Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Escape enterprises Inc.

Look for Escape Enterprises Inc. to up the ante in development this year through franchise incentives and forays into new venues at home and abroad.

The company sweetened the pot in September 1998 when Franchise Mortgage Acceptance Co. of East Brunswick, N.J., agreed to offer a $35 million preferred finance program to Steak Escape franchisees.

This agreement has encouraged more franchisees to sign with Escape, says Robert Bruff, vice president of franchise development, because it allows them to concentrate on finding good locations and opening restaurants more quickly because they’re not spending time securing financing. Six franchisees took advantage of the opportunity within a month of the announcement.

Bruff expected the company to have 156 stores open by the end of 1998. He’s estimating another 60 in 1999—twice the openings of last year—and 80 more in the year 2000. The company will back up its expansion with more corporate staff for franchise support.

Escape Enterprises will continue to build on the success its found diversifying from mall stores to sports venues, strip centers, travel plazas and college campuses. A first attempt at a free-standing unit, opened by a franchisee late last year in Charleston, W.Va., has the potential of netting twice the annual sales of mall locations, Bruff says. Two more are planned this year and deals with international developers—sealed in the Middle East and pending in France and Malaysia—will open even more avenues for growth.

Also watch for the introduction—likely in the first quarter of this year—of an improved cheesesteak sandwich.

All these investments, Bruff says, should lead to system-wide sales increases in excess of 35 percent in each of the next four years.

If Escape Enterprises continues reinvesting to support this growth, expect it to exceed those projections.


Escape Enterprises Inc.
222 Neilston St., Columbus
Top local officer: Ken Smith, chairman
Founded 1982
Employees: 29 corporate, plus 200 store
1997 revenues: $55.8 million
Estimated 1998 revenues: $66.7 million
Revenue growth, ’96 to ’97: 9.5%
Ownership: Private

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Getting a buy-in

When Jeffrey Chernoff learned he had been selected a Consumers' Choice Award winner, he knew of the program's prestigious reputation, but was hesitant all the same. After all, the program required him to pay a fee for the right to advertise his win.

"I was skeptical," says Chernoff, who at the time owned a veterinary practice with retail pet stores in Canada. "So I met with the principals, met with the agent for the survey company, asked intelligent questions and got honest answers."

He was impressed. The fact that the award put his business in a league with AT&T Canada and the Hoover Co. didn't hurt, either.

"That was another proof for me," says Chernoff, who won the award five times before selling his business and becoming involved in marketing the Consumers' Choice Awards.

Not everyone warms up to the Consumers' Choice Award program as wholeheartedly as Chernoff, though. When the program was introduced in Columbus last spring, only about half the winners were willing to fork over mandatory participation fees. Fees originally ranged from $950 to $4,300, Chernoff says, but have been lowered to $300 to $3,900.

Although organizers lost money because of the participation rate, it wasn't totally unexpected, Chernoff says. It was the first time the awards had been presented in the United States and, given his own initial skepticism, Chernoff probably knew what questions might be running through business owners's heads. Clearly he had a sell job to do here, one that will continue this year as the program gears up for its second survey this spring, followed by an awards program in June.

That sell job may have been made harder last year when apparent inconsistencies surfaced in conjunction with the Consumers' Choice Award. In April, media were given a list of "top award recipients"-which included the Hyatt on Capital Square, Wendy's, Cord Camera and Three-C Body Shop-at an introductory breakfast explaining the program.

In June, when the paid program participants were announced, Cord and Three-C were not listed, even though the April release said "all winners" would be officially announced that month at a gala award presentation. Chernoff says the April list was a sampling of recipients, not a reflection of any ranking, and that those who did not pay for the program were still considered winners, although they would not be recognized as such publicly.

That's a new approach for local business owners used to programs such as Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Small Business Awards and the Better Business Bureau's Business Integrity Awards, which do not charge winners a fee to publicize their honors.

To clear up confusion surrounding the Consumers' Choice Award program, SBN contacted area business owners and program organizers for additional information. Here's what we learned.

Why do business owners have to pay to publicize their awards?

"It's important for people to understand the two components: the [award] survey and the promotional program," Chernoff says. "They're kept independent to maintain the legitimacy and the authenticity of the program."

Business owners can participate in the promotional program-which does not alter the ranking established by the award survey, he says-on various levels.

For example, business owners can pay the base price of $300 to obtain only the sociodemographic results of the survey used to determine the winners, but that doesn't allow them to publicly promote their win. For publicity rights, the business owner must spend at least $950. The full promotional package costs $3,900 and includes survey results as well as media advertising, inclusion in a paid television broadcast coordinated by Consumers' Choice, award decals for the winner's use, lapel pins for sales staff, invitations to networking breakfasts after the event, promotion on the Consumers' Choice Award Web site and invitations to the awards gala.

Those who opt not to buy the promotional packages, however, cannot use the Consumers' Choice Awards name or logo in their advertising efforts.

Refectory owner Kamal Boulos, whose business was named the gold Consumers' Choice Award recipient in the "Fine Continental Cuisine" category, sees the program as part of his regular marketing and promotion. He would not disclose how much he paid to participate, but said he did not purchase the full promotional package.

"We opted to participate on a level that made us feel comfortable with at least just acknowledging the fact we had been selected and at the same time extending them some courtesy for their efforts," he says.

What happens if an award recipient chooses not to participate in the promotional program?

Chernoff says the ranking of the recipient will not change. For example, if the gold winner in a category opted not to participate and the silver winner did, Chernoff says, the silver winner still would receive the silver award.

That happened in the "Carpet and Rug Cleaners" category, in which Master Clean, the silver winner, participated in the promotional program but the gold winner, Stanley Steemer, did not. Nevertheless, a print advertisement for Master Clean included in a coupon circular last year carried a gold-trimmed Consumers' Choice Award logo with no indication that the company was not the top award winner. Chernoff says such designations are not necessary and that although participants receive promotional materials, such as stickers, in colors corresponding to the award level they won, color print advertising could include the generic Consumers' Choice logo, which has a gold-toned border.

Other categories, such as "American Family Restaurant," in which the top three winners-Bob Evans Farms, Max & Erma's and Cooker-did not participate, were dropped from the promotional program.

Chernoff says that in coming years, he will send to all recipients, regardless of program participation, a certificate denoting their ranking in the survey results.

How are businesses selected for the Consumers' Choice Award?

The organization hires an independent polling company to conduct a two-part telephone survey.

First, approximately 15 percent of the 1,550 respondents were asked to name a favorite business in some of the 241 categories such as fine continental cuisine and pharmacy, says Steve Valigosky, associate director of services/sales for Opinion Research Corp. International, the Maumee-based firm used for the Columbus survey.

Calls were made to consumers, executives of small and medium-sized businesses and executives from construction and automotive businesses, with certain category questions presented to each, Chernoff says. Jewelry, for example, was a consumer category, while duct cleaning was a construction category.

The most mentioned companies in each category were then compiled into a list and presented to the remaining 85 percent of the sample in the form of closed-ended questions.

The number of businesses from which respondents could choose during the closed-ended questioning varied from three to 10, depending on the category, Valigosky says.

How were award winners ranked?

Using a formula to compare percentages of responses, Opinion Research provided to Consumers' Choice the results of the survey, with businesses ranked first, second or third, says Scott Chambers, Opinion Research project manager.

Chambers explains that even though one business might receive more votes than another, a tie would be called if the results may not have enough of a "significant difference" theoretically and statistically.

That happened in Columbus in the jewelry category, in which International Diamond & Gold's 15.9 percent share of the vote was not significantly different enough from J.B. Robinson Jewelers's 13.3 percent to make either individual winners. Both, Chernoff says, were awarded gold rankings, while Diamond Cellar, which garnered 11.4 percent of the vote, received a silver ranking. Chernoff says business owners were notified if there was a ranking and/or a tie in their category, and that it would be noted on the business's contract should they enter the promotional program with Consumers' Choice Awards.

Despite this, International Diamond & Gold-which opted to participate in the promotional program, while the others did not-ran radio spots advertising itself as coming in first and the others as second and third. Chernoff says he was unaware of the ads and would clarify the rankings with International Diamond & Gold.

Business owners who were unaware of the ranking process and promotional program policies were left with a negative impression of the program.

"They had come to us and said, 'Gee whiz, you won. You were the Consumer's Choice for the jewelry category. If you spend so much money on these packages, you can publicize that,'" says R. Andrew Johnson, president of the Diamond Cellar, whose company was initially listed on the "top award recipients" list under the jewelry category in the April media release.

"We asked for more credibility, ratings and rankings because we didn't want to get involved in anything that wasn't 100 percent ethical," he continues. "They were a little bit reticent to get into that, and we said basically we can't get involved in that because it didn't meet our qualifications for ethics and things."

Chernoff says the final rankings showed that International Diamond & Gold received the top number of votes, and the selection of the Diamond Cellar for the company listed on the first release was arbitrary-a situation he called "unfortunate."

"For the sake of clarity, I probably should not have released it as early as I did, but we wanted to get as much publicity as possible," he says. "Next year there will only be an announcement after the final tabulations are made and we know everyone's ranking."

In addition, Chernoff says he will not release winners names in the future, only the promotional program participants.

IDG president Uziel Haimoff says he also was skeptical of the program at first, but he participated at the highest level after talking with Chernoff, seeing the statistical rankings and learning that Consumers' Choice invested in excess of $50,000 in the independent survey.

"The concept is good for the consumer. It doesn't say the other people are no good. It highlights people the consumer felt were the best," Haimoff says. "Most people come to buy jewelry in a place they trust. In our case, it has been very positive along those lines. It gives people confirmation that they're in the right place."

How did the Consumers' Choice Award program fare financially last year?

Chernoff says the 1998 participation did not cover the $250,000 it cost to get the program started in Columbus, but declined to say how short of the break-even point revenues fell.

Chernoff says he was pleased, however, with the participation rate of nearly 50 percent.

"Typically the program sees a dramatic increase in participation as the community at large becomes more aware of the nature of the program," he says, noting that in Canada's major markets, participation is 70 percent or better.

In Columbus, Chernoff says, a 75 percent participation rate would pass the break-even mark for the program, which was supported financially here by business sponsor Eddy Rajczyk, president and co-owner of Columbus-based Lighting Unlimited Inc.

Rajczyk became involved in the program after he saw it in Canada and was impressed that the results were backed by a survey.

"The legitimacy aspect of that got me very excited about the program," he says. "It gives the clout and advertising power to go out and say, 'We're No. 1.'"

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:58

Just what the doctor ordered

In the early 1990s, the health care situation at Sanese Services faced a grim diagnosis.

An aging work force with health problems—many caused by smoking—was sending the company’s medical claims through the roof.

“Here it is 1991, health care costs are rising, profit margins are reducing. We’ve got to get a handle on our health care costs like any other costs we would have,” remembers President Ralph Sanese Jr.

In fact, by 1993, those medical claims were on pace to top $3 million. To avert financial troubles at the company—and avoid the risk of having to halt benefits for employees—Sanese took drastic measures. By prohibiting smoking at the company, instituting wellness programs and bringing a doctor on site every week, he’s managed to reduce health care claims by nearly 50 percent—even while his work force grows.

Assessing the patient

Growing up in the family business, Sanese remembers huge ashtrays on desks and smoke-filled conference rooms.

“It was common to walk out of there and I could hardly breathe,” he says.

In 1993, the company took the first step toward a healthier work force by prohibiting smoking—but only after telling employees why. At company meetings, he showed them how nearly 80 percent of the company’s health care dollar—money that could have been returned to employees as profits—was used to treat circulatory problems.

“We had to change a whole culture of people who were unhealthy,” he says, pointing out that the vending and catering company got its start in 1946 by selling cigarettes.

Sanese also began working with Dr. Stephanie Cook, medical director for the Ohio State University Department of Emergency Medicine’s Tailored Health Care program, recently renamed Prompt Care Plus.

Her first move was to survey employees and develop programs to help resolve the leading problems, such as hypertension, inactivity and high cholesterol.

In one year alone, she referred 88 patients to primary care physicians for various problems, found 20 new hypertension patients, one of whom had an inflammation of the heart lining, and diagnosed five new diabetics. Of 16 people found to have high cholesterol, 12 were brought within normal limits simply by following her advice regarding changes in lifestyle habits, while four required medication to correct the problem.

Cook now visits Sanese’s North Columbus headquarters weekly, wandering among employees in every department, including office, warehouse, kitchen, distribution, customer service and accounting, to talk to them about their medical needs. She and nurse Ruth O’Brien-McMullen provide tetanus and flu shots, diagnose and treat existing problems such as colds or coughs, refer employees to specialists and test cholesterol and blood pressure.

Included in Sanese Services’ wellness programs are exercise classes and smoking cessation courses, immunizations, mammographies, hearing tests and a once-a-month massage therapy day. Most programs are free to employees.

Julie Russell, a dining service specialist at the company, found out first hand the benefits of having a doctor at the company.

One morning before work, she became paralyzed with pain and could barely lift her arms. By the time she got to work, she was nearly crying. The massage therapist, Ritah Clark, was in that day and helped Russell recover—and stay at work.

“I never considered going straight to my doctor,” Russell says. “I knew Dr. Cook could help me right here and I knew I wouldn’t have to miss work and didn’t have to pay my $20 co-pay.”

“We are not to take the place of primary care physicians,” Cook points out. “The problem is, employees can’t get to them. We provide a bridge to care—we deal with things that can be dealt with quickly, but get people into the system as well.”

On the road to recovery

Sanese knows he’ll have to continue the wellness programs to keep reaping the benefits. Of his 1,100 associates, nearly 60 percent are older than 40. He’s also seen how the program has paid off as nearly two-thirds of his work force actively participates.

He also believes he, himself, must help employees understand the reasoning behind the changes and lead by example. For instance, he watches what he eats since Cook suggested he take a cholesterol-lowering medication, and he often meets with managers off-site in a location where they can exercise.

Sanese invests approximately $3,000 a month in programs provided by Cook and has brought the company’s annual medical claims down to $1.6 million. According to a study Cook conducted of the 1996 program, the direct costs of her services—had employees sought them elsewhere—would have amounted to more than $80,000 a year for Sanese, and lost wages would have exceeded $39,000. Sanese provides incentives, in the form of health care benefit discounts, to employees who commit to healthier lifestyles through, for example, smoking cessation or regular exercise.

“We can’t force this on employees,” says human resources director Judy Elliott, “but we can get information in front of them so they can make the right decisions themselves.” For more information, contact Dr. Stephanie Cook of Prompt Care Plus at 293-2054.

Joan Slattery Wall is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:57

Team building

Y2K issues, automated sales offices, accounting software, e-mail capabilities ...

The technology needs seemed endless for Duffy Homes Inc., but the Westerville-based residential builder lacked the resources to hire an MIS employee.

Controller Chris Rupp nailed down a solution by using the services of Team ITG Inc., a local technology consulting firm.

“Like everybody else in the industry, we do not have computer experts on staff,” Rupp says. “Being a small company, it’s hard to justify the cost.”

Yet he knew addressing these technology issues could help the Duffy Homes office run more efficiently.

“The architect department prefers using a Macintosh software and the rest of the business needs to use IBM-based applications. So we were running, in essence, two separate networks in one office,” Rupp says.

Team ITG recommended an NT server, a Microsoft product, to bridge the gap.

“It’s a box you can put in place that’s kind of like the translator between the Macs, the PCs and the Internet,” Team ITG President and CEO Jim Kerr explains. “It provides file and print services and serves as the conduit to get all the information from one system to the next securely.”

That solved other problems for Duffy Homes, too, such as enabling the company to host its own Web site and provide e-mail to all employees.

Team ITG recommended that Duffy use Time Warner’s Road Runner service, which utilizes cable rather than phone lines to connect to the Internet.

While the Road Runner service could be slower than a T1 line that connects directly to an Internet service provider, it’s much more cost efficient, Kerr explains. A connection with about 10 computers costs about $500 per month with Road Runner, he says, while a T1 line can result in thousands of dollars in monthly charges.

Team ITG also conducted a technology audit that showed Duffy Homes’ former server, accounting system, some software and a printer were not Y2K compliant. Duffy has completed upgrades recommended by Team ITG to solve those problems.

Now, Duffy is in the process of working with Team ITG to connect its six sales offices to the main office through the Internet.

“When sales rep A is looking at the computer and working with a specific lot or customer, they are linked in. So if another sales rep is wanting the same information, they would be able to see that somebody is already interested in that lot,” Rupp says.

The consulting and upgrades cost Duffy Homes less than $15,000, an investment Rupp says, that pays off in cost-benefit factors. He would have to hire more employees if the company’s processes were not as efficient as they are with the automation, he notes.

“I’m getting more by hiring Jim than what it would cost me by not hiring Jim,” he says.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:57

A welcome service

Company’s coming — from another country, in fact — and you’ve got to be ready to deal with cultural, time and language differences.

As special projects coordinator at Nissin Travel Service Inc., which has offices in Columbus and Tokyo, Sachiko “Jo” Toya must deal with those issues every year as she helps arrange an exchange program for her client, Seibu Gakuen Bunri High School in Japan.

When finding host families for the nearly 40 Japanese students who visit Wellington School in Upper Arlington for two weeks each summer, Toya gets assistance from the International Visitor’s Council Inc., a nonprofit program funded by the United States Information Agency.

Services the council offers to businesses such as Nissin include airport welcoming, where each international guest is greeted at the gate and given an information packet with details about cultural events in the city, things to do, local chamber information and maps. The council will also assist with baggage claim and provide a lounge area for waiting. If meeting space is needed at the airport for companies and visitors whose time is too tight to meet elsewhere before a departing flight, the council can arrange that, too.

“Also, every year during the program, some of the students go to see the mayor of Columbus, and [visitor’s council executive director] Kevin Webb usually makes arrangements for them,” Toya adds.

Webb says the council can set up similar meetings between business clients and government officials here and arrange professional seminars and cultural activities.

“If a company wants a visitor to get a feel for the United States, we can set up an experience in an American home. That can range from dinner at a home to an overnight stay. We also offer specialized things like sightseeing, which we customize for local business people,” Webb says.

The council partners with other local companies such as Languages Unlimited Inc., which helps arrange language interpretation.

Costs for the council’s services range from $15 a person for a visitor information packet to $500 a person for a month-long home stay.

Some council funding comes through corporations such as Chemical Abstracts, Ellis & Aeschliman attorneys and Deloitte & Touche LLP, which get a 20 percent discount on the council’s services in thanks for their support.

“Our goal, our reason for being,” Webb says, “is to establish long-term relationships between citizens and companies of Central Ohio and the citizens and companies of other countries.”

For more information...contact the International Visitors Council Inc. at 231-9610 or kevwebb@ameritech.net. Visit the council’s Web site at www.columbusivc.org.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Take note!

The record speaks for itself. Having spent its first 19 years in the black, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus may be one of the best examples in town of good money management.

That’s not to say ProMusica has always had smooth sailing. In the early 1990s, says Executive Director Jennifer Keefer, the organization had to cut concerts and rehearsals to meet financial goals. However, the fact that ProMusica identified the need to make adjustments before large losses were incurred — and actually did so — epitomizes the organization’s dedication to watching the bottom line.

Smart money management, cautious risk taking and strong control over growth have contributed to the organization’s sound financial history. So have product development, marketing, customer service and diversification.

“It’s not rocket science,” Keefer says. “It’s business, and it all takes the same things. You need to raise the money, produce a product, search for excellence. All of these things — it’s all universal.”


Managed growth

ProMusica goes to great lengths to measure its success, keeping close track of every detail, from each source of income to the attendance and capacity of all performances. This gives it a way to see signs of trouble that need immediate attention.

In 1991 and 1992, for example, ProMusica noticed audiences were not filling seats at the twice-a-weekend concerts, so one performance each weekend was eliminated and rehearsals cut back.

“It’s all based on the financial situation,” Keefer says. “We were not bringing in enough revenue to manage the scale we were doing.”

Now, however, ProMusica is seeing a period of growth — in the past two years, revenue increased $150,000, pushing the annual budget to $530,000 — and the board is considering a return to the double concert weekends.

To stay prepared for the hard times, the organization keeps a cash reserve equal to 10 percent of its budget. Established in 1995 through a matching grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council, ProMusica now sustains the fund.

Although the money could be used to maintain cash flow throughout the year, ProMusica has never needed to access it. In fact, in her past three seasons as executive director, Keefer says, it also has not had to draw on a $35,000 line of credit set up through The Huntington National Bank for the same purpose.

In keeping with its forward-thinking nature, the organization has taken a look ahead at another potential income source: its endowment fund.

Established in 1992 for “general support of the orchestra,” the fund grew to $19,000 through contributions and reinvestment of its average annual 10 percent interest, but the fund was never tapped because it was so small. Rather than let the money sit idle, the board recently set out to increase it. In honor of ProMusica’s 20th anniversary this year, members did a six-week blitz soliciting pledges that should add nearly $500,000 to the fund.

In addition, subscribers this season were asked to contribute $1 or more toward the endowment, a move made more to increase awareness of the endowment, and thus garner more contributions down the road, than to provide a significant or immediate increase.

“That will be our nest egg,” Keefer says, adding that an advisory committee will review the income and recommend ways to use it. “We can build on it and help sustain our growth in the future.”


Calculated risks

Keefer says the ProMusica board knows that to keep the organization growing, it will have to take the occasional step out onto a limb.

A prime example: the move this season from Weigel Hall at The Ohio State University to the newly remodeled Southern Theatre. That costs the organization nearly $20,000 more per year in production costs, but is tempered by a $7,500 grant from the Ohio Arts Council and the prospect of increased ticket sales due to the mystique of the historic, newly restored theater.

It was a calculated risk that has paid off, Keefer says, because four of seven concerts so far this year have been sold out, and the others had at least 85 percent capacity. Because Weigel seated 700, compared to the Southern’s 900, ProMusica still comes out ahead.

ProMusica will have to assess the risk again in the coming year, when the grant expires. Even though it has only signed a one-year contract to perform at the Southern, the organization is making plans to stay.

“This year, we have identified a lot of new donors for our annual fund,” Keefer says, noting that the move to the Southern, and its ensuing cost increase, was incorporated into solicitation materials for corporations and donors. In addition, ProMusica will continue to modify pricing in order to bring in the necessary income to remain at the downtown theater.

Patrons, she says, were willing to pay the increased ticket prices — about 20 percent more — during the 1997-1998 season. In fact, income from subscriptions grew 43 percent that season due to the price increase and a larger subscriber base. During the 1998-1999 season, patrons supported tiered pricing because of the Southern’s varied seating options and were willing to pay more again.

Another risk ProMusica takes may not appear to deal directly with income, but can dramatically affect the group’s finances all the same. That risk is balancing the need to provide a consistent product with the need to continually innovate. That means scheduling concerts that include traditional and new works.

It’s an approach Keefer and her board are passionate about, but one that could turn off patrons if not handled correctly.

“If we stop commissioning, premiering, promoting contemporary music, there won’t be any new music,” Keefer says. “So we ask the audience to support that development.

“We’re committed to taking [musical] risks, but because we’ve done it so long, we know how to present it with something we know is going to be successful,” she explains. For example, the May concert includes a piece written by Messiaen in the 1950s and a symphony Beethoven wrote in the 19th century.

Ray Hanley, president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, says ProMusica’s sound day-to-day business operations make it easier for it to take such risks.

“They are very stable in their basic operations, and when they get an idea to take a risk, it’s for several years away,” Hanley says. “Because they plan well, because the board is very knowledgeable and involved in the organization, they are able to do projects very risky for an organization their size.”


Outreach

ProMusica recognizes that new customers — those who have never before experienced its chamber music — are taking risks, too. To continually attract new patrons and bring in more revenue, ProMusica must meet them half way.

To do that, the musicians perform in different venues, such as at corporate events or weddings, or hold concerts at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

“This expands our reach into the community,” Keefer says. “I’m going to take the mountain to Mahomet. We’ll be in your setting so you can experience ProMusica at your own comfort level.”

The organization makes an effort to cater to various customers.

For example, it presents concerts, curriculum materials, recordings and special ticket offers for children. The orchestra reaches out to senior citizens with open rehearsals for an up-close-and-personal look at how it transforms from the rehearsal state to the performance state.

Aggressive recruitment of new donors and ticket holders comes from board members, who add a personal touch, and the Trustees Circle, a group of established Columbus leaders, including Bernie Yenkin of Yenkin-Majestic Paint Centers and Artie Isaac of Young Isaac Inc., who serve as a mbassadors, or social advocates, of the organization.

Like any business, once ProMusica gets its customers, it has to keep them.

Music Director Timothy Russell sends pre-concert letters to subscribers and offers a personal talk 30 minutes prior to each performance. He also speaks with the audience during concerts to introduce and explain various pieces of the program.


Revenue enhancements

While forward thinking and big-picture management guide ProMusica, its board and staff have not forgotten primary business strategies, including diversification, to increase revenues.

Keefer acknowledges that ProMusica’s income is limited to approximately $20,000 for each concert that fills a house. One way it has conquered that obstacle is to arrange small ensemble performances, such as a quartet at a corporate event, to draw additional income.

In the 1997-1998 season, ensembles brought in $8,630, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

Looking ahead, ProMusica has invested in another potential revenue source: compact discs of contemporary, children’s and multicultural music performed by ProMusica. Although it will not gain royalties until sales top approximately 20,000 CDs, ProMusica has arranged with record companies to receive about 500 discs to sell at its concerts and events — a move that has netted a couple thousand dollars each year. Other revenues are very far off; in the first five years, the CDs are nearing 5,000 sold.

The same premise ProMusica uses to find additional patrons — holding more concerts in various locations — results in increased revenues. Those smaller concerts cost less to produce at $5,000 for a three-concert series at the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio Village, for example, versus more than $35,000 for a full subscription concert. And they bring in about $3,500 after expenses, which are typically paid by a sponsor.

On a larger scale, ProMusica looks for a financial boost during the 1999-2000 season with its production of “PASSION,” a chamber musical by Stephen Sondheim. Although it’s another risk since it requires a $200,000 budget, the effort is already paying off with a Huntington Bancshares Inc. promise of $100,000 — ProMusica’s largest gift ever.

“It is because they are conservative that they can take risks like ‘PASSION,’” Hanley says of ProMusica, pointing out that “PASSION” will require more than one-third of the organization’s normal operating budget. “They had the money banked to do it before they announced it. It’s not that they get an idea they want to do and then get the money for it.”

The Huntington gift, plus a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and an anonymous donation of $25,000, have covered 75 percent of the musical’s costs, and ProMusica hopes to earn more than $20,000 for each of the two scheduled performances.

Moreover, “PASSION” is an investment in exposing more people to ProMusica in the hopes of attracting them as patrons later, Keefer says.

Staying in the black, she says, has been possible for ProMusica with such conservative and calculated business operations.

“When we talk about growth,” Keefer says, “it isn’t, ‘How do we get to be an $8 million organization?’ It’s, ‘How do we become a stronger organization?’” Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Making safety a Capital concern

When an employee at Columbus’ Capital Fire Protection Co. slipped on a job and twisted his ankle, he couldn’t drive to the pharmacy to fill his prescription for pain medication.

He didn’t have to find a relative or neighbor to do him the favor, however; Capital Fire Protection sent help. This act of generosity actually saves the company money in the long run.

“To us, when it comes to safety and an injury, there is no limit — we’re going to go all the way,” says Troy D. Gattshall, the company’s director of purchasing and safety.

In fact, since the company gave it renewed focus in 1995, Capital Fire’s safety plan has reduced injuries and time away from work for employees so much that it cut the company’s workers’ compensation premiums by $10,000 in just two years. In 1997, Capital Fire received a Governor’s Excellence in Workers’ Compensation award for its efforts.


Preventing danger

Capital Fire’s primary focus is protecting its 62 workers from being injured in the first place. To do that, employees at every level work together to identify safety hazards and take precautions while they’re installing sprinklers and fire alarm systems.

Before each job, the estimator, project designer and fitter, or system installer, meet to discuss possible job hazards. Dangers include falls from ladders, being struck by falling objects and working in confined spaces where employees could be trapped or injured.

This meeting, whether by phone or in person at the job site, gives estimators a better idea of what a fitter is getting into and helps designers know what they can do to make a job easier and safer for the fitter.

“All three of them have to go through the job together from estimating the job to signing off on it,” Gattshall says.

The site-specific safety focus teams, along with other safety programs at Capital Fire, have reduced the number and severity of injuries at the company, resulting in less time off work for employees.

Having a better safety record has improved Capital Fire’s rating with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation by nearly 50 percent between 1995 and 1998. That means money savings: Capital Fire paid $78,000 in workers’ comp premiums in 1995 and reduced that to $68,000 by 1997.

“We’ve worked with them for about the last five years,” says J.C. Benton, BWC spokesman. “They’ve taken a real aggressive approach at training for their employees, including bringing all their field employees in for a 10-hour training class run on their company time. We’ve worked with them to incorporate a written safety program and assist them in updating it on a regular basis.”

Capital Fire also takes advantage of programs offered to businesses through the bureau, Gattshall says, such as on-site surveys, a group discount with Builders Exchange of Central Ohio, and counselors and a video library available through the bureau’s Division of Safety & Hygiene.


Providing care

If an employee is injured on the job, Capital Fire managers and employees are prepared.

“The last thing we want our employees to do is worry about problems,” says Gattshall, explaining the company’s procedures for handling injuries:

  • Any time employees are at a job site, they know the location of the closest medical facility.

  • The company keeps track of employees’ medical preferences, including the name of their family doctor.

  • “If an employee suffers a severe injury that needs immediate attention, we drop what we’re doing,” Gattshall says.

Fellow employees call the company to tell safety staff the medical facility where the employee will receive treatment. Employees at the company’s headquarters access injury packets — prepared ahead of time for just such emergencies — with the appropriate paperwork to send, for example, to third party administrators or medical providers.

They fill out the paperwork and fax it to the medical facility.

“The intention is before the employee walks into the medical facility, they have in their hands everything they need. Our guy, all that he has to worry about is getting medical treatment,” Gattshall says.

Not only do these steps help ease the process, Gattshall says, they also are corporate’s way of showing concern for employees.

“We want them to get back to work as soon as possible. It benefits us to get them back to work. It’s a benefit to them to get back to work,” he says. “We don’t want bad feelings about anything. We want them to know we’re looking out for them.”

How to reach: Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, (800) 644-6292 or www.ohiobwc.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Banking on a referral

Where would you go for money and for marketing assistance?

TEAM America gets both from its bank.

In January 1998, TEAM America Corp. arranged a deal with National City Bank whereby some of the bank’s employees refer small business clients to TEAM America.

“At National City, we look at ourselves as relationship managers for our clients. We try to match them with services that will assist them in growing their businesses,” says Anne Jennings, vice president of the bank’s business services group.

For example, Jennings had two clients, a husband and wife running a local business, whose time spent on employment issues could have been used in sales and operations. Jennings recommended they use the professional employer organization services of TEAM America to handle personnel matters, and the two have repeatedly thanked her for the suggestion.

“They’ve commented to me that through the benefits TEAM America offered, they’ve been able to enhance benefits offered to their employees — at a reduced price to what they were paying themselves,” she says. “They felt the money they were paying TEAM America to process payroll and other things was literally paying for itself.”

While National City gets kudos from its clients, TEAM America gets an additional marketing outlet —key at a time when the industry is just starting to make its mark, says Shankar Ramachandran, TEAM America’s assistant vice president of sales and marketing for the Midwest region.

“What we find is the PEO industry, especially in the Ohio market, has fairly low penetration,” Ramachandran says, adding that he’s seen figures showing 3 percent or less of those businesses employing fewer than 75 use professional employer organizations. “So there’s a huge potential market out there. A lot of the reason the industry penetration is so small is there isn’t that much awareness of these services as you would expect. People often don’t understand what PEOs do and think of them as temporary agencies.”

Through National City, however, TEAM America gets a referral from someone the potential client already trusts — and a more promising prospect than a simple cold call can yield.

“The thing that works best is if the relationship between the referring person and the client is a good relationship,” Ramachandran says, “so that when we call to set an appointment, the client is very interested in what we have to say.”

Ramachandran and Jennings, citing competition and proprietary reasons, declined to say how many referrals have resulted from the partnership, which is still in a test phase. Ramachandran, however, points out that of those referrals that have become clients, all so far have stayed with TEAM America, and Jennings says National City has heard positive comments from its clients.

To make the partnership more successful, National City invited TEAM America to make a presentation at a breakfast of bank clients. In addition, National City employees have attended training sessions to better understand TEAM America’s services.

About 12 people are actively involved in the referral partnership; 10 others are learning about it.

“The idea is not that they’re going to become experts on TEAM America services and go sell the product to their client,” Ramachandran says. “It’s just so they can see how this might benefit their client and who would be a good candidate and who would not so they could effectively refer.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Harnessing technology

Step into Scioto Downs, and at first glance, you might think you’ve traveled back in time. Fans view the races from a 1959 grandstand; in fact, the newest building on the site is the penthouse, which is more than 25 years old.

A 1976 Cadillac lumbers along the track as the start car for the horses.

And the assistant race secretary watches the action with binoculars in her role as clerk of course, using a tape recorder to note the position of horses during each race.

Don’t be fooled. A behind-the-scenes look reveals an operation run with technology that:

Brings in a diverse audience with simulcasting via satellite.

  • Provides customer service with computerized betting.

  • Assures accurate race results through television recording.

  • Keeps off-site customers in touch via the World Wide Web and a call-in phone system for results.
  • “Racing’s all of a sudden getting very up to speed on a lot of things other sports have already been into,” says Anne Doolin, director of publicity and marketing.

    Here’s how technology keeps Scioto Downs on track.


    A broader customer base

    In 1959, Scioto Downs opened on Route 23, about two miles south of I-270. Nearly four decades later, in 1997, the track began offering patrons another option: viewing and wagering on other harness and thoroughbred races across the United States.

    Simulcasting — the transmission of other races to television screens at Scioto Downs via satellite — brings fans race coverage from an additional 13 tracks during the day and 12 more at night. Simulcasting is available seven days a week, and gates open at noon instead of just before the evening post time for the live races.

    The additional coverage enables Scioto Downs to satisfy more customers than it can with its own nightly offering of 10 to 13 races.

    “In the past, we were open for live racing, and they could only bet on harness racing here,” Doolin says. “Now, the thoroughbred fan who doesn’t understand or want to learn about harness racing can bet on thoroughbred races all over the United States.”

    Scioto Downs races also are simulcast to more than 20 primary locations, with dozens more satellite facilities.

    Simulcasting helps Scioto Downs in the long run. As other race tracks and outlets take Scioto’s signal, more people bet on the races. That means more money is added to the pool at Scioto, making the betting more attractive. Simulcasting has the same effect on races elsewhere, Doolin says. “It’s sort of a snowball effect.”

    Technology coordinates the wagering for all the races. An electronic system by AmTote International, run for Scioto Downs out of a Grove City office, allows fans to bet with the same odds and the same payoffs as if they were at those other tracks. It also keeps track of the live betting at Scioto Downs.

    It’s hard to get an accurate count of how all these changes have affected attendance, Doolin says, because admission is not charged around the clock. Even though evening attendance is lower now, overall attendance is up.

    The handle, or total amount bet, really tells the story. In 1996, before simulcasting was added, about $37.5 million was bet annually at Scioto Downs. In 1997, simulcasting’s first season, that figure exceeded $53 million; 1998’s total was about $56.1 million.

    In June, Scioto Downs made a move to reach yet another audience — television viewers outside the Columbus area — when it signed on with The Racing Network, which broadcasts racing via satellite to subscribers all over North America. The direct satellite-to-home service offers more than 20 harness racing tracks and 25 thoroughbred tracks in North America, as well as some from Australia and England.

    Already, the track was reaching local viewers with “Scioto Downs Spotlight,” a monthly half-hour feature show airing on cable in the Columbus area.


    Customer service and quality assurance

    Technology also helps Scioto Downs better serve its customers. Self-bet machines, added approximately eight years ago, allow race fans to place their own wagers rather than using betting windows at the track.

    “A lot of people like the privacy of using that rather than saying it to somebody,” Doolin says, noting that use of the self-bet machines has increased approximately 25 percent since simulcasting was added.

    For the 1997 racing season, Scioto Downs’ Web site, www.sciotodowns.com, was up and running. Race fans can view results from the local track, updated about every third race.

    “I can tell people are using it,” Doolin says, “because if the interns are late posting results, I get hate e-mail.”

    The Web site includes general information about the track, drivers, trainers, statistics and schedules. It also helps the horsemen, who can check the Internet site before calling in their choice of race.

    Another way Scioto Downs keeps fans updated is through a results hotline. Four phone lines hooked into a computer give outcomes of each race, designated by mailbox numbers in a voice mail system. The lines are used by horse owners and by fans who placed bets but did not attend the race.

    “Often at night, it’s hard to get in,” Doolin says. “At 7:46, by God, they keep calling for the first [race results]. Late at night, you have to keep trying, trying, trying until somebody hangs up and you slip in.”

    Technology also helps the race judges. Three cameras, all with different angles, record the races, viewed by the judges on television sets. The races are recorded for use in case of appeals.

    Doolin says changes in the race bikes, which carry the jockeys behind the horses in harness racing, as well as veterinary care, nutrition and supplements for the horses are just as trendy as the technology changes that help run Scioto Downs, but the human factor remains.

    “The interaction between people and horses requires time, care and attention,” she says. “That’s something technology’s never going to change, thank God.”

    Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com)is a reporter for SBN.

    Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

    No excuses

    Karl Insani distinctly remembers Ross Products’ 1993 sales awards ceremony.

    The then-vice president of sales for the Columbus-based company was master of ceremonies at the San Diego event. Insani wasn’t feeling well that day, so he took a breather after rehearsals while his crew set things up.

    He skipped dinner, then returned in his tuxedo ready to make the presentations.

    “I went to the preparation area to go on stage, and I was just in a corner of the room by myself and slithered down to the ground,” Insani says. “That was it; and the next thing I knew there were people trying to carry me.”

    Insani had suffered a heart attack and was taken to a nearby heart hospital before he was transferred home to Grant Medical Center to continue his recovery.

    Insani had never had heart trouble before.

    He’d also never had an exercise regimen.

    It was no surprise, then, that less than a month into his rehabilitation program at Grant, he wasn’t making much progress.

    “Of course I felt like I was the world’s biggest wimp and had not given any thought at all to going into a physical exercise program,” he says. But when a nurse recommended intensive one-on-one training, he agreed and began working with Mark Mayes, president of Fitness Resources Inc. of Columbus.

    I didn’t know what was motivating me except I didn’t want to die,” Insani says.

    Six weeks into the exercise program, he started to see definite improvement, he says.

    “I started having more energy and saw that my appetite picked up, but I didn’t worry about it because I knew I was exercising,” he says.

    A few short months later, he’d face another problem. He returned to his regular work routine, which included lots of travel — 60 percent of his time, in fact.

    How would he keep up the three-times-per-week exercise training program that was bringing back his health?

    “First of all, you make the commitment that you want to be able to live your life to the fullest,” says Insani, 52, who recently retired and does consulting work, “and if you want to do that, you’ve got to make exercise part of that. Doing it when you travel is just proving to yourself that you’re serious about this.”

    Step by step

    Insani, who admits he could not have been as successful at exercising if he did not have a personal trainer, says his travel would have been a definite obstacle had he not found ways to continue exercising on the road.

    “I flew everywhere — all areas of the country, coast to coast,” he says.

    Preparing a client to exercise while traveling is key to Mayes’ work.

    “We’re basically trying to teach people how to exercise properly,” Mayes says. “Our whole goal is to educate the person so they can go off individually.”

    Mayes and Insani offer the following advice to business executives who want to keep up an exercise program while traveling:

    n “There are things you can take with you in the suitcase and you can work out in the room,” Mayes says.

    One of Mayes’ clients, who often travels to Hong Kong, takes running shoes and exercises by doing laps up and down the stairs at his hotel. Dynabands, rubber tubing that allows the individual to work the upper body, are another possibility. There also are inflatable weights that can be packed and filled with water before use, Mayes says.

    “You can do things in your room like using chairs and doing dips between the chairs to work the triceps or like doing types of pushups or types of squats,” he says.

    • Make arrangements to stay at hotels that have fitness rooms or that have agreements with local fitness centers for day rates.

      “I never found a hotel that wasn’t willing to drive me there in their van,” Insani says.

    • Schedule exercise into your daily travel routine.

      “Once you make the commitment you’re going to do it, it’s no more than saying, ‘I’ve got a 3 o’clock meeting,’” Insani says. “I’d say be flexible in your schedule; don’t say, ‘I have to work out at 6 in the morning.’”

      Insani was motivated knowing he’d return from trips to his regular training with Mayes.

      “He didn’t expect me to lose ground because I was out of town for 10 days,” Insani says. “He knew I was very goal-oriented, so he used that to help me.”

      Insani says he’d often exercise in the afternoon, and when he’d arrive to a dinner banquet where he’d have to make a speech, he’d hear people regretting they had spent the previous two hours in the bar or munching.

      “Quickly you see, by observing people you are with, you are feeling a lot better about yourself and what you’ve got to do, and it’s because you allowed your body to exercise rather than sitting there like mashed potatoes,” Insani says. “That would be one of the bigger motivators to do it while you’re on the road.”

    • Watch your eating, which is 50 percent of the fitness equation, Mayes says.

      This tip is one of the hardest for executives who travel, Mayes admits.

      “A lot of times they’re in a meeting and they’re served [a meal]. They don’t pick out what they want,” he says. “If you’re in a situation where you can’t pick stuff, I would say use moderation. You have to eat something. Try to pick whatever’s best. Then when you’re away from the meeting, try to get something healthier.”

    • Drink plenty of water.

      “Flying can dehydrate you anyway. That’s one of the reasons you have jet lag,” he says.

      The old adage of drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses of water is especially hard to fill while traveling, he says.

      “I tell clients to get a liter bottle and carry it with them,” he says, adding that executives could keep it in their hotel room. “At least that way you can physically see what you’re drinking. If you rely on drinking fountains or just drinking from glasses, you’ll typically not get enough.”

    • Find a fitness professional in the area where you are traveling. One place to do this is through the American Council on Exercise, Mayes says. Search geographically by state at the council’s Web site, www.acefitness.org/profreg, or call (800) 825-3636.

    In the end, Insani says, the ability to exercise while traveling helped him continue his exercise regimen — and improve his health.

    His doctor has stopped prescribing heart medications for him, and his annual stress tests are a breeze. He’s progressed from a limit of three minutes on an exercise bike or treadmill to an hour. He can do 200 sit-ups nonstop, where previously he was proud if he could muster five. Mayes says Insani can lift weights that would be difficult for men 20 to 30 years his junior.

    “I try to dwell on the fact that the energy has picked up greatly,” Insani says. “I’m pleased with my body image. I’m toned. I don’t feel like a weakling. I don’t get colds and flus like I used to. Your self-confidence builds up when you have a good image of yourself.”

    Mayes credits Insani’s success to his gung-ho attitude, but he says any exercise program, especially for an executive who travels often, can be successful with a bit of dedication.

    “Nothing’s easy,” he says. “They’re going to have to take some time to plan this out. I don’t think it takes a lot of planning, but it does take some.”

    Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.