Katherines Collection has found its niche creating products which bring back the nostalgia of childhood.
Katherines Collection at Silver Lake Inc., co-owned by Wayne and Katherine Kleski, was started by the couple as a Home Party Plan in 1991. In 1994, the couple decided to evolve their Twinsburg business into an import company, an act which has spurred the growth of the company. For the last five years, Katherines Collection has established itself as a trendsetter in the gift and decorative accessory market.
The collection includes items such as original numbered dolls, handcrafted baskets, porcelain products and Victorian mirrors, among others. The company counts as one of its competitive advantages the ability to design unique, high quality products.
The Kleskis have been astounded by the growth of the company, from four employees in 1994 to 38 today. Katherines Collection sales have increased by more than 800 percent since 1994, with an employee emphasis on excellence in product development and customer service.
The combination of the talents of Katherine and Wayne has been instrumental in this husband and wife teams success, which includes showrooms in Dallas and Chicago and attendance at several trade shows each year.
Katherine works with the companys management to ensure complete customer satisfaction, stays abreast of the status of each department, and acts as a liaison between the company and bankers, contractors and Realtors.
Wayne has used his talent and 25 years of experience to ensure the designs that Katherines Collection presents to the industry are unique and of a high quality. His daily inspiration remains the days he spent as a young boy with his Italian grandmother, from whom he learned the value of hard work, craftsmanship and attention to detail.
The Kleskis have been very pleasantly surprised by the companys success and are optimistic that growth will continue with their hands-on to approach to business that has nurtured not only the growth of the company, but that of its dedicated staff.
In a job market in which qualified employees are hard to come by, ELBEX Corp. is attracting and keeping an increasing number of full-time workers by offering good old-fashioned benefits.
Its very hard to get people and very hard to keep them, says ELBEX Corp. President Edward L. Bittle. Its a daily struggle.
To help ease the struggle, which is faced by many area employers, and to ensure it continues to attract quality workers, the manufacturer of custom extruded rubber products offers benefits including two pension plans, life insurance, medical insurance, a profit sharing plan, paid holidays and paid vacations. Although many companies offer similar benefits, ELBEX is unusual in that the benefits cost the employees nothing the company picks up 100 percent of the tab.
Were doing everything we can right now, Bittle says.
ELBEX has gone from nothing to about 80 employees since it was founded in Kent in 1992. Some key employees, such as general manager Marlin Hickey and sales manager Donna Delgado, have been with the company since the beginning, while others have been added as the companys sales continue to increase.
These are the people who have made this thing grow, says Bittle.
ELBEX has more than doubled its sales figures since 1994, with sales growth of nearly 50 percent from 1997 to 1998 alone. Bittle says the company is taking steps now to ensure that it continues to grow in the future. Thats why we just made a big investment in a new plant.
The 34,000-square-foot factory is 90 percent operational and the move in is nearly complete.
Companies are working overtime to put in place intranets, local networks set up within a company for employees; and extranets, internal computer networks available to select outside users.
But in their haste to get some system any system in place, many arent considering all the angles. To help you get it right the first time, here are 10 common misperceptions and mistakes to avoid making in setting up your companys intranets and extranets.
1. Its all in how it looks. The actual content doesnt really matter.
Content is king, says Sam Keller, CEO of Kelltech, an Independence-based company specializing in content management systems. Intranets and extranets are used much more frequently that a Web site and have to be just as fun and exciting as a Web site to keep you coming back. Companies set up an intranet, then wonder why internal use has dropped off. If content isnt fresh and valuable, no one wants to go there.
2. You can save money by using old equipment.
Many companies want to retain old equipment and old technology and adjust it to the new standards, says Alex Desberg, marketing director of Bright.net Internet Providers, a Doylestown-based company based which recently opened a Cleveland office. People try to salvage three- or four-year-old machines, often spending more money to upgrade than they would have to replace old equipment.
Many figure if the old equipment still works, why upgrade?
They dont want to change it, Desberg says. It works, why look at something else? Because it just doesnt work as well.
Dale Malick, marketing director and co-owner of Malick Peterson Productions Inc. in Akron, adds, It will cost you some money up front, but the money you put into it will pay itself back in the very near future.
3. You can have a system up and running tomorrow.
Without planning, a company will inevitably be disappointed.
The more time you put into it, the more youre going to get out of it, Desberg says.
Too often, companies are excited about setting up a system, then disappointed when it doesnt bring the expected results.
You cant build a house on sand, Keller says. Its such an emotional process. People are so excited, but every step has to be checked and doubled checked. Start collecting e-mail addresses and profiles of your accounts, and youre that much closer.
Malick suggests starting slowly.
That gives clients the ability to take it in small steps, then take it to the next level, Malick says. They can grow into it and see results. They can see the benefits of stage one, then move on to stage two and stage three.
4. You cant predict the future, so base your system on your needs today.
Companies buy equipment to meet the needs of todays 10 employees, but dont realize that theyre growing and in six months theyre going to have 20 people, Desberg says. Instead of spending a little extra money now, they lock themselves in. In six months, they realize they could be (doing more), and their system has no upgradability.
And buying discounted equipment to save a few dollars is a big mistake.
Its an upgrade over what they have, but theyre saving $100 on something that went out of date last week, Desberg says.
Malick adds that companies are best served by equipment and services that can be easily taken to the next level.
5. Find a great provider, and let go.
Stay involved in the development process. Keller says many companies fail to commit the time and resources to do it right.
They dont realize that they have to sit down and understand the fulfillment process, how to manage the content to keep it fresh, Keller says.
Adds Desberg, It becomes a great educational process.
6. Dont know your audience? It doesnt really matter.
Failing to clearly identify your audience can sink your site.
You need to understand whos interested in what, Keller says. Suppliers accessing an extranet need information in a timely manner. Employees accessing an intranet need a reason to keep coming back.
7. Make the site easily accessible.
Extranets should be difficult to find, so only those who have a reason to be there end up there.
You want it to be buried under a rock so anyone who find the site is qualified to be there, Keller says
8. Make your site applicable to anyone and everyone.
Instead of setting up a general extranet site, target wholesalers and customers individually.
You can dynamically generate a site for that particular resaler, Keller says. People dont realize you can be that specific.
9. Find a cheap provider and go with it.
Look out for cheap, quick solutions, Keller says. Theres no such thing. To implement takes a long period of time.
Desberg recommends hiring a provider because it is the best one to meet your companys needs, not because its the cheapest.
10. You can get a better deal if you sign a long-term contract.
Signing an extended contract may be a mistake.
Talk about slitting your wrists, Desberg says. Technology is changing so quickly. Bright.net sees clients now who should have been out of (their current) technology 18 months ago, but were locked into contracts.
Why would you shackle yourself if you know its going to change?
Bruner Coxs Web site used to be just a bland compilation of corporate information. Once potential clients saw it, they had no reason to come back, says marketing manager Diana McGonigal.
It was terrible, McGonigal says. We took whatever printed material we had and just put it on the Web. But when you do that, theres no value to clients and potential clients, no reason for them to come back or call you.
Now, after months of retooling, the regional accounting firm with offices in Akron and Canton uses the Internet more as a sales tool and less as a brochure, offering quick bits of information at its site.
Just a few years ago, company Web sites were still unusual. As firms began jumping into the game, many just wanted to post something, anything, to represent themselves on the Internet. For most, thats no longer enough.
The change has been from providing basic information about companies, material usually used in brochures and contact information, to more interactive types of information, where transactions can take place, says Jeff Bryk of Digital Ideas/Internet Solutions in Akron. I can say without much hesitation that just like every business requires a phone, every business will require an Internet site.
Summervilles, an office furniture and supplies store based in Akron, with retail stores in Canton and Hartville, has had a Web site for years, but it didnt do much, owner Skip Summerville says. On June 1, the company went online with www.theofficeplace.com, designed by Knight Ridder and advertised on the companys newspaper sites nationally.
The older site, www.summervilles.com could take orders, but not many were coming in.
The market is just becoming ready. People didnt want it two years ago, Summerville says.
The older site has become more business-to-business oriented. The new site is strictly sales oriented, Summerville says, with the companys entire inventory of more than 20,000 items online.
Theres no corporate information. People really arent interested in that, he says. They just want to know what the price is and they want to get it quickly.
When buying over the Internet became possible, customers were hesitant about putting credit card information out into cyberspace. But as more people turn to the convenience of the Web to buy products and services, consumer reluctance has decreased, says Pamela Pierce, owner of Empowering You!, a full-service Web design firm in Akron.
People should feel comfortable, Pierce says. We tell people theyre more likely to get their credit card stolen by giving it to their server (in a restaurant) than they are if they put it on the Web.
Summerville agrees the reluctance is fading. While a few customers e-mail to ask someone to call them about an order, most do the entire transaction online, and, in fact, prefer to communicate via e-mail, he says.
To make buying online more attractive, companies are offering Web-only promotions or discounts. Summerville terms his companys online pricing very aggressive, adding, Its a benefit to the buyer to buy over the Internet because of lower overhead.
Theofficeplace.com offers e-mail specials to registered users, an inexpensive and effective way to keep in touch with customers, Pierce says.
People are willing to give basic information in order to get information more targeted to their interests, she says.
Contests can also drive traffic and generate excitement. Through mid-August, theofficeplace.com is accepting Web entries for the giveaway of a computer.
That gives us a list of potential customers, he says. In addition, People talk about it and send it to their friends.
Bruner Cox also wants people talking about its site, and offers a quiz to test browsers accounting knowledge. Contestants receive scoring, and, the firm hopes, pass the information along.
Maybe people will tell their friends, I found these questions. You ought to try it, McGonigal says.
Michael Murray, president of Convey.com in Garfield Heights, which designed the Bruner Cox site, says his client was looking for something to add value, to offer people in exchange for the personal information needed to gain a password.
The more you ask from people, the more you have to give them, Murray says. That doesnt necessarily have to be a gift certificate or a free booklet, but you have to give them value for their time.
Items such as the quiz, or tax tips updated weekly, cost the company little, but make the site worth coming back to.
While many firms are using the Internet to add to their existing business, some entrepreneurs are using it as a starting point.
Some businesses use their site as a full business, says Pierce. I believe in the next couple of years, more businesses will have their full business on line and decide to close their store fronts.
Bryk agrees, saying the cost of doing business on the Internet is much less than doing it the traditional way.
You can be one person in your basement running the business. You dont need someone to answer the phone. It can work for you 24 hours a day at no cost, Bryk says. Theres been an explosion. Thats the only way to describe it. People are trying to capitalize on the Internet. If youre in Akron, instead of just selling in Akron, youre increasing your potential market dramatically.
That levels the playing field.
On the Internet, its not the size of the company. If youre capable of producing the product, backing up the product, offer it at a competitive price, theres no reason you cant compete again the bigger companies, Bryk says. How to reach: Summervilles, (330) 535-3163, www. summervilles.com, www.theofficeplace.com; Bruner Cox, Canton, (330) 497-2000, Akron, (330) 376-0100, www.brunercox.com; Digital Ideas/Internet Solutions, (330) 733-9730, www.digitalideas.com; Empowering You!, (330) 375-0060; Convey.com, (216) 982-7617, www.convey.com
Edward Tromczynsky, president and COO of PlanSoft Corp., makes raising capital look simple, but he says finding the money to grow a company is hard work.
Its not easy to raise capital, Tromczynsky says. You have to work hard, put together a good plan and a good management team and have some revenue already.
PlanSoft, a technology company based in Twinsburg, is a worldwide provider of Internet-based, business-to-business e-commerce solutions for the meeting, convention and event industry.
If youre taking 500 people to Chicago, you need to find a hotel, Tromczynsky says. You have no idea whats there. You need a convention center, off-site locations for dinner, you need to know what airlines go there, how to get from the airport, audiovisual equipment, centerpieces. All of that stuff is on our Web site.
Tromczynsky and co-founder Bruce Harris started the business about five years ago in Tromczynskys home and incorporated in 1997. They initially raised $1 million, then a few million more in private commitments. Last June, the company closed on investments of $11.25 million.
We sent out 75 business plans and got 50 venture firms very interested, he says. People say, Youre a tech company in Twinsburg. You raised $11.25 million? Theyre pretty amazed. Im unaware of any other tech venture raising $11.25 million in Ohio.
This spring, Tromczynsky attended Innovest, designed to bring entrepreneurs and venture capitalists together. While the experience was worthwhile, and PlanSoft attracted some interest, Tromczynsky said the company may be a little big for the concept.
Weve been valued by six to eight investment banks at $60 million, with shares between two and three dollars, Tromczynsky said. No venture capitalist interested in getting in on a deal wants to spend that much. They want 25 cents a share. Theres a chance $2 could become $10, but theres more of a risk.
Investors have found PlanSoft so attractive because it fills a needed niche. Internet users click on links on the companys Web site for photos and panoramic images of every facility in North America with at least 5,000 square feet of meeting space; the company is in the process of adding 10,000 international hotels.
The site is free to planners. PlanSoft profits from selling enhanced listings to properties and suppliers, posting banner ads, and collecting commissions from hotels and facilities booked.
If you took a meeting of 500 people to the Sheraton, thats $200,000 to $300,000 worth of business for them, Tromczynsky said. For them to find you in Cleveland, theyre overjoyed. They cant pay us enough to be there (on the Web site).
A year ago, the company employed 19 people, working seven days a week, from six in the morning until 10 at night, Tromczynsky said. Those guys became so unified, they became a skeleton for the company.
The company grew five times in the past year, and although were not going to grow five times again this year, when you have that skeleton, an amazing group results, he says.
As it continues to grow, PlanSoft is looking toward another round of private financing of about $20 million and anticipates going public in the first or second quarter of next year.
Lake Cable Travels business has more than tripled in the last five years, thanks in part to its emerging presence on the Web.
The 26-year-old business, among the oldest travel agencies in Canton, was doing about $500,000 a year in sales when Art and Jan Schneller bought it five years ago. About two years ago, the couple moved the agency online, and today, sales top $1.6 million a year.
We saw then that the Internet was the way to go, Jan Schneller says. The travel industry is very competitive. We felt that getting on the Internet would help us alot, and it really has.
The site features vacation packages, an online magazine with stories and photos on travel destinations worldwide and answers to frequently asked questions. Leading the site is the Cruise Search Network, which allows clients to describe the cruise theyre looking for and the price theyre willing to pay. The agency then searches its inventory for a match, and vacationers get better deals by booking online.
For Lake Cable Travel, being on the Internet didnt have an immediate impact, Schneller says. But Web-related business began increasing as search engines included the site, and increased even more after it began advertising on Hometown Ohio, a Massillon Internet site.
Schneller estimates about 25 percent of Lake Cables customers come to it through the Web, but expects that to increase.
Its still a really young thing for the travel industry, she says. Its a real growth area. Youve got to be on the Internet to survive. Youve got to be unique and your site has to be something really different.
Many who come to the agency through the Internet are Canton area residents who find the company online, then stop in in person to follow through. And though much of the agencys business remains local, the Web is increasing its reach. It recently sent a westside Cleveland man on vacation after he searched for Cancun on the Web and came across Lake Cables packages.
The Internet has benefited the agency in other ways as well.
The Internet has changed the way people travel, Schneller says. With people going on the Net all the time, theyre getting more information and theyre a lot more savvy when they call us.
That helps travelers give the agent a better idea of what they want.
Before, people would call and say, I want to go on vacation, Schneller says. Wed ask, Where do you want to go? and theyd say, I dont know. Why dont you recommend something. I can suggest a whole lot of places, but I dont know you and I dont know your interests.
With the Internet at their fingertips, travelers are researching multiple locales to find their dream destination before getting the travel agent involved.
Theyll check out some Cancun sites, and theyll know a lot more about it before they call, Schneller says. They may not know a specific property they want to stay at, but they do know they want to go Cancun.
That Internet savvy can work against independent agencies as computer users book vacations through sites such as Preview Travel.com and Travelocity.com. Schneller says the downside of booking that way is that the service often stops there, while a travel agency combines the best of the Internet and personal service.
When you have a problem, who is going stand up for you? Schneller says. No one is going to help you. With our volume of business with tour operators and cruise lines, they do listen and we can address problems right away.
How to reach: Lake Cable Travel, (800) 257-6622, (330) 494-8884, or lakecabletravel.com
As a result, Performance was one of nine public companies in Ohio recognized with a 1999 Governor’s Excellence in Workers’ Compensation award.
Performance Site Management, based in Columbus with an office in Cincinnati, is a site development contractor employing about 380 people. Its projects include commercial shopping centers, office buildings, apartment complexes, street reconstruction and water and sewage work. Recent projects include work on the Columbus Convention Center Parking Garage and the renovated Scioto Amphitheater.
Safety is paramount in what can be a very dangerous business, says marketing manager Linda Peck, and the company is always looking for ways to ensure its workers are as safe as possible on the job.
“Yes, we recognize the danger involved, but these are human beings we’re talking about, not numbers,” Peck says. “We don’t do it for the numbers’ sake. We do it for the people.”
The company has an experience modification rating (EMR) of .67. With a base of one, that means it experiences only two-thirds of the number of injuries the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation expects of companies in its industry.
Performance has done several things to create a safer workplace, including:
Hiring two full-time safety personnel.
Safety director Tom Obert and a safety coordinator conduct on-site safety inspections to ensure equipment is working properly and safety procedures are being followed.
They also carry extra safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, glasses and ear plugs, so “if a crew is running low, we can replace it right there,” Obert says. “We do take safety very seriously.”
The also go over all performance safety policies and procedures with each crew at least once a month.
Conducting weekly safety awareness talks.
Tool Box Safety Talks cover topics relating to projects, equipment and seasons, among other things.
“In cold weather, we discuss hypothermia, driving on ice, keeping warm,” Obert says. “In summer, it’s heat stress, rigging, hand tools. They’re things they’re already familiar with, but they’re getting reminders. When you do something day in and day out,” it can be easy to overlook the basics.
Creating an employee recognition program for individual safety achievements.
Employees are awarded T-shirts after six months without an injury; those who are not injured in a year receive sweatshirts.
“Everyone wants to be able to wear the shirts and say, ‘Look what I’ve done,’” Obert says. The design is changed each year, so long-term employees with good safety records have a variety of shirts.
Performance used to award shirts on a crew basis, but “there was peer pressure. If one guy got hurt, no one on that crew got shirts,” Obert said.
That occasionally led to workers limping around with an injury, deciding to live with instead of report it, so that his or her crew would qualify for the award shirts, says Peck.
Requiring workers to immediately report an injury.
The supervisor at the scene determines whether an injured worker needs an ambulance, should be transported to the hospital by someone on the crew, or can be treated on-site with a first aid kit, says Obert.
If the worker must go to the hospital, one of the safety personnel meets him or her there and stays until the worker is released.
Convening a safety committee each month.
The committee is composed of workers from every area of the company and addresses safety issues, including accidents, to see if there is a pattern and if training might be lacking in a certain area.
Requiring all workers to undergo periodic substance abuse testing.
In addition to pre-hire drug screening and randomly testing about one-quarter of its work force each year, Performance administers tests on suspicion. And if a worker is injured on the job and has to go to the hospital, a drug test is mandatory. If another worker is responsible for the injury, that person will be tested as well.
“Workers in the field don’t want to be around someone who puts them in harm’s way. If someone is high, they’re taking a risk,” Obert says.
Placing injured workers with restrictions in light-duty positions.
The goal is to get the worker back on the job as quickly as possible, and the patient resource coordinator follows up with the doctor and the worker almost daily, Obert says.
Light duty options include some positions on the crew, working as a parts runner, and helping around the shop, sweeping floors and answering phones, but the important thing is getting the person back on the job and involved with the company.
Offering classes on hazardous materials.
Obert teaches an annual HAZMAT refresher course to all field and shop personnel, instructs OSHA-mandated classes and offers CPR instruction.
Ensuring all employees understand the daily job situation.
In what the company calls 10/10 meetings, each crew gathers in the morning “to talk about what is happening that day,” Obert says. “They address any hazards” they may face, and how to handle them. The group meets for another 10 minutes after lunch to address the jobs scheduled in the afternoon.
Offering a rewards program which compensates employees who suggest a better way to do things.
In addition to keeping its workers safe, taking precautions presents an added bonus for Performance.
“Safety sells,” Peck says. “It’s a big selling point to clients” if the company can point to a low rate of on-the-job injuries.
But despite its success, the company can still do better, Obert says.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Obert says. “We’re taking additional safety classes, providing more training, constantly looking at new technology to make work a safer place.”
“Our people are our most valuable resource, and we take safety very seriously. Our emphasis is on having our employees go home unharmed at the end of every day.”
And the winners are ...
Other 1999 Governor’s Excellence public winners include:
- Medical College of Ohio, Toledo;
- Hamilton County;
- City of Chillicothe;
- Herr Foods Inc., Columbus and Chillicothe;
- Lithko Contracting Inc., Hamilton;
- Reitter Stucco Inc., Columbus;
- Royster-Clark Inc.;
- Traub Container/MacMillan Bloedel Packaging, Bedford Heights.
Less than a decade ago, someone cheating the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation had little chance of being caught.
That changed in 1993, when the insurance industry as a whole began recognizing the huge amounts of money lost to fraud and the crime became a felony in Ohio. Before that, offenders could only be charged under general theft standards.
With the change in the law, the BWC established its first special investigators unit with just three investigators to police the entire state. Today, the 125 staff members in that unit identify about $100 million in fraud savings per year, says J.C. Benton, BWC spokesman.
“That’s money we’ve identified that did not go out (in fraudulent payments) to injured workers and medical providers,” Benton says. “We estimate a 900 percent return on investment in the area of fraud. For every dollar we invest, we recover nine.”
When CEO Jim Conrad joined the bureau in 1995, he beefed up the fraud unit, added investigators and began looking into fraud committed outside the state against the Ohio bureau.
“There’s nothing illegal about it if you’re injured and collecting workers’ comp and you move out of the state, but what we’ve found is people moving out of he state, then taking other jobs,” Benton says.
The BWC trades files with other agencies, including those in other states, to run cross checks on people collecting workers’ comp. If another agency has evidence that someone is working, the bureau investigates. It also checks prison records, because those serving time are not eligible to collect benefits.
“You have the right to collect if you’re injured on the job, but you give up that right when you go to jail,” Benton says.
In addition to automated detection systems, the BWC relies heavily on tips to catch those cheating the system.
“A lot of referrals come in around the holidays,” Benton says. “Relatives turn in other relatives. They’ve been spending time together over the holidays and someone hears Uncle Larry telling the story about how he’s collecting workers’ comp and is working somewhere else, but he’ll never be caught.”
Ex-wives and ex-husbands are also a rich source of tips, as are suspicious employers, Benton says.
In November 1999 alone, the BWC received 400 allegations, and is currently investigating about 1,800 cases. In 1999, it referred 246 offenders for prosecution and identified more than $101 million in fraudulent activities.
Although some offenders are jailed for committing fraud, the BWC’s biggest priority is recouping its money.
“As soon as someone pleads guilty in court, we make arrangements with the injured worker, or, in some cases, the medical provider, for a payment plan,” Benton said. “If someone doesn’t make a good faith effort to return the funds, we go back to the court. Sometimes a few days in jail will speed up our process of collecting money.”
It’s not only injured workers who commit fraud. Relatives have been caught cashing the workers’ comp checks of deceased relatives. And the health care provider unit focuses solely on fraud committed by health care organizations, which bill for services not related to a worker’s injury.
In the largest bust to date, a Florida provider was arrested for allegedly billing the BWC for $1.68 million for services not provided to an injured worker living in that state. And in Ohio, the owner of a chiropractic center was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In addition to fines and jail time, he was ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution, $230,000 of that to the BWC.
Benton stresses that cheating the system is stealing from the Ohio employers who pay into it. He encourages employers to pay careful attention to injured workers and report suspicious claims.
Anyone who suspects fraud can anonymously phone the BWC hotline at (800) OHIOBWC.