Brendan Meeker says he never did well in school until he decided to pursue his greatest passion by studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University.
After earning his bachelor's degree at the Rhode Island school, Meeker worked as a chef in restaurants in Maine, Massachusetts, Florida and Chesapeake, Va., before returning home and working at the Akron City Club and Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls.
In June 1999, Meeker, 30, set out on his own and surprised many by buying the building that had housed Ed Niam's Parkette, successfully turning it into a bustling upscale restaurant -- in a very unsuspecting part of town.
Meeker's Kitchen combines the crowded, open-kitchen atmosphere of the old diner with a fresh, eclectic menu which showcases Meeker's breadth of experience. Entrée selections range from Western rib-eye steak to raspberry salmon, all prepared in full view behind a counter.
"I wanted to make a tribute to what they had done," Meeker says, referring to the diner's original owners.
He even hired Mrs. Niam to work part-time as a hostess.
Now that his restaurant has proven itself a viable business, Meeker, with the help of his father, local attorney Bob Meeker, is taking another chance on the 50-year-old Akron landmark.
Next month, Meeker will triple his seating capacity when he opens Brendan and Finn's Irish Pub and a banquet room for 40 next to his original restaurant.
He has been overseeing the renovation of the building on Locust Street near Akron Children's Hospital since last summer, preparing for the planned Dec. 1 opening.
While the additions will share the original restaurant's kitchen, they will be housed in separate rooms. Part of the charm of Meeker's Kitchen is its size, which enhances the diner atmosphere Meeker tried to preserve when he renovated the former Niam's site.
"Our weakness is our positive," Meeker says. "We're small."
Before the expansion, Meeker stretched the capacity of his small restaurant by catering local events. In October, he was asked to make 3,000 sandwiches for Aircraft Breaking Systems' family day, and last summer, he cooked for Firestone's 100th anniversary celebration at the Firestone Mansion.
He credits his loyal staff with making his growth possible. In an industry in which workers come and go, he says Meeker's Kitchen has been able to retain most of the staff that was hired when the business opened a year and a half ago.
His secret? He's one restaurateur who admits he does not put the customer first. But that's not to say the customer doesn't benefit from his strategy.
"The most important person is the employee," he says. "The employee comes first, because then, when I'm not here, they'll take care of the customer."
How to reach: Meeker's Kitchen, (330) 253-6909
When Jim and Julie Miller were informed by the Ohio Department of Transportation last spring that they had 90 days to move their business to accommodate a street widening, they never thought the forced relocation would spark a growth stage for the 78-year-old business.
Albright Lighting opened in the North Hill area of Akron in 1922. Jim Miller's parents, who bought the business in the '60s, moved the store to Montrose in 1976, where it stood until six months ago as Montrose's oldest retail store.
Jim says sales were always steady, largely due to the fact that he and Julie hand-picked their lighting inventory so as not to compete with the more generic offerings of Home Depot and Lowe's.
The Millers leased the Montrose space from Jim's parents, who retired to Florida several years ago. While the Ghent Road building was slightly off the beaten path of other retail establishments, "It worked out -- for a while," says Julie.
Then, just over a year and a half ago, things turned upside down.
"They came in and said, 'We have the right to evict you in 90 days,'" Julie recalls of her first meeting with state officials.
As it turned out, they were given more notice than that, but poor communication between the Millers and ODOT, coupled with an ever-changing deadline, made it very difficult for the couple to plan their relocation.
"They kept moving the date, which made it hard for us to find a new space," Julie says.
Then, after they decided to move to Fairlawn, they discovered the city was trying to reduce its overall retail space. To make matters worse, the state's appraisal of the Montrose building was "miles apart" from the appraisal Jim's parents commissioned. His parents are still in a legal battle with the state over the discrepancy.
Early this year, the Millers were finally given a firm deadline of June 1, 2000. They were told that if they missed the deadline, they were at risk of losing their reimbursement for moving expenses, they say.
They had just two months to find a comparable space -- close enough so they wouldn't lose their customer base -- and to move quickly enough so they wouldn't have to shut the business down for any noticeable period.
It was around that time that the Millers received a call from Brad Cvammen, director of retail properties for Albrecht Inc., which manages and owns retail and industrial properties in the area.
"We support local businesses, especially those that have been serving the area as long as Albright's," Cvammen says. "When I learned about Jim's plight in Montrose, I immediately contacted him regarding Westgate Plaza, which we had recently renovated."
The highly visible space on West Market Street in Fairlawn turned out to be the perfect prescription. The Milers were able to move their business over Memorial Day weekend, closing for just 48 hours.
Albright Lighting (now Albright's Accessories and Light) is the anchor tenant of Westgate Plaza, and the Millers are experiencing something they had never before considered as a possibility: foot traffic. While the Montrose store was purely a destination location, the new Fairlawn store attracts shoppers strolling from the neighboring Arabica, Bruegger's and other retail shops.
The Millers have used the larger, 6,800-square-foot store to expand their offerings, adding about 50 percent more inventory. The store now carries a wide selection of innovative gifts and accessories, and a small eclectic furniture selection.
"The furniture makes the lighting look better, and the lighting makes the furniture look better," says Jim.
In addition, the store's 10-foot ceilings have allowed the Millers to showcase chandeliers and other ceiling lighting that they were unable to display at their previous location.
"We turned it into an opportunity to showcase new products," Jim says. "We wanted to raise the bar, to carry a better grade of merchandise to differentiate ourselves. We're not Pier 1, we're not Lowe's."
So far, the relocation and expansion are paying off. Sales have been steadily climbing, each month better than the last, Jim says. The Millers also tripled their advertising budget, to make sure their loyal customer base would follow them to the new store.
Julie admits they never would have moved if they had not been forced out, but says the ordeal, so far, has been a blessing in disguise.
"We're thrilled with this space," says Jim. "For most people, it's a better location than Montrose. We are extremely happy here.
"We're finding that if you build it, they will come. Akron is not as conservative as one might think." How to reach: Albright's Accessories and Light, (330) 836-1123
Connie Swenson (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
Worse, it could be picking an e-mail address from a document on your computer and sending itself back out using that address as its sender, making it virtually impossible to trace.
These viruses, part of the second generation of computer viruses, are becoming more difficult to control and can paralyze your network, says Todd Fox, president of Connecting Point, a North Canton-based IT consultancy founded in 1981.
While the first generation attacked individual computers, limiting the damage, the second generation's emphasis is on spreading itself and infecting as many computers as possible.
Fox advises clients to protect their businesses by making sure there aren't gaps in their computer systems, such as laptop users coming in without virus protection software or software that's not consistent with what's been installed in the company. He also suggests frequent, automatic updates to antivirus software.
"Klez" is typical of the viruses making the rounds. Like most written recently, it attaches itself to Microsoft Outlook contact lists. Fox says virus writers tend to write for Outlook because it's most prevalent in the workplace.
Here's how "Klez" works: Once it's sent to you, it not only looks through your Outlook e-mail box for contacts so it can send a message out from you, it also searches documents on your hard drive for the format of an e-mail address. It then inserts that into the sender address, so it appears the e-mail came from that sender.
"It is very difficult to track the source, which takes it to a completely different level," Fox says.
Here are some ways to stop a virus in its tracks:
* Delete mysterious attachments, even if they're sent to you from a known source.
* If you use Outlook, don't use advanced settings that allow your computer to automatically open Web pages implanted in an e-mail message.
* Make sure your antivirus software is automatically updated on your business' server, not just on individual computers. A virus can spread through a network as easily as it can spread through e-mail. How to reach: Connecting Point, (330) 494-9694
Former television news producer Robert Zajac founded the Akron-based public relations and marketing firm in 1993 to assist companies with media relations. Zajac Communications soon grew into a full-service PR and marketing agency, as it added services to meet clients' needs.
"We expanded upon the services I originally intended to offer as a result of clients who were satisfied with our work and wanted us to do more for them," Zajac says.
The company added crisis communications to its resume by accident, you could say. After one of its manufacturing clients experienced a fatality at a plant, it called upon the agency to handle the media.
"Since we had worked with them with local and national media in the past, we were the first people that they called," recalls Jennifer Zajac, a principal in the firm. "You can't keep a fatality in a plant a secret, nor do you want to, but of course, along with the concern of the employees, the media was calling frequently.
"So they called us and said, 'We need help, we don't know what to say to these people. We know that we have to tell them what's happening. We don't know what to do.' So we went down there."
Since that incident, Zajac has built upon its experience. Along with offering a full menu of marketing services, the firm specializes in preparing clients to deal with crises.
"All crises are predictable," Robert Zajac contends.
He says a crisis can occur at any type of business. When it does, the most important tool you can have to deal with it is preparedness.
Here are 10 steps Zajac recommends a company take to prepare for a crisis.
1. Identify your crisis management team. Zajac recommends your team be comprised of a small number of senior executives or decision-makers.
"Typically, the team is led by the CEO or, depending upon the organization, the person with the authority to make decisions, implement a plan and enact policies," he says.
In addition, the top communications adviser should be on the team, as should heads of major divisions.
"You'll probably put a crisis management team together that is much larger than what you'll ever use in a crisis, but you want to have all of those people knowledgeable, prepared and trained so when the crisis occurs, you can select the three or four that you need that are most appropriate for that issue," he says.
2. Identify spokespersons.
"Though it may seem natural for the CEO or president to be the company spokesperson during a crisis, that may not necessarily be the best move," Zajac warns. "For the most part, the CEOs are going to be way too busy during a crisis to be handling media and being a spokesperson."
Instead, he suggests companies designate a chief spokesperson who is a good, effective communicator.
"He or she has to be a liaison to the media and other important audiences. This is a big job -- to keep communications flowing, prepare statements and, if asked, answers ... and to be available to the media."
He adds there may be a time when the CEO should speak, to show leadership, and there may be a need for different department heads to speak to different audiences.
"The reason the crisis team is composed of the heads of major divisions or departments is because of their different areas of expertise and responsibility. Their expertise may be required to answer some questions," Zajac says.
3. Train spokespersons. When preparing someone to talk to the media, Zajac recommends a three-step preparation process: Know what the media wants -- identify its areas of interest; anticipate the questions the media will ask; and prepare the messages you want to deliver.
"There are five questions you should ask a reporter when he or she first contacts you about a story," he says.
1. "What are looking for and how can I help you?"
2. "What is your deadline?"
3) "Who have you already talked to on this matter, and with whom do you plan to talk?"
4) "What do you know about our company?"
5) "What do you know about our industry?"
"If there is any aspect of a media inquiry over which you have complete control, it's what you say in an interview," he says.
4. Establish crisis protocols.
"Initial and developing crisis news can come from anywhere and anybody," says Zajac. "Establish an emergency communications policy and distribute it to all personnel. It should explain precisely what to do and whom to call in a crisis situation. Additionally, it should include your policy on talking to the media."
5. Identify your audiences. When a crisis occurs, the interested audience is broader than most people expect, Zajac says. It could include media, financial analysts, government agencies, employees, customers, vendors, distributors, your community and the public at large.
"There are a lot of different people who can be affected by a crisis," he says.
He suggests preparing a complete mailing, fax and phone number list for each audience to expedite communication.
6. Anticipate crises.
"After establishing your crisis management team and identifying audiences, plan brainstorming sessions with a cross section of executives to talk about potential crises," Zajac advises. "All crises are predictable. You can walk inside a manufacturing plant and take a look and you can see things that could happen.
"There's always the potential, regardless of what the company is, for some type of workplace violence -- a disgruntled employee, a former employee."
7. Assess the situation.
"If you've done all of the preceding steps, assessment is simply ensuring that the crisis team is receiving all available information so that you can determine your response," Zajac says.
8. Identify key messages. If you don't know what your key messages need to be, create general messages ahead of time with the help of your PR representative.
9. Decide on communication methods.
"There are many different communication vehicles you can use during a crisis. Employees, customers, vendors and investors can be briefed in person, you can send letters, newsletters or fax messages, or you can use the media as a communication vehicle," Zajac says.
10. Ride the wave. No matter how well you have prepared, some members of your audiences are not going to react the way you expect or want them to, Zajac says. He advises against getting frustrated. Instead, use the opportunity to "analyze, evaluate and adjust your communications so your messages are communicated effectively." How to reach: Zajac Communications, (330) 996-4140
Today, a second generation of Shearers is maintaining the family's aggressive growth philosophy, as Shearer's Foods completes a two-phase, $20 million expansion, positioning it to meet its goal to double business within the next five years. It is the company's fourth expansion.
Jack and Rosemary's son, Bob Shearer, has worked for the company since 1974, and serves as its president and chief operating officer. His brother, Tom, is executive vice president, and Bob's wife, Melissa, is head of the marketing department.
To many, the company's sales goal may seem pie-in-the-sky. But to Bob Shearer, it's quite realistic. Over the last four years alone, sales have more than doubled, he says, bringing Shearer's' total annual sales revenue to more than $60 million.
The recent expansion, the last phase of which was completed late last year, allows the company to produce a complete line of snack foods, including potato, corn and tortilla chips, cheese curls and popcorn. Prior to phase one of the expansion, completed in November 1998, it could only produce potato chips, and was a distributor for the other lines.
The product line expansion was both in response to customer demand and a way to control the quality of the products the company sold, Shearer says.
"We wanted to be a one-shop stop for everyone, so we could produce everyone's requirements," he says.
The last phase of the expansion, completed last November, included adding equipment such as a potato peeler system, conveyors, a seasoning system and new batch kettles. Eight more hand kettles, used to produce the company's core product, Grandma Shearer's kettle-cooked potato chips, were purchased, adding 9 million pounds to the plant's output, for 40 million pounds of product annually, says Steve Surmay, Shearer's vice president of manufacturing.
But there's still room for growth, since the expansion allows for a total capacity is about 50 million pounds of product annually, he says.
Increased capacity has allowed the company to aggressively grow the private label side of its business. Five years ago, that side amounted to 2 percent of total sales. Today, sales in that division make up 40 percent of total revenue.
While Shearer won't divulge the names of the company's private label customers, he will say they include major grocery store chains, as well as a very large snack food producer.
Coleman Caldwell, Shearer's vice president of sales, says there's a large market out there just waiting to be tapped.
"Someone once said, '90 percent of life is showing up,'" he says. "The most success we've had is from just getting outside of our two- or three-state distribution area and calling on customers who have heard of us before. Our best sales tool has been our product, and then it's just making sure that we're priced competitively and that we can deliver that quality on a consistent basis."
He says now that the company's capacity and product line have increased so significantly, there's a long list of potential customers to call on.
"I have a list today of 70 prospects who we don't do business with," he says. "I'm sure 20 or so of them have a supplier they're satisfied with, but 40 or 50 of them are potentially good customers for us. I'm just not sure which half is which."
The company is also continuing to look for new products to make. But the development process for a new snack food product can be lengthy, says Shearer.
"We can look at 20 (prospective products) and maybe not get one, so we're real selective. We want to have an item that has good potential and a lot of appeal, because it's expensive to introduce a new item," he says.
He says with the costs of printing and inventory for new bags added to the price of ingredients, it can cost from $20,000 to $30,000 to introduce an item.
"So we have to be real selective," he says.
But the company still introduces a new item every year or so. Shearer says that ability has significantly contributed to the company's growth. This month, it will unveil a new white corn tortilla strip, which took about a year to produce from concept to market.
Last year, it introduced Baked Pretzel Butter Twists, which, Shearer says, has been a big hit.
He says every employee is encouraged to contribute to product development. Once an idea for a product is suggested, "everybody gets a little involved," he says. "If we feel strongly enough (about an idea), we're going to go with it."
Surprisingly, there is no outside testing of new products.
"We do it more or less by if it feels right," Shearer says. "We do in-house testing, and then we go to market."
Currently, the company is looking at developing a more health-conscious line for distribution to specialty food stores. How to reach: Shearer's Foods, (330) 767-3426; www.shearers.com
Shearer's Foods Inc.
Headquarters: Brewster, Ohio
Annual production: 40 millionpounds
Annual sales: More than $60 million
One of the biggest trends in business banking these days is new products geared toward simplifying the lives of small to mid-sized company owners.
"Financial institutions are paying more attention to small businesses, more so than they ever have," says Miles Milton, institutional marketing manager for FirstMerit Corp. "Marketing to them has become more sophisticated."
Milton, who has been in the banking industry for 15 years and has worked for several of the area's largest financial institutions, says most banks are just now realizing there's more to a small business customer than strictly making commercial loans.
"They (banks) were lumping small businesses into commercial lending," he says. "A commercial lender is typically not going to spend time on a small business."
While he says that small- to mid-sized businesses have always been FirstMerit's bread and butter, most banks have completely reorganized over the past few years to focus on this until-recently untapped market.
Instead of just offering commercial loans, banks are offering products designed specifically to meet the needs of a busy business owner.
"Small business owners, for the most part, are the owner, the CFO, and may even be the HR department -- they're doing everything. You've really got to come out with products that make it easy on them," says Milton. "Before, they were serving them with consumer products or serving them with large-scale commercial products which were really complex."
FirstMerit has just created a new line of checking products for business owners. Instead of charging them a fee per transaction, which is difficult to keep track of and oftentimes adds up to a large, added, monthly expense, FirstMerit is offering business owners a checking account with an allowance for 100 to 200 (depending on the balance) free monthly transactions. There is a monthly fee for the account (between $7 and $12) if a modest monthly balance isn't maintained.
Along with the checking account, FirstMerit is offering businesses a debit card (similar to the card now popular with consumers) with free unlimited transactions, and a combined statement for business checking and linked accounts.
Along with FirstMerit, which has the majority of the market share in Summit County, some of the area's small community banks have also started to offer simplified products to lure small business owners. Morgan Bank in Hudson offers a "Three for Free" package to individuals, sole proprietors and nonprofits. The checking account, which yields 3 percent annual interest, comes without monthly fees, balance requirements or per-item charges.
In addition, checking customers can make unlimited free transactions with their Morgan Bank Mastercard.
Morgan Bank's CEO and president, William "Wink" Dougherty, told SBN last month the bank can offer these free services because its loan volume is so high.
How to reach: FirstMerit Corp, (330) 384-7104; Morgan Bank, (888) 656-3267
When Dr. Stephen Lohr began practicing medicine 25 years ago, the medical field barely resembled what it is today.
"In 1980, all you had to do was worry about medicine," Lohr recalls. "You had to know what to do with a particular problem. Now, not only do you have to know what to do with a particular problem (and orthopaedics has advanced dramatically within the last 25 years), but also, reimbursements have gone down dramatically, our costs have gone up, so we have to operate much more efficiently. There's a huge difference."
To keep up, Lohr has found he must incorporate tried and true business principles into his practice, strategies he admits he didn't learn in medical school.
Lohr is CEO of Omni Orthopaedics, which, with a staff of 92, is one of the two largest orthopaedic practices in the area. Omni grew out of the 1996 merger of Stark County Orthopaedic Association (a practice that started in the 1960s) and Belden Village Orthopaedics (the three-person practice Lohr worked for). Today, Omni is based in the Belden Village area of Jackson Township, in the Omni Medical Center, and has satellite offices in Alliance, Carrollton and Massillon.
"The biggest reason we merged was that if there were more of us, we could attract and support subspecialists," says Lohr. "With just the three of us, we could not attract and support, say, a hand surgeon or a spine surgeon. It provides better orthopedic care if you have subspecialists in your group."
In fact, Omni continues to subscribe to ongoing expansion in order to stay competitive. While the practice employs 12 physicians and two psychologists, Lohr hopes to hire two more specialists (a spine surgeon and a total joint surgeon) within the next year.
Lohr says the national trend in the medical industry is toward larger group practices, both as a way to control costs through efficiency and to offer patients a wider range of specialized services.
"There are groups that will have 40 or 45 orthopaedic surgeons," he says. "Groups are getting bigger and bigger to provide better care, with subspecialists in with general orthopaedic surgeons."
But as these practices grow, so does the need for business know-how. When Omni was founded in 1996, the partnering doctors hired Raymond Zinicola to run the practice from the business side.
As the highest ranking nonphysician in the practice, Zinicola, who had no medical background but used to run a large real estate holding company, handles the day-to-day operations of the business as well as the accounting side.
"They're not business people," Zinicola says of the physicians he works for. "Their role in life is to take care of patients. We've been able to relieve them of the burden of running the business on a day-to-day basis. My expertise lies in business systems, accounting and computer technology."
The right systems
One of the areas Zinicola developed and has continued to improve upon for the practice is the computerization of its processes. When the practice was founded, Lohr cited a lack of computerization as the biggest potential obstacle to running the business.
"Ten years ago we did all of our billing by hand," Lohr says.
Today, Omni has surpassed its competition in that area.
All of the software programs Omni uses have been specifically written for the practice. For instance, the program used to record and chart patient outcome studies, which, through a database, follows the progress of patients years after treatment, is unique to Omni.
Zinicola says the surgery scheduling software that Omni uses, also written specifically for the practice, has enabled the business to run more efficiently.
This year, he hopes to begin using specially created software to keep electronic medical records. He says that within the next few years, the office should be almost completely paperless.
"Medicine is changing on a daily basis; we have to run things more efficiently to stay autonomous and still provide excellent care," he says. "We have to become more efficient."
He says that as more processes become streamlined and automated, more staff can move from the clerical side of the business to the clinical side.
"We're doing that through technology," he says. "We're not necessarily cutting back on staff, but we can free up more of the clerical staff to do more clinical work if we automate what they're doing."
Give the people what they want
Omni has remained competitive by responding to patients' needs, both on the medical side and the business side. As a health care provider, Lohr stresses the importance of offering a wide scope of subspecialists who can meet almost any orthopaedic need. By continuing to expand the practice, Omni is able to hire more specialized physicians.
In addition, it runs its own ambulatory surgery center and will open a physical therapy center this month.
To attract as much business as possible, medical practices must have physicians contracted with the major managed care organizations, which Omni does.
"We have somebody who's on virtually every managed care panel there is," Lohr says. "The biggest insurer in Stark County is AultCare. Six of our orthopaedic surgeons are on the AultCare list right now."
As CEO, Lohr must also respond to patients' demands of Omni as a business. In a rare move for a medical practice, this month Omni will begin offering evening hours to cater to working patients who find it difficult to make a weekday doctor's appointment.
From 5 to 9 p.m. two evenings week, Omni physicians will be available to see patients with new problems, Lohr says. Like other changes at Omni, extended hours should help with both efficiency of staff and attracting new patients, he says.
"In other parts of the country where people have tried this, it's been effective and well received," he notes.
An eye toward the future
Lohr says awareness is one of the best ways to stay competitive in the medical industry.
"There are trends that are happening with groups our size throughout the country, even though the local insurance situation is different everywhere," he says.
One of the trends Lohr has observed is the merging of small- and middle-market practices to create larger practices that offer more specialties. While Omni plans to continue to grow, Lohr says the practice must grow geographically as well so not to saturate one market.
"Right now we're growing to accommodate our needs. We fill our needs as they arise," he says
The ability to grow is predicated upon the local population. "The local population would not support 10 more orthopaedic surgeons in this town," he says
To counteract that, he plans to open satellite offices, starting in Tuscarawas County, by end of the summer.
Lohr admits no business plan is fail-safe, especially in these changing times. "We're having a hard time, just like everyone else," he says. "I have no idea what the future holds. The reimbursement from insurance companies has gone down, Medicare has gone down. I don't know what's going to happen five years from now. There's not a whole lot you can do about that.
"The only thing you can do is to try to be as efficient as you can."
How to reach: Omni Orthopaedics, (330) 492-9200
For Tim Hannon, third-generation president of The Hannon Co., each venture makes perfect sense. The common link, he says, is necessity.
Frank Hannon, Tim's grandfather, founded the Hannon Co. in 1926. At the time, Hannon provided electrical repair services to mostly residential customers. When his son, Tom, took over in 1951, he changed its focus from residential to commercial/industrial.
"We were obviously in a throwaway market," says Tom, who is now chairman of the board. "The cost factor of manufacturing a new motor became similar to the cost of repairing one."
While Tom Hannon focused on industrial motor repair work, he also started to expand the company to incorporate equipment he had invented for the mining and electric utilities industries.
"We came from a farming background; we have a firm belief in working hard, using your hands," says Tim Hannon.
But he also lets us in on another little secret.
"My father calls me a 'junkyard dog.' He also calls all our salesmen 'junkyard dogs.' That's because we will go out and find any project there is or any piece of the equipment that's broken -- anything that's out there -- and come back and figure out how to fix it."
While it was Tim Hannon's father, Tom, who founded the horse farm and started venturing into areas unrelated to motor repair, it was Tim who turned that junkyard dog attitude into the philosophy that drives the core business.
In 1986, two years after Tom Hannon assumed the presidency of the Canton-based company, he realized the electromechanical motor repair business, which was The Hannon Co.'s bread and butter, needed to offer more than just on-demand repair services.
"We actually went out and told the market what they wanted," he recalls. "Nineteen eighty-two was a pretty ugly year, especially for the steel industry. Customers came to us and said, 'You're a great supplier, you're a great company, and we want to continue working with you, but you have to figure out how to lower our costs over the next 10 years by 10 percent per year.'"
He knew he couldn't cut the amount he was charging for repair services, so he began looking for another way to lower his customers' costs.
"So we said, 'OK, there's not a lot of blood left in the turnip when it comes to fixing the motor, but let's start looking at your process and do some root-cause failure analysis and figure out how we can save you money in that way," Hannon says.
"We didn't lower the cost of fixing a 10-horsepower motor. That pretty much stayed the same, but we made it last two years instead of one year."
The Hannon Co. accomplished that by finding errors in the way its customers were either using or maintaining those motors. Hannon says the motor-repair business' sales are now three to four times what they were in 1986.
"We call ourselves wanderers and wonderers. We wander through and we wonder why," Hannon says. "What we've decided is that you, as a customer in the market, want to have someone that just doesn't fix something but also can figure out why it failed. Maybe it's it in the system and we can re-engineer the system, or we can change the work flow.
"It's what the market needs, and we have to become what the market demands of us: Looking for the cause of the failure at the root."
The Hannon Co.'s expansion into root-cause failure analysis has also broadened its market through word-of-mouth referrals. The company has repaired the 100,000-horsepower turbines of the Grand Coulee Dam in Central Washington, and of the Parker and Davis dams, which bring water and power benefits to residents of the lower Colorado River Basin.
"We're the only family-owned company that has ever rewound those hydrants," which weigh 800 tons and are more than 50 feet in diameter, Hannon says.
And repair work The Hannon Co. did on a generator on a Coast Guard cutter out of Cleveland brought in eight to 10 more jobs from the Coast Guard, all over the United States.
"Word gets out," he says.
After several expansions, the company's Canton plant is now 100,000 square feet and employs 100 people. The Hannon Co. also runs motor repair plants in Zanesville, Painesville and Dover, Ohio, and Menaka, Pa., and employs a total of 160 people.
It's the people, Tim Hannon says, not the company's offerings, that bring in the business.
"No one works for me; everybody works with me," he says. "This company is 80 percent labor and 20 percent material. Without the skills of those people out there, this company is absolutely nothing."
Everyone is cross-trained to do more than one job.
"A guy that's a machinist may also be a mechanic. It allows us to be flexible, depending on the work flow that comes in the door. Some days a lot of mechanical problems come in the door; some days, electrical; some days, field service," Tim Hannon says.
And although the company employs 12 full-time salespeople, Tim Hannon emphasizes that everybody works in sales.
"Anybody in this place is a salesman, even the guys on the floor. They know that it's good for the company for them to be looking for new work," he says.
As profit-sharers, Hannon Co. employees have a special stake in the company's success.
Tom Hannon set up the profit-sharing program in 1948, long before the term even existed.
"That program was one of the greatest things he did," his son says. "We have a very low turnover rate, and everybody here feels that they've actually bought into the company and knows that their livelihood and retirement is based on the profitability of the company, and they're very concerned about that.
"We don't have to tell somebody that it's time for them to leave this company. If there's a bad apple in the group, the employees tell them they're not pulling their weight and maybe they want to find some other place to work."
Tim Hannon says the trust fund, which was converted into a 401(k), today is worth more than the net asset value of the entire corporation, which has grown every year, including this past year. He estimates revenue at $15 million to $20 million but declines to give an exact figure.
As for what the future holds for these junkyard dogs, Tom Hannon says, "We'll take what we have done and try to duplicate it."
In other words, anything is possible. How to reach: The Hannon Co., (330) 456-4728
Portage Community Bank began offering courier service a year ago to attract a wider base of clients who might not otherwise find it convenient to do their banking in Ravenna. The bank's president and CEO, Richard Coe, got the idea from a bank in Columbus that had expanded its customer base by offering to pick up its customers' deposits free of charge. The Columbus bank now has 16 full time drivers who make daily runs to commercial customers, far beyond the geographic area it would otherwise be able to service.
Portage Community Bank has added about 35 commercial customers since it began offering the service and employs two full-time drivers who pick up their daily deposits. Clients vary in industry, says Coe, who cites customers in manufacturing, insurance, medicine and food equipment.
"We believe this is a unique service and a tremendous savings for our clients in that they do not commit personal expenses on a daily basis to simply do their banking," says Coe.
Before the bank could offer the service, it had to get approval from the federal government and the state of Ohio to operate as a mobile branch, says Connie Bennett, vice president and COO. After gaining approval, the bank tested the service by offering it to existing clients, saving them the trip to the office.
"We asked our customers if we could try it out on them," she says.
After a positive response, the bank started marketing it to potential commercial clients within a 30-mile radius.
Bennett says other banks offer a courier service to their larger clients, but those banks charge for the service and use outside carriers such as Brinks to make the runs. To her knowledge, Portage Community Bank is the only bank in the area offering this service for free.
Portage Community Bank was established in 1998 by a group of local investors. It employs 26 associates and holds approximately $78 million in assets. How to reach: Portage Community Bank, (330) 296-8090
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.