OHIC Insurance Co. offers a boost to employees making healthy resolutions, regardless of whether its the New Year.
The company pays half the cost, up to $250 a year, per employee for memberships in health clubs and weight reduction, smoking cessation or other wellness programs.
That investment, about $8,000 a year, seems to work, says company President Tim Wiechers. More than half of the 82 employees at the companys downtown office and Dublin subsidiary, CCI Admin Inc., take advantage of the perk.
Employees have even found bargains. Programmer analyst Tod Jervey, for example, joined the YWCA Health & Fitness Center downtown and learned of its Fitness for Free week, during which all employees could use the facilities without charge. All OHIC employees, then, became eligible for a $35 off annual corporate membership discount when they joined. The YWCA also offers free helpin the form of pre-written e-mail messages, newsletter articles, payroll stuffers and mailbox fliersto companies that want to promote fitness among employees, says fitness director Char Christensen.
OHIC promotes its own benefits, which Wiechers says are designed to help employees feel better and thus work better, through monthly newsletters, employee orientations and wellness programs.
If our sole purpose was to do it just to see a huge decrease in health care costs, we probably wouldnt be doing it, Wiechers says. Were doing it not only for recruitment and retention, but for peace of mind for the employees.
Dennis Bell, president of Sunbury Cleaners & Laundry Ltd., found a way to clear the air without cleaning out his cash reserves.
He knew planned improvements at his dry cleaning plant on West Granville Street would be no small investmentnearly $150,000, in fact. But he did it for the long-term savings.
He got help from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Air Quality Development Authoritys Clean Air Resource Centereven though he was not required to make the improvements under EPA regulations.
Those offices helped him get the necessary permits and financing. Now, hes seeing savings in solvent reduction and energy use, and his plant has become more efficientan important fact considering he intends to add, in the next two years, two stores to his existing three.
Finding the funds
About two years ago, Bell, like other dry cleaners in the state, received notice from the Ohio EPA and the Clean Air Resource Center regarding environmental regulation changes. He was a step ahead of them.
Bell had already secured bank financing and a loan through the Delaware County Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund Program for his project, but the resource centers mention of potential tax breaks intrigued him.
We applied for their program, which allowed us to get a rebate on the sales tax and get a tax abatement on the personal property tax for the [seven-year] life of the loans, so it was an attractive program, Bell says.
Bell had been planning the improvements even though his business did not fall under the new federal regulations, which applied to dry cleaners that use perchloroethylene, a chlorine-based solvent. Bell uses a petroleum-based method his business has used since his mother founded Sunbury Cleaners in 1948.
While we dont burn solvent, we evaporate it out into the atmosphere of the clothes. Like your clothes dryer, the water molecules go out the stack. In our case, the petroleum molecules went out the stack, he explains. While its not considered particularly a hazardous pollutant, it is a pollutant.
Bells new equipment will recover more than 90 percent of the solvent used.
Mark Shanahan, the Clean Air Resource Centers executive director, says funding is available for business owners for the purchase, construction and/or installation of air pollution control equipment, regardless of whether the business is required to do so under state mandates.
I think that small business owners like Dennis Bell come from the community where their stores are, so operating cleanly is very important to them, he says.
Shanahan says the authority issued two bonds, one purchased by Delaware County, the other by Bells bank, Delaware County Bank. Then the authority loaned the proceeds of the bond sale to Bell. The relationship is arranged, however, so that Bell makes payments to the bank.
Business owners approved for the financing receive, on equipment purchased through financing, exemptions on real estate and personal property taxes for the life of the loan and on sales and use taxes.
To qualify for financing assistance, the project must be in Ohio and contribute to air quality through pollution control, pollution prevention, energy efficiency or innovative technology or operational process changes. The authority has approved financing for projects ranging from $20,000 to $350 million.
Bell anticipates his financing arrangement through the authority will save him more than $10,000.
By discounting the sales tax, that gave us a significant amount of cash to help the whole project, Bell says. Any project like this has cost overruns. We had major floor problems we didnt know about. That ate up the whole thing. We should still see savings obviously off the personal property tax.
Although Bell borrowed approximately $100,000 for his project, the loan from the authority is for $125,000, so if there are overruns, he does not have to reapply.
The arrangement, Shanahan points out, also is an incentive to the lending bank.
The benefit to the lender, as well, is that the interest payment to the bank is exempted from Ohio income tax. What the bank is legally receiving is interest on a bond issue, he says.
Bell expects to cut his net solvent usage between 80 and 90 percent thanks to the improvements.
"It's a small reduction in the short run, but tremendous in the long run," Bell says, noting the equipment's life expectancy is 30 years. "We'll save thousands of gallons per year. At our level, that's a couple thousand dollars a year."
In addition to the new petroleum equipment, Bell purchased a high-efficiency hot water system for his coin laundry. That, and a new boiler used for the dry cleaning, will save him on gas bills. New cooling systems on his dry cleaning machine and boiler also are more efficient.
In addition, he reconfigured the work space in the plant as part of the overall renovation.
"We should increase our worker efficiency, but I think it will be awhile before we realize it," he says. "We were moving a lot of things by hand that will move mechanically in the future. Also our equipment is automated and much faster."
Because he just began operating his new equipment in October, he's still waiting to determine the savings.
Bell says the entire process for such massive improvements took a considerable amount of time. He began gearing up for his plant improvements in November 1997 and applied for financing in June 1998. He tried to get preliminary work, such as checking gas lines, finished before purchasing his equipment. He also took into account his need for EPA permits for the new equipment, which he applied for in February 1998 and received in May.
He suggests that business owners applying for financing through the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority keep in mind the legal fees involved. The state supplies an attorney to prepare documents, but Bell had to pay the fees, about $2,600 in his case.
Considering the cost of his project and the savings he'll realize, he felt those fees were reasonable.
"If you're borrowing enough money," he says, "I would say particularly with getting the loan, it would make the whole thing really worthwhile."
- Education: Bachelor of arts in business administration, The Ohio State University, 1974
- First job: My first quarter as a freshman at Ohio State I was a busboy in a pancake house.
- Why I chose this career: I had an older brother who ran an employment service. Even when I was going to Ohio State, I worked with him. So when I graduated, I just stayed with him. And I eventually ran an employment service off of Morse Road.
- Greatest achievement: I think the biggest business achievement is the size that Quick Solutions has grown to and managing in excess of 250 people. That's probably the biggest thing I've ever done-and to build it in a seven-year period.
- Best business decision: The best business decision I ever made was to get into the IT consulting business and get out of the permanent placement business. At the end of '91, I decided to get into consulting. It's fun; it's lucrative.
- Worst business decision: I have made bad business decisions because my heart said, "Aw, cut them slack," or, "Give them this," even though your brain says you shouldn't. Sometimes you make bad decisions because you aren't really thinking, you're just letting your emotions do it.
- Biggest professional challenge: Making sure that there are career opportunities for all of the people that work here. When you have 235 consultants, you don't want to lose any of them. We have to make sure we are addressing their needs technologically, financially and emotionally. Our product talks back. We have two entities that must be smiling: our clients who we do the work for, but also the actual people who do the work. If our employees are smiling and our clients are smiling, you don't have to worry about the bottom line. It takes care of itself.
- Most important professional lesson: If you take care of people, they'll take care of you. Or, everything you do in life comes back to you 10-fold, good or bad.
- Advice to aspiring leaders: Make sure you give your employees enough recognition. I think people are most companies' biggest assets. If you have a constant turnover, it really drains a business. Whether you're in football or business or government ⊃ don't treat your employees like numbers.
- Unfulfilled dream: I would one day like to go up in a fighter jet and have some person just take me on a ride. I used to be a pilot, but the airplanes I flew had propellers and they didn't go very fast. I've always wanted just one time to get in one of those fighter jets and just take a ride. That would be awesome because of the force. Another dream would be someday if we get five or six locations to get a company jet and fly it.
About his company:
Quick Solutions Inc.
9000 Antares Ave., Columbus
Employees: 240 consultants; 31 corporate
Annual revenues: $18 million to $19 million
Line of business: Information technology consulting
Bob Tavenner's money is on customer service and customer awareness.
That's how the Value City Department Stores vice president of loss prevention teaches employees of his 97 stores to handle issues such as counterfeit currency.
"Stores that do a good job of servicing the customer, the bad guys don't have a chance. They don't want the question, 'Can I help you?' because they don't want to be recognized or you to remember who they are," he explains.
In his 11 years with Value City, Tavenner says the passing of counterfeit money has never posed a major problem, but there are occasions when the company opts to take the transaction and eat the loss rather than embarrass a customer.
Employees must be familiar with genuine money-such as the watermarks and security threads on the new $20, $50 and $100 bills-to identify counterfeit bills. Mark Sullivan, the Secret Service's Columbus resident agent in charge, says genuine money has a lifelike portrait that stands out distinctively; the Treasury seal and serial numbers printed clearly and uniformly in the same ink; and tiny red and blue fibers imbedded in, rather than printed on, the paper.
Sullivan adds that employees should be careful when attempting to get information to share with police or the Secret Service that would identify the person passing questionable bills.
"They should remember it's only paper and it's not worth getting hurt over," he says.
The Secret Service offers free training classes on the issue for groups of 35 to 40. For information, call 469-7370.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 5, Frank Simonetti spoke with the managers at his Pickerington Damons as they closed the restaurant for the evening.
About an hour and a half later, fire broke out in the kitchen, destroying equipment and sending smoke and soot throughout the rest of the building.
Early estimates indicated damages at more than $300,000 and Simonetti was making arrangements in mid-February with insurance adjustors to cover the loss while he waited for investigators to determine the cause of the fire.
The good news is well have a new look when we reopen, Simonetti says in his typical optimistic style. It will be lighter and brighter with new carpeting and new walls.
Meanwhile, hes been finding jobs for his employees by filling positions at his other Damons franchise, at Franks Diner and at additional Damons restaurants in the area.
Other restaurants have offered to take them. The employee shortage being what it is, theyre thrilled to death, Simonetti says. My concern is that they come back. They say they will.
Simonetti is trying to have the restaurant reopened some time in April.
All Brian Hess needed was a little encouragement. Hed already heard the negatives from people who said his idea for a wireless security system wouldnt fly. That was until he met Gary W. James, president of Dynalab Inc. in Reynoldsburg
Through networking, Hess learned about James, who founded Dynalab, an electronics manufacturing company in Reynoldsburg 26 years ago. James knowledge of assembly and electronics might help, Hess heard.
So Hess piqued James interest with his idea and shared his desire to take his alarm system to market within three months.
He said, You probably could do that, Hess remembers. He doesnt realize it, but he empowered me with his opinion. Little did he know it took $700,000 and three years later, but the way he told me it was power. People go to someone for advice because they respect them. That person has the power to do them in or make them great.
James ended up not only helping Hess think through the possible pitfalls of his invention, but he became an investor, too. That was in 1995. Today, Hess Tattle Tale Portable Alarm Systems Inc. has sold more than 100 units, and Hess is seeking more forms of distribution.
James has opened the door to many entrepreneurs like Hess. In fact, hes a board member of the Business Technology Center, which serves as an incubator for more than a dozen start-up technology companies.
Perhaps its James own entrepreneurial experience that taught him to leave doors open. He founded Dynalab in 1973, two years after he graduated from college. When he sold the company five years later, he didnt close the door on the relationships he built there even after he left to start another company, G.W. James & Associates. Good thing. For in the mid-80s, when Dynalab was sold again and that company went under, James was in a position to regain control of the Dynalab name.
James has since grown Dynalab to 135 employees and $16 million in annual revenues with big-name customers such as ABB, Harley Davidson, TWA and Maytag. Still, this 1988 Entrepreneur of the Year award recipient continues to look for more opportunities.
We literally could be a $50 million company in five years if things go right, he says.
To reach that goal, James knows Dynalab will need additional management direction and leadership.
Im not sure Im that person, he says, confessing he would rather be working on manufacturing and mechanical aspects of the business than on people issues.
We need a strong CEO/manager that can pull a lot of this together.
James has already shifted responsibilities such as purchasing, quality control and materials and engineering management to others, a task of letting go that has brought him a personal struggle.
Its frustrating because people dont, obviously, do things the way I would, he says. That doesnt mean its wrong. Its just difficult to sit back and bite your tongue. Its very necessary to let people spread their wings and learn to grow.
James says he hopes his role will turn to long-range planning, following trends and plotting a general course for the company while letting his management team sweat the details.
If it works, this arrangement will allow James to continue pursuing other activities. Already, hes secretary of the board of trustees of Franklin University, where he was named 1988 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year; a member of the Reynoldsburg Community Improvement Corp.; a member of Gahanna Kiwanis; a member of the board of advisers at Shepherd Church of Nazarene in Gahanna; and a member of Columbus Flight Watch, a nonprofit organization that keeps an eye on changes affecting local pilots like himself. As if thats not enough, James is also making plans to volunteer for Junior Achievement.
Another door James is leaving open: politics.
I could get up on a desk and rant and rave for an hour for what the government is doing to us, he says. He specifically slams tax laws that repress small business and politicians who, he argues, dont hold themselves to the same standards of ethics and the same policies they set for their constituents.
There may be a time when I do it, he says of a move into politics. I guess Im afraid of being sucked in and labeled along with a group I have such disdain for.
Meanwhile, he says, hes adjusting to a new phase in his business life, one that progresses from an entrepreneurial to a professional mode. Hes taken lessons from two former co-workers he calls mentors: Joe DeHays, who worked at Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., formerly known as the Fisher Body plant, in West Columbus; and Robert Davis, who owned a Lancaster company called Fairfield Screw Products. Both men passed away in the last several years, leaving James to rethink his own role.
It helps make way for doing more mentoring of your own, he says. When youre in the shadow of your mentors, you hold back on doing that. When theyre gone, you realize youve got a stronger challenge to pass on what you are.
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for SBN.
The door to Lane Bryant stores often opens through cyberspace.
While the plus-size womens fashion retailer doesnt sell any merchandise on its Web site, www.lanebryant.com, the site still generates sales.
Through the initiatives of getting customers in with sale announcements and coupons, weve been able to, through those net sales, pay for the Web, says Jennifer Campbell, Lane Bryants marketing director. The creative development, updating and overhauls have basically paid for themselves, which is terrific.
In December alone, the site generated $40,000 in net sales, she says. Since the site started in March 1997, Lane Bryant has netted more than $1 million from Web visitors, judging from the Internet-generated coupons used. Campbell points out that figure doesnt take into account customers who come into the store prompted by the Web site even without a coupon. The site boasts an average of 90,000 hits a month, up from 1,000 its first few months in cyberspace.
Lane Bryant, a Reynoldsburg-based division of The Limited, chose MC2 to develop the site because MC2 is local and allows Lane Bryant to update the site regularly with ease. In addition, MC2 has a strategic alliance with SBC Advertising, giving Lane Bryant an added benefit of marketing services rather than simply the Web site development.
Based on the immediate and positive response to the initial site, Campbell says it was obvious the Web could provide a new avenue for the company to draw customers.
Heres how the site accomplishes that goal:
- A fashion tour leads the customer through the essentials of any given season, offering a feel for the merchandise available.
- A section called Fashion Consultant allows the customer to choose from the spring lines to see what outfits are appropriate, in various combinations, for work, casual or evening wear.
- This spring, Lane Bryant added the capability for the customer to make a shopping list from the items shes chosen. Thats a tool for the [sales] associate to help them quickly find that merchandise, Campbell says.
- An optional customer survey on the site comes with a benefit: a coupon for 15 percent off any purchase at the store. Not only does this bring customers in, it provides Lane Bryant with information from consumers for future promotions.
- To keep the site as current as possible, Lane Bryant updates it often. We show current sales and hot programs, Campbell says. The customer knows pretty much on a weekly basis what were about in the store.
The Web site, Campbell points out, has also given Lane Bryant a much-needed branding vehicle.
Were not on national television, so its certainly someplace to bring our brand to life for customers who know us and love us, and for customers who arent familiar with the Lane Bryant brand today and have probably a misconception of the brand based on the experience of their mothers shopping there, she says. The Web is a great vehicle for us to chop down those misconceptions.
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is a reporter for SBN Columbus.
Keep em coming back
Its all about relationships.
Brock Poling, president of MC2, the company that developed Lane Bryants Web site, says the site is a success because it helps Lane Bryant build relationships with its customers. One way it accomplishes this is through forums providing customers the opportunity to discuss fashion and other common issues.
They feel friendship toward each other and a positive correlation between that and Lane Bryants brand, Poling says. The forums are a place they return to, in some cases daily, so theyre getting a daily dosage of the brand.
Give them some reason to participate with your site. Thats the kind of thing that keeps them coming back to retail.
Building a brand and doing commerce on the Web are two completely different approaches, Poling points out.
Lane Bryant has a magazine-quality format thats big, designed nice, with a lot of interesting bells and whistles on it. That works great to deliver a positive, fun brand message. If youre doing commerce online, the site still can be very appealing but it needs to be much more utilitarian, Poling says. I think a retailer trying to do commerce needs a completely different Web site than a retailer thats trying to drive traffic into their stores.
Dont forget, Poling suggests, that just as the Web site brings customers into the store, the store must give customers reasons to visit the Web site.
Retailers should make suggestions: Check out our Web site for 10 tips on looking great this season. In addition, they should promote the Web site by telling customers about it through credit card stuffers or post card mailers, for example.
Many times you go somewhere [and] you see the URL plastered all over the place, Poling says, but you dont see the benefit of going there.
Building a multimillion dollar computer interactive and Web design company may sound like a complex task.
However, the story seems quite simple when you hear it from Wil Schroter, who founded NGDA Interactive Communications at age 19.
One thing thats always stayed with us is we can really do whatever we want to do, Schroter, now 24, says, relaying advice he recently gave to a college student inquiring about his success. We can say we might have failed at one or two things, but it wasnt because we didnt try.
When he was 18, for example, he spent his spring break seven straight days holed up in a dormitory room writing a database program for the computer sales company where he worked. The catch: he also had to spend that time learning Microsoft Access, because he didnt even know how to build the program he had promised. Later, the program was rolled out to the entire company and sold to another.
His persistence continued with the start of his own company despite loads of debt.
I dont think people realize when you first get started there is no money coming in, he says, pointing out that credit cards financed the start of NGDA and left him with a debt he refused to specify.
Id probably say a year ago we finished paying off our first computer, Schroter says. We probably paid, at the end of the day, $60,000 for that computer. Now its a coaster somewhere.
Typical of Schroter, the debt never made him hesitate in continuing his quest.
I can honestly say the whole time I knew I was building something bigger and it was OK, he says. I cant say it wasnt frightening.
Schroters constant search for more, better and bigger continues at NGDA, where the firms work, he says, is changing other industries use of marketing, technology and the Internet. He gives three examples.
- E-commerce With the assistance of NGDA, a national pharmaceutical company will, for the first time, market a drug entirely online. Its a sensitive subject, Schroter says of the drug, which treats infertility in males and is not prescription based. People want to be anonymous, so the Web site makes a lot of sense.
Not only will the Web site explain the drug, it will allow customers to place orders and keep track of dosage.
- Sales and marketing Schroter convinced another pharmaceutical company that its sales force could use a pen-based, lightweight computer when it makes calls on doctors. The computer would allow the sales representative to obtain a profile on the doctor, create a personalized sales presentation and automatically generate a follow-up letter based on the doctors reaction to the presentation. NGDA is working on a prototype for a few representatives to test before the final version is rolled out in about a year.
- Entertainment NGDA has built an online, multiplayer game, Project X, for Sega.
Such client work has built NGDA to $6.5 million in capitalized billings in 1998, a figure Schroter expects to near $30 million this year.
Meanwhile, he continues to give advice to entrepreneurs who contact him on a weekly basis.
The corporate world is always out there. You always have the opportunity to get a job, he says of someone weighing the risks of starting a business. The real opportunity is what you can build for yourself.
Did your star sales representative really attend a training seminar while traveling in San Diego last month?
Ohio voters think you might be wise to question that expense report.
Nearly three-quarters of 500 registered voters polled in a survey earlier this year agreed with the statement, Most employees at one point or another cheat on their expense accounts.
When Opinion Strategies Inc., a downtown Columbus market research and communications consulting firm, conducted the poll, only 12 percent disagreed with that statement. Perhaps not wanting to self-implicate, 14 percent offered no opinion on the matter.
Survey respondents also indicated reserved assessments of their employers compassion and honesty [see related charts].
The workplace, in general, received mixed reviews, as 59 percent of those surveyed reported they are satisfied in their current jobs. Another 29 percent said they are very satisfied, while 12 percent indicated theyre not at all satisfied.
When it came to equality in the workplace, 63 percent of respondents agreed that women have made great progress in being treated equally with their male counterparts in the workplace. On the issue of African-Americans, however, voters apparently perceived less progress, as 43 percent agreed that most are still not treated fairly in the workplace. Thirty-nine percent disagreed with that statement, while 18 percent offered no opinion.
Gail Baker, executive director of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association, where Mitchell serves as chairman of the board
He has brought the most amazing energy to the association. ... He has personally made a huge difference in the way that other restaurant industry people support our political action committee. ...
Hes recognized as a leader within the industry, and I think a lot of people became more interested in actively participating in the association through his leadership. ... During his presidency we experienced a 25 percent increase in membership.
It takes a lot of time to be the president of the association as well as CEO of his company. ... To put forth that kind of a commitment in a volunteer position while he was opening several new restaurants is just a tremendous commitment to the industry.
Tom Etgen, CEO of The FiftyFive Restaurant Group Ltd., where Mitchell worked before starting his own company
I think more than anything else hes a visionary with regard to what appeals to his market. ... What Cameron does is he does a great job of connecting with his customers, providing them food, environment and an atmosphere that they want or they desire.
Camerons 35. Hes very in tune to the market in approximately that age bracket because he grew up in it. Then he combines that with his formal culinary training and his God-given abilities of being a promoter. Its a great combination.
Bruce Burkholder, one of Mitchells investors and his attorney through Wiles, Boyle, Burkholder & Bringardner Co. LPA
Needless to say, hes a very dynamic individual. But hes also got excellent focus and direction. ...
While hes a very charismatic individual, hes a fairly demanding guy. Not in the sense of being difficult, but he lets you know what he expects and has levels of accountability associated with that. ...
Todays day and age takes more than good food and good service to be successful in the restaurant business. Youve also got to create an atmosphere of excitement, which he does in his restaurants. That encourages me that he could create something that would continue to grow.
Sally Jackson, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, who nominated Mitchell for the SBA award
The growth in terms of the number and diversity of restaurants he has opened successfully is really unprecedented in this whole community. Because of that, he has been able to move from a start-up to a major employer. ...
Theres no question he has a special focus on his employees. ... He uses a team approach so people understand the total objectives of the restaurants and how they fit in as a member of the team, not just in individual roles. As a result, the service is smooth, the quality is high, and customers go away satisfied.
... Through the success he has been able to demonstrate, we know he has been able to influence other entrepreneurs.
Michael Bloch, owner and president of Michaels Finer Meats and Seafood, a supplier and friend of Mitchells
Hes a good people person. Hes got a lot of vision. Hes able to conceptualize what he wants a place to look like, and hes not afraid to try new ideas. He travels around to get ideas from successful operations around the country. He sticks to quality, quality, quality. He will not sacrifice quality for price. And I also think he surrounds himself with good people. His support staff is outstanding. He treats them well, and theyre loyal to him.
In my opinion, he has boundless energy. Hes young, energetic and full of great ideas.
Sue Doody, owner of Lindeys and a partner in Bravo!, two local Mitchell restaurant competitors
Hes gone out and gotten local people behind him as investors. I think thats a good thing for him because hardly anybody could afford to put up all these restaurants that hes done without some financial backing. I think its interesting, too, that hes kind of gone like Rich Mellman, a famous restaurateur in Chicago, and hes done different concepts. Thats a difficult thing to pull off, but hes done it quite well.
I think his success is attributed to his researching his food, too. He does the same thing we do in traveling to the finer restaurants across the country trying to search out good items and see what the trends are.
When I first started Lindeys 19 years ago, I didnt have any competition, so its a whole different ballpark. It makes it harder on everybody to have all this competition, but we like to feel competition breeds success. The more good restaurants there are, the more people will dine out.