Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Killing the status quo

Susan Pyle spent many years trying to convince her two business partners that Packings & Gaskets was falling far short of its full potential for growth. But the Chagrin Falls sealing manufacturer’s steady annual sales of $2.5 million made her fellow co-owners reluctant to tinker with their time-proven formula for success.

Despite the company’s prosperity, Pyle believed there was an inherent danger in standing still.

“You reach a level where you feel comfortable, especially when everybody is making money. You don’t have to press and you have a good market share,” she says. “But the longer you sit at that level, the tide is taking you farther and farther out. And you don’t realize it.”

So in April 1993, Pyle bought out her partners and embarked on a series of moves designed to take Packing & Gaskets to the next level. She purchased $400,000 in new equipment, increased annual sales to $5 million and moved the operation to a new production facility twice the size of the old one.

Assess your limits

The main obstacle to growth was Packings & Gaskets’ inability to compete in the profitable large-volume market. That, Pyle decided, would require capital investments in equipment to increase production capacity.

“We were really going to go after more OEM (original equipment manufacturing) business, which is what most of the large volume is,” she says. “Now we’re doing a million-and-larger piece runs. It really opened a new door.”

Draft a growth strategy

Before trying to secure the financing to buy the expensive equipment she believed was the company’s key to growth, Pyle put together a detailed report outlining the benefits of such a large investment.

“We did a pretty comprehensive portfolio, showing the ways we could save time, produce parts we couldn’t before, and industries we were going to go after,” she says.

Pace yourself

Since 1993, Pyle has bought nearly $400,000 in new equipment, but each piece was purchased and installed separately. It ensured all quirks would be ironed out and Pyle could determine the machine’s true benefit to the company before investing in another piece.

“The first machine we got right away probably within three to four months after taking over,” she says. “Then we added a new piece of equipment, probably just about one every year or so.”

Give yourself time to succeed.

From the beginning, Pyle planned for it to take the better part of two years to get the new large volume side of her company rolling. She was right.

“It probably took us a year and half to get up and running with the machinery,” she says. “Also, it normally takes anywhere from four to 12 months to get into the larger OEM companies, do quoting, prototypes and actually land the orders. It’s kind of a long process, but we knew that and we put that as part of our plan.”

How to reach: Packings & Gaskets, (216) 543-8108

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

The power of one

Here we are, not just facing a whole new year, but a whole new century. So what challenges will the new millennium bring? What problems? What opportunities? What lessons from the past can we use to our advantage in the new century?

There was a time early in this century when Congress actually considered closing the Patent Office. Many of the leaders of the time believed that everything that could be invented already had been. After all, didn’t we have the wireless and the telephone? And up in Detroit, a guy named Ford was saying that everyone soon would be able to buy a horseless carriage.

One thing is certain, though, at this point: The next century will be different. The advances in technology will continue — probably even more rapidly than in the recent past. If the past is any indicator, everything will change. Our markets will change. Our people will change. And all of that will necessitate changes in how we manage our businesses.

So, how do we prepare for all this change? Traditionally we prepare for the new year by making a list of resolutions. The list usually consists of good intentions. We plan to eat healthier foods, exercise more, and in general, make an effort to become better people. Occasionally we actually keep our resolutions, at least for a time.

The secret to improving the quality of life in the coming century begins with you. You are a leader, and you need to be the best you can be — in your workplace, in your home and in your community. If you are a good leader, you can improve the quality of life for the people around you. And it will improve exponentially in ever-widening circles. The positive influence you can generate will spread as others become energized.

One of the greatest gifts you, as a leader, can give to the people around you is gift of flexibility. Teach them that change is always with us — and that the rate of change is sure to escalate. Going from the horseless carriage to the computer chip will be nothing compared to the change we will face in the coming years.

Some change will be good for us, some will not. Regardless, as a nation, we need the ability to react quickly, to take advantage of the positive changes, and to avoid or eliminate the changes that pose a threat. Our greatest enemy will always be complacency. And fear.

But with complacency and fear comes decline. If we are to remain a vital society, we must continue to respond to change and use change to our advantage.

It begins with one person. As a leader, you are the one who can make the difference. You will be the one who will inspire others to keep the wheels of progress moving forward at an ever-increasing pace. You can inspire people to avoid complacency, and to see the opportunities that lie hidden in every change.

So add one more resolution to your list. As the pages of the calendar turn, resolve to share the gift of flexibility with those around you.

Remember that you represent the Power of One.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412)276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Homework challenge

Most entrepreneurs go into business for financial freedom and the challenge. And for some, one business isn’t enough.

Still, whether this is your first or seventh venture, it’s important to do your homework when buying an existing business.

The benefits of buying an existing business are obvious: The business will bring with it established customers, suppliers, employees, a name and reputation. Failure rates for existing businesses are lower than those of new businesses.

However, as part of the due diligence process and before you jump into anything, make sure you inquire about why the business is for sale. Turnaround projects are always risky, especially if the purchaser doesn’t have experience in this area.

Before you even begin to explore opportunities, yput together a team of specialists, including an attorney, accountant and perhaps even a banker (if a loan will be needed to fund the acquisition), who can give you greater credibility in investigating potential acquisitions.

When you identify an opportunity, this team should review all of the financial information available on the business. In the best-case scenario, the new acquisition should pay a competitive salary for either the owner, if he’s going to be active in the business, or an operations manager, if the owner isn’t going to be active — plus a healthy profit.

The definition of a healthy profit should include a return that equals the long-term return of the stock market, (11 percent) plus 4 or 5 percent. This extra return should be sought because a privately owned business is illiquid, which means you should be compensated for that illiquidity.

Frequently, the return on the business is dictated by the purchase price, which needs to be determined by evaluating the financial statements and operations. To determine whether to purchase a business and what to pay for it, you need to obtain the appropriate financial information from the existing business owner.

This should include income statements and balance sheets, income tax returns for the last three to five years, accounts receivable and payable records, leases held by the business, customer and supplier contracts, patent or trademark information, insurance policies and employee fringe benefits. If the seller doesn’t want to provide this, it’s best to walk away from the negotiating table.

Generally a full-scale audit should be considered. Under the best circumstances, it should be performed by an accounting firm with experience in that industry but which doesn’t have any ties to either the buyer or seller. The audit fee could be split by both parties.

Financials aside, try to gain insight into how the company is run by volunteering to work in the business for a week or two. Also ask customers, other business owners, and suppliers about the company’s reputation.

After all, when considering to buy a business, the more information you have, the better.

Louis P. Stanasolovich, CFP, named as one of the best financial advisers in America the last four years by Worth magazine, is founder and president of Legend Financial Advisors, Inc., a fee-only Securities and Exchange Commission registered investment advisory firm located in the North Hills. Legend provides asset management and comprehensive financial planning services to individuals and businesses. Reach him at (412) 635-9210. The firm’s Web address is www.legend-financial.com.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Defying the chains

It took 72 years to do it, but Community Market has finally decided to open a second location.

The owners of the landmark supermarket in Penn Hills and the operators of Giant Eagle stores in Verona and Oakmont are taking over the former Food Gallery in Fox Chapel.

In contrast to the Food Gallery, Community Market built its reputation with highly competitive pricing and powerful advertising, a strategy that, in part, has allowed it to survive the onslaught of the huge chains. Its owners say they have every intention of employing that same strategy for their newest location.

The Food Gallery, with four Pittsburgh area stores, found that it was becoming harder to compete with the large chain stores. But the Fox Chapel location, the new owners maintain, was profitable as a Food Gallery store.

“We’re very pleased to buy a successful operation like the Food Gallery in Fox Chapel,” says Jerry Rosenberg, one of the new owners.

The store was founded in 1927 by Lou Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s son, Jerry, says the 30,000-square-foot store won’t be enlarged, but it will have new dairy cases and freezers installed, improved lighting, wider aisles and a bigger staff.

Jerry Rosenberg’s son, Howard, and brother, Paul, also share in running the family business.

Time will tell if trendy Fox Chapel will take to an old stalwart like Community Market.

Ray Marano

Published in Pittsburgh

Bob Cohen tends to see people at their most stressful moments.

The Akron-based turnaround consultant once presented a business pitch to a troubled retailing company. A year and a half passed, and no word. Then, he gets a panicked call from the owner, telling him that payroll is due on Friday, and they’re going to miss it by 90 percent. Can you come right away to help?

A lack of communication and deep denial of their troubled situations are the classic hallmarks of companies in trouble. But it can get even worse, says Cohen, founder of Centrus Consulting, which recently merged with a New York/Philadelphia practice to form Nachman-Hays-Centrus Inc.

“I always watch for when a client moves from denial to the next stage: blame. When you find a client is into blame, they’re probably beyond turnaround.”

What’s the difference between turnaround artists and general business consultants?

“As a general rule, a consultant goes in and asks, ‘How do we make this business better?’ A turnaround guy asks, ‘Is there a core business here?’ That’s a key difference.”

Beyond that, the immediate priorities are assessing the adequacy of the management already in place and figuring out if there’s some form of bridge financing to buy time to fix the problems.

Sometimes, of course, they’re not worth fixing. In more than half his engagements, Cohen winds up overseeing the sale of the company. Some are simply liquidated, with the turnaround consultant focused on trying to squeezing as much debt out of the business as possible.

In this business, there are few routine assignments. A bank once hired him to try to get its money back from a troubled fireworks company in this area.

“We did some homework and found out the owner liked to punch people’s lights out. So we showed up with five armed guards, [with guns] fully loaded, and went after the cash register. He was going to punch our lights out, too, until he looked out the window.”

Of course, the cash register didn’t contain the full $4 million the bank was seeking, so it had to file suit in Stark County court, as well.

As you might expect, it helps to have a loose and easy demeanor in this line of work. And Cohen, who once borrowed heavily to buy a six-figure seat on the Chicago Board of Trade at the age of 22, indeed has something of a cowboy reputation. He recalls once literally roaring into an engagement, overseeing a troubled coal mine in central Ohio’s Amish region, aboard his Harley Davidson.

Every troubled company is different and every owner of a distressed property has his or her quirks, but they all have one thing in common, he says.

“The owners are concerned that the employees will find out, but the employees already know. And them thinking that they don’t want anyone to know is a kind of joke, ’cause everyone knows.”

John Ettorre (jettorre@sbnnet.com) is a contributing editor at SBN.

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Doing it the Disney way

When the Disney Institute came to town in late October, more than 300 area CEOs, CFOs, entrepreneurs, administrators and customer service agents rolled up their sleeves and put on their thinking caps — rather, their Mouse ears — to ponder the “Disney Difference.”

These professionals each paid $300 for a day of The Disney Keys to Excellence — Walt Disney’s management secrets. The Institute assures that the core concepts of vision, involvement, organization and change are applicable in any organization, regardless of the industry.

Cindy Lewis, executive director of the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, says Disney is recognized worldwide because of the intense service training employees receive and the special Disney touch that exceeds customer expectations.

“It’s all about taking that extra step for customer service,” Lewis says.

“While we all know Disney is a huge corporation, I was surprised to hear them say they are much more high-touch than high-tech,” says Susan Hamo, president of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s nice to hear that great ideas don’t necessarily have to have great price tags.”

The Institute teaches that decisions dictated by any corporate culture have a trickle-down effect on the customer, from employee selection and training to organizational communication, comprehension and concern. Not only is it critical to understand the values and behaviors of individuals in the organization, it’s crucial to comprehend the needs and expectations of customers, from product or service price, quality and features, to company performance and customer service.

Seminar facilitator Jeff Soluri said that, if anything, he hoped attendees would grasp his main message.

“The way to build relationships between your company and your customers is as much common sense and people effort as it is processes and systems. The key to success is being able to figure out what expectations are, and not only deliver on those expectations, but go beyond them.”

Brian Carney, executive vice president and CFO of Hudson-based Jo-Ann Stores Inc., says he was intrigued to learn that 68 percent of customers who leave a business do so because of indifference on the part of associates that serve them.

“We will adapt some of what we learned to our company,” Carney says. “That includes a commitment to recruiting and training, and continuously surveying our customers to measure their level of satisfaction.”

As Walt Disney once said, “There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward — opening up new doors and doing new things — because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting.”

“We’ve all been trained in the old business models,” Soluri says, “and although there are good things about top-down management, there’s a new generation of end-users and front-line people that is uniquely capable of coming up with new ideas to build better relationships.”

Creativity and innovation are significant in the process of building better relationships, Soluri says. Creativity is the production of new and useful ideas. Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas.

A company can maximize creative potential by seeking opinions from employees and customers. Those opinions can lead to ideas, big or small, that can satisfy employees and customers and boost profits.

Thomas Hilston, regional director of operations support at Ohio Edison Co. in Akron, recognizes the importance of involving front-line employees to generate new ideas.

“They’re really the people who create the impressions with customers,” Hilston says. “We’re going to re-emphasize our efforts in that area and involve our employees in creating an even more customer-friendly atmosphere.”

Jack Hayes says he was relieved to learn that a company guided by creativity and innovation can succeed and prosper, because those are the ideals upon which he founded Connecting Touch Therapy and Wellness Center Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls.

Newly inspired by the “Disney Difference,” Hayes says, “Now I will encourage new ideas from my staff and I will push the envelope when implementing ideas that seem a little bit too innovative, because if it can be imagined, it can be done.”

Joseph Prehodick, an Ohio Edison area manager, says he didn’t realize how a relatively simple new idea and the slightest alteration in service can dramatically impact the bottom line of a major corporation.

“The ‘Disney Difference’ is a whole attitude of understanding, stressing and accomplishing what is necessary for your business to succeed,” Prehodick says. “I work for a utility that has always emphasized customer service, but hearing about the Disney methods has given me some new and higher goals to achieve.”

Karen Hasley, human resources vice president at Kent Adhesive Products Co. (Kapco), defines the “Disney Difference” as “sincere respect for employees and customers, displayed in behaviors, not just in words.”

Lewis says she came away convinced there’s always one more thing a company can do to provide better customer service if people involved in the business will take time to come up with new, creative ways to please customers.

“That applies whether you’re a for-profit or nonprofit. Any business can take that information and run with it,” Lewis says, adding that the chamber will do just that. “We’ll be giving even more personal attention to our members than we already do.”

Stow Mayor Donald Coughlin says he wants to bring the Disney magic to the administration of a city. As for how he plans to do that, Coughlin proclaimed, “I’m packing my bags and going to Disney World!”

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

No more phone tag

We wait on hold, talk to voice mail, play “telephone tag” ... it’s no wonder some business people have gotten so frustrated with the phone that they’re increasingly relying on e-mail, faxes and other technologies to communicate.

While these new media have their places, they’re usually no substitute for actually talking with a client or business associate. Given that, here are a few ways to make the telephone less frustrating — and a much more effective communication tool.

  • Record a voice mail greeting that works.

    One of the biggest complaints about the phone is the seemingly endless games of tag we play with callers. All too often, the greeting on our voice mail is a big part of the problem. Don’t just say, “Leave a message and I’ll call you back.” The only message most people will leave is, “Hey, it’s Joe. Call me.” Instead, try, “Please leave a detailed message outlining exactly what you need. That way, I’ll have that information when I call you. Thanks.”

  • Better yet, answer your own phone.

    A lot of people think having someone screen their calls saves time, but I disagree. Messages get garbled. Sometimes people won’t discuss a confidential matter with a secretary or administrative assistant. Why duplicate efforts? Your associate’s time is valuable, too.

  • Don’t be too quick to say, ‘I’ll call you back.’

    If someone calls and requests information you don’t have at hand, but can get quickly, don’t say “I’ll call you right back.” Odds are, you’ll just start another round of phone tag. Instead, ask callers if you can put them on hold. If they hesitate, explain, “It’ll take me less than a minute to get that information and we can settle this right now.”

  • Let more callers hold.

    If you choose not to answer your own phone, instruct the person who handles incoming calls to ask everyone to wait on hold for just a few seconds, to see if you’re available. If you’re on a call, you’ll usually be able to conclude that conversation and take the incoming call. It’s frustrating to miss important calls because you were on an unimportant one.

  • Put yourself on hold, too.

    Most of us have more than enough to keep us busy at our desks, so why are we in such a hurry to leave a message when the person we’re calling is on the other line? Instead, announce you don’t mind waiting on hold, put your phone on speaker and get back to work. So what if you wait five minutes? You’re getting work done. And you know the person you need to speak with is in, so the wait is worth it.

  • Alert your assistant about important incoming calls.

    Your assistant can’t read your mind. If you’re expecting an important caller, let someone know and leave instructions to interrupt you.

  • Make calls before or after hours.

    Often, you don’t need to talk to someone — you just want to leave a piece of information. The trouble is, what should be a 30-second phone call can become a 10-minute rehash of the weekend’s football game. To avoid these conversations, leave messages before or after hours.

  • Keep your voice mail message current.

    You call a business associate Monday. Her voice mail says to leave a message and she’ll call you back. You leave a message. No return call. You leave another message Wednesday. On Thursday, you finally learn she’s on vacation. You’ve wasted almost a week because she didn’t update her voice mail message — and she probably lost an order.

Charles Nekvasil is executive counselor at Lord, Sullivan & Yoder Public Relations in Columbus. On a typical day, he makes and receives more than 100 telephone calls. Reach him at 846-7777.

Published in Columbus
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Less is more profitable

Out of state, out of mind. Without Kathy Eshelman on site to train and motivate her young staff, this high-energy entrepreneur couldn’t give them what they needed — her vision and style to manage, mingle and make that sale.

So in 1998, the Columbus-based owner of Grade A Notes Inc. closed her branch at the University of Arizona and sold sister businesses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Michigan State University.

She did this to bring profits back to her company after a three-year expansion program put it in the red. Eshelman simply realized she’d stretched herself too thin.

Itching to grow

Grade A Notes Inc. started in 1987 as a class note taking service for students at The Ohio State University. Within a year, Eshelman started a custom publishing service for faculty who needed course reading materials from various sources packaged for students to buy.

In between, she added a copying service, not just for students and faculty, but for the general public and area businesses, too.

Her model was successful at Ohio State. The first year she did $66,000 in gross revenues and the business turned a profit after about two years, she says. Her original expectations: “I thought that I’d be a millionaire in a couple of years and that I’d never work summers again. I haven’t taken a summer off yet.”

For the basic thrill of growing a company, she says, she opened at Ohio University in Athens in 1993. OU was chosen because it was the closest campus with a sizable enrollment: about 20,000 students. Two years later, she opened a satellite location at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where there was no note-taking service and not much competition in custom publishing, she says. There, she partnered with The Nebraska Bookstore Co. chain, whose location offered great visibility for her copying service.

The partnership also offered growth potential since the bookstore had about 85 locations nationwide. That same year, Eshelman opened Grade A Notes within the bookstore’s flagship operation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Finally, in 1996, she purchased note-taking businesses at Michigan State University and the University of Arizona, from one seller. At both sites, she says, there was an opportunity to develop the custom publishing aspect of the business.

“It’s not worth it to operate just a notes-only business out there,” she says.

Trouble in paradise

With six locations in four states, Eshelman soon ran into problems. She struggled to find the right managers for her Nebraska, Michigan State and Arizona locations. Then a lack of capital to sustain expansion caused a problem.

“When we were undercapitalized,” she says, “we never thought we were undercapitalized. We thought things were going to take off. We had enough capital if things took off like the first location, but they didn’t.

“The note sales were all pretty decent in Nebraska, but that’s only 15 percent of our business,” she explains, adding that custom publishing makes up another 70 percent and copying, the remaining 15. “To run a copy center, you have to sell local businesses on going to you instead of Kinko’s. We needed a real outgoing, sales-oriented manager.”

That type of manager never materialized.

“We had good people working hard; they just weren’t that kind to go out and get the sale in the door,” Eshelman says. This stifled growth on the custom publishing side, too, since managers need to meet faculty and encourage them to try Grade A’s service, she says.

“They are skeptical of us,” Eshelman says of professors who are not familiar with Grade A’s ability to pursue agreements with individual publishers to reprint and resell their reading list items. “Once we get them,” she adds, “they never leave. We have a 95 percent retention rate with our professors.”

Without someone on site to aggressively pursue business for those three satellite locations, however, sales lagged.

“It’s not my point to say I can do it better than anybody else,” Eshelman says, but her presence was an important motivating factor. “If you have a small company, you don’t have all the training tools that you need. I was the head trainer, and the best way to train is hands-on, discussing what went right and what went wrong.”

The long-distance hurt, too. “In that regard, location was a challenge,” Eshelman says. “It cost more to get there. You couldn’t just drop what you were doing to go there.”

She did try to invest in making additional trips, to oversee and guide the people, she says. Realizing she didn’t have the capital to hire the sales talent she needed in Nebraska, Arizona and East Lansing, Mich., and knowing she couldn’t spend more time there herself, Eshelman decided to divest. She chose to focus on increasing business at her remaining three sites: OSU, OU and the University of Michigan.

“In Ann Arbor or here, you get to know people on a personal level. The others didn’t feel like they were part of a team and building a company.”

With her scaled-back operations, Eshelman hopes to earn $2 million in gross revenue this year.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a year we didn’t have double digit growth in revenue,” she says, but the company didn’t make a profit during the last three expansions. Grade A Notes has been profitable since divesting, she adds.

A new strategy

So what has Eshelman learned from this expansion-retraction experience?

“Small business owners don’t take advice very well,” she says with a laugh. In hindsight, however, she realizes financing problems exacerbated many of the other difficulties her company experienced in trying to expand quickly and in far-off places.

“That was our biggest problem — not having the capital to properly grow,” she says.

“The growth we’re having now is really sales growth; we just financed it out of our own profits.”

For others looking to expand, she’d advise them to keep an eye on such issues.

“Try not to grow without the right amount of capital, it’s almost a death sentence,” she says. “As far as growing out of state, one of the things people don’t anticipate are all the tax laws and how cumbersome that is. If you don’t have the appropriate staff to deal with that ... we found ourselves in a myriad of hassles.”

As for her three remaining locations, she’s still in a growth mode, but she’s taking a conservative approach.

“We’re moving or opening brand new facilities for all three locations in the next 18 months,” she says, quickly noting, “We will stagger that so we have the capital.”

In addition, she is finding ways to broaden her business without adding more locations.

“We are doing a lot of custom publishing and reprints for out-of-print books for bookstores all over the country,” she says. “We service 30 universities with custom publishing,” but all the work is coordinated through Grade A’s existing locations. “We’ve actually done work with over 100 bookstores around the country ... That’s been a great strategy for us, servicing more bookstores.”

And it’s a strategy that’s keeping Eshelman closer to home.

Andria Segedy (aesegedy@sprintmail.com) is a freelance writer for SBN.

Published in Columbus
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Visual basics

With the Internet, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the fax machine, our in-box and electronic documents, even the most conscientious or inquisitive among us can be overwhelmed. Many of us are secretly (or not so secretly) giving up and just not reading all we should.

Certainly, unsolicited direct mail is the first to be tossed into the wastebasket. So why then is there more direct mail than ever?

Nobody ever mails anything twice that didn’t pay for itself once. Direct marketers are trained to mail up to the point of financial break even that occurs when the value from responses does not cover the cost of mailing more pieces.

I don’t accept this explanation alone. Given the explosive growth of e-mail and the Web (with its substantial cost advantage), and the ever-increasing cost of “snail mail,” there are great alternatives to “ink on paper.” Direct mail should be declining in use as a marketing tactic. But it is not.

So why is direct mail still such a critical and successful tool for so many marketers?

First, because successful business marketers focus on the key components of direct marketing. They know that the greater the percentage of response, the more successful the mailing can be. Their choice of mailing list will determine some 40 percent of response, the offer they make another 40 percent and the creative approach, the final 20 percent. Business marketers know they will achieve success if they make intelligent decisions and execute them effectively.

Second, the needs of the business-to-business sector are growing. The goals of finding, keeping and growing customers are creating countless problems for which direct mail is the perfect solution. These include prospecting, lead qualification, closing, keep-sold, win-back, referral development and customer satisfaction measurements. The flexibility of direct mail, from its creation to its measurability, continues to be a highly predictable and practical solution.

Third, industry advances continue to add new value to using direct mail. For example:

  • The quality and specificity of lists, along with ever-better database software, allows for smarter targeting.

  • The high ticket value of business products and services lets marketers make really valuable and compelling offers to prompt prospects into self-qualifying themselves.

  • The ability of direct mail to generate awareness and build traffic for a company’s Web site is often more effective than using search engines.

  • The creative use of impact, dimensional, oversize and colorful mailings will always provoke attention.

  • Our confidence and ability to work with the USPS, reliably execute better programs and accurately track results is higher than ever.

The usage and applications of direct marketing in finding, keeping and growing customers seem to be as broad and as pervasive as ever.

So, if no one reads any more, how come we still get so much direct mail? Because it works.

Andy Birol (pacerassociates@worldnet.att.net) is president of PACER Associates, Inc., a Solon-based consulting firm that works with companies who need to focus on their best ways to find, keep and grow more customers. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or www.pacerassociates.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

The king of spin

If you thought President Bill Clinton cornered the market on top notch spin doctors, meet Stephen W. FitzGerald, president of Cleveland-based The FitzGerald Group Inc.

FitzGerald was invited by PRWeek to provide a PR-based solution to the following: Changing the image of Nevada’s famous brothel, the Mustang Ranch, which was forfeited to the federal government after the ranch’s corporate owner was convicted of fraud and racketeering. The Bureau of Land Management wants control of the ranch and its surrounding land to turn it into the National Horse & Burro Center, using its many rooms as a visitors’ center.

The question: How would you use PR to change the ranch’s image? FitzGerald’s response, which was published in October, included the following quip: “Converting a brothel to a horse-burro center certainly gives new meaning to ‘Ride ’em Cowboy.’”

He suggests inviting national, state and local organizations to tour the Mustang Ranch and submit proposals for its best uses.

“Grassroots mobilizations will naturally spring up to support the various proposals, resulting in higher media and public recognition for the ranch’s eventual occupants and their missions,” he says. “With all its facilities, there would be many health and human-service agencies and nonprofits that could benefit from using the ranch.

“As memories fade, the brothel becomes an interesting, but only historical, footnote.”

Published in Cleveland