Morgan Lewis Jr.
UNB Corp.'s chairman and CEO Roger Mann is at a loss for words. When it comes to pinpointing what organizations his financial services holding company and its 350 employees help the most, there are almost too many to name.
"I really say this with pride, I don't think there's anything that's a driver in this community that we're not involved in," Mann says. "We, as a corporation, just feel it's a civic responsibility and our people welcome that."
For Mann and his company, community giving, whether through financial contributions or volunteer hours, is as important to a business as sales and customer service.
"If you don't have a caring community, your businesses are not going to succeed, your churches are not going to flourish, nothing really happens," he says. "Without that sense of community, I really don't think the community has a chance to prosper or go forward."
This year, UNB Corp.'s employees have pledged more than $45,000 to dozens of local and national charitable organizations. More than $166,000 has been donated from the company's charitable trust, ranging from contributions to Walsh University, Stark County Out of Poverty and the United Way to the Cultural Center for the Arts and Alliance Community Hospital, as well as many others.
But it's not just about financial donations. UNB Corp.'s employees volunteer hundreds of hours a month to local educational, youth and humanitarian organizations in the Canton area. UNB employee Jeff Ferry, for instance, spends more than 50 hours a month volunteering for Meals on Wheels of Stark & Wayne counties, United Way and Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges Junior Achievement and coaching in the North Canton Little League.
Barb Heinricher, who heads UNB Corp.'s training department, volunteers more than 20 hours a month for Junior Achievement, Mayor's Literacy Commission of Canton, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Stark State College of Technology.
"I teach kids how to keep a check register, make out deposit slips and checks," Heinricher says. "They get a sense that, 'Hey, I can do this -- I can understand this,' and they're so excited."
These are just two examples of a spirit of volunteerism that has always been a part of UNB Corp., which includes United National Bank & Trust Co., United Banc Financial Services Inc. and United Insurance Agency Inc.
"This company goes back to pre-Civil War days," Mann says. "Wherever I have been through the years, I always felt it was very much a responsibility, a pleasant one, to try and serve your community, so I was really blessed when I arrived here."
UNB Corp. has had two of its CEOs volunteer to serve as campaign chairperson for the United Way, which prompted United Way of Central Stark County president Steve Miller to nominate the company for the 2000 Pillar Award for Community Service.
"We thought it was unique that the company would show that kind of commitment over the years," Miller says. "They walk the talk and they are expansive in their generosity. We've been partners as long as I can remember." How to reach: UNB Corp., (330) 438-1119
Morgan Lewis (email@example.com) is a reporter for SBN.
We all consider ourselves budget-savvy. We pay the bills and put the rest into savings and investments.
But every time we try to get ahead on our debt, other expenses interfere. Sometimes, the extra money is needed for medical bills or to replace a broken appliance, but too often, it simply slips away to things we don't need, like that bigger television or the new gizmo that promises to change our lives.
Gary Habeeb witnessed this spending trend and started a profitable biweekly mortgage payment service. He offered homeowners the benefit of paying off their mortgage sooner -- which saves on interest -- because they make one extra monthly payment every year.
In essence, consumers get ahead on debt without feeling the pinch. Habeeb knew the service could be applied to car payments, but wasn't sure how.
One night, after saying his prayers and drifting off to sleep, he leapt up with one thought in his mind: Halfpayments.com. He ran downstairs and flipped on his computer. Searching the Web and domain name registrars, he found nothing similar.
"We had done very well in the mortgage industry, but I was praying to the Lord for something to open up," he says. "Jesus answered my prayer. He's blessed us unbelievably. There's no other way to see it than as a blessing."
Even before divine intervention helped him solidify his plans, Habeeb had put in place the proper components for applying the half payments idea to nearly any industry. Here's how he did it.
Stake your claim
Habeeb, CEO of Halfpayments Inc. in Strongsville, patented his biweekly car payment service and trademarked the name Halfpayments. When he founded the system last year, it was one of the few dot-com companies that had true first-mover status, and it's continued to hold onto that position.
"We have no competition," he says. "I think (the trademark) really deters a lot of people from doing it. If you were going to do something similar, what would you call it? You really couldn't call it other than what it really is."
Habeeb's system is user-friendly. Car buyers are charged a one-time set up fee of $199.95 when they sign up for the service. There's no electronic transfer fee, which is common with biweekly mortgage payments, and Habeeb doesn't charge the car dealership for implementing his system, even though it guarantees customers will save money and likely return to that dealer when they are ready for a new vehicle.
Consumers like the system because they can pay off a typical five-year car loan five months early and save anywhere from $500 to $2,000 on interest.
"Could you do our system by making an extra payment a year? Sure you could," Habeeb says. "But who does that? Nobody. It's a service, no doubt about it."
Thanks to strong regional publicity and a team of 65 marketing representatives, word spread quickly about Halfpayments.com. Dealerships from all over the country signed up for the system. Then, investors called to offer money, and rival companies called with acquisition offers.
But Habeeb wasn't interested in a fast buck. He saw the long-term potential of his system. However, he is in negotiations with a major company in the automotive industry to form a partnership using the Halfpayments system.
Due to legal restrictions, he would not reveal the name of the company. He did say that the key to the company's future success will be not only with dealership partnerships, but with the larger national and international companies as well. That is why, when the system was unveiled last August, he launched nationwide instead of test marketing locally.
"We're trying to get into the market as quickly as possible on a large scale like many Internet companies, but at the same time, we're also building bricks-and-mortar type relationships," says Elias Hussney, president of Halfpayments. "I think that culturing and cultivating of long-lasting relationships is what's missing in a lot of business practices these days."
How to reach: Halfpayments Inc., (866) PAY-HALF or www.halfpayments.com
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
In January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Ergonomics Standard took effect to help stem the growing number of cases of musculoskeletal injuries among the nation's work force.
OSHA will start to enforce the standard in October, assuming the new presidential administration and Congress don't make any changes.
While workers' groups and labor unions applaud the new regulation, some major corporations and political groups representing business owners find the standard ambiguous and unnecessary.
The nation's 460,000 yearly musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome cost businesses $9.1 billion each year. The fact is, most of the injuries could be easily prevented, says Dave Pfeil, president of Ergonomically Correct LLC in Middleburg Heights and an ergonomics expert who helps business owners design programs to prevent musculoskeletal injuries in office employees.
"When people begin to better understand their body, then they understand why they should put together an ergonomics program," Pfeil says.
He outlines several common musculoskeletal injuries that often plague office workers, and what you can do to avoid them.
Head and neck
Most of us who sit at a desk in front of a computer all day lean forward too far or slouch, causing our head to move out of its proper position over the shoulders. The average human head weighs 12 to 13 pounds, so if it's not correctly positioned, it can put a strain on muscles and tendons in the neck and back.
"If I were to give you a 13-pound bowling ball and ask you to hold it in front of your body, you would get tired very quickly, wouldn't you?" Pfeil says. "Leaning forward is going to cause problems."
Most of us don't gaze softly at our monitor screens. We stare, concentrating on the words, numbers or images on the screen.
During a one-on-one conversation, people blink an average of 22 times a minute. When staring at a computer screen, blinks drop to seven times a minute, leading to eyestrain and reduced energy.Wrists
Most desks, even in the computer age, are 29 inches high. Why? Well, it's an unproven theory that during the '50s, ergonomics tests were performed on U.S. Army solders to determine the ideal height of a writing desk. That turned out to be 29 inches.
The problem is, not everybody is built like a U.S. Army soldier, and many people must reach too high to type on their keyboards. If your keyboard legs are extended, you're doing three times the damage to your carpal tunnel.
"You alter the workstation, you don't alter the person," Pfeil says. "The minute you try to alter the person, you take them out of their natural position, because your elbows should be down close to your side."
Make sure the chair at your desk allows you to sit with your head over your shoulders and to have your elbows comfortably placed at your sides.
A sure sign that you're not sitting properly is the need to stand up and walk around due to tightness or pain in your back. How to reach: Ergonomically Correct, (216) 676-6884; OSHA, (312) 353-2220
Morgan Lewis Jr. (email@example.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
When he was 16 years old, Richard Harris woke up at 5 a.m. to work in his father's carpet warehouse.
He swept, helped installers measure and cut carpet by hand, and hoisted the rolls onto the truck. Meanwhile, his father, Hy, was in the office, checking on jobs, calling installers and balancing the books of the Harris Carpet Co.
Fast forward 22 years. Harris, now vice president of Marshall Commercial Floors Inc., is faced with a dilemma: Double the size of his business again and risk alienating his current customer base or take a step back and risk losing new customers to competitors.
Most business owners dream of having more business than they can handle. But Harris chose to slow the growth and follow a philosophy he developed during his eight years working side-by-side with his father.
"I think you have to get to a point and say, 'Time out,' and look at what you have and take care of the people that have been loyal to you," Harris says. "The key to success in this business is loyalty. Loyalty is everything."
He may be the head of a $6 million company division, but Harris still proudly dresses as an installer. On a mid-January day, he strolls out of his Beachwood office in jeans, sport shirt and a leather jacket, then explains that he saves the business suits for sales meetings with company CEOs and real estate developers.
"I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty," Harris says. "I'll go in the warehouse, help them cut carpet and help the guys load carpet. I talk to my installers on a regular business day because I want to be in touch. They're my eyes and ears."
Although he worked with his father for eight years, Harris spent the bulk of his 24 years in the carpet business at other flooring companies, absorbing the knowledge of how to and how not to run a company. He worked for Crown Carpet and ProFlor, then Carpet Barn and Tile House, which Harris points out filed for bankruptcy well after he left the company.
But while he developed his skills elsewhere, throughout his career, he continually called on the sales and management savvy he learned working with his father.
"I'm still from the old school," Harris says. "What is done in today's age and today's economy, over the Internet and by phone calls and sending out pamphlets and brochures and bidding, my philosophy is beating the pavement. Going right after the owners and cutting to the chase, winning them over with integrity, my name in the business and my dad's reputation in the business."
So it should have come as no surprise when, in June 1996, Marc and Chuck Wien, owners and co-presidents of Marshall Carpet & Tile Inc., tabbed Harris to help launch and run the commercial division of their flooring business, which up to that point only served retail customers and homebuilders.
"Being in business at that point for over 25 years, we felt that we had a void in our business," explains Chuck Wien. "We were getting faxes from general contractors, we were getting inquires from property managers who knew of us, but certain types of commercial needs were beyond our capabilities."
As the Wiens began to plan their company's expansion, they bumped into Harris at a business conference. At the time, Harris was looking to branch out, and his reputation and experience in the industry made him the perfect leader for the Wiens' venture.
"We basically built the business around him," Wien says. "We did open separate facilities, staffing, labor. We kept everything separate and independent of our current operation. From there, he just went to work."
Using contacts from his former jobs and some of the Wien's current clients, Harris landed $2 million in sales for the commercial division in its first year.
Then the floodgates opened.
Three large flooring and carpeting businesses in the Cleveland area went out of business, unleashing hundreds of customers into the market. Marshall Commercial Floors started to more receive business than anyone had imagined. Apartments, offices, stores and restaurants by the dozen called with orders.
New installers were hired. More office staff was added. Over the next two years, sales tripled to $6 million.
That was when Harris pulled back the reins.
"We were hearing some rumblings out in the field that people were concerned that we weren't going to do the same job we always did," says Harris. "I said 'Time out, this doesn't make sense.' If we can take on some of the new business, fine. But only if we can handle the existing business the way we always have. That's what's important."
Staying the course
Harris knew his competition would benefit because he was passing on some new projects, but in the long run, it was better for the company.
"All a customer wants is someone to respond to them, take care of their needs, do the job they're looking for, and continually have that aggressive service they want," he says. "As soon as you lose that service, they're looking to do business with someone else."
Harris' growth rate is now where he wants it. He manages approximately 20 crews of installers, who are all subcontracted, a five-member office staff and three employees in his warehouse. Although there are two part-time sales representatives, Harris still handles 99 percent of the commercial division sales himself.
"I beat the pavement, knock on doors and keep coming at my customers until I get an opportunity to sit face-to-face with the people that run this city and run the businesses," Harris says. "You just can't work behind the desk. It's being out at the project, being on the site and getting your shoes dirty."
While Harris never shies away from the bigger jobs -- he recently completed a $200,000 flooring project for Cleveland State University -- the foundation for his division was built on smaller jobs that can be completed in days instead of months. Too often on the larger projects, flooring companies wage bid wars and drop estimates until the jobs are barely profitable. The risk usually outweighs the reward.
"I'm geared for (the big projects), but I'd rather stay away from them," Harris says. "I would rather do 20 jobs that equal that amount than one, than be on the hook with one person. I'd rather be on the hook with 20."
Like everything else in the construction industry, carpeting and flooring projects are prone to error and delays. Sometimes, it's the fault of one of Harris's suppliers. Sometimes, it's one of his people.
Harris never claims to be perfect, but what keeps his customers coming back is that he admits when he's wrong and corrects the mistake.
"From the mill level to making the goods, to shipping it, to unloading it, to cutting it, to sending it out on the job site, there's a lot of hands on that carpet," Harris says. "The way I look at it, if you jump through hoops on accounts and you make mistakes, you have to be human, be honest with them and fix what you did. My customers know I'll do that."
Harris' ability to soothe an irate customer was one of the key characteristics that landed him the job at Marshall.
"Rick is a super salesman," Chuck Wien says. "He's very caring about his accounts and very responsive with his accounts, and that's what it takes to succeed in that business."
Today, with slow, sustained growth in check, it's what Harris says he's able to maintain. And, it's exactly what he learned from his father all those years ago.How to reach: Marshall Commercial Floors Inc., (216) 514-7900
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
CWP Inc. general manager Ronald Varesco was drafting a revision to his company's employee screening policy.
Mired in the details and overall legal issues, he told the office staff of his growing bristled brush manufacturing company to call several other West Side manufacturers and find out about their policies. The research paid off.
"That's how we formulated our policy," Varesco says. "Everybody's in the same boat, fighting the same issues."
A business kinship developed among these manufacturers, culminating in the Learners Groups. The Learners Group is the brainchild of the Westside Industrial Retention & Expansion Network (WIRE-Net) and consists of groups made up of CEOs, presidents and general managers who meet once a month at each other's plants to see operations and discuss issues facing small manufacturers.
Holly Harlan, manufacturing assistance program leader for WIRE-Net, says the idea for the Learners Groups took hold after the first plant tour in 1996.
"I couldn't get them to stop talking after they toured the plant," Harlan says. "They were comparing notes and discussing improvements, and we kind of looked at each other and said, 'I think we've got something here.'"
Some company owners are suspicious of the Learners Groups, fearing a competitor will find out trade secrets. Those concerns are allayed after they learn the 10 groups, made up of 34 companies, are split up so no close competitors are in the same group.
"There's not a lot of competitors out there," Harlan says. "With today's market place everybody's kind of going after their own niche."
Here are some of the benefits of the group meetings.
Learning from experience
Consultants and experts are not allowed in the Learners Groups, only decision-makers who are actually running a plant. The exclusive membership is one the group's drawing points.
"There's a real impact when they look at somebody else's operation," Harlan says. "If they can see their neighbor has a new idea started over there, they will pick it up much faster, and it's going to be so much easier to implement."
Each year, five groups tour each other's plants and discuss each other's operations; the other five groups meet to focus on specific issues, such as attraction and retention of employees, plant maintenance, writing training plans and productivity skills.
The groups weren't formed so that company owners could sell to one another, but new business opportunities are inevitable. In some cases, an owner might recommend a supplier or a customer in the market for another company's product.
More important, CEOs and managers establish a network of contacts they can call on if an issue arises in their plant.
"It's kind of created a business community," Harlan says. "A lot of the time, a general manager is alone, meaning he's the only one making the big decisions. Now he can compare his thought process and decisions with others, and I think it gives them more confidence."
Supporting the industry
While the companies involved in the Learners Groups may independently benefit from the lessons learned, keeping the the overall manufacturing industry in Cleveland competitive is the real motivating force.
"If you're not the low-cost producer, your industry is going to end up in Mexico or a Third World country," Varesco says. "Cleveland, like some other places, would have to pack it in. The strength of this city is dependent on its small manufacturing base.
"I think that's the issue. I think that's what we're trying to do." How to reach: WIRE-Net, (216) 631-7330; CWP Inc., (216) 252-1190
Morgan Lewis Jr. (email@example.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
Last year, Matt Kuenzel designed a Palm Pilot software application that he thought was a perfect match for people on the go.
The program, called Mapopolis (after the company's name, Mapopolis Inc.), allows users to plug in an address and have the destination pinpointed on a PDA-sized map. The software even designates nearby landmarks, like shops and restaurants.
Kuenzel offered the program free as a download from the Cleveland Heights-based company's Web site, where visitors could download maps of not only Cuyahoga County but also hundreds of other regions.
When he designed the software in early 2000, Kuenzel and his business partner, Darren Powell, believed advertising would be the key to generating revenue. But, as many Web-based firms discovered, ad revenue is not the solid business model legions of would-be paper millionaires once thought it would become. Kuenzel, like his Internet brethren, found no one was interested in advertising on the Palm.
The duo quickly changed the strategy and approached major fast food restaurants, asking them to pay a fee for inclusion on Mapopolis' maps. While the idea was sound, they learned that type of sales campaign required more manpower than they had.
"The 1999 business model was crashing all around us, " Powell says. "We decided that it probably wasn't a feasible idea, or sellable to VCs to raise money, so we had to change. Right now, we're maintaining our nimbleness and flexibility by not saying exactly how we're going to (generate revenue streams). It remains to be seen what the market will bear."
No matter what primary revenue model Powell and Kuenzel decide upon, one thing's for certain -- the two have the right pieces in place to build around.
Establish a targeted user base
Kuenzel and Powell pack some muscle when they talk to investors, thanks to a large user base which has already downloaded and is using the software. The Mapopolis Web site logs about 30,000 hits a day, with about 5,000 coming from unique users. They estimate that about 7,500 maps are downloaded each day.
They've also received positive recognition and validation in the press, despite almost no marketing. Recently, the software reviewing agency Two Cows gave Mapopolis a five cow rating, its highest, and Smart Money magazine recommended it in a recent issue.
Link with strategic partners
The duo inked a licensing agreement with Pocket Real Estate, a software company that offers handheld applications for Realtors. The real estate software includes a button that allows the user to tap into Mapopolis and display a map and the surrounding area. One realty company is already using the software.
Kuenzel and Powell are also working on a partnership with local police and fire departments and other emergency medical service providers to use Mapopolis to find the scene of an accident or incident. With those users in mind, Kuenzel designed the last version of the software to coordinate with Global Positioning System units.
"I think a lot of these departments are small," Kuenzel says. "Even a city like Cleveland Heights might not be able to explore all the technology issues."
They also plan partnerships with delivery companies, site engineering and logistics companies, and trucking and shipping companies.
"We're going to do certain integrations with applications, logistics and EMS," Powell says. "There are going to be charges associated with those."
Keep improving the product
Despite the rapidly growing popularity of Mapopolis, Kuenzel continually works on upgrades. The next version will feature a mini-browser to interpret HTML to integrate with other programs, and point-to-point driving directions.
The duo may also start including a subscription fee for a more high quality map library while still maintaining the free map database.
"We've gathered a pretty large community of users already," Powell says. "It's a good idea to continue to develop and enlarge the community. It's like the Windows mentality.
"If you get a lot of people used to using your product, it is certainly easier to integrate a charge because the user base is already there."
How to reach: Mapopolis, (216) 397-0590 or www.mapopolis.com
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
You need to increase your slumping sales record, so you invest in recruiting new employees with tremendous records at their previous companies.
However, when they join your firm, not only do sales decrease, but the new employees reveal discipline and performance problems. Worse, you've invested more money in this initiative than in any other in your company's history.
Welcome to the Cleveland Cavaliers Inc.
New Cavs General Manager Jim Paxson watched the team's meager ticket sales rise 4 percent from the previous season, but the numbers were still the second lowest in the franchise's 20-plus year history. He watched discipline problems occurring on the team, low employee morale and a fickle customer base.
It was the last factor that disturbed him most -- fans were more than content with the local football and baseball teams and weren't entertainment-starved enough to shell out $30 or more to watch a struggling basketball team.
It was clear the Cleveland Cavs' work force needed another major restructuring effort, not only to deliver more wins -- which is what brings in sales -- but also to improve public relations with the community, which helps sell tickets even if the team may not be that hot.
"Sitting in the general manager's chair for one year and facing the kind of season we did last year, (head coach) Randy (Wittman) and I felt we needed to try and make some significant changes," Paxson told a group of sports writers at a recent luncheon. "I think what really helped us in the start that we are having is changing the chemistry and getting some veterans with some leadership ability on this team. Chemistry is so important in a team game."
Here's what the Cavs have done in the past year to revamp a team -- and a business -- that was on the decline.
In the off-season, the Cavs released $96-million discipline problem Shawn Kemp, who, despite leading the team in scoring, led the entire league in personal fouls and disqualifications. After trading Kemp, Paxson brought in veteran leaders Clarence Weatherspoon and Chris Gatling, and forwards Robert Traylor, Matt Harpring and J.R. Reid (recently waived) and guard Bimbo Coles.
Getting eager new team players on the roster resulted in improved morale for the Cavs. And as most company owners and managers know, better employee morale means better productivity, and better productivity translates into increased revenue (read: ticket sales).
Paxson says the new Cavs employees believe, as he does, that there isn't one player who shines above the rest, but rather, different players who excel on the court on different nights. There is not just one go-to guy, which is better if you want a unified team.
"What we have is a team; you win with a team and you need talent and need good players. We feel we have talent and we have good players," he says.
Develop leaders and mentors
Part of building a dedicated team is developing leadership through mentors who take younger employees under their wings. In the Cavs' case, the team sought new leaders who, while not superstars, had solid experience and were willing to serve as managers to younger players with tremendous potential.
One player who stands out is Weatherspoon, who's been in the league for eight years.
"Spoon, in my opinion, has been our MVP," Paxson says. "If we start to lose a lead, he's the one getting in the huddle and yelling at guys. He brings that energy and enthusiasm and he wants to win. For an undersized power forward, he's really set the tone for this group."
Paxson also lauds the veteran players, namely Coles, who's been playing since 1990, for their mentoring force on the new Cavs.
"Bimbo came in with the attitude that he wanted to be a part of this team, and he wanted to help Andre Miller grow as a player," Paxson says. "He wanted to be on a team that was committed to winning. From Day One in training camp, he's been a real key person for us."
Teach your younger staff members
Employers face this dilemma every year: They hire a kid fresh out of school who shows tremendous potential but has little real world experience.
Two players on the Cavs seem poised for All Star status, but need to learn leadership skills and discipline from strong management and co-workers who will prevent them from squandering their skills.
"(Harpring) brings an effort and energy that I think a lot of fans here remember in the teams from the late '80s, early '90s," Paxson says. "He brings a lot of effort and energy and hustle, which is contagious with the other players on the floor. And Robert Traylor has shown the potential that we all think that he has, and he also shows a high level of enthusiasm."
That type of lead-by-example attitude sparks a willingness to give extra effort -- something employers strive for in their work force.
Understand budget constraints
Employers would like to invest more in personnel to attract the best employees, but they are often limited by what their CFO says they can spend. In the NBA, however, the industry itself limits how much a team can spend on players through the use of a salary cap.
Even with the restriction, only two teams last year were under the cap. The Cavs were not one of those.
"Part of the thinking that went into the trades that we made was not only to change the chemistry and the environment, but also to change the flexibility in terms of the players we want to keep longer term," Paxson says. "We're looking at it in a way that we want to keep the core group of our guys together and have the financial ability to do that. We might have some cap room in the next two or three years."
The drastic changes have put a new face on the Cavaliers. They seem hungrier and more motivated. And, as is the goal of any good business owner who undertakes sweeping change in an effort to spark production of a better product, the public has stood up and noticed.
The only thing remaining is to drive revenue back up toward the basket. How to reach: The Cleveland Cavaliers, (216) 420-2000
Morgan Lewis Jr. (email@example.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
On his first undercover drug buy, Akron narcotics detective Timothy Dimoff forgot to do his due diligence.
He emerged from the drug dealer's house pumped up about the smooth, 45-minute buy. But when he returned to the undercover police van parked down the street, his superior officer told him the battery pack on the microphone hidden beneath Dimoff's clothes only lasts for 20 minutes. Several key moments of the transaction were lost.
"When I got out of there, somebody educated me," Dimoff says. "I didn't jump into an angel investment not knowing how long the batteries were going to last. You have to know what the timetable is. You have to know how fast you're going to do it.
"And if you don't do it right, you don't get the right information, then you don't do it. You don't take chances."
Dimoff retired from the Akron Police Department after 15 years. He spent 11 years in the narcotics department and was injured 13 times. He's been shot at, but never hit by a bullet. He was cut once by a knife, and suffered three back injuries and a smashed jaw. After a year of rehabilitation, he decided to apply his detective skills to a new career.
Dimoff is not only an angel investor, he's also president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc., based in Mogadore. Although no longer chasing bad guys, he incorporates the same skills he used as a detective. He also uses many of the same business practices drug dealers use to turn a profit, except with angel investing, the payoff is legal, and usually slower and much less profitable than the illegal drug trade.
"(Drug dealing) is the fastest turnover of all businesses in the world, including the types we're involved in," Dimoff told a captivated group of investors at a meeting of the International Angel Investors Institute - Ohio. "Last year, only one person made more money in the world than the illegal drug trade: Bill Gates, $74 billion. Illegal drug trade, $54 billion."
Here are a few of the business practices investors -- legal and illegal -- need to use, according to Dimoff.
Learn from the best
Just off the police force, Dimoff didn't know much about being an investor or an entrepreneur, so he bought a lot of people lunch. He found investors and learned from them, then asked who else he should talk to.
Did he ever make mistakes? Of course, but that's what you have to expect.
"I took my licks, took my bumps and learned the hard way, like we all did," he says. "I didn't get where I am by myself. I got here because a lot of great business people took the time to tell me how to get there."
Don't go it alone
As with drug dealing, starting your own business or investing in one is a team effort, Dimoff says. In both professions, you need financiers. You need people who will protect you, and those who will help prevent you from making mistakes.
In both trades, you need people to help you learn the market and break into that market. You need people who are going help you improve the product.
"Illegal drug dealers, they do the same thing," Dimoff says. "They get their money, they go down to Florida, New York, California, they get their drugs, they get the big payoff. We're both investors and we both take chances.
"The only difference is if they get caught, they go to jail. If I get caught I just lose my money. I like those odds better."
On the flip side, when Dimoff was busting drug dealers, he needed every bit of information about them that he could find. When he and the SWAT team busted a drug house, they'd have an informant map out the entire space -- where the drugs were, where the dealer kept any weapons, where they slept.
Everything down to the last closet was on paper before he and his officers stampeded through the doors.
"There was no second chance in that game," Dimoff says. "Angel investing, there's also no second chance. You can lose your money if you don't know what's behind the door."
Drug raids changed while Dimoff was on the force. It used to be him and a couple of officers would break down the door with sledgehammers and secure the home in a couple minutes. By the time he retired, two SWAT teams of 12 men broke down each door and secured the house in less than 12 seconds.
Dealers never had time to react. It's no different with an angel investment -- you can't waste time.
"Speed is of the essence," Dimoff says. "Once you get your investment, once you're moving, you need to grow that investment and get it to that second level. Amazing how two different trades, one legal, one illegal, have so much in common." How to reach: SACS Consulting, (330) 628-6393
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.
Verizon doesn't print those -- it's in the wireless phone business. Westlake-based Shamrock Cos. Inc. takes care of that.
But Shamrock doesn't only design and print marketing materials. Its CEO, Robert Troop, has found in the 31 years he's been in the printing business that you have to diversify if you want to keep growing.
"I'm a good listener," Troop says. "The greatest source of information of how you develop your company comes from the client and your employees."
When Troop purchased Shamrock in 1989, office PC software and laser printers were rapidly destroying the need for its business form printing services. Troop responded by adding products like brochures and magazines, trade show display panels and consumer market packaging.
"I wanted to keep selling the business forms, but we needed to expand on that," Troop says.
To reflect the shift, Troop changed the company name in 1991 from Shamrock Forms Inc. to Shamrock Graphics Inc. Meanwhile, he acquired a small graphic services company to reinforce the change in strategic direction. That division was incorporated separately under the name Shamrock Creative Services Inc.
In 1997, Troop launched Popular Products Midwest Corp., a specialty advertising company that prints company logos on pens, coffee mugs, apparel and customer gifts and promotions.
"We wanted to eliminate multiple vendors for our large accounts and become a one-stop shop," Troop says. "That way we could create more programs for them at a higher level and really bring value to the table."
On top of the printing services, Shamrock warehouses and distributes its clients' marketing materials or promotional gifts. Although seemingly unrelated to its core printing and design services, warehousing and order fulfillment are in high demand.
"That is our single largest area of growth," Troop says. "There's a greater sense of urgency for us, so we do a better job at it than if was outsourced."
Troop combined the three divisions in 2000 under the name The Shamrock Cos. Inc. Sales have increased more than 200 percent in the last five years and Troop's added 22 employees in the last three years for a total of 103. How to reach: The Shamrock Cos. Inc., (440) 899-9510
In hindsight, there probably should have been a bit more environmental regulation. Not only would it have prevented widespread pollution, it might have spared the city from becoming a national punch line for every environmental joke.
But that's ancient history. Today, when an Ohio company wants to build on raw land, there are two governmental bodies looking over its shoulder. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demand strict adherence to environmental regulations affecting undeveloped land. What's good for the environment, however, adds considerable time and cost to any construction project on wetlands.
"It can take six to nine months dealing with the government before you can even start the project," says attorney Steven Marrer, a partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cleveland. "In some cases, it might not be worth it. You'll just have to look elsewhere."
If there is a piece of undeveloped land that's too perfect to pass up for your next construction project, here are the steps you must follow.
Step One: Get a wetlands delineation survey
Most companies need to hire an environmental consultant to perform this kind of survey, which will determine where wetlands are on the property, how they are configured and their category. The consultant will also serve as a representative when negotiating with the government later in the process.
Step Two: Fill out permits
If the construction project disturbs less than a half-acre of wetlands, your company will not usually need a special permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Ohio EPA. If the project will disturb a half-acre or more, you'll need to complete two permits -- a Section 404 Permit for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a Section 401 Permit for the Ohio EPA. Both ensure that your project meets federal and state wetlands regulations.
Step Three: Submit your plans
The wetlands permits require you to submit three versions of your construction project to the government. The first version is your ideal plan. The second is an alternative plan that will disturb fewer wetlands. The third is for the project not to disturb any wetlands.
"The third plan is usually something that can't exist," Marrer says. "It would just be too difficult to complete."
Once you have the two permits approved, you can start building. How to reach: Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP, (216) 241-2838
There are three categories of protected wetlands.
These wetlands are very low quality and easily replaceable. You will not need to alter your construction project much, if at all, with this category.
These wetlands are more closely protected. They might include a water source or plant life that will be more difficult to replace. This category requires a more drastic change to the construction plans.
You can't touch these wetlands. They are considered irreplaceable.
There are Wetlands Mitigation Banks, like Trumbull Creek in Ashtabula County, where companies can purchase wetlands as a swap for the wetlands destroyed during building. Once purchased, the lands in a mitigation bank are blocked from development. Prices usually run $20,000 an acre.