Patrick Sanders has more than 100 business partners. And that’s not including the people in the front office of Max Muscle.

Sanders is the president of Peak Franchising Inc., the franchising business for fitness and nutrition company Max Muscle. He is in charge of finding and coaching new owners for Max Muscle stores, which generated nearly $50 million in revenue last year. The company has grown to more than 140 franchised locations, meaning there are more than 140 people who need to get on the same page with regard to Max Muscle’s mission and vision.

Smart Business spoke with Sanders about how he finds, trains and communicates with all of the franchisees under his umbrella.

What is the biggest franchising challenge you have had?

Franchising has its challenges because franchisees are your partners. In our case, there are hundreds of individual store owners out there. We don’t view it as an employer-employee relationship. That’s not the way franchising works. So as you ask the question, what is the biggest challenge in leading this organization, I’ve got hundreds of independent store owners that we have to try and get on the same page as you talked about. How do we set goals for them, how do we set a vision, how do we get them all going in the same direction?

That has been my biggest challenge, and we effectively overcome that through communication. We communicate with our franchisees and corporate employees on an ongoing basis. Certain segments are weekly; other segments are daily.

How do you facilitate dialogue among employees and franchisees?

I’m really pleased that every week, we have a systemwide conference call with all of our franchisees. Every week, a franchisee dials an 800 number and the whole system gets on the call, and we discuss every issue that we’re attacking that week.

In addition, there are subsidiary groups of franchisees and corporate employees that. We also dialogue with every week in a conference call forum. I find these to be really our primary vehicle because it’s a discussion. You can hear people talking back and forth; you can hear inflections in their voice and passion, and all of the things that make people so great at communicating.

What would you tell other business leaders about bringing people together in a company?

It is a bit challenging. I centered it around a value proposition. I don’t believe I can get both employees and franchisees to grasp and accept our vision, and thusly our goals and objectives, if they don’t see that as a positive in their particular area of interest. For franchisees, as with many people, we need to make sure the value we’re bringing them is making them more profitable. I have a tendency to overcome those challenges by showing people the value that this particular initiative or program or concept has, showing them the value of how that benefits them. That facilitates that dialogue. Suddenly, they’re asking questions, they’re saying ‘Wait, here is a viewpoint.’ That suddenly opens up the floodgates and you get this interactivity, which when you’ve had a chance to do that with them, then they understand what you’re trying to accomplish, we understand their reality. And by understanding both of those components, understanding the reality and challenges that each of us have there.

How do you set boundaries in discussions to keep people focused on end goals?

It’s interesting, because can you imagine having 200 people on one conference call? It can get really interesting. What we’ll do for each of these opportunities to communicate is we do publish an agenda for each of those calls. We’ll send out an agenda via e-mail, and everyone is pretty trained to know they need to stick with the agenda. If they have other issues they need to bring up, they go back to us independently, knowing that we’re going to try to get it into one of these conference call forums.

How to reach: Max Muscle, (714) 456-0700 or

Published in Orange County

Eighty percent of Court McGuire’s communication with clients is done either through Facebook or texting.

“Our clients kind of know how we communicate, because it’s not like it’s the fax, the typical phone call, the typical e-mail,” says McQuire, president of Boca Raton-based Green Advertising. “Nowadays it’s a text. It’s a Facebook message or it’s a privatized YouTube channel.”

By keeping Green Advertising on the pulse of the new media and marketing initiatives that resonate with today’s consumers, McQuire and Green’s founder and chairman, Phyllis Green, have both kept the firm relevant as well as grown the business to $42.5 million in revenue in 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Green and McGuire about how new media has changed the advertising industry and how it’s changing brand communication.

What are the advantages of advertising in today’s media environment?

McQuire: What’s happening is that interactive or online or social media has a new layer to it that traditional advertising and broadcast never had. It doesn’t play a passive role. It has to play as a participant.

To reach your very specific consumer will be a little bit more homework and a little bit more challenging, but the good news is you can do it better and more effectively and find out what kind of analytics and performance tracking we have in their consumption of that media.

Interactive has a very unique thing. It levels the playing field. So if you’re Joe Shmoe with a concept and a business or you’re a multimillion-dollar New York Madison Avenue company, you can compete head to head with paid search, with the big dogs.

What’s on the horizon for brand communication?

Green: Our clients used to say, ‘Oh we need a brochure.’ Now we’re telling them, ‘No, you don’t need a brochure. You need a video.’ That’s how people are consuming content. They are reading it less. They want to see it. They want to understand it better.

McQuire: Video in social media is huge. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s my status on Facebook,’ but people are so interested in videos that make them laugh or think or educate them. … We bust our butt on lots of video content, because that’s what’s really emerging as the best return on investment for brand communication.

What is the key to a successful online media strategy?

McQuire: It’s performance tracking. If you are doing interactive and you’re doing social media, and if you are even doing broadcast, you have to be able to performance track your media. Years ago it was much more difficult to do, but with the online component you know where [customers] are coming from, when they’re interested in buying, who they are, where they are located.

Court McQuire, president, Green Advertising

Should companies try a social media strategy on their own?

McQuire: It doesn’t take one person. It really takes a team. … Often I have that problem where it’s, ‘Eh, we don’t want to pay a social media retainer. We’re fine with just these fees for broadcast.’ And we have to say, ‘Well look, you’re going to create an orphan to your brand. We need to know that mommy and all of her kids have the same message and the same mission.’ So we really have to convince them that to take on social media, ‘Yes, we can make it affordable for you, but no, you can’t do it as well as we can.’

What advice would you give clients and firms in regards to advertising today?

McQuire: They have to embrace new media, emerging media. They have to embrace interactive advertising. They have to be very open to the idea that there’s not just one way to reach my market. Now there are many ways and I need to spend some time and understand it.

Green: The market tells you what’s happening and the economy tells you and clients tell you, and you have to be a good listener — keep your ear to the ground...In today’s competition, our vision is ‘We’re only as good as we are today.’ And everyone here has bought into that.

How to reach: Green Advertising, (561) 989-9550 or

Published in Florida

John Owens founded Cohesion Business Technology, a technology services firm, to provide organizations with high-impact business technology solutions to support their core business objectives. The president and CEO is always on the lookout for people who can help make his business a better one and continue the fast-pace growth Cohesion has seen in the past few years.

“For us, strong teams built with the right people are always the biggest challenge,” Owens says. “As a company and as a team being in the people business, we really have been focusing on trying to excel with making great hires and building great teams of people.”

That constant search for improvement has helped the 200-employee company see annual revenue of $20 million.

Smart Business spoke with Owens about how he keeps his company growing and prospering.

What have been factors behind your growth, and how do you keep up with it?

A majority of growth that we have had over the years has been organic growth and a lot of it comes off of client demand. As we begin to pick up new clients and new services, we expand our team based on those needs.

You should find great people when you can and expand the team to prepare for that growth. There is a lot of ramp up time and a lot of processes that need to be in place and a strong team is definitely going to help you achieve that goal. I don’t think you can get there without having the right people and the right management team in place. It is critical that you have the right team built in order to scale the company.

How do you attract the right people to your company?

It goes back to your core values. Look at those as the pillars of your company and what you look at to determine if someone is going to be a fit with your organization. They could be a very senior person with many years of experience or a junior-level person, if those core values aren’t there, then it’s just not going to work.

How do you adapt your growth to changes in your market?

A lot of it is doing research. You have to keep a pulse on the market. It’s critical to understand that what you did two or three years ago isn’t going to necessarily work. You’ve got to be open for change and be in touch with the market. That comes with experience. After you beat your head up against the wall so many times and the route that you’re taking becomes less and less effective, you learn that you have to be open to different options and flexible to different options that might not be ideal, but effective. We all want to have the winning idea or winning solution, but you become more experienced and more humbled and end up going with what works for you and what’s best for the business.

What are some mistakes businesses often make during growth?

There is more than one solution to a problem and having an open mind and being willing to hear a different perspective and different viewpoint to solve that problem is what I would recommend. An open mind is key. A lot of times you go at a problem with a solution and you’re kind of closed off to some other alternatives to that solution. I think utilizing your employees and your consultants to solve a problem, whether it’s a certain business process or technical problem, you need to reach out and hear all the different alternatives and solutions that the people who are actually out in the field and out doing can suggest.

What are some things that could hinder the growth of a company?

Cash flow is one of the big ones. I think you have to keep your eye on the cash flow and the revenue generated. Some of the non-tangibles are communication and culture. Culture is so huge and so often the culture is overlooked in how critical it is. I think that’s one thing that can really sneak up on you and have a negative impact is not having a strong culture.

HOW TO REACH: Cohesion Business Technology, (513) 587-7700 or

Published in Cincinnati

While 2009 was a tough year for Tom O’Shea at Wasp Barcode Technologies, 2010 was a different story. The company, which manufactures barcode software and solutions, saw 12 percent growth in revenue last year.

“We target sub-100-employee companies with our products and design them for that customer set,” the general manager says. “I think, coming out of the economic crisis that we had, small businesses were looking for things to improve productivity. They weren’t ready to hire a bunch of people back, so they found value in the products we had to offer.”

O’Shea saw this opportunity and worked to capitalize on it by focusing on these customers and engaging his 50 employees to do the same.

“We want to have a laser focus on the customer,” he says. “Make it a clear message — ‘What we’re trying to achieve is this,’ this year, and not have four or five or six different things, so everybody can get behind it.”

Smart Business spoke with O’Shea about how he focused on customers to continue growing the business.

How do you get in touch with customers in order to spur growth?

Talk to your customers and find out what they are looking for. We try to talk to customers a lot in terms of surveys, follow-up calls, that type of thing. What features do they like? What features do we need to add? We constantly ask them where are they buying software-related products from, so we understand where do we need to be. Where do we need to spend our marketing advertising dollars?

Also, talk internally. Your employees have some great ideas in terms of what the customers are asking for. We have an internal discussion forum where whenever someone is talking, they get an idea on the product.

How do you stay focused on your customers?

One of the things we try to do is challenge our value proposition to our customers. Almost annually in our planning, we’ll put that slide up there and say, ‘Are these the right things that we should be doing, and what are we missing here?’ Continuing to try to challenge and grow and expand the value proposition you have is a real important step.

Listen to the customer. Do voice-of-the-customer studies. Get out and talk to the customers. Survey them. Ask them questions. A lot of times customers are more than willing to give you feedback on what they like and what they don’t like, and listen to them on that side of things.

That was one of the keys that we came up with a free training offering. Customers were saying, ‘We need to be able to use your products quickly and easily, and if you had some training for us, that would be valuable.’ So we put that together and launched that, and it’s been very successful.

How do you determine things you can work on or add and things you can’t?

We’re a small company, too, so we can’t handle everything. We try to look at what we feel will give the most differentiation out there in our customer space. We’ll try to gauge what seems to be the most popular feature-set request for our products.

If someone continues to ask for a certain thing, that boils to the top, and we need to get that in the next time. There’s no real science to doing that — it’s more of trying to understand what the customers are asking for the most. We try to make things not too complicated, so a lot of times, we’ll shy away from things that will overcomplicate the product. In our experience with the small businesses, if it’s overcomplicated, and if it’s going to take a lot of time to use, then it may not be utilized. They want to get something installed and move on to the next thing because they have problem after problem after problem, so if it’s going to take a long time to learn or install or change their processes a lot, they tend to shy away from that.

 How to reach: Wasp Barcode Technologies, (866) 547-9277 or

Published in Dallas

“Life is in session.”

The Jennifer Aniston quote from “The Switch” resonated with Gail Warrior when she saw the movie last year.

“It’s such a simple quote, but when you break it down, life is in session 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Warrior says. “There are no timeouts or redos or breaks. You can’t say, ‘Give me a different life.’ The life that you’re given is the one that you have to live. It’s up to you how you’re going to live that life.”

In that same way, as president and CEO of Warrior Group Inc., a provider of premier construction services, she uses that quote to move her business and her employees forward, having grown the organization from $14.9 million in revenue in 2006 to $124 million in 2009.

Smart Business spoke with Warrior about how she pushes her employees to be better.

How do you help employees reach their full potential?

Be willing to first listen to what it is people want from their individual life and then find a way to gently push them or nudge them in the necessary or right direction. Oftentimes, there may be things that I may not want to do from a business perspective, but after listening to my executive team, they say, ‘We really need to go down this path.’ I say, ‘OK, you’re right.’

A lot of times we have our minds made up about how things should go in one direction. Sometimes it can take an act of Congress to convince somebody to make a different decision. In creating leaders in Warrior Group, it requires a lot of patience and a (willingness) to listen and being able to nudge people in a certain direction.

How do you nudge them in that direction without telling them?

Ask questions. ‘Do you feel like this is the direction you need to go in?’ and ‘Tell me why.’ Get their feedback. ‘Why did you make the decision you made? Is there another decision or avenue you could have done in this particular situation?’ and let them start thinking about that versus saying, ‘You know you should have done this — why did you do it like this?’

If you do it that way, then immediately the other person will go into defense mode. Then, at that point, they’re not interested and don’t want to hear anything you have to say because you just discounted them. But if you ask questions and get clarification and more information, then ask another question and say, ‘Is there another opportunity?’ and have a discussion about that, then that creates a learning situation.

How do you get people to want to reach their full potential?

One of the things we’re very good at is hiring 9s and 10s in the organization, and a lot of times, people are afraid of hiring 9s and 10s because they feel they may outshine them.

We always look for the cream of the crop and the top-notch people. When you see organizations where that doesn’t happen, you see organizations that people want to make excuses and processes are broken internally, and there’s just not a good flow of communication internally and sometimes externally. People that are 9s and 10s are people that come into work, and they are excited about what they do, they have a passion for what they do, and they have a passion for life and the impact they can make.

Let’s say, for example, you are a marketing director, and you’re looking for a marketing assistant and you find someone that has a skill set that’s a higher skill set than yours, and you’re the director. You feel like, ‘Well, if I hire this person, I don’t want them to show me up.’ The real mindset should be, ‘I need to hire this person because not only will they help the organization grow, but they have skills and tools that I can learn from individually and I can grow, as well.’

Sometimes people are afraid to do that. That just comes with knowing who you are individually and being comfortable with yourself and what your talents are and not being afraid to hire someone who has some stronger talent. If that was the case, I never would have ended up in construction.

How to reach: Warrior Group Inc., (866) 927-4787 or

Published in Dallas

In the early ’90s, Neil Hoynes and some college buddies wanted to tour the country following the Grateful Dead. To do it, they needed money, and that discussion sparked what would become Ripple Junction, a manufacturer and licensee of apparel.

“We discussed different options to pay for it like veggie burritos, grilled cheese and then T-shirts came up,” says Hoynes, founder and president. “We figured that T-shirts would be best, and we did the math on it, and the goal was to sell 15 T-shirts at every show to pay our way around for the summer.”

They sold all 80 shirts they brought to that first show, and from there, the company took off. Today, Ripple Junction is a leader in its industry and employs more than 40 people.

Smart Business spoke to Hoynes about how he grew Ripple Junction from the ground up.

How do you find the niche that your company serves best?

You’ve got to be able to adapt, and you’ve got to be able to adjust quickly to things that aren’t working and change them. If you don’t feel like you’ve found your niche, you’ve got to keep trying new things.

Also, finding something that generates cash flow while you’re looking for that niche is really important. That cash will let you live on for another day so you can find that one thing that you’re going to do and do well.

What challenges did you face growing from an entrepreneurial business to the next level?

The first thing is policies. When you’re a small company, you don’t have a lot of them. You try to balance policies and procedures without having too many of them because you don’t want to become bureaucratic. You also need to have standard operating procedures for everybody who’s doing any repetitive task or any sort of job. That’s the kind of stuff you have to get ironed out, and you’ve got to have a way to do it that everybody knows how to do.

It’s also determining specializations. As you grow, you’re going to need to start hiring specific individuals to take ownership of what you identify as a key success. If it’s a key success factor, there has to be somebody that owns it so they can really drive it forward. When somebody’s in charge of something and it’s not a natural part of their job, if it’s a small thing, that’s OK. If it’s a big thing and it’s crucial to your company’s success, you’ve got to have somebody that owns that and can drive on that.

How do you plan and hire for growth?

As you grow you start seeing the gaps that just kind of naturally present themselves. You start realizing that this isn’t happening, this isn’t getting done and you ask yourself, ‘Can we get this done with the people we have?’ When you’re growing, the answer is usually no.

You have to go out and hire somebody to do that specific thing. The quicker you can identify that gap and fill it, the better off you are.

More important than the timing is making sure it’s the right person. We’ve done the snap-hire before and it almost never works out. It’s better to be thorough and find the right person who is comfortable in your environment and also you’re comfortable with them. You spend more time upfront, but then a year later, you’re not filling the position again.

How do you find new hires and areas where your company can grow?

You have to hire people that round you out. You don’t want a bunch of people that have the same skill sets. I’m always trying to hire people that can shore up my short-comings or shore up someone else’s short-comings. You have to look to find that person that will complement other skill sets.

That’s my big thing is trying to chart the strategy of where we’re going looking at what our business is right now and then identifying how we are going to keep growing.

You look at who you’re selling to now and then look at that customer and find out what their needs are. Find out if there is an opportunity for a new product that nobody’s selling them or if there’s a new way to do things. Then try to put the pieces together and create a great product for them.

HOW TO REACH: Ripple Junction, (513) 559-3900 or

Published in Cincinnati

As the CEO of LG Chem Power Inc., which supplies lithium ion batteries to the auto industry, Prabhakar Patil is dealing with constant change. As the auto industry shifts toward more reliance on renewable energy sources for vehicles, Patil must keep his company ready to answer the challenge.

It became particularly evident in 2007, when Patil’s company began rolling out prototype battery packs for GM.

When we got started with GM, the original announcement came out in April of ’07,” Patil says. “The first prototype pack had to be delivered by October of ’07, which was a very short period given that the first time we were doing a battery pack of this size and magnitude, for a plug-in application.”

To address the needs of the evolving auto industry, Patil needed to keep everyone at his $25 million, 150-employee company focused on a well-defined mission and set of goals.

Smart Business spoke with Patil about how you can adapt to change by putting your company’s foundational principles at the forefront.

How do you get people on board with these new ideas and concepts?

People recognize that we are sort of fortunate to be in the position that we are in. There is a fundamental transformation that is taking place in terms of what I call the transportation paradigm, shifting from internal combustion petroleum-based engines to more electrified vehicles. Not that the transportation industry is going to roll over to all hybrid vehicles anytime soon, but there is a basic and fundamental shift that is going on. To be part of that is indeed sort of a privilege and, in some sense, luck that we area in the right place at the right time. We have to do everything to make sure it is successful. What would make the opportunity go bad more than anything else is if it disappoints the customers when these vehicles are on the road, and that is something that none of us want to be responsible for.

What would you tell other business leaders about relating the goals of the company to employees and their individual work?

It is figuring out a way where you personalize the relationship between the job and the person. Sometimes, it can be an intellectual kind of connection but is much better if it becomes a more visceral connection, where people internalize the significance and importance of what it is they’re trying to do, because of the impact that it is going to have either on their own lives or on the family that is going to be using the product or on making a fundamental change in the technology. You have to find a nobility of purpose, something that people can relate to, something that people can say, ‘This is critical, painful though it may be for the hours I have to put in. This is something we have to do and do right.’

How do you find nobility of purpose in a company’s mission?

In our case, it was relatively straightforward to

do. It’s seldom that you get a chance to do something that is good for the environment, for the country, for the community. In many ways, what we do is our opportunity to address the environmental issue as well as the energy security issue.

Does your own visibility and accessibility in the organization help to reinforce the mission?

It is doing it by example. I encourage suggestions and ideas, and I encourage our team leaders down the chain to have that kind of accessibility to their teams. For example, just looking at the subject of quality, once they see the due diligence, time and effort that is put in to not cut corners, I think that communicates the message more than anything else that quality is an important subject for us.

How to reach: LG Chem Power Inc., (248) 307-1800 or

Published in Detroit

In the early days of his business, Carmen DeLeo’s company relied on word of mouth.

CDM Electronics, where DeLeo is the general manager, needed customers to tell other prospective customers about the company’s line of computer components. But as the company grew to $20 million in 2010 revenue, its marketing needs became more complex, and DeLeo needed to carve out a presence on the Internet.

“It was an easier transition for us when we were looking into online, because we felt we were already technically savvy, and the good learning curve would be shorter,” DeLeo says. “That was the impetus for getting that going.”

Smart Business spoke with DeLeo about how to conceptualize the website and online marketing strategy that will fit your business, and how to find the people that can help you make it a reality, and enhance it as the needs of your business grow and change.

Out of all the options, how did you narrow it all down to what would work for your company?

The way we did it was to forget about online for a second. We put ourselves in the position of engineers and technical buyers, who are our main customers. They’re the ones who are going to fit the profile for us. Some of the things they would come to us for include specification of part numbers and drawings. The way we decided to build this was figuring out what our customers need, so let’s try to get as much information on the site as we can, and we can make it a 24-7 part of our customer service.

What would you tell other leaders about formulating an online strategy?

First is, you need to put yourself in the position of your customers, how your customers see it. Number two would be content. If you supply the site with as much content as possible, it is only going to help serve your customers. We’re still very early in that the computers that are doing these rankings of the value of your website are still extremely rudimentary. At sites like Google, it is obvious humans don’t review the results, but they still do a remarkable job of returning what is relevant. Even having an ugly site with content is still better than a website with no content on there. If all you have is an address and a little bit about the company, it’s not going to do you much good.

However, the third thing is the look of the site. Once you do get a human to view the site, you want to make sure it portrays the image that you want for your company.

What would you tell other leaders about finding a technology partner to work with?

For us, what we did was we reviewed the old traditional methods – so industry sources. Probably the best thing to do would be to go to an industry trade show and start talking to some of those. You can get a couple hundred companies in one shot, all in your industry. Most of the time, you can find someone who has been through exactly what you’ve done and is willing to help. It is networking. That is a great way to make it efficient.

How can you make sure your online strategy aligns with and complements your overall business strategy?

Results would be what to look at. After six months’ time, did we achieve the results of what the overall strategy is? Part of our strategy is to hit bigger OEMs and target larger and more technical projects. After a few months, we started to see requests to come in from those types of individuals. Some patience is required, but I’d say in a relatively quick time frame, certainly less than a year. Otherwise, that would be a red flag, because things do seem to happen fairly quickly.

How to reach: CDM Electronics Inc., (949) 250-1525 or

Published in Orange County

Eric Graf, president and CEO of Ritzman Pharmacies Inc., had to make the tough decision to close a store and combine two others because of the economy. However, Graf didn’t turn his back on those employees and found ways to retain them for when good times returned.

Graf, who leads 160 employees at the pharmaceutical company, understands sacrifices have to be made in business. He also knows that when times are tough you have to be strong and resilient.

“Like everyone else, we had to look at our business units and look where there was profitability and where there was not and where we could make better use of that,” Graf says. “Fortunately, we had some positive solutions to those challenges.”

Graf says the process wasn’t easy, but his decisions paid off in the end.

Smart Business spoke to Graf about how to handle the good and the bad in business.

How did you keep morale up as you were eliminating stores?

We were very cognizant of the impact to our employee morale within the company. Fortunately, as we downsized, we also knew that we had this startup, cold-start opportunity in a new location. So we bit the bullet and retained all those associates from the closed business unit from December until April when we opened the new business unit. That was huge in speaking to our people. You try to be upfront. You try to be present and not sitting way in the back so that you’re available and putting your face on things. You have to express things to them one on one rather than through memos. You have to make sure you have a presence with the associates.

What is important to keep in mind during tough times?

You have to stay with your core beliefs, your vision, mission and your core values. You try to live those as best you can. Those values serve you well in positive times when you’re asking for more because you’re short-staffed because growth is coming faster than you can keep up with. But it also serves you well in the negative times when you are making adjustments that can impact you negatively.

How do you keep employees informed about what’s going on within the company?

One of the things we do … is we publish our financial information throughout the organization. Everybody sees our revenue, our cost of goods, all of our top-line issues compared to budget, compared to prior year — they see those on a weekly basis. When it came time to close that store, there was no mystery. Everybody had seen the sales taking a dive and had seen that how could the store become financially viable. When they see that trend compared to other trends or other stores, they realize that something needs to happen there. That openness with financial information is very critical and people knowing and understanding why you’re making the decisions that you’re making is important.

What helped you recover from tough times?

It’s always key, especially as times get tighter and tougher, that you have strong vendor relationships. A vendor relationship is very much a two-way interaction. Whether it’s a good day or a bad day … you need to negotiate smart, not just strong. I recently read a quote from Indira Gandi that said, ‘Old leadership used to be about muscles and new leadership is about people and relationships.’ So while you’re striving to get a good cost and a fair deal, you need to be bringing value to them in terms of what you’re seeing in the marketplace. You need to be giving them feedback to improve themselves.

When you started seeing success again, how did you maintain it?

You have to build on that foundation. You have a heritage of different key strengths and that goes back to your mission, vision and core values. You look at the reasons for success and it comes down to your associates and how you serve your customers and what your priorities are there and how you deploy your assets.

Even though things are a little tougher, you have to look for those people who can get out there and find more opportunity and develop more business for you instead of pulling back on that.

HOW TO REACH: Ritzman Pharmacies Inc., (330) 335-2318 or

Published in Akron/Canton

If you asked to see Mariani Landscape’s projects, CEO Frank Mariani would showcase the best he has to offer.

One day, hopefully, he’ll offer more.

“When we have reached mecca will be when I can tell you, ‘Here’s my entire book of business. Open the pages and stick your finger on a name, and we’ll go see that job, because every job is perfect,’” Mariani says. “Some people might think that’s unrealistic; I’m driven by that.”

That drive has already helped Mariani expand in services and size. He took over the family namesake when father and founder Vito passed away in 1973, leaving nine employees. Today, the company has 420 employees.

Smart Business asked Mariani how to grow and improve your company.

How do you communicate as you grow?

We have town-hall meetings about every eight weeks where we encourage everybody to come have pizza and we give a state of the union. Especially right now, it’s important because people are afraid for their jobs.

It allows people to get inside our head and understand what we’re thinking about, and hopefully, we can get an idea what they’re thinking about. An easy (issue) to look at right now would be the state of the economy and what we need to do to stay focused so that we can keep our team intact.

We open it up for discussion. People can raise any issue. If no one is attacked for their ideas, it will encourage participation. It takes awhile to build that trust. By shaking hands and having a cup of coffee with them, people are going to open up. If you make yourself available, they’ll let you know what’s on their minds. If you hide in your office, you won’t know what’s happening in your company.

What role have employees played in Mariani’s growth?

As we’ve grown the company, we’ve been able to add more expertise and offer our clients a better product, so it really is a win-win. To grow only for our clients and (not) benefit our associates would be a mistake. To grow for the associates without benefiting the clients would be a mistake.

When somebody comes in and interviews for a position here, we tell them, ‘If you have great ideas, let us know.’ Therefore, our company — which originally was strictly a maintenance company — grew to be landscape design, landscape architecture, landscape construction, then we brought somebody in who had expertise in perennials (and) started growing. All these types of things offer opportunity, which, in turn, allows growth, which, in turn, allows financial stability and opportunity for associates.

How did you position what was a small family-owned business for the growth you’ve seen?

A lot of it has to do with ego. I’m not embarrassed to say I really don’t want to be second.

We have an open-door policy, not only amongst our associates but actually for our peers in the industry. We encourage other landscape companies, ‘Bring your staff in and see how we go about doing business.’ It makes us sharpen the way we go about doing business because they’re going to see the work we do in the field, they’re going to see what our offices are like, so you put a little bit more spit and shine and polish on everything.

I’ve attended tours of other landscape companies and you go in there and it looks like a movie set where you see the fronts of the buildings, but when you walk in the door, there’s nothing behind it. I used to say to myself, ‘This is insulting.’ I’m proud of what we have here.

If somebody becomes better because of what they saw here, that forces us to take it to the next level. The more we can take it to the next level, the next level, the next level, the entire green industry benefits — so does Mariani Landscape, as long as we’re up to meeting that challenge. There’s nothing to hide; there’s only things to celebrate.

How to reach: Mariani Landscape, (847) 234-2172 or

Published in Chicago