E-mail delivers savings along with messages
By DIANA McGONIGAL
When a local law firm had desktop e-mail installed for each of its 30 attorneys, no one realized how much it would affect internal relationships and the bottom line.
When Eric Johnson, executive director for Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., first joined the Canton firm in 1996, everyone shared a central e-mail/Internet access computer. Since then, the firm has purchased laptop computers for every attorney, and desktop e-mail has been installed in the office for all of the firm's 65 employees.
"There are tremendous advantages internally and externally," Johnson says. "Communication is always a challenge for a law firm. With 30 attorneys running all over the place, it's sometimes difficult for them to deal with internal issues. E-mail has helped us tremendously."
Canton's National Computer installed the firm's current e-mail/Internet system. Account Executive Beth Gerber says desktop e-mail offers more privacy, remote access and immediate notification of incoming messages.
Johnson says the new system has decreased one factor within the firm that clients won't miss-cost.
"With clients, cost control is always an issue," Johnson says. "Faxes, transcriptions, courier charges and copies can now be mitigated as a result of [desktop] e-mail."
But how should a business handle excess cash? There are several factors to consider. Whether you are looking for short- or long-term returns, the amount available, and the desired access to cash all impact the success of your strategy.
Brad Forward investment executive for Key Investments in Akron, a subsidiary of Key Corp., suggests smaller companies looking for short-term returns take advantage of money market accounts through their banks. This allows immediate access to cash and offers a 4 percent to 5 percent return.
Another option is a renewable seven-day certificate of deposit, which allows for liquidation at the end of each week. Interest rates range from 4.5 percent to 4.75 percent, Forward says.
A long-term strategy could include an investment in mutual funds.
"Investors have to realize the markets have volatility," Forward says. "There's no guarantee of returns on the market, but as we've seen in the last few years, it's provided explosive returns."
Dave Myers, taxes director for business consulting firm Heinick, Apple, Palmer, Gaino, McCann based in Akron, sees a different approach for excess cash.
"I'm a believer in trying to work down debt with extra cash," Myers says. "Or consider paying yourself a bonus. Business owners deal with a lot of stress and worry, and it may be worth it to take some extra salary home."
Myers suggests "paying down lines of credit," which provides an immediate impact on interest charges.
Another option is inventory acquisition.
"Sometimes assuming a greater inventory can provide better prices, but the costs of carrying the inventory must be weighed as well," Myers says.
"Investing in the company, perhaps by providing new technology to employees, can also help make a firm more efficient."
How to reach: Key Investments (330) 379-1444 and Heinick, Apple, Palmer, Gaino, McCann (330) 867-7350
Scott Smith says he's "been online since there was an online"-he was AOL's 3,000th customer-so it's only fitting he now runs a business via the Internet.
When he grew tired of having little or no job security, Smith opened Computer & Software Exchange in Akron and worldwide at www.computerexchange-akron.com.
Smith buys, sells, trades, upgrades and repairs computer hardware and software.
"I deal 98 percent with preowned equipment and software," Smith says. "We're shipping worldwide using the Internet as a medium for commerce. People see the online ads, we negotiate a price via e-mail and the items are shipped," Smith says. "I've never met many of my customers."
With new online customers, Smith usually requires a check or money order in U.S. dollars before products are shipped. Once a relationship has been established, however, items are shipped before a check arrives.
One of Smith's highest-volume exports is more like a relic from the computer age's distant past.
"I specialize in Commodore systems and software," Smith says. "The schools and missionaries in Kenya use Commodores. One of my customers there has [approximately] 1,000 different titles of Commodore software."
Smith has also found markets for these obsolete antiquities in India, Pakistan, Ghana, South America and parts of Asia.
Company: Glas Ornamental Metals Inc.
Industry: Manufacture rod iron and brass products, such as spiral staircases, window guards and fencing
Age of company: 38 years
Number of employees: 12; average age: 35; majority with families
Health insurance carrier: Hometown Hospital Health Plan
Employees with insurance: 10
When last changed health insurance carrier: Two years ago
How long with previous health insurance company: Five years
Amount of premium employee pays: Nothing for an individual; employee pays the difference for family coverage, or about $150
Total average cost of premium per employee: $158 for individual; $310 for family
Deductible per individual and family: $5 office co-payment for primary physician in the network; $10 for specialist; no deductible and 100% coverage for services from network physicians and hospitals
Total out-of-pocket limit: N/A within network
"We follow the philosophy of preventative health care and that if a problem is taken care of early it won't end up being a major problem or expense."
Source: Karolina Glas, office manager, Glas Ornamental Metals
Company: Holub Iron and Steel Co.
Industry: Prepare scrap iron and steel (cut and sort to specifications) for mills
Age: 80 years
Number of employees: 25; average age 40; majority with families
Health Insurance Carrier: SummaCare Health Plan
Employees with company insurance: 19
When last changed health insurance company: One year
How long with previous health insurance company: Three years
Amount of premium employee pays: $8.64 per month for an individual; $11.92 per month for a family
Average premium: $275.29 per family
Deductible per individual and family: $10 office co-payment in the network; $200 deductible for individual; $400 deductible for family
Total out-of-pocket limit: $1,000 for single; $2,000 for family
"We've had no complaints from our employees about our coverage. Most say they are just happy to have insurance. Becoming a member of the [Akron Regional Development Board] has helped us get a better price for health-care coverage."
Source: Billie Lucas, controller, Holub Iron and Steel
Drive down any "industrial parkway" in any city, and you will find them. They proliferate in suburban offices and inner-city convenient stores. It's a nationwide call: HELP Wanted.
Even the most seasoned human resources professionals struggle to retain key employees. That phenomenon prompted management consultants Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia to form a non-profit, "proactive think- tank" in 1996 called the Workforce Stability Institute.
The institute is based in Greensboro, N.C., but operates online with a group of 12 consultants (or fellows) with expertise in various areas that affect workforce stability. The group completes research and provides mentoring, survey and assessments, seminars and recommendations for a stable workforce.
Chad Cook, the former director of human-resource development for Rubbermaid Inc. in Wooster, joined the institute and now serves as a consultant to his former employer from his Fairlawn office. Cook is the only Ohio member of the institute.
"We are a virtual organization, which exists loosely connected through our knowledge of one another's skills, abilities and resources," Cook says. "We have one specific mission in mind: to focus on stabilizing workforces.
"Most all of us have worked in the business environment and recognized a [general] dissatisfaction, not specific to any particular issue, that exists throughout the human-resources area of any organization. Our goal is to pin-point those issues and focus our resources on them and do something about the problems that exist."
The most frequent comment Cook says he hears from owners/managers is, "Our turnover has gone up, and we don't know why." Key employees are moving on to other opportunities.
The institute has found two areas of dissatisfaction lost employees say they feel: career development and communication.
"People are looking for a career," Cook says. "They are willing to stick with a company if the company is willing to commit to them ... to provide resources to their stability with the company and to their career."
In most organizations, there is a "barrier where information doesn't flow to the masses," according to Cook. Typically, employees are interested to know how their company is doing financially, if it is expanding globally and if any broad changes will take place.
"All of these questions are important," Cook says. "Employees are saying, 'This is where I earn my money and make a living. I want to feel secure about it. Treat me like a person and help me to become a part of the organization. Let me see the future and the career I can have with you.'"
Cook uses a survey to measure employee's perceptions of key areas that impact their decision to "stay or go." He has narrowed the list to 10 based on norms from his research:
- interpersonal communication
- personnel development
- performance feedback
- diversity support
- job satisfaction
- working conditions
The last three in the list are organizationwide issues. The other seven are "in the control of management-every supervisor in every worksite" can affect the outcomes of these categories, according to Cook.
As an institute fellow, Cook will also contribute to a monthly Workforce Stability Alert published by the institute. For more information on the newsletter or other reference materials available, check out the Institute's Web site at www.employee.org.
Lisa and Joseph Jefferys had sold 12 franchises, all in Ohio, when SBN spoke with them last August. Since then, they have sold 14 more east of the Mississippi and four international franchises in the Middle East.
Their company, Maids to Order, sells commercial and residential cleaning services plus add-on franchises for floor cleaning.
"We sell very slow-we don't want to 'production' sell," says Joseph, vice president. "When we sell a franchise, Lisa and I do personal training for the new owner. We are the founders, and we want to keep that personal touch we've always had."
New franchise owners are required to attend classes at the company's Canal Fulton training facility. When they return home, the Jefferyses go w ith them to help host grand opening ceremonies. Joseph says the reception they received during a trip to the United Arab Emirates to open franchises in Dubai, Shriah, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah was more than they expected.
"We felt like the president and first lady," he says. "About 400 people attended the grand opening dinner, including members of the royal family, embassy officials and top business executives."
The international franchise sales came from the company's Web site.
"We were contacted via the Web site. We negotiated terms on the Internet, money was wired to us, and we never spoke a word," Joseph says.
Each franchise is guaranteed to be successful and comes with an offer to buy it back after a year.
"No one ever wants to sell them back," he says.
The IRS knows of more than 1.6 million partnerships in the United States, and the total has been growing nearly 6 percent a year since 1990.
The bond business partners forge may include a personal friendship, but that alone is not enough.
What follows are three unique stories about partners, who have survived various stages of growth. We were curious about what enabled these alliances to stand the test of time, remain healthy and continue to grow.
Don't throw your equity around
William Barron bought Ideal Packaging & Supply Canton Tape Co. in 1977 from a little old lady. Her husband, who had run the business for years as a part-time enterprise, had died.
Barron didn't buy the company to continue running it from somebody's basement. But it took some time for him to realize his operational strengths would not be enough to build the business. He needed sales, and he wasn't the man for the job.
Barron called an John Carosielli, an old friend and a born salesman. Carosielli became a partner and vice president of sales in 1980.
Together, they took the packaging distributorship from a fledgling, part-time venture to a multimillion-dollar business now housed in a 12,000-square-foot building in North Canton. The partners, who had no employees when they joined forces, now have 14 full-time workers and a well-known presence among area manufacturers.
In a standard partnership agreement drawn up at the inception of their alliance, Barron retained majority ownership of the company.
He's reluctant to discuss the issue of equity, and his sensitivity to the subject may be one of the reasons the partnership has held up.
"I don't think I've ever exercised my majority say," Barron says. "I've never had to. John and I always work through things together."
Carosielli says he doesn't see his minority stake as being a disadvantage.
"It's never been an issue and Bill's never thrown it in my face," Carosielli says. "There's no question we have to treat each other as equals. If we didn't, it wouldn't have lasted long at all."
The two talk through major decisions but leave day-to-day decisions to their individual areas of expertise. Barron oversees operations and finance while Carosielli keeps a watchful eye on sales and marketing.
"It's not all milk and honey," Carosielli concedes. "Sometimes we argue. We don't scream and holler as much anymore, but we settle things."
When a deadlock does arise, Barron says they simply sleep on it.
"Usually by the next day, we've thought about it enough and we resolve it," Barron says.
"If it's really important to him or to me, we sit down and talk it over," Carosielli adds. "There's no easy way to decide sometimes, but we're both smart enough to go with the better idea."
Sometimes, the process is slow. Though that can be frustrating, both agree their relationship depends on the unspoken agreement that they'll take as much time as necessary to come to an agreement on important issues.
"We had a new salesperson and wanted to track her progress," Barron says. "When she said she was doing really well, John and I looked at each other and wondered, 'If she's doing well, why doesn't the computer system say she is?'"
While Carosielli wanted to handle the situation, Barron convinced him, after much discussion, to go through three months of sales reports together.
"I was mad," Carosielli says. "Why wouldn't the computer do this for us? We spent hours pouring over reports together. Bill had other things to do and so did I. But there was no other way to verify what the computer was telling us. By both of us sitting down, we did it in less time."
Barron leans back in his chair, deeply contemplating every word, and Carosielli smiles the way only a true marketing guru can.
"I don't believe Bill has ever lied to me, and I've never lied to him," Carosielli says. "Honesty is a basic need for a partnership to work. Once you start lying to one another, trust is gone, and eventually the partnership will be also."
Barron says experience counts, but knowing a partner well is just as important.
"We have a common goals, we just have different ways of getting there," Barron says. "We sit down and hash through it, and we will end up working it through because we both know what we want to do."
It may sound a little corny but Barron and Carosielli genuinely admire one another. The mutual respect is part of what makes their alliance work.
Barron says of his partner, "He's a damn good salesman."
Carosielli counters, "Well, he's so good with figures, he could take on most bankers."
But the mutual admiration is reserved for the office. The two no longer socialize with each other.
"We did in the beginning," Carosielli says. "But we see each other enough at work now."
A higher purpose
Robert Beougher started installing and repairing overhead doors in 1963. Heidi Beck has been working in the business since 1952. Both could have retired back in 1993, when their employer at Reliable Door got tired of losing money and set out to close the business.
Instead, they bought it and changed the name to H&R Door Co. Inc. It stands for Honest & Reliable, and it's the duo's goal of living up to the name that keeps the partnership strong.
Not only did they buy a dying business five years ago, but they also didn't have the money for an advertising campaign to turn it around quickly. Further, competition in their industry is fierce; the company has been unable to raise prices in three years.
"The cost of our equipment and supplies has gone up some but with all the competition, we just can't raise our prices," Beougher says.
As a result, if they're going to succeed, it's going to be by word-of-mouth, and that means doing more than giving customers what they pay for; it means leaving them delighted.
Eighty percent of the company's business is residential, and Beougher estimates that eight out of 10 clients come through referrals-thanks to the solid reputation the two partners have built.
"Our business philosophy is when a job is finished, I want the customer to be satisfied, but I also want to be satisfied with the work," Beougher says. "I've seen so many people being taken advantage of. I guess that's why we wanted the name of the company to reflect our philosophy.
"We've been able to establish a good reputation," he continues. "People from other Canton [door] companies can't believe the relationship we have with our customers."
The bond of trust between Beougher and Beck is apparent as they discuss their business. Beck's eyes light up when she recalls the decision to buy the failing company.
"It wasn't a case of choosing each other as partners," Beck says. "We were here already. But we are lucky."
Working together is one thing but now the 50/50 partners work together as owners. They work constantly at agreeing not to disagree. Each leaves the other to make final decisions in his or her area of expertise, but both say open discussion is vital.
If anything will strain a partnership, it's hard times. And the company has been through some of that recently, after inventory and tools started to disappear.
"We had some labor problems," Beougher says flatly. "Everything from impact wrenches and hand tools to electronic radio controls were missing. We sat down and talked and decided we needed help from the outside to make a decision.
"We got to the point where we had to do something-either file charges or get rid of some of the employees."
But they couldn't agree on how to handle the problem, so they brought in an attorney for advice and perspective.
"We're both very motivated and expressive, but not pushy," Beougher says. "We have no trouble making decisions. We sit down and ta lk about things and realize with some problems, we need outside help."
As a result of their process, Beougher and Beck fired five employees and kept only one.
It was a decision that has tested their belief in the company's mission and each other because now they have to rebuild.
Beougher's 83-year-old father helps out where he can, and Beougher works extra hours to help make up for the loss of manpower until new employees are hired.
"Our goal is to get the corporation back to at least three or four employees," Beougher says. "We don't want to become a big corporation. We'd like to keep it small but profitable."
The first milestone
Tim Bush and Mike Schiltz worked together long before they became financial partners. And from the beginning, they knew they'd do well in business.
"The toughest decision we have to make together is where to go to lunch," says Bush, a partner with Schiltz in Milepost Productions. "So we have a dartboard with a complete system for choosing places to go. We recognize each other's strengths and rely on them."
Schiltz and Bush consider themselves to be close friends as well as partners.
Because they have rarely disagreed, they didn't see a formal partnership agreement as a priority.
In fact, Schiltz says they were "scared into" having a partnership agreement by friends and associates.
"When we first got into ownership issues, we were both very much idealists," Schiltz says. "But when we thought about it, it made complete sense to have an agreement."
Milepost Productions produces corporate training videos, advertisements and public relations videos as well as documentaries, such as the history of Stark County. The company is also getting into production for Web sites and computer CDs.
Sales have doubled in the past two years, since they bought the business, and the partners have brought on their first full-time employee.
The two met while Bush was working as a producer and editor for a Massillon-area video production house known as Bill Dewald & Associates Productions. Dewald was a "hands-off" owner, allowing Bush to run day-to-day operations of his company.
Schiltz was a freelance videographer and producer. When he needed a place to edit videos for clients, he rented equipment from Dewald.
Schiltz and Bush quickly became friends and enjoyed relying on one another's skills. Eventually, they offered to buy out Dewald altogether.
"We thought, 'Why work for a guy who isn't here and isn't coming back?'" says Bush. "The great thing about it is, Bill [Dewald] got to do what he wanted to do, and so did we."
While they're close friends, the two owners have different interests.
"I don't like marketing and sales, and I didn't do well at it," Bush admits. "The way the company ran before was, we waited for the phone to ring. When Mike and I bought the company, we wanted to bring in new business. When you're relying on the phone to ring, you also have to take whatever business you can get."
Schiltz's background is in marketing, and he says the new company needed to present itself not only to potential clients but also to the greater community.
"When we first started, we actually had other business owners tell us they thought our company was making pornography videos," Schiltz says. "But now we walk into well-established firms, like Republic Engineered Steels and get a contract."
"We both had goals of owning our own businesses before we even met," Schiltz says. "It's like any partnership ... it's like a marriage. You've got to work at it."
Canton Computer Services Inc.
4140 Holiday St. NW, Canton
Provides computer network design and support, programming services, Internet solutions and facilities management to clients in eight states.
Budget Q&A with Jim Rutledge, president
When is your yearly budget completed?
January of each year
Who does the budget?
The officers of the company, along with the CCS staff
What role does your accountant play?
Our accountant prepares the preliminary budget figures which are reviewed by our staff.
What software do you use to prepare the budget?
Custom programs which were developed by CCS
Do you have an in-house bookkeeper?
Do you have a different person doing payables and receivables?
No, however different management personnel are involved in the approval processes and all distributions are reviewed by the president.
Salaries and benefits: 42%
Operations and equipment: 25%
Insurance/workers compensation: 1%
Advertising and marketing: 2%
How to reach: Canton Computer Services Inc. (330) 493-5600
Barbara McHenry helps local companies save tens of thousands of dollars. No, she's not a finance guru; she provides guidance for something often more painful than paying taxes-paying fines for non-compliance with Department of Transportation regulations.
"It has been my experience that many companies, such as commercial motor vehicle carriers, mass transit, railroads, city and county governments, etc., who employ those in safety sensitive positions, are either not complying with the regulations, or they are only in partial compliance," says McHenry. "Either way, these employers are subject to a fine of $10,000 per day if they are found to be not in compliance."
McHenry has her own private practice in North Canton but works through the Barbara McHenry and Associates Counseling Center in Canton.
She specializes in drug and alcohol policy development and implementation, testing procedures, training programs, diagnostic assessments, treatment referrals and back-to-work orientation programs.
"The primary reasons for non-compliance is that many of these employers simply do not know what the regulations are, and/or they lack the know-how of putting the regulations into practice." SBN
How to reach: Barbara McHenry (330) 832-8826
A new health center heals sprained spirits, as well as ankles, for local weekend athletes.
Akron General's Health and Wellness Center recently opened its doors near Interstate 77 on Medina Road. Keogh, Bendo and Associates leases space within the center. The private psychology practice was founded in 1983 and now has a staff of 10 therapists.
Regina Obney, a professional counselor, recently joined Keogh, Bendo and specializes in sport, chemical dependency and pastoral counseling.
"As people are spiritual beings, they so often neglect developing and nurturing this component of themselves that ultimately aids in the development of decision making and positive coping skills that can be virtually applied to all facets of life," Obney says. "I'm trying to incorporate and offer a spiritual program into it, without any particular religious ties."
Obney has researched visual and mental imagery techniques for more than seven years.
"Psychological interventions are required with sports issues such as treating the emotional effects of athletic injury, performance anxiety, optimizing performance, preventing over training and burnout, helping athletes with eating disorders, attacking drug and alcohol abuse in sports and assisting athletes who are making the transition out of competitive sport into the business world," Obney says.
For more information, contact Obney at (330) 665-8225.