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Banking on success Featured

4:49am EDT November 29, 2005
In today’s environment of mega bank mergers, you might expect Dorothy Martin to be concerned.

After all, as president of Optimum Print Solutions (a commercial print manufacturing company) and treasurer and secretary of Optimum System Products (a supply and outsourcing company for the banking industry), she relies on community banks for her business.

But Martin has no worries.

“Community banks are here to stay, especially considering the baby-boomer generation,” Martin says. “People would rather deal with a friendly teller instead of an impersonal Internet service. For every megamerger, approximately 25 community banks pop up. Business is good.”

Optimum System Products was founded in 1985 when Martin, an accountant, and her husband, John, a District Sales Manager, decided to spread their entrepreneurial wings.

“The timing was right to take the plunge,” she says. “Three years later, operating out of our basement with six employees, it was getting a little crowded. Semi-trucks were delivering supplies to our home. The neighbors started complaining, and we knew we had officially outgrown the home business.”

Today, Optimum employs 60 people and generates $12 million in sales per year by providing service to a national client base of 1,500 community banks and Central Ohio companies.

“As a one-stop shop, we act as an aggregate buyer for our clients’ supplies and printing needs,” Martin says. “We provide virtually every item a bank requires to operate, including printed products, office supplies, forms — even customer giveaways like lollipops and dog biscuits. This allows them to compete effectively with the larger banks.”

Smart Business spoke with Martin about how she generates new customers and how she hires the best employees to give her business a competitive advantage in a digital world.

How do you generate new customers?
The banking industry is very conservative. Personal recommendations carry more weight than slick advertising. We rely on referrals from other people that work with banks. These third-party alliances are crucial.

We also host ‘lunch and learns’ and focus groups that add value and generate network opportunities. Finally, we have outstanding sales representatives who are involved and well-connected in the communities they service.

What is Optimum’s greatest challenge?
Technology has been a boon for some industries, but the print market is not one of them. Paper has been replaced by electronic sources, which has led to overcapacity, higher paper prices and reduced margins.

We’re facing a digital future, and companies that are solely ‘ink on paper’ may not survive. We’ve tackled this challenge by diversifying our products and making sure we are more than a printing operation.

We offer design, direct mail campaigns, fulfillment, distribution and online ordering to streamline the process.

How do you keep expenses down?
Employee training is the best investment. We have a robust, online, module-based learning program. A local college professor conducts on-site leadership classes twice a month.

Another expense reduction secret involves developing partnerships with other companies when expanding to new territories. It’s usually cost-prohibitive to start from scratch in a new location.

For the past 12 years, we’ve partnered with Scranton, Pa., distributorship Forms Plus Inc. Our companies formed a joint venture called Optimum Systems Plus. We work together by sharing sales representatives and warehouse/distribution facilities. It’s the ultimate win-win.

How do you hire the best employees?
We’ve assembled an A-Team, but not without some lessons along the way. Even with the most glowing recommendations, some people simply do not share our value system.

With so many employment rules and regulations, it’s not easy to disconnect when things aren’t working out. Our basic HR policy is to hire great people, develop and take care of them, and maintain a culture where people actually care about each other.

We treat our staff well. Every employee has specific goals for the year and the opportunity to join the Achievement Club if they meet or surpass 80 percent of them in any year. The rewards include a great trip — last year, 27 associates and their family members enjoyed a week in Hawaii.

Everyone we hire and work with, including customers and vendors, must have a passion for integrity. If our business does not operate with the highest standards, it reflects negatively on the banks we serve.