Todd Shryock

Friday, 30 January 2004 07:50

Streamlined approach

From a business perspective, Parker Hannifin is blessed to have more than 400,000 customers, 105 divisions that operate as separate business units and thousands of distributors across the globe.

From a technology perspective, it might look more like a curse.

How do you tie together more than 600,000 parts and 8,600 distributors scattered around the world in a way that will make it easier for almost half a million customers to do business with you?

"There were a lot of manufacturers scrambling to do some sort of electronic transactions with their customers at the time we started this (in 1998), but because of our history with other technology, we had a more mature attitude of what we could and couldn't get from it," says Bill Eline, Parker Hannifin's CIO. "We approached it from the strategy of, how do we take emerging technologies and raise the bar on our current capabilities to the next level?

"And it needed to be a level that everyone could participate in. If you don't hit the sweet spot and the technology is not something everyone can use, then it has no value."

The company's old Web site was a navigation nightmare for its customers. Its organization mirrored that of the company, which made sense to Parker employees but not to a distributor in Denver. Each of Parker's business groups has several divisions, each with its own specialty. Some parts were sold by multiple divisions and some were not.

"Our supply chain is really complicated," says Lorrie Crum, Parker Hannifin's vice president of corporate communications. "We might have a customer who is dealing with two or three groups, and within those groups, six or seven divisions, and for each of the groups, maybe five different distributors. They don't care that the part they need comes from our gear pump division in Minneapolis.

"In the past, they had to navigate the organizational structure. You had to know which group and which division made the part."

Because the products Parker sells are not plug-and-play, a high degree of expertise is often needed on-site, which is why the company has 8,600 distributors worldwide.

"That complexity means lots of challenges, but also opportunities for growth," says Crum. "We don't want to just sell parts, but engineered systems and customized configurable pieces. We were well-regarded by our suppliers, but they said we were just about impossible to deal with.

"They wanted one invoice, one place to go to manage multiple orders, and wanted everything put in one box called one order rather than worrying about each division that has ownership of something in that box."

The focus at Parker needed to change from an inside-out view to outside-in. Structuring a Web site based on the organization of the company didn't make sense to customers, so Parker set out to make it easier for customers to do business with it.

"I think it's that simple," says Eline. "And it's not just our customers, but all of our business partners and our suppliers. We are trying to reduce costs of doing business with one another."

The solution was to consolidate everything from the divisions into one master catalog, add in all the functionality customers were asking for such as online order management and engineering collaboration, and do it in a way that made it easy for customers to find what they were looking for.

The transition was eased by the fact that Parker management more than a decade ago had put everyone on compatible IT systems. They weren't all the same, but they worked and were already tied into the back office systems such as receivables.

The company's previous commitment to e-business also allowed it to do more of a slow turn rather than a complete 180.

"We didn't just wake up one day and decide to do e-business," says Lorri Schmidt, Parker's director of e-business. "We have been doing it for more than 10 years, either through a mainframe or dial-up with our divisions. We had been doing business electronically with our OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and distributors for some time. The Internet was just the next logical migration.

"This initiative was top-driven. Our CEO is behind this 100 percent, and it's been pushed down from there."

Eline says customers helped drive the importance of the initiative.

"All the divisions around the world have been trying to figure out how to do this," says Eline. "The corporation came up with a format that could be supported uniformly throughout the organization. There wasn't a lot of resistance from our employees because we have customers that wanted us to do this. It's not easy, but it's straightforward, with an end goal that's been identified.

"Some didn't make it a priority the way we wanted, and others underestimated how much information they had gathered in nonelectronic formats over the years. That took longer than we hoped. But it progressed quite well for the volume of data we wanted to organize across the company and present to the world."

The undertaking was monumental.

"It required every one of our divisions to input into the Parker master catalog database the part numbers and descriptive words a customer might use to search for it," says Crum.

Some parts had the same numbers, and items that were sold by multiple divisions could now only be credited to one. As the company monitored usage, additional search terms were added to match customer requests.

Customers can check order status, configure a custom part online, obtain detailed engineering information and check their order history. Search functions have been optimized so distributors can use very specific attributes, such as pressure rating, to find the part they need for a particular application.

Parker also has a secure way to communicate with trading partners and apply differentiated pricing. When a distributor logs in, it sees its prices, not just a generic price before a discount is applied. It also only sees the products it is authorized to sell.

"Everything is there for everybody," says Crum. "The engineers can log in with them and can say, 'You need to add this,' or 'You have the wrong piece for your application.' It provides an important forum with us to interface with them, and they have an easier time doing business with us."

Eline credits the success of the project to the backing of senior management and a global approach.

"Sometimes what we tried wasn't right, but we got the total backing from our senior executives," says Eline. "This was something that had their day-to-day understanding and support, and it still does. The other key was doing a global deployment. In the past, we would try something here or there to try to figure it out, and then roll it out. Well, it never rolls out because it gets stuck somewhere."

Parker continues to add to the data and functionality of the site.

The more information that's included, the fewer phone calls that are made. Not counting order-taking, the site handles 300,000 hits per month from customers checking payables, searching the catalog or performing other data retrieval. That's 300,000 phone calls that are avoided, and the system is only currently implemented in 64 of 105 divisions.

"Any way we keep a customer from inefficiently contacting us for information is a win for us and a win for them," says Eline. "If we pass on a signal to reorder from a supplier and do it through our portal to their system with no human interaction, that's a win for the system." How to reach: Parker Hannifin, www.parker.com

Wednesday, 17 December 2003 06:59

Local connections

FirstMerit Bank has more than $10 billion in assets and 157 offices, which doesn't exactly conjure images of a small community bank.

But FirstMerit is applying a strategy of being a "super community" bank, attempting to give customers the small-bank feel while providing the same services the big banks do.

FirstMerit is a big company trying to stay small. It is divided into seven regions, each headed by a regional CEO with a regional board of advisers.

"We have boards in each of our regions made up of local folks in the community, both business and community leaders," says Bob Brecht, senior executive vice president for FirstMerit, who oversees all seven regions. "They advise the local CEO of what's going on in the community and help us understand the needs of the community and the needs of the customers in the community. We use it as a sounding board for ideas we are looking to implement.

"The board also helps bring us new customers. The board members are active in the community and run into people that have banking needs. They can make introductions and help us in our business development."

Each board has between six and 12 members, made up of a cross section of the community. Members range from small business owners to leaders of nonprofit agencies.

"We find that even though our bank is in a fairly tight footprint of Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, there are different needs in each of those communities," says Brecht. "Akron is associated with polymers. Newcastle is associated with manufacturing. Western Ohio is more agricultural and small towns. The boards help us understand what the needs are in each of the communities."

Community boards have been a part of FirstMerit since 1994. As it acquired smaller community banks, rather than disbanding the boards that were in place, it kept them.

The bank has now added the position of community executive to further its local ties in areas of high growth potential.

"In the Akron region, the CEO of that region is headquartered in downtown Akron," says Brecht. "If we see an opportunity to grow in Portage County, is that something a CEO from downtown Akron can do a good job at, or should we get someone local in the community?"

FirstMerit chose the latter, promoting Kevin Patrick to the position of community executive for Portage County.

"He lives in Kent and grew up in the community and knows the people there," says Brecht. "Certainly his focus is on Portage County, where the president of the Akron region is focused on a larger territory. Kevin's business plan is centered only on Portage County."

The idea is to provide a point person in a growing community. With someone visible within the community, he or she can provide answers and make connections within the bank to provide the right services.

"He's someone you know and knows you," says Brecht. "They don't have to call a 1-800 number or Chicago or some other place, they just call Kevin. He can go out and bring in any specialist. If they only need a banker, then Kevin is their banker.

"For FirstMerit, this is our model for banking. We have to be in the community and understand what the needs are. For customers, what makes it nice is we have the Internet and technology, but our customers like dealing with people they know when they have a problem.

"By having Kevin available in Portage County, any problem can be solved by getting ahold of Kevin. If he can't solve it himself, he knows who to go to." How to reach: FirstMerit, (330) 996-6025

Eat and add

A survey by Robert Half Management Resources shows that CFOs work through lunch a minimum of three days per week.

"Working through lunch is increasingly common for executives faced with greater responsibilities that must be managed with fewer resources," says Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

But McDonald points out that there are several business advantages of taking a midday time out.

* Business development. In a previous survey, nearly half of CFOs polled said their most successful business meeting outside the office was conducted over a meal.

* Networking. Touching base with peers should not be limited to after-work events or conferences. Schedule time for lunch appointments with colleagues and others in your industry to share ideas and best practices.

* Workplace productivity. While it's common to skip lunch during crunch times, making it a regular habit can decrease productivity over the long term. When stopping for lunch is not feasible, take short breaks throughout the day to recharge.

* A new attitude. A change of scenery can spur new ideas and give you a fresh perspective on current business challenges.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003 06:55

Turn the page

Like many companies, the law firm of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis found itself with an outdated Web page that wasn't meeting the needs of its clients or its employees.

"There were a lot of problems with the old site," says Tanya Tybur, marketing director for the firm. "The previous version was several years old. It had served its purpose, but the static HTML pages had outlived their usefulness. As the site grew, the static pages became time-consuming and costly to maintain.

"There were big, clunky graphics, outdated technologies like spinning logos and an outdated design that didn't match our image. Both our internal and external customers mentioned the problems with the site."

The time had come for a major overhaul.

"A lot of people throughout the firm recognized it was something that needed updating," says Tybur. "Especially as we updated our other marketing pieces, it became blatantly obvious."

The demands on the site were more complex. No longer could it just be a brochure for potential prospects. Customers needed access to account information, the HR department wanted job postings listed, partners wanted to use the site as an educational resource for clients and marketing needed to update the site on a regular basis to keep people coming back.

The first step was to form a committee to oversee site development.

"We had people in charge with the power to OK or veto things," says Tybur. "We had a good cross section of the organization to work on the projects to make sure everyone was on board and that their needs were being covered."

The committee decided to keep the project in-house to maintain maximum control and to make sure all needs were being addressed.

"The only portion that was outsourced was the design for the look and feel of the site," says Tybur. "We went to a Web design company to come up with a template look for the home page and one or two other pages. Once that was done, the IT department was able to build the rest of it and customize it based on our plan."

The completed site is maintained in-house; HR handles the employment section and marketing handles the rest.

"One of the advantages of doing this in-house was we were able to harness the efforts of the people who built the site to do other projects," says Tybur. "They built us a tool for site maintenance so we can make our own changes."

The tool helps everyone work together to keep the site updated.

"We wanted to be able to keep the content fresh and give the ability to our individual departments to go into and maintain the content for each category and subcategory," says Daniel Spencer, Web administrator for the firm.

Keeping it in-house also allowed team members to focus on getting everything exactly the way they wanted it without worrying about hourly charges or cost overruns.

"It did take longer than we thought," says Tybur. "From initial planning to completion took about a year. But we are going to be continuing to work on making the site better. Everyone manages the site, because it can't be left alone.

"We have to find ways to make it more sticky to get people to keep coming back. We have to find new ways to meet the needs of the people we are serving. We will continue to meet about new initiatives." How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., (216) 685-1000 or www.weltman.com


Overhaul checklist

The law firm of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis overhauled its Web site to better meet the needs of prospective clients, existing customers and employees. After a year's work, the new site is finished.

Here are some tips it learned during the process.

* Assemble a good team from throughout the company. "Having people on the team that have some artistic ability that can recognize a good design helps," says Tanya Tybur, the firm's marketing director.

* Get authority. A team or committee with no decision-making power wastes time. Either get authority for the team or make sure there is a decision-maker on it to streamline approval processes.

* Choose your help carefully. "If you outsource the artistic design of your site, do it to a firm that is Internet-savvy," says Tybur. "We initially looked at some designers who weren't, but in retrospect, that would have been a poor decision to choose them."

* Consider staying in-house. If you have the personnel to accomplish the mission, consider doing it yourself. No one knows what you need more than the people who work for your company.

* Build extra time into your timeline for site testing. You don't want to launch a nonfunctioning or content-poor site. Also, remember that not everyone uses the same Internet browser. Make sure your site works well with all browsers and platforms.

Thursday, 20 November 2003 11:34

Community commitment

Fifth Third Bank provided more than $2 million in foundation grants, local donations and in-kind donations to Northeastern Ohio in 2002.

That's a strong commitment from an organization headquartered in Cincinnati, with a 5 percent local market share.

"Fundamentally and from an overall corporate perspective, we are big believers in supporting the communities in which we live and work," says Robert King Jr., the bank's president and CEO. "As we came to Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio market, it became evident that the one thing that was important was to participate and support the market, so we began looking for opportunities to do just that."

Fifth Third focuses its philanthropy on youth and education.

"We drive all of our charitable giving locally," says King. "It might formally get approved at the corporate level, but if we recommend it, it gets done. The vast majority of our involvement is locally driven, and all decisions are made locally. Suffice it to say that our operating model drives the process on the local level. For it to be effective, it has to be that way."

The bank also tries to touch on a broad spectrum of causes, ranging from in-school banking programs to corporate sponsorships of the Cleveland arts.

"Rarely do I see an approach for money that does not represent a worthy cause," says King. "A lot of people in the bank are involved in different organizations, and we try to support them. Our customers are involved in organizations and there are organizations that are our customers that merit our support. Having a broad reach is important, but there is a place for focusing larger levels of support where there can be a high degree of impact as well."

King credits Fifth Third's employees' commitment to volunteerism with the success of many of the bank's programs.

"I like to think that we lead and they follow," says King "We find out that a lot of people in the organization have been touched by these agencies we help. A lot have volunteered for that reason. We can't compel them to volunteer their time, so we try to create reasons to get involved.

"Hopefully, they realize that it is appropriate to give back to the community and find it gratifying to do so." How to reach: Fifth Third Bank, (216) 274-5400

Thursday, 23 October 2003 11:17

Passing grades

Entering grades, calculating final scores and tabulating attendance are tedious jobs for teachers.

Paul Chaffee has changed all that.

Chaffee, president of Akron-based Software Answers Inc., created Progress Book to help teachers better manage their time and data.

"It's a Web-based grade book system and lesson plan system for K-12 teachers to use," says Chaffee. "Parents can be allowed to access the system, too. The teacher uses it just like a grade book to put in assignments, grade homework and track attendance. Everything gets recorded and calculated."

The software was designed to plug into the computer system that is used by 70 percent of the school districts in the state.

"When a school district has scheduled all its students in the system, our system automatically populates the students in the classes," says Chaffee. "It also enables the school district to do the daily attendance, and it goes right into the main system. It tries to eliminate the duplication of work."

Chaffee's understanding of how the schools' computer systems work and how the program should interface comes from his prior work for several years with the Cleveland Public Schools.

"It gave us an understanding of how the system was set up and allowed us to understand the needs and opportunities that were there," says Chaffee.

The company is adding features and piloting a special education project. All state-required forms for special ed students will be filled out and maintained on the computer. It is also working on making it easier for teachers and administrators to share lesson plans and curriculum with other districts.

"What we're trying to do is give them a vehicle where, as they enter in the lesson plan data, it will be made available for all teachers to use," says Chaffee. "Since we're becoming the standard grade book program in Ohio (the company has its program in 15 of 23 centralized school computer sites in the state), it puts us right at the teachers' fingertips.

"We understand how Ohio is set up and what the schools need. The direct integration with the backend systems has really given us a competitive advantage. It's been a lot of work, but we really do enjoy working with the schools." How to reach: Software Answers Inc., (330) 665-9007

Monday, 22 September 2003 11:46

Safety check

Debbie Billings, president of Streetsboro-based Delta Systems, a manufacturer of electronic controls and switches, knew she needed to call in outside help to determine how secure the company's information systems were.

"My business is to know our lines, our customers and our vendors," says Billings. "It is not my business to be a software or security expert. I can't bring in new staff full time just to deal with those issues."

So Billings started searching for a company to assess Delta's vulnerability.

"We had just gone through and upgraded our computer systems," says Billings. "From a technical standpoint, I was pretty pleased with the information we were getting, but one of the areas I read and learned more about was the importance of knowing our information was safe from viruses or someone getting into our system and destroying information.

"Learning how vulnerable we were was my concern. I needed to know if it was possible to hurt Delta through our information systems."

Billings chose VigilantMinds, a firm that specializes in network security.

"We did an interview with them and they explained the process," says Billings. "After meeting with me, they met with my staff from the I.S. department. After the meetings, it was apparent they were extremely knowledgeable.

"They came in and spent three days here doing assessments. They basically tried to hack our system and discover areas of vulnerabilities. Two weeks later, they presented us with an impressive report. It showed where our problems were and what needed to be done. I was pleased that 90 percent of the problems could be handled internally.

"My fear was I would get a report that would show all the problems and that (VigilantMinds) would be the only ones who could fix it. But they've been very helpful in giving us guidance about how to fix the problems. There were no significant areas to be concerned about."

Like many companies, Delta Systems proved to be fairly secure from external breaches but was more vulnerable from internal ones.

"The things internally were things like making sure certain information was secure from other departments," says Billings. "Some of those types of things surprised me that they weren't secure, while other areas surprised me that they were extremely secure."

Once the report was made, Delta's I.S. staff put together a list of recommendations outlining suggested solutions and pinpointing which could be handled in-house and which would require additional assistance from VigilantMinds.

"We have completed the ones that put us at the most risk and have a plan in place to finish up the rest," says Billings.

Although the test didn't reveal any major security issues, Billings says it's important to be wary.

"I think at the speed technology is improving today, I would just be negligent if I don't come back in a couple years and test our systems again," says Billings. "We were only testing the capabilities that are out there today. If I don't do something to test our security in two years, then shame on me.

"My only advice to other businesses is don't just think about it, do something about it. Things happen where you aren't looking." How to reach: Delta Systems, (330) 626-2811; VigilantMinds, (216) 937-5151

Monday, 22 September 2003 11:43

Finding the money

When Richard Seaman needed to add a $7 million, 19,000-square-foot expansion to his Wooster plant, he called officials from the Ohio Department of Development for help.

The president and CEO of Wooster-based Seaman Corp., a manufacturer of industrial fabrics, had worked with the state before in 1986 when he was forced to choose between expanding at an Ohio location or the Seaman plant in Tennessee.

The same question came about this time.

"We could have done the expansion in Tennessee or at the Wooster plant," says Seaman. "I think what worked well for us was that we had a track record with the state. The company has grown since that time, promoting both job growth and retention.

"With this expansion, approximately 50 jobs will be retained here and approximately 30 will be added over the next three years."

The state of Ohio is interested in both job retention and creation. The more jobs you keep or create, the more state aid that is likely to be available. Here are Seaman's keys to working with the state to obtain funding.

* Start locally. "It is important as you start the process to work through local regional development people, whether it's a separate organization or city officials, to be sure they understand what you are trying to do and what impact it will have locally," says Seaman. "That way, when you get to the state level, you are sure that you have a lot of support from development and government organizations."

* Take it to the top. "Don't strictly rely on the local development people or organizations to carry the ball to the state level," says Seaman. "You have to be very involved and persistent in contacting and working with officials at the state level of the department of development."

* Be persistent. "Follow-through is very important so that you understand how your request is being processed and you understand what the state's parameters are for offering incentive programs," says Seaman.

"For the most part, you are not going to get free handouts or grants. Essentially, what they offer you is funding sources that are long-term and generally at fixed rates that will help solidify the predictability of what your funding costs are going to be in the future. It will help minimize the financial costs, and not only are these incentive programs better than conventional banking, but if the state provides you with incentive financing, it will preserve your normal capacity of lines of credit."

Seaman says it is important to play an active role in obtaining funding from the state. Learn about the investment packages available and the requirements of each. Without the state's assistance, Seaman says he either would not have done the expansion or done it at the company's Tennessee plant.

"What I wanted to do is find a way to mitigate the financial risk -- not eliminate it, just mitigate it," says Seaman. "I would have been able to get bank financing. However, it would have been for a shorter term at an interest rate that might have been fixed for a few years. The state funding essentially assured me what my 10 to 15 year cash flow requirements would be and fixed them.

"If you have a need for capital and are either preserving or increasing jobs, and have a business with a track record of success and growth, then don't hesitate to go to the state to try to get funding. Both in 1986 and our most recent expansion, they have been very responsive." How to reach: Seaman Corp., (330) 262-1111


Package deal

Seaman Corp. was able to work with the Ohio Department of Development to fund 65 percent of a $7 million expansion with long-term, low-interest, fixed-rate loans.

Those arrangements included:

* A taxable bond issue of up to $3.2 million through the Ohio Enterprise Bond Fund, to be paid back to the state over the next 15 years at 7.3 percent interest.

* A $1.1 million low-interest loan, at 3.25 percent, arranged through the Ohio Department of Development's 166 Direct Loan Program.

* A $375,000 loan at 4.25 percent, a 166 Regional Loan arranged through the Akron Region of the Ohio Department of Development.

Richard Seaman, president and CEO of Seaman Corp., emphasizes taking an active role in the process to make sure you understand the parameters of each vehicle to maximize your funding.

For example, the company was originally supposed to receive a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the federal government, administered through the state to the local community. The money is a boon for the community, because the loan is paid back directly to the community, which can then reloan the money to other growth development opportunities.

"Unfortunately, Wooster was not timely in the application to the state for this, and the grant ended up getting denied because of their not being timely. As a result of that, the local community people became very aggressive in getting a Regional 166 Loan to replace that," Seaman says.

"It's very important if you are going to ask the state for incentive financing support to become very knowledgeable about the programs available and what the requirements are."

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 13:07

Team effort

Many companies want their employees to take ownership, but Solon-based CardPak has found a way to actually make it happen.

"I think one innovative thing we do is our approach with the employees," says Lisa Thomas, COO and co-owner of the packaging company. "We are creating an environment where we don't really have a demarcation between positions. It's more like how they are one important piece in a bigger puzzle. Gain sharing is a piece of that.

"We open up the financials of the business and are open book so everyone has the same information in a timely fashion."

CardPak analyzed all the measurable numbers throughout the business that can be affected by employees. An average is calculated, and anything that comes in above average generates rewards for employees.

"We have a weekly meeting with every department where we go through a whole laundry list of measures," says Richard Thomas, CEO and co-owner. "We go over things in that particular department that are measured, the company's plans, its profitability and all the things you would want to know. There is an enormous amount of information that they can control.

"It literally makes all employees participants in the process."

Employees are given the information because it shows them how what they do affects the entire operation.

"They're not only understanding their part, but understanding the cause and effect when they are passing on their part to someone else," says Lisa Thomas.

Employees are motivated because they don't want to be the one to bring bad news to the meetings or the one who has to admit he or she was the reason goals weren't met.

This type of empowerment has let the company offer exceptional turnaround times. For example, the industry average turnaround time for combination runs is three to four weeks. CardPak can do it in four days, guaranteed.

"What we ask people to do is unusual," says Richard Thomas. "By sharing the information on why we are doing better and what we have to do to keep getting better, they are a willing partner in the process. You can't just legislate that you are going to be the fastest.

"This is how you translate theory into practice. This is the way you translate innovation into practice." How to reach: CardPak, (440) 542-3100

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 12:07

Shining through

Aluminum wheels are a popular choice for commercial trucks and buses because they are lightweight, which saves on fuel costs, and durable.

The problem was that keeping them shiny required a lot of polishing. The coatings used in personal vehicles could not stand up to the punishment a commercial vehicle takes. For example, a personal vehicle might travel 75,000 miles during a five- or six-year period; a commercial vehicle might travel 75,000 miles every four to six months.

"We wanted to find a way to have a wheel in the truck market that keeps its bright, shiny appearance," says Mark Holtz, marketing manager, commercial vehicle wheels and accessories, for Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products. "We knew the product we put on light duty vehicles just wouldn't hold up in a commercial vehicle. We knew we needed to develop something unique and different.

"There was nothing out there that offered anything good enough for commercial use. We needed to innovate and come up with something that didn't exist."

The resulting product is the Dura-Bright surface treatment, which eliminates the need for polishing and protects against corrosion, enabling wheels to be cleaned with a spray of soap and water.

Engineers and technicians at Alcoa's Cleveland facility worked in tandem with the company's technical center near Pittsburgh to perfect the treatment over several years. The first commercial use was on a transit bus fleet in Pittsburgh in late 1999.

From there, sales doubled each year through 2001, primarily within the transit bus market, until a 300 percent increase in sales in 2002 when the product became available for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Following the installation of an additional production line to handle demand, 2003 sales are projected to be triple last year's.

The Dura-Bright treatment is more than just a spray-on coating.

"It penetrates into the aluminum and becomes part of the wheel itself," says Holtz. "It keeps corrosion from underneath it and prevents chipping or peeling. That's why it is unique. That's why it is patented." How to reach: Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, (216) 641-5041 or www.dontpolish.com

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 11:55

On time delivery

Alan Robbins, president of Akron-based The Plastic Lumber Co., ran into a problem that many manufacturers face: Getting employees to show up on time for work.

With multiple shifts, it 's important that the person on the next shift be there on time so that the machine can seamlessly be handed off without disrupting the production process.

"When the person shows up 10 or 15 minutes late, it ends up being disruptive to the business," says Robbins.

When the company went through rapid growth -- going from three employees to as many as 62 -- the problem became even bigger. The result is the no-fault points program, which can be customized to emphasize the areas that are important to your company.

For Robbins, it was tardiness and attendance.

An employee might be allotted 10 minutes of tardiness for the entire week. Anything over that results in a two-point penalty. Being late an hour is five points. If someone doesn't show up, it's 15.

"At certain thresholds, we monitor it," says Robbins. "At 20 points, we physically sit down with the person and talk to them to try to understand what is going on. We explain how important it is that they come to work on time."

Sometimes there are issues outside of work that are causing the behavior, such as a terminally ill family member, but Robbins says it's often just irresponsible behavior.

"You have to think of all the human scenarios," says Robbins. "Just having a points system doesn't do everything. You have to have an assistance program and give counseling."

As points accumulate, more intervention occurs. When employees reach the 30-40 point range, they are counseled again and asked if they need outside help or something other than what is offered in the assistance program.

"At 50 points, they are gone," says Robbins. "There is no saving them. From our side, it provides a way of measuring and getting rid of unmotivated employees."

Employees with excellent attendance records earn financial bonuses.

The program has also had other benefits: The company has not lost any contested unemployment claims since it was implemented.

In the seven years the program has been in place, it has been fine-tuned a few times but has worked well for Robbins. The accountants handle the tallying of points by examining time cards to see when people punched in and out.

"That's good, because it diffuses hostile issues with the supervisor," says Robbins. "Otherwise, people might try to play favorites and not recognize points."

The system is also used as a punitive measure for employees who miss a safety meeting or face other disciplinary issues. An employee who tests positive for drug or alcohol is assessed 15 points.

"You have to decide what's important to your business and design it accordingly," says Robbins. "It has to be modeled properly. If someone decides to circumvent the system and gets away with it, that's a bad thing. If that becomes prevalent, it can blow up the whole system.

"The system is probably not for everybody. In a manufacturing environment with growth issues, it has worked very well explaining the issues of good attendance and showing up to work clean and sober. These are all paramount to running a successful business.

"We wanted to be firm but fair in resolving these problems with something that wasn't overly punitive. We had to look at how we could create a scenario that supports good behavior and protects us from bad behavior, and the no-fault program does that." How to reach: The Plastic Lumber Co., www.plasticlumber.com