lead to programs for foiling would-be hackers. Some of the company's latest work includes Control Flow Obfuscation, String Encryption, Incremental Obfuscation and Enhanced Overload Induction. Dotfuscator Professional Edition rearranges code instructions while keeping the original run time logic intact.

The benefits of these and other PreEmptive products include improved intellectual property protection, decreased application size and better program performance, all of which impact a company's bottom line.

"We are committed to ongoing product innovation and development, as well as superior customer satisfaction," says Torok. "We feel that we are the best at what we do, and while there are competitors, we are at the top of the industry. That's why Microsoft has chosen us."

The opportunity that Microsoft brings to PreEmptive is enormous and the impact significant, says Torok, who adds the company's in-the-box approach with Microsoft has helped bolster sales of its full version software and continues to push it to innovate.

"It's been great for us," he says. "We get to have our software in front of every Microsoft programmer."

Today, the biggest challenge facing PreEmptive is trying to stay ahead of hackers and their technology, requiring it to stay as current as possible. It's a tall order, but one Torok describes as part of the fun. How to reach: PreEmptive Solutions, (216) 732-5895 or www.preemptive.com

Tuesday, 31 August 2004 06:37

Wireless wonder

Wireless technology development has helped businesses shed their cords and become completely mobile. And with that technology has come the need for practical applications and software that make them more than just expensive toys.

That's where Mirifex Systems comes in.

The Strongsville-based business and technology consulting firm is on the forefront of BlackBerry wireless software production and design. Last year, Flight Options, a Cleveland-based fractional jet ownership company, approached Mirifex and asked it to develop an application for use with wireless devices that would streamline tasks such as fueling, maintenance and scheduling for its planes.

"Flight Options was outstripping the processes that worked for them when they were little," says Mirifex president and CEO Bill Nemeth.

So Nemeth and his team designed a prototype and introduced it to Flight Options. The Wireless Operations Gateway (WOG) was an instant success.

"We knew it was going to be an almost epidemic-type spreading," of the product within the company, says Nemeth. And so it was.

WOG had an immediate impact on Flight Options' productivity. It reduced call load, leading to a savings of 17 percent on Flight Options' phone bill. It allowed pilots to receive their flight itineraries at the touch of a button. And it streamlined and made more accessible everything from fuel and maintenance to flight times.

Today, WOG is in its sixth version. Pilots, ground crews and other Flight Options employees regularly approach Mirifex with new needs for their BlackBerry devices, and Mirifex can deliver a new application in less than a week. Newly updated versions of the applications are sent out to the devices from a central location, updating all of them in real time.

For Mirifex, the impact of the application's success has been tremendous.

"It has led to 10 to 20 new clients, and we are getting known around the (wireless) carriers like Verizon and others," says Nemeth. "It's helped move our name and product, but also has been putting us in front of businesspeople.

"The technology can transcend different business practices, and we have been seeing it being used in transportation logistics, distribution and even banking. We've made them (companies) more productive and have helped them greatly improve customer service." How to reach: Mirifex, (440) 891-1210 or www.mirifex.com

Monday, 27 September 2004 10:26

In good times and bad

When business is booming and cash flow is good, many businesses don't worry much about marketing their product. That was the case with Formtech, a leading provider of plastic extrusions; when it was working hard to keep up with demand, there was little need to spend time on marketing and advertising.

But when the economy took a spin in the opposite direction, Formtech found itself at a crossroads and needed to rethink its business strategy -- a strategy that included innovative ways to market the company's products and services, and help it survive in a tougher market.

Formtech president David Turk decided to employ Cross Current Solutions, a full-service integrated marketing and advertising agency, to advise Formtech management on a new strategy. Cross Current has worked with large, middle-market and small businesses to create effective business strategies, and its clients include First Energy Corp., The Sherwin-Williams Co. and GE Lighting.

The Formtech campaign included a new graphic identity and positioning statement, company brochures, sales presentation materials, a direct marketing program, PR support and a new Web site.

"Dave Turk is a smart president," says Les Stein, president of Cross Current. "He saw that Formtech was operating in a number of vertical markets, and some of those markets dried up."

The Formtech problem is not an uncommon one, says Stein. Often, when a company is doing well, marketing is overlooked. And when budgets are cut, it's often the marketing department that goes first. As a result, the company will try to bring its marketing and advertising needs in-house, which can be a mistake.

"Formtech is very good at innovative designs, and we wanted to make that clear," says Stein.

Cross Current assisted Formtech in its rebranding, starting with its logo. The integrated marketing firm tweaked the existing logo to give it a new edge, and helped with the position statement "Shaping endless possibilities" to give the company a tagline.

The brochures, materials and Web site all had a uniform look and format, something that lends consistency and credibility across the board, says Stein.

Cross Current also assisted in the formation and recognition of other markets where Formtech could operate, and worked with the sales team to form strategies to gain new customers.

"We basically helped Formtech strategize and generate new markets," says Stein.

The results have been positive. The sales team has embraced the new program and now better understands Formtech's capabilities, which increases the chances of identifying and winning new customers. The consistent presentation materials provided by Cross Current have been a key to that success.

Since the program's launch, there has been an increase in business from existing clients, and several opportunities have been unearthed in new industries. The Web site has helped generate new leads each week, and has been a great marketing tool.

From the start, Cross Current's objectives were to locate new markets and maintain confidence in its current client base, and it seems it did just that.

"Les Stein and his team quickly learned our business and developed a truly creative set of marketing tools that addressed all our needs," said Turk.

How to reach: Formtech, (330) 688-2171; Cross Current Solutions, (216) 241-8185


Marketing 101: The essentials

Every marketing plan must fit the specific needs and situations of a particular business. Still, there are standard components that you can't live without, regardless of what business you're in.

A marketing plan should always include a situation analysis, marketing strategy, sales forecast and expense budget.

* Situation analysis. This normally includes a market analysis, SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and a competitive analysis. The market analysis should include a market forecast, segmentation, customer information and market needs analysis.

* Marketing strategy. This should include at least a mission statement, objectives and a focused strategy, including market focus and product positioning.

* Sales forecast. This should include enough detail to track sales month by month and follow up on plan vs. actual analysis. A plan will normally also include specific sales by product, region or market.

* Expense budget. This ought to include details on tracking expenses and outline specific sales tactics, programs, management responsibilities, promotion and other elements.

These are minimum requirements, not the ideal marketing plan. In most cases, it is important to start with an executive summary and review organizational impact, risks, contingencies and pending issues.

The implementation of the plan, over the plan itself, is most important. You can influence implementation by building a plan with specific, measurable and concrete tactics that can be tracked down, followed up and evaluated.

Source: www.marketingsurvivalkit.com

Monday, 27 September 2004 09:44

Child's play

When Bendon Publishing International was founded in Ashland in 2002, it had roughly eight employees on the books. Just two years later, more than 100 make their living working for the children's book publisher.

Although it is a relative industry newcomer, Bendon has quickly become the fastest-growing children's publishing house in the country, says Ben Ferguson, Bendon's president.

"We have gone from eight to 25 employees in our offices, and from 15 to 90 people in the fulfillment sector of the business," he says. "We outsource our fulfillment and distribution to a local company that we helped set up for the purpose of handling our fulfillment. We pay them a percentage of sales on the product that is shipped through our door."

That symbiotic relationship is beneficial to both parties, and, says Ferguson, provides a guaranteed pipeline of work.

"We are their only customer," he says. "And in direct response to our business, they have more than 90 employees right now, up from 15 last year."

Bendon is a full-service publishing house. It sells directly to retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Sam's Club and numerous specialty stores. As the publisher has grown, it has secured contracts to represent several big names -- 28 in all -- in children's entertainment, including Disney, Sesame Street, Barbie, Barney and Bob the Builder.

These licensed brands make up about 65 percent of Bendon's sales revenue. The remaining 35 percent is comprised of generic titles and seasonal publishing for holidays including Christmas and Halloween, says Ferguson.

Bendon's growth has also benefited the surrounding area in Ashland County.

"The creation of jobs in this region has helped the small community of Ashland," says Ferguson. "To create 100 jobs in a year is great."

And while the increase in employment is a factor in the company's explosive sales growth, it's also a sign that Ferguson and company have hit upon a growing area in the publishing industry -- the burgeoning children's market. Last year's revenue has tripled in the last nine months alone, and Ferguson sees the company's uptick continuing.

Ferguson says his main challenge is to manage the company's growth without sacrificing its ability to service its customers and to create more partnerships. One of the goals is to identify and offer more titles in the company's education sector.

"We are rounding out our educational offerings with pre-K through third grade workbooks, flashcards and other materials," he says.

In a time when other publishers are struggling, Ferguson is making Bendon's growth look as simple as 1-2-3 and ABC.

How to reach: Bendon Publishing International, (419) 281-5985.

Tuesday, 31 August 2004 07:08

Fluid change

Thomas Koly started his career with RAF Automation when it was still called RAF Fluid Power., working in shipping and sales to support himself while he went to night school.

Today, he holds the titles of president and co-owner.

RAF has gone through some changes, shifting from being a typical fluid components distributor into its niche of being a problem-solving resource for manufacturers in Northern Ohio.

"By the early 1990s, we recognized that our existing business model of providing a narrow range of components was becoming less beneficial to our customer base," says Koly.

The evolution focused on product offerings, services and partnership.

In the past, RAF's customers had the time to evaluate and choose products that fit their needs and base their decisions on the merits of each product. Today, with the competitive nature of the manufacturing industry and the fact that it plays out on a global stage, the purchasing and automation processes have been streamlined.

Now, RAF facilitates its relationship with customers by responding to specific requests and needs and by creating a fitting, one-of-a-kind solution.

Providing results that meet customer needs has meant marrying products from different disciplines to create an effective delivery strategy.

"We developed the ability to understand a manufacturing task and present a solution that takes advantage of electronic, hydraulic, mechanical, pneumatic and robotic technologies. Today, we can provide individual components manufactured by companies that are global leaders in their field, packaged solutions, software support, engineering documentation, training and ROI calculations," says Koly.

The service portion of RAF's business used to be fairly simple, and involved having good products, a competitive price and a good delivery system. Now, RAF focuses on reacting to the specific needs of its customers. Its clients build their businesses around their strengths and look to their suppliers for support in areas that are not cost-effective for them to support, says Bill Frissell, co-owner and treasurer of RAF.

By changing the company's focus, Koly and his team have altered the way RAF views other organizations and the relationship it has with them, which has translated into higher profitability for its customers .

HOW TO REACH: RAF Automation, (440) 498-8465 or www.raffluidpower.com

Tuesday, 31 August 2004 06:35

Strategic alliance

Securing your company's intellectual property is paramount these days. And Gabriel Torok, president of PreEmptive Solutions Inc., is doing his part to develop the next big thing in code security software.

Over the past seven years, Torok has positioned PreEmptive Solutions as a leader in commercial obfuscation, optimization and size-reduction software. Several Fortune 1000 companies use its products and software developments.

With hackers attempting to find holes in security codes and tap into computer systems, innovative software is on the top of almost every CEO's wish list.

"Providing access to source code and creating compact and efficient applications are two of the most important issues in developing applications," says Torok, whose business received a boost last year when Microsoft chose it to provide a "lite" version of its Dotfuscator, to be packaged in Visual Studio.NET. The program helps developers with code protection right out of the box.

Torok's passion is to constantly pursue innovative ideas that lead to programs for foiling would-be hackers. Some of the company's latest work includes Control Flow Obfuscation, String Encryption, Incremental Obfuscation and Enhanced Overload Induction. Dotfuscator Professional Edition rearranges code instructions while keeping the original run time logic intact.

The benefits of these and other PreEmptive products include improved intellectual property protection, decreased application size and better program performance, all of which impact a company's bottom line.

"We are committed to ongoing product innovation and development, as well as superior customer satisfaction," says Torok. "We feel that we are the best at what we do, and while there are competitors, we are at the top of the industry. That's why Microsoft has chosen us."

The opportunity that Microsoft brings to PreEmptive is enormous and the impact significant, says Torok, who adds the company's in-the-box approach with Microsoft has helped bolster sales of its full version software and continues to push it to innovate.

"It's been great for us," he says. "We get to have our software in front of every Microsoft programmer."

Today, the biggest challenge facing PreEmptive is trying to stay ahead of hackers and their technology, requiring it to stay as current as possible. It's a tall order, but one Torok describes as part of the fun. How to reach: PreEmptive Solutions, (216) 732-5895 or www.preemptive.com

Wednesday, 21 July 2004 11:14

Simple vision

For Tony Dellamano and Mark Kuperman, marketing a brand new food product involves a simple plan -- let people taste it, and they'll spread the word.

Applestix, the product of the Johnny Applestix company, are battered and flash-fried apple slices, seasoned and served with a choice of tasty dipping sauces. The founders take a straightforward approach to advertising and getting the word out about their creation.

"For us, it's all about creating a buzz," says Dellamano. "And this product is very buzzable. It's about free samples, getting the product introduced and tasted."

Johnny Applestix made its Cleveland debut at Jacobs Field this season, even though that wasn't the original plan. But the baseball field has turned out to be a great place to launch the business here, giving the high volume of passersby the opportunity to smell and taste the product. A tray of applestix sits in front of the concession stand, and the founders often pass out samples to get people's taste buds going.

Marketing and branding are major factors with any start-up venture, and Johnny Applestix is no exception.

"It's different," says Dellamano, "and it's easier to market because it's new and fresh. Word-of-mouth has been our biggest vehicle for marketing."

Word-of-mouth advertising is an age-old tactic. As with referrals in the service industry, getting people talking about your product is paramount to any successful marketing campaign.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," says Kuperman. "We see what works and what doesn't, and we go from there."

The venture has received strong financial backing from key investors in the Cleveland area. They include Paul Dolan, president of the Cleveland Indians; the Ratner family of Forest City Enterprises Inc.; and John Shields, chairman of Wild Oats Markets.

"People in Cleveland were excited about a start-up," Dellamano says. "They embraced it."

Shields, who serves as chairman of the Johnny Applestix board, has been instrumental in helping Dellamano and Kuperman shorten their learning curve and avoid the common mistakes start-up venture often make.

"Everything we've done has been through this great team of people," Kuperman says.

That includes plotting the company's expansion beyond the gates of Jacobs Field. Plans include six stores in the Cleveland area over the next 12 to 18 months, with an ultimate goal of 500 stores nationwide. And, says Dellamano, the possibility of growth internationally is good.

"We have a great contact in Japan, and we would love to open up a store over there in the next few years," he says.

Finding the right locations for expansion is important, and the founders are considering several types of venues, such as airports, strip malls and stand-alone kiosks. They want to keep the focus on the presentation and preparation of the product, which helps separate them from other food chains.

But Dellamano and Kuperman don't want to rush things. They say they're dedicated to a slow and steady expansion, which will allow the company to develop and mature at its own pace.

The applestix concept seems to be catching on, and the product has been successful across several demographics. That ability to appeal to a variety of audiences provides a new challenge for the partners -- to find the right balance to attract the widest range of customers possible.

"We try to make decisions with the logo, brand and product that do not exclude any demographics," says Kuperman.

In the end, sticking to a simple business model and down-to-earth marketing strategies are working. And Kuperman and Dellamano say their goals are clear -- keep things simple, fresh and delicious. How to reach: Johnny Applestix, www.johnnyapplestix.com

Thursday, 01 July 2004 06:05

Tool school

Gone are the days of choosing between using your hands or your brain. Thanks to Tooling University, you are encouraged and expected to use both.

Founders of the breakthrough concept, Jack Schron Jr., president, and his son, Chad Schron, vice president, saw the idea for Tooling U grow out of necessity. The men noticed a serious lack of apprenticeship programs and vocational education, a problem that needed addressing.

Enter Tooling University.

Through the Web-based school, students can take classes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Subjects include metalworking and stamping, drilling, basic shop skills from math and measurements all the way to inspection, and several disciplines in between.

Students across the country are benefiting from this industrial and manufacturing education, and the Schrons say the number of companies inquiring about and using the software is growing. The curriculum uses photos, drawings, charts, motion picture video and audio to convey material.

Course software is expertly written and designed; Tooling U uses a design team to create the programming, involving writers who have a master's degree in English or education, teamed with an industry expert who works with the subject matter.

The results speak for themselves. By implementing continuing education, companies can see a smarter, more productive and informed work force, which translates into a more efficient workplace, and finally ends up on the customers bottom line.

The Schrons are ahead of curve with their concept, proving that even in education, you can't be afraid to get your hands dirty. How to reach: Tooling U, (216) 706-6600 or www.toolingu.com

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:15

Crafty entrepreneurship

Gerald Henn knew from an early age what his calling was. He was born to be an entrepreneur.

Henn, a fifth-generation entrepreneur, was just a boy when he founded his first business venture after his father built him an amusement game for the carnival circuit. In the years since, Henn has founded numerous ventures, including his latest, Warren-based HENN, a direct sales crafts company.

Henn wanted to get in to the craft industry to take advantage of his passion and love for handcrafting techniques, including basketry, pottery making, ironworking and candlemaking. He launched HENN in 1982, providing people with a chance to have it all -- a profitable career and time for a family.

Today, HENN boasts more than 2,400 sales consultants, a far cry from the beginning when there were just four employees. Consultants receive a 25 percent commission on their sales, a high percentage for the sales industry.

And, HENN continues to innovate on both the production side and distribution side of the business, acquiring the tools necessary to manufacture antique reproductions to exacting specifications. All of this has led to continuous sales growth at the company, due in part to Henn's progressive thinking and diversification tactics.

Henn says his company simply evolves with the times, adjusting to market trends and consumer desires, all the while continuing its national growth. HENN's product line has grown to more than 500 items, and the company is making a transition from traditional country décor to items that fit in all décor types. How to reach: HENN, (330) 824-2575 or www.hennworkshops.com

Tuesday, 07 September 2004 06:37

Clean sweep

What does a vacuum manufacturer do when it wants to diversify its product line and services? It takes its products on the road and uses them to clean your house.

In a shrewd move by the executives at The Hoover Co., the company has branched off into the service industry, offering full-service residential and commercial carpet cleaning services. For Hoover, the transition is a natural progression, says Joe Folk, head of operations for carpet cleaning.

The objective is to diversify Hoover's strategy and stance in the market, says Folk, whose duties include setting policy for the program as well as overseeing day-to-day operations.

These moves come in the midst of changes at Hoover, whose parent company, Maytag Corp., recently announced plans to move Hoover's corporate operations from its long-time home in Canton to Maytag's Newton, Iowa, headquarters. The shift, which will reduce Hoover's corporate work force by approximately 20 percent, isn't expected to affect the company's R&D or manufacturing operations.

David Baker, vice president of diversified products, says the diversification of services is a natural extension of Hoover's business.

"Professional carpet cleaning provides an excellent opportunity for Hoover to capitalize on nearly a century of cleaning knowledge and the superior products that go with it," says Baker. "We believe consumers will embrace this service, not only because they are time-poor, but also because they have long associated the Hoover name with vacuum cleaners and clean carpets. In fact, many will assume we've been in this business all along because, in many respects, we have."

With the power of name association, Hoover's executives believe it's smart to mobilize and, in a sense, sell its product door-to-door. After a superb cleaning by a Hoover team, a customer might feel even more inclined to purchase one of its vacuums after Hoover's equipment has gotten out that pesky stain.

The program has received a strong response in its pilot cities of Atlanta and Pittsburgh, where it was launched in November 2003, says Folk. Both markets were chosen after demographic research conducted by Hoover, and because of the strong service center managers in those cities.

"We (initially) decided against Ohio because we did not feel Stark and Summit counties would be a true representation of the popularity of the Hoover brand," said Folk.

Hoover began offering the service in Stark and Summit counties in April, after its success in the launch cities.

"The reception from customers has been awesome," says Folk. "We haven't had a single negative comment yet, and we are getting callbacks for the six-month cleaning, which is something I was concerned about."

The feedback and callbacks for service are what Hoover has been waiting for. Expanding your reach in the service industry, especially when you're new to the game, can be daunting, and customer retention will be job No. 1 for Hoover's cleaning services.

Its cleaning program operates with a six-man unit in each city. The head of the two-man teams, the technician, is trained by a Hoover partner. They eventually hope to do all training in-house, says Folk.

Hoover considers its decision to move from being strictly a manufacturing company to incorporating a service sector a wise management tactic. The use of vans with the Hoover name provides mobile advertising, and by using Hoover products and equipment in its cleaning service, it is marketing a product through actual application.

The diversification strategies of a company should fit comfortably within the niche it occupies in the market. For Hoover, says Baker, providing the manpower to accompany its cleaning machines was an easy decision, and a smart one. How to reach: The Hoover Co., (330) 499-9499


Why diversify?

The fundamental purpose of diversifying is for corporate managers to create value for stockholders in a way they cannot do for themselves. Another purpose is to integrate a new business into an existing one, creating a competitive advantage.

There are two main principles in diversifying your business strategy, improving core process execution and/or enhancing a business unit's structural position.

There are three forms of diversification.

* Vertical integration. Integrating business along your value chain, both upstream and downstream, so that one efficiently feeds the other.

* Horizontal diversification. Moving into more than one industry. The new business somehow relates to the existing one, although some companies pursue unrelated diversification.

* Geographical diversification. Moving into new geographical areas to overcome limited growth opportunities in the local market and/or gain global leadership positioning.

Diversifying alone can be done through internal R&D projects; in-company start-ups such as new product/service development inside the corporation; and spinouts -- managing innovative product/service development separately.

Diversifying with others can be done by implementing projects through new company formation; forming strategic alliances through joint R&D and implementation; making acquisitions; or joint ventures. Source: www.1000ventures.com

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