Dustin S. Klein

Tuesday, 31 August 2004 06:44

Child's play

Dave Gilbert admits that the idea of a sports commission in a community is not new. The first sports commission was formed more than 20 years ago in San Diego, and since then, hundreds of cities have joined in the effort to attract sporting events to their communities as a means to fill hotel rooms.

But Gilbert, who resurrected the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission in 1999, is doing something his peers in other cities are not -- offering true partnership opportunities to sporting organizations.

"We found that people are looking for strong partners," Gilbert says. "Whether they're the Olympic Committee, the NCAA or local people representing their sport, they're looking for people who can make their event more successful."

Witness the recent International Children's Games in Cleveland, the first time the event has taken place in the United States. Not only did it pour millions of dollars into Northeast Ohio and raise the international visibility of Cleveland, it also required the GCSC to forge strong partnerships with the games, the regional community and business leaders to make it successful.

When Gilbert left the Convention and Visitors Bureau to spark new life into the sports commission -- which was founded in 1993 but had been disbanded, leaving only its tax ID number -- his business plan focused on three elements that were not being incorporated at other sports commissions.

First, GCSC partners with sports organizations and event rights holders instead of serving just as a market recruiting organization.

Explains Gilbert, "We join as a management and financial partner. That provides both parties with incentive to assure that the events held in Cleveland are more successful than in other cities."

Second, GCSC takes calculated risks.

"We have had a financial involvement in more than 20 of the 50 events we've done," Gilbert says. "We've leveraged our small budget by taking risks on events that other communities may buy. You have to look at each event as a deal and measure your risk and risk tolerance, then develop a business plan for each event and determine how you're going to generate the revenue."

Those two elements lead to Gilbert's third goal -- use sporting events as a tool for economic and community development.

"It's not just filling hotel rooms," he says. "It's also about how you get different organizations and constituencies feeding off each other." HOW TO REACH: Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, (216) 621-0600 or www.clevelandsports.org

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:16

Eye on the prize

Greg Skoda is obsessed with growth.

That's not a bad thing, especially when the focus is two-pronged -- growing your clients' businesses and growing your own.

"There's a lot of pain at every step of building a business," says Skoda, chairman of Skoda Minotti & Co., a Mayfield Village-based financial and accounting services firm recently been recognized by Bowman's Accounting Report as the fourth fastest growing accounting firm in the nation. "Some people get lucky, but that's not the norm. It takes a lot of heart and soul and pain from within an organization to make it succeed."

Skoda should know. Since 1980, when he launched his first accounting firm, Skoda Minotti & Reeves, he has been involved in some serious business wheeling and dealing. He helped co-found a public company, CBIZ, changing the business model of accounting services firms when he folded Skoda Minotti & Reeves into it and embarked on an 18-month acquisition frenzy that led to adding more than 130 accounting and financial services firms to the business.

He co-founded Alliance Holding Co., which acquired, operated and took public three insurance companies in 1996. And he co-founded the Lake-Geauga Fast Track 50 program, which each year recognizes the 50 fastest growing businesses in those counties at an awards dinner that draws more than 500 attendees.

Add to that Skoda's most recent venture, which he has grown from 20 employees in 2001 to nearly 100 today, and there's little question that building businesses has become his expertise. How to reach: Skoda Minotti & Co., (440) 449-6800 or www.skodaminotti.com

Thursday, 11 March 2004 11:59

The fitness business

Last month, amidst the launch of election season and the true start of political infighting, restaurant giant McDonald's announced to little fanfare that it was eliminating its super-sized french fries and soft drinks.

While the McDonald's spin doctors said the reason for the move was "menu simplification," it's easy to speculate that the real reason for the change is the growing media attention on reports that our citizens --and specifically, American children -- rank among the fattest in the world.

Contrary to McDonald's suspended belief in how things occur, the sudden disappearance of super-sized French fries isn't going to solve the nation's obesity problem. In fact, eating smaller orders of fries and drinking smaller Cokes are about as likely to solve the problem of obesity and promote healthy living as diets fads such as Atkins, South Beach or The Zone are to eliminate the growing epidemic.

So it's time to consider something radical -- such as a genuinely healthier diet and, God forbid, some good old-fashioned exercise.

People are busier these days trying to make a living -- especially executives. But with the health problems associated with obesity, it's not going to take long before the trade-off for one's valuable time becomes akin to something of a gamble with one's life. And what CEO is willing to bet on that type of business proposition?

Love them or hate them, the fitness-related infomercials you see on television in growing numbers do promote healthier lifestyles. And, as you'll read in this month's cover story, Canton-based Fitness Quest has made a mint by being on the forefront of this industry.

Not only has CEO Robert Schnabel innovated with regard to celebrity endorsements, product development and multiple channel marketing, his products require that the users actually break a sweat in order to achieve the desired results.

Think about that the next time you're adding an extra beef patty to that double cheeseburger with everything ... and then and ordering a diet soda to go with it.

Friday, 30 January 2004 07:43

Ups and downs

(Ups) to OneCleveland. The bold initiative was launched in September 2003 by a collaboration led by CWRU and aims to provide high-speed Internet connections via wired and wireless systems to 75 percent of Cleveland's residents by 2010 and 99 percent by 2015. Because of the many miles of fiber-optic cables beneath the streets of Cleveland, experts say the project could turn Greater Cleveland into the largest and fastest metropolitan network in the world.

(Downs) to Gov. Bob Taft for signing the concealed gun law. It's just what every HR manager or CEO needs to be thinking about when disciplining or terminating a problem employee -- that he or she could be packing a hidden weapon.

(Ups) to Diebold. The North Canton firm continues to overcome serious questions about the security and effectiveness of its computerized voting machines. At year's end, Diebold landed a 16-county deal to provide electronic voting services across Ohio. This is just the beginning in the company's home state, which aims to convert voting systems in all 88 counties and has Diebold on its short list of potential vendors.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003 06:48

The Great Prognosticator

Several years ago, I wrote a column for an online sports magazine under the pen name, "The Great Prognosticator." Prog, as he was called, predicted what was going to happen with baseball, football and basketball games, as well as potential organizational and player moves.

The column was essentially tongue-in-cheek, fact-based sports fiction, but the idea was that my character was never wrong. Ever.

Each January, Smart Business publishes its "Companies to Watch" feature, pointing out which firms around Northeast Ohio are worth keeping an eye on and why. Last year, we listed 22 companies.

So how did we do? Well, we weren't perfect, like Prog, but we weren't terrible, either.

We correctly predicted a strong year for OfficeMax, saying that its restructuring efforts in 2001 and 2002 left a much leaner operation in place and that the company deserved renewed attention.

As predicted, its profits soared during 2003. Further, the leaner operations garnered the attention of Boise Cascade, which in July announced it would acquire the Shaker Heights-based office supply retailer for $1.15 billion in cash and stock.

We also said that Quark Biotech's future in Northeast Ohio was in jeopardy because, among other issues, it had difficulty attracting Ph.D. level job candidates. Its future here ended when it announced in September it was moving operations to California.

Conversely, our assessment of Advanced Lighting Technologies produced mixed results. We asserted CEO Wayne Hellman put the company into such trouble during 2002 that "pending a miracle, it doesn't look like 2003 will be any better."

In February 2003, the company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection, making us look like seers. But then that miracle we alluded to arrived in late October, when the company announced it had reached an agreement with the creditors' committee to accept the terms of the company's reorganization plan.

That plan included taking the company private with an infusion of cash by Saratoga Partners and, believe it or not, keeping Hellman at the helm. Under any circumstances we didn't expect him to survive with the company this long.

This year, we have a different bent on our list. We recruited several regional experts to give us their ideas. We hope you enjoy it, and next year at this time, we'll look back and tell you how accurate our "experts'" predictions were.

Thursday, 11 December 2003 10:43

Ones to watch

Prognostication is not an exact science. When predicting the future it's important to keep in mind the warning used in the small print of any investment vehicle: "Past performance does not indicate future results."

Despite that, we journalists can't help ourselves. It's in our blood. We constantly analyze what companies do and why, then try to forecast what will happen to them and when.

This year, however, Smart Business has taken a different approach to determining its annual Companies to Watch list. Instead of telling you who we think you should keep your eyes on, we asked regional experts in the legal, accounting, health care and financial fields to provide their choices. Who better to point out companies of interest than those executives who are on the front lines with their fingers squarely on the pulse of the regional economy?

Here are the results.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

"Goodyear is a linchpin to the Akron economy," says Jerry Whitmer, managing partner of Brouse McDowell. "The last few years have been difficult for Goodyear, with rising material costs and increased competition from Bridgestone, Michelin and other foreign competitors. Goodyear's new CEO, Robert Keegan, is remaking the company with aggressive and meaningful changes, like restructuring the company's debt, selling divisions and meeting with independent tire dealers.

"Employment is dropping, but sales are increasing."

Joe LaGuardia, regional vice president of Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Ohio, agrees.

"What many people don't know is that five of their businesses have achieved year-over-year segment operating income growth -- a difficult trick for one business unit to achieve," LaGuardia says.

The skinny: A turnaround by Goodyear will be a turnaround for the Akron area economy, bolstering businesses that supply it with goods and services.

InfoCision Management Corp.

Akron-based InfoCision is one of America's largest and most successful telemarketing companies.

"InfoCision has a special strength among charitable and conservative causes, raising money for Christian ministries and for conservative political groups," says Whitmer. "Recent legislation concerning the Do Not Call list may present serious obstacles for the company and its current way of doing business. Nonetheless, InfoCision has long been recognized as an industry leader both in innovation and in quality of service.

"It is expected that InfoCision will find a way to flourish and prosper despite this additional legislation."

Mark Goldfarb, managing partner of SS&G Financial Services, is also high on InfoCision. He points out that "the media craze over recent call-center regulation has set InfoCision apart in many ways."

This includes a $2 million investment in proprietary technology that has allowed the company to prepare for and manage client programs since the implementation of the Do Not Call list and the benefit of having experienced, executive-level regulatory compliance staff and legal counsel already in-house.

Prognosis: So far, the company has adapted well to the Do Not Call legislation. If InfoCision builds upon its nonprofit sector business -- one of its strongest divisions -- it could further distinguish itself from competitors and have a banner 2004 and beyond.

Emergency Medicine Physicians

Emergency Medicine Physicians of Canton uses "an innovative concept for compensating health care professionals," says Ron Kopp, managing partner of Roetzel & Andress, calling it the "law firm model." The company hires only board-certified emergency medicine physicians, those who have gone to an accredited program and specialized. After finding the most qualified doctors, the company makes them partners, not employees.

EMP doctors become partners after 3,800 clinic hours, which usually takes two years, and after the third year, they become equal partners.

"2003 brought continued expansion for EMP into several new areas across Northeast Ohio and several key appointments for its physicians," says Ron Manse, the new managing partner of Bruner-Cox. "The firm founders were also recognized by Ernst & Young as one of its Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year winners."

Outlook: With continued problems in the health care industry, companies like EMP that find ways to innovate, fill a niche and turn a profit can anticipate a bright future.

Diebold Inc.

"The company is a leader in two business segments -- ATMs and voting machines -- in which technology and market forces are stimulating change," says Mark Filippell, senior managing director and co-manager, mergers and acquisitions, McDonald Investments. "Its ATM business is a world leader and is incorporating new optical reading capabilities.

"More in the news is its voting machine business, which continues to mushroom as the 2000 Florida election results highlighted the need for sophisticated voting systems."

Adds Manse: "A large number of privately owned companies in Northeast Ohio depend on the success of Diebold." He sees even greater success for the regional companies that Diebold outsources to for parts, products and services.

The upside: If Diebold overcomes the questions surrounding shortcomings in its voting machine systems, the company could revolutionize the industry.

Ice Tubes Inc.

Ice Tubes is an award-winning manufacturing company headquartered in Tallmadge. Owner and CEO Pam Moore created an innovative cylindrical ice tube product that keeps drinks cold.

Says Whitmer, "Pam has grown the company to a $5 million business and has been selected by Wal-Mart and other big box retailers as a supplier."

Why Ice Tubes? American consumers love unique products that make their lives easier. With Wal-Mart's massive reach, Ice Tubes is well-positioned to take the next step of hypergrowth.

Construction Labor Group

"For years, leased labor was generally perceived as the reactive, just-in-time answer to a pressing need for additional workers to get the job done," says Goldfarb. "Today, contractors are turning the corner as their perception shifts from the old view to a new way of doing business. This increased industry awareness of the benefits of leased labor, coupled with the complete labor solution provided by CLC, guarantees their place in the spotlight."

Tim Cherotti, president of Construction Labor Contractors, the group's trade name, has spent the last three years aggressively growing CLC. The company has added five offices, bringing its national total to 10. And, says Goldfarb, "CLC is the frontrunner among construction labor leasing companies in its commitment to safety and health. Participation in Ohio's Drug Free Workplace program and the company's own on-staff authorized OSHA outreach safety trainer prove their dedication."

The crystal ball says: With four offices slated to open in 2004 in North Carolina and South Carolina, CLC's aggressive expansion should continue with little problem.

Seaman Corp.

Seaman is a company in growth mode, says Kopp. The company, which manufactures industrial fabrics, last year embarked on a $7 million, 19,000-square-foot expansion to its Wooster plant to meet increased product demand.

Further, company President and CEO Richard Seaman has "purchased new equipment that has dramatically improved production methods, expanded the company's product line and greatly increased quality," Kopp says.

The future: While other manufacturers continue to lay off workers, Seaman expects to create 30 new jobs over the next three years. Efficient operations will lead to continued strong sales.

SkyLAN Ltd.

"A broadband wireless networks company in downtown Canton that is quietly making a mark in the industry," says Manse. "Its product is a fractional cost of wired connections."

SkyLAN, a wireless Internet connection company started by Tim Wilson in 2000, in October added radio veteran and electronics engineer Ray Hexamer as CEO. The firm serves customers in Canton, Akron, Wooster and New Philadelphia, and has other areas in its sights. Manse says the addition of Hexamer, a successful administrator, further helps position SkyLAN to grow in the wireless communications arena.

Industry outlook: According to a Federal Communications Commission report, the market for unlicensed wireless communications devices is experiencing double-digit growth and is expected to reach $5.2 billion in revenue by 2005 for wireless computer networking alone. That's good news for SkyLan if it can take advantage of the opportunity.

Three D Metals Inc.

This value-added metals service center specializes in the slitting, edging and oscillating of high carbon, low carbon, stainless, copper and brass alloys for the automotive, appliance, electrical and construction industries. Three D services more than 500 manufacturers and fabricators in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Goldfarb says founder and president David Dickens Sr. has made significant investments in his Valley City plant and its employees over the past few years, and it is starting to pay off. Three D launched a new oscillating product line recently, and Goldfarb points to 12 percent sales growth in 2003, with anticipated 20-plus percent growth for fiscal 2004.

The good word: A shiny future.

The Flood Co.

Located in Hudson, the company is a family-owned manufacturer of high-quality painting and wood finishing products.

"During the past year, CEO Peter Flood hired former Realty One CEO Anthony Ciepiel to serve as COO," says Whitmer. "The Flood Co. is a company to watch in 2004 as it continues to compete through product innovation."

Prediction: Ciepiel was successful in building Realty One into an industry leader. There's no reason that, under his guidance, The Flood Co.'s operations will do anything other than improve. Look for Flood to hit a new high water mark in 2004.

In the know

Four of this year's experts focused exclusively on companies in the Akron/Canton region. Here are their complete lists.

Jerry Whitmer, managing partner, Brouse McDowell

Ice Tubes Inc.

Akron Children's Hospital

The Flood Co.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

The University of Akron

Kent State University

InfoCision Management Corp.

FirstMerit Corp.

Ron Kopp, managing partner, Roetzel & Andress

Employer's Select Plan Agency

Central Federal Bank

The Talon Group

First Communications Corp.

Seaman Corp.

Second National Bank of Warren

SS&G Financial Services

Emergency Medicine Physicians

Imaging Science & Services

Portage Precision Polymers

Ron Manse, managing partner, Bruner-Cox

Innis Maggiore Group

Coon Restoration & Sealants

SkyLAN Ltd.

Emergency Medicine Physicians

Diebold Inc.

The Timken Co.

The Hoover Co.

Mark Goldfarb, managing director, SS&G Financial Services

Technical Consumer Products

Three D Metals Inc.

Fame Beverage

InfoCision Management Corp.

Construction Labor Group

Frank Michaels Homes Inc.

U.S. Technology Corp.

Audio-Technica U.S. Inc.

Premium Transportation Staffing Inc.

Thursday, 11 December 2003 10:40

The Great Prognosticator

Several years ago, I wrote a column for an online sports magazine under the pen name "The Great Prognosticator." Prog, as he was called, predicted what was going to happen with baseball, football and basketball games, as well as potential organizational and player moves.

The column was essentially tongue-in-cheek, fact-based sports fiction, but the idea was that my character was never wrong. Ever.

Each January, Smart Business publishes its "Companies to Watch" feature, pointing out which firms around Northeast Ohio are worth keeping an eye on and why. Last year, we listed 22 companies.

So how did we do? Well, we weren't perfect, like Prog, but we weren't terrible, either.

We correctly predicted a strong year for Jo-Ann Stores, saying that CEO Alan Rosskamm's perseverance with regard to integrating a new SAP software system was a driving factor behind the company's 2002 resurgence. As predicted, sales increases continued during 2003, and Jo-Ann's stock price followed suit.

We also saw good things for RPM Inc. under young CEO Frank Sullivan. The Medina company continued its impressive growth, posting 2003 sales that were 5 percent greater than in 2002.

On the other hand, our assessment of Viztec Inc. couldn't have been more wrong. We looked at the company's 2002 successes -- strong technology, a $1 million state grant and new leadership -- and believed those would translate into "the breakout year for Viztec." Shortly after making that statement -- in fact, the same month our prediction ran in Smart Business -- the company failed to land another round of financing and threw in the towel, putting its assets up for sale.

And who could have guessed that Wal-Mart's "2002 Carrier of the Year," Roadway Corp., would be acquired by its competitor, Yellow Corp., just when its business was benefiting from competitors that had gone out of business?

Or that a National Do Not Call Registry would be implemented, putting up obstacles for InfoCision Management's surging expansion?

Certainly not us. We didn't think to predict those kinds of business events.

This year, we have a different bent on our list. We recruited several regional experts to give us their ideas.

We hope you enjoy it, and next year at this time, we'll look back and tell you how accurate our "experts" predictions were.

Thursday, 20 November 2003 11:22

Behind the times

I own a formidable collection of memorabilia from the dot-com era, a reminder of this unique time of hyper-entrepreneurship, when legend has it that money really did grow on trees ... or at least on the back of cocktail napkins.

Only one company represented in my collection had roots in Ohio, and it relocated to Chicago to live out its numbered days. The collection is reflective of the start-up activity in Ohio in comparison to that in the rest of the country, and it reaffirms the region's -- and state's -- conservative investment mindset.

Northeast Ohio not only missed the boat in the late '90s because venture capital, private investment and bank funds weren't invested, but the region remains slow in sparking new business growth.

This is why I'm surprised to hear complaints about Ohio voters' rejection of Issue 1, which would have allowed the state -- and more specifically, Gov. Bob Taft -- to borrow money by issuing bonds to invest in private business start-ups. Backers called the defeat a devastating blow to the prospects of high-tech and education-driven ventures in Ohio.

Hogwash! The rejection is nothing more than a message that voters aren't happy with Taft or his economic plan, don't want him racking up another $50 million in bond debt each year and don't trust him to judge which investments have a good business future. (To be fair, his Third Frontier Project, not affected by the failure of Issue 1, is a good program that has helped businesses across the state.)

Entrepreneurship will continue in its own stunted way as mid-sized companies expand through cash flow, limited private investments and bank credit lines as they've always done.

There is a larger issue here, and that is that Northeast Ohioans continue to pray for one big panacea to spark economic development, such as an Issue 1, a $400 million convention center or a Whiskey Island economic development project. This is the wrong way to spur growth in business and jobs. It's time to start thinking about how to build jobs slowly, sustainably and systematically -- especially considering the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs that will never return.

To do this will require the region's financial stalwarts to provide more business loans, greater start-up capital amounts and less conservative financial thinking. Otherwise, the rest of the nation will benefit from an economic recovery, while Northeast Ohio falls even further behind.

Thursday, 23 October 2003 11:13

Celluloid simplicity

Movies typically aren't designed to teach crucial life lessons. What can you really learn from "The School of Rock" or "The Matrix" that can help you get ahead in life or advance your business?

You can, however, learn a lot from the art of movie making, where the story behind the scenes can be much more enlightening. Consider "Citizen Kane."

The saga of how Orson Welles made "Citizen Kane" is nearly as legendary as the movie. In his fictional portrayal of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Welles challenged accepted cinematography practices. Here are three tips from the silver screen you can apply to your own endeavors.

Think big

Following his stunning radio performance of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," RKO Studios handed Welles carte blanche to make a film. The idea to tackle Hearst as a subject came after attending a lavish party at Hearst's opulent San Simeon estate, where the young director saw the over-the-top manner in which one of the world's most powerful men lived.

Few people would have dared take on Hearst while he was alive, even in a movie, but success rarely comes to those who don't aim high and think big.

Break new ground

In 1941, when Welles made "Citizen Kane," many of today's movie-making techniques didn't exist. To achieve one low-angle shot, Welles shocked his production team by digging up a studio lot's concrete floor to drop the camera several feet below ground.

Had Welles relied on conventional tools of the day and eschewed experimentation, he wouldn't have created the visual masterpiece he did. In your business, if you're afraid to try new things you probably won't differentiate your company from competitors.

Don't give up

Hearst used his vast media empire to put pressure on RKO Pictures to drop the "Citizen Kane" project. But Welles convinced the studio to let him finish the picture and release it.

Think about that when you face adversity in your business. If you eschew challenges -- whether they are the normal struggles your business faces each day or unique problems that threaten your company -- you can be assured of failure.

Had Welles caved in to Hearst, the world would not have experienced a movie that changed its industry. And your big, new business idea that threatens your competitors could very well do the same.

Thursday, 23 October 2003 11:08

Ups and downs

(Ups) to the seven cities recognized as business-friendly communities. Brook Park, Maple Heights, Medina, Painesville, Ravenna, Stow and Wadsworth were honored by the Greater Akron Chamber and the Greater Cleveland Growth Association for economic development initiatives and practices that have led to job creation and business retention.

(Ups) to E-merging Technologies Group. The Cleveland tech firm is a key part of an information technology team for Northrop Grumman that last month landed a $281 million U.S. Navy contract to develop an enterprise-wide solution for the Navy's personnel and pay capabilities. It's a major coup for an up-and-coming company.

(Ups) to the Cleveland Foodbank. The group, which distributes more than 18 million pounds of food each year to more than 400 agencies in six counties, is building a 110,000-square-foot distribution center that brings operations from four unconnected buildings under one roof. To date, the Foodbank has raised $6 million of the $9 million needed to complete the project.