Forrest Clarke

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Making more time for living

With today’s fast paced lifestyles, it’s easy to feel like George Jetson caught on the treadmill — even beyond the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine.

Lindy and Bill O’Brien know all about that. They are the epitome of the energetic entrepreneurs striving to find time for themselves amid the onslaught of ever-changing business demands.

Bill, 50, runs Indian Springs, a 4-year-old food distribution business just south of downtown Columbus. Lindy, 49, is a partner in O’Brien & Roof Co., an 8-year-old executive search firm. As if their separate careers weren’t enough, together they own The Chicken Store & More, a fresh chicken, pork and cooked foods retailer on Hard Road, which celebrated its first anniversary last October.

Although Lindy says she loves serving as a headhunter for O’Brien & Roof and finding rare executive gems for major corporations such as Nationwide, she rarely has idle time on her hands due to the accounting and payroll work she does for Indian Springs and The Chicken Store.

In fact, until last summer, the soft-spoken, ambitious Lindy was finishing coursework to earn her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Otterbein College — on top of everything else.

With days that start at 6 a.m. and usually don’t end until after 7:30 p.m., neither O’Brien counts on much of a breather, yet both realize they need to take one now and then. So they hired someone in December to work three nights a week at The Chicken Store, and although Lindy still fills in behind the counter two to three nights per week and Bill works at least one other night there, both make it a point to take Sundays off.

“We started off [in 1998] opening on Sunday and I really resented it,” Lindy says. “It wasn’t worth it. Everybody needs a break.”

Along with needing the mental replenishment a day off provides, Lindy and her husband weren’t doing enough business on Sundays to justify opening up the counter and doing all the preparation, cooking and cleaning that goes with it. They abandoned Sunday hours after the first month.

Having four children through two marriages has also conditioned the O’Briens to be on their toes. Now that all the kids are either married or in college, however, this fast-track couple may start to savor their success.

“It’s busy, but we’ve taken some long weekends where we’ve gotten some time off,” Lindy says, noting that she and her husband make a conscious effort to take a vacation once a year.

In addition, Lindy plans to free up more time for herself by buying a laptop computer with special software to consolidate the accounting processes for the three businesses they collectively run.

Constantly keeping their noses to the grindstone is a condition too many business owners can’t cure.

“When we feel like we’re getting too much that way, you just get a sense you want it to stop and you make some changes,” Lindy admits. “We try to make it a point to find time not to talk business.”

That can mean a brisk walk at Highbanks Metro Park or just playing cards with neighbors, she says.

“It’s so easy to get in that routine of work, work, work ... go home and crash.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Lindy knows how much time people can inadvertently waste — especially after taking a statistics class at Otterbein, where, out of curiosity, she kept track for a week of how her time was allocated.

“There was more extra time there than I thought there was,” she says. “When it really comes down to it, there’s a lot of time spent sitting around. I don’t think people pay enough attention to their down time and appreciate it.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke@hotmail.com) is a Columbus-based free-lance writer.

If you truly want to serve your customers today, you must be connected to the most efficient technology.

The City of Columbus Building Department realized it was falling behind the technology of the times nearly three years ago. That’s when executives there began putting together a plan to make zoning, building inspection, code enforcement and the tracking of building plan reviews a state-of-the art process on both the commercial and residential frontiers.

To do this, the city began using 120 Panasonic laptop computers, cellular modems, printers and digital cameras last September. The Pentium computers are portable, so they can be taken out on job sites — making them a godsend to both the building department and the local building industry due to the more immediate response time and more accurate record keeping allowed by transferring data over the Internet.

“We wanted them to have access to the information out in the field,” says Burell Charity, information system manager for Building and Development Services, who has been the city’s point man in overhauling the inspection and permit process. “We wanted it to be almost as if they were in the office.”

“We definitely feel like it is the future ... having the laptops and information at their fingertips,” says Kathy M. Kerr, deputy director of the city’s Department of Trade and Development, Building and Development Services. “If you’re a builder and you’ve got cement trucks waiting to pour, and you need an inspection ... we need to turn those inspections around as quickly as possible so the building industry can keep moving their projects along. Every day is a lot of money to them.”

In the past, inspectors went to a site and brought back a written report, which was typed into the system by a clerk. That was time-consuming and redundant, causing delays and resulting in the most complaints from the building industry as a whole.

Now, the laptops can record the most vital information in a fraction of the time, and a building inspection that used to be backlogged for a week is handled 98 percent of the time on the same day, according to 12-year veteran Gary Dupler, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning field supervisor.

Equally helpful has been the new means to retrieve a property’s history vs. the antiquated paper trail. Thanks to the sophisticated technology, customers can typically find what they’re looking for with a couple clicks of the mouse, Dupler adds.

Other examples of the streamlined efficiency made possible with laptops are:

  • Plan reviews completed in three weeks or less, instead of in several months.

  • Building permits issued in one or two days, instead of the week it used to take.

Because the laptops are such powerful tracking devices, inspections that sometimes fell through the cracks now have a permanent record of request, Dupler says. And that time savings on both the front and back ends of a project means better productivity from inspectors and cost savings to the customer.

So many choices

Even though computer-chip technology doubles in speed every 18 months and the waterproof, dust proof and drop proof CF-25 laptops were purchased in 1997, Charity says “they’re maintaining their own” against the latest and greatest Pentium processors, which are already two to three generations faster.

But selecting which computers to purchase was only the first of many steps in the two-year journey for Charity to get the division — both internal and external personnel — working off the new Windows-based, open database from the city’s Citrix server at City Hall.

The primary impetus for the upgrade, however, was Y2K.

“Our main [building permit] application sitting on the city’s mainframe wasn’t Y2K compliant,” Charity says. “We decided to go to a custom design so we had the flexibility in-house to maintain the application. The application had to be developed, massaged and cleaned up with a lot of input from staff.”

Still, the system is constantly being fine-tuned, since it runs the entire permitting operation, from intake of information at the front desk to inspections. Implementing checks and balances, and coordinating the multitude of operations they perform, including calculations of fees, was Charity’s biggest priority.

“Delineating the business processes was the most tedious because we do so many things, and they had to be integrated into this one application,” he says. “We still see some refinement ... because we begin to question whether we’re trying to track too much information.”

The city’s budget for the equipment, including 30 laptops for added staff, was $894,488 in 1998, according to Linda Deis, fiscal manager with building and development services. Each laptop cost around $4,000, plus $3,000 for ancillary technology such as Sony Mavica digital cameras, mini Pentax printers, docking stations and Sierra wireless modems, which transmit 19,200 bits of data per second from behind the passenger seat of each truck.

The $600 Sony cameras are not required for every job, but can provide additional documentation if there is a violation or the inspector feels there could be a problem. Up to 25 images can be stored on one 3 1/2-inch diskette and inspectors download images on the hard drive at the office, eliminating extra handling by personnel and creating a magnetic record that can be used in court.

Charity’s decision to buy the eight-pound laptops, which are less prone to damage and not as sensitive to the elements in the magnesium alloy carrying case vs. desktop PCs, made sense in light of the inspectors’ daily regiment.

“Their profession is more or less running around with a hammer and we were concerned about someone dropping the unit,” Charity says.

In addition, the laptops, which sit on a docking station in city trucks during the day, are unplugged from their battery-operated power source after each shift and kept under lock and key to prevent theft.

Skill building

Although the elimination of paper was one of the main goals of the system, Charity admits it’s not easy for some employees to overcome old habits.

“You have people who are trained and used to doing things a certain way, so you still have guys who are keeping paper trails just for comfort,” he says.

In addition, only 25 to 30 percent of the city’s building inspectors were computer literate when the laptops were purchased, Charity says. The 120 inspectors using the laptops now are still learning, he adds.

Because of the discrepancy between experience and technology, Lynn Thompson was hired as a trainer last November to bring everyone up to speed on the Microsoft Office Suite software. Thompson also had to be trained on the new building permit application because of the complexity of the system.

In addition to weekly classroom training, inspectors who needed it were given a five-hour introductory course on the basic operating principles of using Microsoft Word, accessing the Internet, sending and receiving e-mail and charging the battery. Dupler also created a manual to help inspectors enter information specifically for permit operations.

The results

Thanks to enhanced efficiency, clerks now have more time to cross-train in other positions, such as scanning. Kerr hopes that by the end of the year, Columbus City Council will approve an expenditure for an imaging system to scan old documents, putting paper by the wayside.

“Right now, it gets the information in the system faster than in the past, but it’s still not where we need it to be,” Charity says of the building department’s laptop technology. “We’re hoping the next generation will have a hand-held device that can transmit the data directly from the building.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

A new twist on an old chore

Tim Hobart doesn’t believe finding quality employees in a tight labor market requires a complex formula — just a creative one.

He ought to know. This 30-year-old managed to recruit more than 100 employees to fully staff his new BD’s Mongolian Barbecue franchise near Dublin in just six weeks.

A former Pepsi Co. employee who ran three Taco Bell restaurants in Columbus and later took over as recruiting manager in six cities for the fast-food chain, Hobart is far from being wet behind the ears when it comes to inventing lively and innovative ways to run his restaurants and recruit staff.

“I’ve heard lots of horror stories of people needing to recruit, how they get people and how they keep people,” he says. “In this economy, you’ve got to be flexible.”

You’ve also got to draw attention to yourself.

That’s why Hobart, who, with his wife Ronda, owns and operates the BD’s franchise on Sawmill Road, as well as one near Cleveland, wasn’t shy about getting BD’s name out to the public.

Just before Halloween, he got approval through student services at Worthington Kilbourne High School to bring in Mongo Man — a nine-foot tall, inflatable, Mongolian Warrior costume invented by the London-based restaurant chain’s founder, Billy Downs. Managers hired for Hobart’s new Columbus restaurant took turns dressing as Mongo Man and dispersing free merchandise, including T-shirts, water bottles, Frisbees and candy, between classes and during lunch one afternoon.

In just three hours — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Hobart’s marketing stunt piqued the curiosity of more than 100 potential workers. Between 35 and 40 students filled out job applications on the spot and nearly 20 of those were hired for the restaurant’s team.

Recruiting at Thomas Worthington High School, Hobart’s alma mater, netted him four more employees.

Hobart and his managers employed similar tactics at the college level after getting approval through the student activities centers at The Ohio State University, Columbus State Community College and Otterbein College. Along with passing out free merchandise from display areas in the student unions, a portable basketball hoop helped attract the attention of thousands of students.

“We always did something fun like throwing footballs through a tire or shooting hoops to draw attention to us so people would want to stop,” Hobart says. “They would ask, ‘What are you guys doing? What are you about?’ It was a chance for us to create some excitement and talk to people.”

By going to OSU and Columbus State one to two days a week for six weeks, Hobart found about 70 percent of his work force.

Having Mongo Man strolling through the OSU oval, draped in a Buckeye flag, didn’t hurt the restaurant’s exposure. Nor did Hobart’s ability to get Mongo Man involved in the OSU homecoming festivities.

Hobart says he simply noticed a flyer on campus promoting the Oct. 30 parade before the Iowa game and called the phone number. Mongo Man and nine other employees marched in the parade, throwing out candy, footballs and carry-out menus to the early morning crowd.

“For us, it was another way to market and get people to see us,” he says. “You've got to put as many poles in the water as you can and sooner or later you come up with something."

Thanks to being a little zany and a lot persistent in his marketing, Hobart got 115 employees by the time his local franchise opened Dec. 7.

"We didn't sit here, put an ad in the paper and wait for people to come to us,” Hobart says, noting there’s no time to wait for help when you’ve got first-year sales projections of $2.5 million. “We went across this city and found people, looked for personalities and tried to do unique things that showed people this is going to be a fun place to work.”

Hobart’s six-week recruiting campaign cost around $2,000. The biggest expense came from OSU’s Student Union and its $59 per day fee to have a display. Merchandise expenses were estimated at $500.

“We had a plan and we stuck to it,” Hobart says. “We probably did a little more than I thought we would have to do. But each day, we hired four or five people. You just need to keep looking forward.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.

Barry Heagren has been an entrepreneur long enough to realize that money isn’t the ultimate prize or the source of all happiness.

Last year, the president and CEO of Advanced Programming Resources Inc., which specializes in supplying contract computer professionals for their information technology expertise, was a runner-up for the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award. This year, he’s been selected for District Runner Up honors in the SBA’s 2000 Small Business Person of the Year competition.

Heagren embraces a firm belief in striking a balance among the mental, physical and especially spiritual. He encourages his 150 employees to do the same to lead a full and rewarding life.

“I think depending on where you are in your career path, particularly if you’re a young person trying to charge the mountain, you tend to neglect a lot of things that might be important, like the spiritual or family, because you’re driven to get to the next level,” the 53-year-old Heagren says. “I think age has a really good way of bringing balance back into your life.”

Heagren began cultivating his corporate culture with seven partners in 1971 by starting Lancers Personnel. After swapping his interest in Lancers in 1976 to become a partner in HBS and Associates, which specialized in the permanent placement service of computer professionals, he began assembling the elements for his $14 million recruiting concept.

In 1983, Heagren and two partners started Advanced Programming Resolutions. Three years later, with 120 employees and $5.6 million in revenue, they sold the company to AGS, a supplier of computer professionals that was eventually sold several times.

On top of the world after the $4 million buyout, Heagren, then 39, soon realized wealth wasn’t the panacea.

“The money went to my head. I lost my focus and thought I had the Midas touch. I thought I could do anything and was just kind of out there,” he says. “I had the big houses and the cars, but that can all go away in a heartbeat.”

Bad investment decisions and significant personal upheavals forced Heagren to reformulate his priorities and spiritual perspective.

He spent the next few years as a senior executive with AGS, then reignited his entrepreneur’s engine. He’d had the foresight in 1989 to reincorporate the name to Advanced Programming Resources, and in 1993, took APR off the shelf.

Today the company has regional offices in Chicago and Phoenix and a branch sales location in Cleveland. Heagren expects to open a regional office somewhere in the South, probably Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., within 18 months. APR has attracted more than 200 high-level clients, including 10 Fortune 100 companies such as Lucent, AT&T, Motorola and Allied Signal.

His second company, the $3 million, eight-employee Courtney Staffing, specializes in temporary, associate-to-hire and direct hire staffing.

Heagren’s concerned demeanor and inherent listening skills are only a few reasons why one client, Bob Myers of Retail Planning Associates, says he doesn’t comparison shop anymore.

“Overall, he’s someone who can be trusted. He’s very above-board, up-front and honest in every aspect of his business,” says Myers, Retail Planning Associates’ chief technical officer. “He understands my requirements, is flexible with contracts and has value-added customer service. He’s won our business exclusively and created a no-competition environment.”

Heagren’s most basic advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is straightforward: “Stay focused on your market and what you’re going to deliver,” he says. “I think the biggest key is integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do and keep your word. Keep your customers happy, go that extra mile and have fun while you’re doing it.”

In the midst of technology’s lightning-fast takeoffs and IPOs, Heagren remains grounded by giving back to the community. He advocates philanthropic efforts and backs up his words with innovative ideas such as “charity days.” Every department within APR selects a worthy cause each quarter and the company closes one day so that employees can volunteer time — and sometimes money.

“I used to work lots of hours and didn’t always have a balanced life,” Heagren says.

Now, he tempers the rigors of running two multimillion-dollar companies with bicycling, weight training, racquetball and water and snow skiing — and equally important — walking his golden retriever, Griff, every day at 6 a.m.

“It gives me a chance to smell the roses and reflect on what’s going to happen today,” he says. “Building a business can either be an albatross or a great adventure.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a Columbus-based free-lance writer.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

No more plumber jokes

Waterworks knows and accepts the fact that it’s got a dirty job to do in the plumbing and drain cleaning business.

What executives at this East Side company won’t stand for anymore is the public perception that they’re in an unkempt, sloppy industry with employees that don’t take pride in their appearance.

In fact, owners Thom Havens and Betsy Dickerson are so dedicated to projecting a clean-cut image that they once bought teeth for an employee to improve his overall customer presentation. They’ve also asked their five crew leaders, supervisor and foreman to police matters of personal hygiene to the point of suggesting employees shave, get a haircut, change their uniform or even visit the dentist.

The privately owned Waterworks officially began changing its style in October 1998 after spending $2 million to renovate a 12,000-square-foot elementary school to use as its corporate headquarters.

The building, with its exposed brick, high ceilings, loft-style spiral staircases, renaissance and eclectic art, resembles an architectural firm more than a drain cleaner. That neoclassical/modernist feel is the brainchild of Havens, who is the company’s majority owner, chairman and president.

The image polishing appears to be paying off. Havens purchased the company in 1986 when it had gross sales of $300,000 and just nine employees. Today, Waterworks has grown to more than 90 employees with three divisions branching out into industrial service, excavating and commercial plumbing, as well as the standard residential drain cleaning and plumbing.

The company grossed $6 million in 1999 and projects this year’s sales at $10 million.

Dickerson, who is a part owner and CFO of Waterworks, says hiring a consultant was key to beginning the metamorphosis.

Impressed with Bob Juniper’s name recognition and market saturation in the collision repair business, Havens and Dickerson invited Juniper, owner of Three-C Body Shops, over for lunch one day to pick his brain.

“Don’t hesitate to ask someone that you admire, ‘How have you done what you have done?’” Dickerson advises.

Through a campaign spearheaded by Media Solutions, Waterworks worked to develop an immaculate new image for both the company and the plumber profession. As part of the image-building campaign, the company began requiring all field personnel to wear clean, stylish uniforms — with an extra-long shirttail to eliminate any chance of the unsightly “plumber’s crack” syndrome — and meticulously wash their vehicles inside and out, as needed.

An employee shower area is available at the Leonard Avenue headquarters for when a job becomes particularly smelly.

“I think image sets us apart from Mom and Pop [plumbing] companies,” Dickerson says.

“We’ve taken a blue-collar drain cleaner and said, ‘That’s not a job; that’s a profession to be proud of. We’re proud of you and you need to be proud of yourself for accomplishing what you do.’”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Forget high salaries

Much like free agency in professional sports, offering signing bonuses to highly skilled professionals in the ordinary work force is becoming a larger and larger bargaining chip to attract the brightest and best minds.

The positions most likely to be offered the increased bait are those in information technology, engineering, cost accounting and management, according to Tim Burkhart, a certified professional consultant — or headhunter, as some would call him — for the Adecco Employment Agency in Columbus. A business matchmaker for 17 years, Burkhart insists this latest recruiting hook is nothing more than the simple economics of supply and demand.

Ohio’s unemployment rates are at unprecedented lows, with some counties, including Franklin and Delaware, averaging between 2 and 2.5 percent, according to estimates by the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services. The key is finding the right lure, especially when someone isn’t really looking to change jobs.

A sign-on bonus is an incentive to take action,” Burkhart says. “It’s validation of your worth in the marketplace.”

Approximately one-third of the positions Burkhart fills offer sign-on bonuses, he says, adding that the standard perk runs between $2,000 and $4,000. Adecco had one client in the last year, however, that offered an automotive professional a $15,000 to $20,000 bonus to switch employers.

Most sign-on bonuses are paid immediately upon hire, although some companies delay payment until after 30 to 90 days of employment, or, in the case of nurses in some assisted-care living facilities, after two weeks of perfect attendance.

“As the labor pool gets leaner and leaner, you have to get creative,” Burkhart says. “You need to bring in a sign-on bonus to sweeten [the deal].”

Such bonuses are usually more prevalent with a lateral move or a small increase in base pay, he adds.

“It’s not as common when it’s icing on icing,” he explains.

But when you’re trying to entice higher-caliber programmers, plant managers or accountants from one of the Big Five accounting firms, that’s when a stronger enticement is required. Jennifer Bisciotti, director of human resources at Deloitte & Touche LLP says she's seen signing bonuses in the industry for 15 years, but not to the degree she’s seen lately.

“The major thing that’s increased is the frequency of when they’re offered,” she says. “It’s pretty much across the board. The top talent is in great demand.

“Signing bonuses are not a given for every offer we extend, but it’s a strategy and a recruiting tool to attract and retain the top talent,” she adds. “It helps to lead the field.”

Bisciotti declined to pinpoint a monetary range for bonuses, saying it was decided on a “case-by-case basis, depending on the competition.”

Megan Wolfe, assistant manager at CVS Pharmacy on Sawmill Road, says she’s seen signing bonuses for registered pharmacists as high as $5,000. And she expects the payroll pendulum to continue swinging in employees’ favor, particularly with national accreditation and postgraduate standards for pharmacists gradually being increased to include additional years of schooling, according to Dr. Ken Hale, assistant dean at The Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy.

“Nobody works for free, and a sign-on bonus can really get their attention," Burkhart says. “It’s a nice tool to motivate someone to take the leap of faith.”

To avoid losing your own employees to the allure of big sign-on bonuses elsewhere, another incentive is quickly emerging in the marketplace: lucrative “stay-on bonuses.” These have become especially popular for retaining computer programmers, Burkhart says.

“They’re real and designed to keep people in their seats when it’s critical,” he says.

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN Columbus.