Courie Weston

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Bad check woes begone

Nothing is worse than being shortchanged. Consider what it does to your business when you find yourself in a vicious cycle of cashing bad checks and calling collection agencies.

Usually, it's your cash flow that suffers.

Banks typically charge fees of $5 to $6 for every check that bounces. If your company cashes hundreds of bad checks each year -- or even each month -- the fees rack up. Simply passing that charge on to the customer isn't the best method of customer service, especially when your only other solution would be to eliminate taking checks at all.

But dealing with bad checks doesn't have to be so costly, explains Michael Kline, president of E-collect of Ohio. Kline, a CPA and fraud examiner, says there's another way.

In late 1998, Congress passed a law legalizing electronic monitoring of bank accounts. That's opened the door for a new type of collection agency that can monitor consumer -- and business -- accounts so that bad checks can be redeposited electronically when funds are made available in the account.

Kline says the law limits to $2,500 the amount of checks that can be redeposited. That's created a niche for companies such as E-collect.

Here's how Kline says this type of service can benefit your company.

Reduce fees

In business, cash is king. When your cash flow suffers, it begins to affect many other aspects of your business.

Electronic collection agencies don't cost the business owner money, instead drawing a fee from the check writer's account.

Kline says when a check bounces, the bank sends it to companies such as E-collect. E-collect then monitors the account electronically and extracts the money when the moment it becomes available.

While that works well for smaller businesses, for large retailers or wholesalers who accept checks -- which Kline categorizes as large users -- it works even better. Kline defines very large users as those which receive more than 100 bad checks each month, such as grocery store or drug store chains.

Those businesses are accustomed to paying banks a $5 or $6 fee when they attempt to cash bad checks. In fact, they consider it a cost of doing business. Under the large user program, that fee is replaced by a 50 cent fee, which is covered by E-collect.

Explains Kline, "Theoretically, large users save tens of thousands of dollars per year."

Improve cash flow

Chasing down bad debts can be a lengthy process. Using electronic collection agencies slashes that time dramatically.

"Getting that money is accomplished in days as opposed to weeks or months," Kline says.

Industry standards for redepositing checks vary -- some banks do it, others don't. But, Kline says, with this type of system, the redeposit rate is 50 to 75 percent higher than usual.

Focus on your clients, not their debts

Kline offers some unconventional advice: "Studies have shown that the more contact there is between the bad check writer and the company they gave the check to, the less likely the customer will come back to that business."

That's because customers who accidentally wrote bad checks feel embarrassed and don't want to face that business owner or clerk again. So, they often take their business elsewhere and hope not to write any more bad checks.

With electronic monitoring and redepositing, that face-to-face contact disappears. Says Kline, "There really is no contact at all."

Who would have thought that less contact with your customers could actually increase your business? How to reach: E-collect of Ohio, (216) 663-4772

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

High-tech persuasion

It wasn't long ago that witness depositions and fingerprints were considered the most important evidence in a trial, but that time has long passed.

Today, fingerprints are studied and depositions taken, but advances in technology lead lawyers, police officers and investigators to demand more.

In the past decade alone, DNA testing and strand and fabric analysis have become the norm. The new millennium promises greater change aimed at helping lawyers present their cases in high-tech fashion.

The goal is to engage jurors while at the same time educating them with a persuasive case. After all, we live in an era in which we opt for quick Internet news headlines via a personal digital assistant or cell phone (or soon, both in one device) and talk shows rather than a newspaper or magazine.

Lawyers, then, have no choice but to offer jurors the same glossy high-tech presentation or risk losing their interest and the case. At the same time, they must present complicated scientific evidence. So how do they overcome the challenge of both tasks?

Dan Copfer, president of Visual Evidence, has made a business of incorporating technology into the courtroom. He says there are several ways technology will invade the courtroom in the coming months, including what the new justice center will offer.

Satisfying the TV crowd

To keep a jury's attention, information today is presented more visually.

"The approach to presenting the trial has changed over the years now that we're in the commercial driven television age," Copfer says.

He says today's jury is made up of baby boomers -- the "TV crowd," as he puts it -- for whom pictures are more digestible than words.

Lawyers, he explains, are presenting more cases via laptop computers in an interactive format in which graphics are projected from the laptop onto a screen. This technique is especially useful for the presentation of statistical data such as charts, graphs and trends, as well as detailed maps of locales, documents or video depositions.

Videoconferencing is another way lawyers are implementing technology.

"If doctors or experts can't come to town for a trial, we bring them in by videoconferencing, live," says Copfer. "They can be sworn in and testify" without the the time and cost of travel. Videoconferencing is sometimes preferred for security reasons, since a violent prisoner can be kept in jail during arraignments.

Lawyers are also able to use the Internet to file cases electronically and see real time court reporting. Irene Renillo, co-owner and partner in Renillo Reporting Services, says she realizes the demand for lawyers to be in 10 places at once can be quelled by putting court reporting on the Internet. Now, they can read what is being said in a courtroom anywhere in the world with a delay of only a few seconds.

"Litigation changes your life dramatically," says Renillo. "By using videoconferencing or Web depositions, lawyers are able to live better."

And, because they can access information from home, they are able to "protect the priorities in their lives."

Keeping a lid on costs

Like Renillo, Copfer notes the cost savings involved in using technology in the courtroom.

Copfer, who was on the design committee for the new federal courthouse being built downtown, says that in six of the new courtrooms, the federal government is paying for electronics that lawyers previously had to pay for themselves by hiring a company like his.

"By the court's paying for this, it brings the playing field even -- small businesses have the same access to electronics as wealthy companies," says Copfer. "They still have to put a program together, but the equipment is there."

As an example of how high technology costs could be if attorneys were forced to foot the bill themselves, Copfer points to the tobacco trial in Akron last year. Rental costs for electronics ran upwards of $10,000 per week.

Instead, courtrooms in the justice center will offer monitors for each juror, Internet access at consul tables for quick access to case histories and what Copfer calls the "John Madden coach system," likening the traditional technique of drawing football plays on a television monitor to a new way of signing documents in the courtroom. For example, a doctor can now circle or indicate a name on a document from a monitor.

Courtrooms will also be equipped with headphones that are hooked up to the microphone system for the hearing impaired.

So how will this change the way the legal system operates? Not much, Copfer says. But, it will change the tools used by the players. How to reach: Renillo Reporting Services, (216) 523-1313; Visual Evidence, (216) 241-3443

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Beauty secrets

When Beth Cruz was in college in Michigan, her friends went to her to get their nails and hair done for free. Years later, when she opened a salon, she remembered that her friends wanted top quality services at as low a cost as possible.

Today, Cruz doesn't do nails or hair for free, but she has one goal in mind with her Beautyclub Petite Spa -- to offer professional spa and beauty services at more affordable prices than her competition.

Cruz says she realized a long time ago that forking over $100 to $200 for a massage was a luxury most people couldn't readily afford. And she noticed another trend among other local spas -- they raise prices to match the "going rates for services." That's created skyrocketing prices that many consumers have begun to complain about.

Cruz's reaction was simple: Offer the same services as competing spas but at prices that reflect the true costs of doing business, plus a small profit. That's resulted in prices as much as 50 percent lower than those of Cruz's competitors.

Since the spa's inception in January 1999, consumers have stood up and taken notice. Cruz's customer base has grown significantly, much of it at the expense of her competitors.

Here's how she's been able to do it.

Quantity without sacrificing quality

Like any good business owner, Cruz strives to offer customers a good deal for their money. At the same time, however, she says that to lure away a competitor's clients, she has to have high quality products and service.

"We require two years experience from all of our employees," says Cruz.

That, she explains, ensures equal comparisons by consumers when looking at Beautyclub's stylists and technicians.

Cruz also noticed that other spas don't offer a lot of space to clients and try to cram in as many stations as possible to maximize revenue.

"We don't want the clients to feel like they're cramped or holed into a closet," she says. "Our massage and pedicure rooms are larger than your normal spa or salon."

Continuous competitive intelligence

As a business strategy, Cruz routinely checks out prices at other spas and salons in the area to compare rates. So far, none have followed her lead and lowered prices.

"We're not seen as a threat yet," says Cruz. "But we will be."

Since her profit margin is smaller than that of other spas, Cruz doesn't spend money on advertising, relying instead on word of mouth to drive traffic. She says her lower prices have given consumers looking for price relief from other spas a place to investigate. As an example, she points to her price for hair color retouching: $30.

The competitors? An average of $60 for the same services.

Think like a customer

When Cruz visits competing spas to see their facilities and peek at their prices, she experiences their operations as both a business owner and as a customer. She asks herself if the facility would make a customer feel comfortable and at peace. She used the same attitude when she designed her own spa.

As an art major in college, Cruz may not have planned on taking care of business, but it gave her an advantage in understanding design techniques. Soft colors and warm lighting make customers feel comfortable and at ease, she explains.

That's not to say Cruz can't think like a business owner as well. She says she took location and accessibility into account when picking the site of her spa -- it's in a high-traffic area -- and every day, she assesses pricing, cleanliness and makes sure her staff is friendly.

These things, Cruz says, will go a long way in helping her expand her business. How to reach: Beautyclub Petite Spa, (440) 808-2772

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Key strategies

When the directors at Key Small Business launched an online solution center earlier this year, they were confident the solutions would satisfy their customers.

That's because they undertook an extensive testing process that included surveying customers to find out their top interests. They then tackled the more difficult task of matching those interests with partners who could fill customers' needs.

But designing the Web site clearly is just the beginning of the long-term project, explains Mike Butler, vice chairman of e-commerce and small business services.

"It's been a tradition within our business to do a lot of surveys of our customers and listen to what they need," he says. "We've found the small business customer is usually out of time and needs help to get things done, like with making deposits or getting their loan."

From these findings, Butler and Bob Stoeser, vice president of e-commerce, decided to develop a destination site where small business owners could find solutions for their day-to-day needs. Key's goal was not to position itself as an expert that can solve problems but as a resource center linked with the right partner-providers.

To gauge those needs, Key launched a personalization tool that asked visitors what components they would find useful on the site. The surveys revealed four distinctive topics: sales and marketing, accounting and bookkeeping, human resources and e-commerce.

But before Stoeser and Butler launched their search for qualified partners to handle those needs, they stopped and double-checked the accuracy of the results. Stoeser says he was concerned about whether the personalization tool evaluated what Key customers really wanted. Because they were testing on a public site, he wanted to ensure there was a difference between answers from Key customers and other visitors to the site.

"We were able to determine that 80 percent of our audience is (made up of) Key customers, which was real important to us," Stoeser says. "We wanted to meet our customers' needs."

Assured of the results, Stoeser and company set out to find partners. Stoeser says he wanted partners that matched a focus of growing and managing a business with impeccable customer service.

"Customer service is very important to our customers," he says.

Key's last -- and perhaps biggest -- concern was customer privacy and security issues. Profiles indicated that although customers want to play in the e-commerce game, they want their information to be secure. Explains Stoeser, "We make sure that the security in these particular relationships matches if not exceeds the bank's."

Key launched the solutions center Aug. 30 at www.key.com. And, even though it's up and running, the site is a constant work in progress.

Says Stoeser, "I've been known to put together three and four page e-mails about usability that I want to fix within a 24-hour period." How to reach: Key Small Business, (888) KEY4BIZ; (888) 539-4249

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

Friday, 19 July 2002 05:24

Total makeover

Paula Boykin is infuriated if she finds a burned-out light bulb in a restaurant. To understand her thinking, you need to look at it from her perspective -- the bulb is her nemesis.

Boykin, president of Spectrum Design Services, makes her living turning restaurants from simply passable into models of perfection. Her most recent project was Giovanni's Ristorante, one of a select group of four-diamond restaurants in Ohio and one of a very few that offers true Tuscan cuisine. Since she completed the Giovanni makeover, business is up 60 percent, says owner Carl Quagliata.

So what does it take to turn a restaurant around?

Continuous maintenance

Just because a restaurant looks great today doesn't mean owners should assume regular cleaning will keep it spotless. Boykin suggests an extensive wall-to-ceiling cleaning every six to 10 years, depending on traffic and competition.

High traffic adds to the amount of soil that can build up on seating upholstery (from spillage), on walls and ceilings (from smoke and fragrance), on carpeting (scuffs) and on tables (scratches). More business means that wear occurs faster, and old, worn tables and carpets aren't going to bring customers back.

Competition can factor in when a restaurant needs to update, as was the case at Giovanni's. Quagliata says sales had leveled off, so Boykin changed the restaurant's dark, basement-like ambiance to one that is light and warm.

Keep up with trends

Boykin warns that falling behind the competition by losing touch with current trends is a sure way to let sales drop off.

"We wanted to get rid of that 1970s look and lighten it up," says Boykin about Giovanni's outmoded look. "We used warm cherry woods, classic Corinthian columns and a color palette of golden rod mixed with the fresh colors of basil and sage to create an air of elegance that is both inviting and sophisticated."

She also added one private dining area -- complete with a fireplace -- that is closed off from the dining room. Another room, nestled between the main dining room and the kitchen, can be closed off with drapes.

Boykin used space in the foyer to house the restaurant's wine reserves, building wine racks right into the walls around the entryway to make good use of space.

Downtime is lost business

To ensure that customers didn't think the storied restaurant was going under, Quagliata had Boykin work on the main dining room for the first three weeks and kept the bar room open. Then, he shut the restaurant completely for three weeks to finish the work.

That, he says, resulted in a smooth transition for his customers, who were waiting when Giovanni's reopened its doors. It also helped protect Quagliata's half-million-dollar investment in the renovation while minimizing the risk of losing customers.

Boykin considers the project as success. And, there's one detail she's proud to share -- you won't find a single burned-out light bulb in Giovanni's.

She'll stake her reputation on it. How to reach: Spectrum Design Services, (216) 241-8450; Giovanni's Ristorante, (216) 831-8625

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

A little something extra

Melanie Otto remembers well the difficulty of holding down a job while raising two children. The juggling act was taxing, especially since her husband worked third shift.

Now, however, the headache has vanished.

That’s because Otto’s employer, U.S. Endoscopy, recently added an on-site day care center to its Mentor plant.

On-site day care centers are just one of a growing number of perks business owners are integrating into their operations to meet employee demand for greater benefits. Some companies are installing on-site services, while others contract outside firms to handle a variety of tasks — everything from dry cleaning to valet, concierge and limousine services.

Joan Rosenthal, owner of ServiceTime, provides those types of services to the employees of several downtown businesses.

“We wanted to offer a sort of ‘one-stop shop’ at the place of employment,” she says. “We go and pick up their clothes to clean, their shoes for mending or even a shopping list. We can even bring the employee an evening meal for his or her family.”

Rosenthal says several businesses, including KeyCorp, have utilized the service for their employees. Unlike U.S. Endoscopy’s daycare center, which is free to employees, workers must pay for the extras provided by ServiceTime.

But more and more employers are adding these services, and employees don’t seem to mind who foots the bill. That’s because more families these days have two breadwinners, and issues such as child care have moved to the forefront.

Initial investments are minimal, depending on what’s being integrated, says Allison Hanson, U.S. Endoscopy’s marketing manager. Her company brought in an outside firm, The Modern Child, to operate the day care center. And while the costs are relatively low, the impact is enormous.

“We have seen a decreased turnover in employees and the employees take less sick days,” Hanson says. “There has also been a huge boost in morale.”

One reason is that the center is free. Another is that the company developed it last year in an effort to increase worker productivity and satisfy employee demand for more benefits.

For Otto, the center has made her days easier.

“It’s just amazing,” she says. “I like the idea of spending time with the kids during the day. I can spend my lunch and breaks with them.”

How to reach: U.S. Endoscopy (800) 768-8226

Courie Weston is an editorial intern at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Moving on the Net

It seems that working a dead-end job can pay off.

When Michael Miller was in college, he worked as a mover at a Cleveland moving company. Twenty-five years later, he handles his own business, The Box Office, selling boxes and supplies at prices that are making competitors' jaws drop.

Two years ago, Miller put his business online. Today, he serves customers in all 50 states and six foreign countries.

When he opened The Box Office (www.the-box-office.com), he sold moving boxes and supplies such as tape, cord and packing materials. What he didn't do was offer moving services.

"I wanted to specialize," says Miller. "I know the moving companies sell boxes, but I don't understand why people would buy boxes from them when they can buy them from a store that specializes in just boxes and offers them for much cheaper."

But while that niche made Miller's company successful, it wasn't until he migrated it to the Web that he saw the advantages of reaching a larger group of prospects. Here's what he found.

Expand your customer base

One of the advantages of the Net, according to Miller, is the ability to serve far more clients. He has kept the physical store open for his loyal local customers, but now serves customers across the nation.

"I have taken orders from customers in California and Massachusetts on the same day," says Miller, who usually ships the day he receives the order.

One thing he's noticed is that customers are surprised at how quickly they receive their purchases; they expect to wait a week, but instead wait only a day or two. Customers also appreciate the competitive pricing. Miller says he's found that people in cities like New York and Los Angeles are choosing his services over local box suppliers.

Pick up the pace

The ability to react quickly has helped Miller decrease the time it takes to handle a transaction. The seller spends less time making the sale and the buyer makes purchases more quickly and easily.

"There's no salespeople who spend time talking," says Miller.

Instead of going through salespeople, customers go right to the product catalog and indicate what they'd like to purchase.

From the other side of the looking glass, Miller says, "Internet customers don't waste my time." Web customers log on, search his online inventory and place their orders.

"There are two kinds of customers with any business," says Miller. "There are those that are serious about buying, and those you want to keep. Then, there are also those that waste your time. I can identify the good customers through the Internet. Those are the ones who are serious."

Make everybody happy

Miller finds that serving customers online is cheaper and easier. He doesn't have to pay a sales staff; in fact, only three employees comprise The Box Office staff. Miller doesn't have to pay for bookkeepers, either; there is no need for bills.

"Purchases are paid for immediately," he says.

Miller also likes the fact that his customers are happier with Internet business. Customers can order from the convenience of their homes.

"Communication is enhanced," he says. "Customers can talk to people who are knowledgeable. I tell them, if they have questions, they can just call me."

While Miller may have had enough of being a mover, he does know how items should be moved and he's happy to offer his knowledge. In fact, a large part of his time is spent answering calls and e-mails about how certain items should be packed and moved. And that has become another part of his business.

"After a day at the office, sometimes I'll come home and spend two hours working from home, answering e-mails," says Miller.

The 45-year-old husband and father claims he is just trying to make things easier and more fun for everyone.

"I'm not a businessman," he says. "I'm a problem solver." How to reach: The Box Office, (216) 581-4189, www.The-Box-Office.com

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Charitable themes

When more than 700 Playhouse Square supporters jammed the lobby of the State Theater last year for the annual Jump Back Ball, more than $40,000 was raised to benefit the Playhouse Square Foundation.

Don Pushinsky, owner of All The Rage Unlimited, developed and designed a Hollywood theme for the evening, complete with movie star look-a-likes and a glitzy celluloid feel.

Many companies donate money to charity and the communities that support them, but far fewer make an effort to provide hands-on aid to benefit those who need it most. All The Rage, however, strives to help the nonprofit sector in as many ways as possible. Pushinsky says that by leveraging the company's expertise, it's possible to give more back than ordinary donations would allow a company of its size.

All The Rage is a 10-employee special events production company that works with companies and organizations to design and execute event planning, from conceptualization through production.

Here's how Pushinsky uses his business to make a difference in the community.

Give expert advice

With the resources and expertise that his company boasts, Pushinsky makes a dedicated commitment to community. His favorite way to help charities is to have All The Rage sit on boards to aid in planning benefits. Among the groups he's done this for are the Playhouse Square Partners, the Cancer Society, Cleveland Indians Charities, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Beechbrook Home For Children and The Multiple Sclerosis Women's Committee.

"Since we do this for a living, we'd like to go onto boards and advise them how to make the most with their money and how to market their event well and we do that all complimentary," Pushinsky says. "We just try to raise the bar for these guys -- it's our favorite thing to do because it's what we do best."

Such was the case with the Playhouse Square events that he helps with each year. While having a large bash is nothing new, the idea of creating related themes that partygoers can step into character for adds an entirely new dimension to the fund-raising process.

Get employees involved

Besides being directly involved himself, Pushinsky routinely tells employees to take time off. Of course, when he gives them time off, it is with a good cause in mind -- employees are encouraged sit on the boards of local nonprofit organizations and provide advice, similar to what Pushinsky does.

To make the offer more attractive, he invites employees to make use of the company's resources and expertise, and they can aid any cause they choose.

"We encourage them to help at least three different causes each year," says Pushinsky. "And when they get on boards, we become a corporate sponsor to back them, to give them support."

Don't forget about traditional donations

On a corporate level, All The Rage makes donations each year to nonprofit organizations. Thirty percent of the company's total revenue is earmarked to aid charity, Pushinsky says. And, all charities and nonprofits benefit with a 50 to 70 percent discount on All The Rage's services above and beyond consulting-type work.

Pushinsky can't hide his selflessness when asked to explain why community service is so important to him.

"It's just a great way to give back to the community," he says. "It's a way for employees to take pride in a company, and it shows that it's more than just about business for us; it shows our personality."

But he recognizes the limitations with a small staff. So each year, employees meet to determine which charities will receive All The Rage's assistance.

"We pick and choose each year," he says. "There are some favorites of ours -- for instance, we're always on Cancer, but the rest we vote on." How to reach: All The Rage Unlimited, (800) 745-8256

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Making the pitch

After 28 years with Dix & Eaton, Ed Stevens knew it was time to buy his own advertising agency.

Around the same time, Selma Baron was looking to sell. So, in April 1999, Stevens bought Baron Advertising, changed the name to Steven Baron Advertising, and changed his role from employee to business owner.

Most would expect the wily advertising veteran to bust his butt in search of new clients to grow his business. Instead, Stevens expanded the scope of services offered to his existing clients.

The move resulted in a 40 percent jump in gross income in his first fiscal year as owner. Here's how he did it.

Expand your services

Stevens says he wonders whether Stevens Baron is indeed an advertising agency or if it has transformed into something else.

"You can't just have an advertising agency anymore," says Stevens. "You have to provide other services."

He added public relations services, crisis communication and Web development. The choices, he says, resulted from surveying clients to determine what they wanted.

"We wanted to hear from the clients how we could improve ourselves," says Stevens.

Clients also expressed the desire to work with one company offering wider services instead of hiring, for example, one firm for advertising and one for public relations. Crisis communication, he discovered, was in high demand among Stevens Baron's food accounts.

"In the event of a product recall or other crisis," says Stevens, "you want to be sure you minimize the damage and are forthright with the media."

Get technical

Breaking into Web development seemed a logical step in making the firm more competitive.

Explains Stevens, "You go to a PRSA conference and a third of the sessions are tied to something on the Web. It's the wave of the present."

But technology isn't offered just to clients, it's also available to his employees. Prior to Stevens' buyout, employees often shared workstations and terminals. Now, all have their own computers.

And rather than rely on one platform, the firm utilizes PCs and Macs to achieve superior text and art capabilities. Stevens also installed an on-site server and hired IT personnel and graphic designers to handle all the firm's Web site design and development.

Keep employees happy

After upgrading and expanding services, Stevens wanted to make sure his employees were happy.

"We brought in a bonus system that encourages employees to work hard and focus on client service," Stevens explains. "We weren't really competitive about wages, so I gave a lot of raises out to motivate people."

When Stevens noticed dissatisfaction among employees that the company didn't allow them additional training, he sent them to school. Employees now take classes on Web site development, direct mail, media buying and crisis communication.

"We want to get employees excited about what we're doing," he says.

And now, in a little over a year with Stevens at the helm, Stevens Baron has turned into an all-purpose advertising firm. But with all the changes, Stevens debates whether Stevens Baron is really an advertising firm at all.

"My feeling is that what we really want to be is a PR firm that does great advertising," he says. "Dix & Eaton walked away from advertising. I don't ever want to do that." How to reach: Stevens Baron Advertising, (216) 621-6800

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Throwing for the end zone

Patrick Hergenroeder doesn't understand what all the buzz is about. Although he knows he is a Pillar Award honoree for his work with youth sports groups, he still contends that he's done nothing special.

Bill Dieterle disagrees.

A close friend, Dieterle nominated Hergenroeder for the award without telling him. It was Dieterle who brought to the judges' attention all the things the orthopaedic surgeon and owner of Chagrin Falls-based Hergenroeder Orthopaedic Clinic has done for the community.

Conceding his efforts are noteworthy, Hergenroeder still says he's disappointed -- he sees so much that can be done to make the world a better place, but he's only one person who can do only so much. It's that attitude that underscores the doctor's commitment to making a difference.

For instance, does someone who calls himself "nobody special" donate 500 footballs every year to underfunded athletic organizations? Hergenroeder gives 10 to 15 new footballs to between 33 and 50 high schools and organizations each year.

And does someone who argues that he is "just one person" donate autographed footballs and baseballs to area high school athletic booster clubs so they can raffle the items off to raise money for their organizations? The autographed pieces he donates have sold for $500 to $900 apiece, becoming key tools for school funding.

Hergenroeder says he doesn't have the time or the money to do all that he wishes he could, yet he finds enough time to offer free CPR training. After he read an article that said many heart attack deaths could be prevented with the use of CPR, he decided to teach it to schoolteachers, store managers, office receptionists, librarians and anyone else who comes in contact with the public every day.

Some would say that Hergenroeder has more than done his share. Yet he says he'd like to do much more.

"Your record here on Earth has to stand for itself," he says. "When you die and go into the box, nothing else goes with you."

Hergenroeder says the world is definitely a better place today than it was a hundred years ago. We continue to conquer disease; we have electricity. But, he says, it's imperative that people not take modern conveniences for granted if that trend is to continue.

"We have to excel," Hergenroeder says. "If we don't go forward, we go backward. We have to put in more than we take out and make the world better for the people who will be here after us."

Hergenroeder continues to put in more than he takes out. Each June, he lines up 14 retired Cleveland Browns players to aid area high school and college coaches with a youth football camp that trains 100 to 150 inner-city students. The former pros talk with students about drugs, drinking, smoking and the importance of staying in school.

So does Hergenroeder make a difference? It's a safe bet that the world probably seems a little better to those kids after the camps than it did before. How to reach: Hergenroeder Orthopaedic Clinic, (440) 247-2644

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.

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