First, Dwight Smith, our neighbor and president and CEO of Sophisticated Systems, made it just a suggestion to his employees Sept. 11.
Tom Longstreth, our sales representative, and I joined those employees, gathered in silence in front of the TV in their conference room.
What at first was an option a short time later turned into an order: Dwight closed his business for the day.
Like a kindergarten teacher making sure students boarded the bus safely home, he was among the last to leave, pausing only to visit our office to advise us to do the same. Countless other Central Ohio business owners were of the same mind.
I wrote and rewrote this column in my head so many times and debated whether I should print it at all. Our October edition was already on its way to the printer when the national tragedy occurred. Now, two months after the terrorists attacked, what more could possibly be said? Yet I couldn't let it go unmentioned on these pages, as if it never even happened.
What we'd rather erase from our minds brought memories and acts of compassion we should never forget. For every scene of horror, there was a picture of endurance, help, hope:
* The elementary school student who flashed me the peace sign -- and a broad smile -- as I drove to SBN Sept. 17.
* Churches, normally full only for the Christmas and Easter holidays, which swelled with standing room only.
* Business owners, struggling to make ends meet in the already tremulous economy, who matched donations of their employees or brought blood drives on site so employees could donate.
* Big business, which reached into its deep pockets. The Limited Inc. and Intimate Brands Inc. Foundation contributed $1 million to the fund established by the United Way and the New York Community Trust and gave employees the opportunity to donate as well. (Donate through The Huntington National Bank with account number 04896310285.) Nationwide gave the same amount to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund (800-HELP NOW or www.redcross.org/donate).
* The unique responses of small business. Shadowbox Cabaret changed its scheduled show to one of all comedy and light music. Don ''The Idea Guy'' Snyder designed a Statue of Liberty graphic for print on clothing and other items for sale through his Delaware employer, J2 Creations (www.j2creations.com) in a project dubbed ''ChariTees.'' A portion of the profits will go to the American Red Cross.
It's past time to move on, some will tell me -- let's pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off.
But we are, every one of us, changed -- for the better, I'd argue -- because of one day's events.
The goodness that came out of humanity as a result of the horror must be constantly repeated. May a part of us always remain frozen in time, Sept. 11, 2001. Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
Doing business as usual wasn't working for Trattoria Roma, a small, family-owned Italian restaurant, when it moved from Morse Road to Grandview last June.
Business tripled within months of the move, and the busier location was turning familiar operation annoyances into problems. Handwritten orders could be difficult to read, for example, and sometimes required kitchen staff to take time out to ask servers to interpret them.
Servers didn't use uniform shorthand for dish descriptions, causing order mix-ups, and charges for extras and substitutions weren't well recorded. In addition, servers had to go to the kitchen to explain special requests.
"The manual way we were doing it wasn't an efficient way of doing it," says Shawn Mason, general manager of Trattoria Roma. "We knew in the first month that the manual system was just not the way to do things down here."
So as of Oct. 2, all orders began being recorded electronically.
Mason says switching to a computerized system has simplified matters for servers and kitchen staff.
Although various programs are available, MICROS was selected by executives at the 10-year-old restaurant. Based on advice from business colleagues, it seemed the most appropriate, Mason says.
"The people who were using MICROS seemed to come back the happiest," he says.
The fact that MICROS is available through a local company -- Brolin Retail Systems -- was a major deciding factor, too, according to Mason. He says he appreciates the 24-hour help line the Dublin company offers.
Introduction to MICROS included 16 hours of training -- divided into two sessions -- for the 48-person staff.
"Everyone here is really catching on very quickly, and it's a very easy system to use," Mason says. "We even kept our registers around for the first few days, just in case we ran into any problems, but we didn't need them."
While making day-to-day operation easier is a clear advantage, Trattoria Roma projects an added bonus: a 15 percent increase in productivity.
Mason says the estimate is based on expected time-saving in a variety of instances: Servers aren't heading to the kitchen with special orders, since those can be noted electronically, and kitchen personnel aren't tracking down servers because of illegible handwriting.
MICROS also saves time by keeping a supply inventory. And, it tracks the restaurant's busy and slow times, so staffing schedules can be adapted accordingly.
"Everything is just more efficient," Mason says.
Ed Hechler, president of Brolin Retail Systems, says other MICROS capabilities include:
- Timecard functions
- Gift certificate generation
- Accounting programming
"The system offers a complete revenue picture for the restaurant at any given time," says Christopher DiPaolo, who -- along with his cousins Rich DiPaolo III and Mark Mizer -- is a Trattoria co-owner.
Although he would not disclose a purchase price, he did say Trattoria Roma's system was "in the five-figure range."
Hechler says MICROS systems range from $13,000 to $17,000, depending on the number of terminals. After the initial investment, expect to pay roughly 7 to 12 percent annually for system upkeep and continued technical support, Hechler adds. Leasing a system may cost $250 to $350 monthly, he estimates.
Trattoria Roma bartender Aaron Tinnerello says MICROS makes it easier to keep bar tabs, allows him to work more efficiently with the servers and gives him inventory updates. He used older MICROS versions at previous workplaces.
Server Stephen Smith, likewise, was accustomed to computer-based ordering; he used Digital Dining elsewhere. While Smith says he liked some aspects of Digital Dining over MICROS, he notes he is still learning the latter. And computer tracking, in general, beats the alternative.
"It's better than hand writing everything out; it's a lot less confusing," Smith says.
Chef Jaime George agrees, saying there aren't a lot of questions from the kitchen to wait staff because of unclear orders or unfamiliar shorthand.
"If they order something with no onions, there are no onions. It's simple," he says. How to reach: Shawn Mason, general manager, Trattoria Roma, 488-2104; Ed Hechler, president, Brolin Retail Systems, 766-1234
C.J. Cross (CrossRoberts@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.
J. Robinson McCormick, co-founder and board chairman of The Frank Gates Cos. Inc., has been honored as a Distinguished Eagle Scout by the National Eagle Scout Association. The award is presented to those who reached the rank of Eagle Scout 25 or more years ago, achieved leadership status in their career and volunteered their talents in their community. McCormick is vice chairman of the Columbus Municipal Airport Authority and previously served as president of the Rotary Club of Columbus and chair of the Ohio Workers' Compensation Advisory Council.
Phil Ellett has been named CEO of SingleSourceIT. Ellett will assume the company's day-to-day operations and oversee the opening of a new office in Dallas.
Farah Majidzadeh, CEO and chair of Resource International Inc., has been named to the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in recognition of her exemplary accomplishments and service to Ohio. Resource International, founded in the basement of Majidzadeh's family home, now has offices across Ohio and Saudi Arabia. She actively promotes innovation throughout her industry and was the first female member of the International Road Federation.
Rhonda DeMuth, president of TDCI Consulting LLC, will compete for regional finals of the U.S. Small Business Administration's National Small Business Week Awards after the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce named her Small Business Person of the Year. Through her leadership, annual revenue for TDCI has grown from $2 million to $8.5 million, staff size increased from 27 to 60 and the number of the company's customers increased from 50 to more than 230 in the past three years.
Stephen P. Grassbaugh, a partner with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, has been elected president of the Ohio Government Finance Officers Association, a professional organization of more than 900 members formed to act as a conduit for the flow of information among all local governments.
Jim Fox has been named president of Fox Corporate OutFitters, a new division of Fox Embroidery Inc. The focus of the division will be to market casual apparel to the corporate market in the Columbus area and nationwide with Internet sales.
The national law firm of Arter & Hadden LLP has elected Dan Bailey, a partner in the firm's Columbus office, as chairman of its national executive committee. As chairman of the firm's Director and Officer Liability Practice Group, Bailey represents and consults with directors and officers, corporations, insurance companies and law firms across the country. Dan Cvetanovich, another partner in the Columbus office, also has been named to the executive committee. He heads the firm's Columbus Business and Commercial Litigation Group.
Girtha has been named top dog at Dublin-based Buchanan & Associates marketing, advertising and public relations. A three-year-old German shepherd and Doberman pinscher mix, Girtha hopes to hone her skill base of squirrel chasing and power napping during her tenure at the agency.
Union Savings Bank has named Mike Shannon vice president. Shannon will be responsible for the branch's retail banking operation and will assist with the mortgage lending operations.
Nationwide Financial has appointed Kimberly Greer as vice president of individual markets. Also at Nationwide Financial, Robert Rolland has been appointed vice president of institutional markets.
Columbus-based National Church Residences, which owns or manages nearly 200 senior citizen and family-based communities in the United States, has promoted David Kayuha to vice president and chief administrative officer.
Sean Sadr has joined Lord, Sullivan & Yoder as vice president of e-business strategies. Before joining LSY, Sadr was the director of e-business strategy at MarchFirst Inc., where he helped develop and engineer e-business models.
Jennifer L. Rudek of Worthington-based Shore Morgan Financial Advisors has been promoted to vice president, financial planning. Rudek specializes in coordination and management of clients' financial resources.
EXXCEL Contract Management Inc. has named John Markham to the newly created position of vice president of organizational development. Markham previously served as vice president of human resources at Columbus-based Franklin International.
Johnny Scales has been named general manager of Easton Town Center. Scales joins Easton from The Pizzuti Cos., where he served as director of management services for Miranova.
When Michael Reed's children wanted to know why traffic signals didn't get covered with snow during a winter storm, he had a simple answer: Snow Ants.
Snow Ants, as Reed's story goes, live in the stoplights.
"They're nice people, but they have issues like everybody else," says Reed, president and CEO of Application Link Inc. "I told my kids the reason why no snow is there is because the Snow Ants broom them out to keep the motorists safe."
Reed's youthful imagination hasn't left him, even though his children are now grown.
Take, for example, the Beanie Baby lion on the credenza in his office.
"It reminds me of the kid in me," he says.
So do the yo-yo and Frisbee that often circulate throughout Application Link's Downtown offices and the purple toy Prowler, which Reed zooms along his desk when he's stressed.
The toys -- and a Cleveland Browns dog -- create the only character gracing Reed's office. He's been there nearly three years, but the sole thing hanging on the walls is a souvenir banner from Puerto Rico given to him by an employee -- and put there by the employee herself. He doesn't even have a desktop computer; file folders cover his desk.
For Reed, it's the simple things that make the day -- and the company.
Ten years after Application Link's founding in 1979, Reed bought out his partner. He's grown the 16-employee business to $20 million in sales -- with 32 straight quarters of profitability, he says -- through simple philosophies.
The first thing he did when he became full owner was to make the technology software and hardware company self-sufficient, which meant having its own products and brand, as well as creating a development division.
"I wanted to develop products we could develop in six months or less," he says, adding that reasoning came from his own use of software products. "I always had a problem with Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. They're great products. But I always felt dumb because I always felt like I was only using 8 percent of the product."
Then he found out his customers had the same feelings.
"Before we put one pen to paper, I said, 'We have to make our products simple -- create products our customers could put their entire hands around,'" he says. "Everything we have is simple. Like Legos, you snap on pieces."
For example, one of his base products, LinkTRACK, used to track and manage business activities, is personalized for the legal field with add-ons such as a legal dictionary.
John S. Ensign, president of Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. and a client who has known Reed for more than 10 years, says Reed's entrepreneurial instincts help him anticipate what the customer is looking for and put together new products in response.
"He's an up-and-comer, I think," Ensign says.
"Any time there's ever been a problem situation here, he'll get personally involved in the solution and do what it takes to make sure everything's resolved to our satisfaction."
Reed recently adopted for his business the Global Sullivan Principles to promote corporate social responsibility. Among the principles created by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist clergyman: "We will promote fair competition including respect for intellectual and other property rights, and not offer, pay or accept bribes," and "We will respect our employees' voluntary freedom of association."
In Reed's efforts to stand out in his industry and retain employees, he seeks out what he calls "cool projects."
"There's no loyalty in our industry," he says. "People are jumping around. There's always somebody willing to bid higher, and the way to retain employees is to have cool projects."
His most recent cool project has been developing software to change the way government services are delivered. The aim: for the government to treat its clients as customers, not as numbers or problems.
Reed's three- to five-year goal for his company continues along the vein of keeping it as simple as possible: "To create a billion-dollar company with less than 100 employees. I think it's possible to do."
Perhaps Reed's simplicity enables him to interact with the children at the Eldon W. Ward YMCA, where he serves as president of the consulting board and leads grass-roots efforts to help the branch raise $2.2 million toward a renovation project.
"I think he's an excellent role model for our young kids," says Kim Jordan, the Y's executive director. "We don't hesitate to point out that he owns his own business. I think he has a genuine concern for young people and where they're going."
Reed, who lost his own father to cancer two years ago, has spent seven years on the Y's consulting board, an organization he says meets his desire to help children and senior citizens.
"I think the wisest person in the world is the oldest person in the world, because they've seen so much. In our society, we think the wisest person in the world is the richest person," he says. "And our children are our eternal hope. Any child we leave behind could be the child that's going to cure cancer, and people need to understand that."
In his spare time, Reed is an avid chess player.
"I've been playing chess ever since I was big enough to move the pieces. I even have a chess computer game on my hand-held (computer) I use when I'm trying to de-stress myself," he says.
What he likes about the game is that it requires the player to plan and execute a strategy.
"You have the opportunity to win or lose and, in doing that, it kind of mirrors life's struggles," he says. "You make your move, and somebody is always countering that move. You've got to understand that every move's important.
"There is no trivial move in life." How to reach: Michael Reed, Application Link Inc., 469-1981, ext. 26, or www.applicationlink.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.
Your investment broker's ready to make a new trade for you, but you're not quite convinced. Do you know what to ask to make your decision?
The Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Securities puts it all in black and white for you at its Web site, www.securities.state.oh.us/information/info.html. Click on the "Investor Notepad" link for a one-page form complete with questions to ask and documents to request before you buy or sell. The "Questions for Informed Investors" link also will help you through the decision-making process.
Don't forget the division's caution: "If you don't know the broker, feel free to hang up!"
Ever hear of cookies? Not the chewy, chocolate-chip laden ones your mother used to make; I'm talking about the self-generating files of information stored in your computer that quietly track your online activity.
These cookies can tell companies what you view online, whether you've made purchases through their Web site, how long you spend at their site, and so on. It's frighteningly Orwellian in many ways -- especially since none of us ask for these cookies to be generated or stored on our computers. They just appear. And in huge numbers. Last time I checked, my PC had roughly 225 cookies on its hard drive.
When I first learned about cookies, I was appalled by the apparent intrusion into what I felt was my own business. What right did a company have to track any information about me without my permission? But then, when I thought about it awhile longer, I realized this Big Brother phenomenon could actually save me some time.
If companies know, based on the information stored in my cookies file, that I'm shopping for life insurance or a mobile phone, for instance, they could bring relevant offers to me. They could vie for my business. And when I make my purchasing decision, the information I enter to complete the transaction online could also be stored in my cookies so I won't have to fill out the same form again if I decide to add to my purchase at a later date.
Essentially, the Web site will recognize me, just as a store clerk would at your favorite shop.
Similarly, if a company knows what sort of information I check on the Web daily, perhaps it could bring that information to me, saving me the trouble of searching dozens of Web sites on my own.
The possibilities are countless. And, although some say the potential for abusing such privileged information exists, I'm not convinced that it's enough of a threat to warrant sleepless nights. If the thought of cookies silently accumulating on your hard drive bothers you greatly, you can delete or disable them.
But, in doing so, you're resigning yourself to surfing a rather bland version of the Web; one in which you're anonymous and, therefore, unable to take advantage of customized services companies are ready and willing to provide to you. That's a waste.
Don't toss your cookies; savor them. Nancy Byron (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
C.J. Petitti knew he'd have to do something to address the job glut.
The president of CallTech Communications Inc. was looking to add 400 employees to his staff of 600, and every little bit would help.
His answer: As he expanded the West Columbus business in 1998, he invested $120,000 to provide better facilities for employees with disabilities. Changes included wider aisles, designated parking spaces and singular restrooms that were handicapped-accessible.
The payoff: He has access to a new group of job candidates for his growing call center business.
About a year ago, Petitti found a resource for workers through the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities -- a grant program in which the state purchases fixed assets for a company, such as equipment or machinery, in return for the company's promise to hire eligible, pre-screened, qualified workers with disabilities.
"In our line of work, we found people with disabilities were some of our better employees," Petitti says. "They showed up for work. Their customer skill set is very good. We really feel strongly about the skill set the handicapped people bring, and the attrition rate is a lot less. They tend to stay employed with you."
So far, he's hired eight full-time employees through the Governor's Initiative, and he's gone beyond that program to hire another half-dozen in various other positions.
"The purpose of (the initiative) is to help grow jobs for people with disabilities in their local communities," says Janet Kohn, employer services coordinator for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, which administers the program.
"What we're looking for is well-paying jobs with benefits," she says, adding that the positions must be full time and provide the employee with access to health coverage.
"We're very selective about the companies we work with because it has to be the right match. They have to have the kinds of jobs that we have people in our systems trained and ready for," she says.
CallTech was a good candidate for the program because employees could be wheelchair users or have visual disabilities and still work at the call center. Only people with speech disabilities would not be able to perform the job duties, Petitti says.
CallTech, Kohn points out, also was willing and able to accommodate employees through the use of adaptive equipment. For example, one software package audibly reads computer screen copy through a headpiece to employees with visual disabilities so they can respond to the caller's needs.
"Computers have really opened the doors to people who are blind or visually impaired to help them work at a competitive level," she says, adding that employees provided through the commission are trained to use such software.
The commission works with employers to determine how many jobs the companies will have and how many the commission thinks it can fill over a period of time. Currently there are 34 agreements in the state with 359 job slots. The commission also provides disability awareness training to employers -- not only those in the Governor's Initiative but whenever employers request the service.
Normally with the Governor's Initiative, negotiations start with the program's offer of $5,000 worth of tangible assets to the company for each job slot. The negotiated price may be higher if the company is offering higher-paying jobs with better benefits.
"We purchase job slots over a period of time and, as positions come open, we refer applicants," Kohn says.
Employers decide whether the applicant meets their requirements.
"Our consumers have to meet their requirements, and they competitively interview like anybody else," she says.
"We work with the person until they're stabilized on the job and then follow them for 90 days," Kohn says. "The goal is they have to be independent by the time we close the case, which is 90 days after they're stabilized on the job. If everything's going well, we back out, but if there are problems, they can come back to us."
CallTech's contract is for eight slots over three years.
In return, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission purchased 265 Herman Miller Inc. chairs for the call center.
Technically, the chairs belong to the commission until the end of the three-year contract, at which time they're turned over to CallTech.
"That was just an added benefit," Petitti says, noting that the company has since grown to 1,500 employees in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. "We were looking for the bodies." How to reach: C.J. Petitti, CallTech Communications Inc., 621-5512 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Janet Kohn, Rehabilitation Services Commission, 466-9364
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
What you can do
Visit the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission Web site, www.state.oh.us/rsc/ESU/index.html, for more details on the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities and other services provided to employers.
Check out SOAR, a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource, designed to allow users to explore accommodation options for persons with disabilities in the work setting. The service, launched last year by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities' Job Accommodation Network, can be found at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar.
The site contains information and accommodation examples for disabilities including arthritis; cancer; lupus; multiple sclerosis; wheelchair use; learning, hearing and vision impairments; heart conditions; and cumulative trauma disorders. Consultants can be reached by phone at (800) 526-7234.
The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities provides businesses with numerous fact sheets with topics including worksite accommodations, recruiting and hiring practices, customers with disabilities and facts vs. myths. Visit the Web site at www.pcepd.gov and click on the "business focus" link, call (202) 376-6200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
You just couldn't help yourself, could you? You read the headline and went right on down the page. You had to see for yourself why you shouldn't read this column.
Was I going to discuss something off-color? Was my topic going to be highly controversial? Could reading this column somehow endanger you? You just had to know. You couldn't follow a simple direction and move on to the next story in our magazine.
I'm not surprised. People seem to get some bizarre pleasure out of breaking the rules. Admit it. You like thinking you've pulled something off when you're speeding on I-71 and you see the highway patrol car just in time to put on the brakes and cruise by at an innocent 64 mph. It's a stupid game, but we all play it -- if only occasionally.
We're also a species that's curious by nature. What's inside that envelope marked "private and confidential" sitting on your business partner's desk? Will the IRS actually come after you if you fail to file a corporate tax return this year? What information will I really lose if I drag a magnet over the side of my computer hard drive?
Sure, natural curiosity can lead to some valuable discoveries. Where would we be if Ben Franklin hadn't gone out in a rain storm to fly that notorious kite with the key attached to the string? But most often, curiosity just gets us into trouble.
Most rules exist to protect you -- and those around you. Granted, some warnings shouldn't be necessary, like the one emblazoned inside a plastic toy skillet my daughters play with: "CAUTION: This is a TOY. DO NOT place on kitchen range." Well, duh. But corporations have to cater to the lowest common denominator and some dimwit must've done this once (and successfully sued), so the rest of us must endure the seemingly ridiculous warning.
Which brings me to my next point. If you're still reading this, despite my direction not to, perhaps you're one of those people who thinks the rules don't apply to you. Surely when the sign along the curb says '"No parking," that doesn't mean I can't just leave the hazard lights on and my car unattended for a moment while I run inside the store to get a newspaper. Yes, actually, it does mean that.
And this time, the rule was for you, too. Perhaps the reason I told you not to read this column was simply because I had nothing worthwhile to say on anything business related this month. I didn't want you to waste your time.
But then, that's your punishment for choosing to ignore my warning. Perhaps next time you'll follow my instructions (but my money says you won't). Nancy Byron (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
After more than 25 years in the staffing industry, Bobbie Ruch, president of Acloché Staffing, observes, "There is almost an attitude of reinvention that takes place in business, particularly in a service business where needs constantly change."
That attitude of reinvention recently led Ruch to discontinue her company's 32-year franchise arrangement with Olsten Corp. to begin operating as an independent business.
"Like anything else, times change, and we saw an opportunity to articulate a new perspective and a fresh point of view," she says.
The transformation process, as Ruch describes it, resulted not only in a new perspective but also in a new name -- Acloché -- designed to reflect the accolades the company has consistently received from the Columbus business community over the past 32 years.
As part of the transformation, Ruch says the company is working with some very simple, yet powerful themes, such as the idea that less is more.
"We are trying to be very user-friendly," she says. "In our line of work, when someone wants a job, he wants a job. People don't want to have things made too complicated."
To illustrate the drive toward simplicity and redesign, Ruch notes that in the change from Olsten to Acloché, the company tossed out 3,300 pounds of paper.
"In addition to redoing our paperwork, we've also done a lot of streamlining and simplification of internal processes with the idea that when you call us, whether you're a customer or someone looking for work, we can move really quickly to make a match," she says.
Ruch acknowledges there are certain requirements -- screening, testing, and background and reference checking -- that still must be done to make good placements. But she says, "In 32 years, we've developed a fair amount of expertise in working with people, and we can translate that into our daily actions to get an optimum result for everyone."
Ruch says Acloché is a human resources business, offering not only permanent job placements and staffing services, but also training.
"We work with people just getting started in their careers, right up into the six figures. We also place a lot of IT people and a fair number of accounting people, as well," she says. "And, of course, our bread-and-butter business is regular office support and distribution and manufacturing support."
The company also offers soft skills and computer training classes. The Microsoft-certified training center is at its Easton location, and Ruch says a second computer training center is planned for Marysville.
The company was started in 1968 by Ruch's parents, George and Betty Lou Ruch. When Bobbie Ruch took over leadership in 1985, its three locations were producing about $3 million in revenue. Today, with 13 locations in and around the Greater Columbus area, revenue exceeds $40 million.
"We've been blessed," says Ruch. "Columbus is a great market, and we are so fortunate to have so many great companies here."
Acloché works with 16 of the 20 largest companies in Central Ohio, with clients such as Bank One, The Limited and Honda. Last year, it sent out more than 15,000 W-2s to employees.
Ruch acknowledges there have been challenges along the way.
"I think we had some years where we grew too fast, and that put a lot of stress on the business," she says.
Because of her staff's commitment to filling customers' needs, Ruch says it can be very frustrating for them to have open orders they are unable to fill.
"Particularly in Columbus, where unemployment is so low, it becomes very difficult for our service staff, and we try to stay sensitive to that," she says. "There have been years when we have stopped selling altogether because we've had so much internal growth."
That dedication to customers, as well as a focus on common courtesy, ranks high on Ruch's list of simple, back-to-basics themes for Acloché.
"We want to be the best; to exhibit excellence in everything we do," says Ruch. "We think that customer intimacy in the age of technology is very important. And we believe in doing what you say you're going to do, following through, and keeping commitments and promises. We go in every day with the idea that we're all going to do our best, and generally, I think that human nature is such that everyone wants to do a good job.
"We use that kind of logic in working with people." How to reach: Bobbie Ruch, Acloché Staffing, 416-JOBS or www.acloche.com
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however, all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.
Tricia Smith knows her way around the courthouse.
That's where she spends most of her time, checking out prospective employees for a growing list of local clients, including ODW Logistics, Environment Control, Spherion and A-Plus Personnel.
In 1996, after brief stints in security positions for Lazarus and The Limited Inc., Smith launched Secure Check, a full-service, pre-employment screening firm.
"I knew there was a gap in the market, and I knew I could provide a different type of service than was generally available," she says.
While many companies subscribe to online database services that provide background information, such as arrest records, Smith says her company does hands-on research for every applicant.
"We go to the courts and do a thorough background check, going back about 10 years," she says. "A lot of the online database services don't provide the depth of information employers need to make a decision based on whether or not a person has been convicted."
In fact, educating companies as to what they're actually getting when they do a background check has been one of Smith's biggest challenges.
"If a company is using an online service, it needs to know the difference between an arrest record and a conviction record," she explains. "Just because a person has been arrested, it doesn't mean he has been convicted. You should never use an arrest record in a hiring decision. That's a federal law."
Smith also points out other important differences between her company and online services.
"I've tried to stay fairly small in order to give my clients really good personalized service," she says. "My clients can call me at any time to ask questions or ask for my help or opinion, and I can get all the information they need to make their hiring decisions."
Another feature that Smith says sets Secure Check apart from some of its larger competitors is pricing. Because a number of her clients are temporary staffing agencies or distribution centers -- businesses that interview and hire a large number of applicants on a regular basis -- she offers a volume discount on background investigations for those types of clients.
"It has created a niche. Because they have a lot of turnover, perhaps they couldn't have afforded to do background checks before. But they can justify the volume price I give them, and I can afford to do that because they're sending me hundreds of names each month," she notes.
In addition to checking criminal records, Smith says her company also looks at employment and credit history on some applicants.
"Especially if someone will be in a position of trust or will have access to assets, we will check credit history," she explains. "I have worked with several small businesses that have had incidents with trusted employees, and I feel strongly that some of those things can be prevented by doing a very thorough background check."
Smith says small businesses usually are more vulnerable in those types of situations.
"The small business owner tends to treat employees more like a family," she points out. "If you have an office with only 10 or 12 employees, they're usually given a lot of trust and a lot of access to assets -- company secrets and the company checkbook."
An emerging division of the company provides background information on individuals who will be providing child care or elder care in private homes. For those applicants, Smith checks not only criminal records and employment and credit history but also the person's driving record.
"You want to make sure they have a valid driver's license and a good driving history," she says. "And you want to make sure that everything is consistent in the person's background -- just paint an overall picture and look for red flags when things don't match up."
Smith says Secure Check has experienced 100 percent growth in each of the last five years. She has two local employees and works with 10 researchers in Ohio as well as a national network of background providers. At the beginning of this year, she opened a second office in Akron to service clients in the Akron/Cleveland market.
In her "spare time," Smith is establishing herself as an expert witness. In the last year, she has testified at two major trials on behalf of crime victims. In each case, the employer had failed to do a thorough background check before hiring an employee.
If they had, Smith says, they would have found a record of criminal convictions. Because they didn't, they found themselves in court. How to reach: Tricia Smith, president, Secure Check Inc., 444-7455 or www.securecheckinc.com
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.