Lauren Kruskall

Monday, 30 June 2003 07:25

Floor founder

Russell Masetta wanted to make concrete something special.

Originally operating his family-owned concrete resurfacing business, he began to experiment with various mixes to create Nature Stone, a flooring material that blends stone with the protection and durability of epoxies.

Since its beginnings in 1989, Bedford-based Nature Stone has transformed itself from a small side business to a full-time, multimillion dollar company.

"We have created an industry," says Masetta, commenting on several companies which have followed in his footsteps to offer a stone-epoxy product line.

Nature Stone, which has been used in laundry rooms, basements, garages, car showrooms and pool decks, meets the needs of both commercial and residential establishments. Its thickness can be adjusted to even out unlevel floors and the company has developed several sizes and colors of the decorative stone flooring for customers to choose from.

Masetta is grateful for his success and has created the "good neighbor" program to show it. He donates 1 percent -- or a minimum of $10 -- from every contract to whichever charity the customer designates. Since the program's inception, more than $250,000 has gone to various charities.

But Masetta says the program is not a sales pitch.

"Customers don't learn about the donations until after signing a contract," Masetta says. "It's a subtle way to remind people to be thankful for what we have."

Nature Stone recently expanded its product offering by presenting corporate logos as carved mosaics in stone. Several companies have used the unique logos for imprints on their floors, but others display them as artwork on an office wall.

"We like this creative use of our product by consumers," says Masetta.

Nature Stone continues to thrive on its creativity and innovation. Competitors eager to capitalize on the company's original idea could have had a negative effect on business, but Masetta says competition has a positive growth effect on the industry.

"It's flattering to me that competition is coming into the market," says Masetta. "I'm just thankful to be in the business." How to reach: Nature Stone, (440) 786-9100

Friday, 25 April 2003 10:49

Becoming great

Larry Lanham, owner of Polymer Packaging Inc., has his own version of the old adage, "People are an organization's most valuable asset." For Lanham, it's "the right people are a company's most valuable asset."

Focusing on teh long-term, twice a month he provides employees with training sessions to ensure they are providing customers with the most up-to-date solutions available.

"We are constantly recruiting," says Lanham, using rigorous screening methods and an involved interview process to find employees who are highly qualified, extrememly effective and productive, and are long-term team members with a common purpose, "to rise beyond the mediocitiy of good and become great."

Lanham founded PPI in 1986 as a one-man operation and has grown it to 40 employees. PPI, which focuses on innovative packaging development and desgin, is the largest producer of nonabrasive laminated paper casket covers in the country.

Last year, its revenue grew by 31 percent, the continuation of a trend of more than 160 percent in revenue increases the past three years.

In 2002, PPI was awarded a patent for new packaging design of stand-up pouches. "Our focus on innovative packaging development and design actually has an opportunity to thrive during difficult economic times. Employing technologies that provide packaging solutions ... are highly sought after, particularly when economic conditions are challenging," says Lanham.

Perseverance and challenge are common themes at PPI. When one of its customers, Owens Corning, declared bankruptcy, PPI had receivables with it in the six figures. But PPI weathered the storm, and today, Owens remains one of its top customers.

Customer service on every level is a commitment Lanham stands by. He recently implemented a quality assurance program involving extensive customer feedback and face-to-face interviews with top customers.

"We literally view our job responsibility to be making our customers' day," says Lanham. How to reach: Polymer Packaging Inc., (330) 649-6000 or

Friday, 28 March 2003 06:28

Changing spaces

It may seem impossible to keep up with office technology trends, but the problem could be with the office space, not with the equipment itself.

In this age of technology, some businesses are finding it costs more to rewire for upgrades than it does to start from scratch with a new space.

But when starting out, expanding or moving to a new space, Bob Comben, CEO and president of Vocational Guidance Services, recommends planning ahead to make sure the building will fit the company's needs, both now and in the future.

When his employment firm expanded to its new location, Comben made sure the space was far more flexible than it was at the previous location.

"We wanted additional, flexible and consumer-friendly space that could easily be modified," he says.

Building features included an interior ramp for wheelchair access and space for 115 computer stations, both options that could not be implemented in the company's previous 1950s era building without substantial cost.

If changing locations or financing a large renovation project is unrealistic, adding new furnishing to an updated layout can make an office more flexible. And using movable workstations instead of fixed ones allows a company to accommodate more employees as the business grows.

"In seven years, we have gone from less than 70 computers to over 400 that are all hooked up on the network," Comben says.

Adding those connections and updating the phone system to include direct extension dial was easy and cost-effective, because the company had set the foundations for the change years earlier, Comben says.

Investing in technology now could save significant amounts of money in the long run.

Dick Lucas, senior vice president and retail division manager for Fifth Third Bank, says the company's teller stations were recently upgraded with flat-screen monitors.

"Originally we were installing monitors underneath tables to save space, and the tellers had to look down through the glass," he says.

Although flat-screen monitors are more expensive, they have a more professional appearance, better resolution and save a significant amount of space. The new monitors also consume less power, making them less of a financial burden in the long run.

Although state-of-the art technology upgrades may be tempting, simplicity is often best . And don't forget the reason you decided to upgrade your technology in the first place.

"Remember that ease of operation is the goal," says Lucas. How to reach: Vocational Guidance Services, (216) 431-7800; Fifth Third Bank,

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 08:10

Sharing the wealth

With so many local organizations seeking financial assistance, National City tries to help as many as possible, getting involved in community service programs targeting everything from the arts and education to health and human services.

"In order to have a vibrant community, you need each of these," says Joanne Clark, vice president of corporate public affairs at National City.

In 2001, National City donated $2.4 million in support of visual and performance art facilities, including sizable donations to the Museum of Natural History's new planetarium, the Akron Civic Theatre and the Firelands Symphony Orchestra's outdoor pops concert in Sandusky.

It also gave $5 million to civic-based organizations that promote community housing and preserve historic landmarks, and has assisted several nonprofit agencies with their portfolios.

National City's support of these programs benefits the entire community.

"It would be hard to find a resident in our six-state footprint who hasn't been touched by the programs we support," says David Daberko, chairman and CEO of National City.

The giving at National City goes beyond just corporate contributions; employees donate thousands of hours to nonprofit groups, including United Way's Day of Caring. National City also matches employee donations up to $1,000.

"If you can raise half the money, we can meet that," says Amber Garwood, vice president of media relations.

Through a pay deduction program, employees donated more than $1 million to United Way. National City also donated more than $2 million to the Red Cross fund after Sept. 11.

The bank emphasizes that time and money donations are of equal value and importance.

"The joining of financial support and employee volunteerism is a combination that works," says Phil Rice, president and CEO of National City.

In keeping with its commitment to the community, more than 40 percent of corporate donations assist multiple health centers.

"From affordable housing to help for minority businesses, from educational assistance to support for the arts and health and human services, National City's efforts make a positive difference," says Daberko.

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