China and the other Pacific Rim countries receive a lot of attention as markets ripe for U.S. companies' products, services and technology, but you may want to consider another region that offers excellent opportunities for entrepreneurs in the States. And it's a lot closer to home.
That's why the World Trade Center Pittsburgh is sponsoring a trade mission to Argentina, Brazil and Chile from Nov. 26 to Dec. 6.
Latin America has the highest Internet growth, according to Jupiter Communications, with deregulation of state-owned operations creating numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs. The number of Internet users is expected to grow about fourfold by 2003.
The electric industry also offers considerable opportunities, with demand for energy driving the demand for upgrades in generation, transmission and distribution facilities. Other hot markets are medical and environmental products and services.
The participation fee is $1,500 for the three countries.
If that's not enough to get your attention, while it will be fall and winter in Pittsburgh, it will be late spring and early summer there. How to Reach: World Trade Center Pittsburgh, www.wtcpa.org or (412) 227-3189
Many small businesses are family owned and run. After all, that's the American Dream.
What parent hasn't dreamed of turning a good idea and hard work into a booming business and passing it on as his or her legacy to children and grandchildren? Unfortunately, these stories don't always end happily ever after.
Family ties and relationships can frequently cloud critical business decisions and make them more difficult.
According to Cindy Iannarelli (known to most as Dr. Cindy), founder and director of the Center for Family Business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, every family business has issues, but many don't want to deal with them. It's not uncommon for families to look at facts and figures and plan accordingly, but completely avoid other critical issues.
For example, passing a business from one generation to another while minimizing taxes is one factor. Another is how to ensure that the business is passed to the people who have the right skills and knowledge to continue to run it profitably.
Iannarelli consults regularly with family business owners in helping them to address these concerns. She frequently sees businesses, large and small, making the same mistakes. Among the mistakes:
Treating all children the same by leaving an equal percent of the business to each one. The reality is that children have different skills and interests.
It's just as unfair to burden a child who is uninterested in the business with the responsibility as it is to hinder the child who has always been active in the business with having to deal with his or her siblings when making decisions. Treating your children fairly doesn't always mean treating them equally.
One solution is to pass the company stock only to the children who are interested in the business and pass other assets to those who aren't.
Leaving the business to a spouse who has not been actively involved in the business. This is frequently done so that the surviving spouse doesn't lose control of what is probably the family's largest asset and doesn't have to look to the children for support. Unfortunately, this can cause confusion and resentment during a time of critical transition.
More attractive solutions include forming a board of directors involving key employees and family members or developing a buy/sell agreement that would enable a child to purchase the business.
If passing a business from the first generation to the second is difficult, it only becomes more so as time goes on. Consider a couple with three children which needs to deal with the personalities and opinions of all three and their spouses. Now imagine each of those three children has three children of their own and they are passing the business on 30 years later.
When developing a succession, it's important to work with a facilitator or adviser who not only will address the financial issues but the emotional issues as well. Legal, financial and tax issues need to be balanced with what you're actually trying to achieve.
Saving on taxes seems insignificant if the business is closed and the family is torn apart. The Center for Family Business offers quarterly programs in Indiana as well as Monroeville. You also may want to attend the Distinguished Family Business Day honoring the Howard Hanna family Nov. 6. For details regarding these programs, call (724) 357-2106 or visit www.drcindy.com.
Ruth Forsyth is a certified financial planner with The Acacia Group. She co-hosts "All Things Financial" every Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. on KQV Radio, 1410 AM. Reach her at (412) 922-4360 or at email@example.com.
Part one of a two-part series.In discussing creativity with entrepreneurs around the country, I have found a real need to get back to basics in working with the "internal client" in brainstorming new and innovative approaches to their specific industries.
Let's clear up some misconceptions about the word brainstorm. I have never felt comfortable with this terminology. We are all familiar with one definition of the word storm, an atmospheric disturbance of some kind. Perhaps this isn't far off for some people's minds, but I don't think this is what lexicologists had in mind.
I think they were referring to the definition of storm as "a violent outburst," "to attack or assault." Perhaps it's my nonviolent nature, but this seems a little extreme. For our purposes, let's consider ways to brainspark. We are in search of methods and techniques to spark that part of our brains which ultimately will help us develop new approaches to old challenges.
Every time you brainspark, force your group to come up with at least 33 options. Thirty-three different ideas? You don't have the time? Where are you going to find people with whom to brainspark? And how do you do this if you can only come up with 10? Relax.
Human nature prevents us from having an open mind all of the time. We tend to play our own worst critic. If you've worked in a restaurant, you know the term "86." You may have heard the short order cook screaming, "Order's up! Burger deluxe, 86 the onions."
It means to get rid of or to scratch. It's no different in our business lives. We tend to 86 ideas before they have a chance to develop. This is the first reason to force yourself to come up with at least 33 ideas when brainsparking. We don't have time to 86 our ideas.
I like to think we all walk around with two little, make-believe beings on our shoulders. On one side, we have our internal artist, whispering things like, "Go for it," "Give it a try," or "What if ..." On the other shoulder is our internal judge, whispering in the other ear, "Don't take the risk ...," "You're an idiot to try it ..." or "But, it's never been done before."
The problem is that too many of us end up listening to our judge before our artist ever has a chance to finish playing. When it comes to brainsparking for innovative approaches to our challenges, we have to allow the artist inside to play with ideas rather than 86 them.
I first discovered this concept while working as an outside consultant to an architectural design firm in Singapore. One of my challenges was to come up with a simple name for a small fabric company the firm was starting as a sideline. While conducting a two-day program with 10 executives on creativity and vision issues, I asked everyone before the lunch break on the first day to bring back suggestions for a new name for this company.
When we reconvened, I brought out my pen and positioned my flipchart to record a series of great suggestions. What I heard instead were 10 individual ideas, one per person, even though I hadn't set any limits. All were similar to the company's current name or, worse, a competitor's. At first, I prevailed on the group to come up with just one more suggestion, and with a little struggle, someone did. Better? Yes, but not nearly good enough.
I started the process over again with the rule that the first 11 suggested names were off limits. I gave everyone a few minutes and asked for a second series of 10. With some struggling, we achieved our goal. Then I challenged the group to find the 11th, and it did. This was the best of the group.
At the end of the day, I assigned the group the task of coming up with a third group of 10. They had all night to think about it. By morning, we had 10 new names, although a few were a bit bizarre.
What I learned is what it takes to stretch the mind so that a brainspark turns into new and creative solutions. The first 10 are easy -- the 11th requires effort. The first round is painless, the second a challenge, and the third demands expansion into new territory. That's how we get 33: 10 + 1 x 3.
Think of the Rule of 33 as a road trip to a new destination. The first third of your trip will be very comfortable. It's territory you know. The second third may not be quite as familiar but likely won't represent any unusual challenge.
But the last third likely will take you to a place you haven't been before, the uncharted territory that represents the unknown, that presents the challenge. This can be the most exciting part of the trip -- so don't stop until you get there. And don't stop brainsparking until you get to the place you've not yet explored.
Keep in mind that creativity is a one-on-one sport, and innovation is a team sport. Allow your team members to come up with ideas, but remember that it takes the entire team to implement them.
Next month, we'll explore six techniques to getting to the ideas you seek as you brainspark. Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592.
Stuck in Pittsburgh International at 3 a.m. with nothing to read? No problem.
Airport Airmall retailer WHSmith has just the ticket: a book vending machine.
Book.machine, a bank of vending machines on the outside of the WHSmith store, dispenses bestsellers like candy bars. The store offers touch screens inside as well that provide business and travel information, travel reservations, maps and directional information, and e-mail access.
Not to be outdone, Staples has opened its fourth location in the airport, offering traditional retail, a kiosk linked to Staples.com and direct phone lines. The hot items are hand-held organizers, built-to-order computers and precharged phone replacement batteries.
Not nearly as high-tech but offering products that can be just as high-priority, the Bath and Body Works has opened in the center core of the AirMall to offer travelers last-minute access to soaps and lotions in travel or full-size packages.
In a recent column, I noticed you frequently ask questions in a negative manner. Is this intentional? This seems to fly in the face of what I learned from Dale Carnegie and other sales training.
Yes, it is definitely intentional. Although salespeople should spend most of their time asking open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no) to gain a better understanding of their prospects, sometimes it's necessary to ask a yes or no question to redirect the conversation.
Trial lawyers are taught that, in court, they should never ask a question unless they know the answer. This helps them avoid being surprised in a way that could ruin their cases.
Salespeople don't have this luxury. However, to protect themselves and stay on track, they should abide by this rule: When it's necessary to ask a yes or no question that you don't know the answer to, ask it in a negative way.
For example, I help companies that are frustrated by a couple of common scenarios. Some spend a lot of time educating prospects about their products and services without getting their business in return, and others frequently have their proposals shopped to their competitors, forcing them to compete on the basis of price.
Although these problems are very common, if I were to directly ask prospects if they have these problems, they are very likely to mislead me and tell me no.
Asking the question in the affirmative makes it difficult for me to recover. Instead, I can cover myself by asking in a negative way, such as, "You probably don't have any of these problems, do you?" If the prospects say, "No, I don't," then I am covered.
I can follow up with a statement like, "I didn't think so," and move on to other frustrations they may have. If the answer is, "Yes, I do," I can stop and explore the issue with open-ended questions. Either way, I win.
From a psychological standpoint, people are more likely to answer truthfully when given a question that assumes the opposite of what is true. Nobody likes to be told what to do or what to think. An affirmative question from a salesperson often comes across as a suggestion or an assumption.
When people assume they know what we need or suggest what is best for us, we rebel. We deny it even when it's true. We feel like the child being told by his parents to do something that he would rather not do.
The yes or no question phrased in an affirmative way is perceived to be presumptuous, especially when coming from a salesperson. When a salesperson suggests that you may have a problem, you likely will hate to admit it, even when you know you have the problem.
But if he or she does the opposite and denies you have a problem, you likely will acknowledge that you do, in fact, have that concern.
Mothers learn this technique when their children are young. A mother who is having a difficult time getting her 5-year-old to eat learns that the odds of getting her child to eat are increased by saying, "You probably don't want any dessert, do you?"
This works better than asking a neutral question, such as, "Do you want any dessert?" or asking it in the affirmative of "I am sure you want dessert, don't you?"
Try it the next time you're seeking agreement from someone. Instead of asking in the affirmative if he or she agrees with a specific point, try stating it in the negative, such as, "You don't agree with this, do you?" You'll be surprised at the response.
Yet, even if that person doesn't agree, you're not in trouble, because you can simply follow up with "I didn't think so" before moving on to the next point.
When talking with a prospect, any time you have to ask a question that you don't already have the answer to, ask it in the negative. Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a resource for companies that want to increase sales at higher margins. Send your comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or visit www.totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (877) 933-9110.
On Thanksgiving Day 1998, Michael Solomon seemed to have little to be thankful for.
The prepaid long-distance phone card business he launched as a college student had suddenly hit the wall, and he was faced with 35 wholesale customers which had sold his cards to hundreds of users.
Solomon is not unlike many young entrepreneurs who see an idea and go on a tear with it. Quick to take advantage of a hot new idea, he leapt before he looked carefully -- and paid dearly for his impetuousness.
Fortunately, he was able to recover from his losses, restart his prepaid long-distance service and launch an Internet service provider company that targets business customers. Steel City Telecom now offers Internet access to about 130 business customers, in addition to its long-distance services.
A promising market
Eager to take advantage of the emerging prepaid long-distance card business, Solomon launched Steel City Telecom in the mid-1990s while still a student at Robert Morris College. He figured he could build a viable business by selling the cards to wholesalers, who, in turn, would sell them to operators of high-traffic retail locations like convenience stores, newsstands, even halfway houses and penal institutions.
The industry was in its infancy, and Solomon saw a market that was going nowhere but up, and fast.
He had worked as a bartender, a telephone solicitor and a delivery driver for a restaurant operator, but he saw an opportunity to launch his own business in the emerging prepaid long-distance business. He located a company in Miami that would allow him to sell prepaid cards for access to its long-distance service, which it provided through a long-distance carrier.
Solomon beat the pavement and sold the cards to his target market.
But just before Thanksgiving 1998, the prepaid business turned into a disastrous house of cards for him. The company went belly up, leaving hundreds of unsatisfied customers that couldn't use their cards. Solomon was in a bind. He wanted to stay in the prepaid long-distance business because, he says, he believed that it had great potential.
But he knew he couldn't unless he made good on his promises. He had to either provide the service he promised or pay back the money to holders of the worthless cards.
"It was bloody," says Solomon.
It turned out to be $15,000 worth of blood. Solomon tried to contact his supplier, he says, but couldn't get a straight answer. Ultimately, he discovered it had gotten behind in its payments to the long-distance carrier. So he stopped payment on checks to the company, but the losses mounted.
"To be put out of business by someone else -- I didn't think that was an option at all," says Solomon.
He borrowed money from family and friends to pay off the useless cards and buy his own long distance switching equipment so he wouldn't be dependent on third parties for the service. The move means Steel City Telecom has more control over the service and can reap bigger profits.
But in Solomon's mind, the company wouldn't have been able to take that step unless he had made good on the worthless long-distance cards.
"If you don't, in the future, no one's going to believe what you say," says Solomon.
He acknowledges that, in retrospect, he should have done more due diligence before agreeing to sell services on the promise that his vendor would be able to continue to provide them.
Worth the risk?
Getting into business arrangements that rely on the services of one supplier is risky, but sometimes necessary and not entirely avoidable, says Louis Plung, partner with Louis Plung & Co., a downtown accounting and business consulting firm.
Solomon's situation isn't all that unusual, it turns out.
"Particularly when you're starting out, you have to take some business risks," says Plung.
He suggests due diligence be undertaken to mitigate the risks you might face when engaging a supplier or vendor. Informal checks can be done with other customers of the company, or business owners can hire a firm to check on the prospective supplier.
Dun & Bradstreet is probably the best-known firm that researches businesses and provides information on their creditworthiness and other data, but several others offer the service as well. And the Internet makes it easier than ever to track down information that can help you make a smart decision.
Nonetheless, Plung says business owners always face a degree of risk when fulfillment of their business obligations hinges on the ability or will of a third party to deliver.
Says Plung: "Even then, when you do all the due diligence, there are no guarantees." How to reach: Steel City Telecom, www.steelcitytelecom.com or (412) 209-0065; Louis Plung & Co., www.louisplung.com or (412) 281-8771
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN.
What do the banking and cemetery industries have in common? If you said both have vaults, you're right. And both have a safekeeping role.
Beyond those attributes, it might take a while to figure out a connection.
But PWCampbell saw a link between the industries that made perfect sense to the 90-year-old construction company. It has entered the cemetery sector in a partnership with a Canadian company that introduced a new method for constructing the concrete crypts used in mausoleums.
PWCampbell has built its business substantially on design and construction work for financial institutions, including commercial banks, savings and loans and credit unions and, more recently, for health care clients. Its specialization has allowed it to carve a niche that has provided significant repeat and referral business in a 13-state area for the RIDC Park-based company.
So it was natural, say its owners, to seek out a specialty field in which to expand its business.
"It's a niche market, and one of the things that's been good for us is not to go after something that's glamorous, but something that's good repeat business," says Jim Campbell, the construction company's CEO. "Both of these niches are relationship oriented, and that's what we've been good at."
PWCampbell has teamed with Royal Building Systems, a Woodbridge, Ontario, manufacturer, to develop an extruded PVC plastic product, Plastiform, that is assembled for use as a concrete form and remains in place as an integral part of the construction. The assembly of the plastic parts, which Campbell describes as similar to putting together Legos, produces a crypt that is superior in fit and function to the conventional poured or precast concrete products commonly used in mausoleums.
PWCampbell has completed two projects for the St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe, Mich.
Securing a strong reputation in the mausoleum industry would provide opportunities for repeat business for obvious reasons, but as PWCampbell officials quickly learned, the barriers to entry are formidable. In the relationship-oriented industry, operators tend to do business with the same circle of vendors and service providers over a long period of time and are slow to switch to alternatives.
"Cemetery people as a rule are fairly conservative and are not anxious to try something new out of the gate," says Campbell.
It's no wonder. Mausoleums are substantial commitments for cemeteries and big-ticket projects, often running in the millions of dollars. Once built, construction features are virtually impossible to alter.
"We provide a product that that has to be maintained for generations," says David Shipper, president of the 6,000-member International Cemetery and Funeral Association.
With that in mind, cemetery managers usually opt for the safe choice when it comes to crypt construction, as a wrong decision could bankrupt a small cemetery or cost the executive of a large operation his or her job.
Playing on their strengths
Campbell and his brother, John Campbell, the company's president, believe they can overcome the barriers and make the cemetery business a mainstay by playing on their strengths.
They have demonstrated their commitment to the business by staying in touch with the industry through trade shows and personal contact. Competitors and others in the close-knit industry were skeptical when PWCampbell showed its wares at trade shows and industry events, but now, the Campbells say, the skeptics are starting to show curiosity about their business.
"In order to gain access to the market, you've got to get yourself known," Shipper says.
The most successful companies in the industry, he points out, are typically those that have mounted strong marketing campaigns.
To get the business launched, PWCampbell hired two people to run the mausoleum business, both of whom have considerable experience in the industry. While the Campbells are experienced in the construction business, they knew they needed expertise in the cemetery industry.
"It was almost like a law firm that does corporate work and wants to do litigation," explains John Campbell. "We went out and bought individuals, by putting them on the payroll, who understand the division."
Gaining a cost advantage
There may be one other factor working in PWCampbell's favor. The cost of building the traditional pour-in-place crypt and the scarcity of labor could tip the advantage to systems like Plastiform, which requires less skilled labor to build.
The cost of construction for the Plastiform system is about the same as for poured crypts, but the Campbells believe that, with time and experience, they will be able to cut their costs.
"We believe that, in the future, as we learn more and get more efficient at it, it will be less expensive than pour-in-place," says Jim Campbell.
That will be a critical factor, says Shipper. Cost plays a central role for cemetery operators. If a company can demonstrate a significant cost advantage with a comparable product, he says, it will be competitive.
And finally, since little succeeds like success in any business, getting a project under its belt was essential to PWCampbell's marketing efforts. With a completed project and a satisfied customer, it has a demonstration site it can use to sell to prospective clients. Selling to once-skeptical prospects will be much easier, say the Campbells, with a real-world example to show.
Says Jim Campbell: "If we can secure three or four more projects next year ... it does appear as if it will snowball. Once one or two people buy into it, it does appear as if it will be what's accepted as the best way to do it." How to reach: PW Campbell, www.pwcampbell.com; International Cemetery and Funeral Association, www.icfa.org
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Pittsburgh.
Do you dread making financial presentations to board members or senior executives? Here are a few tips to make them less of an ordeal.
Kimberly Griffith, a CPA with Alpern, Rosenthal & Co., says there are ways to make these events less traumatic for you and more meaningful for your audience:
Prepare thoroughly. You'll find that adequate preparation will have the added benefit of giving you more confidence.
Hold yourself to a time limit and keep track of the time. Avoid racing to finish.
Avoid early mornings, after lunch or the end of the day for your presentation.
Demonstrate energy and enthusiasm. Spice up your presentation with graphs and charts.
Don't overwhelm the audience with detail. Less is usually more, says Griffith.
She also suggests you explain financial terms your audience may not be familiar with. Also, make educational tools, such as videotapes, study guides, books and pamphlets, available to senior staffers.
All right, call me crazy. It's not that I love grocery shopping, it's just that I don't dread it as much as most people do.
That might seem doubly incredible to people who know that I spent nearly a quarter of a century working in supermarkets. Maybe it's because I can enjoy a kind of academic interest in the business now that I don't have to worry about whether there's enough bread on the shelf or milk in the cooler.
Besides, I like to squeeze the tomatoes and sift through the apples.
Until August, Turner Dairy in Penn Hills was a third-generation family-owned business well known locally as one of the few dairies that still offered home delivery service -- something that's become a bit of an anachronism in recent years. Turner Dairy finally gave up home delivery, saying it just doesn't pay for itself, even at almost a buck a gallon premium over the going retail price. Still, 1,200 of its customers were willing to pay extra for the convenience of having milk delivered to their doorstep.
Oddly enough, Turner is getting out of home delivery just as venture capitalists and dot-com entrepreneurs are pouring millions of dollars into home delivery services. Those investors are betting big money that consumers in big enough numbers are going to be eager enough to avoid supermarket checkouts to turn to the likes of Peapod and ShopLink.
Home delivery of groceries, I'm convinced, will catch on. It won't take away all of the business from bricks-and-mortar locations, but it will become a substantial part of the food business. The convenience of it will simply make it an irresistible choice for consumers.
And the companies that will be most successful at it will not be the whiz-bang dot-coms, at least not the ones with lots of Internet knowledge but scant understanding of grocery shoppers. Who will be the ones to figure out how to make this work? The supermarket operators, that's who.
There's evidence that the conventional retailers have an inkling that it's going to take hold. Dutch grocery giant Royal Ahold has poured $73 million into Peapod, of Lake Zurich, Ill., to take a 51 percent stake in the dot-com delivery company.
Analysts take a dim view of the prospects of the home delivery business, citing the high cost of operation, particularly labor, as a barrier to making it profitable. What they don't see, however, is that in both the so-called old and new economies, barriers are often opportunities in disguise.
Automated picking systems could ease the labor cost problem. The transportation logistics field is revolutionizing the conveyance of freight, utilizing sophisticated computer software to route commodities between points at increasingly efficient levels. No doubt the same technology can be applied to the grocery shopping process.
Advances in packaging technology will overcome spoilage issues. And developments in agriculture will bring the day when every head of lettuce or cut of meat is virtually identical, making the quality of those perishables more predictable.
Then there's the convenience factor. With all of the other activities that busy people are trying to pack into their days, a few bucks in exchange for avoiding the hassle of the supermarket might be a welcome trade-off. Under the right circumstances, even I might be tempted to enter a few keystrokes instead of driving to the store.
But I'll probably miss squeezing the tomatoes.
During the day, Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Pittsburgh. On his off hours, though, you may find him in the produce department -- squeezing tomatoes -- at a supermarket near you. We're not sure why.