Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Small Business Person of the Year

Three months after starting her business, Ohio Full Court Press President Paula Inniss sat quietly in her downtown warehouse.

She had just sent her production employee home for the day. She had never expected instant success in her first venture as an entrepreneur, but business was disappointingly slow.

Then, drawing upon her family history, she gave herself a pep talk: “You can give up now, 90 days into it, or you can do what you’ve always seen your family do and you can pick up your briefcase and do what you do best, and that’s market it.”

Five years later, the SBA’s 2000 state and district Small Business Person of the Year is reaping the benefits. The $3.5 million digital print company, now on Columbus’ West Side, employs 33. Inniss, herself, is taking a stand in the business community, having been recently appointed to the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

She’s been honored with such accolades as the 1998 Excellence in Enterprise award from the Ohio Department of Development, the 1997 Small Startup Business of the Year by Entrepreneur magazine and the Columbus chamber’s 1999 Small Business Person of the Year. She’s considering the possibility of branching out into providing facilities management for major corporations.

She and the other state SBA award winners from the Columbus district have advanced to the national competition. Winners will be announced in Washington, D.C., during National Small Business Week May 21-27.

Michael Bowers, executive director of the Columbus chamber’s Small Business Council, says in his nomination letter for Inniss’ SBA award that she has been recognized for her innovative and progressive management style, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit.

“In a time when many new printing ventures struggle to compete in a volume-driven industry, her company has utilized cutting edge technology to successfully serve unmet needs in the Central Ohio region,” Bowers writes. “Ms. Inniss has also displayed a tireless commitment to the community through her volunteer efforts.”

Looking back, Inniss knows she learned much about business from her entrepreneurial family. Her father, Norris Thompson, was a manager with an insurance agency, while her mother, Duann, was with Avon. Together, the couple also ran four coin-operated laundries, and, when Inniss was 4 years old, they purchased a carryout.

“I used to watch my mother talking and dealing with the vendors and negotiating prices. My father did a lot of the repairs on the washers and dryers,” she says, adding that she also took note of the various ways her mother used to motivate employees.

Her mother, Inniss says, taught her and her two sisters values and the importance of standing behind your word.

“My mother never allowed us to quit anything,” Inniss remembers.

If her mother allowed her to start clarinet, dance or baton lessons, she knew she’d be expected to stick with it.

Inniss says her father’s uncle, Loxley Thompson, really made a difference in her life.

In West Palm Beach, Fla., he came up with a patent on conch fritters. He had a restaurant and a manufacturing plant.

“He used to tell me, ‘I’ve made a million and I’ve lost money, but I’ll make a million later,” Inniss says. “He was a millionaire more than one time. He used to tell me that if you have a strong work ethic, you can come up with a plan to make it work.”

In fact, Inniss says one of the smartest moves she’s ever made in her business is to think out of the box.

I never looked at anything as impossible,” she says.

She hired a lot of systems employees, bringing in those with more experience — even if she had to pay them more — to fill the need.

Inniss, who frequently is asked to speak to youth and business organizations, gives the following advice to entrepreneurs:

  • “First of all, put together a business plan and really understand what it is you’re getting into,” she says.

  • “No. 2, hire good people and let those people know you truly care about them — not just the business, but you care about them and their personal lives as well.

  • “No. 3, hire a good accountant and attorney from the very beginning.

  • “No. 4, try to get with a bank that supports small business, and build a relationship with your personal banker right up front,” she says, “so when you do want to grow, you have the support to grow financially.

  • “And No. 5, which should be No. 1, I have a lot of faith in God and I pray a lot about decisions that need to be made,” she says. “A lot of times we don’t have the answers we need ourselves. I just call on God for directions.”

Inniss credits business mentors and her family, including husband, Malcolm Inniss, and grown children, Cory, Cortney and Gordon Johnson, with giving her the support she needs to run her business.

“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that we can do anything we put our minds to,” she says. “And I believe that I have truly been a product of my environment. I had a very good upbringing.

“My family has been very supportive in anything I’ve ever wanted to do. That keeps me very motivated.”

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

Laura Douds Frum's success as SBA program manager of The Huntington National Bank shows in the numbers.

Frum, who joined the bank in 1996, has centralized Huntington’s SBA processing and brought the bank to its status of most active SBA lender in Central Ohio in terms of number of loans.

Also in fiscal year 1999, Huntington increased its SBA lending by 51 percent over the previous year.

The evidence continues in all six states where Huntington has a commercial lending presence. Consider Florida, where the bank received its preferred Lender Program status in July 1999.

“We’ve gone from only doing 10 loans to being third in the state in a little under a year,” Frum says, referring to the 103 loans so far.

Nationally, Frum guided Huntington from its 41st place spot to 23rd in terms of most active SBA lenders.

“As an officer of Huntington National Bank, Laura truly embodies the character of a dedicated financial services advocate, committed to the preservation of quality assistance when providing small business financing,” wrote Huntington Vice President Jerry Wittington, who nominated Frum for the SBA’s Financial Services Advocate of the Year award.

Frum says she was given the task of centralizing Huntington’s SBA loan processing, which has made the loan approval process much more cost effective and efficient for the bank and provided more consistency for its portfolio.

Wittington says Frum “led the fight to elevate the visibility of the SBA program to the executive level of the bank while maintaining her commitment of providing access to local economic development initiatives.”

Frum says that because SBA loans are sometimes not a large moneymaker for banks, she had to convince executives of other advantages of the program.

“I think three years later, the benefits are paying off,” she says. “We’ve gotten a lot more awards, a lot more visibility. I am regularly asked to speak at different functions.”

For example, Columbus Countywide Development Corp. named Frum the 1999 Lender of the Year for her support of the 504 loan program throughout Central Ohio; last year she spoke at the Florida state SBA lender conference.

“I think that overall it just increases the perception of Huntington in the marketplace that we’re a full-service lender, that we can even help start-ups. We can help any business at any level of existence,” Frum says.

Frum takes the opportunity to network with others in her field through trade associations such as the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders and the Robert Morris Association, which focuses on credit. She’s a member of the Worthington Area Business & Professional Women and serves on the Columbus Countywide Development Corp.’s loan review committee.

Frum’s advice to business owners applying for funding? Get a good business plan.

“A lot of times we see plans come in that are from great ideas but haven’t been thought through from every angle we know of because we look at 200 loans a month,” she says, adding that in those cases, she often sends out an underwriter to follow up.

“The other big thing we’ve been seeing lately is the entrepreneurs that have great ideas and worked through the business plans, but the way the economy is moving so rapidly, they don’t have a good accounting or finance person on board, so things get out of control really quickly,” Frum says.

“That is one thing we’re focusing on: Have someone in-house to make sure you can control the sales process a little bit better.”

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Bridging the gap

If the U.S. Small Business Administration has its way, small businesses will benefit from more loans, venture capital and technical assistance in fiscal year 2001.

The SBA’s budget request is making its way through Congress. After committee hearings, its broad outlines should be more defined by August.

Aida Alvarez, administrator of the U.S. SBA, has lauded the President’s New Opportunity Agenda.

“It’s a terrific budget for small business,” she said in a press conference announcing the budget earlier this year, noting it must be seen in context with the overall economy.

“We’re operating in a time of record-setting economic expansion — for 107 consecutive months,” she said, noting the 30-year low unemployment rate and dramatic increases in innovation.

“This is truly a great economy, and it’s truly a small business economy,” she said.

The SBA will continue its focus on newer and smaller-sized businesses.

“The goal has always been to bridge the gap so these smaller businesses can be productive in a smaller time frame,” Alvarez said. “For years, we’ve encouraged America’s businesses to invest overseas, which is something we should continue, but we should also look within to our own communities and give businesses something to invest in here.”

Another gap to close: technology advancement.

“The president has talked repeatedly about the digital divide and the need for education, which includes involving people in this Internet technology world. Our budget includes $5 million to make sure small businesses are able to participate in the opportunities created by e-commerce,” Alvarez said.

She noted that last year highlighted a record number of small business start-ups.

“One-third of loans last year went to start-ups, 14 percent ahead of the previous year,” she said.

Among the highlights of the SBA’s fiscal year 2001 request:

  • $150 million in SBA-backed funds for new market venture capital companies, up from $40 million in 2000.

  • An increase in the funds for loans under the SBA’s Section 7(a) General Business Loan Guaranty program, as well as an increase to 90 percent for the guaranty on loans of $150,000 and less.

  • $15 million in technical assistance to entrepreneurs in distressed areas, rural and inner city communities, and microloan capacity building under the Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs.

  • $6.6 million to support a mentor-protg program, BusinessLINC, to connect the business expertise of successful large businesses with emerging small businesses. In fiscal year 2000, $1.5 million was appropriated for the program.

  • $60 million in loans to small businesses under the Microloan program, compared to $30 million in fiscal year 2000.

  • $2.5 billion, compared to $2.2 billion the previous year, in small business venture capital funding for SBA-backed Small business Investment Companies. Those companies combine the funds with their own private capital to finance equity investments in small businesses.

  • Increases in business development assistance programs, such as the Small Business Development Centers, One-Stop Capital shops and Service Corps of Retired Executives program.

  • Funding for programs to assist women- and Native American-owned businesses.

The SBA will be looking especially at approving smaller loans, such as $150,000 and less, for start-ups or companies in business fewer than two years.

“SBA is the gap lender. There is a gap out there that would not be met, that would not be filled without the characteristics of our programs,” Alvarez said. “These smaller loans are just harder to get without the help of our involvement.” Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

How to reach: For details on the proposed SBA budget, visit www.sba.gov/aboutsba/2001budget/

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Jim wade

Jim Wade, CEO of Correct Custom Drywall Inc., tells a story he’s sure he won’t forget as long as he lives.

He was about 14, and was helping his grandfather install a new roof, when he snuck down the ladder to have a cigarette.

When he returned to climb back up the ladder, his grandfather was standing at the top.

“He waited until I got to almost the top rung, and he pushed the ladder away from the house and held it out with me on it. He said, ‘If you want to smoke, you smoke. But if you ever sneak away again, I’ll push you,’” Wade remembers.

The incident was one of many life lessons his grandfather taught him and his four brothers.

“The lesson was: People know you have faults, and people are willing to accept those faults. But when you hide and are devious is when it’s intolerable,” Wade says.

“I miss him,” he says quietly, tears forming even 24 years after his grandfather died when Wade was 18.

He’s glad when people ask the origin of his second company, BKW Drywall Supply Inc., for it gives him the opportunity to explain his use of the initials of his grandfather, Bernard Kyle Wade.

Wade tries to use his grandfather’s lessons of right and wrong now as a newly elected member of Reynoldsburg City Council. In fact, one council measure got him so riled earlier this year that he could not sleep an entire night after voting against an action he felt was unprofessional and unethical. The vote, which appointed another council member as the city’s auditor unbeknownst to the mayor, who was at a mayors’ conference at the time, resulted in a legal battle and a heated contest to fill the vacant seat.

Wade ran for council last fall after becoming frustrated with the city’s action on a zoning issue in which he was involved years earlier.

“We all know what’s wrong with government, and we all know how hard it is to do something about it, but I’m trying,” he says.

That drive and conviction prompted John Dugan, Wade’s friend of eight years, to be his campaign manager for the city council run.

“I think he’s got pretty high integrity, and he’s going to vote or present an issue as he sees it, not how he thinks other people want him to see it. He won’t be afraid to tell you his opinion and why — even though you might disagree with him,” Dugan says.

Wade also strives to teach the importance of right and wrong to his two sons, who he calls “the flame on my candle.”

On his desk he keeps a coffee mug emblazoned with a yellow smiley face that reminds him of Kyle, 6, “the smilingest kid you ever met.”

Wade looks forward to helping Colton, 10, in the Boy Scout pinewood derby competition, in which they were champions last year. This year was a bust; the two didn’t even place, but they still had a lot of fun building the car, Wade says.

“We get our engineering hats and science hats out and figure out what’s going to make this car go faster,” he says.

He especially liked the time he spent in 1997 and 1998 as a den leader for Colton’s Tiger Cub scouts.

“To not have adults to deal with and egos, just to play with little kids, that was a tremendous experience I will never forget,” he says.

Wade even enjoys visiting the Reynoldsburg parks to play basketball with whatever youths show up.

“They always ask me to play on their team because I’m so big,” he says, referring to his 6-foot-4-inch stature.

Despite his success in his career — the two-time construction Entrepreneur Of The Year finalist has 68 employees at his two companies and joint revenues of more than $20 million — Wade yearns for a simpler life.

The story of his own success, he says, almost sounds like a fairy tale to him.

“Sometimes I really miss working with my tools,” he says of the days when he was a laborer. “At 4 o’clock, the day was over, and I didn’t think about it until I got my tools the next morning. Now my job’s never over.”

He did not have the opportunity to go to college to follow what might have been a preferred career as a wildlife specialist or conservationist. Now, however, he enjoys fishing and hunting, and a wallpaper mural that his mother put up in his East Columbus office takes him away to a forest filled with deer.

His own greatest challenge, overcoming poverty during the ups and downs of the construction industry in the early ’80s, gives him a certain awe for his success and a realization of the responsibility he has to his employees.

“My wife and I remember going to the grocery store and not being able to get very much and getting into line and having to put things back,” he says, recalling the early days of his 19-year marriage to Terry.

“I know I can go to the grocery store and put things back — I did that. I don’t worry about me,” he says. “But I do need to be cautious that I do provide stability for the other people that work here.”

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Lobbying 101

Deregulation, taxpayer services, health care reform ... The list goes on and on. Ohio’s legislature is examining a slew of bills that, in the end, could directly affect your business.

Instead of sitting back and letting the tide take you astray, you could play an active role in developing and supporting public policy.

How?

Insiders shared tips this spring at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Legislative Conference.

With the swell of lobbyists — more than 2,000 — and term limits, the job won’t be easy, they say. But there are ways to make inroads.

E.J. Thomas, who served eight terms in the legislature for a district in North Columbus, says you’ll need to present your view succinctly.

“You need a bullet-proof argument,” says Thomas.

To present one, he suggests getting the facts that support your side — and your opposition’s. Doing so will help you gain the trust of legislators who will see you as a knowledgeable source.

“Present the issue so you don’t kill the other side but so you show your advantage,” says Thomas, who is CEO of Groundswell, a Columbus-based public affairs and issues management firm.

Another tip from Thomas: Be there. Don’t just send a pile of form letters signed by fellow business owners. Human nature triggers response, he says.

“Qualities we all respond well to will help you,” he says, noting the person representing your cause must come across as genuine, honest, credible, fair and intelligent.

“This is not the Jerry Springer show, and those tactics are not going to work,” he says.

Amy Showalter, president of The Showalter Group in Columbus, which provides grassroots lobbying consultation services, offers a textbook version of how to organize for impact:

Be a storyteller.

Find out how certain legislation will personally affect a business owner or an employee. If you hear such stories, save them in a file.

“Stories inspire people,” Showalter says. “They put a face on it.”

Be customer sensitive.

Your customers in a grassroots lobbying effort are your employees or others who also support your cause. Make sure you know what matters to them.

Help your friends.

“Make sure people that are like-minded are voters,” she says.

The National Rifle Association is particularly good at this, even signing up to help with voter registration, she says.

Recruit people.

“Don’t say you’re too busy,” Showalter says. “Call 10 to 20 people to ask if they can help get other people involved.”

Have procedures.

Keep it simple, but know, for example, what you’re going to do if the Ohio Chamber calls asking for people to support an issue, says Showalter, a former civic action program manager for Nationwide, where she trained and motivated employees to be advocates for the company when contacting legislators.

She recites a quote she heard from Nationwide head Dimon McFerson: “Government is an organized process. How can we deal with it if we don’t have something in place to deal with it?”

Set goals.

You want to win on the issue, but you need to concentrate on individual tasks to do so. Send 10 letters to fellow supporters. Put a notice in paycheck envelopes to communicate the issue to your employees.

Be a motivator.

Show excitement for your side of the story.

“If you can’t, find somebody to carry the message for you and be the evangelist,” Showalter says. “People follow a person rather than a message or an association or an organization.”

See the results.

Tell your supporters what happens after they write letters on an issue. They’re more apt to help you if they know their input affects the process.

Finally, Showalter quotes Ernest Hemingway: “Never mistake motion for action.”

“There is a lot of busywork,” she says, “but is it really achieving your goals?”

Putting words into action

Several local business executives have already taken steps to increase their political involvement.

Ohio Chamber directors elected this spring are Charles L. Slater, vice president and general manager, Ohio Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mason; Alan M. Hooker, president and CEO, The Community Bank, Lancaster; C. Thomas Harvie, senior vice president and general counsel, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Akron; and Raymond L. Byers Jr., regional governmental affairs manager, Ohio Valley region, Ford Motor Co., Columbus.

How to reach: Ohio Chamber of Commerce, 228-4201, www.ohiochamber.com; E.J. Thomas, Groundswell, 324-0850, www.groundswellgroup.com; Amy Showalter, The Showalter Group, 781-1300, www.showaltergroup.com

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:39

Turn the page

Those eight years went by in a flash.

Joseph Smith, owner of H&S Forest Products Inc. in Northwest Columbus, founded his wooden pallet wholesaling company in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he hired a consulting firm, which wrote a handbook for his five employees.

Then the daily running of his company took over. He grew the business to 16 employees and $35 million in sales. For eight years, the employee handbook remained virtually untouched.

“You get so tied up with the business that you’re running hard and there’s a lot of times these things slip through the cracks,” Smith says.

He already knew his handbook was missing at least one aspect: use of the computer. After all, eight years ago, only certain individuals used the computer. Now, all of his employees have access, raising the concern of ensuring that company computers are reserved for business, not personal, use.

“The majority of shopping is done between 8 and 5 on the Internet, and I’m sure it’s not all done at home,” he says.

Smith chose Rea & Associates, a company based in New Philadelphia that has a Dublin office, to update the employee handbook. He’d already used the company to help him convert to an S corporation, do stock valuations and conduct accounting services.

Dan Toussant, director of human resources at Rea & Associates, says the H&S handbook basically was missing three things: an updated, formal policy on harassment; a policy on use of the computer; and an explanation of Ohio’s employment-at-will law.

Toussant says the harassment policy is important to make sure employees feel safe in their work environment.

“Part of our role is to remind people that harassment is in the eyes of the beholder, so be civil at all times and avoid remarks that could be offensive, as well as other things, like physical threats and more obvious forms of harassment,” Toussant says.

The policy should include information that harassment can be reported to two predetermined people in the company — a man and a woman — and a statement that the company will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who makes such a report.

Toussant says the computer policy in a company handbook should ensure employees know computers are for business use only.

“On the Internet, people need to know they represent the company, and whatever actions they’re taking, they’re taking on behalf of the company,” he says. “So make sure transactions and research are done for business purposes and that they don’t say or do anything that would violate the company’s confidentiality.”

Regarding employment-at-will, “it is the law that people can leave the company at any time, and they can be asked to leave at any time,” Toussant says, adding that the handbook should clearly state the law for both sides.

Other items that should be included in any handbook, Toussant says, are:

  • A warm welcome letter from the owner of the company.

  • The company’s philosophy and values.

  • A policy on workplace violence.

  • The traditional information about benefits and qualifications for those benefits.

Typically, Toussant’s firm charges between $3,000 and $4,000 for employee handbook projects, he says, which usually run on about a six-week timetable. For H&S Forest Products, as for many clients, Rea & Associates also created a PowerPoint presentation of the handbook to liven communication of its contents to employees.

“There are no guarantees in a handbook,” Toussant says, “but it certainly spells out responsibilities.”

How to reach: Rea & Associates, www.reacpa.com, 899-8725

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:39

I’ll show you mine ...

Suppose you meet another business owner who’s in your industry, but not a direct competitor, and he asks about your marketing strategies.

Then, he requests information about your recruitment strategies.

Now comes the clincher: This brazen executive wants you to give him the names of your customers who might need his services.

Understandably, you might have the same reaction as Mark Root, president of Mark Root’s Kitchen & Bath Co.: “We’re not going to recommend someone out there unless we feel incredibly strong about them being able to provide a level of service to our customer that we feel good about. It’s just like a boomerang; it’s going to come back and slap you in the face if you plug somebody into another company and they fail.”

It wasn’t easy, but Ken Halloy managed to convince Root — and 15 other local home improvement companies — to share all those things. Halloy has made a business, All Pro Exclusive Inc., out of helping these companies work together for marketing, lead generation and general idea-sharing, which benefits each of them.

Making the cut

Halloy doesn’t accept just any business into the All Pro family.

“Our companies have to maintain a 95 percent or greater customer satisfaction level to be a client of this group,” Halloy says.

And he doesn’t just take their word for it.

“We survey every one of the customers of every one of our members every day of the year,” he says, noting that All Pro sends out 2,000 to 5,000 surveys a week and will attempt to telephone up to 2,000 homes a day.

New All Pro members must be unanimously approved by the existing member companies.

“The reason is the inherent danger of what we do from our clients’ perspective,” Halloy says. “Our companies have to have the peace of mind of knowing every other member of this group shares the same philosophy of, ‘The customer comes first; you do things the right way.’

“Like [group member] Atlas Butler — they’ve been around since 1921,” Halloy explains. “They need to protect that name they spent six, seven decades building.”

“It’s a kind of scary thing,” Root admits. “As an individual company, when you’re tying your wagon to 20 other companies, the fear is that you may do very well on your own ... but if they have a bad experience with an individual [customer], you’re sort of in the soup with everybody else. So there have to be high standards.”

The leading factor

Those companies that have met All Pro’s standards for membership say they are seeing results in terms of more opportunities to sell their services.

“Because of the networking, we’re seeing an increase in the jobs to bid on,” says Rick Grundish, owner of Collins Paving Co. “We’ve had probably at least another 30 percent over what we had been bidding on without them. And we have a chance to interact with the other members, of course, and get ideas on marketing — and have shoulders to cry on sometimes.”

Like many of the other members, Grundish previously got his leads through word of mouth, the Yellow Pages or home shows.

Halloy, on the other hand, generates leads for the group by keeping an extensive database generated from customer surveys. In addition to satisfaction ratings, those surveys provide the group with:

Demographic information. The survey includes questions about the customer’s age, the value of his or her home, and how he or she heard about the member company.

Potential leads. The survey also asks the all-important question: What is going to be your next home improvement?

“We contact them down the road in a polite, nonsolicitous way,” Halloy says.

For example, if a customer says she might install new windows in the coming year, he might give her name to All Pro member Champion Windows.

Customers also receive a 10 percent discount card for use on any future service from an All Pro company, Halloy adds.

Halloy is particular about the customer surveys. If someone tells the All Pro representative not to call again, he or she is removed from the list.

“We will not share the database with anybody. We won’t sell it to anybody. We have had credit card companies ask us for it,” he says. “The most treasured property of a home improvement company — or any business for that matter — is your customer list.”

Worth the cost?

In addition to lead generation, All Pro companies receive marketing, publishing, Web site and trade show assistance from Halloy for a fee of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

“It’s made it attainable because we could never really afford to do the level or quality of promoting ourselves as an individual company in a way that has been accomplished through the association,” Root says.

The fact that member companies complement each other’s products and services, rather than compete directly, also creates a good synergy.

When member companies expand into new areas, however, potential competition can emerge. That was one factor that led to a founding member’s decision to resign this year.

Steve Weil, president of Able Roofing, expanded his product line to include windows, a move that would compete directly with Champion Windows.

“He was actually one of the companies I built this around,” Halloy says of Weil. “He’s got a great name in the marketplace.”

But to preserve the integrity and cohesion of the companies in the group, Weil’s resignation was imperative.

“It sends a statement that the concept is bigger than any individual company in this group,” Halloy says.

Weil says he also resigned because he didn’t see the continuing value in All Pro for his company. He felt he had the marketing experience to use the membership fee on his own.

“I think if somebody has $40,000 to spend and are frugal and savvy with their marketing, they can do better elsewhere,” Weil says. But he adds, “If they’re not marketing minded, basically this is a good program for them. It would probably be better for small companies.”

Looking ahead

Halloy, who founded All Pro in January 1998, plans to eventually expand the concept to other cities. He’s also adding business members in Columbus.

He says All Pro offers a “win-win-win” situation. Halloy wins because he expects All Pro, which has 10 employees, to be profitable next year. Homeowners win because they avoid the hassles of shopping around for different home repair specialists. The home improvement companies win because “they’ve got something unique and niche oriented. They’re surrounded by similar business philosophies,” Halloy says.

“To them, it is kind of an association, and they do control the direction of how we run it.”

How to reach: All Pro Exclusive, (888) 464-6273; coming soon, www.allproexclusive.com

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:39

Fanning the entrepreneurial fire

Sharing ideas is a way of business life for Kelly Borth, outgoing president of the local National Association of Women Business Owners chapter.

For the past two years, Borth, president of GREENCREST, has led the organization in its aim to advance women entrepreneurs toward economic, social and political achievement.

As a woman entrepreneur herself, Borth has seen the benefits of establishing relationships with other business owners in many different ways.

“I’m very passionate for small business, and maybe it’s because we’re a small business,” she says of her own company, an eight-employee marketing, advertising and public relations agency. “It seems like years ago, when the business first started, we met with a number of women-owned businesses that we recognized needed more than just marketing support — they needed some business support.”

As a member of the Women’s Network for Entrepreneurial Training, Borth has mentored four local women business owners.

“I learn as much from them as they probably learn from me,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see the entrepreneurial fire that they have.”

She gets fulfillment, she says, in helping them through the beginning business stages that seem easy to her now but are beyond the scope of experience of an early entrepreneur.

Borth, herself, has been a protégé, benefiting from the wisdom of Contract Sweepers & Equipment President Tom Maish in a mentoring program through the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

“Tom and I continue to meet maybe once a year and continue that relationship,” she says, adding that she also carries on relationships with the entrepreneurs she mentors.

“You don’t lose your ties with individuals,” she says. “In a lot of ways I think my clients have been mentors to me. We work with so many dynamic entrepreneurial companies that are fast growing and deal with some of the same growth issues.”

Sharing information becomes a typical part of the relationships she has with the CEOs of her client businesses.

She also shares her own expertise through her involvement in community organizations such as the Heinzerling Foundation, Center for New Directions and Marburn Academy, as well as professional memberships, such as the Advertising Federation of Columbus, where she was the driving force behind the opening of the Advertising Techniques School to teach the “street-smart side” of the business to those just entering the field.

NAWBO offers her yet another opportunity to share ideas and experiences.

“I have formed some professional friendships that are very meaningful,” she says. “I’ve also exercised my opportunity to utilize some of those women-owned businesses for services that my business needs. There’s a lot of strength, I think, and trust, when you’ve had the opportunity to get to know them at a different level.”

Under her presidency the past two years, the local NAWBO membership has doubled to about 65, attendance is excellent and NAWBO has become more recognized. “I cannot single-handedly take credit for any of it,” Borth says. “We have a great board, and I was just lucky enough to serve as their president those few years.” Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

Reference desk

Ashland University

www.ashland.edu/colleges/business/mba/mbahome.html, (888) 622-2527

Ashland offers a master of business administration degree in executive management through a two-year program designed for middle and top management individuals, who are generally company sponsored. Classes are offered at a Columbus location. Two MBA Business After Hours meetings will offer more information on the Graduate Management Institute in Columbus Aug. 15 and 19.

Capital University

www.capital.edu/gsa/gsa.htm, 236-6679 or 236-6670

Capital's master of business administration program is a professional program intended to provide the educational foundation necessary for personal growth and an executive career. The program includes a common core of studies focusing on analytical and behavioral techniques and on institutional and environmental considerations confronting managers. Because the program requires business experience, all classes are held in the evenings, and students must be employed during the day.

Central Michigan University

www.cel.cmich.edu, 235-1645

Central Michigan offers a master of science in administration degree geared toward middle management. Concentrations include general, health services, human resources and software engineering administration as well as information resource management. The weekend classes are offered at the Defense Supply Center Columbus.

Columbus State Community College

www.cscc.edu/docs/workforce/bandi.htm, 287-5000

The college created a Business and Industry Training Department to assist local businesses with on-site or on-campus consulting services and training programs. An extensive, varied list of offerings cover topics including career development, office organizational skills, project planning and management, train the trainer, computer skills, accounting and bookkeeping, writing skills and ISO standards.

Family Business Center of Central Ohio

www.familybusinesscenter.com, 334-8916

The center is a membership organization that brings together those who own, operate and serve family businesses in Central Ohio. It offers programs with nationally known speakers, panel discussions and opportunities for small groups of members to share experiences. Upcoming events include "Wealth Preservation and Transfer: How to keep Uncle Sam from inheriting your family business" Sept. 21 and "Sustaining the Family Business" Nov. 2. The center also holds an annual awards ceremony, set for Nov. 2 this year.

Franklin University

www.franklin.edu/busrelations/buscenterorg.html, 341-6263

Franklin's Center for Organizational and Human Development works with organizations to design and deliver programs, seminars, workshops and courses that meet various needs. Topic areas include supervisory development, team building, Myers-Briggs type indicator, finance and accounting for financial and nonfinancial managers, managing and resolving conflict, competing in a global market, scenario planning, marketing and sales enhancement and human resource management.

Languages Unlimited

228-3336

Languages Unlimited offers foreign language and cultural training for companies that conduct business internationally and employ non-English speaking employees. Professional services include translation of business and marketing materials and providing interpreters of sign and most foreign languages.

Lee Esposito Associates

421-2701

Lee Esposito presents a Publicity Coaching Boot Camp for executives who want to increase their company's visibility and improve their media relations track record. This one- or two-day program is designed for corporate communications professionals who have limited experience working with reporters and for executives who have been given the job of generating positive news stories about their organization.

Ohio Foundation for Entrepreneurial Education

www.ofee.org, 487-3675

OFEE is a nonprofit entity whose mission is to enhance central Ohio's economic well-being by developing raw entrepreneurial desire and talent. OFEE serves its mission by offering two courses. The Feasibility Study Program is for people who want to start a new business. The Business Plan program is for entrepreneurs who need to plan for growth. A coalition of successful local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial service providers serve as members of OFEE's board of trustees, as financial supporters, and share their expertise in the classroom.

Ohio State University Fisher College of Business

www.cob.ohio-state.edu/execed

The Executive Development Program includes four sessions that repeat each year. Participants can enter at any point and take all or one of the four: Managing Human Capital, Organizational Changes & Managerial Strategies, Marketing Strategies and Financial Strategies. Contact Steve Stenner, 292-8575.

The Executive MBA program begins in January 2001. The 15-month curriculum is a blend of long-distance and on-site instruction that allows professionals to earn an MBA without leaving the work force. Built around cross-functional business issues, the program integrates current business concerns and project assignments that let participants work on their firm's multifaceted business challenges. Contact Carol L. Newcomb, 292-0268.

Also contact Newcomb regarding custom-designed programs for companies and trade associations at the regional and national level.

Ohio University

www.cob.ohiou.edu/~emba/, (740) 593-2028

Ohio University's Executive MBA program is designed for experienced business executives. Classes meet on the university's Lancaster campus. The program is structured so executives can complete all academic requirements within 21 months while continuing to handle their professional responsibilities full time. Class size is limited to about 35 students each fall; the program is designed to foster cooperation among participants and to integrate course materials with work experience.

Ohio University-Lancaster

cougar.lancaster.ohiou.edu/ce/, (740) 654-6711, ext. 290

Ohio University-Lancaster's Center for Adult Learning offers university credit programs, business and industrial training and non-credit classes in several formats. Its business and industry training offerings assist executives in enhancing employee skills, morale and productivity. Courses include Continuous Improvement Basics, Team Building, Facilitator Training, computer application courses, technical training and human resources topics including Supervision Enhancement, Interviewing Techniques and Sexual Harassment Issues.

Reputation Management Associates

www.media-relations.com, 486-5000 Bill Patterson, who has 22 years of broadcast journalism and 15 years of public relations experience, offers workshops including Presentational Skills, Spokesperson Development, Speakers' Bureau Training, Speech Coaching -- One on One, Media Training, Media Relations, Crisis Management, Community Relations and Special Events. Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

No fudging here

One of J. Barry Gasaway's favorite questions is: "Why not?"

"Everywhere I've worked, I caused problems because I'd say, 'Why not this?'" he says.

The self-proclaimed visionary says it's his creative side making him ask the same question about transforming his 11-year-old, family-owned business, Noelle's Candies, into Chocolate Works, a projected $20 million confectionery with a national presence.

To find the answer, he asked his brother, Robert, whose cautious, conservative attitude challenges Barry's animated just-go-for-it demeanor.

"If I can convince him to move forward, then it's probably not a bad idea," says Barry, president of Pickerington-based Chocolate Works.

In 1998, he did just that by working with Robert, the company's vice president of operations and production, to devise a business plan for his vision of producing and marketing a higher quality chocolate nationally.

After they spent two three-day weekends locked in a hotel room to hash out the details, Robert joined his brother's "why not" refrain: "We could've stayed a two-brother business. Do we want to stay this size, or do we want to get serious?"

The brothers got serious, and they credit a class from the Ohio Foundation for Entrepreneurial Education, where Barry also has been a teacher, for helping them formulate the details of the grand concept.

"Without a doubt, we would not be in business today without the OFEE experience," Barry says, noting that even though the business was reaching the $1 million mark, the brothers didn't feel like they were on solid ground. "Something could've happened that would've caused us to go out of business easily. It wouldn't have taken too much at that point to tip the scale and say, 'This isn't worth it.'"

Barry, after all, could easily have re-entered the corporate world with all the sales and management experience he previously got running multimillion dollar sales operations with Bell Telephone, Xerox, Tandy and Iomega corporations. Robert, too, could have walked away from the family business and marketed his 25-plus years of expertise as a certified public accountant.

Instead, they took Barry's "Why not?" attitude to see if there was a valid way to alter and strengthen their plans.

They watched trends and market research, which pointed toward a huge pool of people who have a lot of extra money and want to spend it on upscale, higher priced chocolates. Barry's line of questioning entered the picture again.

"That's the highest growth area in my industry," he says. "So why not be there?"

Already they've seen results: They've gained a more upscale and wider customer base, such as travelers visiting a gift shop at Port Columbus International Airport and customers of Sugarbush Gourmet Gift Baskets, and the premium boxed chocolates have opened doors for them. For instance, as Noelle's Candies, the brothers had a difficult time getting their handmade novelty items -- which include chocolate lollipops in the shape of clowns and Ohio State sports symbols -- accepted at Riverside Methodist Hospital.

"We put this line in there and it sold out in a couple of weeks," Barry says.

The brothers are projecting sales to skyrocket to $20 million by 2003 -- with a gross margin growing from 38 to 42 percent between now and then.

That's fast growth. Still, they're confident they can do it. Here's why.

No sugar coating

With no answer to the "Why not?" question discouraging them, the brothers started the company's transformation by making sure they hadn't glazed over any facet of their new business plan.

  • First, there was the matter of the company's name.

    As they told people their company was "Noelle's," they heard responses like, "Oh, you are a local candy company."

    "I went to Bob and said, 'I think we need to sound more global,'" Barry says. "So 'Chocolate Works' gave us a wider stage to play on."

  • The Gasaways knew they had to make sure their new product was, in fact, high quality chocolate.

    "If you want to put out a premium chocolate, it can't be all mirrors," Barry says.

    They focused on getting the best possible grades of chocolate available and devising new recipes to increase the shelf life of the candy since it would be distributed farther away.

    From a marketing standpoint, the Gasaways said their chocolate would be different -- and the quality noticeable. They ordered the chocolate makers to give their products a taste that would set them apart.

    "The consumer is going to know the difference," Barry says. "I have a great respect for the customer, because they don't put up with bullshit."

  • They also needed to find capital to move forward -- a task that made the brothers realize they would have to stand their ground.

    First, they decided to seek angel capital -- $400,000 for equipment, an inventory ramp up and funds for raises for key employees to aid retention. They also wanted talent -- someone who could give them not just funding but advice regarding the company's growth.

    They received offers right away but stuck to their guns about only giving up 20 percent of the company.

    "Had we listened to the first few people," Barry says, "they wanted more than half. We turned people down. For example, one wanted us to step aside."

  • One of their investors opened the door for Chocolate Works to jump start its national sales. Gerry Geddis, CEO of Gerald Stevens Inc. flowers and gifts, had been a friend of Barry's since the two worked at Tandy Corp. Geddis later worked at various executive positions at Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., then co-founded Florida-based Gerald Stevens Inc., which, since its start in May 1998, has grown through acquisition to 325 locations, 3,500 employees and more than $300 million in revenue.

    He invested in Chocolate Works, but more important, he gave the company some of the expansion expertise it needed to grow.

    "From my end, I get to exchange ideas with great business guys -- that's probably the first benefit I get," says Geddis, who admits that selling flowers -- which, much like chocolates, are perishable products often purchased on emotional whims -- is quite a change from his previous careers in videotapes and electronics.

    The partnership also helps him fulfill one of his goals to do something unique in the floral arrangement delivery business.

    "From Day One, I had the idea that with every arrangement delivered, [there] would be a free piece of chocolate with it," Geddis says.

    Chocolate Works created a special Gerald Stevens brand chocolate and has started distribution by inserting one golden-wrapped piece in bouquets.

    "[Barry] and his group came up with a great blend for us that makes the chocolate bar unique, and most people haven't seen or tasted that flavor in a dark chocolate bar before," Geddis says.

    Already, customers are asking where they can get more of the chocolate, and Geddis is selling a larger bar in his Boca Raton, Fla., store.

    The goal is to make chocolates an add-on sale with the flowers. Geddis expects to expand the offerings from the bars to boxed chocolates in stores and in Gerald Stevens gift baskets and to add the products to his other acquired stores across the nation as they switch to the Gerald Stevens name.

    "The candy business has never been big on Mother's Day," Barry says to illustrate one possibility. "But it could be huge if the guy buying flowers has the opportunity to add on chocolates."

  • The change to Chocolate Works gives the Gasaways a challenge to find new markets. For example, they plan to begin selling on the Internet and use a distribution channel including a direct sales staff, a candy broker network, confection brokers, candy distributors, catalogs and their own retail stores.

    The Gasaways knew they didn't want to pull up their roots. The company had become known for Noelle's Candies -- named for Barry's daughter -- so the novelty candies were made a brand of Chocolate Works and the brothers are seeking new outlets for distribution. Earlier this year, they reached an agreement with Hallmark. They're also working on a deal to sell those candies in bulk to membership shopping clubs.

    "For us, if that works, it could be a million-dollar operation," Barry says.

An even sweeter vision

The Gasaways are seeking a second round of funding -- $1 million -- to continue to build the infrastructure of people, facility and equipment.

Already, in addition to the brothers' years of experience, the company's management team includes Dan Rich, director of network sales and marketing, who spent 15 years in management with Tandy, and Karen Gasaway, buyer and director of retail and corporate sales.

One part of the expansion plan in the works is to move the company's local operations, now housed in a retail strip mall, to a freestanding building farther south in Pickerington to be used as a chocolate factory. They want it to open by October.

"We definitely don't want to miss Christmas," Robert says.

They'll keep a production plant they have in West Virginia, since they feel a dedication to support the economy in that area, where they grew up.

Barry's creative mind has high hopes for the Pickerington operation: a retail area; upscale folk art and products such as candles or woven, pewter and wood items; birthday parties for children; an open window for tours to see the factory at work; animated characters; and an old-fashioned ice cream factory.

Helston Capital Group has been analyzing Chocolate Works' goals and needs, such as equipment, marketing and distribution channels, to develop a detailed presentation for investors in this round.

Mike Mizesko, a Helston investment banker and president of OhioAngels.com, says the Chocolate Works concept is unique in that it differs from mass market players and companies dependent on retail stores. The Gasaways also have developed other ways to utilize the Gerald Stevens relationship, such as corporate programs in which employees can order products via company intranet systems.

"It's Mother's Day, and if I'm an employee of Lucent, it doesn't mean I'm driving to Anthony-Thomas. I'm clicking and, guess what, at my door is a beautiful bouquet of roses and a pound and a half of chocolates," Mizesko explains, adding that the infrastructure creates an opportunity for Chocolate Works to truly be an e-commerce fulfillment shop.

Meanwhile, Mizesko says, Helston will try to bring focus to Chocolate Works' growth.

"A consumer product company can do 500 different things and 20 of them will be right, but we're going to whittle them down to three," Mizesko says, using hypothetical numbers.

"We serve them in an advisory capacity -- we're not on their board, and we can't say, 'Barry, do this,'" Mizesko says. "We can steer them and help them optimize the company to help them raise capital."

He's got quite the challenge to rein in Barry's long-range vision.

"I want to do a chocolate factory that's an experience," Barry says, noting he sees himself dressed in period costume, greeting customers to a tourist-attraction chocolate factory -- Chocolate World -- that could be seen from I-70 and serve as both a family entertainment and educational stop.

"What we're doing here," he says, referring to the Pickerington factory in the works, "is a forerunner of that."

In fact, Barry envisions building as many as 20 Chocolate World tourist attractions across the country one day.

"This is a $26 billion industry I'm in. What's a few billion here and there?" Barry says, returning to the "Why not?" ritual.

Geddis says one of Barry's key strengths is his skills as a salesman.

"I think the true belief he has in his product, and how to get the customer excited about it, is what has made the business grow," Geddis says. "And with us, they've never missed an order. There's the quality product, great enthusiasm, and they deliver what they say they're going to deliver on. "Put those three together and you've got a winning business."

How to reach: Chocolate Works, 868-5551; coming soon, www.chocolate-works.com

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