Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Take a break

Before Jim Corrova could shut down his TAT Ristorante di Famiglia for a vacation this summer, he had one final task: making lunch and dinner for two customers — for the entire week he would be gone.

“They wouldn’t eat anywhere else,” says Corrova, who with his wife, Dolores, owns the restaurant on Columbus’ East Side. “I was flabbergasted they would do that. That’s what you call loyalty.”

Customer loyalty, in fact, is key for Corrova and Stan’s Restaurant owner Bill Loscko, who closes his North Columbus eatery for a two-week vacation each year. Loscko’s duties before he closes include donating any leftover food to Second Servings for homeless shelters and food kitchens.

Corrova and Loscko say they’re able to take the vacations because their businesses, both founded in the ’50s, are well-established.

However, they still have to make many arrangements before they’re able to pull off the time away.

Consider the payoff.

“About 30 years ago, everybody said I was crazy for doing it,” Corrova says of his decision to close for vacation. “I said, ‘Well, if I lose business, I lose business.’”

Corrova loses between $35,000 and $40,000 the week he’s closed; Loscko’s out about $45,000 a week. They both budget for the loss and keep a reserve on hand each year.

“Nowadays, stress is just a killer,” Loscko says. “You need the time. You get burned out in this business. You need time to relax, think about other things and be with your family. To me, I’d pay $45,000 to spend a week with my family. It’s that important to me.”

Corrova’s wife, two daughters, a son and a brother also work at TAT, so if he wants family time, he’s got to close.

Loscko says if he were to remain open, it would be tough to find replacements for key employees who would want to take two weeks off. Not only that, but he’d have trouble if he wanted to take a vacation while his restaurant remained open.

“You’d be worried about it constantly,” he says. “You’d be on the phone every day, and there would be no peace.”

The vacation also helps refresh his staff.

“Everybody has a great two weeks — they’re all rested and relaxed and ready to go for the rest of the summer,” Loscko says, adding that he sometimes takes the opportunity to do maintenance work, such as painting or remodeling inside the restaurant.

Work with the employees.

Of Loscko’s 96 employees, only two were disappointed with the two-week shut down, he says. They would have preferred to choose their own vacation dates.

“I set them down and talk to them to tell them I think this is for the better good,” he says, noting he tried closing for just one week the first four years he did this. He added a second week in 1998 because, “It actually takes me three days to close up and another three days to open back up, and I wasn’t really getting any time off.

“This year, especially with Easton opening, I was worried we would lose some people,” Loscko says, “but we didn’t lose anybody.”

Corrova tries to work with employees who do not want to lose income during the one week TAT closes each year.

“If I stay in town, like I did this year, we do deep cleaning like rug cleaning, and any employee who wants to work, they can come in and help and I pay them to clean,” Corrova says.

Both owners say most of their employees get three weeks paid vacation total, so they can take the remainder of the time whenever they wish.

“You have to be very flexible,” Corrova says. “Nowadays the service is so hard to get ahold of.”

Notify your customers.

The sign in front of Stan’s Restaurant read: “Closed Jun 28 to Jul 12. Gone fishing.”

When Loscko first started closing for vacations, that was the intention: to fish with his father, restaurant founder Stan Loscko. This year, however, he went golfing.

Signs notifying customers are very important, Loscko and Corrova say, especially considering they’ve got a slew of regulars.

In addition to using the restaurant sign, Loscko puts notices on every door of the building about 10 days before the closing. He also makes sure his answering machine’s outgoing message explains the vacation and the dates.

Corrova, on the other hand, starts even earlier.

“We advertise on radio and hang signs in the window about two months before time,” he says, adding that he’ll do the same when he closes for a few days during the Christmas season. He stresses that business owners considering closing during vacation should make sure the signs explain that fact. If you don’t, he says, customers will think you’re going out of business.

Be specific about the dates, he adds, so there’s no confusion.

Be prepared when you return.

Corrova and Loscko reopen their doors to crowds of grateful customers.

“It’s unbelievable,” Loscko says. “This is like the eighth wonder of the world. We’re probably up, I would say, 15 to 20 percent over an average day, and that goes on all week.”

“It’s just like a grand opening when we first open back up in July,” Corrova says. “We’re packed. People miss us. Thank God for that.”

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

A policy of candor

J.F. “Jeff” Keeler Jr. lists his home phone number on his business card.

He also doesn’t mince words about how he entered the “ditch digging” career that set him on a path to becoming chairman and CEO of The Fishel Co., a $150 million privately held business: “I married the boss’s daughter,” he says without blinking an eye.

Keeler’s refreshing frankness, however, is nothing new to those who know and work for him.

  • On a monthly basis, Keeler sends employees a letter telling them how much profit the company has made — or how much money it has lost.

  • In a cash profit-sharing plan, the company divides among its employees — whom Keeler calls teammates — one-third of its before-tax profits. When he first did that in 1984-85, employees received a bonus of one week’s pay annually; this year, bonuses could top eight weeks pay.

  • When Keeler developed “Vision 2000,” a strategic plan outlining the company’s goals, he shared it not only with employees but with major clients.

Keeler’s demeanor is just as open in one-on-one dealings. Without hesitation, he gives matter-of-fact answers to the most pointed questions.

What has been the scariest moment of his business career? Having a Fishel teammate seriously injured or killed. “Getting that phone call — I go to funerals, visit with families,” he says. “That’s happened — not often, but it’s happened a time or two.”

What is one thing most people don’t know about him? “I was dyslexic as a child,” he says. Keeler was behind in grade school and junior high, but has learned to overcome the problem. “I don’t look at it as a disability; I’m just a slow reader,” he says.

Keeler expects Fishel teammates to be as open and enthusiastic as he is. Celebration bells in all the company’s offices are rung for accomplishments, from making a sale or finishing a project to personal mileposts such as family additions.

Keeler’s openness explains how he develops such innovative ideas to lead The Fishel Co., which provides utility contracting for energy and information systems.

I’m a sponge for business knowledge,” Keeler says, noting he gets many of his ideas from organizations he’s joined, such as the Chief Executive Organization and Columbus President’s Organization, of which he is president. He also serves as a board member of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Furthermore, Keeler gets ideas from other company boards on which he serves: Bank One, Davon Corp., AirNet Systems Inc., Metatec Corp., Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. and Sports Imports Inc.

“One reason I go on a board is, I feel I have something to offer, but I also have the opportunity to learn,” he says.

His knowledge has garnered the respect of others in the business community.

“Jeff should write a textbook on management because he knows more principles of good management than the people who write the books and spend their life studying good management,” Roger Blackwell, a marketing consultant and Ohio State University business professor who has authored several books, says in Keeler’s Hall of Fame nomination form.

Jack Ruscilli is equally impressed.

“It has been Jeff’s forward thinking that has taken The Fishel Co. well beyond ‘the world’s greatest ditch digger,’” Ruscilli says in Keeler’s nomination form.

Keeler is quick to stress the role of teamwork in getting the 63-year-old Fishel Co. where it is today.

“One thing I’ve done is surround myself with people who are smarter than I am in their own special area. I brag on my officers, but they have people working for them who are equally as good. I also am blessed with the best board in the United States of America,” he says with conviction.

His motives for success are opportunities to improve and the challenge to be the best in his business. Every team, he says, has its own motivator, depending on its mission and vision.

“I don’t have to be the leader in every situation,” he says. “I think you only recognize that with age and maturity. It goes back to hiring people that complement your experience and hiring people that are smarter than you are. Then I step aside and yield and follow their lead.”

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

The extraterrestrial highway

When SBC Advertising wants to communicate with its clients, it sends them to Area 51. Granted, the North Columbus firm’s clients aren’t actually visiting the Nevada military base of extraterrestrial notoriety.

Instead, SBC’s Area 51 is a special section of its Web site created so clients can periodically check on the status of their projects — and offer feedback in a more efficient manner.

For example, on a recent project in which SBC launched a new bank card for The Kroger Co., the firm needed input from the Minneapolis bank issuing the card and from Kroger officials in Columbus and Cleveland.

“We were able to put that creative [project] up on Area 51 and did a live conference call. Everyone was able to look at and comment on the work simultaneously, and when changes needed to be made, everyone was able to view it again in the afternoon,” says Jeff Tritt, SBC’s senior vice president.

The Area 51 process not only saves on travel, SBC and its clients avoid the costs and time involved in producing color copies and sending them via courier or mail. In addition, using Area 51 gives the firm the opportunity to get a product to market sooner because it isn’t waiting so long for feedback.

“We have found it to be just as beneficial to clients in town as clients in Cleveland,” Tritt says. “Our time and their time still is valuable.”

Not top secret

Tritt says the idea for Area 51 was born when SBC noticed clients, in a business world of downsizing, were having to do more things with fewer people.

“Time is a premium item for them,” Tritt says. “They don’t have time to have lethargic meetings talking about minutiae.”

Now, that “minutiae” is handled over the Internet by more than half of SBC’s clients, who visit SBC’s Web site — www.sbc-adv.com — click on Area 51, enter their password and choose the project they wish to view. They can print out a copy, make note of desired changes and call, fax or e-mail the information back to SBC.

“We get quicker feedback and more time to work on something without affecting the timeline,” Tritt says.

Clients also gain more flexibility in working with SBC.

“It’s convenient,” says Lisa Dulay, advertising manager at Express-Med, one of SBC’s clients. Express-Med uses SBC to produce direct mail pieces, and each month she visits Area 51 to view new creative work from the advertising firm.

“If we were out of town on a trade show, we could look them up and print them out and take them with us instead of not getting back with them in a timely fashion,” she says.

Area 51 also helps the flow of communication at Express-Med, she says.

“Anyone can go on and look at it at their convenience and not have to wait for somebody else to look at it and pass it on,” she says.

Authorized entry granted

In order to ensure its clients would approve of Area 51, SBC had to design it so it would be easy to use and secure — and fun.

Because SBC already had its own Web site, an in-house programmer simply had to create the Area 51 section. Security parameters, such as code names for client companies and passwords for each employee, alleviate confidentiality concerns for clients.

Here are some steps the firm took to simplify the process for its own staff and its clients:

  • SBC provides clients with written instructions and consults with them one-on-one by phone to make sure they’re comfortable using the site. “Our clients vary in technological aptitude,” Tritt says. “We try to make it very simple for someone who is not far down the line on computer competence.”

  • The firm decided to use a PDF, or portable document format, to transmit the creative pieces, because those files are smaller and easier to download. That format holds the quality and color well so the client gets an accurate portrayal of the firm’s work. The client can zoom in and out of the document on the computer screen to get a better view.

  • SBC account representatives notify clients by phone or e-mail when a new creative piece is posted on the Area 51 site or when revisions are ready. So SBC can keep control of the product quality, clients cannot make changes directly to the creative pieces posted on the site. Instead, they can look at the piece, which appears in color, and either telephone, e-mail or fax comments to SBC.

  • The firm also automated the process internally. Rather than having just one computer expert who can load information onto the site, all creative staff employees can do it for their own clients. “So it’s not like we’re waiting on one person to get it up on this complicated Web site,” Tritt says. “It’s very simple.” So simple, in fact, that it only takes 10 to 15 seconds for someone to post a project to the Area 51 site.

  • To notify clients of the general availability of Area 51 to review project work, SBC sent out press releases. The firm also provided clients using the site with a laminated identification card, complete with password, that resembles a real security badge. “We tried to make it fun for clients who might be intimidated by it,” Tritt says. The badge, in fact, has been the only out-of-pocket cost for the firm.

    “Really, it’s intellectual property. We already had the Web site; we have the server. It’s just increased the functionality,” Tritt says.

    Tritt expects the increased efficiency from Area 51 to both free up time for SBC to work on more client projects and be an attraction for clients to choose the firm in the first place.

    “When it’s easy to get things done through us,” Tritt says, “it’s easier for them to give us more projects.”

    Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Corporate owned and never happier

Steve Orr, like many entrepreneurs, always wanted to have his own business.

He was 21 when he quit college and jumped at the opportunity to start his own company servicing aquariums.

“Dad, I’m quitting electrical engineering to go scrub algae for a living,” he jokes.

But soon his little aquarium service, Premier Aquatics, grew into a bona fide business with a dozen employees and a half-million dollars in annual sales.

This from what started as “just a job” in custom sales at Byerly’s aquarium stores; he’d purchased the Byerly’s service division to create his own company.

“I never even had a goldfish when I was a kid,” he says, “but it quickly became a love and a hobby.”

That was in 1988. A decade later, his picture changed.

In walked Aquarium Adventure superstores. With the backing of multimillion-dollar parent Petland Inc. of Chillicothe, the newcomer nearly sank Orr’s retail business. Then Orr uncovered a golden opportunity that led him to put an end to his own company and join the retail behemoth.

Rather than regret moving from the top of his own creation to a player in a much larger organization, Orr found just the opposite.

“For me it was liberating,” he says. “Before, I was doing all the administration, paperwork, payroll, taxes, meeting with the accountant, paying the bills and ordering the product. Now all of that is done by specialists. So it frees me up to go back to my focus, to do what I do best — custom aquariums.”

Treading water

Premier Aquatics had grown at a steady pace. Orr bought out his partner in the first year and added service trucks, as well as a high-end, salt-water specialty store on Bethel Road. He was seeing annual revenues of $500,000 — and a fork in the road.

“We had hit a size where we couldn’t operate as a small business anymore,” he says. He struggled to grow to the next level, say 50 employees.

“We had reached no man’s land,” he says, explaining the period small business owners experience after the start-up stage but before their company really grows.

Then came the turning point.

Aquarium Adventure, the superstore concept by Petland, moved into Central Ohio — three miles from Orr’s store.

“They opened a 12,000-square-foot superstore right up the road in a great location, and it pretty much nuked our retail business,” he says.

He decided to close his retail sales operations and focus solely on servicing customers.

Then he paid a visit to his competitor.

At the asking, Columbus-based Aquarium Adventure executives shared with him their business plans.

“They were struggling to get a service division going,” Orr says. “Their focus was retail.”

Orr was left standing with his foot unexpectedly in the door.

A new school of fish

Very early on, Orr says, both parties realized it would make sense to partner.

“The bottom line is we’re businessmen,” Orr says. “We both wanted to grow our business. It was obviously good business sense.”

Within six months, the companies had merged. Orr is now the manager of Aquarium Adventure’s installation/service division.

Orr at first found it tough to make the transition to corporate life from owning his own business.

“It was sad to let that go,” he says of the certain “club”-like group of fellow entrepreneurs who had built their companies from scratch. “But I quickly realized that the crux of that is just pride in good work and a job well done, and that doesn’t go away. It’s still challenging and a level of expertise that is my responsibility. The bulk of it doesn’t change — or didn’t for me, at least.”

He’s never looked back, and he’s reaping the benefits.

  • For the first time, he’s working with peers. “There are big pluses to that,” Orr says. “I have people I can go to and discuss issues with. It isn’t all on me.”

  • He’s got the pull of big business behind him. “It allows me to grow easier; there’s less problem with capital and cash flow; there are much greater resources in inventory and staff and advertising and marketing because there’s an economy of scale,” he says.

  • Personnel issues are easier. His employees made out in the deal with greater pay and benefits. Plus, it’s easier for him to hire, because employees prove their worth in the retail division before they’re eligible to join Orr’s service staff.

  • Stability has become the norm. “I can cash my paycheck each time I get it. I used to be the last one to be paid,” he says, referring to his days as a business owner settling bills and payroll before drawing any profit.

Adjusting to the new habitat

Orr and his new boss, Bill Wymard, Aquarium Adventure’s director of operations, both say attitude has been key in making the merger work.

“That was a big plus for Steve coming on board with us. There could have been a situation where, when you sell your own business and you’re your own entrepreneur, to sell it could be very difficult. There could be ego problems,” says Wymard, who himself sold his own Petland franchise before launching Aquarium Adventure.

Orr says he had to adjust to the culture of a large company, even though he saw the advantage to having peers in management.

“At the same time, I had to be respectful of the other people running the company,” Orr says. “I couldn’t make snap decisions like I used to.”

The arrangement requires both sides to give and take.

“There are things that I’m sure Steve felt strongly about and wanted to continue to do or to operate in a certain way,” Wymard says, “so we say, ‘You’ve got the background and experience. Although that’s not the way we would do things, that’s fine, we’ll step back.’”

For example, Orr insisted he be able to provide the same level of service to customers as he did while operating Premier Aquatics. In fact, he met with his existing customers at the time of the merger to alleviate fears that he would not be the person taking care of them under the ownership change. In addition, because Aquarium Adventure was a new division of Petland, he was able to use systems he already had in place and inventory he preferred.

“They really gave me free reign to run services as we needed to do,” Orr says of Petland executives.

“It also takes close monitoring from the beginning to make sure both sides were comfortable,” Wymard says, noting boundaries are set and tested so each side needs to be flexible.

Overall, Wymard stresses, each party needed to acknowledge the expertise of the other.

“I think it’s the checking of the egos and being a good team player, with everyone understanding what the goal is and working together,” Wymard says. “Ultimately, the company needs to be successful and everybody wins.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:47

Tim Galvin

Tim Galvin faced one of his biggest undertakings shortly after he co-founded a commercial real estate company with business associate Tim Wathen.

It wasn’t a multimillion-dollar construction contract similar to ones he’d worked on, like the AEP headquarters or St. Ann’s Hospital, while he was employed years earlier at Turner Construction. This time, it was his own company, Equity, in need of his building expertise.

“We actually started in 1989 — the worst real estate year in this century,” Galvin says, attributing much of the company’s rocky start-up phase to the savings and loan crisis and subsequent stall in development.

“The first year we were profitable. The second and third were really tough; the fourth was hard; and the fifth we were really negative,” Galvin says, adding that the Columbus-based company became a hard-bid construction contractor from 1990 to 1992 in order to survive.

Once the real estate market started to heal, Equity began to grow, and in 1996, brought on its first full-time commercial Realtor. Now, the company has $20 million in revenues and 42 employees, plus 10 independent agents in Columbus and an affiliate company, Equity Residential Corp., near Cincinnati. In fact, Equity’s capabilities have even landed it such high-profile projects as converting the old DeSantis mansion into offices for Horizons Video.

Just as Equity began to recover, however, Galvin faced another repair job — this one originating after the purchase of the company’s East Long Street building in 1995. Galvin and Wathen waited more than eight months for a building permit from the city to renovate the 1921 building for office space.

“During that time, the building code changed twice and we lost financing, because time commitments ran out,” he says.

Tolerance also ran thin for the normally kind-natured Galvin.

“The day we got our occupancy permit, I filed a formal complaint against the Columbus Building Department,” Galvin says. “It was difficult to do for fear of retaliation. I gave it a lot of thought.”

He got support from three organizations in which he’s a member: Central Ohio Associated General Contractors of America, Central Ohio Builders Exchange and Associated Builders and Contractors.

“I decided the only way I could help the City of Columbus was to force state inspectors on them and force them to get better or at least make them look at their systems,” he says.

“He was probably the single individual responsible for the City of Columbus to revitalize and revamp their antiquated building department,” says Rich Hobbs, executive vice president, Central Ohio Associated General Contractors of America.

In fact, it was Hobbs who suggested Galvin might be able to help Delaware County solve similar problems when officials there recruited volunteers last autumn to serve on a Building Department Review Committee.

It wouldn’t be the first time Galvin volunteered his assistance. He serves on the Catholic Diocese of Columbus building commission, reviewing projects at parishes.

Galvin’s personality, which includes a “calm honesty,” makes him successful as a business person, says Bob Deibel, superintendent of buildings for the diocese.

“It’s ideal, because there’s not what you would call a flame point,” Deibel says. “He deals with things on a really good business level. I take Tim as a very hard-working person and a good family man.”

As a fellow shareholder and Equity’s CEO, Wathen echoes Deibel’s impressions of Galvin’s honesty.

“Tim never has any hidden agendas. He’s just real open; he throws it all on the table,” Wathen says, remembering that the very first time the two met, they came away with at least the idea of forming a company together.

“We share a common value system, which is integrated in our corporate culture,” Wathen says. “So Tim is waving the same flag I’m waving as a leader in the organization.”

The value system, he says, originates from a shared faith.

A Roman Catholic, Galvin calls the most humbling experience of his life an interdenominational retreat weekend, called Cum Christo, held at his church during Equity’s first year in business. Wathen attended the retreat a year later.

Galvin says he came away with a realization that ran contrary to the concept of “earning God’s love,” which he grew up with.

“What Cum Christo showed me is that’s not at all what faith is about. What God wants is a personal relationship with you,” Galvin says. “It’s not about going to church on Sunday and being a jerk all week. It’s not about what’s in it for you. It’s not something you can earn. It’s a process, and it’s a lifelong process. Salvation is a gift.”

“Steve and I struggled through these first few years in our business,” Galvin says, “and it really became evident to me that the only reason we were in this business is because God wanted us to be in this business.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Veteran Advocate of the Year

Bruce V. Holderead’s dedication to veterans started early.

A veteran himself, Holderead served six years as a communications electronics technician with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. In addition, his first job was working as a veteran’s representative on a college campus, helping veterans go to school with GI funds. Soon after, he went back to school on the GI Bill himself and studied counseling.

Now, for more than 24 years, he has been employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Serving as vocational rehabilitation and counseling division officer at the department’s regional office in Cleveland, Holderead is responsible for all aspects of vocational rehabilitation and counseling services for approximately 1,800 military veterans with disabilities.

However, his dedication extends beyond those services, says Lynn E. Johnson, counselor in charge in the Department of Veterans Affairs Columbus Office and Holderead’s nominator for the SBA’s Veteran Advocate of the Year award. Holderead won the award in both the district and state competitions.

“On a personal level,” Johnson writes, “Mr. Holderead is a very congenial fellow, who masterfully blends the human side of life with the achievements of the day. His intelligence, good nature and belief in the importance of his work is uniquely balanced by his attention to detail and ever-present awareness of big-picture progress.”

Johnson adds that Holderead is dedicated to his staff, acting as a supervisor and mentor and encouraging flexibility to accomplish the veterans affairs mission.

Since 1984, Holderead has been an advocate of self-employment programs for veterans with disabilities.

Holderead’s work has allowed veterans throughout Ohio start or expand their own businesses.

In 1998, he developed the Veterans Mean Business Conference to help veteran business owners learn how to do business with local, state and federal government.

The conference was expanded in 1999 to include Cincinnati and Cleveland and to aid veterans just starting their own businesses.

“We had about 250 veterans go through the training last year, and we’re hoping to increase that this year,” Holderead says. “The economy is changing a great deal, and more and more people are working on their own, either self-employed or semi self-employed.”

This year, Holderead plans to continue the conference in eight cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. Plans are just beginning for the conferences, he says, most of which will be held in November.

Holderead gets the most satisfaction out of his job in seeing the results of his assistance to veterans.

“I think the best part is when you see a disabled veteran who’s kind of down and out who gets the support they need, gets the services they need, the training and the assistance,” Holderead says.

They often call him to tell him about the good job they’ve nailed.

“A lot of folks come back year after year and say, ‘I’m still doing great; thanks for all the help you gave me,’” Holderead says. “That’s really rewarding.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Stand out

Quick: What’s the first thing you think of when you see white fencing or Georgian architecture?

Bill Ebbing hopes New Albany crosses your mind.

After all, The New Albany Co. has featured these signature items in all its developments since the idea’s birth from the minds of Les Wexner, owner, and Jack Kessler, chairman, in the mid- to late-’80s.

It’s all about establishing a brand for your product or service.

“The brand for New Albany was to raise the bar for not just residential [development] but creating a master-plan community that’s world class,” says Ebbing, the company’s president. “The planning, quality of architecture, image with the white horse fence, large setbacks — that’s been in place from the very, very beginning.”

The beginning came when Wexner built his own home in the area, says Jim Vutech, principal at Conrad, Phillips & Vutech Inc., the marketing, advertising and brand-building firm that helped establish the New Albany “brand.”

“He felt, ‘If I can build a wonderful environment for myself, maybe I can do that for others,’” Vutech says of Wexner. “From the beginning, it was destined to be different. He wasn’t doing it as a developer; it was a personal decision of his.”

The power of the brand, Ebbing says, comes from the goals of the planned community: aesthetic beauty, lifelong learning, health and wellness, and the reputation of doing good.

By creating a partnership with the Village of New Albany and making sure every detail followed the brand, the company has seen success in sales: More than 160 new homes, lots or existing homes were sold last year in the country club community alone. The results are unprecedented, says Lu Klaiber, vice president of sales and marketing for New Albany Realty, considering the price points of $600,000 for the average home and $120,000 for the lot.

Look in the mirror

The first step to having a successful brand is to find out what’s special about your company, says Vutech.

“A brand is basically what defines a product or service,” he says. “It really comes down to the attributes of a company that separate it from its competitors. It becomes kind of an asset that needs to be protected and nurtured and reinforced.”

For The New Albany Co., the brand of “raising the bar” and “world class” was established before the first home was ever sold. The first steps: Researching the concept and choosing a top-notch team to ensure the quality of the planned community.

“New Albany is not about where you live, it’s about how you live,” Klaiber says, quoting one of the company’s slogans.

Wexner and Kessler — both of whom live in the community — visited country communities such as Williamsburg and the James River plantation houses for ideas.

Then they solicited their “dream team.” Among them: Gerald McCue, former chairman of the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Architecture and retired dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, as well as founder of MBT Associates in San Francisco; Laurie Olin, former chairman of Harvard’s Department of Landscape Architecture; New Albany Country Club Architect Jaquelin T. Robertson, principal of Cooper, Robertson & Partners in New York; interior designers Keith B. Irvine and Thomas J. Fleming of New York’s Irvine & Fleming Inc.; and golf course designer Jack Nicklaus.

Next, The New Albany Co. had to prove its worth, keeping the brand intact in every aspect of the community, Ebbing says. The details had to be consistent, from the residences to the business park: the white horse fences, the wide open setbacks along the road, preservation of natural features such as creeks, and dedication of land to the park system.

Ebbing says another key was to establish partnerships with the community, working with local government leaders to create a historic village center study, for example, or meeting with the historical society early on to choose road names taken from the founders or prominent families of the village.

Partnering with the village, the township and the schools helped bring the entire community to reality, he says.

“One of our biggest selling points for the business park is that it’s part of the community, not out in the middle of nowhere acting on its own. It’s embraced by the community,” he says, noting it’s attracted such tenants as Abercrombie & Fitch, Aetna U.S. Healthcare and Express-Med Inc.

Tell the world

With the concept developed, the company needed to spread the word, even before it began building.

“Our challenge from a marketing standpoint was to communicate to potential home buyers not what New Albany was then but what it would eventually become,” Vutech says. “Basically, we were asked to sell a product that didn’t exist.”

Initial materials focused on the expertise and qualifications of the original team.

“That became the foundation of the brand,” Vutech says. “Based on their reputations alone, there was no doubt that New Albany would be a world-class development.”

The key to a successful brand, Vutech says, is communicating it “clearly, consistently and often.”

Vutech says a worthwhile exercise for any company establishing a brand is to audit every point of contact with its potential customers, from the way the phone is answered to the style of the invoices, the Web site, sales literature, trade shows, news releases and vehicles on the street.

In addition, branding must be continued once it is established.

“Before we do any development,” Ebbing says, “we try to go back and focus on those four aspects: aesthetic beauty, lifelong learning, health and wellness, and doing good.”

Listen

Continued success of any brand, says Vutech, whose firm also has done branding for the likes of Children’s Hospital, Duffy Homes and Energy.com Corp., means keeping a handle on customer reaction.

A company could choose to measure goals of profitability, productivity, specific sales or volume, or employee morale to determine whether the brand is working.

“We routinely do what we call account planning, but it’s basically making sure you establish benchmarks and that you can quantify the effect that the marketing is having,” Vutech says.

Often, the results are measured through the use of focus groups, surveys or mail questionnaires.

In the beginning, The New Albany Co. focused on telling its story through the architecture and homes in the community, says Klaiber of New Albany Realty.

“But we reached a maturity point where we needed to market the community as a whole,” she says.

Now, for example, The New Albany Co. funds the Classic Signature Series events, inspired by Wexner’s wife, Abigail, and sponsored by the New Albany Civic Association. The series includes cultural, educational and entertaining events for the community — such as fireworks and a festival for the Fourth of July, concerts in the parks and a lecture series.

“Everything we do, every subdivision, office parcel, marketing component we put in place helps to reinforce that brand,” Ebbing says.

And having a brand, Vutech says, will separate successful companies from those less successful.

“There’s an awful lot of clutter in the marketplace,” he says, “and I think the only way to break through that is to have a clear understanding of who you are and translate that well to all of your audiences.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.


At the speed of byte How SubmitOrder.com got its brand up and running — in just two months By Joan Slattery Wall

In a hurry? Haven’t got 10 years to build and cultivate a brand like The New Albany Co. did?

JT Kreager, president of SubmitOrder.com, and his public relations agency, Lord, Sullivan & Yoder, know it can be done more quickly if necessary.

Timing was ripe in the online world when the idea for SubmitOrder.com was hatched. At the end of last April, Kreager met with LSY, telling the firm he wanted a July launch date for the e-commerce order fulfillment company.

“After backing out the anticipated production time leading to the launch, we were left with one week for planning,” says Rob Cathcart, director of marketing services for LSY.

For two days in the first week of May, the PR firm met with 12 members of what would become SubmitOrder.com’s management team. During that brief time, the group determined the prospective customers and competition, outlined the values of the company, chose the company name and decided how to launch the company and utilize the role of marketing and public relations.

“The fact that we had those two days together, with everybody in the room, helped us move a lot faster because we had it all condensed,” says Carroll Conklin, the LSY executive vice president and director of strategic services who headed up the meeting.

Within a week to 10 days, the firm gave SubmitOrder.com a marketing plan proposal, and then LSY began putting the plan into action.

  • First, LSY conducted a media audit, determining who was saying what about e-commerce so they could decide how to contact media, and held media training for SubmitOrder.com’s key executives.

  • Then came the pre-launch activities, which included employee meetings, trade show preparations, media and competitive monitoring and production of a videotape of customer testimonials, the Web site and print ads.

  • Finally came the launch phase, with news releases; e-mail blitzes; media tours, road shows and trade shows; print advertising in such publications as Fast Company, Fortune, Interactive Week and Ad Age; and Web merchandising.

How do they know they were successful?

SubmitOrder.com was launched July 22, 1999. By the end of August, the initial sales goals had been achieved, preparing new customers for the holiday buying season, Cathcart says.

In addition, SubmitOrder.com’s name had appeared in articles, ads and other press coverage yielding more than 117 million “impressions,” or estimated sets of eyes that had exposure to the company.

The success didn’t get past outsiders, either. In December, Silver Lake Partners and The Barksdale Group, Silicon Valley firms that invest in technology and Internet companies, invested $75 million in SubmitOrder.com to acquire a majority stake. This allowed the start-up to secure its venture capital objectives: obtain money to grow and access to networking and partnership opportunities in their industry. Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Getting on board

Roger P. Sugarman finds it brings balance to his life.

Bea Wolper enjoys it so much she invested 600 hours of her time last year.

For Tanny Crane, it offers the opportunity to network, compare benchmarks with her own company and broaden her personal horizons.

The three have not found the secrets of a management guru or some hot, new CEO course.

However, each would encourage other executives to follow the same path: Volunteering to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization or another company.

“Most of the benefits, I have to say, have been in terms of meeting so many people I would never have had the opportunity to [meet] who are so committed and so concerned about what happens in Columbus,” says Sugarman, a partner with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Sugarman is immediate past chair of the United Way of Franklin County board.

“You need to pass on whatever you can to help whoever you can,” says Wolper, a partner at Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP and a self-proclaimed “firm believer” in community service. “Community service should be as much a part of your life as earning a salary.”

Those in early, mid- or late careers alike can offer service on a board.

“It’s never to early to start passing on what you know,” Wolper says.

Choosing a board, she says, requires a passion for your cause.

“You’re not helping anybody by adding expertise, energy or your time unless you have a passion. If you have a passion for doing something, it will show,” says Wolper, who serves on the National Board of Attorneys for Family-Held Enterprises, International Women’s Forum, COSI, Greater Columbus News Bureau, League Against Child Abuse and other boards. “The boards you sit on will reap the benefits of your enthusiasm.”

“I’ve been asked to sit on a number of boards I admire and I respect but I don’t have a passion for,” echoes Crane. “I’m always flattered. It’s very flattering to be asked to be on a board.”

Crane, president and CEO of Crane Plastics Holding Co., serves on the boards of Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University; the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce; Bank One, Columbus; Federal Reserve Bank Business Advisory Council; and Society of Plastics Industry. She also is president-elect of the board of Action for Children, a special passion of hers.

In addition, Crane served as the 1999 campaign chair and sits on the board of the local United Way, an organization that’s had her attention for years.

“My dad had been involved on the United Way board, I think from the late ’60s or early ’70s, and was a general campaign chair in ’74,” she says. “I followed him exactly 25 years later. I think it was born in my system.”

However, Crane adds, she must balance her time. She and her husband have agreed to try to limit themselves to two nonprofit boards each because those often take more time than for-profit or professional boards due to fund-raising.

“I really want to be involved. I don’t want to be a name on a letterhead,” Crane says.

When you volunteer for a board or are asked to serve on one, Crane says, ask lots of questions. How much time is required? Must I donate money? How many times does this board meet? Do I need to raise money? Will I be required to serve on a committee?

She also suggests seeking the input of current board members.

Sugarman, who also serves on the boards of Leadership Columbus and Columbus School for Girls, has seen board service from the opposite side; he served on the United Way’s board nominating committee.

Despite the time these commitments take, these executives agree they reap more benefits from serving on a board than simply the satisfaction of serving the community. Wolper says proving your dedication to the board by following through with promises on a timely basis helps with this.

“People see you doing that in that capacity and will say, ‘That person must do that also in their business capacity.’ In their minds, then, you become a person who does what they say and has good judgment,” Wolper says.

Sugarman says service on a board has given him the opportunity to see a different perspective than that which lawyers might bring to the table.

“It’s enabled me in my own law firm to see how those goals and objectives can drive an organization and really help you achieve what is at the heart of what your business is supposed to be about,” he says.

Crane has found volunteering serves as a pivotal step to other boards or opportunities, and individuals interested in making a career change might find something of interest through serving on a board.

She sees her service as a way to broaden her own horizons. For example, the Bank One board gives her insights into the banking industry that she might not have otherwise. She can find out, through other boards, what’s being done about financing, retention, productivity or cost reductions and benchmark her company against others. She also keeps in touch with the issues of a growing community.

“We happen to be on the Southeast side of Columbus,” Crane says of her company. “I could be in a cocoon down here, but being on boards, I see what’s happening in the city.

“I really believe,” she adds, “in this generation, we really need to step up to the plate and take ownership of what we’re going to do with our community.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Saving the ship

James H. Haller, executive vice president and CFO at Harper Engraving & Printing Co., thought he’d negotiated pretty well for his company’s package shipping.

After all, his prior experience of 17 years working for UPS enabled him to find an 8 percent discount for the West Columbus company.

Soon, however, he discovered he could do even better.

Working with Brett Febus, managing partner of ShipSave Consulting LLC in Hilliard, Haller received a total discount of 18 percent — an additional savings of about $25,000 a year for his company.

“By me not knowing what the market would bear, I only knew the UPS guidelines,” Haller says. “I really didn’t know what kind of incentive I could get.”

Febus discovered Haller was receiving some of his rates from the wrong rate chart. He also found Harper Engraving wasn’t shipping as many packages as anticipated when the UPS contract was written.

“I was able to lower his commitment to UPS,” Febus explains. “He hasn’t promised them so much, but he is also getting a bigger discount.”

Febus also helped Haller with a client, who wanted packages delivered regularly to Canada, by working with the UPS Customshouse Brokerage to set up paperwork with customs.

“Ultimately what it does is customs is notified further in advance than they normally would be about the product you’re preparing to ship up to Canada,” Febus says. “As a result, there’s less of a chance for that package to be held up in customs.”

In addition, the process should help Haller reduce his brokerage fees because instead of customs having to deal with individual packages, it’s going to deal with groups of his packages.

Febus, whose company is in the process of being acquired by Intrepa LLC, an Indiana-based warehouse and transportation management company, says much of his work involves making unique changes to each customer’s contract so they’re receiving the most benefit. He consults with clients via his Web site and sometimes works with carriers on their behalf.

Febus, also a former UPS employee, works with small package carriers including UPS, FedEx Corp., Airborne Express and DHL Airways Inc., but generally customers want to stay with their current carrier.

“When you switch carriers, there’s just so much internally that’s involved,” Febus says. “Sometimes it’s just not worth the headaches.”

For Doug Byorth, president of Focus Logistics Solutions LLC, ShipSave fulfills a niche for managing small package delivery — allowing him to bring more services to his customers.

“It solidified us with our clients in that they know we are addressing all their logistics modes of transportation regardless of our in-house expertise,” he says.

Febus got the idea to form his company about a year ago when a customer suggested an unbiased consultant would help him understand the rates carriers were offering.

In cases like Haller’s, where the client currently receives a discount from the carrier, Febus splits the savings he finds with the client for two years. So Haller, who got an extra 10 percent discount by working with Febus, will pay Febus half of that discount. In cases in which the client does not currently have a discount, Febus charges 25 percent of what he gets for them. That fee also lasts two years.

The factor of not having to find the discount on his own was a benefit for Haller.

“I’m a small business — $10 million a year,” Haller says. “In my position, I don’t have time to go chasing down all the answers.”

How to reach: ShipSave Consulting, www.shipsave.com, 921-9091

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Driven to please

It was a simple equation of supply and demand.

Organizers of the Peter Lowe business seminar, held in Columbus last April, expected nearly 14,000 people to attend their event at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.

However, the Schott only had parking spaces for 2,000 vehicles. Sure, the campus itself has 28,000 spaces, but almost all were filled with faculty, staff and students on the regular class day.

To balance the equation, Michael Gatto, director of event services and administration at the Schott, and Beth Kelley, associate director of transportation and parking services for The Ohio State University, sought the help of Royal Livery Service Ltd., a $5 million, 70-employee East Columbus ground transportation logistics company.

“We had to be looking at off-site locations,” Kelley says regarding the parking needs. “Because there were none adjoining the university, we had to start looking at shuttle services.”

Communication was key.

“We put out a mailer and press release and used the local media to get the word out” about the parking, Gatto says.

Royal Livery shuttled event attendees to and from the Ohio State Fairgrounds and provided communication and management at both sites.

“Although the Schott, of course, was of a massive scale, it really depicts what we do best here, and that’s management of logistics,” says Gail Thompson, president and CEO of Royal Livery Service. “We do that on a daily basis for one passenger or 1,000 passengers or 10,000, depending on the clients and their need.”

The company’s fleet includes sedans, which carry one to three passengers; minicoaches for up to 35 passengers; and larger coaches to accommodate 49 or 57 people. The company also has pickup trucks to help passengers, such as trade show staff, who arrive with big packages.

Thompson says 98.5 percent of his business is from Central Ohio corporate clients such as The Limited, Nationwide and Sterling Commerce.

Pricing, he says, is based on vehicles used, but he also writes specific contracts with a lump-sum fee for larger events.

“Some of our groups we do can approach $100,000 or more, whereas you’ve got simple sedan runs we do for very important people for $50, so it’s all over the board,” he says.

His challenge is to educate potential clients that No. 1, his company exists, and No. 2, that there’s a need.

“[Columbus] is not a New York or an L.A. But it needs to be thinking in terms of New York and L.A. because it’s too big to take for granted any more,” he says, also urging consideration of the human resources aspect.

“You don’t want a prospective team member driving around the city blindly trying to find your office when there’s a better way to do it,” Thompson says.

Woody King, who is owner and president of Destination Management & Marketing Ltd. and coordinates events such as the Ohio School Boards and Ohio Florist associations’ conventions, subcontracts his transportation needs to Royal Livery Service.

“They get to know how we operate, and we know all their people,” King says. “First and foremost is the success for our client; that’s the bottom line. If they don’t have a successful convention or meeting or conference, why, we don’t get additional business.”

King offers advice to business owners on finding a service to fulfill transportation needs:

  • Find out if the service, in fact, has experience.

  • Make sure the vehicles are new and clean.

  • Make sure the drivers are good quality.

  • Find out if the company has an emergency plan.

  • Check whether it provides support such as radio communication and management staff.
How to reach: Royal Livery Service Ltd., www.royalliveryservice.com, 475-2557

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.