Darrel Richter

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Forget face-to-face

Steve Parianos says his company saves hundreds of dollars because he's never met anybody from his Internet service provider -- including the sales rep or technician who set up the service.

Parianos is the chief technology officer at Innovative Data Solutions, an information management company for HMOs and PPOs in Ohio and surrounding states. When shopping for an Internet service provider within the past year, Parianos had no time to lose. He remembered a mailing he'd received from Fiber Network Solutions Inc. of Columbus, so he gave the company a call.

He spoke with a sales representative, visited the company's Web site and spoke with one of Fiber Network Solutions' customers. He didn't need to meet with anyone face-to-face, and he didn't want to.

"I think it was important to save time," Parianos says. "I get kind of impatient. There's definitely a time loss with getting somebody into your office. We determined over the phone what kind of services and need requirements we had for the data line and they basically set everything up."

No representative from Fiber Network Solutions visited him, and Parianos had his service set up within 20 days.

"If all these people would have had to come out here and meet with me, it would have taken a lot longer."

It also would've cost more. Innovative Data Solutions saved hundreds of dollars in the hours it would have paid for Parianos to meet with salespeople and technicians, he says.

Eric Naille, vendor services director for Fiber Network Solutions, says his company closes more than 70 percent of its sales without making any face-to-face contact with company representatives.

"The majority of the MIS directors we talk directly to are usually caught up in day-to-day activities," Naille says. "They already know what they want purchased. They don't really have time to meet. But when they're at their desks e-mailing, they have 100 percent of their attention on their e-mail."

E-mail is a valuable tool for the Fiber Network sales staff. It's been used to build good, long-standing relationships with clients by answering the questions they have, while not overloading them with more information than they want.

"I still subscribe to the fact that people do business with people; companies don't do business with companies," says Fiber Network Solutions President and CEO David Koch, whose 4-year-old company generates $40 million in annual revenue. "It's still a people-to-people relationship. We talk to them on the phone or e-mail them. These people are so busy that taking an hour-and-a-half out of their day costs them money."

The same holds true for Fiber Network Solutions. Face-to-face meetings require more time and travel for salespeople, while doing business by phone and e-mail lets them spend more time making contact with clients from the office.

That's probably why Koch says he prefers to do business that way, but he doesn't force it on clients. After all, 30 percent of Fiber Network Solutions' clientele still wants to go the traditional route and meet with a company representative.

"We do like to show our appreciation for their business and meet them, if they think [it's worth their time and money]," Koch says. "We have a Customer Call Day, where we touch base with our clients once a month and find out if there's anything we can do.

"We found that there was a benefit for doing that because the contacts have led to our customers upgrading or adding new services." How to reach: Fiber Network Solutions Inc., www.fnsi.com, 818-7070

Darrel Richter (DRichter01@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Pinching pennies

Lori Angus is always on the lookout for better business deals.

She's the sales and marketing director for Designed Lighting Concepts based in Hilliard, and when she saw advertisements for energy.com on billboards around downtown Columbus, she knew she needed to check it out. After all, the company claimed it could reduce her company's energy bills.

"When you go into the site, there is a list of all the providers available in your area. You can go to each individual one, and it will tell you what their particular cost package is," Angus says. "I went online to see if I could save money, and the differences were quite different."

Designed Lighting Concepts, which has annual revenue of $1.5 million but only two employees, spent more than $250 a month last year on its winter utility bills, Angus says. This year, she plans on paying 30 percent less by signing with Summit Natural Gas, a company she found on energy.com. Already she's seen significant savings since switching utility providers this summer. Her company's natural gas costs have dropped 11 cents per cubic foot, which means Designed Lighting is saving about $10 to $15 a month.

Utility deregulation has meant more choices for Ohio consumers. Angus says she still gets bills from Columbia Gas, but that's only because Columbia still handles the billing and provides the infrastructure -- such as pipes and meters -- to deliver the gas to her business.

"It's a great opportunity as these markets deregulate and people have more choices," says Tammy Cardoso, marketing manager for energy.com, which launched its Web site in April 1998.

Cardoso says more commercial and residential gas users are choosing marketers instead of buying directly from Columbia Gas simply because of the price savings. She says it was slow at first, because many people were uncertain about making the switch from Columbia to a marketer, but "ultimately, competition and new technology will create lower prices for customers."

Energy.com lists prices for six natural gas suppliers in Ohio, how much they charge and the benefits each offers.

Angus says when visiting energy.com it's important to know what kind of service you need because the companies list their prices in different ways.

"I took a year of gas bills and sat down and figured out the gas costs portions and what the gas prices were for the year," she says. "I had to look at somebody who had a good rate that stayed the same for the full year, because some of them had variable rates."

A fixed rate was important to Angus because some companies charge more for gas service in the winter months when usage increases.

But that's the beauty of energy.com, Cardoso says: "Consumers can figure out which plan is best for them." Darrel Richter (DRichter01@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.

How to choose an energy supplier

  • Figure out how much you currently pay for utilities.

  • Acquire offers from several suppliers in your area.

  • Understand the offers thoroughly.

  • Know the different price options available.

  • Get a contract in writing that includes all terms of the deal.

  • Get references from the supplier and talk with those people.

  • Don't be rushed into making a decision.

Source: Energy.com

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Migration habits

Mitch Lynd’s business wouldn’t survive without migrant labor.

“It would be impossible to function without them," says the co-owner of Lynd Fruit Farm in Pataskala, a facility that employs more than 100 migrant workers each year. “I need practically no workers until it’s time to pick apples. Then, when it’s time to pick, the apples don’t wait on anybody.”

In fact, there’s only a window of about 10 to 12 days during which all the apples must be picked.

Lynd says his family-owned business realized the importance of migrant labor early in its 80-year history, and he's able to keep workers coming back each year to pick apples, pumpkins, gourds and peaches because he offers good pay and good conditions. In addition, word of mouth among the workers keeps all his positions filled year after year.

“The single toughest thing has been to truly understand them and their needs, what they like and what they fear,” says Lynd, noting the majority of his migrant labor pool speaks Spanish, while he does not. “When you don’t understand them and they don’t understand you, there are all types of myths and misunderstandings that are fostered.”

There have been several occasions in which workers misunderstood what Lynd was saying, then were concerned for days about what was being discussed. Lynd says he had no idea there was a misunderstanding until a worker brought it to his attention.

Taking down the language barrier is so important to Lynd and his partners that they hired someone fluent in Spanish and English to interpret. That man, John Kammeyer, is now part owner of Lynd Fruit Farm, a company whose annual sales total about $1.5 million.

“A lot of our friends have tried to hire migrant workers. But because they can’t understand the culture and language, they have a difficult time,” Lynd says.

Lynd hires migrant workers rather than high school and college students to pick his fruit because, while students are normally only available during the summer and winter months, migrant workers are able to work longer hours during the months Lynd needs their help most. In addition, he says, migrant workers know the importance of long hours and hard work from working on several farms each year.

Tom Dutton, co-owner of Eastside Nursery in Columbus, set up his migrant labor camp five years ago with the help of a $2,500 state grant. His business, which boasts annual revenue of more than $12 million, employs 60 migrant workers each year.

Dutton says he might not be able to get by without full-time employees who speak both Spanish and English, since most of the migrant workers he hires don’t speak English.

“It is a bit of a problem at first,” he says of communicating with his seasonal work force. “But we’ve been here long enough that we’ve got one migrant worker who speaks pretty good English.”

Both Dutton and Lynd say migrant workers hear about the jobs they offer via word of mouth from other seasonal workers.

The Ohio Revised Code defines a labor camp as “one or more buildings or structures, trailers, tents or vehicles ... established, operated or used as temporary living quarters for two or more families or five or more persons intending to engage in or engaged in agriculture or related food processing ...”

Dutton and Lynd say meeting initial state housing requirements for migrant staff is challenging. According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Rules for Agricultural Migrant Camp Workers, these requirements include:

  • Meeting set criteria for water and sewer systems, electricity, plumbing, noise and pollution levels, and insurance.

  • Providing sleeping facilities for each occupant.

  • Having effective and sanitary cooking and eating areas.

  • Installing fire extinguishers in each building.

“The main problems come in when [business owners] try to convert a farm house to a migrant house,” says William Stamper, sanitarian for the Ohio Department of Health. “The farm house didn’t have to meet any codes, and they have to upgrade and put some money into it sometimes.”

Stamper and his crew inspect each of Ohio’s 143 migrant camps four to six times a year. If the camps aren't in compliance, the business is written up and told to fix the problem. Lynd insists it's not the legal requirements for using migrant workers that worry him most, however.

“If you don’t keep them happy, they’re on to somewhere they will be happy really fast,” he says. “Employees quit and go somewhere else at the drop of a hat.”

Darrel Richter (DRichter01@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:39

Getting a better ROI

When WNCI-FM disc jockeys talked on-air earlier this year about which celebrities they looked like, the station asked listeners to call in their own stories.

Callers made what the DJs thought were outrageous claims about looking like some of the big stars of today. So one DJ asked a listener to e-mail him a photo.

That viewer complied — as did many others.

The response to the radio bit grew so extreme, the DJ decided to post each of the photos on the World Wide Web. That way, the radio audience could check out other listeners first hand on the WNCI Web site (www.wnci.com).

“Thousands of people went to the Web site to see if people really looked like [the stars],” says John Potter, general manager for WNCI-FM. “What mainly drives traffic to our Web site is when our personalities talk about what’s on the site.”

Drawing radio listeners to the Web is increasingly important for stations like Potter’s. A PC Data Online Reports poll shows 16 percent of people spend less time listening to the radio now and are surfing the Web instead, says Will Poole, vice president of digital media for Microsoft Corp., who discussed this issue at a National Association of Broadcasters convention this spring.

But recapturing those listeners is only part of the goal in setting up and promoting a Web site. After all, the more traffic an organization can drive to its Web site, the more money it can make down the road.

Although Potter says WNCI’s Web site is profitable, “I think there’s an opportunity for it to be more profitable.” After all, as listeners visit the station’s site more frequently, there will be a greater opportunity to sell advertising at a higher price with the same amount of overhead, he explains.

That’s why WNCI puts everything from school closings to news stories on its Web site. When the station posts school closings, Potter notes, it gets such a response, the server practically shuts down.

WNCI, like many companies with an Internet presence, makes money through banner advertisements on its Web site. The Center of Science and Industry, commonly known as COSI, is among WNCI’s Web advertisers. Larry Meyer, public relations director for COSI, says the general marketing exposure his organization gets through the Web can increase interest in COSI and translate into increased revenues.

When Internet surfers visit a company’s site and see that it either improves their lives or entertains them regularly, they are more likely to do business with that particular company, Meyer explains.

“Our on-site Web visits have tripled since we opened our new building,” he says. “People want to come visit.”

To build upon that excitement, Meyer says COSI will be launching a new “online exhibit” this year which will showcase information available only on the Internet. He hopes this will create a more active interest in the center and be a reason for people to return to the site.

According to Microsoft’s Poole, any business looking to make its Web page more effective should:

  • Create compelling content.

  • Team with other organizations to create a more powerful and dynamic site.

  • Interact with customers.

  • Use Webcasting to complement the company’s services.

  • Effectively post the company’s logo or brand on the site.
How to reach: Will Poole, vice president of digital media for Microsoft Corp., can be reached via fax at (425) 936-7329.

Darrel Richter (DRichter01@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.