Victoria Harrow

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Marketing a metropolis

Mary Ann Jackson is in the midst of a colossal marketing project in which she’s meshing a new millennium theme not with a product or service, but with a city.

More specifically, a once in 1,000 years blowout celebration, in which Akron—with 200 other cities across the U.S. and in Sweden, New Zealand and England—is taking the lead in commemorating the new millennium.

It’s a soiree called First Night, and the international theme shared by all 200 cities for the millennium is “Share the light, ignite the spirit.” First Night, which made its Akron debut three years ago, is a phenomenon sweeping the country in which downtown businesses and organizations transform their office spaces into party sites for a festive, family-oriented, alcohol-free celebration of the arts. Akron’s event draws thousands of people from across northeast Ohio.

As Akron First Night executive director, Jackson is knee-deep in marketing the First Night 2000 event. One millennium marketing piece was just unveiled at Canal Park Stadium at the recent First Night. On the stroke of midnight Dec. 31, the portable, 17 feet long by 10 feet high digital “millennium clock” began ticking down the days and hours left in the last year of the last decade of this century.

The installation is co-funded by the City of Akron and KeyCorp. Jeff Mills, community re-investment manager at KeyBank N.A. in Akron, says Jackson’s idea of designing the clock as a transportable marketing piece was ingenious.

“From a marketing standpoint, you’re always looking for the biggest bang for your buck. Since this is something we know will be a year-long event and the clock will be continually moved to various sites and events throughout the city, we’ll be getting our name out all year long. We can also focus some other marketing activities around the clock,” Mills says.

Since the millennium marketing piece is a joint endeavor between KeyBank and the city, what happens when they both want the clock at the same time? “I don’t think we’ll fight over it,” Mills laughs.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Another acronym, anyone?

Microsoft Corp.’s recent push for individuals to become tested, trained and certified through its new Microsoft Office User Specialist program (MOUS) has professionals packing computer training centers to add another acronym to their business cards.

The MOUS program validates user skills in Microsoft Office applications. Certification levels include Microsoft Office Proficient Specialist, Office Expert Specialist and Office Expert. The certifications make individuals more valuable in the workplace by awarding credentials indicative of computer proficiency.

“Businesses who employ these certified specialists are gaining a competitive edge by getting the most for their Microsoft dollar,” says Jennifer Green, training manager at SkillsBase@Training Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls. Green says that with the MOUS program, companies are seeing a 40 percent drop in support request calls to their internal computer help centers.

Validating a worker’s competence with a certificate may not be a groundbreaking concept. But being singled out by the big-boy software corporation to provide its certification testing merits more than honorable mention. SkillsBase is one of only two companies chosen in this area by Microsoft to be an authorized testing center for the MOUS program.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Pricing capital equipment

Electronic commerce is a distant dream if a company isn't internally computerized, says Michael Gemmer, president of The Gemmer Group Inc. in Akron.

He's been called in more than once to help pick up the pieces after an anxious CEO has authorized purchase of expensive new computers and software, watched it piled in the middle of the room, then wondered, "What are we going to do with all this stuff?"

"The essence of e-commerce is replacing manual systems with electronic ones and integrating everything," Gemmer says. Before buying anything, he advises businesses to struggle with precisely the process Yesterday Corp. followed: Figure out what you need and want to do, weigh cost and benefits, settle on a time frame for meeting goals, then buy the appropriate hardware and software to do it.

Even after that, Yesterday Corp.'s president, Tom Sincharge, wasn't clear about exactly what kind of equipment his company would need. Though the consulting firm that won the job of moving Yesterday Corp. into the computer era promised to make all the appropriate selections, Sincharge wanted a gut check; he wanted to see some kind of hardware and software shopping list.

He solicited the advice of A.J. Vasaris, president of The Anderson Group in Akron, which specializes in systems integration, computer network design and consultation.

Vasaris emphasized there are plenty of options and prices and capabilities are constantly shifting. However, here are some basics Vasaris told him would be needed to get Yesterday Corp.'s e-commerce project moving.


Server

The central computer of a company's network. Because Sincharge had already been sold on a system utilizing the Microsoft Windows NT operating system (as opposed to Unix or Linux operating systems), Vasaris specified the following:

  • Intel-based server, with 256Mb RAM, hard drives, tape backup, monitor, etc.;

  • NT Server V4 software with licenses allowing access by up to 20 users (industry jargon: client access license);

  • Expansion could be provided with additional hard drives and memory, additional processors, redundant power supplies and network interface cards.

Rough estimated cost: $15,000


Database application

The software starting point for maintaining customer, prospect and sales information; inventory; online catalog, etc. Though there are many database applications, Microsoft SQL is a solid benchmark. Vasaris priced the server version, with a 25-client access license.

Estimated cost: $4,000


Accounting system

Again, there are many options. Vasaris recommends a modular system, including general ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable. Short-term add-ons needed for Yesterday Corp.'s project would include: sales order processing, purchase orders, inventory, bank reconciliation, reporting applications.

Estimated cost: $18,500


Electronic Data Interchange and e-commerce

To computerize financial transactions, Yesterday Corp. would have to buy EDI and e-commerce modules to interface with the accounting system. Ballpark estimates depend on technical specifics not defined in this project.

Estimated cost for EDI module: $10,000

Estimated cost for e-commerce module connecting the accounting system to the Internet: $2,000

Estimated cost for e-commerce module for processing requisitions over the Internet: $2,000

Estimated cost for e-commerce module for processing orders over the Internet: $2,000


Messaging system

Internal voicemail and communications within the company's local area network. Vasaris priced another benchmark, Microsoft Exchange Server V5.5, with a 25-client access license.

Estimated cost: $2,500


World Wide Web-building software

Yesterday Corp. would need software to create and modify its Web site. Dozens of packages are available, offering a wide range of capabilities and variables for an equally wide range of prices. Name brands include Microsoft Front Page, Adobe Page Mill. Basic software costs as little as $79. For flexible programs for commercial use, Vasaris says you'll probably spend more.

Estimated cost: $500


Infrastructure

Devices to interconnect all the equipment in the office and to connect the office network to an Internet Service Provider. Equipment includes stuff with names like "router," "CSU/DSU" and "hub." (That's why you have an IS director.)

Estimated cost, excluding cable: $4,000


Work stations

With all of this technology, Yesterday Corp. needs to put new computers on a lot of people's desks to let them access all the information. The job doesn't require high-end computers. Run-of-the-mill PCs, with 266 mHz chips, standard 15-inch screens, keyboards, Ethernet cards (to access the network), CD-ROM drives and basic office-suite software (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) should do the job.

Estimated cost for 20 such PCs: $20,000


Laptops

If the goal is to get vital information into the hands of employees, the sales force and other staff who travel should have laptop computers. Vasaris says the equipment doesn't need to be high-end. It just needs to be up to date.

Estimated cost for 10 such laptops: $17,000

Vasaris emphasized to Sincharge that this product list represents just a small selection of available solutions. Costs, he noted, are based on providing products for a 20-user enterprise. Design, configuration, training and support costs are not included and will need to be added to the noted figures. Same for monthly communications charges and Internet access fees.

"If we take away the proprietary names, such as NT and Microsoft, these costs would be about the same for a Unix system and/or an [IBM]AS/400 for 20 users," Vasaris said. "The differences come about for 'soft costs' such as support, installation and maintenance. "

How to reach: The Gemmer Group (800) 831-3977; The Anderson Group (330) 945-6408



Action points

  • Spec out all equipment needs at once to assure expandability and compatibility.

  • Buy in stages. Even if you can afford to pay for all the toys, a wholesale makeover can strain operations.

  • When comparing hardware, speed and memory are most important. Buy as much of both as you can afford.

  • Move quickly, before the array of options becomes immobilizing. No solution is perfect, but many are probably suitable-and all are changing daily. Once you have good information, make a decision and stick with it.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Competing with the corporate giants

John Ebel steps confidently into the ring. He moves toward his opponent, eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe. And at the sound of the bell and in the flash of a horrific micro-moment, the competitor miraculously grows to 10 times Ebel's size.

Ebel jumps to a start, rubs his eyes and realizes it's all just a bad dream.

Or is it?

In 1982, Ebel launched Accurate Door Systems as a sole proprietorship in Canton, specializing in garage door and garage door opener service. He incorporated four years later, and by 1990 had expanded to the point that he built a new facility-8,000 square feet of showroom, warehouse, service area and office space-at 6331 Whipple Ave. in North Canton.

Today, the company employs 20 people and does about $2 million a year in sales-roughly two-thirds of it in the residential market and the rest for commercial customers. In addition to garage doors, the company now sells and installs windows, entry doors, vinyl decks, loading dock equipment and commercial rolling doors.

But four years ago, sales were dropping, thanks to competition from large and well-funded competitors-notably Sears Roebuck and Co., Builder's Square, 84 Lumber Co. and Lowes Home Improvement.

How did he reinvent the company to thrive in such an environment?

Ebel recently took time out to talk with SBN about the challenges that result when corporate giants close in.


How sudden was the change in the business environment and how did you first recognize it?

Sears has always been around but they didn't sell garage doors to the degree they do now. They primarily sold garage door openers. We always justified that as, "Well, those are do-it-yourselfers, they're not really our customer because our customers want an installed product." But then I started seeing a lot of retail purchases for an installed product. It became a major focus for these larger stores. That became a concern for me because there's only so much business to go around. I just wanted to make sure we kept our share of it.

What did they have to offer, aside from large advertising budgets, that made their services so attractive?

I think the big draw to Sears and some of these other big stores was their charge cards. We provide financing like 90 days cash and that type of thing here. But people can go to Sears, buy a garage door and put it on their charge card. Sure, they'll pay more money for it. But they can pay only $15 a month for the next however many years.

When you realized you were now going to be competing with high profile corporations in addition to your existing competition, how did you set out to even the odds?

I decided to play their game on the same playing field. Part of that involved acting big.

When we chose a location, we wanted something on a recognizable, easy-to-find street with good traffic flow. A lot of companies like ours go into industrial park areas, but we took more of a retail attack.

We maintained a good, clean, professional image-a nice-looking building with good signage out front, with our logo, of course. Our installers wear consistent uniforms. If you look at our vehicles, they're all the same color, lettered with our logo. I put two-way radios in the trucks. We went for consistency all around, even on the invoices, letterhead, envelopes, business cards.

All these things helped make our business look even bigger than it is. Many people often ask me if this is a franchise-where the other locations are and that kind of thing. So obviously, it's achieving that goal.

What about the role of customer service and quality?

We had to be better than anybody else. Try even harder to do what we said we were going to do. If we said we were going to be somewhere on a certain day at a certain time, we had to be there. When it came to customer service, it was just a matter of being honest with the customer, telling them what we could do and then doing it.

And we put a strong focus on two aspects of quality. One is the quality of the work we do, whether it's the person answering the phone or the installer installing the door or the estimator going out to sell the product. That's a people quality. Another is the material quality. We can choose to buy only quality products because we're not under any exclusive agreements with any manufacturers.

How do you provide better quality and service while still managing to keep pricing in line with your competition?

We can be maybe a little higher because people expect that from a specialty store. But we can't be twice as high as they would be. So we have to be careful how we purchase. We have to watch the other costs, too. Labor costs. Advertising costs. Make sure we can maintain a margin that's acceptable to us. It's a challenge.

What other things did you do to reclaim your share of business?

We had established very good relationships with our vendors, who were also suppliers for these larger stores. Clopay Building Products [asked] us to provide installations for Sears, Builders Square and 84 Lumber because they weren't satisfied with the work they were getting from their current installers. Cornell Iron Works has a division called Cornell Store Fronts and they deal with chain stores. When they require a rolling door or grill, we install it.

So you're actually doing work for your competitors?

Yes, but we have to be careful not to compete with them on their jobs, and that puts us in the middle sometimes. We've had problems in the past where we'd go out to install a job and the door wasn't what the customer thought they were getting. We have to be very careful to refer those issues back to the selling party. Now, we make it a policy to measure everything ahead of time so we don't find any size problems when we get there. And we're careful not to perform any sales functions or give the customer pricing structures when we're doing a subcontracting job.

What if the customer considers your work superior and solicits you?

That doesn't seem to be a problem. I think a lot of customers really don't realize that someone else is putting Sears' product in.

What special operational or financial processes did you have to implement to provide documentation in a manner Sears prefers?

We had to learn special forms and things like that. And their biggest issue is scheduling. We need to give them rapid answers when they call and want to know when we're going to measure a job, when we're going to install it, if we installed it. But that's never been a problem because we do all our scheduling on the computer.

Although this is kind of a backward industry, we were probably the first to computerize at all. When we moved into our Whipple Avenue location, we put in computer systems and began the process of becoming automated for business functions. Now, everything is computerized-all the accounting functions, inventory, payables, receivables, payroll, schedules-it's all done in-house. But it's not just for the subcontracting or suppliers. I've really gone this technology route to try to make us more efficient to provide better service to all our customers.

Has there ever been a point at which you thought that perhaps subcontracting for the big guys was more trouble than it's worth?

We have found that if there's going to be a job ... that's more difficult to install, it's going to be from one of these companies. They're just generally more difficult jobs for some reason. But we can take pride in the fact that we can perform that kind of job. At any rate, the percentage of work we do for them isn't a whole lot in relation to our total sales. But any little bit helps.

It looks as if you've once again outgrown the existing headquarters. What's next?

Right now, we're looking at some other possible locations for this office because we are running out of room. We're looking at existing buildings as well as a couple of vacant pieces of ground to build on. The next location will have a larger, more elaborate showroom sp ace so we can display more products. Again, this helps in competing with the larger stores. And within the next five years, I'd like to see an additional two offices at least. So, yes, I guess you could say we're evening up even the score.

How to reach: Accurate Door Systems Inc. (800) 466-0081; e-mail: info@accuratedoor.com; Web site: www.accuratedoor.com

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

A business built through heavy lifting

Tim Selinsky squinted through the veil of snow accumulating on the windshield of his truck, which he had parked a few feet from the old Sandusky Bay Bridge. As he shivered, he thought about the size of the structure and searched for a solution to a dilemma.

He had signed a contract with the state of Ohio to dislodge the bridge and move it in pieces without interrupting service of the three railroad lines running beneath it. But the state had grossly miscalculated the weight of the 164-foot-long bridge and Selinsky's 125-ton cranes wouldn't do the job.

He considered bringing in brawnier cranes, but not only would that significantly alter the contract price, it wouldn't meet the requirement for mobile cranes that could get out of the way of the trains.

Resolute, he began sketching out an amazing alternative. He would build corner cribs at the ends of the bridge to elevate four hydraulic jacks just high enough to let the trains run underneath. The jacks would boost the entire bridge-all in one piece-eight feet into the air. A 400-ton slider system would be positioned beneath, allowing the massive structure to be gently rolled onto the road, where it would be loaded on a specialized truck and hauled away as planned.

The task was elaborate and laborious. Working against bitter winter weather and endless delays caused by speeding trains, Selinsky's machines and work crews removed the historic Sandusky Bay Bridge in one month. That was five years ago, but people still talk about it.

Closer to home, they still talk about the way two cranes owned by Henry A. Selinsky Inc. hoisted the old St. Helena II tourist boat from its murky pit in Canal Fulton to deliver it safely to dry land.

And the way the night sky at Belden Village was lit up like a football field when Sears Roebuck & Co. hired Selinsky to set steel for its second story, using cranes that could lift 175 tons at a time.

Since the early '30s, the Selinsky name has been known throughout Stark County for an amazing specialty known as rigging-the setting of scaffolds and other really heavy and cumbersome stuff.

As local folklore has it, the company is a household name when it comes to wives nagging their spouses: "If you don't get off that couch, I'm going to call the Selinsky brothers!"

But it's no joke that when such manufacturers as The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Republic Engineered Steels, The Hoover Co. and Diebold Inc. need anything from a 10,000-pound forging press to a 400-ton transformer moved from Point A to Point B, they call the Selinsky brothers, who do business at 4015 23rd St. S.W. in Canton Township.

"There are more 10,000-pound pieces of machinery to move than 100-ton pieces, and even though we do those small things very efficiently-that's our bread and butter work-you can make a lot more money with the larger pieces. And since there's absolutely nothing we can't move, people know we're the only company to call," says John Selinsky, who operates the company with his brothers Ned, Tim and Jeff.

The siblings have brought the family business a long way from its humble beginnings as a two-man operation that set steel using a coal truck. They still set steel, but Selinsky equipment may also be called on to upright a flipped semi on the highway or remove a crashed plane from a runway-as it was a generation ago for the plane crash that killed New York Yankee catcher Thurmon Munson.

It's not the kind of business you break into overnight. The current crop of owners represents the third generation of family control of this ultimate niche business and they funnel enormous sums of money into it-such as for the recent purchase of a 175-ton crane for more than $1.2 million.

"Our capital expenditures each year are phenomenal, but that's part of what has made us successful," John Selinsky says. "When we took it over, it was just one company that mainly did machinery moving, rigging and crane rental. We expanded into plant maintenance, expanded the crane service, adding a lot more cranes ... and bigger trucks."

The first generation had a half-dozen cranes. The company now owns more than 250 pieces of equipment.

Since they took over operations in 1978, the four brothers have added three companies to the Selinsky enterprise. In 1982, they formed Selinsky Brothers Inc. to lease aerial platforms-which are fast replacing ladders in modern plants.

"It's a business that, if you're going to get into it, you have to be willing to put a lot capital into it, because you have to service them, too," Selinsky notes. "But all our industrial customers and the subcontractors we worked with-electrical contractors, piping, plumbing, heating and air conditioning people-they all needed this service, so we didn't have to find other clients. We used the same client base and gave them another service."

The second company was Meredith Erectors & Crane Rental Inc., acquired in 1989 to expand into steel erection-a side of the business that waned during the second generation's administration.

Then, in a 1995 joint venture with Lattavo Bros. Inc., they created Continental Freight Lines, a heavy specialized trucking company for "superloads"-gargantuan rigs up to 190 feet long that, with special permits and police escorts, can haul historic old bridges and other ungainly payloads of up to 250,000 pounds.

The expansion was not a result of formal research-just "experience research," as Selinsky calls it. "We've always looked for opportunities and we just noticed what problems our customers were having," he says.

The talent for lifting heavy things began during the Depression, when 15-year-old Alva "Bub" Selinsky and his father Henry, a millwright at Timken, tore the truck bed off of young Bub's truck and replaced it with a boom to set steel at construction sites. Over time, Henry's moonlighting began conflicting with his job at Timken and he handled it by calling in sick.

"They knew he was up to something but they couldn't quite figure it out," says John Selinsky, Bub's third-born son. "One day, when he didn't show up for work, Timken sent someone to the house to check on him. Grandmother was a religious woman who never lied and she told them where he was. They went down to Cherry Street where he was setting steel and fired him."

The year was 1932, and the<$k20> <$k$>part-time job became a full-time occupation, working from a location on Navarre Road in Canton. Eventually, Henry's second and third sons, Warren and Neil, joined the business too.

"As in most family businesses, it tends to be that things go well when the business is small and there's no money, nothing to fight over. You're just out there striving for survival," John Selinsky says. "Then when things become successful, you've got something to fight over. They went through so many family business problems, they wrote the book on how not to get along."

Selinsky sidesteps queries about the kinship clashes that ultimately severed the sibling ties and business bonds between his father and uncles following his grandfather Henry's death in 1956 or so.

But Henry's will was clear: Bub was left with voting control of the company-partly because he was the firstborn, but also because of the feuding, Selinsky says.

"There were just so many different personalities and egos," Selinsky offers flatly. Then, as if to assuage deductions derived from unanswered questions, he adds, "Still, they were always very successful because they knew what they were doing and they were excellent at doing it."

As Bub's four boys-Ned, Tim, John and Jeff-grew older, he put them to work weekends and summers, doing everything from sweeping floors to driving trucks.

"A lot people say, 'Gee, they're really lucky, their dad gave them that business.' But he didn't," John Selinsky says. "We bought it from our uncles and our dad. I was 26 years old, out looking for a million dollars. We each put our houses up as collateral, signed on the dotted lines and got loans to do this."

By that time, Bub's brother Warren had edged out of the company, starting a steel processing busi ness in 1976-Ohio Steel Slitters Inc. He still runs the company on Raff Road with his sons, Craig and Darryl.

Neil Selinsky, too, had parted ways with brother Bub, launching Canton Erectors Inc. on Quimby Avenue in 1964.

That company is a competitor still today, operated by Neil's sons, Brian and Mike, specializing in heavy machinery moving, rigging and crane service.

"There seems to be enough work to go around," says Canton Erectors vice-president, Brian Selinsky. Asked how the mood goes at family gatherings, Brian concedes, "They're still our competition, so there's not a lot of family activities."

Sadly, it's not uncommon that a family business can hurt family relationships. But when Bub's four sons bought Henry A. Selinsky Inc., they adopted certain covenants to make sure it wouldn't happen to this family again.

"First, we decided that problems would stay among the four of us-we wouldn't take them home," Selinsky says. "We've done that to the best of our abilities."

They also put an end to the hierarchy of the first born.

"We each do what we're best at, what we like to do, so there are no jealousies about what the other guy does. But we all cross over and help each other when we need to."

John holds the title of president; Tim is vice president and estimator; Ned is corporate treasurer and estimator; Jeff serves as corporate secretary and sales director. All four draw the same salary and own equal shares in not only Henry A. Selinsky Inc., but in the three other companies they've since built or acquired. If any one of them decides to leave, there is a buy-sell agreement that dictates how the transaction will occur.

Under their united leadership, the company today employs an average of 100 people and 1998 revenues topped the $15 million mark. Operations are focused in a 60-mile radius around Canton, though equipment has traveled much farther in service to large clients.

Selinsky says he and his brothers hope their own children will take the company into its fourth generation. But it's still early for that; so far, Tim's son, Brett, is a dispatcher at the company, and Jeff's son, Scot, works as a crane operator.

"They say it's usually the third generation that's going to screw it up, but I don't know about that," Selinsky laughs.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:59

Rubbing shoulders with success

As a healing art used for thousands of years—with benefits long recognized in many cultures—massage therapy had remained on the fringe of mainstream health care. Now, that’s changing.

In the continual struggle to find alternative revenue streams, Massillon Community Hospital has opened Stark County’s only hospital-based massotherapy department. Convincing patients of the value of a massage isn’t a problem. The challenge has been winning over the doctors, who traditionally frown on alternative forms of medicine, of the need to prescribe such treatment for their patients.

What’s traditional about medicine?

Nearly one person in 10 has used massage therapy. Americans make 60 million visits to 85,000 massage practitioners each year. This has added greater validity to massage therapy as an accepted mode of health and healing. And some insurance plans now cover massage treatment as a medical procedure.

“They will pay if you have a physician’s order in some cases, but it really depends on the insurance company. The insurance companies that are beginning to cover it ... It’s a trend working its way from the West,” says Cheryl Lepkowski, complementary therapies manager and accounting manager for the hospital.

To minimize overhead, Massillon Community Hospital’s massotherapy unit does not bill insurance companies for its treatments. “We decided that billing would add to the administrative costs, but because we know that some plans do cover certain things, we use the CPT [current procedural terminology] codes on the receipts for anyone whose insurance will cover massotherapy,” Lepkowski says.

Currently most business comes through word of mouth and from advertising, she says. There are two massotherapists and three treatment rooms. The cost is $15 for 15 minutes, $25 for 30 minutes and $40 for 50 minutes

Does massage rub patients the right way?

After a little research, the hospital realized the market potential.

Research culled for the clinic’s initial feasibility study confirmed a growing trend for complementary therapies. “We saw this as a need because we didn’t know of another hospital in our area that was providing these services in this way,” says Lepkowski. “People are using complementary therapies and alternative kinds of medicine, so why shouldn’t the two be integrated, to offer the community different choices for their health.”

“We’re marketing it as a new alternative service that the hospital is providing,” says Susan Koosh of the hospital’s marketing department, noting that the hospital is getting the word out by way of print and radio advertising and direct mail. “We’re also sending letters to doctors hoping to get their referrals to the unit,” she says.

The massotherapy unit offers massage therapy, reflexology, acupuncture, Reiki and herbal medicines and is located on the fourth floor of the hospital’s 191-bed facility.

Is it really health care?

Massage therapists, Lepkowski points out, are professionals who are required to take extensive training and become licensed by the State Medical Board. The state of Ohio requires that massage therapists have at least 600 hours of hands-on training, in addition to detailed studies in anatomy and physiology—similar to that required of nurses. In the most recent state licensing examination, only 50 percent of qualified applicants who took the exam received the required license to practice massotherapy.

Therapeutic massage, Lepkowski explains, works by boosting the circulatory and immune systems to improve circulation and digestion, strengthen muscle and skin tone and stabilize blood pressure.

Are there other benefits?

Lepkowski acknowledges that the hospital environment itself may be an element that brings even greater credibility to the new massotherapy program. But that same setting can also impede the endeavor, since florescent lighting doesn’t exactly engender a relaxing ambiance. That’s why the center’s reception area is more like a laid back living room, embellished with art on loan from the Canton Artists’ League and pleasant amenities such as a miniature waterfall and soothing background music.

Each of the three treatment rooms, painted powder blue with flattering borders, has ambient lighting floor fixtures with dimmers for a serene setting. The massotherapy unit’s state-of-the-art equipment includes comfortable, height-adjustable, hydraulic massage tables with face cradles and arm rests.

Lepkowski says the department will soon add other offerings, such as community education classes and a resource center. “There are so many different ways you could take something like this, so our innovations team is considering other services and specialties we might want to add.”

What was learned?

As with any other venture, a business plan was prepared to determine all the services that could be provided by the new unit and whether the services would be cost effective. “Our short-term plan was to get massotherapy up and running first. Then we went through marketing aspects,” Lepkowski says.

Lepkowski observes that, considering the lack of promotional advertising done before the clinic opened, the new venture is going well. “We didn’t do a lot of marketing ahead of time. I think that’s something we learned from this. If I had to do anything differently, that’s what I would do.” To reach: Massillon Community Hospital, (330) 832-8761

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:59

How quickly they forget

It was a direct question that deserved a straight answer from the politician whose campaign platform stressed education. The query was posed to Ohio’s new governor at the January Akron Round Table press conference—his first public appearance since being sworn into office (aside from the inaugural festivities).

“Seeing how (former Governor George) Voinovich’s move to slash education dollars resulted in a tight labor market, how do you plan to help increase education funding so business owners can get qualified workers?”

“Run that by me again?” Gov. Robert A. Taft responded with a blank stare.

“Seeing how Voinovich slashed education....”

“Slashed?” interrupted Taft, who, like his predecessor, is Republican. “I don’t recall that,” Taft retorted.

How odd that, only a few months after his campaign, during which he touted facts and figures pertinent to Ohio’s education funding, Taft seemed to forget the reductions in Ohio’s funding of higher education. Voinovich made cuts in 1991, 1992 and 1993 amounting to approximately $272 million, resulting in a 7.9 percent tuition increase over a three-year period. These cuts compelled former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, to call Voinovich a “damn dummy.”

According to Paul Marshall, assistant to the superintendent of the Department of Education in Columbus, “Any kind of cut to education can exacerbate an existing problem. Ohio funds primary and secondary education—we’re like 26th among the states—but in higher education, we’re like 40th.”

The statistics swept under the carpet were slashes that compounded Ohio’s labor dilemma then and now. Side-stepping them, Taft responded to the rest of the question.

“Our tight labor market is a very important issue. In fact, that’s our biggest economic development issue today,” he said. He then referred to his three-point plan to address the problem:

1. Do a better job of educating students.

2. Expand the “tech-prep” program—a partnership among business, schools and universities to gradually guide students into technology-based careers. “We’d like to expand that program from $8,000 up to $35,000 over the course of my tenure as governor,” Taft said.

3. Consolidate work force development and training programs by merging the Department of Human Services and the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services.

Upon hearing that Taft didn’t “recall” the three-year, $272 million cuts to higher education, Richard Petrick, vice-chancellor for finance at the Ohio Board of Regents, remarked, “It’s good to be reminded that when the state’s in a crunch, historically it has balanced its budget on the backs of students. We can’t afford to let that happen if we want Ohio’s economy to be competitive in growth.”

Lest we forget.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

&#147;What I meant to say ...&#148;

Dennis Patterson, a human resource generalist for Roberts Express in Akron, remembers a time when he would become frustrated during discussions with subordinates if they made rebuttals to his management directives. Sharon Campbell, a systems technician for Kent-based Schneller Inc., recalls meetings with a supervisor during which she became so irritated by his autocratic style that she would leave in exasperation, sometimes slamming the door behind her.

These two professionals share something in common: their communication styles — and those of the people with whom they worked — were contributing to problems in the workplace.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once remarked, “Nine-tenths of the serious controversies which arise in life result from misunderstanding, from one man not knowing the facts which to the other man seem important, or otherwise failing to appreciate his point of view.” And as Andrew S. Grove, founder and chairman of Intel Corp., puts it, “How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things but by how well we are understood.”

Perhaps that’s why more than 20 Akron-area companies thought it wise to send select employees to a recent two-day American Management Association training workshop to acquire the effective communications and interpersonal skills necessary to lead, motivate and work diplomatically with others. “Communication problems occur in the work environment because of territorial games and perceptions,” says David Wellmaker, who facilitated the workshop. “But human beings honestly believe, because of their own perceptions, that they’re not playing those territorial games.”

“People get into the territorial games when they feel competitive and threatened, usually because they’re not getting recognition for their contributions. They feel like somebody’s trying to steal their thunder,” says Joan Wilson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Portage Path Behavioral Center’s North Summit branch. “Everyone needs recognition, so if you acknowledge people and think of more positive things to say than negative, it really helps in the communications process.”

Wellmaker says that to discover how we play the territorial games that block effective communication, we must first understand our own perceptions that influence our personal communication styles. To that end, AMA workshop participants were given the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a self-assessment exam based on the book Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. Patterson says his understanding of his personality type — as determined by his results from the Keirsey Temperament Sorter — has made a definite difference in the way he relates to employees and professional colleagues.

“Something I want to start doing now is learning what other people in my own organization are typed as under the Keirsey or Myers Briggs indicator — are they introverts, extroverts, are they sensing, feeling, analyzing or judging,” Patterson says. “I see value in understanding how other people think because it helps me find better ways of communicating more effectively with them, keeping in mind that I have a different type of communication style.”

Linda Duff, a training instructor for Allstate Insurance Company in Hudson, says the self-assessment quiz helped her understand her propensity to volunteer for every assignment and offer solutions to every problem — which deprives others of the opportunity to use their skills. “I have a tendency, because of my personality type, to always throw my two cents in when problems come up. I always seem to be the one to take charge,” Duff says. “One of the things I learned from the test was that my personality type needs to say less and listen more, so that I’m not taking professional growth opportunities away from others in my group.”

Wellmaker also emphasizes that to communicate effectively with anyone, it’s crucial to consider their frame of reference. “Their frame of reference is comprised of elements including their culture and upbringing, values and belief systems, life and work experience, current environment and expectations, because those very filters determine their perception and reception of your message,” Wellmaker says.

Campbell reports that recently, she had a meeting with her supervisor to explain procedure forms she wanted to implement. She says she followed up with an e-mail memo briefly outlining the procedure, but when he received it, he stormed into her office, claiming that what they’d discussed and what her memo conveyed were two different things.

“He made remarks like, ‘Why do you always have to give me a hard time and challenge me — why can’t you just say you’ll fix it?’ I tried to consider his ‘frame of reference’ and realized he was playing a territorial game. So, instead of getting upset, I told him I’d send him another e-mail fully outlining the procedure,” Campbell says.

Patterson says the workshop’s roundtable discussions and role-playing exercises also helped improve his communications and listening skills. Heeding Wellmaker’s advice that effective communication can only happen with planning and delivery, Patterson says he’s altered his game plan for coaching and counseling sessions with subordinates: He contemplates and organizes the sequence of points he’ll address, anticipates counter-arguments that may arise and formulates explanations he might offer.

As for Duff, she says she was thrilled when her supervisor recently complimented her on the positive change in her communications approach. “My goal has become to listen more and say less, and her goal is to smack me if I don’t!”

How to reach: American Management Association, (800) 255-4141 or www.amanet.org/seminars/public



Watch your mouth

Do you talk team but communicate like an autocratic manager? Ineffective communication results in low morale, stalled productivity, high tension and increased turnover and absenteeism. Before you open your mouth, open your eyes and check out these guidelines for communicating with diplomacy and tact.

Understand. Dialogue shouldn’t simply stop when the directive is given. Communication is a two-way street that involves giving information and getting a response.

Evaluate. If you’re on the spot, hesitate before forming an opinion. If you’re not responding with empathy and diplomacy, you’re damaging your credibility and destroying your integrity.

Consider the four Ws and one H. Who are you talking to? What are you going to say? When and where will you say it — is this the right time or place? Why are you saying it — is the issue is more important than the relationship? How are you going to say it — watch your voice tone and body language.

Listen. Show respect for employees and professional peers when they speak. Ask questions to show interest and clarify points.

Observe. Watch their body language, voice tone and facial expressions for clues that reveal how they may be perceiving your message.

Respond. Determine if your intended message was perceived correctly by asking for clarification of what was discussed.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Diverse and efficient

The phone rings and Peter Young’s deal du jour is interrupted by a frantic customer begging a favor. Dialogue done, Young darts out his door. Sprinting past the row of administrative offices, he plucks a hair net from his suit pocket and covers his head before entering the sterile production area.

Production floor supervisor Pat Boyer harkens to familiar footsteps and looks up to see Young conferring with manufacturing manager Bill Scheppler. She doesn’t even have to surmise the conversation’s content. Boyer instinctively anticipates a changeover because it’s a typical scenario — and business as usual — at Harry London Candies Inc.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to production and asked them to switch over production lines to service a customer in a crunch or to do something very difficult because a desperate customer asked for something on tomorrow’s truck,” says Young, president of the North Canton candy manufacturer. “Instead of getting a groan, I always get a ‘No problem, we’ll get it done’ response.”

It’s all in a day’s work when you’re a world-class confectioner who creates some 2,000 comfort-food products people can’t get enough of. But a bystander business strategist might scan the company’s colossal product line, size up Young’s boyish countenance and presume his Pollyannaish perspective connotes a business naiveté that will eventually collapse his company.

Some would sermonize that the key to production efficiency and sales success is a narrowed product line and a fixed production schedule.

In his own defense, Young could cite Harry London’s stellar sales. But he doesn’t. (He does disclose that the privately held, family firm has had a 26 percent compounded annual growth since 1994, and, when pressed for an estimate, narrows 1998 fiscal year sales to “between $20 and $40 million.”)

Young could also boast about his economics and law degrees. He might maintain that his manufacturing method is pure prowess, buttressed by business acumen amassed while directing the international transactions of billion-dollar global glass manufacturer Guardian Industries Inc.

But the leader of Harry London, a third-generation confectionery founded in 1922, simply smiles and offers a plate of Pretzel Joys and an “on the other hand” viewpoint.

“The common business advice is that you have to focus on a limited number of products to be really good at something. But what if you could make a wide variety of products?” he poses. “So many of our customers, particularly big partners such as Disney, Segrams/Universal Studios, May Company, Dillards, Sally Foster and others we work with, don’t want to deal with a dozen different chocolate companies. They want one-stop shopping at a quality house. We’ve found that’s been a tremendous marketing advantage.”

Instead of scaling back on SKUs, the family has excelled in new product development, creating a large-scale quality line consistent with the firm’s reputation — from handed-down, hand-made recipes to the high-speed, high-volume products the company manufacturers today. Harry London has also found complimentary channels of distribution and established strategic partnerships with a blue-chip customer base.

The real challenge, Young acknowledges, has been how to supply the demand while being an efficient and low-cost producer.

“By our industry’s standards, to be able to make 2,000 products on 12 production lines is somewhat extraordinary. We’re unique in that we work very hard to be efficient while doing that.”

Harry London’s quest to pump up the volume and turn on a dime has resulted in a handful of de facto guidelines similar to a must-read manual for efficiency minded manufacturers.

Adapting technologies

Young says that even though Harry London makes the highest-quality chocolate in the world, the company strives to be the low-cost producer in everything it makes.

“If we see an area in which we’re inefficient, instead of saying, ‘This is a weakness so let’s stop doing it,’ we say, ‘How do we become efficient in this area?’ We can’t just go look up the candy buyer’s guide and say, ‘Oh, here’s a machine that could do this.’ We scour the world looking at technologies in other industries, and we adapt them to our own manufacturing methods.”

Young credits Joe Waggoner — his wife’s brother and Harry London’s grandson — with the technical savvy and production expertise that engenders efficiency on the floor. Waggoner, who grew up in the family business, concedes that when he returned to Harry London in 1988 after a four-year stint in the Army, he was concerned that many lines were still hand cut.

“I looked at that and said, ‘We can’t do that forever!’” Waggoner laughs. With knowledge of new technologies developed in other parts of the world, Waggoner envisioned tailoring those to his own industry to automate various practices and systems.

For one of Harry London’s confectionery processes, Waggoner adapted equipment and machinery initially designed for a semiconductor manufacturing business. He also applied principles and technologies originally developed for baking purposes in the pharmaceutical area.

When Young joined Harry London in 1994, the push was on to achieve higher volume. That required larger machines. But the equipment, by design, was less flexible and more difficult to change over for different product runs. That’s when the company began spending big bucks for custom-built equipment, devoting time to optimizing space and planning for expansion.

Space utilization

Any manufacturer can purchase a machine that spits out a lot of product. The task lies in making myriad products and packaging them in multiple ways simultaneously (be it flow wrap, twist wrap, boxed or bagged). Understanding how to use space efficiently and productively plays a big part in that process, says Waggoner. A production line might be only 50 feet long, but if space is not used efficiently, 200 feet might be needed for packaging.

“When there’s a load of pallets or totes crowding the packing area, that doubles the product handling process and reduces efficiency. The trick is to cut down on work in progress (WIP) space,” says Young.

Scrutinizing new technology, Waggoner found ways to reduce WIP. “Before, a machine that would wrap 50 pieces of candy might have been 50 feet long. Now, because of electronic control, they come in a little square box, making it very efficient,” he explains.

Waggoner says that, due to Harry London’s growth spurts and capacity constraints, raw materials and finished goods were once warehoused in the same location. The setup snagged efficiency. After recently doubling the size of its facility to 220,000 square feet, the company now has separate areas for packaging, shipping and receiving — and innovative systems for each.

In a seven-story warehouse, conveyer belts snake upward into a ceiling section with dedicated packaging bays. Packaged product is then directed to specific distribution stations. And instead of stacking product on traditional 60-inch high bins, a “long and high” rack design stages 40 truckloads worth of pallets.

“When you start looking at pushing the envelope in other products and areas, it’s a constant process. You can never settle back and be content with what you’ve got,” Young says. “Come spring, when the rest of our advanced production equipment and robotic packaging machines are installed, our production capacity will grow exponentially, because the type of equipment and space we’ve designed is even more efficient.”

Inventory control

Controlling inven tory, whether raw materials or finished goods, will make or break a company, Young says, because “it’s an enormous cost center.” For Harry London, manufacturing 2,000 SKUs means not only managing the product itself, but regulating the 20,000 or more items required to make it.

A new computer inventory control system that networks Harry London’s two on-site and three off-site warehouses has simplified the process. As product goes from raw material through production into finished goods and shipped product, everything is bar-coded and tracked via radio frequency.

Information is readily available in real time. The inventory control system is networked with purchasing, production scheduling and accounting systems.

“Now we plug in sales forecasts and the system actually tells us how much raw material we have in stock, what we need to order and when it needs to be here,” Young says. “If you’re going to make a lot of products and be good at it, you must be able to do this. Otherwise, it’s humanly impossible to manage efficiently.”

Fresh perspective

“If you’re an engineer and you grew up in one industry, your only frame of reference would be that industry. That really limits you,” Young observes. “But if you can bring in people with a lot of fresh ideas, you can think outside the box. That gives you a tremendous advantage.”

When Harry London died, his wife Iola brought in her daughter, Bonnie Waggoner (Harry’s stepdaughter) and Bonnie’s spouse, Cedric Waggoner. The business eventually passed to Harry’s grandchildren, Mercedes, Joe and Allison Waggoner.

“It was new blood and they brought in a fresh perspective. They made a good business team,” Young says.

He credits his wife with being the creative genius behind much of Harry London’s product development, particularly the Disney line. Allison Waggoner, though not a shareholder, is actively involved in the creative area of store merchandising and gifts.

“And Joe’s the guy when it comes to candy making, production machinery and laying out cost-effective production lines,” he says.

Harry London also recruited seasoned professionals from outside the industry to fill both technical and managerial roles. Young says doing so has resulted in higher efficiency and greater ingenuity.

“We brought in people that, when they applied their skills and knowledge to this industry, it was like a gold mine for us,” Young exclaims, offering as an example the highly technical military background of maintenance chief Greg Gagnon, a former Army buddy of Waggoner’s.

And the administrative roster reads like a Fortune 500 marquee: COO & CFO Ron Ocasek; VP of human resources and retail operations Frank Zeiher; and logistics director Dave Miles — all recruited from Reiser Foods; and marketing VP Maria Post and product development director Ginger Ryder — both lured away from Disney.

“They all came from different industries, but they have complimentary talents that were perfectly adaptable to us,” Young says. “Considering that last year we introduced about 200 new SKUs, and next year we’ll match that number, we’re thinking well outside the box.”

No politics allowed

Young counsels that to build an international powerhouse that is productive and efficient, you must have a highly skilled, elite work force that can work as a team. At Harry London, team chemistry is just as important as worker capability.

“We’ve been very careful about the folks we’ve recruited,” Young says. (Careful to guard against union infiltration, he will only say the number is “upwards of 350.”) “I’ve been to a lot of factories in my life and I wouldn’t trade one of our employees for anything. They all know what their responsibility is, they do it well, and they also know they’ve got to help each other.”

New hires at Harry London are clued in very quickly that egotistical “turf-territory thinking” is the first deadly sin.

“If there’s anything that wrecks productivity and kills a good worker’s spirit, it’s having to waste time and energy worrying about whether someone’s stabbing you in the back,” Young says. “One thing we don’t tolerate around here is ‘politics’ and ‘turf,’ because if you’re the victim of someone’s backstabbing, it’s impossible for you to be productive. It’s like a cancer in an organization.”

Young says that if an individual can’t check his or her ego at the door and operate as part of a team, that person doesn’t belong at Harry London.

Strategic partnerships

Since many confectioneries are family firms, and candy making is a seasonal business, there’s a common justification to eschew expensive equipment purchases that, if in place, would make a manufacturer more efficient.

“A lot of companies in our industry say, ‘Why spend a million dollars on this piece of machinery if it’s only going to run six months out of the year?’” Young confides.

He says that developing strategic partnerships with other companies has enabled Harry London to make full use of its equipment throughout the year, resulting in greater efficiency all around.

Contract business with big players such as Disney and Universal has helped plateau seasonal peaks and valleys that bite into the bottom line of other confectioners.

“These strategic partnerships have worked great for us, because their high season is late spring and summer, which is our slow season,” he says.

Young reveals that his “pie chart for success” has become a mix of branded wholesale products (50 percent), retail margin sales (20 percent) and private label contract business (30 percent).

“Our branded wholesale business includes co-branded products like Disney’s ‘Mickey & Co.’ product line, and the ‘Dawgpound Chocolates’ deal we just closed with Bernie Kosar. Our retail margin sales includes our eight Harry London stores, our mail order division, Internet sales, fund-raising and corporate gifts. And our private label business includes specially developed lines for Disney and others.”

Young says that mix will change as the company grows. And grow it will, he assures.

“We’re moving forward with some fairly major and aggressive marketing programs. Our retail and branded wholesale business is going to grow explosively, and, with a projected sales growth of 70 percent, the real fireworks start next year.” How to reach: Harry London Candies Inc., (800) 321-0444

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Constructing a qualified crew

What’s there to do when a scarcity of qualified workers thwarts an employer’s attempts to build a proficient work force?

Whether it’s job retraining in an employee’s current field or career development in a different direction, many firms are offering continuing education opportunities for workers to acquire and enhance position expertise.

Alltel Communications Inc. is one such company that recognizes the importance of training and ongoing education.

“Being the size of company we are, with approximately 25,000 employees, there are a lot of advancement opportunities within our organization, not just in Ohio but throughout the country,” says John Dascenzo, human resources manager at Alltel’s Hudson regional headquarters. “But those opportunities often require degrees or additional education. So we offer tuition reimbursement not just to try to retain employees, but to give them advancement opportunities within the corporation.”

Cathy Wilkins, an Alltel employment recruiter, says Alltel offers as much as $2,000 per person in annual educational assistance to all full and part-time employees. There’s no waiting period for new employees to participate, nor are there restrictions on where students may take courses.

“Since we’re geographically located between Cleveland, Akron and other areas, and our employees are so spread out, they go to Kent State, the University of Akron, Cleveland State and elsewhere. It’s just wherever they want to go,” Wilkins says.

Courses must be related to that employee’s job, though, and pre-approved by the HR department.

“If it’s not a job-related course, it has to be toward a job-related degree,” says Dascenzo. “We’ll pay 100 percent of the course as long as they get an A, B or C, up to a $2,000 annual limit. For an undergraduate degree, that will usually pay for three or four classes a year.”

Dascenzo says the company’s investment in employee training and education pays off for everyone.

“Whether they’re taking two classes or pursuing a degree, a lot of these people stay with us and move on to other opportunities within our company,” he says. “We feel like they’re gaining the skills we need in certain positions and when those openings come up, they’re applying for the jobs and getting them.”

Moving up

Susan Green may be one of the most enthusiastic proponents of Little Tikes Co.’s continuing education program. Not only does she run the program as a Little Tikes HR rep at the company’s Hudson location, she’s taking advantage of the tuition compensation benefits by pursuing a B.S. in business administration at Kent State University.

“What I started to do was just take courses to improve my knowledge of my position. But now I really want to major in human resources,” she says.

Green says Little Tikes prefers to promote from within and considers the qualifications of internal candidates first. That’s one reason the company makes self-improvement opportunities available to all employees.

“We’ve moved up quite a few people from the manufacturing area into division level positions — me included,” she says.

When Illinois-based Newell Co. acquired the company earlier this year, Little Tikes switched to the NewellRubbermaid policy, which offers its full-time employees tuition compensation for courses taken at accredited schools or colleges.

“As long as you start the course after your hire date, you’re eligible for reimbursement for registration, tuition, books and laboratory fees,” Green says. “For an A average, we pay 100 percent of the course; for a B, 85 percent; for a C, 70 percent,” she says. Book costs are reimbursed at 100 percent if the employee scores a “C” grade average or better, she adds.

Green says the best thing about attending Kent State is its tuition deferral policy.

“If your company reimburses you for tuition, all you have to do is fill out a form, supply a copy of your company’s tuition reimbursement policy, and your tuition is deferred until the end of the course when you’re reimbursed by your company. That’s really good for me, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to go,” she says.

Looking out for the employees

SGS Tool Co. in Munroe Falls offers continuing education benefits to its work force of almost 500.

“We promote lifelong learning for our employees because we want them to continuously improve themselves,” says Gary Miller, a training specialist in the company’s training and education department. “It gives them a sense of well being by showing that our company is looking out for them. It also makes them more efficient in their jobs.”

Since most of its work force is on the manufacturing side, SGS picks up the entire tab — including tuition and books — for machine operators who wish to complete a four-year apprenticeship program at Akron Machining Institute in Barberton.

“At the end of their four-year apprenticeship, they get a journeyman toolmaker’s card, which is recognized by the state of Ohio,” Miller says. “The only requirement for reimbursement is a one-year waiting period for new employees, a minimum grade average and completion of the work-required courses.”

The company also has a tuition compensation plan that reimburses employees $300 per semester up to a $2,400 lifetime cap for any courses applicable to their jobs.

“That could be anything from AutoCAD to accounting to computer training and executive assistant courses — anything that helps them do their job better. And it’s their choice where they want to go, whether it’s the University of Akron, Kent State or offsite seminars put on by American Management Association and others,” Miller says.

Strength in numbers

Kelli Baxter, coordinator of Kent State’s business and industry outreach program, notes that some companies seeking specific training or continuing education courses are better served by “contract programs.”

“That’s where we contract with a company individually to provide training just for their employees, customized for their specific needs,” she explains. “If a company has a group of 20 employees or so and they all want to attend one of our open-enrollment programs, it might be more economical for them if we went in and contracted with that company to provide a customized program.”

The University of Akron also offers corporate contract programs, says William Beisel, dean of continuing education — in addition to volume discounts for three or more students in open-enrollment programs.

“We offer a 10 percent per-student discount to companies who send three to four employees to the same class, and a 15 percent per-student discount for five or more employees in the same class,” he says. “We encourage multiple enrollments from companies because the more support we receive from the business and industrial community, the more cost effective it is for us to offer our programs and services.”

Recruiting tools

“The job market is so tight right now that it’s very hard for employers to get and keep qualified employees. So, companies are becoming creative in how to attract and retain them,” says Linda Littler, co-owner of Carey & Littler Staffing Inc. in Hudson and Fairlawn. “And it’s not just one kind of company that’s doing it.”

Growing numbers of job seekers who go to Carey & Littler for permanent job placements are intrigued by continuing education benefits, Littler observes.

“Used to be, when they said benefits, they meant medical coverage. That’s not so anymore. They don’t just want medical, they also want savings, retirement and educat ion plans. They’re looking to see what they can personally gain. And that’s how they’re making their decisions about staying,” she says.

Wilkins says candidates who want to advance their education make good employees for Alltel. “So, we also use our tuition reimbursement program as a recruiting tool to attract good candidates,” she says.

Green says the Little Tikes’ program is a draw when presented to prospective employees.

“That is one plus they really like and I think it does help pull in new hires,” she says.

How to reach: The University of Akron Continuing Education and Evening Division, www.uakron.edu/ce; Kent State University College of Continuing Studies, www.kent.edu/continuing_studies; Hiram College Weekend College, hwc@hiram.edu


It’s never to late

While many employers offer some sort of continuing education or tuition reimbursement package, in some companies, only a small percentage of employees take advantage of the offer.

The National Institute for Work and Learning estimates that less than 5 percent of the estimated 24 million workers who could access their companies’ continuing education benefits actually do so. The Washington, D.C.-based trade group contends that blue-collar workers are the least likely to use tuition reimbursement benefits.

Little Tikes HR representative Susan Green says that only about 3 percent of the 1,700 employees at Little Tikes’ locations in Hudson and Sebring, Ohio, and City of Industry, Calif., participate in her company’s tuition reimbursement program.

“Even with the number of employees we have on the floor down here, I’m really surprised at the number that aren’t taking advantage of it,” she says. “We have a very young population here and perhaps they’re just not ready to go to college. Maybe it’s just that the drive or motivation isn’t there. They might be happy with what they’re making in wages and that’s all they want to satisfy themselves. But we’re trying to push associates to use this program to improve their knowledge and help them step up in the company.”

Gary Miller, a training specialist at SGS Tool, says that in the last five years, only 200 SGS employees — fewer than 40 annually — have participated in the company’s tuition reimbursement program.

“I think their demanding work schedules are one reason they don’t enroll in major colleges or universities,” Miller says. “Sometimes they work 40-50 hour weeks and that might interfere with college course schedules, which meet three and four times a week. The Akron Machining Institute Program is only one evening per week. From the people I’ve talked to, they find it easier to go to that.”

But Miller doesn’t consider the percentage of participants low compared to the number of SGS employees who’ve already taken advantage of the program.

“We have a lot of associates who’ve been here for 10 years or so who have already gone through the program,” he says.

And John Dascenzo, Alltel’s HR manager, views the percentage of employees who make use of Alltel’s tuition reimbursement program as high.

“We have segments of our work force that are pursuing their degrees and taking advantage of it,” he says.

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