Rea & Associates
Giving back to the community isn’t something we do just because it makes us look good. It’s an integral part of the culture at Rea & Associates. Almost all of our team members are involved with their communities in some way, either donating their time for special projects or serving as leaders in organizations that are important to them.
And if you were to stop one of these employees on the street and ask if he or she could describe the values that this firm lives by, each person would refer to “The Rea Way” — our value statement. Different parts of the statement resonate with different employees, but one of the lines that best describes the attitude and culture of this firm reads: “Invest in your family, your community and your future.”
That mission is top-of-mind in a number of ways. An annual food drive creates excitement and a healthy competitive spirit, as we see which of our 11 offices can round up the most food to donate to community food pantries. And employees get involved by suggesting community outreach projects and requesting donations for particular organizations through the Rea Foundation.
And then there’s a special group of employees who are so dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations succeed that they have dedicated their careers to it. They specialize in providing services to the not-for-profit industry and enjoy the challenge of understanding the increasing demands these organizations and their board members face. We’re proud to be a partner in our clients’ successes.
Congratulations and best wishes for continued success to this year’s Pillar honorees.
Learn more at www.reacpa.com.
Colortone Staging & Rental is a premier audiovisual and staging company with expertise in event design and production. We stage a multitude of events, including corporate meetings, awards banquets, special events, trade shows, concerts, webcasts and videoconferences. CSR also manages audiovisual equipment for hotel properties and operates a full-service equipment rental division. The solutions we provide, combined with our highly trained technical staff, ensure the success of every event. Our quality is unmatched and our attention to detail is unsurpassed.
The staff at CSR consists of the best in the business. Our technicians have an average of five years in the audiovisual and event management business. Their diverse backgrounds allow us to think on our feet, act quickly and provide flexibility and creative problem solving to every situation we find.
The company is also an active member of the community, consistently finding ways to give back where it can.
Learn more at www.colortone.com.
The Charles Penzone Salons
The team members at The Charles Penzone Salons offer their time and talents to a multitude of charitable efforts in Central Ohio. In 2011, more than 150 professionals volunteered countless hours of time to support nearly 70 charitable organizations.
Though The Charles Penzone Salons supports many organizations throughout Central Ohio, they are strong advocates for causes that empower women and support children. This year, The Charles Penzone Salons hosted the 13th annual Mother/Daughter Spa Day for A Kid Again in July. The Grand Salon in Dublin closed its doors to regular guests, so team members can volunteer their time to pamper girls with life-threatening illnesses and their mothers. More than 100 A Kid Again honorees enjoyed a wonderful day filled with hair and spa services, dinner and other special activities. More than 70 Charles Penzone team members volunteered their time and talent to help make this event happen.
For the last 12 years, The Charles Penzone Salons have supported Komen Columbus Race for the Cure. For the last two years, they have been a GOLD sponsor of the Race by offering mini manicures and massages in the Survivor-Palooza area, among several other things.
The hearts, hands and time of the professionals at The Charles Penzone Salons is the reason why the organization can support so many of Central Ohio’s philanthropic organizations. The company is incredibly thankful for their professionals’ ability to live purpose-driven lives.
For more information, visit www.charlespenzone.com.
Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board
Each year, the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board staff participates in the statewide Combined Charitable Campaign. The CSRAB staff sets a lofty financial goal in order to help as many nonprofit organizations as possible. The staff takes great pride in working together to raise funds for so many worthy organizations. In addition, during the holidays, the entire Statehouse staff collects nonperishable food items to donate to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to ensure needy families are taken care of during the holidays. CSRAB employees are encouraged to give back year-round whenever they can.
The Ohio Statehouse works very hard to play a vital role to ensure a better community. Through its free innovative programming, special events and educational forums, the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board works hard to ensure that the Statehouse continues to be a gathering place for every citizen. Often called “the People’s House,” we work hard to provide this programming in order to “give back.” During these difficult economic times, more familiars are looking for free programming. This is an area in which the Statehouse is proud to partner with the city, downtown Columbus community and other nonprofit organizations.
For more information, visit www.OhioStatehouse.org or call (614) 728-2130.
Findley Davies Inc.
Since Jim Findley and John Davies founded Findley Davies’ in 1969, their firm belief in the value of community service has continued as a foundation of our philanthropic focus. Our dedication to family and community is written in the “Findley Davies Story” that is passed along to each new employee at the time of their employment orientation and is reinforced by principals and other associates, alike.
Beyond the written word in our history and Mission Statement, the active role Findley Davies and our associates play in the communities in which we live and work is evident. Across all offices and levels within Findley Davies, there is a wide variety of non-profit and community organizations in which associates are involved. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the way they are most comfortable and for the organizations and causes they are most passionate about.
For more information, visit www.findleydavies.com.
Commercial Vehicle Group
Commercial Vehicle Group is a strong philanthropic partner to the community through direct contributions and through the volunteer efforts of our associates. We seek to support organizations whose efforts and goals are far reaching in number and whose ethics and core values mirror those of the company.
We are proud to support many nonprofit organizations that benefit education and youth development, civic and community organizations, and programs and services with which our team members are actively involved, such as youth sports teams and civic events.
In addition to his own personal commitment to community service, President and CEO Mervin Dunn also encourages his officers and directors to actively participate with civic and charitable organizations, as evidenced by his scheduling of all of his senior team to “ring the bell” on behalf of the Salvation Army Red Kettle initiative in December 2009 and his support of an onsite “Coats for Kids Drive” that benefitted local youth.
For more information, visit www.cvgrp.com or call (614) 289-5177.
Catering by Design
Catering by Design has a longstanding commitment to supporting nonprofits and causes throughout Ohio. We are proud to have catered the Pelotionia (a fundraiser with the mission to cure cancer) in 2009 and 2010, serving more than 15,000 meals.
We serve events throughout Ohio, including corporate luncheons, picnics and elegant evening balls. Our professional staff and highly trained certified chefs work directly with you to provide the perfect food and beverages to complement your event. Catering By Design is the preferred caterer for the Columbus Symphony summer concert series, Picnic With the Pops. We are also the exclusive caterer at the Aladdin Shrine Center at Easton and also provide catering services for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremonies in Canton.
For more information, visit www.cateringbydesign.com or call (614) 436-1234.
LOGOS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Black Box, is dedicated to combining business acumen with technical savvy, guiding talented team members to create innovative IT solutions and enabling clients to have confidence in their IT infrastructure. The firm and its leadership team are also dedicated to giving back to the community where its team members live and work. Part of this is through The LOGOS Way, which includes the following mantras:
- We greet every day with a positive can do attitude.
- We are a team with heart, integrity and rhythm.
- We take on each project with efficiency, diligence and a sense of urgency.
- We are students of learning and creators of innovation.
- We never rest on our laurels. We always look for ways to improve how we do business for our clients and for ourselves.
- We believe in creating long-term, trusted relationships with our clients.
For more information, visit www.logosinc.com or call (440) 871-0777.
As many of her friends and family members became new parents, Jill Cartwright increasingly heard complaints that many of the products they were buying were styled for children instead of adults.
In addition to unpleasing aesthetics, the makers of these products did not cater to the comfort and safety needs of caregivers. Cartwright saw the opportunity to create ergonomically safe yet stylish products for parents, and Go Gaga was born.
Smart Business sat down with Cartwright to discuss entrepreneurship and how to turn a problem into a solution.
What were some of the challenges you faced after launching and how you overcame them?
As you can imagine, there is a lot of competition in the children’s industry. It’s incredibly crowded, especially when you start looking at things like diaper bags and diapering accessories. Given that we were entering the marketplace during a particularly tough economic time, it was really difficult as a fledgling company to go head-to-head with some of the more established brands — especially when it came to approaching retailers who are under a lot of pressure to produce their SKU count. But fortunately, because of the innovation behind our ergonomically safe strap, I was able to open up a few doors. And we’ve actually just rolled out nationwide with one retailer.
What is your philosophy on building customer and vendor relationships, how do you make them survive?
I think the key to building good customer relationships is to eliminate any assumption you have about what their needs are. I think a lot of companies project their own needs onto their customers, as opposed to taking the time to meet them where they are. Go into their shops, go in to their offices. Understand what their challenges are and then present them with solutions. It’s been really interesting. I make it a point to not only ask my customers what they need but also spend time with them, because the most exciting thing for me is when I can meet a customer’s need that they didn’t even know they had.
Where do you find your best ideas?
Honestly, I find my best ideas in airports, on sidewalks, anywhere where people are out and about and trying to navigate their day. Because that’s where I think our greatest opportunity is to make it easier, to make it more comfortable, to make it more stylish and honestly, to make people feel more confident as they’re trying to navigate their daily activities, with or without their children.
How you determine which ideas are go or no go, do you test them?
I do, and that’s a great question. It goes back to my point about making assumptions. The interesting thing is that I’m not a parent, and so that forces me to always look back to the marketplace in terms of retailers and parents themselves. … So our product development process is really exhaustive, in the conceptual stage, talking with people, doing focus groups (and) making sure we get prototypes that we can then put out into the marketplace with retailers, as well as those customers that I can trust to give me the bad news as well as the good. The constructive feedback, as well as the accolades, helps us improve the product before it ever makes it to market.
How to reach: Go Gaga, www.gogagalife.com
Karen Barbour already had a loyal client following in the surety business when she decided to start the Barbour Group in 2002. She formed her own agency in order to “run with” her ideas.
She has dedicated herself to advocating for her clients and helping her employees. She has also worked to influence state legislation, including helping pass an amendment for the Small Business Administration bond program to increase aid to small businesses needing bonding.
“I love to get involved, I love the social entrepreneurial side of my business,” Barbour said. “I’ve got a great team of people in Maryland that push me, drive me to make a difference.”
Smart Business sat down with Barbour to learn more.
What was the greatest challenge in the first year or two?
In 2002, we (the nation) were just getting over 9/11. The construction industry wasn’t as good as it could have been. A lot of the money that was used for construction spending was being diverted into Homeland Security, so federal projects were being cancelled. It was a lean year. In 2002 to 2003 it was getting better, but the biggest obstacle was finding staff, finding a place to put my business and finding out how to market my agency.
What traits do you look for in employees as you’re going through the interview process?
Personally, I'm not a micromanager. I like to find people who are leaders for themselves, self-starters who need little supervision, that can take the ball and run with it. If they make mistakes, I don’t mind, as long as they understand their mistakes, apologize and learn from them. It’s the best thing.
Are there any keys to how you go building the culture of an organization?
I think, as a small business, the best benefit you offer is your flexibility. I’m a good employer for (people with family issues) because I will give them time to take care of that situation and work with them, because I went through the same process. Getting that flextime is a great benefit for people who really want to work hard, who need a job, who want to give their all, but need some time off to help out in a family situation. I think I can entice a lot of good, hard-working people that way.
How do you motivate your employees to excel?
That’s really tough. I tell them “You define your job description, you tell me what you want to do, and if I can support that I will.” So far, that’s been pretty good. You don’t want to push people out of their comfort zone, so when you see them at the end of their comfort zone you need to hire another person. Your current staff is just not going to facilitate the work.
What are your keys to building and fostering strong relationships?
As a bonding agent, you know everything and anything about your client. You know their personal finances, how they spend their money, what they spend their money on. You know about their children, their home situation, how they run their business. You have to keep that very confidential. And you have to sometimes give them advice, show them that you are their advocate and bring people from outside their company to help them.
There’s no need to hard sell, my clients really appreciate it, and as a result, they’ve been able to grow their business. So I just don’t provide a piece of paper, I actually underwrite in a way that’s going to help them grow their business and I’m an advocate for them.
That’s why I started my business, as well, so I could be legislatively active and not worry about my paycheck, who signs it if I’m going against the grain of their political bent.
Amy Gonzales was discontented with the large consulting corporation employing her to do environmental work. Kelly Caldwell, a co-worker, suggested Gonzales start her own business.
Recognizing she’d be unable to do it alone, Gonzales paired her skills with Caldwell’s to form AK Environmental in 2002. Gonzales, a professional geologist and wetlands scientist, took on the management and technical sides of the company while Caldwell, a wildlife science major with a flair for business, undertook the business and human resources aspects.
“It (AK Environmental) was built out of my frustration and her (Caldwell’s) real entrepreneurial spirit,” Gonzales said.
Through their partnership of complimentary talents, the small business overcame funding obstacles and expanded to rank among the fastest growing privately owned firms in the nation.
Smart Business sat down with the pair to discuss opportunities and entrepreneurship.
What were some of the challenges you faced founding your own business?
Caldwell: I think in the beginning it was our size. Amy has a great reputation for herself, so people in the industry knew who Amy Gonzales was, but they were intimidated by our (small) size. … I think the next big struggle was funding, (finding a) bank.
Gonzales: Our explosive growth really was a surprise to the banks, I think they didn’t believe we could grow that fast. We had to find a bank that would really believe in us.
How did you approach the bank to get that mindset changed, to work the bank in a different way?
Caldwell: The banks we were with said they couldn’t go any further, they didn’t want to hear any more. So we had to find someone who would listen in a different way. … We showed them our contracts, explained our business, and they opened their mind to a different way of banking. … (They) would look at our books on an accounts receivable basis instead of on the collateral. As a service company, we sell our knowledge and our people, so we don’t have equipment to base collateral on.
What are some of the current challenges you are facing in this next phase of growth?
Gonzales: (Significant growth will involve) getting the right management staff, allowing Kelly and I to work on the business rather than in the business. I think that will be our biggest challenge, being able to pass the reins to someone who we trust, who will have our same values.
What strategies are you looking at in order to transition roles while still taking the company to the next level?
Gonzales: We have to look honestly at ourselves and … understand what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. … We need to assess our personal skills and (know) when we need to get out of the way. I think listening to other people and their stories, understanding what works and not letting our egos get in the way is the big thing.
How do you see the separation in terms of each of your strengths? How do you break down the roles of what you each work on?
Gonzales: One of the unique things about our company (is that) Kelly is 17 years younger than I am. She has a certain respect for my age, and the fact that I have a little more of the professional experience, the technical experience. ... She comes in with a little less experience but with the real entrepreneurial know-how, and she has the enthusiasm for the business side of it.
Caldwell: I knew when we started the business that she had the experience and the contacts, and I knew what she didn’t like to do. I wanted to help her with that because I knew she would be successful. If she was going to take me along for this ride, I knew I could fit in the pieces she might be missing.
How do you forge and foster relationships with your clients?
Gonzales: Consulting is definitely a people business. … It takes a while to develop trust, to let the client understand you’re working with them, and not just to get money from them. That is the hard (part), first getting through to them to say that we technically can do it, and second, getting their trust me to spend the time to go through a complicated, often frustrating, project.
One of the things I try to emphasize to my staff is to call the client. Whether it’s good news or bad news, you need to be in front of them as often as you can and let them feel the comfort level you’re working toward.
How to reach: AK Environmental, www.ak-env.com
With more than a dozen online retail stores, as well as record revenue and customer growth, Drugstore.com wasn’t just successful, it was expanding before its sale to Walgreens in June 2011.
This growth was due, in large part, to the vision of Dawn Lapore, who had served as president, CEO and chairman of the board of Drugstore.com after leaving Charles Schwab, where she had been CIO and helped direct the brokerage house’s online efforts.
This strong technological background was a key asset when Lapore joined Drugstore.com. She believes applying technology to business problems not only benefits a business, but empowers its customers. Customer care and feedback have been major drivers of the Web site’s development, and helped lay the foundation for the $409 million sale to the drug store giant.
Smart Business sat down with Lapore to talk about how she did it.
How do you identify opportunities for growth?
You identify opportunities for growth by listening to your customers, and that’s what we have continued to do. It’s adding a lot more selections… (Customers) will come on our site and search for something that we don’t have and if they do, we watch that and we go get those products. We also allow them to tell us what products they’d like us to carry.
We also listen to the way they want to shop. We had our Drugstore.com site, and that has a wide range of products. But some customers like to shop in a smaller environment for specific type products. For instance, some people just wanted natural products, so we created the Natural Store.
How important are metrics to running a business?
Metrics are critical. What’s wonderful about running an Internet company is we have so much data, so we can see what customers are doing: what they put in their basket, what they put in their basket and then take out, how they maneuver through the site. It gives a wonderful insight into how they’re shopping and how they want to shop.
How do you track different shopping components to expand, and yet remain true to your core competencies and complement them when customers shop outside?
What you have to do is think about who you are and what you’re good at. In fact, when I joined the company … we were trying to be all things to all people. We took a step back and said, “OK. What are we good at?” … We’re very good at Internet marketing, merchandizing, fulfillment, customer care. So we looked at those core competencies and said “How can we build on those? How can we grow while staying true to who we are?”
How much training did you put into customer service to make sure that every experience with Drugstore.com was a positive one?
We did a lot of training. We hired very bright people within our customer care organization and they shop the site constantly. They really understand the business, they care about customers. … That you can’t train in, that you have to hire.
What was your experience helping launch and build the Charles Schwab Corporation’s online business like, and how you were able to translate that?
It was very interesting. I’ve always been involved in technology, and I’ve loved taking technology and applying it to business problems. … When the Internet came along it was so clear, even in the early years, we were just scratching the surface of what the Internet could do. … It was so wonderful to be able to give consumers or customers access to trading, to their account information, to really empower customers. That’s really what Schwab was all about, so it really fit in very well.
What should organizations that are involved with online ventures do to stay ahead of the curve so that they don’t become obsolete?
Continue to evolve. Every single person must look at how to maintain relevancy. “How do I get better this year than I was last year? How do we do things faster, better, cheaper? What are all the innovations out there in technology that we can bear to serve our customers and delight them?”
How to reach: Drugstore.com, www.drugstore.com
Instead of finding a new job after leaving her last employer, Carole Borden decided to become her own boss and form a business in a decision she described as “sink or swim.”
In 2006, she founded CB Transportation, managing the transportation of trucks and trains across North America. Inspired by both her family and her team, she has worked hard to build a growing company that commands respect.
“People respect how we manage their business,” Borden said. “They respect when you bring intelligence and issues to the table.”
Smart Business spoke with Borden to learn more.
What were some of the challenges from 2006 to now that you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them?
The growth has been incredible and the customer support has been terrific. … The challenge has been with the infrastructure and putting the right people in the right place. It’s knowing that “You’re incredible and I adore you, you’re loyal and everything else, but should you be managing an account? Should you be dealing with supporting IT? Should you be more in an HR role?” It’s finding those loyal people who want to be with you as part of the company and getting them where they need to be to be most effective. That has to be most rewarding for them, as well.
How do you balance being busy working in the business with needing to be spending more time working on the business?
I made a hire in the last six to eight months realizing I needed somebody who could align and focus my team so that I could continue to have the vision and drive the company. I couldn’t be so hands-on; you can’t do that and still grow.
As you look forward to the future for your next phase of growth, were do you see the opportunities?
(I see opportunities in) integrating the company. We are looking at a co-packing and warehousing opportunity that will help CB Transportation provide more services to our Fortune 500 companies, and that will give us the base of assets that a lot of them are looking for.
One of the first questions I always get is, “Do you own your trucks?” The fact of the matter is no, we don’t own our trucks, which is a challenge to overcome. The fact that we don’t own and represent one carrier means that we have the resources of many carriers, from small to large, which if fabulous and keeps us flexible and nimble in the marketplace. But still, what I think we need is something that is more concrete.
How do you utilize data, your database, and match customer’s needs with a carrier?
We remote into our desktops, we can be anywhere in the world and see what we’re looking at. We have the ability to keep ourselves linked together as a team because the company is run virtually. My staff, from Boston to Seattle, is linked together continuously.
My clients do a lot of electronic data interchange with us and my carriers feed information to us electronically. We can spin this information and spit it back to everyone that needs to see it. I think that has been one of the things that set us apart in the marketplace, because we can give anybody what they need.
What keeps you up at night?
In business, what keeps me up at night is knowing that we have to be innovative. We have to be on the cutting edge, be better than everybody else. We have to come through with those intelligent solutions and then offer something different in the marketplace. We have to set ourselves apart, be better, be more passionate, and provide that unexpected service.
Renee Amoore’s strong desire to help others meant that starting just one company wasn’t enough.
With interests in health care, education, ex-offenders and the homeless, Amoore decided to tackle multiple issues and founded the Amoore Group. The consulting firm encompasses Amoore Health Systems, Inc., 521 Management Group, Inc. and the Ramsey Educational Development Institute, Inc.
“There is a lot of synergy,” the serial entrepreneur said of her various companies. “They all work together, all the staff communicates.”
Smart Business sat down with Amoore to learn more.
How do you find people who fit nicely into your culture?
We’re not just serial entrepreneurs, we’re also social entrepreneurs. So you look for people in social services, ... people that want to do things. Our average staff is probably 26 or 27 years old. They’re coming out of school, they have some experience, but then they have that energy, too. ... They have energy, they can communicate well, write well, but all in all, they want to help people. ... We go to universities, colleges, anywhere we can to make sure we get the resources and the right people to do the right job.
How do you build and foster that culture?
I’m out 24/7 talking to staff, letting people know we care about them, treating staff the right way ... It’s very important to make sure that you are there to help folks. If I can’t be there, then I make sure that other staff is there.
What do you think about the power of relationships?
Relationships take up 99.9 percent of my time because I am talking to people all the time. That’s what helps me with business. Also, it also helps me with resources, and it’s very important to have resources. Those resources sometimes may not cost you anything, because of that relationship.
... Our staff goes out to meetings because it doesn’t have to be the CEO all the time, or the founder, so I send out other staff to do that. ... Everybody in our company has some type of relationship with a vendor, a politician, a businessperson or a board. Chamber boards are very important to be on, or they sit on another not-for-profit board.
How do you motivate your team?
We motivate by talking to them, making sure that we give back to them, making sure that we meet their needs, because everybody wants something out of it. “What is your agenda?” That’s what we ask them. “What do you want to get out of here?” And we try to make sure they get it.
How do you believe companies need to give back to the community where they live and work?
You have to give back ... People have to see you out in the community. We do clothing drives. ... We do the food drives, job fairs, whatever we can possibly do to help that community. ... Not just me, as a CEO, not just the company, but as individuals in that company, by sitting on boards, by volunteering.
How do you work with your staff to understand the populace better of where you’re working?
The bottom line is that you have to understand the community you’re in. I don’t care if it’s urban or suburban — and we’re all over — or if it’s overseas in South Africa. You have to make sure that you have someone there that already has a relationship so you can partner with them, so you can learn from them.
We have to understand any community that we’re in so that they will trust us and understand that we’re really there to help them. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose and they’ll also lose out, too.
Smart Business would like to thank the following judges for donating their time to reviewing a record number of nominations to help select this year’s class of Pillar Award for Community Service honorees:
Rick Chirocosta, chairman, president and CEO, Medical Mutual of Ohio (founding partner)
Greg Skoda, managing partner, Skoda Minotti (class of 2010)
Mary Sue Tanis, executive director, Youth Challenge (class of 2010)
Sophie Sureau, executive director, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Northeast Ohio (class of 2009)
Robin Baum, managing partner, Zinner & Co. (class of 2009)
Keevan White, founder and CEO, WhiteSpace Creative (class of 2005)
Sean Richardson, North Coast Regional Commercial Banking Executive, FirstMerit Bank
Jenniffer Deckard, president, Fairmount Minerals
Lee Beall, president and CEO, Rea & Associates
Fred Koury, president and CEO, Smart Business Network Inc.
Your trademarks are what customers use to recognize your company, your product, and/or your services. Wouldn’t you want to take the necessary steps to protect your hard-earned brand identity? Many businesses, especially startups, do not think about this subject until their products are ready to launch. Some do not consider trademark protection until even later, when they run into a conflict.
If you have reached that point, you are late, says Colleen Flynn Goss, Counsel at Fay Sharpe LLP. “It needs to happen early in the process,” Goss says. “Certainly not when the business is still a ‘shower idea,’ but definitely before your product is well on its way to market.”
Smart Business spoke with Goss about why registering your marks — whether trademarks or service marks — is important for emerging companies, and how to ensure it’s done right.
Why should these companies consider seeking federal registration?
Your trademark is your company and product identity. You may not realize it but as soon as you use your trademark, it’s yours. In the United States, trademark rights are based on use — not registration. This means that the first person to use a mark on a product or a service is considered the owner of the mark for those goods and services. These are ‘common law’ rights, and they are geographically limited to where you are actually selling or offering products and services under the mark.
Let’s say that you lead a startup company based in Northeast Ohio that produces and sells rain gauges in the Great Lakes region. With record-breaking rainfall, your company grows quickly and two years down the road you decide that expanding to the Pacific Northwest might be a good idea. But unbeknownst to you, an Oregon company has been using the same mark as yours in the region for the last year. If you had filed for a federal trademark registration two years previously, you would have been able to stop the Oregon company from using the mark. Instead, you are now entering into costly negotiations to work out a deal surrounding using the mark and selling your product in this new geographic region, or, even worse, re-branding.
So, even though trademark rights spring from use, by spending a relatively small amount of money and federally registering your mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office you can obtain the nationwide right to the mark to the exclusion of later users of the same or similar mark for the same or similar products and services, even if you are not using the mark in every state. Federal registration also grants you other rights including the right to use the registered symbol, ®, next to your mark, which tends to deter others from copying your mark.
How can a company protect the mark it intends to use before actually using it?
As the leader of a startup you might wonder how thinking about federal registration affects you when you haven’t even brought a product to market. You’ve come up with this wonderful idea, kicked it around and it’s beginning to get some traction. But you haven’t used your mark yet. How can you protect yourself going forward against the company in Oregon (or someone right down the street) using your mark before you get a chance to use it?
That is where the ‘intent-to-use’ application comes into play. United States trademark law allows you to file an application to register a mark before you’ve used it. That way, you effectively reserve the mark for those products and services for which you intend to use the mark.
You must still put the mark into use on those products or services before the registration will issue, but the beauty of the intent-to-use application is that the date you file the application will be deemed to be the date you first used the mark. Upon issuance of your registration, the Oregon company that started using the mark one year after you filed your application will be precluded from using the same or a similar mark on rain gauges.
What are the risks of not filing for a federal trademark registration?
Some companies will still say, ‘I have common law rights to use this trademark. I’m not going to bother.’ And they do, but as I mentioned earlier those rights are geographically limited. The ‘great water gauge idea’ has been funded by your family, friends, or personal savings. When the idea blossoms with this infusion of capital and the product is commercialized, the pace at which business moves becomes quite quick. Now imagine that after investing all that time and money, you discover that someone other than the Oregon company has a federal trademark registration for what you thought was your mark and has been using the mark for ten years. That is a financial and timing nightmare that you don’t want to have to deal with. There you are, just about to launch, and all of a sudden you have no name for your product.
What steps can companies take to ensure a trademark is safe to use?
When you’ve had the ‘shower idea,’ and your plan to take that idea and create a company surrounding it is in its infancy, but it looks like it’s going to happen — that’s when you should start thinking about branding.
Think about the brand name — the mark — for your products or services, and the reasonable breadth of products and services on which you plan to use that brand name. You may start off with rain gauges, but plan to move from rain gauges for Northeast Ohio and the Pacific Northwest to smoke detectors in Texas under the same brand name. You should cover all those potential ventures in your intent-to-use application.
Before you file the application though, you still need to be certain that someone else has not already used and/or registered the same or similar mark for similar products. A trademark availability search will determine if there are prior state or federal trademark registrations or common law uses which would impede the use and/or registration of your proposed mark. Once you have determined that the mark is available, if you decide to seek federal registration, you can start the application process and move toward having your federally registered trademark soon after your product goes to market. The application process is fairly straightforward. From application through registration (excluding the availability search) it generally will take from nine to 18 months.
Colleen Flynn Goss is Counsel at Fay Sharpe LLP, can be reached at (216) 363-9132 or email@example.com.
People tend to think that listening is the same thing as hearing, but this is inaccurate.
Listening requires being alert and realizing that the person that you are conversing with needs to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, but, rather, with the intent to reply. And many times, a person who is “listening” will interrupt to share his or her opinion before even acknowledging what the other person has said, says Keith Kartman, senior sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice.
“This can be dangerous, particularly when it comes to business,” says Kart- man. “Are your employees really hearing the message that you want to deliver? Are they fully grasping the feedback from customers?”
Smart Business spoke with Kartman about really hearing what people are saying, and not just listening to calculate a response.
Why is being a good listener so important?
Listening is one of the most effective ways of learning what your customers truly value. Effective listening is an invaluable skill that can help you and your employees better understand your customers’ needs, wants and expectations. When listening with total engagement, communication is not just saying something; it is really being heard.
Although listening is a primary activity, most individuals are inefficient listeners. Why? Because most people were never taught how to listen and some are too busy talking or thinking about what they are going to say next. You cannot talk and listen at the same time. As a result, they miss out on new business opportunities, a chance to learn new ideas and to meet new people. Listening is an active process that consists of three primary activities: hearing, understanding and judging.
What are some tips for being a good listener?
- Give your full attention to what the other person is saying. Do not look out the window, talk with others or daydream while an individual is speaking to you.
- Be focused. It can be easy to let your mind wander. You need to be attentive; do not assume that you know what the speaker is going to say next. If you have that expectation, the chances are good that you could be wrong.
- Do not interrupt. Let the individual finish speaking before you respond. Speakers appreciate the opportunity to say everything that they want to say and do not appreciate being interrupted.
- Take the opportunity to truly listen. Let the speaker finish before fashioning a response. It is difficult to listen if you are too busy thinking about how to respond before the speaker has finished his or her thoughts.
- Be empathetic and nonjudgmental. Each of us has quirks. Instead of focusing on distracting behaviors that the speaker may exhibit, concentrate on what the speaker is saying.
- Ask questions. If the speaker’s point is unclear, ask concise questions to clarify. It is also a good idea for the listener to repeat what the speaker said in his or her own words to ensure that the message is understood correctly. This is commonly called three-way communication. After repeating what the listener heard, the speaker then has an opportunity to clarify any confusion.
- Give feedback. Be attentive, sit up straight and establish eye contact with the speaker. Use nonverbal signs such as a facial expression to help connect with the speaker.
How can asking the right questions help you become a better listener?
Once you have learned to keep yourself from speaking and interrupting the person who is talking to you, learning the right way to ask questions can also help with effective listening. Asking questions is often the most practical way to find out what you need to know. Here are some examples for asking questions:
- Ask a question that allows you to confirm or correct the thoughts you may have formed.
- Pause for silence; try not to talk over a crowd when asking a question.
- Plan your questions carefully. This will help you avoid being long-winded.
- Do not make excuses, as this can be annoying to the crowd and unnecessary.
- Remember that you will be happy that you asked a question. This allows one to feel more engaged and interested in the topic at hand.
A good listener should find it easy to establish positive working relationships with bosses, clients and colleagues. Oftentimes, people will try to avoid bad listeners altogether rather than spend the energy required to properly communicate complex matters. This leads to missed opportunities that would be readily accessible otherwise.
Careful listening is difficult and will require practice to improve. Make an at- tempt to understand the other person’s point of view and perspective before passing judgment and offering a response. Take the time to listen, and you might be surprised at what you learn.
KEITH KARTMAN is senior sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.