Monday, 02 April 2012 16:57

Downtown on the rise

One phrase continues to describe construction of the Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center since its January 2011 groundbreaking — “on time.”

Scheduled to open in summer 2013, punctual completion of the project is key because Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) has already begun booking conventions and tradeshows, and tenants have already committed to moving into the Medical Mart, says Dave Johnson, project director of public relations.

Project Executive Marty Burgwinkle of Turner Construction Co. is confident the 36-month, $465 million construction venture will continue to hit all milestones as planned.

“Their goal is our goal: let’s just get this done,” Burgwinkle says. “Let’s get it done on time, let’s stay within the budget and let’s have a quality facility. All those goals are what we work on every day to make happen.”

Now 45 percent complete, Turner has achieved several construction milestones since the last Smart Business update:

1) The Feb. 1 “topping out” of the Medical Mart building, marking the placement of the final steel beam.

2) Completion of all trade purchases, meaning the job is now 100 percent bought out.

3) The start of the structural steel erection south of Lakeside Drive.

4) Completion of the site work alongside Public Auditorium on East Mall Drive, which needed to be completed by April 1 for the coming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum induction ceremonies.

“Our intent is that we’re going to hit all these milestones every time up until the completion in summer of 2013, stay within budget for the county, and the taxpayers are going to get what they asked for,” Burgwinkle says.

For more information: Executives from Turner and MMPI gave Smart Business an exclusive video interview to discuss the work that’s propelling the Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center project to new heights:

Watch: “Ready to rock for Rock Hall Induction ceremonies: Public Auditorium update, Cleveland MMCC”

Watch: “What do you do with 11,800 tons of steel? Steel update, Cleveland MMCC”

Also, be sure to check out the Cleveland MMCC live webcam.

How to reach: The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center,

Turner Construction Co., Cleveland:

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 15 December 2011 16:49

Building up downtown

The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center is starting to take shape downtown. But there’s a lot happening on this 36-month, million-square-foot, $465 million construction project that you won’t see carried in on a crane. Several executives from Turner Construction Co., Cleveland, gave Smart Business an exclusive video interview to discuss what’s happening behind the scenes to keep this skyline-altering project on track.

WATCH the overview video of the Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center

“We often say that 95 percent of a job is won or lost before you even start breaking ground,” says Turner Vice President and General Manager Mark Dent.

From coordinating traffic with the city department to engineering around Lakeside Avenue, which bisects the construction site like a bridge, the site’s downtown location presents a number of logistical and technical challenges. Turner was able to foresee potential obstacles long before breaking ground through planning technologies like Building Information Modeling, coupled with good, old-fashioned collaborative innovation with construction partners MMPI.

This foresight has added layers of sustainability, safety and quality control to the construction project as the team uncovered opportunities to recycle and reuse demolished materials on the way to becoming LEED-certified.

In fact, by the time the project is complete, as much as 98 percent of what was demolished will be recycled — which is no small feat for a project this big.

WATCH the video, “How Pre-Planning Saves at the Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center Jobsite”

A jobsite of this size and scope presents a number of opportunities, as well. The Turner team has sought several ways to support community and economic development throughout the construction process — long before the convention center even opens. From interns and apprentices to SBE contractors, Turner is helping revitalize Northeast Ohio’s economy by building jobs as it builds a beacon of future economic growth. In total, more than 20,000 jobs will be created during the three-year span.

“These kids get to come in here and see, hands-on, what the work environment’s like,” says Project Executive Marty Burgwinkle. “Maybe they’re going to get interested in construction, but even if they don’t, they’re going to see how a business works. If they are interested and we find out they’re a good fit, we hire a number of them full time.”

WATCH the video, “The Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center: Economic and Community Development”

Stay tuned as Smart Business adds more to this series to update you on Cleveland’s biggest construction project.

How to Reach: The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center,

Turner Construction Co., Cleveland:

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 16 August 2011 11:48

VIDEO: How Cleveland leaders innovate

There’s no wrong answer to the question, “What does innovation mean to you?” And that’s good, because no two answers to this question are alike.

So even after 22 years of asking leaders how they change, renew and improve their organizations, Smart Business is still uncovering new stories of innovation to inspire other leaders.

Over the last few months, we’ve invited several groups of local CEOs into our Cleveland headquarters to discuss how they exhibit innovation in their leadership roles and how they drive that creativity throughout their organizations. We found out that their fresh approaches to business are setting their companies apart and engaging employees in the process.

Here are several video clips to share what we learned from them:

Ralph Dise, Dise & Co.: “Being innovative doesn’t mean that you have to come up with the ideas yourself. It means that you have to give your people the freedom and the reinforcement to be innovative.”

Clark Rose, President, The S. Rose Company: “By becoming a deep listening organization, we believe we can establish the trust that’s necessary for people to reveal ways in which we can be helpful to them.”

Bill Ryan, President, USI Cleveland: “It really boils down to two things: mission and vision.”

Dennis Marvin, President and Owner, Marvin Wealth Management: “We’re innovative because we spend a tremendous amount of time working with our clients to find out their particular and individual needs.”

Steven Nobil, Cleveland Managing Partner, Fisher & Phillips:  “Too many leaders are so set on trying to figure out how to grow the business as opposed to grow the people."

David Browning, Cleveland Managing Partner, CB Richard Ellis: “Innovation starts with asking great questions. … By broadening the questions, you end up uncovering needs that really drive someone to act in a different way.”

Pete Kever, President, GHI Internet Services: “Don’t be too proud to ask questions and maybe look like you don’t know everything, because you don’t. You may not look like an innovator by asking a customer something that you ought to know already, but you actually are because you’re out there listening.”

Dolf Kahle, CEO, Visual Marking Systems: “…Brainstorm away from the business with the concept that everybody looks at it from the CEO’s eyes. They’re no longer in their little department; they’re CEOs for two days. By getting everybody involved, they’ve all got to think.”

Want more innovation? Join Smart Business and Kaiser Permanente on September 15th for the 2011 Innovation in Business conference in Cleveland. In addition to honoring this year’s Rising Stars, Visionaries and Master Innovators, this year's event will feature a one-on-one interview with James White, CEO of Jamba Inc. (makers of Jamba Juice), who will discuss how he repositioned the company to launch a new chapter of growth. More details here.

Published in Akron/Canton

Every morning, Jim McCann awakens with one goal in mind: to move his company,, forward.

“We are in a constant state of reinvention,” says McCann, the company’s CEO. “It’s like Andy Grove’s book, ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’; we’re very uncomfortable when we’re not moving forward. The most uncomfortable state for us is if we’re status quo. If we’re status quo, the world is continuing to change and we’re just not changing.”

That’s because innovation seems to come naturally for McCann, who parlayed a single flower shop in Manhattan into the world’s premier florist and gift shop. He accomplished this by thinking differently about how to interact with his customers and employees, along the way rewriting the definition of what a flower shop looks like.

In the 30-plus years since McCann started the company, he and his brother, Chris, who serves as president, have expanded through organic growth and acquisitions to become a public company with thousands of employees and annual revenue in excess of $700 million.

Beyond the well-known brand, McCann’s holdings are widespread and include Cheryl & Co., The Popcorn Factory, Fannie May, Harry London, Ambrosia, BloomNet and

Smart Business sat down with McCann to discuss the power of innovation and how to build meaningful relationships with customers.

Q: What are some of the ways you applied innovation to adapt during the recent economic downturn?

We looked at this as a great opportunity, especially to find talent, but we did some other things as well that helped the company. We made sure that we were able to know the customer and serve them well. We took care of the finances and preserved our cash position. And we decided to invest for the future. The investments we made were in talent, technology and new business lines.

What a great opportunity to attract people that we otherwise might not have been able to attract. We also put money into video, social networking and mobile applications. And, we launched new businesses —, a social network, and People thought we were crazy to do this in the midst of a recession, but they’ve proven successful.

Q: You’ve also been on an acquisition spree, not just in recent years but over the past decade. What’s been your strategy there?

The idea of following a strategic planning process is important to building your business. There may be things that are easier and quicker, but they don’t fit into the diagram that we’re developing to build We’re a public company, so the challenge is that the outside world may not understand why we’d buy rather than build. At that point, we tell them to trust us. We can’t detail the whole plan, but we explain to them that this piece isn’t just willy-nilly; it’s part of something larger.

That may scare away some investors in the short term, but those longer-term investors who have seen us make moves and watched them come to fruition will make their own judgment and, hopefully, trust us that we know what we’re doing.

We can’t not do things because some people don’t understand. We have to keep thinking ahead and looking at good opportunities for the company to grow and become better.

Q: How do relationships fit into the equation of interacting and serving your customers?

We have 30 million customers, and we still spend a lot of time trying to create relationships. You can measure relationships, but it comes down to the quality. You’re measuring the quality of a relationship. When we look at a relationship with a customer, the more engaged we can be with a customer, the better the relationship is.

I need a lot of help running our gift shop at, and if I get the help from customers, that makes my job easier. It makes my input better, and I think it makes it more interesting and more fun for our customers to be part of the process.

I’ve been trying to do that for my entire life. Today, we’re doing this through technology, and it’s been getting easier every day because of the evolution of the new technologies. Whether that’s Facebook or Twitter, it makes that engagement not only easier and possible, but if you’re not doing it, you’re missing the boat. I want my life to be fun, more interesting. I want to have more and better relationships, and technology allows me to expand the realm and depth of relationships with vendors, staff people and customers. It’s all about the relationships.

Q: So how do you build those relationships?

Here’s one practical example of how we do things. About two years ago, a lady in Ohio wrote to me and said, ‘My sister tried to make this floral arrangement for my other sister’s bridal shower. You can see from the photographs [that] it’s a mess. But I bet you can figure this out.’

So I worked with some of our talented florists and we came up with a terrific design for a margarita bouquet. We took one of those 2-foot-tall margarita glasses and we did a flower arrangement, color appropriate, with attachments, and made a margarita display for the wedding shower.

Well, as we did this, other people both inside and outside the company heard about it, including friends of the bride, friends of the woman who asked for our help, members of our staff and several of our customers. They all got involved to help. When we were done, there ended up being this whole group of people conspiring and collaborating on these designs. And it was a great success.

So we saw an opportunity for a new product, and when we decided to take it to market as another idea for the company, I went back to the same group of people and engaged them. I said, ‘How should we market this? What should our advertising be? What should we say on the ads?’ So our customers suggested the product, designed the product, suggested the marketing platforms, designed them, contributed to copy and made the single biggest floral introduction in the flower business. And it was all customer-generated.

Q: In what ways have the customer service systems you’ve built played a part?

First, I challenged our people who were dealing with our customers to handle any issue that comes up in such a way that the customer is inspired to write to me about you and what you did and how you did it.

It’s not so much what you do as much as how you do it and how you empathize and directly connect with that customer. So I tell our people to handle it like you want to inspire that customer to, on their own, write to me about how you handled their issue.

The second thing I tell employees is that if you aren’t sure what to do, read this book, and I hand them a book that’s a set of binders filled with letters customers had written to me about the wonderful customer service treatment they received from a driver who brought a package, for a telephone customer service person or online help service person who helped them with something. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, so I tell our people to read through this ledger and it will inspire you to do something above and beyond for the customers.

Q: You’re known for your innovation. Technology certainly is an area where the company has flourished. So how do you use social media and Internet marketing to push the company forward?

We’re using technology to get more intimate and personal with other customers. It sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. It’s true. How else can we get to know our customers well and learn how to serve them better? How can we recreate the personal relationship I had with our first 30 customers in our 700-square-foot store in Manhattan that we had 30 years ago? Thirty years later, we have 30 million customers, and the only way we can learn about them, to serve them better, to engage them, to get them to help us, is to use technology.

(A customer) might not be that interested in helping us design a new product and she might not be interested in helping us to come up with a new saying, but she really has an interest in promotional things because it’s an area of work she’s interested in. If we give her the opportunity to not be bombarded in the areas she’s not interested in but tickle her to see if she’d like to get involved in helping with promotional pushes, we engage her on something she’s already told us she might be interested in and benefit from her thoughts and outside-the-box thinking. It’s a good way to engage a customer without having to sit down across the table from her in her kitchen and talk about the ideas.

Every day we figure it out a little bit better; we take three steps forward and, hopefully, take only one or two steps back. We weren’t part of Twitter two years ago, but it’s a big part of our life today. What a great opportunity we all have to interact with our audience and find out what’s going on in their world while sharing what’s going on in our world.

Q: Let’s talk about being entrepreneurial. In what ways have you kept a culture of entrepreneurship in the company even as it has grown?

When people think about entrepreneurial cultures, it’s difficult for us to get our arms around that. But as I think about that and some of the more entrepreneurial people and organizations I know, such as the Ted Turners and Ted Waites (Gateway) or Wayne Huizengas of the world, those entrepreneurial heroes of mine, did they make (fewer) mistakes than other people? No, they probably made a lot more. The remarkable quality they had and that we try to embody is, when we take that shot to the stomach, it hurts, we fall down, but we dust (ourselves) off and get back up. That’s what it’s all about. We don’t worry about a mistake we made four years ago but instead worry about whether the mistake we make tomorrow is one we don’t get up from and learn from. We just have to keep moving forward.

How to reach:,

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 06 May 2010 07:04

Dunkin’ Donuts grows by franchisees

Nigel Travis knows there’s a recession going on, but it’s not obvious when he looks at Cleveland-area Dunkin’ Donuts. Local stores have seen like-for-like sales increases for the last six consecutive years. And in the last five years, 14 local franchisees have opened 27 new stores, bringing the total here to 47. 

That’s a drop in the bucket of the global growth of Dunkin’ Brands Inc. — which operates both the coffee-and-doughnut chain and Baskin-Robbins — where Travis serves as CEO. Systemwide sales for the 15,393 locations worldwide totaled $7.2 billion in 2009.

But there’s something special about Cleveland, and Travis recently left the company’s headquarters near Boston and came to town to learn the secret.

“I think it’s great franchisees who have focused on the community, given great service, given products of value,” he said from a new location of Dunkin’ Donuts, where he doubles as president. “That’s the magic difference.” 

He defines a great franchisee as someone who understands the local community and is well-trained on the corporate brand. So maybe the better question is how do you identify great franchisees?

“If you ask people about what was important in the restaurants or even retail stores they go in, they will very quickly tell you what’s important to them,” Travis says. “You can deduce from that how focused they are on consistency, focused on quality, value.”

Also ask whether potential franchisees are willing to get out in the community to propel the brand. Sometimes, that’s as simple as explaining your expectations to illustrate what the job will entail.

“At another brand I worked at, I used to speak to all the new franchisees and I told people how hard they had to work to maintain the product, how hard they had to work to get out into the community — a lot of foot-slugging as I call it,” Travis says. “Two people actually left because they didn’t want to put that kind of dedication into running their franchise.

“If you’re focused enough on the attributes you’re looking for, which is really hard work, focus on quality, being involved in the community, making sure that you have a consistent product … I think you can very quickly deduce who you should have in the system or not have in the system.”

[Read a blog about Dunkin's remarkable growth in one local market]

That due diligence is necessary for finding franchisees who will keep the brand consistent. But there’s a difference between consistency and stagnancy. Especially in an economic climate like this, you need to constantly innovate and improve your brand. Those ideas will often come from franchisees.

“I think too many people have too closed a mind: ‘There’s only one way of doing things,’” Travis says. “If you recognize that it’s about steady, gradual improvement and that ideas come from people who really know the business — I mean, let’s face it, franchisees know the business day-to-day better than I do because they’re out in stores, they’re dealing with our guests, the guests tell them things, they’re getting feedback. So I think if you have an open-minded approach, you’ll come up with the right solution.”

Still, not every idea gets a green light. There’s a disciplined thought process between feedback and the right solution.

“I always put it through a sift,” Travis says. “Does it help us make more money? Does it help all franchisees rather than just a few?”

When you have franchisees focused on the right values and you listen to their input, you have a recipe for success. 

“It’s listening to the challenges and the points of view that come from our franchisees that’s key,” Travis says. “If you do that, it’s a bit like a team. It’s a two-way dialogue. If you are working together, you can go out there and you can attack whatever economic problems are out there.”

Follow the numbers

Once the expectations are in place, along with the people you think can meet them, you have to make sure your standards are being met. What gets measured gets done may seem trite, but it’s key to maintaining a consistent brand.

Along with regularly measuring the quality and consistency of service and products, Travis throws in a few surprises to keep franchisees on their feet. 

“Tonight I’m going to be going to another market and making some unannounced visits,” he says. “So I just turn up and see how the stores look.”

In addition to those little things, Travis keeps a constant eye on the broad metrics — most importantly, profitability.

“No one will grow in an economic environment like we’ve had unless they make money,” he says. “You have to be totally focused on making money. You have to make sure that you also deliver value.”

Metrics shouldn’t just be on your mind once a quarter. That awareness starts first thing in the morning, every morning.

“It means getting up early in the morning, looking at yesterday’s numbers,” Travis says. “This is a retail business; you’ve got to know what the numbers were yesterday. … It gives you trends that you can focus on, weaknesses and opportunities. And through that analytical approach, particularly in a retail business like this, I think you’ll be even more successful.” 

How to reach: Dunkin’ Brands Inc., (781) 737-3000 or;,


By the numbers: (2009)

Dunkin’ Brands Inc.

$7.2 billion in systemwide sales

15,393 locations in 46 countries

9,163 U.S. locations in 47 states (including Washington, D.C.)

1,126 corporate employees

1,896 U.S. franchisees

Dunkin’ Donuts

$5.7 billion in systemwide sales

9,186 locations in 31 countries

6,566 U.S. locations in 33 states (including Washington, D.C.)

Published in National
Tuesday, 13 April 2010 06:16

Philip Pelusi’s style of client care

When Philip Pelusi opened his first Pittsburgh salon in 1965, he was shy. At about 20 years old, he was intimidated by the high-fashion clientele who told him he was too young to style their hair.

“And yet when I started to talk to them, they became clients,” says the founder and owner of Philip Pelusi Salons. “I had to learn the hard way. I was forced to get [feedback] and learn and adjust.”

Pelusi had to devise his own way of connecting with customers to meet their needs. But now that his chain of 13 Philip Pelusi Salons has expanded to include 20 partner salons and another 60 that carry his P2 brand of products, he’s sharing those lessons to help others provide client service.

To start, Pelusi spends time at partner salons to observe client consultations. What he doesn’t want to hear is employees asking questions that make customers choose their own solutions, such as, “So, what are we doing today?”

Then, he brings people to his education center to cover product education and skill certification — but the bulk of training comes down to soft skills like communication.

“The barrier of communication is huge. You almost have to teach a little empathy,” Pelusi says. “There’s no one class that can do it. It starts with the questions you ask … and it comes from making suggestions.

“You don’t force them to buy a product. It’s just as simple as, ‘Have you ever thought about caramel highlights? Think about it.’ Now, you might say, ‘This is what it could do for you,’ so what’s in it for them. It’s pretty subtle.”

Pelusi recently honed the communication skills of the team at Akron’s Studio V Salon & Spa, the second partner salon for owners Coleen Morlock, Mary Kay Hallas and Lucy Mahoney — who previously partnered with Pelusi at VCS Salon & Spa in Medina, Ohio. Through role-playing, Pelusi had their 35 employees take turns in the customer’s seat to experience service from the receiving end.

“They helped us understand the clients’ needs from the clients’ perspective and not just ours,” Morlock says.

Pelusi also helped them develop a needs assessment format to help employees understand clients’ frustrations. 

“Whether it’s a first-time client or a continuous client, do a needs assessment to find, No. 1, what they’re looking for, but No. 2, what we as professionals know that they need,” says Morlock, who follows up with longtime clients to make sure they’re still receiving the same satisfactory level of service as newcomers.

Begin by learning clients’ problems so you can guide them to the best solution, rather than simply asking what they want. Morlock expects employees to ask at least three open-ended questions, such as: What’s your biggest challenge? What are you currently doing to try to solve it? And one of Pelusi’s favorites: If I had a magic wand, what would be your ideal solution?

“A lot of other companies say, ‘What do want to do today?’ instead of, ‘What’s challenging you?’” Morlock says. “It’s getting a little bit deeper in with what they’re looking for.”

Morlock also expects employees to explain products or services they suggest to clients, making use of Pelusi’s intensive product education. 

“Are they giving the [customer] a tag?” Pelusi asks. “If you buy a nice outfit, you get a tag: Do not dry clean. So really, when you leave, you should have a tag for your [product or service.] No one’s saying, ‘Buy,’ just, ‘We talked about it. This is what I’d recommend. This is what I’d use.’

“You just shut up and let the client make a decision. There’s nothing worse than pushing something and not knowing what you sold them, No. 1, not following up, No. 2.”

To make sure employees utilize the needs assessment, Morlock invites secret shoppers to evaluate employees quarterly based on the questions they ask and the explanations they provide.

But you usually know how effectively employees communicate before you get that far.

“When someone is utilizing a needs assessment to its fullest, their sales increase and their client requests increase,” Morlock says. “You almost always find that they’re booked three to six months in advance. You can tell just in the numbers; it’s like reading a book.”

Still, she meets with employees one-on-one to reinforce the process. A couple of her employees also participate in quarterly telementoring conferences with Pelusi to share their challenges, questions and goals, and to receive more training to bring back to the rest of the staff.

“The performance reviews are critical,” Pelusi says. “When you hire somebody new, you want to do it more often — every three months, minimum. When you do them well, by the time you go into the review, they already know. The last thing you want to do is go into the review and they don’t know what to expect.

“I don’t care how great you think you are, that person walking through determines. They make the final vote if they come back [and] they seek our advice. You can talk all you want, but if it doesn’t get to the end user, nothing happens.”

How to reach: Philip Pelusi Salons, (888) 263-4720 or

Twitter: @philippelusi

How to reach: Studio V Salon & Spa, (330) 665-8010 or

How to reach: VCS Salon & Spa, (330) 723-3998 or

Read our earlier interview with Philip Pelusi about how he grows Philip Pelusi Salons by helping employees create road maps for success.

Published in Akron/Canton

It doesn’t matter how great your products and/or services are, how experienced and qualified your people are, or how convenient and affordable your offerings are, if there’s a negative public perception about your company, you’re dead in the water.

That is why public relations is so important, now more than ever. PR is not just another line item that can be cut to save some cash to the bottom line. The only thing certain in this country right now is uncertainty. Consumers are being very careful about where and with whom they do business. If a customer doesn’t know you — or, even worse, doesn't trust you — he or she will move on to your competitor.

Because of this, PR leaders across the country are working overtime to highlight the positive impact and importance of the public relations industry. This was evident on Monday, March 29, at Windows on the River in Cleveland, where the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) hosted the Hill Lighthouse Young luncheon. These annual awards recognize Northeast Ohio’s leading communicators and PR professionals.

Smart Business was at the event and sat down with the award winners to discuss PR and why it’s so vital in today’s business world.

Art Anton, president and CEO of Swagelok Company, won the John W. Hill Memorial Award, which honors a Cleveland-area chief executive who demonstrates a keen appreciation of the importance of public relations over the course of his or her career.

Anton on PR and why it's so important, particularly in today's business world.

Chris Lynch, senior vice president of Falls Communications, won the Lighthouse Award, which honors senior public relations professionals for their career accomplishments.

Lynch on PR, how it has changed and where it's going in the future.


George Richard, assistant vice president and director of college relations at Baldwin-Wallace College, won the Davis Young Award, which is given to a professional who excels in mentoring students and young professionals through hands-on instruction and support.

Richard on mentoring and what makes for a good mentoring relationship.

Published in Cleveland