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Monday, 04 August 2003 11:25

Liberty for all

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The first time he walked into Liberty Bank in Twinsburg, Phil Studer knew changes had to be made. With 17 years experience in community banking at the Twinsburg Banking Co. and its eventual buyer, FirstMerit Bank, the new president and CEO of Liberty Bank knew the $46 million, two-branch institution needed to compete by connecting with customers in ways its giant competitors couldn't. It was the only way Studer saw the bank being able to grow at the rate he knew it was capable of growing. "When I came to Liberty Bank, I tried to step back and just observe…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:44

Outsourcing department

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If you want to spend more of your time focusing on your business and less time on administrative tasks, then a Professional Employer Organization might be for you. PEOs are typically aimed at businesses with 10 to 100 employees and take over many of the human resources responsibilities. "We are typically going into a small business that may not have a human resource manager on staff," says Jeff Schwartz, district manager for Administaff, a PEO. "Rather than going out and spending $50,000 to $70,000 to have them on hand, a business can rely on a huge team of experts to…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:39

Born again

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After a merger with Acero fell apart in December 2001, Len Pagon Jr., CEO of IT consulting firm Brulant Inc., used the opportunity to remake the company. "We called it Brulant 2.0," Pagon says. "The theme was to become the undisputed leader in this region, which, if we're not already there, we're on our way to becoming the leader of this region in digital strategy and solutions." The result of the restructuring was an 85 percent increase in sales over the year before and a near-doubling of the size of the firm to 70 employees. "Our job is client satisfaction…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:35

Punch out

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A bill introduced in the U.S. House in March may ease the burden for 33.7 million two-income households by offering comp time instead of cash for overtime worked. But some employers say it will increase their burden because workers won't be around when they're needed. The Family Time Flexibility Act (H.R. 1119), introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), amends The Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, which prohibits private sector employers from offering employees the choice of paid time off as compensation for working overtime hours. Public sector employees, by the way, have long enjoyed this flexibility. "Increasingly, employees…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:30

It's all in the look

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It wasn't that long ago when casual dress days, led by the late 1990s dot-com revolution, were pushing out traditional business dress codes at many companies. Beyond game rooms in the office and pets wandering around the workplace, new-age entrepreneurs simply weren't considered hip or cutting-edge unless they showed up for meetings with potential investors clad in polo shirts, khaki pants and even wrap-around sunglasses. Business suits, if worn at all, were reserved for important shareholder or board meetings or used as that finishing touch for closing deals with large, traditional industry clients or old-line investment banking houses that looked…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:05

Making change

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Last month, Congress backed the United States Department of Labor's proposed rules that will revise the white collar exemptions from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The white collar exemptions are executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employee. To be considered exempt, employees must meet certain minimum tests related to their primary job duties and be paid a salary not less than specified minimum amounts. The DOL is attempting to bring the regulations up to date with modern business realities. The basic duties tests and the salary basis test have remained essentially…
Monday, 28 July 2003 06:01

Changing opportunities

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If a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then there are a lot of insane managers. They're easy to spot. They complain about their business, but when asked what they have changed to address the issues and ease the pain, the answer is typically "not much." It's doubtful they actually enjoy the pain. Instead, they probably have a difficult time with change. But innovation and change can fix problems, breathing new life into a stale or dying business. They must be implemented throughout a business -- operations processes, management and corporate…
You got the approval to implement a new technology solution that will provide huge productivity gains for your business. You've spent countless hours selling the business impact to your partners. Several months after completion, employee productivity has decreased, project timelines have slipped due to unknown variables, and what was expected to have a large business impact has become a burden. What went wrong? Unless proper due diligence is completed prior to implementing projects, the solutions rarely pay dividends. There are five key pillars of an IT infrastructure to evaluate prior to project implementation that can save businesses time, money and…
Friday, 11 July 2003 08:46

In the house

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CBIZ, a Cleveland-based provider of outsourced business services, is in the process of choosing a comprehensive sales force automation to tie together its 160 offices spread across 33 states. But implementing such a system will take 12 to 18 months, and there are certain functions that needed to be accomplished now, so the TRACS system was born. TRACS (Track Referrals And Cross-Serving) tracks referrals made by one CBIZ company to another, making sure each one is followed up on and not forgotten. TRACS uses simple online forms to make referrals and a system of e-mail reminders to ensure those referrals…
Monday, 30 June 2003 07:29

Fair assets

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In the financial services industry, change isn't necessarily embraced with open arms. But that hasn't stopped Scott Roulston from staring change in the face and forcing it to blink. Over the past decade, Roulston has led the dramatic transformation of Fairport Asset Management, his well-established, family-owned brokerage firm, into a comprehensive investment and wealth management company. Along the way, he's shifted investment strategies, reworked the way the company was staffed with experts, consummated a merger of equals and, in a year when the market as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 declined by more than 22 percent, increased assets…
Monday, 30 June 2003 07:25

Floor founder

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Russell Masetta wanted to make concrete something special. Originally operating his family-owned concrete resurfacing business, he began to experiment with various mixes to create Nature Stone, a flooring material that blends stone with the protection and durability of epoxies. Since its beginnings in 1989, Bedford-based Nature Stone has transformed itself from a small side business to a full-time, multimillion dollar company. "We have created an industry," says Masetta, commenting on several companies which have followed in his footsteps to offer a stone-epoxy product line. Nature Stone, which has been used in laundry rooms, basements, garages, car showrooms and pool decks,…
Monday, 30 June 2003 07:21

The perfect blend

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There's a rule for all manufacturers: Make your product unique, or it will end up in a price war with the competition. John Barnard, president and CEO of high-end blender maker Vita-Mix, knows this rule, and he plastered it on every wall of the North Olmsted-based manufacturer when he returned in 1981 to run the company his grandfather started 44 years earlier. "Just about everything in the world is trying to turn your product into a commodity," Barnard says. "You have to maintain the fact that it's better in whatever way. If it's not just the product, then it's the…
Monday, 30 June 2003 07:16

Giving your heart and sole

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Tom Luck is on his way to a Baltimore conference of the National Shoe Retailers Association, where he serves on the Strategic Planning Committee. Asked how he has kept his Fairlawn-based Lucky Shoes stores ahead of the competition, he says that is the very topic the retailers would be discussing at the conference. "My feeling is, for an individual businessperson today to thrive and grow, you have to pay attention to the consumers' needs and wants and offer them value-added services," he says. "You have to ask yourself, 'Who is the consumer coming through my front door?'" Lucky Shoes' reputation…
Monday, 30 June 2003 06:42

Fast track

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Coltene/Whaledent Inc. CEO Jerry Sullivan is busy packing up his office in his company's former headquarters in Mahwah, N.J. "There are boxes everywhere," he gripes. "As we sit here, about 75 percent of our production is up and running there now, the next 25 percent will be operational by July 3. I and my entourage will be there by July 7." The "there" Sullivan refers to is a $8.8 million, 185,000-square-foot building that sits on nearly 18 acres in Akron's Ascot Park. Coltene/Whaledent, which manufactures dental instruments and lab tools, has been working out of its new global headquarters since…
Monday, 30 June 2003 05:45

Real estate planning

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Hoddy Hanna zips past behind the wheel of a green Cadillac, the car the same hue as the dominant corporate color of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, and extends his arm in a wave. After a couple of hours of chatting with him in his office, the question arises: Is he bidding farewell to the last transaction or greeting the next one? He may be doing both. A little earlier, Hanna, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, dined on a takeout lunch from a white foam container and talked about the real estate industry, the agency his parents founded…
Monday, 30 June 2003 05:39

Letters to the Editor

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In response to your recent editorial, "Welcome to telemarketing hell," published in both the Akron/Canton and Cleveland editions of Smart Business magazine, I take exception to your comments and would like to document the many benefits of the call center industry. The economic impact companies like InfoCision have on both the local and national economy is undeniable. InfoCision is one of the largest call center operators in the country, employing nearly 3,000 people in our offices throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In Ohio alone, our industry as a whole employs 250,000 people. That's the equivalent of employing every man,…
Monday, 30 June 2003 05:34

Classic questions

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"Now that's a great question." Every time I hear this, I smile. Why? Because a good question proves good listening, demonstrates critical thinking and uses humor to soften a pointed probe. The best questions force your respondents to better understand their condition, reply with honesty and discover a truth they did not otherwise accept. While the best questions are specific to a discussion with a prospect, client, employee or vendor, some are applicable in any situation. Here are a few of my favorites. "Tell me about a situation where you failed and what it taught you." If they say they…
Thursday, 19 June 2003 13:41

Say ahhhh-ntrepreneur

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It's much more complicated to become an emergency room doctor today than it used to be, as emergency medicine has emerged as a specialty much like surgery or pediatrics. "Emergency medicine has changed a lot," says Dr. David Packo, a certified emergency medicine physician and partner of Emergency Medicine Physicians, an emergency department staffing and management company. " Not long ago, residences and interns use to run the ER." Today's medical schools offer emergency medical programs specifically designed to prepare physicians for a career in the ER. The only problem is that "there are about 4,200 hospitals that have emergency…
Thursday, 19 June 2003 13:38

Renewed strength

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It was a matter of too much at once, says Alan Rosskamm, president and CEO of fabric and craft retailer Jo-Ann Stores Inc. From 1998 to 2001, Rosskamm opened 70 superstores, implemented a $33 million retail inventory control system by German conglomerate SAP AG and opened the chain's second distribution center, in Visalia, Calif. The three major initiatives required a major investment and left the company with $245 million in debt by 2001. Profits were down 153 percent from the previous year and its stock was trading at less than half its value from the previous year. In March 2001,…
Friday, 30 May 2003 06:39

Informed buyers

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Deep is one way to describe Audio-Technica's Web site. Comprehensive information on products and industry terminology, and even tutorials on eliminating audio problems fill the site of the Stow-based microphone manufacturer. "One of the things we initially set out as a common goal was to make Audio-Technica the authority on microphones and wireless systems, and one of the ways to do that was to make the Web site a resource not only for our products but to provide industry information as well," says Gary Boss, marketing director retail, live sound & studio for the 110-employee company. "We are adding immense…
Friday, 30 May 2003 06:34

Consulting help

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Janet Kramer had a problem. The president of the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society needed to upgrade her computer systems so that the four offices -- Cleveland, Akron, Columbus and Youngstown -- could access the central database and other software. The existing system was outdated and slow. "Because we are dealing with people with MS, we have a lot of information that we had to make sure the proper security was in place," says Kramer. "We also have one employee who works from a remote location, and she, too, needed to have access to the server." With…
Friday, 30 May 2003 06:15

The hole story

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So much time and attention are spent on perfecting the manufacturing process that for many manufacturers, sales and marketing can fall by the wayside. That's not the case with McNichols Co, a specialty metal producer. This manufacturer has such an aggressive marketing campaign that it has taken advantage of new markets for its product and expanded its client base. "You have to find your niche in the marketplace," says Gene McNichols, president, chairman and CEO of McNichols Co. "You have to be in tune with the types of applications that customers need and what they are using your product for."…
Friday, 30 May 2003 06:11

Creating ownership

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Up until late 1997, Olmsted Falls' Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc. operated just like any other corporate division of a large, multinational company. That was until the corporation, Champion International Corp., put it up for sale. But instead of waiting to be sold to another corporation, Blue Ridge employees, who manufacture paper drink cartons, joined with a New York investment banking firm to buy the company themselves, creating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Without that corporate leadership, however, Blue Ridge was left with a new operating philosophy of employee ownership, something that not everyone at the manufacturer was prepared to…
Friday, 30 May 2003 06:03

Ups and downs

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Ups to Gliatech. The last assets of this once-promising biotech firm were finally sold in late April to Netherlands-based European Medical Contract Manufacturing for $500,000 in a deal that includes up to $2 million in royalties. Over the next few months, the company will wrap up remaining legal and administrative issues and put the company to bed once and for all. Ups to the Cleveland Public Library and OverDrive. The partnership, which will result in offering library patrons electronic books via a digital catalog, could be a big boost for the fledgling e-book industry and provide the region with a…
Friday, 30 May 2003 05:58

Resource Central

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Are you planning to enter the COSE Business Plan Challenge but have hit a wall in the development of your business plan? COSE has introduced Resource Central Quick Guide, a place for Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs looking for an advantage to begin their quest. The guide ( lists organizations that provide free or low-cost help to aspiring entrepreneurs and to those who want to update their businesses. Topics include writing a business plan, legal advice, funding sources, office space, tax guidance and marketing. Resource Central is a rapid reference source of business-related not-for-profit assistance providers, including institutions of higher learning and…
Friday, 30 May 2003 05:54


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A year ago, few imagined the economy would still be taking a beating today. Yet here we are, and we're probably more unsure about the future than ever. Many companies are still struggling to be profitable and are doing more with less. Given the grim outlook for near-term growth in top line revenue and the cost-cutting that has already taken place, what more can be done? Very little. Your time is better spent focusing on maximizing the return from your company's remaining resources. Your organization can no longer afford underperforming or misappropriated resources. Reallocation of resources can maximize your return…
Monday, 12 May 2003 06:34

A man to count on

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Tom Jelepis, was a successful businessman and well-liked mayor of Bay Village who after two terms left the city running more smoothly and efficiently than it was when he came in. So why leave all that to become director of the beleaguered Cuyahoga County Board of Elections — a position that has been the target of both the media and politicians? Jelepis likes a challenge. The native Clevelander came to his new position in July 2000, not long after a ballot shortage in a Democratic primary threw the department into the media spotlight. His first order of business was to…