Connie Swenson

Wednesday, 30 January 2002 09:23

Gearing up

Instead of lamenting the declared recession we entered last November, I've decided to dedicate the rest of my columns this year to those industries, companies and leaders who are not just surviving but finding ways to be innovative and profitable during these tough times.

Last month, I shared stories of two entrepreneurs who have reached new levels of success by returning to the basic principles upon which their companies were based. Finding success in the basics sounds like a simple idea, but, as with every business strategy, it may not work for everyone.

The antithesis to paring down offers another strategy: Gearing up to take advantage of the development in technology.

Would it surprise you to learn there's an area of business you've probably either thought about trying out or have delved into within the last couple of years that saw a 50 percent increase in profits in December 2001 over the same period in 2000?

Try online sales. Internet purchases were up 15 to 50 percent this holiday season over a year ago, depending whose numbers you believe. While we weren't buying online groceries or drug store items or reading e-books, we were buying clothing and small electronics and bidding on vintage goods. We were (and are) lured by guarantees of free, fast delivery, discount prices, security and the ease of shopping from our laptops.

Online retailers sold around $13.8 billion worth of goods this past holiday season (again, depending on whose numbers you go by), largely because they figured out how to improve response and delivery times and pricing and stock quantities over last year. Now that many of the kinks have been worked out and consumers have become much more amenable to the prospect of online shopping, the cybermarketplace is ripe for the picking.

The government figured out how to make a profit with online sales well before most private businesses. It's been selling seized luxury items, military surplus goods and bonds to the tune of $3.6 billion last year. Sure, it's not competing against its own bricks-and-mortar store selling Lamborghinis seized in drug busts, but the U.S. government has figured out something private businesses are just beginning to believe: Consumers are ready and willing to do business online.

Experts say the economy is headed for a recovery by July. Taking advantage of the healthy Internet marketplace could be a way to a speedier recovery for some businesses.

Monday, 31 December 2001 06:34

Maintaining a picture-perfect image

For the last 30 years, North Canton-based Buckeye Color Lab operated in a relatively unchanged industry. Since 1970, the Troup family has owned and operated the business as a color-processing lab for professional portrait and wedding photographers.

The lab grew out of Troup Studio, a photography studio founded in 1947 by Walter Troup. During its heyday, the studio shot the portraits of some 6,000 area high school seniors a year.

In 1970, Troup Studio expanded to offer color processing services. At the time, venturing into the processing arena was a logical way for the studio to control the quality of its end product. From there, it began offering processing services to other professional photographers.

In 1989, Buckeye Color Lab's CEO Walter Troup (who retired in 1990) sold Troup Studio (which still operates under the Troup name) and began to concentrate solely on the color processing end of the business.

The company grew steadily, and now, with $9.5 million in annual sales, is among the 15 largest labs in the country, estimates President Steven Troup, son of Walter. Even over the last year, as most businesses fought to maintain business, Buckeye Color Lab grew nearly 3 percent over the previous year and now boasts 800 clients on nationwide.

Growth came from establishing long-lasting relationships with photo studios and by offering what was then an unprecedented one-day processing time on photo proofs at a time when the industry norm was three days.

"That brought us tremendous growth," says Troup.

But in the late '90s, Troup realized 3 percent annual growth was no longer acceptable in an industry that was rapidly consolidating and being forced to accept the emergence of digital photography.

"Our industry really didn't evolve much until the last three to four years," says Troup. "There were no big technological revolutions happening, so our growth came out of doing things better and faster than other labs."

Today, the photography industry as a whole is adapting to the biggest change most lab and studio operators have seen in their lifetimes -- the creation and growing acceptance of digital photography.

"It's coming along very fast," Troup says of the technological changes affecting his industry. "Today there are 6,000 labs in the business. They (industry analysts) expect in three to four years for there to be 60 labs left. We are trying to position to be one of those 60."

Troup predicts he needs to grow about his business 10 percent per year to stay competitive.

"We see that as doable," he says. "It's going to be aggressive. We're trying to line up programs to make sure that happens."

The company's growth plan, implemented about a year ago, is threefold. First, after years of research and conservative contemplation, the lab last year invested in half a million dollars worth of digital equipment.

Many of its clients thought it was late jumping on the digital bandwagon; most of Buckeye Color Lab's competitors had invested more, earlier, to meet the immediate need of their photography studio customers, but never recouped their costs.

"Many labs invested more, but didn't find the payback was there," says Troup. "We waited a little longer than some of our competitors to go digital, and we found a way to do it at a cost-effective level. It certainly helped us to be able to survive long term.

Bob Hendrickson, the company's vice president, focuses on the technology side of the business, and has to maintain the delicate balance between keeping up with new technology while not investing in technology that will soon be obsolete.

"All previous models had a life expectancy -- now it keeps changing," he says. "You have to be very focused on getting a return for that investment. Now we're looking at life expectancy. We want to grow the company so we can absorb the overhead.

"Do you stay on a box that's still working for you when your competition is buying a box that works 20 percent faster? It's a delicate balance."

Troup says he's seen labs invest in new technology but never find a return on that investment.

"We're now seeing some of the labs that put in digital a few years ago -- when we said financially it doesn't make sense -- are struggling financially. We waited until a year ago. Our customers thought that we were missing the bandwagon here. We said, 'We have to do this or we aren't going to be here long-term for you.' Fortunately, I think we proved them right."

When Buckeye Color Lab invested in digital equipment, management retrained employees to work with that equipment instead of hiring a new staff of computer-literate artists.

"For many of them, it was new, and many had not worked on computers at all before," Troup recalls. "That was one of our fears as management, that we didn't want to displace people. Some had been with us 20 years.

"It went very well, although it was a nervous time for us because we didn't want to be in a position to lose those people."

Buckeye trained its optical artists in digital retouching, mainly with the use of Adobe Photoshop software.

"We opened it up to everyone and paid them while they learned. Forty people signed up. The ones who excelled in that were the people we brought over to digital. Most people had the skill of working on a print with a brush and liquid dye, so going into Adobe Photoshop was a new technique of doing the same thing."

Today, 60 to 65 percent of retouching is done digitally. Eight percent of the files the company receives are digital -- a number which is growing rapidly as more of its clients begin to use digital equipment.

New marketing efforts include developing customized marketing programs for photographers to use to help drive business into their studios and training studios on how to better market to customers. Buckeye also has hired a full-time marketing director, a rare position in the industry, and employs six people full time in customer service.

"As the consumer evolves and becomes more digital-friendly, the type of management within that studio will change," Troup says. "We have to change how we operate with them. We're looking at developing programs to become more of a service provider to studios than we've been in the past. Instead of just being the lab that processes the film, they want us to also handle some of their marketing efforts for them."

The third part of the company's aggressive growth plan consists of ways to build and maintain customer relationships on a nationwide level. Up until 1992, Buckeye built its business primarily through developing personal relationships with customers.

"It was all word of mouth," Troup says of the company's traditional marketing efforts. "And that's part of the reason that our sales are still so strong within the state of Ohio."

The bulk of Buckeye's customers have traditionally come from within Ohio. Since the mid-'90s, however, it has been expanding its marketing efforts to a national level, primarily through trade shows and direct mailings, and now 40 percent of its customers are out of state.

Troup says the company participates in 12 to 14 trade shows a year and sends newsletters and direct mailings to customers and potential customers.

"Our whole business is built on relationships, so the photographer that sends film here will only send it when he feels comfortable with us as a company, and he has an individual person here that he knows," says Troup.

He adds that photographers are very loyal customers.

"Photographers will not change labs. It's very difficult for them to make a transition to a new lab, so once they make that jump, they stay, until you really give them a reason to leave. So our people work very closely with them to make sure that they're happy at all times, satisfied with the work, and that we know what they expect of us," he says.

Troup is also faced with the reality that many photographers are starting to print their own work, primarily through ink-jet printers, and that has become a threat to color labs.

"We need to look at what type of studio is going to be doing that and we need to look at ways that we can help the studio understand that we can do it as good or better.

"It's no different than when color first became popular," Troup says. "Studios have always printed their own black-and-white work, and when color became popular, they started doing their own color work and quickly found that they could do it. But when they stayed in the darkroom and did their own printing, they were no longer behind the camera, and that's where they make their money."

He expects many studios to try their hand at color processing, but then, like their predecessors a generation ago in the black-and-white arena, to come back when they realize it's not cost-effective. How to reach: Buckeye Color Lab, (800) 433-1292

Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Monday, 31 December 2001 05:49

Simplicity at its best

For centuries, one of the most commonly offered pieces of advice has probably been some form of the adage, less is more.

Under pressure, we're reminded that simplicity is the key to happiness. In business, we hear countless adaptations of keep it simple, stupid. As an editor, I' shorten sentences with William Faulkner's words, you must kill your little darlings, in mind.

Today, more than ever, we're constantly reminded to simplify our lives. From home-cooked meals to one-stop shopping to PDAs that do practically everything, the message is clear: simplicity improves the quality of life.

Common sense might lead you to believe that this philosophy could easily and obviously be transferred to the world of business, because what holds true in life often holds true in business.

This month, I interviewed two business owners who, by very different paths, found success by keeping things simple. One owns a photo lab that has become one of the largest in the nation by sticking to the services the founder began providing 30 years ago; the other owns a pared-down version of a defunct Internet company.

What struck me about these companies was that their simple business models are exceptions in the marketplace. The owner of the photo lab recalls being tagged "slow to respond" several years ago when his competitors were investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first wave of digital equipment. It's safe to say their equipment is nearly worthless now.

The subject of my article instead chose to make a slow transition into the digital arena, buying a few pieces of equipment just recently and training his staff of artists on the new software instead of hiring computer experts.

Today, as his industry consolidates from 6,000 labs to a predicted 600, he's positioned to be one of the survivors.

The other business owner found out the hard way that being all things to all people is not the best recipe for success. His business failed, and now he's starting over with a small, focused staff, offering just one part of the menu of services his last company provided.

Ironically, the company he owns today mirrors the company he started many years ago as a fledgling entrepreneur. This time, he says, he'll stick to the areas he thrives in, and avoid the temptation of growing beyond his expertise.

Simplicity is defined as freedom from intricacy or complexity. It doesn't sound like a complicated formula, yet examples like these are still hard to come by. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Thursday, 29 November 2001 05:59

Back to basics

A colleague reminded me the other day how important it is for me to stay focused on our company's game plan.

It's not that I was slacking off, it's that most every working American is facing tougher job challenges right now -- from mail room clerks to salespeople to business owners and even journalists.

Things are just not as easy as they were six months ago. We have to work harder to accomplish the same thing, for a variety of reasons. Maybe your competition is scrambling harder, perhaps the stress level in your office is greater or maybe your customers are cutting back on spending, as are most businesses and consumers.

It's ironic that in these times that call for harder work, I'm hard-pressed to find a person who isn't going through some self-doubt or self-evaluation about the importance of their profession. We're expected to work harder and be more motivated when, at the same time, we're questioning our lives.

I imagine firefighters, teachers and health care professionals are feeling fairly valued right now, but I don't know of a journalist or salesperson who hasn't tried lately to come to grips with his or her value to society. Why are we doing what we're doing? What mark am I going to leave if I spend my career doing this?

The twist is that I think this introspection can actually help us get back to work. And to work harder than ever. We need to occasionally remind ourselves why we're in the professions we're in in order to get back to the fundamentals of the job.

For instance, as a journalist, my job is not to fill pages of a magazine every month as quickly and economically as I can, even though I sometimes think that. I went into this profession to assist in getting information to people so that they can make better choices, which will, in turn, help them to live better lives.

I know that sounds pretty lofty, but that's what I strive for.

We all must ask ourselves what we are striving for. Use the wake-up call of Sept. 11 and this declining economy to get back to your mission. Most people who succeed in business or in the arts do so because they are able to stick to the basic principles upon which their companies or careers were founded.

We just rarely get the chance to evaluate that.

Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Thursday, 29 November 2001 05:49

Back to basics

A colleague reminded me the other day how important it is for me to stay focused on our company's game plan.

It's not that I was slacking off, it's that most every working American is facing tougher job challenges right now -- from mail room clerks to salespeople to business owners and even journalists.

Things are just not as easy as they were six months ago. We have to work harder to accomplish the same thing, for a variety of reasons. Maybe your competition is scrambling harder, perhaps the stress level in your office is greater or maybe your customers are cutting back on spending, as are most businesses and consumers.

It's ironic that in these times that call for harder work, I'm hard-pressed to find a person who isn't going through some self-doubt or self-evaluation about the importance of their profession. We're expected to work harder and be more motivated when, at the same time, we're questioning our lives.

I imagine firefighters, teachers and health care professionals are feeling fairly valued right now, but I don't know of a journalist or salesperson who hasn't tried lately to come to grips with his or her value to society. Why are we doing what we're doing? What mark am I going to leave if I spend my career doing this?

The twist is that I think this introspection can actually help us get back to work. And to work harder than ever. We need to occasionally remind ourselves why we're in the professions we're in in order to get back to the fundamentals of the job.

For instance, as a journalist, my job is not to fill pages of a magazine every month as quickly and economically as I can, even though I sometimes think that. I went into this profession to assist in getting information to people so that they can make better choices, which will, in turn, help them to live better lives.

I know that sounds pretty lofty, but that's what I strive for.

We all must ask ourselves what we are striving for. Use the wake-up call of Sept. 11 and this declining economy to get back to your mission. Most people who succeed in business or in the arts do so because they are able to stick to the basic principles upon which their companies or careers were founded.

We just rarely get the chance to evaluate that. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Wednesday, 31 October 2001 08:39

Changing times

Early last month, I flew to Seattle to spend four days with fellow journalists from all over the country.

Most were breaking away from one of the busiest times of their careers as reporters and editors to come to this event. We left our jobs to participate in an annual conference on journalism, organized and hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization that serves to protect the free press in our country.

In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, there was much discussion among the groups' membership and board of directors about canceling this year's conference. A last-minute executive decision was made to hold the conference, unless a large proportion of the speakers cancelled.

That didn't happen. In fact, the turnout this year was as high or higher than it had ever been.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in my fear of stepping on a plane to travel to the West Coast so soon after the terrorist attacks, but, like hundreds of other journalists, I decided it was probably one of the most important times I could choose to renew my commitment to and understanding of journalism.

Not surprisingly, the program had been changed so that many of the professional development sessions were now focused on practical and ethical issues surrounding the coverage of the events emerging from the Sept. 11 attacks. Journalists spent most of their time sharing stories in formal and informal meetings of how they responded through their jobs to the events of the last few weeks.

The editor of the Washington Post's Sunday magazine told me how difficult it was to cover the Pentagon attack in a fresh manner after his daily newspaper had been reporting on it every day for the last several weeks. As the editor of a weekly magazine, he plans his articles at least two weeks in advance.

His solution was to send reporters out to ''shadow'' a handful of Washington, D.C., residents and workers who had been affected by the crisis to see how they were getting back to their ''normal'' lives.

At the conference, I sat and listened to the sensational stories that were being told, especially by the New York and Washington-area reporters who had to quickly set aside whatever they were doing to cover the events that changed the world. As the editor of a monthly business magazine that focuses on issues, not necessarily news, I didn't feel I could share in those experiences. My job, I thought, hasn't really changed.

I came home to wrap up our November issue and start planning for December, only to realize that my job has definitely changed, in some ways temporarily and in others probably permanently.

We may not report on the news that happened yesterday, but we do have an obligation to our readers to write about the issues that are affecting their workplaces today.

Stories about security issues and coping with severe revenue drops have replaced articles on finding great employees and travel tips. We're seeing more compassion and humanity in local workplaces during these tough times.

Layoffs are occurring, but many employers are trying to cut costs other ways. Retailers in every industry are offering huge incentives to lure back customers.

These are just a handful of the issues we'll be writing about this month and in the months to come. There are many more we are aware of and plan to cover, and some we may not know about yet.

I was reminded last month that my primary role as an editor is not to shape the news but to act as a conduit. You can help me with that responsibility by letting me know what issues you are now dealing with in your workplace.

SBN would like to share those stories with other business leaders to help everyone cope. Connie Swenson is editor of SBN Magazine. Reach her via e-mail at cswenson@sbnnet.com or by fax at (330) 668-6224.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Recession-proof

Whether or not the predictions we're hearing are accurate, the economy is in for some kind of a change. If you read everything you get your hands on, you might believe that we're in for a recession soon.

My peers in the journalism community are poising their pens to write about what they deem inevitable. A turn in the economy is great fodder for business journalism.

Most of the business owners I talk to don't seem as concerned. They're not hoarding their cash. They're not laying off employees. In fact, the growth-oriented businesses SBN Magazine has been covering the last several months are talking about the investments they plan to make -- or are now making --- to prepare for long-term growth.

Why is this? For one, when the U.S. economy is facing a predicted recession, money gets cheaper. That means many businesses take the opportunity to invest in new technology and equipment at lower rates. But even at those costs, if a company is not poised for growth, why would it invest in that direction?

The answer is, at least from the company owners I have spoken to the last couple of months, that they indeed are poised for growth -- even (and especially) if their competitors aren't.

Whether or not you believe that President Bush's tax-relief package or Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's rate cuts will spur the economy, economists will tell you that monetary policy actions take at least 18 months to yield results. While these actions can have immediate effects in terms of convincing businesses and consumers that better times are around the corner, they can't affect the current economy.

Savvy business owners know that this forecast is not a bad omen. They see it as an opportunity to jump ahead. They know that they must build upon the policies put in place today to reap the benefits when the economic landscape evens out a year or year and a half from now. There will be some fallout, as we've witnessed in the dot-com industry of late, but these savvy business owners say, better our competitors than us.

Now is not the time to sit still. Better times are ahead, but we won't all be here to enjoy them. On a large scale, you can learn from companies such as Apple, which is preparing to boost its position in the marketplace by adding extras, such as standard CDs, DVDs and increased power levels, to its computer products.

On a local level, you can learn from our cover story this month about a company increasing its capacity so that it can expand its product line.

These companies are staying within their areas of expertise, but expanding their capacities. Their strategies share a common philosophy. They are positioning themselves for growth by sticking to what they know best.

It may not be the time to take on a big risk, but as they'll tell you, it's certainly not the time to be stagnant. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Quitting the band

Al Mothersbaugh describes his modus operandi through the words of John Coltrane: "If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn."

"You've got to live it," says Mothersbaugh. It right now refers to his business, Akron Glass Tinting, although three years ago, it referred to his band, The TwistOffs, which achieved a rare level of regional success in its 10 years of touring, recording and playing to a loyal local audience.

Mothersbaugh left the band in 1998 to take over his family's business. But if you think this musician isn't putting the same heart and soul into his business that he did into his art, think again. Coltrane's principle applies as much to the way Mothersbaugh runs Akron Glass Tinting as it does to his role as a musician.

"I cared about the band so much," he recalls. "I had to teach myself how to become an accountant, how to manage merchandise, how to design merchandise, how to pick from different pieces of art, how to get the most impact from a mailer, how to be timely with a mailer, how to keep the Web site current and how to shuffle in new members and keep our gigs."

Just as he was self-taught at managing tour schedules and maintaining a fan base, he has taught himself over the last three years how to turn a kitchen table-based family business into a full-time, strategic business.

"Within the last three years, I've totally changed the business," he says. "I've changed it from a ma and pop, unorganized, hope-we-get-the-leads type of thing to a proactive, strategic plan that I've bounced off a million people, and they say, 'Yeah Al, you're doing the right thing, but keep in mind it takes a long time."

While Mothersbaugh knows success won't happen overnight, even for a 40-year-old business, he does have an ambitious goal for the next year: to double his revenue. He says that's realistic, considering he's boosted sales 50 percent a year since taking over as a full-time manager.

Previously, the company was run by his father, Gene, who founded it in 1958 by applying a messy tinted liquid to glass windows. As mylar and polyester films became increasingly popular, he became a distributors for the films, selling to other installers.

Growing up, Mothersbaugh and his brother were dragged out of bed on Saturdays to help their father, and he says he learned to be a great salesman by watching his father sell thousands of jobs in the field.

While his sales skills were sharpened through observation, experience and a naturally gregarious personality, Mothersbaugh realized he had a lot to learn about marketing the business.

"My dad's idea of marketing was two things: Paying the Yellow Pages bill and picking up the phone and scheduling an estimate," he says.

He says his eyes opened in 1998 when, after he came home from a band tour, he watched the company's only local competitor steal a job.

"It made my stomach turn," he recalls.

He felt as if that competitor had been "undermining" his family's business for the last 20 years by basically "doing what your supposed to do when you own a business."

At that point, the phone number listed for Akron Glass Tinting would ring at Mothersbaugh's parents' house, and the call normally would be answered from the kitchen.

"We'd be sitting there drinking coffee, and all our family and friends all knew that the phone would get answered, 'Hello, Akron Glass Tinting,'" Mothersbaugh says. "It was the forerunner to a home office. We never had and office and we never needed one."

Until that time in 1998.

"I couldn't take it anymore," Mothersbaugh says. "I'd come home from tours, and my dad would say, 'We've got a job.' So I'd go down there to sell it and I'd be up against this competitor every time -- and I was going down there in a pair of shorts and a Ramones T-shirt. It just wasn't panning out."

The decision to leave the band broke his heart.

"As cool as it is to make your living doing your art, I just got married, my wife was pregnant, so I took the conservative approach," he says. "I went with something that had a 40-year track record and little competition."

He soon realized that he didn't have any idea what it took to bring a business to its full potential.

"You tackle one goal, and you get that under your belt. You turn into a corporation, you get the proper insurance, you do all that, and then you say, 'We've got to get installers [because we're doing all the installations].' And once you figure that out, you have to go to the next level and the next level and it never seemed like it ended."

But his commitment was validated when, around that time, Welty Building Co. called for a measurement of the BFGoodrich Building that GoJo Industries was moving into.

"We measured it, and I set up a proposal [with the help of] a design company," says Mothersbaugh. "That's how bad I wanted it, I did everything right. It was crazy.

"My dad said, 'I've been in this for 35 years and I didn't get one landing in my lap like that," he says. "I told him, 'You kept your place in the community upstanding and honest.' How many people can say that they've got a guy that's been out there in the trenches for 30 years setting it up for you to take over?"

Mothersbaugh says he's finally at the end of the road with his marketing plan, and he's joined several professional organizations, including the North Akron Board of Trade, American Society of Interior Design, International Window Film Association and Home Builders Association to help broaden his network. He's even traded his band garb for a wardrobe of shirts and ties.

But his most valuable asset might still be the sales techniques he learned from his father.

"I'm not the type of salesman who sits there and does some type of voodoo closing ritual on them [customers]," he says. "I just tell them like it is.

"I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, because that's how I want to be treated." How to reach: Akron Glass Tinting, (330) 928-8792 or www.akronglasstinting.com

Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

It's that simple

 

I am constantly searching for innovative companies to feature on the pages of this magazine. However, when most of us define innovation, rarely do we picture a century-old family business whose staple product is jelly.

This month, I was surprised to find out how much The J.M. Smucker Co. has to teach other businesses. That's right. Even you, running your dot-com start-up, can learn from this family-run producer of jelly, juices and butterscotch sauces.

What, you may ask, is innovative about food items so basic your grandmother probably had the same ones stocked in her refrigerator?

The answer can be found in two words: Magic Shell. You know, that topping that magically freezes in seconds on your ice cream. Sundaes gained new appeal for me at age 12 after my mother brought this product home and I figured out that I could have a fun, candy-based science experiment while enjoying my ice cream.

While I don't know exactly how the Magic Shell product came to be, I do know about some of the new products The J.M. Smucker Co. has unveiled recently. Like frozen, round, crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches that are already becoming a hit not only in the grocery store, but with school districts and restaurants.

The company has been able to create new products, with incredible appeal, that aren't really new. The company's governing principles dictate that the company be run by Jerome Monroe Smucker's 1897 basic beliefs. So, Tim and Richard Smucker, who run the company today, don't diversify much from their core products. The J.M. Smucker Co. has always produced peanut butter and jelly. It just turned it into a product that every kid wants. And in an age where parents are buying cereal that comes packaged with milk and a spoon, what parent isn't going to like the idea of buying a pre-made, crustless sandwich?

So who comes up with these innovative, yet traditional ideas that have helped maintain the company's success over the years? The J.M. Smucker Co. employees, who, not-so-coincidentally, have put the company within the top 25 of Fortune magazine's list of the 100 best companies to work for since 1997.

The ranking is based on a number of factors including a low employee turnover rate (the company boasted a 4 percent turnover rate in 1999), job growth, and employee training. It's also interesting to note that 31 percent of the company's employees have worked there for more than 15 years.

When I asked Tim Smucker, co-CEO, about the ranking, he was somewhat aloof: "Our goal isn't to get the award," he said. "Our goal is just to treat people the way they want to be treated."

That sounds too simple. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is the editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:47

Tightening up

There's a national financial institution that's running an advertising campaign around the slogan, "Money is not the end of worry. It is the beginning."

While most people would tend to agree with this statement, business owners must face its reality every day.

We've always filled our pages with advice on what to do with your money -- how to hire, how to expand, and how to market, to name a few. Over the last few months, however, we've been covering another aspect of money in order to meet what we've observed is a growing concern among our readers: How to cut back.

This month, you'll find examples in many of the stories, including "Going lean". As we cover cost-cutting measures, there is one philosophy in particular that we try to present: Businesses that are prudent in their hiring practices are less likely to cut costs by cutting staff. It's not just about hiring only when there's a critical need; it's about hiring people who know how to retain their value.

Chances are good your salespeople already know how -- they've been trained to earn their keep. If they don't, they won't get paid. That's their modus operandi.

What we've found as we cover this topic more frequently is that savvy business owners know they must charge every employee, not just their sales reps, with the responsibility of earning their keep. But just like sales reps know what they are costing their companies vs. the revenue they are bringing in, all employees should have the benefit of knowing what costs they incur in their daily jobs.

Last month, you may have read about the truck driver who realized he and his passengers were adding several hundred pounds in freight costs a year by not vacating the truck when it weighed at the dump site. It was a simple realization that may have saved the company hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars. But his suggestion wasn't offered until making suggestions was made a mandatory part of his job.

Asking employees to offer suggestions for cutting overhead or material costs is perhaps even simpler than taking the responsibility on yourself or giving it to your managers. Employees know subtleties of their jobs that owners could never be aware of.

It's often as simple as opening the truck door and stepping out. Connie Swenson (cswenson@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.