Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Manufacturing evolution

In a swiftly changing world, these three manufacturers have learned the art of adaptation.

Later this month, these three regional executives will participate in a panel discussion at the 2013 Evolution of Manufacturing Conference, presented by Cuyahoga Community College. They will address a topic every manufacturer faces: adapting to the 21st century manufacturing world.

Smart Business asked each panelist to share his or her thoughts in advance on what’s changed and how he or she has addressed it.


Tom Salpietra

president and COO,

EYE Lighting International

Q: What is the most significant challenge EYE Lighting has faced over the past few years?

A: Solid-state lighting, made up of LEDs or light-emitting diodes, was developed more than 50 years ago. However, it has only been within the last year or two that SSL technology has made its way into general illumination in the home and in commercial and industrial applications. The price premium in adopting SSL is still somewhat controversial, but in time, it will become a more affordable option. In the meantime, customers are demanding other energy-saving solutions in the form of traditional types of lighting.

EYE Lighting’s business strategy has been in the roadway, commercial and industrial markets. Over the last two years, we have been shifting our focus away from the older forms of bluish and yellowish lighting to ‘white’ ceramic technology and to solid-state lighting. We continue to make investments in R&D and manufacturing so that we can maintain our lead in providing high-quality, value-added lighting solutions for our customers.

Q: How has this better positioned you for long-term operational sustainability?

A. We manufacture more than 70 percent of our volume in Northeast Ohio with a dedicated and experienced labor force. Over the last couple of years, we have engineered new products and developed more efficient processes, retraining our employees to meet the needs of our changing environment. Our ability to make these changes and still sustain our company culture lies in our passion for continuing to subscribe to lean manufacturing and operate under our various ISO certifications. We are proud of our rigorous approach to ISO 9000-Business, IS0 14000-Environment, and OHSAS 18000-Health and Safety.

Q: With all these changes, how do you continue to adapt?

A. We must continue to expand our offering of various products and services, rethinking our strategy every couple of years: Are we on the right track? How can we enhance our competence? Should it be organically or through an acquisition? What other kind of improved business model can we develop? How will e-commerce and social media affect our go-to-market tactics?

These are the questions we continually challenge ourselves with on a continuing basis. Sometimes just by self-examination, the answers are fairly clear. At other times, we need to venture outside into other industries and businesses to know how they are handling their changing environment. In the end, we allow ourselves to learn and improve upon the experiences of others.

Q: So what big initiatives is EYE Lighting undertaking this year and next?

A. Our strategic initiatives over the next couple years encompass significant investments in ceramic HID and LED technology. We know our customers want energy-savings solutions, yet they want to maintain a high level of quality and performance across all their lighting needs. We will expand our sales personnel and our marketing campaigns, including our activities in e-commerce and social media. We are very excited about the contributions EYE Lighting can make to the marketplace, and we owe much of our success to our employees and our dedicated customer base.


Eric Lofquist

president and CEO,

Magnus International Group

Q: How has Magnus evolved over the past few years to meet growing demands in your industry?

A: Founded in 2007, Magnus initially focused on transforming petroleum-based co-products into liquid fuels and other carbon-rich materials. Eventually, we moved from traditional petroleum-based products to processing vegetable oils and naturally derived emulsions into natural waxes for items such as fire logs and candles.

The company’s most notable innovation came in 2010, when we vertically integrated our operation to convert discarded food industry co-products into unique, natural animal feed ingredients. Since then, Magnus has grown substantially by turning leftover raw materials — like restaurant fats, oils and greases, and sweets from food manufacturers — into healthier, tastier feed for the dairy, cattle, poultry and swine industries.

Q: How has this better positioned you for long-term growth?

A: Today, 90 percent of our product development is now on the animal nutrition side of the business. This sector is more predictable, profitable and stable than other industries in which we’ve worked, and there is less overall market pressure.

Our production facility is as diverse and as flexible as ever. Magnus’ ability to come to market quickly with one-of-a-kind, high-value animal feed ingredients has been critical to our success and the success of our partners.

The opportunities to collaborate with the world’s leading food companies, both as suppliers and customers, have been incredible. Magnus’ complete transparency and unique profit-sharing structure creates a difficult-to-duplicate business model that clients find attractive on several fronts. I think we offer the best product-price balance, boutique processing ability and special production techniques.

Q: So with all these changes, how do you continue to adapt?

A: Moving from petroleum-based inputs to sustainable global products has focused us even more on product quality. We recently became ISO/FSSC 22000-certified, which is the leading worldwide standard for food safety management. Achieving and maintaining that standard means we’re operating at a higher level of detail and quality systemwide. Now, all employees individually commit to a plant quality and safety pledge as a minimum requirement for being part of our work community. The net result has been increased product quality, enhanced customer and end-user satisfaction and measurable, award-winning growth in customer-shared revenue.

Q: As you look to the future, what significant initiatives is Magnus looking at for this year and next?

A: Our goal is to produce one new branded, natural product per quarter from prime and secondary co-products. Many of these will be exclusive animal feed ingredients. At any given time, we could have three to five different products under development. Some won’t make it past the lab stage — we have a strict, rigorous testing process — and some might not survive the market. But one or more will gain traction, and we’ve learned for that to happen, we need to always have a selective stable of products under consideration.

Why? Our future growth depends on constant innovation and remanufacturing. We need to be nimble to respond to unanticipated opportunities and have short uptime on new processes and products … all the while maintaining the superior product quality and service for which we’ve become known. We will stay ‘lean’ and ‘kaizen’ in our production strategies and continue to find groundbreaking ways to rescue landfill-bound feedstocks and convert them into renewable products.


Suzy Remer

owner and CEO,

Midwest Box Co.

Q: What have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced recently with Midwest Box Co.?

A: I became sole owner in August, and business has bounced back to almost pre-recession levels. But with our customers skeptical about their future business, ordering has changed. We now see very exacting ‘just-in-time’ ordering.

For our noninventory customers — those who do not use our warehousing program — we now need to be able to manufacture and ship product based on shorter lead times. For our inventory program, we find more customers are choosing this option to take advantage of price breaks and instant availability of their product.

Customer service is another area where change is happening quickly. It is more important than ever to be able to respond to a customer’s needs immediately. Many customers seem to wait until the very last minute to order and require us to fulfill their needs quickly. This has taught us how to be more flexible and responsive to our customers’ needs. We have inventory notifications that help our customers manage their ordering. We have developed delivery ability that allows us customer access in a more timely and efficient way.

We also acquired the Walford Industrial Park. We had been tenants here for more than 30 years. As owners of the park we can now expand to meet any future growth without moving.

Q: How has the economy played a role in changes you’ve made?

A: Pricing had become quite a challenge. In the past, we could develop a relationship with a customer based on our quality, service and competitive pricing. Staying true to our commitment of quality and service has worked well for us.  But today, we find customers who leave us due to perceived cost savings and then return after discovering that the quality and service of the company they left us for are not the same.

That’s something we’re addressing this year, so the biggest initiative for us now will be cost reductions. Margins have been squeezed. We are trying to be as aggressive with our vendors as our customers are with us.

Q: Let’s look back in time a bit. Midwest Box Co. has a rich history in this region, correct?

A: Yes. It was founded in 1964 by my father, Marvin Hecht. We started as a short-run supplier and have grown to become Cleveland’s oldest and largest sheet plant. As I mentioned, I became sole owner last year but came on board with my dad and sister in 2002.  Before that, I was involved in high-end retail. I didn’t really grow up in the business like many other second-generation owners have.

Around the time I joined my dad and sister, my father decided to purchase the industrial park where we were located, Walford Industrial Park. It has been put up for auction, and he thought it made sense. After my dad purchased it, he turned to me as we were leaving the auction and said, ‘Suzy, do something with this.’ So I ended up spending a lot of my time getting the park filled with tenants who needed industrial space. It wasn’t easy, so I decided to think differently and become a bit more innovative. Today, we have an eclectic mix of tenants, including Ray’s Mountain Bike Club. And these days, I spent all my time managing our real estate and running the company.


Click the links below to read the individual profiles for all of this year's honorees.

2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Winners

2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Honorable Mentions

2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Manufactures "Of Note"

2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Sponsors



Published in Akron/Canton

If you ask Doug Taylor what it’s like putting on a fireworks show, he would tell you that it’s like taking the Rolling Stones on tour. There are potentially hundreds of people involved in the background and a single show can require five or six tractor trailers, a few straight trucks and more than a week to set up, using 15 to 20 people a day.

“This should all be background for our customers,” says Taylor, president and CEO of Zambelli Fireworks. “All we want our customers and the spectators to see is 15 to 20 minutes of a fantastic display, just like the Rolling Stones really only want their spectators to see them up on stage for that hour-and-a-half concert.”

Zambelli Fireworks is one of the best-known names in the fireworks industry. The company employs 50 people year-round, increasing its employment to roughly 1,500 people around the Fourth of July. Zambelli launches 2,300 firework shows across 32 states each year with nearly 600 of them being around Independence Day.

The company puts on shows for municipalities, Major League and Minor League Baseball, the NFL, MLS, professional lacrosse, amusement parks, festivals, weddings and private parties. Productions can range in cost from $3,500 to more than $500,000.

“Our company has one of the best names in the industry,” Taylor says. “We have that, but if we don’t keep working on that every day, we’re not going to have it at some point. We have to continue to earn our reputation and that level of trust with our customers.”

That reputation, the ability to put on a fantastic show and customer service focus has been challenged recently due to three major issues that have put added pressure on Zambelli. The company has had to overcome delivery disruptions from China, the challenge of the U.S. economy, the impact of increasing raw material costs and labor problems in the Chinese market, which is the source of 95 percent of the product in the U.S.

“With those combinations we’ve seen product costs go up somewhere in the range of 45 percent in the last five years,” Taylor says.

Here is how Taylor continues to put on a great show by dealing with unexpected challenges through close relationships with vendors and customers.

Expect the unexpected

There are about 14,000 fireworks shows shot on the Fourth of July in the U.S. every year. So in 2008 when China shut down two of the four ports from where fireworks are shipped, it created a 25 to 30 percent decrease in the capacity of delivery.

“An awful lot of companies didn’t get deliveries that year and there were a significant number of shows that did not end up being shot,” Taylor says. “We ended up getting most of our deliveries that year, and with a large inventory, we survived it.”

Typically, smaller companies get in a couple of containers of product each year. They use up 90 percent of it and then order more for next year. Zambelli tends to carry over a year’s worth of inventory each year.

“That way we have a lot more cushion than smaller companies can afford to have,” he says. “That certainly helps us in a time like 2008 where the shipping was such a problem, but it doesn’t mean we had the exact inventory we wanted.”

With China controlling 95 percent of the fireworks used around the world, there really wasn’t a good alternative for Zambelli to get product from.

“You can get product out of Europe from Spain and Italy, which is extraordinary product, but it’s three to five times as expensive as what you get out of China,” Taylor says. “So that’s not a good solution. We did go out and find some pockets of product because we moved very early.

“Ultimately, we had to design our shows differently based on the product that we had available within our existing inventory.”

To help combat the issue of product availability, Zambelli put a focus on communicating with its producers in China.

“We worked for years to make sure we treated our vendors as partners and that they treated us the same way,” he says. “Because of that relationship, we began to hear early that there were going to be problems. Vendor relationships are very important — making them a partner versus just a vendor.”

Aside from problems abroad in China, Zambelli faced challenges here at home due to the poor economy. A number of the company’s customers had to rethink whether they could do a fireworks show similar to what they had done in previous years or at all.

“We saw a number of cities that had to decide where they were going to spend their money,” Taylor says.

One city in Ohio was in a position where it had to lay off more than 50 employees and as much as the leaders wanted to have a fireworks show, it was politically inappropriate to lay off staff and then spend $20,000 on a fireworks show.

“We had some communities that canceled their fireworks and a number of communities that reduced the size of their fireworks,” he says.

Zambelli has been shooting shows for some customers for more than 30 years. Maintaining those kinds of customers goes back to having a good relationship.

“We didn’t want them to begin to think about talking to somebody else, because there is always a competitor that will do it cheaper,” he says. “We worked with them and gave them as good a deal as we could possibly give them. These were customers that we had for a long time, and that’s the kind of relationships that we like to maintain.”

One of the other interesting changes that occurred during this time was that if a city couldn’t afford to pay for a show anymore, it found an outside group to take it on. Zambelli has begun helping customers find ways to afford a fireworks show if they don’t have the funds necessary.

“That’s a new role for our company and for firework companies in general,” he says. “We’re working with certain larger corporations and trying to find places where they feel it would be a good investment for their brand to go in and support a community. We’ve had to change our marketing role to where we are marketing more directly to sponsors.”

The solution to this problem again comes back to building relationships and forming partnerships.

“If you look at the crux of what a true partnership is, there are going to be ups and downs,” Taylor says. “The sooner that you can anticipate what’s going to happen, the better positioned you are to adjust to it. You have to have an open line of communication with a customer or partner.

“Keeping those lines of communication open allow you to be aware of any issues. Having that communication … helps make sure we are hearing what’s important to them.”

Improve your relationships

Due to the issues with product delivery, the economy in the U.S., the challenges of increased costs of raw materials and labor problems in China, Zambelli’s ties to its vendors and customers have had to be stronger than ever.

“Many of our customers make a decision through a purchasing agent, and they’re trained to find the best deal,” Taylor says. “The easiest way for them to find the best deal is if they said, ‘We have a $10,000 budget.’ If one company offered them 900 shells and another company offered them 925 shells, they’re going to the 925-shell company, even though they don’t fully understand how that count was come by.”

That’s one point where Zambelli will work with its customers to explain it is offering a complete event, not just a number of shells.

“We’re selling the level of trust you can have in Zambelli Fireworks because of what we’ve done for years and what we’ve done for you as a customer,” Taylor says. “We’re selling you some of the highest quality product out there. We’re selling you a safety record, which is as good as anybody’s. We’re selling an entire package. We’re not selling a count of fireworks on a page.”

This level of selling has been somewhat of a transition for the Zambelli sales force, because not only has it become more competitive over the last five years, but the Zambelli sales team has had to learn to sell a turnkey package and not let people make decisions based purely on a shell count.

“It’s been an education process to not only educate our salespeople, but for them to turn around and educate our customers so they can make better decisions,” he says. “The more understanding customers have about each decision they make and why those decisions are important, the more likely they are to hire us.

“We have to develop a level of trust with our customers that they know we’re going to deliver that fantastic show. We’re focused on maintaining and improving a high level of service to our customers and maintaining our reputation.”

How to reach: Zambelli Fireworks, (800) 245-0397 or


Be prepared for unexpected challenges.

Form strong partnerships with your vendors.

Find ways to improve relationships with customers.

The Taylor File

Doug Taylor

President and CEO

Zambelli Fireworks

Born: Port Arthur, Texas

Education: Attended North Carolina State University where he received a BS degree in science education and in zoology. He also received a MBA from Indiana University in Bloomington.

What was your very first job? What did that experience teach you?

The first job I had where I was working for someone else was mowing lawns at the age of 12 or 13. The first job I viewed as a real job was working in high school at a hardware store. What I learned there more than anything was the value of customer service.

When did you get into fireworks?

The first idea I ever envisioned of being involved with a fireworks company was in early 2007. I started work as the president and CEO of Zambelli in late May 2007.

What do you like most about fireworks?

It’s a fascinating industry, and it’s related to what I said about taking the Rolling Stones on the road. It is the entertainment business and although there are all kinds of technical and regulatory issues we deal with, at the end of the day if the spectators and the customer are happy with the result, then we entertained them.

Do you have a favorite Zambelli show?

At the Kentucky Derby Festival, we have two sets of barges that are each 600 feet long in the river and in the middle is a bridge that we shoot off of 3,200 feet of bridge. We’re able to fill the sky where people miles up and down the river are watching the show. The magnitude of that is incredibly impressive. On one side it’s the emotion and importance of the event to the community, and the other end is just the artistry and magnitude of what can be done.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

My father taught me that the thing that you can’t give up is that level of trust that people have to have in you.

Published in Pittsburgh

When Terry Lundgren was first approached by Macy’s in 1993, the retail company was bankrupt. Lundgren, who was chairman and CEO of Neiman Marcus at the time, was asked to come to New York to help turn around the company.

However, Lundgren had little interest in joining an insolvent company, especially since he had a good thing going at Neiman Marcus in Dallas.

With Lundgren’s ties to Neiman Marcus and his previous ties to Federated Department Stores as a former president and CEO of Bullocks Wilshire, executives at Federated persuaded Lundgren to come back with the idea of buying Macy’s.

“I thought that sounded pretty interesting, because I saw the synergy and the idea of the Macy’s brand being spread through the Federated stores,” Lundgren says. “It took six months to convince me, and then six months after that, we bought Macy’s.”

Today, Lundgren has built Macy’s Inc. into one of the biggest and strongest department stores in the country. The retail giant accounts for a third or more of the business for the brands that Macy’s is associated with. However, if you rewind just seven years, Macy’s wasn’t even big enough to advertise during its own Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The No. 3 most-watched television program in America is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards,” says Lundgren, Macy’s chairman, president and CEO. “Fifty-eight million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. It was a spectacular event, and I couldn’t advertise on it, because we weren’t national.”

Lundgren watched the telecast as advertisements from Target Brands Inc. and JCPenney Co. Inc. aired on the parade, but none from Macy’s.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to fix this. We’ve got to think about how we get that Macy’s brand out there,’” Lundgren says.

Through well-planned and well-timed acquisitions and a strategy that brought Macy’s closer to its customers, Lundgren began to turn Macy’s into a force to be reckoned with, and the goal of advertising on the company’s own parade was beginning to look like reality.

“We had a lot of interesting turns in our industry and our company that really represent a lot of what happened in the industry over the last several years,” he says.

In October 2012, Lundgren spoke at an ACG Cincinnati luncheon event about the journey he and Macy’s has been on and what it took to build Macy’s into the powerhouse it has become.


Small beginnings

After Federated Department Stores bought Macy’s in 1994, Lundgren became the president in 1997 and then the CEO in 2003. At that point, Macy’s was a $14 billion company with multiple brands and 250 stores.

Lundgren began to test the waters of expanding the Macy’s brand by combining it with other Federated stores.

“Business didn’t go up and it didn’t go down; it just became a non-event,” he says. “It surprised most of us, but we knew it wasn’t a negative.”

During the time of this testing, a prized department store came up for sale — Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Marshall Field’s had a stranglehold on the Chicago market and was powerful in the Minneapolis and Detroit markets as well.

“Those were three markets where we didn’t have any representation,” Lundgren says. “This was a natural opportunity for us to fill in the geography and have key stores in these very important markets.”

Lundgren negotiated to buy Marshall Field’s against one of his largest competitors at the time, The May Co., which was also looking to go national. Lundgren felt confident he had submitted a bid that was in the ballpark, but May Co. ended up offering several hundred million dollars beyond what Marshall Field’s was worth.

Although Macy’s lost to May Co. for the Marshall Field’s stores, Lundgren didn’t lose sleep, because he knew that it would have been wrong to overpay for the stores. He had seen that scenario before.

“We walked away, and that was probably the best decision that the board and my team made because everything changed and the credibility that I developed with my board from that point forward was a game-changer, because I had been CEO only for a year,” he says. “That process turned out to be really positive for all of us.”

One year later, in 2005, The May Co. was in trouble — it had paid too much for Marshall Field’s. The board fired its CEO and Lundgren went in to talk with May Co.’s lead director.

“We did a deal and got great talent merged in with our company,” Lundgren says. “Still today, some of my top leaders are from that May Co. acquisition. It was all good timing, and of course, we got Marshall Field’s through that.”


Growth mode

Now Lundgren had to make sure the company saved some money. It went from 11 operating divisions down to seven, taking out $1 billion of operating expense.

It sold Lord & Taylor for $1.2 billion, which May Co. owned, but was not consistent with what it was trying to do. David’s Bridal business was sold for $800 million. It closed or sold 80 department stores that overlapped and sold the credit card business to Citi Group for about $5 billion.

“That was a very big deal — this now was paying for the acquisition in a very significant way,” Lundgren says. “We were quickly getting our balance sheet in order as we were moving forward with these changes.”

Part of those changes was spending a year researching whether they could change the store names to the Macy’s brand.

“What would that feel like?” he says. “If you asked somebody, ‘Would you like to change the name from your favorite store called Lazarus or not?’ They’re going to say, ‘No, don’t touch my store.’ But if you just do it and you treat the store right and treat the people right and put in the right merchandise, people will generally respond to that, and that’s what happened.”

When it came time to make the national announcement that the department stores would take on the Macy’s name, Lundgren went to Chicago to announce it.

“In one day, we changed 400 department stores to the Macy’s brand,” he says. “We went from 250 stores in 2004 to 800 in a two-year time frame. We finally were a national organization and could advertise on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time in 2006.”

With Macy’s becoming a national brand, Federated decided it needed to align with its new direction. In 2007, Federated Department Stores became Macy’s Inc.

“Eight hundred of our 836 stores were called Macy’s and 36 were called Bloomingdale’s,” Lundgren says. “Calling the company Macy’s Inc. made more sense when people were thinking about who to invest in.”


Get close to the customer

Following the name change, Macy’s was on the move. However, the financial collapse in 2008 caused customers to cut down on shopping.

“They literally put their credit cards away and stopped shopping,” Lundgren says. “We knew we had to do something, and I wanted to do something anyway, but this was a really good time for change.”

Macy’s got rid of three operating divisions in the Midwest from seven and replaced them with a new idea.

“The idea of having a division that’s based in Cincinnati, Atlanta or San Francisco was to be closer to the customer,” Lundgren says. “The problem was we had gotten so big now that each division was looking after 100 or 200 stores, and they were in three, four or five states. They weren’t close to the customer. We had lost that connection.”

Macy’s took the three divisions that it eliminated and replaced them with 20 small satellite groups called districts. The districts had approximately 20 people acting as merchants and planners in each of these areas that would supervise 10 to 11 stores.

“They are in these stores every day, they are talking to our customers and sales associates and they are guiding us for what we should buy for Cincinnati or Columbus, Ohio, or Detroit and Chicago,” he says. “They are the ones who are influencing size, color, types of fabric and the brands that we need to carry.”

Becoming more in tune with the local communities forced Macy’s to do a lot of communication.

“It’s a missed point by a lot of big companies,” he says. “Lots of face time with me and my executive team is important. People want to follow your lead. They want to do what you want them to do, but you have to be clear and consistent.

“You can’t have a list of 28 things. You have to be clear, simple, direct, and you’ve got to say it over and over and over again. If you do that, people will respond.”

Having that local focus made all the difference in the world. It worked so well that even in 2009, when the recession was still clearly under way, those stores were outperforming the rest of the country because of the responsiveness to the local city.

“It didn’t take long for us to say, ‘We’re going all the way,’” Lundgren says. “We eliminated the other divisions and replaced them with 69 of these district teams around the country and had one buying office.”

Creating one buyer in New York City for all of Macy’s rather than the previous seven was a crucial move.

“Most of our suppliers are right up the street on Seventh Avenue in New York City,” he says. “One buyer goes to the Ralph Lauren showroom and says, ‘I’m ready to place my order.’ And they are standing at attention because instead of one of seven buyers, they better hope we like the line, because we’re a third of their business.

“We’re a third or 40 percent of everybody else’s business — Estee Lauder, Coach, you name it — Macy’s is the largest customer for almost everyone that we do business with.”

That consolidation has turned Macy’s into the only store you can buy certain brands because of the power it has with the one purchase mentality.

“The combination of that with the localization of the stores has really made all the difference in the world,” he says. “That was all rolled out in 2009.”

Macy’s executed on that strategy in 2010 and had one of the best years in the history of the company.

“We picked up more than $1 billion in same-store sales that year,” Lundgren says. “The year 2011 was significantly better than 2010. We picked up another $1.2 billion in same store sales. In 2012, we are off to a great start.”

Macy’s Inc. had fiscal 2011 sales of $26.4 billion across its more than 800 Macy’s department stores, 37 Bloomingdale’s stores, seven Bloomingdale’s Outlet stores, and The company employs 175,000 people.

“I really relate it to that structure — the name change and allowing us to have a national presence but to act locally, and then the strategy, which we have executed the last couple of years,” Lundgren says.



  • Look for the opportunities to build your business.
  • Make strategic moves that position your company for growth.
  • Understand what makes your business more effective for customers.


How to reach: Macy’s Inc., (513) 579-7000 or


Published in Cincinnati
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:37

Soaring to new heights

Voss Industries Inc. is a vertically integrated, employee-owned business composed of three divisions: Clamp Technology, which serves the industrial marketplace; Voss Aerospace, which serves manufacturers of airframes, jet engines and space vehicles; and Voss Technologies, which serves high-tech markets such as hydrogen fuel cells, medical technology and telecommunications.

Key product lines include extensive prototype and OEM components, sheet metal and machined V-retainer couplings and mated flanges, band clamps, strap assemblies, sheet metal ducting, bulge-formed shapes, custom-welded fabrications and specialty fasteners.

In order to effect continuous improvement in its manufacturing processes, Voss, led by CEO Daniel W. Sedor Sr., has developed benchmarks for performance that specify relative goals and expectations. Through this process, the company has gained a better understanding of its capabilities and has created a focus for training programs to meet the needs of its employees and customers.

The focus on continuous improvement in virtually all of its processes utilizing lean manufacturing concepts has provided advantages to Voss beyond the shop floor. Through the implementation of lean principles in every aspect of its business, the company consistently exceeds its customers’ expectations by providing added value to its offerings.

In the last few years, Voss employees have traveled extensively in North and South America, Europe and Asia to meet with companies and discuss their requirements and needs. These visits have enabled the company to develop stronger relationships with distant customers. Voss plans to continue these travels with cross-functional employee groups representing its engineering, development, manufacturing, quality and sales disciplines.

How to reach: Voss Industries Inc., (216) 771-7655 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:34

Growth and vitality in its mix

Vita-Mix Corporation, privately owned and operated by the Barnard family since 1921, manufactures and markets blending and mixing products to the public and to the restaurant-hospitality industry. During the past four years, Vitamix, led by President and CEO Jodi Berg, has experienced tremendous growth and demand, with production volumes quadrupling. Not only has the volume increased, but the number and types of customers that Vitamix serves has grown as well.

Growing quickly over a short period can create challenges for manufacturing procedures. Fortunately, Vitamix has been able to turn these challenges into opportunities to improve operational capabilities. Vitamix first attempted to implement a lean manufacturing methodology in 2006, only to find that when business activities ramped up, it was unable to sustain the initiative.

Attempts to implement lean methods continued through 2011, when Vitamix recognized the need for a more formal lean and continuous improvement structure to ensure lasting improvements.

In addition to the lean tactics, there are currently three large-scale projects under way in the areas of standardized work, 6S and managing for daily improvement, which have had a positive impact on safety, quality and daily production rates. In addition, eight kaizen events have been completed; these events have focused on quality improvement, production line layout and a warehouse Kanban program. Each of these projects has been completed by cross-functional teams, with production, quality and warehouse personnel playing key roles in the efforts.

Vitamix plans to stay on the same path to continue improving its processes and achieve its lean manufacturing goals.

How to reach: Vita-Mix Corporation, (800) 848-2649 or


Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:30

Sustainable growth

Lean and green is the evolution of manufacturing, according to employees at Visual Marking Systems. The Twinsburg-based company, which provides custom graphic design services, has spent years perfecting the lean piece, investing in a “pure lean” for nearly a decade. So it makes sense that it’s now ramping up its focus on the green aspect, undergoing a 12-month sustainability initiative to implement “green” into the company’s existing lean systems and further evolve its lean enterprise by eliminating waste and minimizing its carbon footprint.

Applying a dual focus on lean and green, VMS launched several new waste elimination projects, including a closed-loop recycling program. Through the program, VMS has not only reduced its environmental footprint by diverting 15 tons of material from landfills, it has converted this waste into a sustainable resource for new products.

In addition to adopting a program to enhance its lean enterprise, in March 2011, VMS took steps to adopt the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership — a nonprofit organization focused on promoting corporate sustainability — into its business. Under the leadership of CEO Dolf Kahle, VMS was the first company in Northern Ohio to achieve SGP certification as a Sustainable Green Printer and second in the state. The certification forces VMS to undergo a stringent third-party audit and to disclose sustainable improvements to stakeholders. VMS was recognized with the 2012 Summit of Sustainability Award in the Small Business Category for its waste-reduction practices and sustainability commitment.

How to reach: Visual Marking Systems Inc., (330) 425-7100 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:26

No assembly required

In a fast-changing, global business environment, Superior Products LLC is among the growing number of manufacturing businesses looking to become leaner, faster and more efficient for customers.

Under the leadership of President Don Mottinger, the manufacturer and provider of logistics services has continued evolve in order to compete with low-cost competition from overseas. This means delivering customers more service with less cost. Through lean manufacturing practices, Superior Products has been able reduce its manpower needs by 46 percent over a decade, minimize waste and increase efficiency in operations.

Superior Products has implemented a number of initiatives to drive lean operations. One is using barcoding to track parts and automate data entry instead of doing it manually. This has saved employees time and increased operational accuracy to more than 99 percent by reducing errors in the manufacturing process.

Another lean practice that saves waste and cost for the company is its Durr EcoClean parts cleaning system. Developing and implementing the new system has helped Superior Products reduce water usage by 98.5 percent by increasing the quality and consistency in its cleaning process.

Automation and new technology are also saving time and money for the company’s customers. Superior Products stores all the operational data of customers on an internal intranet for employees to access remotely, so the company can stay responsive to more than 1,000 customers worldwide. The company has also developed a customer management system, which customers can use to efficiently manage inventory, logistics and orders around the clock.

How to reach: Superior Products LLC, (216) 651-9400 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:07

Steve Klingel: A premium offering

Few issues have gained more national attention over the past few years than the rising costs of health care and the importance of a healthy workplace. More businesses and families are struggling to afford higher insurance premiums as they engage in a tremendous national debate about the government’s proper role in health care and health insurance.

In this environment, businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are confronted with two critical tasks:

  1. How to find the most comprehensive health insurance plan with the least cost.
  2. How to educate and engage employees in a cooperative effort to improve their health on an ongoing basis.

The first task is appropriately specific to each organization and its insurance carrier. But the second priority — identifying and implementing effective employee education and wellness programs — can be universally applied to employers of almost any size.

NCCI recognizes that keeping employees healthy is an important means of controlling workers compensation costs, specifically in regard to the detrimental effects of obesity and the rising costs of treating injured workers.

As a self-insured corporation, we are faced with the same rising health care costs and need to control workers compensation expenses just as every other American business has to. But after looking at the research showing just how effective wellness programs could be, our firm determined to implement our own companywide push for employee wellness in 2008.

The mission of the initiative was to develop a multifaceted approach to assisting and educating employees in making behavioral changes designed to reduce health and injury risks, improve their ability to make healthy choices, and enhance their productivity and well-being. We also wanted wellness to extend beyond the physical to include mental wellness, financial wellness and more.

Get your numbers

The first step was encouraging employees to participate in annual biometric screening and online health assessments. We’ve sponsored the screenings — designed to raise employees’ awareness about their personal health numbers — since 2009. Just knowing their critical health care numbers gives employees the information they need to begin taking better care of themselves.

Choose a theme

A successful wellness program includes programs and activities around clear goals. One way to clarify the goals is to use themes. In 2010, our firm embraced the theme “Mission Nutrition,” which included offering a weight-loss class and nutrition counseling plus retooling our on-site cafeteria and vending machines to provide healthy food options.

The following year our focus was “Get Moving,” and we improved our on-site fitness facilities — adding additional exercise equipment, expanding hours and offering free membership to all employees.

Make it an ongoing effort

This year — as part of our “Choose Well” theme — we are building upon the foundation we’ve started by offering employees increased support and education around health and financial issues that may arise, adding programs including:

•           one-on-one nutrition counseling

•           on-site smoking cessation program

•           free annual flu shots

•           fitness center programs

•           celebration of national employee health and fitness day

•           participation in the local corporate fun run

•           financial workshops

•           a holiday weight loss program

The result? Employees have not only responded enthusiastically to the wellness offerings and our goal to improve overall health, they’ve taken action. Our company’s biometric screenings show that blood pressure and blood sugar results are better. Employees are increasing fitness levels, eating more nutritiously and smoking less.

In fact, many screening participants have moved from a medium- or high-risk category to a low-risk category since the original assessment.

Even as health care costs continue to rise with inflation, many companies are steadying overall expenses by taking this proactive approach to corporate health. In the end, making wellness a company priority not only makes for healthier, happier employees — it supports a healthy bottom line.

Stephen J. Klingel, CPCU, was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Companies for more than 25 years.


Published in Florida
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:46

Great partnerships = great success

Peanut butter and jelly. Nuts and bolts. Lennon and McCartney. Love and marriage. What do all these things have in common?  They represent great partnerships — things that go together, like, well, a hamburger and fries (when I’m not on a diet, of course).

Great partnerships epitomize the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Vanilla ice cream is great, right? And who doesn’t love an ice cold glass of root beer? But put the two together and you’ve created an American classic: the root beer float.

Business can be like this, as well. Your company may be doing fine, but perhaps it can do even better with the help of a well-chosen partner.

After many years of being an independent businessman, I’ve followed my own advice and taken on a partner for the first time ever.

I’ve always felt that to be successful, I had to genuinely believe in my products, so it’s safe to say that my high hits-to-misses ratio was precisely because I considered them all to be labors of love. The Gazelle, Body-by-Bison, Cheeks footwear — they’re like my children in many respects. Still, there are limitations to what one individual can do.

Look to expand

I’ve wanted to expand the reach of my products for quite some time, and the financial resources that a new partner brings are certainly a critical component to achieving this goal. However, the scope of the endeavor also means the partner that I choose must be able to provide more than just cash; they must understand the business I’m in, backward and forward.

Look at what a partner can bring to the table to supplement your strengths. If I approach things intelligently, I can work with my partner to get the right buyers with negotiation skills so we can source products at the best possible prices in order to make a decent profit.

Of course, having a partner who is also willing to put the money up to buy the products is also key because of the importance of having an equity stake in what you sell beyond just collecting royalties.

What makes someone a good partner may vary depending on the business that you’re in, but it’s critical to understand that a true partner contributes more than just money to the venture.

Decide if a partner is a good fit

At the end of the day, the decision to take on a partner will hinge largely on what you determine to be your ultimate goal for your business.

For me, at this stage of my life, it’s about expanding the availability of my products internationally and to broaden my retail distribution channels.  Some of it is driven by my desire to be the best I can be — but it’s also fair to say that I’m looking at monetizing the value of my trademarks, copyrights and patents so that there’s a tangible value to the company that can be sold someday.

The thought of giving up 100 percent ownership and control of your business to have a lesser share might be difficult at first. I admit it, I like calling the shots. But I also know that I can’t do everything at that level. The key is to focus on the big picture and try not to let your emotions get in the way of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently — nobody wants to run a company forever. And if you can build your company up to the point where it’s functioning well and is highly desirable, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in that, not to mention a nice pay day, when you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor — especially if they’ve been labors of love.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at

Published in Columnist
Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:28

The 2012 Weatherhead 100

When voters in the Cleveland school district approved its first operating levy in 16 years, it wasn’t an anomaly. It was recognition that Cleveland is and has been in a progressive mode — and the region is in motion as new projects are being planned, developed and launched.

Just as a first-ever coalition of business, labor, civic and clergy groups joined to support the schools, area companies have been hard at work to ensure this revival of Greater Cleveland.

Entrepreneurs have been innovating. Economic development has been on the front burner. Projects have been completed — such as the Horseshoe Casino. The Cleveland Browns have a new owner. And towering supports dot the downtown sky as the new Innerbelt Bridge starts to take form.

On the following pages, you’ll find the names, facts, figures and stories of 126 area companies that have also contributed to the resurgence by accomplishing outstanding percentages of growth. We recognize them for their contributions to our communities and their demonstrated strength of the entrepreneurial spirit in our region.

For instance, Magnus International Group Inc. grew an amazing 2,736 percent in the past five years. Most of that growth has taken place since 2010. Magnus at that point started concentrating on creating products for a new market segment – animal feed ingredients — and its business took off.

When Joe Pulizzi left a media company some six years ago to found what is now the Content Marketing Institute, he knew a change was in the air for marketing. The digital world was facing companies, content was king, and they had to get on board. CMI has grown 1,684 percent in the past five years, largely through its events, including Content Marketing World.

The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and the Council of Smaller Enterprises are proud to honor the Weatherhead 100 class of 2012. Here are the class members.

Published in Akron/Canton