Abby Cymerman

Monday, 27 September 2004 09:46

Growing for the right reasons

In its present form, Akron-based SS&G Financial Services started almost 18 years ago with fewer than 10 employees. Today, the accounting, business consulting and management firm has about 275 employees in Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, Kentucky and two Cleveland offices.

SS&G Managing Director Mark Goldfarb says that over the last five years, the firm has averaged about 20 percent growth each year. It moved into its 9,000-square-foot Springside Drive office in Akron about six years ago and now, with about 100 employees at that location, is planning to rent an additional 10,000 square feet in a neighboring building to house some of its divisions and accommodate future growth.

"Most of our growth has been what we call 'organic.' We have had some strategic mergers," he says. "We are in the personal service business, so as we grow, we need to add the necessary number of people and professionals to keep the level of service up."

The firm's professionals have expertise in tax specialization, health care, consulting, management and hospitality industry services, as well as in business valuation and litigation support services. Goldfarb says several of his employees specialize in estate succession planning and personal financial planning, while others help manage local physicians' offices.

"We've always approached client service in a very entrepreneurial fashion, and have always thought our job as an adviser begins when the financial statements are completed for our clients," Goldfarb says. "We try to be very proactive in our approach to servicing our clients, which are almost exclusively privately-held, middle-market businesses throughout Northeastern Ohio."

Goldfarb says SS&G's culture is "to grow for the right reasons," create opportunities for younger professionals, look for strategic acquisitions or mergers and hire professionals with expertise in unusual technical and industry fields who can help the firm grow and set it apart from the others.

"It's always been our goal to grow because we feel like it offers a lot of opportunities, and really, in our business, the key to growth in client service is the level of professional that we can attract and recruit to be part of our team," he says.

HOW TO REACH: SS&G Financial Services, (330) 668-9696

Wednesday, 21 July 2004 10:58

The game of risk

An online survey of The Sarbanes-Oxley Act Community Forum states that 38 percent of business owners are "just beginning research" at their organization with respect to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance; just under 4 percent of the survey-takers are "fully compliant."

Ted Frank's day began at 7 a.m., and the busy CEO has spent the morning in conference calls.

"It's been a heck of a morning," he says. "It's actually been a good day, just packed."

Frank's company, Warrensville Heights-based Axentis Inc., develops best practices to help CEOs organize and define their governance and compliance responsibilities. The company serves heavily regulated industries such as pharmaceutical, financial services, energy and utilities, telecommunications, health care, manufacturing and consumer packaged goods.

Axentis joined other industry leaders June 7 to launch the Compliance Consortium, of which Axentis Frank was named as the first chairman of the advisory committee. This cross-industry group plans to demystify the hype surrounding compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and more than 100 other recently enacted regulations, including HIPAA, the U.S. Patriot Act and Basel II. Its goal is to help enterprises achieve long-term compliance and realize additional business benefits in the process.

"You've seen a substantial shift in the way people perceive risk, compliance and their governance responsibilities. It's not the way it used to be," Frank says. "People recognize this is a broken part of the organization that needs to be fixed, and when you're going to fix it, you might as well do it in a consistent, repeatable way because, if you do that, you're going to be able to drive efficiency and effectiveness."

Smart Business spoke with Frank about compliance and Axentis' newest corporate relationship.

How did your positions as vice president of KeyCorp and general partner and executive vice president of PlanSoft Corp. prepare you for your role as Axentis CEO?

I actually started at AmeriTrust and then, through mergers, was at Society and KeyCorp. The good thing about that is you learn how to manage broad, complex processes.

You really learn a lot of management diligence and operational (processes.) You learn how to manage things in a very large, complex organization that helps you manage when you're in an entrepreneurial environment. A lot of this is about creating an infrastructure that can scale. So it was a great experience.

You meet a lot of wonderful people when you're working in an environment like that, and I had the good fortune to have some very strong mentors while I was there.

PlanSoft was my first opportunity to be an entrepreneur. ... everything from raising capital to building teams, going to market to scaling a sales organization. (Working at those two places gave me) very different perspectives and very different skills.

(Things I've learned that I'm implementing at Axentis are) the whole way in which you build a business, the way you build operations, the type of people you need to bring in, the way you deal with a board and the way you raise capital.

Risk and compliance management is an ongoing challenge for business owners. When speaking with potential clients, how do you stress the importance of becoming compliant?

Our message is a little bit different than necessarily becoming compliant. That tends to be the way that companies used to look at it, as a box-checking exercise.

Our position is, you're dealing with a broad range of processes that, believe it or not, are fairly similar. Today -- forget about technology -- they're simply managed in a very fragmented, inconsistent way. There's very little technology applied, very little software used to manage these different processes, so therefore, you have very little visibility, you don't understand who owns what, who's responsible for what, and it's difficult to hold people accountable.

This is no different than all the other areas that have been automated over the last 20 years, and if you can, you should: You should have visibility, you should have consistency, and if you do that, you can drive business performance. Many companies that go through this exercise -- and yes, it's painful for companies to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and other requirements -- but when they're done, if you had a conversation with them in confidence, they would say, 'I don't really understand how we did this the old way, how we didn't have better control over what the risks are and the controls that are in place.'

Our value proposition and the way we talk to clients is, 'Turn this into an opportunity to drive business performance. The expectations of the marketplace and boards have changed. Don't view it as a box-checking exercise.'

BP recently chose Axentis Enterprise software for compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. How were you able to secure that relationship?

We have a good reputation among large, complex companies for helping with compliance -- and Sarbanes-Oxley in particular. We were on a recommended list from their advisers. Most audit firms and risk management advisers put together a list of companies that they believe are viable providers in the space. We were on that list.

We met with the company, and we happen to do a very good job with those large, complex companies.

We've got companies like BP, Kodak, Novartis and Bombardier as clients, but BP provides a very important validation for the company in that it's a very large worldwide implementation for Sarbanes-Oxley. Clearly they're looking for best in class software; and it's nice to have BP say we're the best.

BP received the highest rating for corporate governance out of any large company, so they are clearly a market leader in the way they treat their governance responsibilities, and it's nice to have a company select you that is a leader in the field.

Axentis reports that more Fortune 1000 companies use its technology solution for compliance than that of any other company. What kind of responsibility does that place on your company?

The single largest impact of having such broad utilization of the product is the demands that these organizations place upon us for expanding and extending functionality. We have a remarkably broad set of customers managing many different processes using our solution.

The good news is that we get great feedback. We view it as an opportunity to continue to advance our product, as the thinking around effective management of this type of process evolves. We have an opportunity to take in all those requirements and make the product even better than it already is.

As a market leader, it's expected that you will take a lot of input and continue to extend product, versus other companies that are more niche-oriented, that may only address very narrow parts of Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, (and will) never be used for anything else. So it will continue to be a niche solution, and the demands placed upon them for extending functionality will be less.

How can CEOs better manage risk and compliance with their business?

Get engaged in understanding what's being done to manage risk and compliance, because your governance responsibilities are accelerating at a very rapid pace. In too many cases, this is a delegated activity.

Many companies would be surprised how myopically it's being addressed, which will create problems later. ... Don't be a person who gets an update once a quarter. That's not acceptable. HOW TO REACH: Axentis Inc., (800) 955-2706 or www.axentis.com

Wednesday, 21 July 2004 10:10

People power

ComDoc Inc.'s greatest strength is its dedicated employees, and the company does everything it can to help them thrive, says president and CEO Riley Lochridge.

"We've got to make a difference in people's lives," says Lochridge. "We need to help them understand how they can become the best they can be, both personally and professionally, as individuals and as adding to a collective team.

"We're going to spend an inordinate amount of time in this work environment, which I'll call a laboratory for personal development, to assist people to understand how they're behaving and what it's going to take for them to become the best they can be."

Lochridge says that when an employee's positive behavior is reinforced and mistakes are pointed out and corrected, that employee "becomes not only a stronger performer in our business, they also become that to their families and out in the community."

ComDoc, an office equipment provider with more than 400 employees in offices in Ohio, West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania, encourages open communication from the top down. From orientations for new employees to weekly sales meetings at each branch, communication is a constant theme at the company, whose vision is to be a great place to work and a great place to be a customer.

"You just can't communicate too much, especially when things are going not quite so right," Lochridge says. "All communication offers an opportunity to ensure that everyone's voice is heard, such that what you have is a more diverse perspective than you would have had, and thus the vitality of your organization and the clear thinking, complete thinking of your organization is better."

Communication isn't always about what's going right -- it's also about finding what's going wrong and fixing it.

"It all starts with having ... an open relationship, that dissects personal encounters, that dissects transactions for a learning opportunity," Lochridge says. "And when we catch ourselves doing something wrong, or not so right, that is a great investment in our future. When we get feedback that is critical, that's food for growth.

"When we catch someone doing something right, that's an opportunity for a compliment, that's an opportunity for confidence, that spurs people on to doing even more."

As president and CEO, Lochridge is not exempt from praise or criticism.

"If I can accept criticism, if I can be critical of myself and do it in a way that is healthy for us, it's so much easier (for employees) to share the same of themselves," he says. "We have a saying here that we try to celebrate the gap between who and what we are today and who and what we're in the process of becoming. An openness and a sense of development and excitement over who and what we can become collectively makes it so much easier to share differences of opinion. ... I think we're pretty darn good at that in this organization."

When employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions and know they will be heard, they are happier in the workplace. And that openness creates a strong bond between employees and the company, Lochridge says.

"If people feel as though they're working with an organization that has their best interest at heart, it becomes a lot easier to want to stay and a lot more difficult to want to leave," he says. "If people make the whole thing go, and they do, and the culture is a culture where people are encouraged, appreciated, they're cared for and cared about, they're held accountable, then they learn how to perform more effectively. This is a good place to be."

And when employees feel valued as an important part of the company, they begin to think, walk, talk and act differently, Lochridge says, creating an attitude and an atmosphere that ultimately benefits the customer.

"I've seen it over and over again, people that walk into a room and they know -- and they didn't used to know this -- they know that the people in that room ought to be really happy that I've just arrived, because I bring something to the room," he says. "And just as I'm pleased to be here, they should be pleased that I'm here, because together, we're going to craft something that we would not otherwise craft, that moves the individual and this organization forward.

"When that happens, I've taken two individuals that become three and four and eight and 16 and 64, and eventually, in our case, 420 people that all understand that there are 419 other people in this business that care very deeply about you as one of our workers."

ComDoc's employees -- who own stock in the company through an employees stock ownership program -- find the company such a good place to work that they are the company's No. 1 recruiting source. Referrals by employees, who receive bonuses if the company hires someone they've referred and that person stays for at least six months, are trailed by Internet and university recruiting.

"The nice thing is that when you do get a referral, now you have an individual other than the new hire who has a vested interest in seeing to it that our new hire performs well and finds this organization as we hope they would find it, as a place that's attractive to work," Lochridge says. "(The company) just got that much stronger."

Lochridge says ComDoc's open communication model has worked well for it, and he offers this advice to other CEOs who want to promote a more open culture in the workplace.

"For starters, you have to understand that you better be patient about getting started. This does not happen overnight," he says. "This is something that happens over years and years. And if you conduct yourself in a very open and giving kind of way, which is steeped in servantship ... the people will respond."

And leaders must understand that they can no better than the people the employ.

"The best that you can be is the equal of the people. You can be worse, but the best that you can be is the equal of the people," he says. "And they need to understand you care about them, you care for them, you make decisions that are equitable and competent, that are steeped in the values of the organization, that they are always made with the interest of your people, individually and collectively, the best interests of your people."

And even when a leader's self-interests suffer as a result, he or she must continue to act in the best interest of the employees.

"People will go through walls for you if they know you're behind serving them and they know you're looking out for their best interest," he says. "Even when your own (interests) need to suffer as a result. Because in the long run, they don't, because people who give and give and give some more seem to get a lot back." How to reach: ComDoc Inc., (330) 899-8000 or www.comdocinc.com

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:13

Driving motivation

Tom Ganley began selling motor vehicles as a part-time job while still a student at Chanel High School in Bedford. That passion for vehicles has carried him from buying his first new vehicle dealership in Euclid in 1968 to overseeing his Northern Ohio network of 25 dealerships and 700 employees.

Ganley follows the philosophy that "The customer always comes first," and customer satisfaction is a priority for him and his staff.

"Over the years, that's the foundation and the strength of the Ganley organization -- the quality of the employees," he says. "That encompasses everything from my management company to the senior management of the organization."

He maintains daily contact with each of his dealerships but doesn't have an executive office at a management location. Instead, he prefers to visit the dealerships to review the finances and help managers to run an efficient operation.

Each manager is given great autonomy to develop a marketing plan for that dealership and a sales and service approach that will deliver the best possible buying or service experience to those customers. Ganley encourages innovation among his managers, who meet monthly to compare ideas and results.

Expanding his dealerships into Summit and Stark counties and developing the Ganley name in Greater Columbus with a new Mitsubishi dealership are current projects for Ganley.

"We're certainly doing more aggressive marketing, and we're seeing the economy improve steadily. It's not dramatic but it's a very steady improvement," he says. "Part of contributing to that is to create more jobs, and I've certainly been working hard to do that." How to reach: Ganley Management Co., (216) 228-8484

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:09

Survival of the smartest

Since Anand Julka launched Smart Solutions in 1983, he has reinvented his business several times, staying afloat through the difficult dot-com era while watching other computer companies go under.

The original focus of Smart Solutions was consumers. The focus then morphed to businesses, and today, the company has reinvented itself doing systems integration for governments and schools.

Smart Solutions' current focus is on three areas: document management; state and local governments as they work to catch up in the area of technology; and public education, where change is happening so quickly that weaker schools districts are in danger of not providing the education needed in the new economy.

Julka says his company survived the fledgling years because all employees handled multiple tasks, which improved productivity.

"No organization can succeed with one person's effort, but it's a collective effort that we all need every single day. ... Being the president, I can't do everything," Julka says. " ... Large companies have a lot of redundancy in the system, but with a small company, you can't afford to fritter away your capital because your resources are limited.

"So it's very important that every single individual feels like they are part of the team."

Smart Solutions pays its salespeople commissions based on profits; pays management based on bottom line profitability, which involved complete disclosure on financials to the entire management team; and gives unsung hero awards and monetary rewards to employees whose efforts are important but not recognized in most organizations.

The company was revolutionary in its field by providing dental coverage, a pension plan and year-end bonuses to all employees based on company profitability. In turn, Smart Solutions has been rewarded by low staff turnover in an industry marked by rapid turnover.

To stay on top of the knowledge business, Julka and his employees attend seminars and trade shows.

"We have an explosion of information," he says. " ... We don't have all the answers ... so there's a lot spent on training, on updating the skills of our people." How to reach: Smart Solutions, (330) 494-1243 or smartsolutionsonline.com

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 12:27

Organization to the 'tee'

The breeze is warm and sweet as golfers take to the links on the beautifully landscaped grounds of Firestone Country Club, and excitement over the upcoming NEC Invitational World Golf Championships in mid-August creates its annual buzz inside the elegant, air-conditioned clubhouse.

This anticipation is familiar to Don Padgett II, general manager of the club and vice president of ClubCorp, the $1.5 billion Dallas-based company that owns Firestone and 200 other golf courses, country clubs, resorts and private business and sports clubs worldwide. An inductee of the Ohio and Indiana golf halls of fame, Padgett received the PGA's Bill Strausbaugh Award in 1993 for excellence in club relations.

He has been a member of the PGA of America for 27 years, played on the PGA Tour from 1972 to 1974, competed in several Indiana and Ohio championships and was a member of the PGA Cup Team in 1976, 1981, 1982 and 1984. After 25 years at Firestone -- ClubCorp's fourth largest property -- Padgett has tournaments down to a science.

"For Akron and for this golf tournament, it's part of our heritage," he says. "It's part of who we are."

This month, Padgett heads south to accept the presidency of another ClubCorp property, Pinehurst in North Carolina. It is North America's largest golf resort and the site of the 2005 U.S. Open. Padgett is no stranger to Pinehurst -- he's the son of the late Donald Padgett, Pinehurst's past vice president/director of golf and former PGA president.

Before he left Firestone's rolling hills, Smart Business sat down with Padgett to discuss tradition and the business of golf.

From 1968 to 1976, Firestone Country Club hosted three televised golf events each year: the American Golf Classic, the CBS Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf. What kind of precedent did that set for today's Firestone?

There have been more hours of television from Firestone Country Club than any club in the world, including Augusta. I think obviously, with television, it elevates your stature.

It certainly intrigues people to want to come to play where they've seen the Tiger Woodses, the Jack Nicklauses and the Tom Watsons play before them, to kind of Walter Mitty themselves into that same circumstance and envision the same time and place on hallowed ground.

I look at my job as the keeper of the keys of what is an American golf institution. We're very prideful and mindful of setting and keeping a high standard for the golf and the property.

The NEC Invitational requires the coordination of several groups. What is the biggest challenge in this situation, and what management techniques do you use to keep an even balance among the groups?

NEC is the overall sponsor and provides the money ... for a lot of the television and a lot of the purse, and they obviously are the major force for the tournament financially. The club and Northern Ohio Golf Charities help to produce the event in conjunction with the PGA Tour staff.

So you've got four groups there that are working in tandem to produce the event. Then you have CBS airing the event, which is important to all of us, and I think it goes to 120 countries.

The challenge for us is not as great as it is as most places because we've (hosted tournaments) for 50 years in a row. We have grandchildren volunteering with grandparents, so our learning curve has been very good. There are very few things that can come up in a golf tournament that haven't already come up over the last 50 years, and we've made adjustments for, and contingency plans for, weather and things of that nature.

So, at this point, I don't perceive it as difficult for anyone; it's a task that we all know. It may seem daunting to a lot of people, but we've all been through it so many times -- this is my 25th year -- that there's just so many people who know their roles and play them well, that it all comes together kind of like the orchestra and a symphony.

(The layman may wonder), 'How does that happen?' but to people who have done it over and over, it's what we do.

I head the club, Tom Strong is the tournament director for the PGA Tour locally, and then you always have a volunteer chairman of the year, and of course, NEC provides the funding. Tom is in his sixth year, and we coordinate with the PGA Tour and Akron Golf Charities, and everyone has a flowchart and chairman of each individual group.

The meetings are mostly held with us, and we report back to our various groups to implement in all areas to produce the tournament. ... They all have their own checklists and to-dos, and then, if we do have an issue, through a conference call or some way or the other, we can get that worked out.

It's a community effort. We have gotten great support from (Akron Mayor) Don Plusquellic and the community of Akron. In the last few years, we've been trying to involve Cleveland and Canton on a larger basis, and they've responded very well to be part of it.

I think it's becoming more of a Northeastern Ohio event than Akron's specifically. I think that a lot of the people who entertain here are Cleveland companies. In the last few years, the corporate community in Akron and Canton has grown substantially.

The plans are already laid (for future tournaments.) The planning process here probably never quits; it's just a matter of what stage it is in. Are we in the initial stages of next year's tournament? Are we in the final preparation of this year's tournament? Are we in the post-analysis of what happened this year?

The process is ongoing. At the other end of the parking lot, there's a building that's the tournament office for the PGA Tour. We are in constant contact with the staff, and they with us. ... There's isn't probably any time that we aren't discussing issues, big and small.

Firestone Country Club celebrates its 75th anniversary Aug. 10, and has hosted tournaments for 50 consecutive years. What do you see for the future of golf at the club?

I think the future's very bright. We have a contract for 2005 (with the NEC and the PGA Tour), and it looks very favorable for 2006. I think golf will be in this area at Firestone Country Club on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. We don't have any indication that it won't be.

It's one of the best facilities in the country to host a golf tournament, with the volunteer group, and the players really like being here. I think we have every reason to believe that golf here will continue as it has in the past. HOW TO REACH: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or www.firestonecountryclub.com

Monday, 24 May 2004 13:07

Perennial success

Like the petals of a flower, something special quietly unfolds every day inside the world headquarters of Yoder Brothers Inc. in Barberton.

Walking through the silo entrance into the renovated 1909 cattle Barn No. 1, originally owned by Diamond Match Co. founder and city father O.C. Barber, you immediately notice the subdued lighting, joyfully interrupted by splashes of color from Amish quilts decorating the walls throughout the building.

The Yoder brothers -- Ira and Menno -- managed Barber's greenhouses on the Anna Dean Farm. When Barber died in 1920, the brothers bought the greenhouses and incorporated Yoder Brothers Inc. in 1921. The company's breeding and production facilities have moved to warmer climates, but headquarters remain local.

Once home to a Prohibition-era distillery, a haunted house, a Seiberling Latex manufacturing facility and more, Barn No. 1 was scheduled to be razed in 1974. A local historical preservation group stopped demolition, but the barn sat vacant until 1982, when Yoder bought the building for its headquarters and began its three-year, $2 million renovation, working with the Ohio Historical Society to receive a tax credit and maintain the building's original integrity.

As the world's leading breeder and propagator of chrysanthemums, as well as a leading propagator and marketer of perennials, the company's humble nature is reflected in the modest demeanor of Vice Chairman Tom Doak. Doak, who is retiring this fall after 37 years with Yoder, began his career at Yoder's Fort Myers, Fla., operations as an industrial engineer and climbed the management ladder to become vice president of production in 1977, executive vice president in 1985, president and COO in 1989 and CEO in 1992.

He stepped down as president and CEO last November; William Rasbach succeeds him in those positions.

Doak's office follows the curved brick form of another silo in the barn building. Photos of Yoder's greenhouse facilities dutifully line the wall, and papers on his desk are stacked in neat piles.

"We have 13 different locations, which operate right now in four different countries," Doak says. "Our main business is starter plants to growers in North America and some exported material. We have a finished product business that supplies supermarkets primarily. ... We have 10,000 customers in North America. ... (In the chrysanthemum product line) we offer almost 450 varieties, and we probably have 1,200 varieties of perennials. We're doing all of this with a perishable product in an environment where we're somewhat subject to the environment itself.

"That makes for a very complicated business."

Planting the seeds

Although horticulture is a mature industry, the products don't have infinite life cycles, so Doak says having more products, or those that serve different seasons, provides more consistent cash flow and protection against market downturns.

Among its developments over the last 20 years, the company acquired Green Leaf Enterprises in 1996 to move toward the perennial starter plant business -- which Yoder was not involved in at that time -- and Blooms of Bressingham North America was formed in the late '90s to market products originated from U.K.-based Blooms of Bressingham. Since then, "we have expanded the use of that name and trademark to incorporate other breeders' new perennial products, which we market through our Green Leaf subsidiary," Doak says.

Six years ago, Yoder joined Fischer USA, the Paul Ecke Ranch and Goldsmith Seeds and Plants to launch The Flower Fields, a marketing cooperative representing more than 1,500 annuals, perennials and garden mums.

Yoder's new-product development group and breeding group produce new flower varieties, a process that takes about five years for chrysanthemums. The company also acts as an agent for growers who find new varieties.

"A grower of chrysanthemums may find a mutation that occurs spontaneously on a product that he's flowering, and he might send that into us," Doak says. "We would analyze it in terms of whether it's a change that's stable or not, or whether it represents a change that's worth considering."

The company performs trials of the product in various environments because "it'll grow quite differently here in Barberton than it does in Southern Texas or in California or in Northern Europe, or if it's a cut flower, in South America."

Doak says while marketing the product and making it available to growers takes only six to nine months, a large amount of time is spent "making sure it's a product you want to put your name on."

Yoder also works with Royalty Administration International, a Holland-based organization that protects breeders' intellectual property rights and allows breeders to collect a return on their investment and breed more varieties.

Giving back

Locally, the Yoder name is associated with Barberton's annual Mum Fest at Lake Anna. The company donates 15,000 to 19,000 garden mums each year for the weekend festival, which draws busloads of crowds from miles around.

"That's a community activity which is largely a donation on our part," Doak says. "We don't look at it as a research project. Those varieties are already in the marketplace, and certainly the number of people are potentially customers of ours ... but it's a relatively small portion of the market. ... Our interest in it is primarily to help the city of Barberton and give them something that we can work on as well."

Yoder also invites growers and retailers to open houses and field days, and sends company representatives to trade shows.

"We have a program with key growers on new products whereby we provide them with products on a pre-introductory basis ... and then we get feedback from them as to whether there's something we've missed in the process that we should think about before we make it available to everyone," Doak says.

The company also participates in industry exhibitions, including the Ohio Florists' Association Short Course in Columbus, one of the largest horticultural presentations in the United States; the California Pack Trials; the Southeast Greenhouse Conference in Greenville, S.C.; and the New England Greenhouse Conference. Catalogs and spec sheets are distributed at these events, and the company advertises in trade magazines.

"We don't do much (advertising) in national magazines because the consumer market is not one that we directly interface with," he says.

Nurturing the crop

Just as Yoder's greenhouse operations follow a process to create a beautiful bloom, Doak says the company maintains a three-year strategic plan, subject to review as marketplace issues change and opportunities become available. This plan establishes financial, product introduction and location parameters, which form the context in which the company operates.

Doak says annual planning provides guidelines for facility and personnel requirements, as well as pricing and competitive issues. Yoder, which has a board with outside members as the majority, hosts quarterly board meetings.

"Weekly and monthly reports keep people internally aware of how the corporation is performing," he says. "Even though we are a private company, we keep our key managers involved in the financial, corporate and sales status."

In addition to being answerable to its board, Yoder has a corporate philosophy to be accountable to growers who purchase its crops. It has received praise for its Clean Stock Program to propagate clean, disease-free plants, and in 2002, it made the financial investment and corporate commitment to have foundation stock programs for 100 percent of the company's perennials by 2005.

Doak says while the project is still on track, the numbers may not match the original commitment.

"There's 1,200 different products to do, and I'm not sure we will have all of them by 2005, but certainly, we will have all the major ones by then," he says.

For example, Yoder's chrysanthemums go through an annual internal certification process to make sure they are free of viruses, bacteria, fungi and other things that would be deleterious to the product. The company maintains an elite number of plants of every variety. Some are kept in bottles in a cool environment, while others are kept in protective greenhouses where airflows are monitored and plants are kept from touching.

Doak says lab-coated breeders use these stock plants to renew the coming year's crop.

"We aren't dealing with a nut or a bolt that we could measure that stays the same -- we are dealing with a living product," he says. " ... Not only does the product change but the bacteria, viruses and insects change. ... It still has to produce a product that performs the way the customer expects it to perform in terms of growth habit, color, and, of course, it has to live. Dying is not good, at least premature dying."

Reaping the bounty

Yoder Brothers' products are widely respected throughout the horticulture world. Trade publication Greenhouse Grower has ranked the company No. 4 on its list of the Top 100 Growers for the past three years.

"We have a responsibility not only to our shareholders and employees but also to our customers, because they depend upon us for the starter plant that drives their business," Doak says. " ... We look for products that are more difficult to do in terms of growing reliability, product timing and plant stability because that's where we can contribute best and have the best niche for ourselves."

Doak knows that growing a stable plant and growing a successful company rely on solid roots.

"The original founders were Mennonites. ... I think we inherited a conservative tradition that came from that mold," he says. "We're conservative on financial issues. In other words, we're not likely to go out and highly leverage the company to do something. ... Because we are a private company, we generally tend to look at things in a fairly longer timeframe.

"We're looking for relationships as well as products that have a life to them, rather than something that would be hot today and gone tomorrow."

How to reach: Yoder Brothers Inc., (800) 321-9573 or www.yoder.com

Thursday, 29 April 2004 06:14

Refrigeration necessary

When a tornado hit Jackson Township two years ago and damaged a local school, an Avalon Foodservice Inc.'s regional manager and a driver supervisor took a multi-temperature truck to the school, loaded its perishables and brought them back to the company's warehouse for safekeeping.

When the school was able to handle the product again, Avalon redelivered the food to the school.

"The wholesale foodservice distribution industry is unusual in that competitors carry basically the same products and product lines," says Avalon President Terry O'Connor. "A distributor can set itself apart from its competition by being either the lowest cost provider or by providing the best service to its customers."

Whether it's supporting the local community or creating happy customers, O'Connor says Avalon is dedicated to finding products to help solve its customers' problems. Orders can be placed in five ways, based on the customer's convenience or comfort level: online, via the Web, by fax, by telephone or in person with a sales account manager.

Nursing homes use a health care menu program to track inventory, nutritional requirements and resident needs. Avalon drivers deliver product directly to the customer's refrigerator, freezer or storeroom, and the company provides customer training on safe food preparation and storage.

This focus on customer service is not only reflected in the company's day-to-day operations but in its growth over the last nine years.

When The Schroer Group purchased Avalon in 1995, the company's delivery area consisted primarily of Northeastern Ohio, plus parts of Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia. Today, Avalon services customers throughout Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Western New York, Northern Kentucky, Northern West Virginia, Eastern Indiana and Southern Michigan.

Sales have grown from $23 million in 1995 to $55 million at the end of 2003, and the work force has grown from 68 to 111 employees.

This growth hasn't come free. O'Connor says The Schroer Group has invested nearly $3.5 million in capital expansion, including in regular upgrades of computers and software; transportation equipment; beverage and chemical equipment for customers; machinery; last year's move into a new, state-of-the-art 12,000-square-foot office addition; and various property improvements.

Looking ahead, Avalon has hired the nationally known distribution-consulting firm Williams & Associates to remap its warehouse to increase productivity and efficiency. It recently started phase one of this renovation by adding a fresh chicken room and creating an addition to its current 100,000-square-foot facility. How to reach: Avalon Foodservice, (330) 854-4551 or www.avalonfoods.com

Thursday, 11 March 2004 11:35

Steward of the past

From the moment you see the "Transfer Bldg., est. 1903" sign hanging over the entrance to Tony Troppe's North High Street office and you peek at the stained glass pieces, wooden molecule models and a print of da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" propped against in the front window, you get the feeling that Troppe's involvement in Akron's Historic District is more the act of a Renaissance man than that of a business tycoon.

His "war room" walls are pinned with maps of Akron's wards and newspaper clippings; new books are stacked with old books and a laptop sits in the middle of a large wooden table. Troppe takes notes, sketches on graph paper and talks about his projects with such zeal that you instinctively take breaths for him so he can continue his discourse.

Troppe, a general partner with The Everett Group and managing member with Canal Town Builders, has combined his skills as a developer with his enthusiasm for history to restore the Everett, Hermes, United and Nantucket buildings. He is planning to build the United Commerce Center from scratch to complement the adjacent United Building.

His company has been pursuing more mercantile, restaurant and professional clients for this district, including this winter's opening of Jacob Good Restaurant across from the city's new 650-car parking garage. Residential loft spaces are being planned at Castle Hall, the Dixon Transfer building and the Maiden Lane corridor, and homes should be available this fall on Hickory, a traditional neighborhood development.

Smart Business sat down with Troppe to discuss the effect of Downtown Akron's past on its future and the live-work-play nodes in the historic district.

You're known for being on a quest in new urbanism. How do you define that term?

New urbanism is a revisitation of old urbanism and the desire to design and build great places in a classical order. The Greeks were known for their mathematical progression and the proportionate detailing of their artistic forms.

If you look at the cross-section of a column, you'll see that its base is proportionate to its column, which is proportionate to its capital, and the ornamentation around it, that, too, was in an order. You can extend that same logic and progressive artistic direction to place-building. As you create a street, the width of the sidewalks and the street reflect the desired direction the intended use wants to go.

There are certain spaces that invite community and create a sense of a pleasant surrounding as the buildings relate to the street, or there are places you go to that if you're not in an automobile, you're alienated. A great place is designed for people and accommodates the automobile. My desire is to help create great places that are distinguished from anyplace else. The historic fabric of places is a key foundation stone to distinguish your great place.

People want to live close to where they play and want to live closer to where they work; the connectivity between those places is a key component. You're looking at five-minute walkable nodes of activity, so that is a great tenet of new urbanism.

Why is restoring historic buildings so important?

You can keep moving out to the perimeter and the ever-expanding sprawl of constant growth, or you can focus on the center of the doughnut.

When you travel to a city, you don't want to go to that place out on the expressway interchange. You want to go to the center of town to see how it emerged. There, you'll find your most interesting buildings. If the city had any long-range vision for itself, it embraced these old places and continued to adaptively reuse these buildings to keep it as an interesting focal point of their community.

The great buildings were typically built to last for hundreds of years. To tear these buildings down to make room for CVS or McDonald's is throwing away your assets that had been planned to be part of a long-term built legacy.

Buildings tell stories, and when you remove the buildings, it's like you remove that chapter. For example, The Academy of Music is now The Everett Building at Main and Market. Many great names performed there: Buffalo Bill, John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin Booth and Sarah Bernhardt. When you take that place out, very few people will remember it, but when you walk to the front door and see 'Academy of Music,' it solidifies that memory because there's this evolution of consciousness.

You build on the history, and by rediscovering your past, a lot of times we get directions for our future.

What inspires you to continue restoring Akron's Historic District?

Each project is different, so we're not reinventing the wheel. We're putting a new spin on each building -- discovering its assets and its value and deciding what it needs to be adaptively reused for a market.

It's important to understand (the building's) original use: How did the building serve the community originally? We spend a lot of time studying archives and reading stories and periodicals. We really are students of the past; that's our first mission.

Being a student of the past enables us to become a steward of the past, in the sense of a manager. This building is under our charge; how will we use this resource? In what way will we give this building new life with the clientele we'll attract to it?

One example is The Nantucket Building. Judge W.B. Doyle had the building built when the courthouse was burnt down in 1899. He held court there for many years. He brought council members in and was mayor of the city.

That building served well during that period. It fell into disrepair in the '60s, and in its next life would be the home of Larry Flynt's Hustler Lounge. Well, that was an unfortunate use for that building, but ... the whole town had fallen into a state of disrepair and decadence. The structure was still good, and we knew we didn't want to put a strip club in there, but its previous use was a very upstanding, fine directive.

We rebuilt the building and moved legal professionals in and a very significant real estate development company. Here's the new life: You expunge the old portions that maybe caused some of its disrepair, and you learn lessons on what to do and what not to do.

What is the most difficult part of restoring historic buildings?

Overcoming the initial inertia. It takes a long-term commitment and long-range vision to see through sometimes very depressing environments that were allowed to be created through lack of attention and maintenance to the property.

After that, it's coordinating the proper design direction, code compliance and managing the construction activities -- all the way down to tenant improvements and move-in. Overcome that initial fear factor, and your ideas can begin a sequential pattern of redevelopment.

How do you attract financing for downtown projects?

Investors have different appetites for different types of projects. Some like commercial. Others like mixed uses. There's a variety of mechanisms for financing.

Banks are looking for a strong pro forma that makes sense five or 10 years down the road. You have a construction period where you redevelop the building and stabilize your tenant base, and you seek out clients who are interested in a long-term relationship for your building.

We are creating a place where the creative class, the knowledge workers, the real economic engineers for tomorrow, are choosing to locate. If you travel around the country, there are 'cities of the future,' creating these new urban models that are the linchpins for growth.

Your ability as a city to attract new talent, and retain the talent that's already growing there ... those cities are going to create long-term sustainability and create economic opportunity. ... We've got to have these types of environments that are building on the past but eyeing the future. How to reach: The Everett Group, (330) 535-3218 or www.everettgrp.com; Canal Town Builders, (330) 376-6460

Thursday, 26 February 2004 08:48

Power of the pen

David Greenfield knows news. As president of Copley Ohio Newspapers, he oversees the operations of The Repository in Canton, The Dover-New Philadelphia Times-Reporter, The Massillon Independent and The Suburbanite weekly in Akron. He also serves as The Repository's publisher.

Copley Ohio Newspapers is a division of California-based Copley Press Inc., which publishes nine dailies, eight weeklies and one bi-weekly, and provides news to 1,700 clients through its Copley News Service.

At the Repository, Greenfield oversees a circulation of 102,780 daily and 118,240 on Sunday. This may seem daunting, but he enjoys the challenges that are part of the deal.

"Some people love to hate their newspaper," Greenfield says. "What other medium can promote that sort of emotional response? Do people really get that mad at TV, radio or something they read online? Generally not. Do they ever bother, for example, to respond to those sources with a letter to the editor? Not usually.

"When people talk about newspaper as a dinosaur or that it's a dying business, that's absolutely incorrect. I think its power, both from a marketing and informational standpoint, is as relevant as it ever was."

Smart Business sat down with Greenfield to talk about management techniques, walking the editorial/advertising tightrope and finding your niche.

You supervise 375 employees at The Repository and oversee 500 full-time and 100 part-time employees with Copley Ohio Newspapers. How do you manage all those employees?

Each daily newspaper has its own publisher who reports to me. They are allowed to be very autonomous in covering their communities. The Copley Press insists on independent newspapers that serve their communities well.

In certain types of advertising sales and programs, we join forces because we can deliver such a large percentage of the market's readership. We've only had this group in its current composition since 2001. We've spent a lot of time building our sales and marketing resources as a group. (In our market of) Canton, Massillon and Dover-New Philadelphia, we can deliver a wide number of readers with a common classified advertising tool we developed called Classified Connection. Now, when an advertiser places a classified ad in The Massillon Independent, depending on the type of ad, that reader also will get the readership in Canton, a much more effective buy in the market and an easier sell of the goods.

We meet with our editors each quarter to discuss recruitment. We bring in well-known, professional journalists to do training for our newspapers. The newspapers also share Copley's Washington (D.C.) and Columbus bureaus so their resources sometimes extend to those areas. We have advancement programs for our journalists as well.

Balancing editorial integrity and advertisers' desires is a challenge that publishers have faced since the first newspaper accepted paid advertising. How do you navigate the balancing act?

It's probably the trickiest business of newspapering. Our philosophy is that the business interests of the newspaper are separate and distinct from the news interests of the newspaper. We do not allow our advertisers to have any favorable standing as pertains to news coverage. It's something we have to monitor closely every day. There are factions in any typical newspaper that might argue that the business interests of the newspaper should prevail. For example, the advertising department rarely likes to see a negative story about a large advertiser. But if the story is fair and accurate, it's our absolute obligation to run it. There's quite a bit of nuance to that equation.

You have to start with good journalists you can trust, and you have to instill in the organization the sense that there are two missions: to serve readers and to serve advertisers. It is possible that an advertiser has been unfairly treated, and that advertiser would have the same recourse as any other person who felt that he was unfairly treated by the newspaper.

How do you find a niche for your publications in a region supersaturated with media outlets?

We have titles in Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Those markets have a relatively healthy retail base. When we purchased each newspaper, each was a healthy and thriving business entity. The philosophy was to look at how they might put together their marketing strengths to improve sales and to continue to keep our resources strong -- capital investment, number of employees, etc. Northeast Ohio is saturated with the print medium, but newspapers remain an enormously strong informational and advertising influence in their markets.

The Repository's Web site, for example, which receives 17,000 unique visitors a day, is probably the most visited and popular Web site in Stark County. A challenge for the future is how to use the power of the Web site to supplement the revenue and influence of the newspaper in general. That's a challenge I think a lot of publishers are looking at now very seriously because there's a heck of a lot of competition from electronic and fringe advertisers.

The leverage the newspaper Web site has is, what other Web site in or around Canton has 75 people a day devoting journalistic resources to it? We have people looking for sports scores, headlines, opinion and obituaries. There's a natural gravitation to it. (The newspaper industry) hasn't done a very good job figuring out how to market it as of yet. ... We're looking for the right way for print and electronic to complement each other.

As the American public gets more cynical about the news they read and watch on TV, how do you work to maintain an freshness in reporting that's engaging, yet doesn't become so sensational that readers don't take The Repository seriously?

We look at the news, and present it, in a different way every day. Our readership research in this market has shown that the local daily newspaper has done an outstanding job in maintaining its credibility against its competitors because its competitors, particularly Internet information and sometimes cable television information, have shown themselves to be, at times, unreliable and less than thorough.

As the public is bombarded with more and more information, our research shows that they gravitate more toward their trusted local community newspaper. They feel they know the people who run it; they understand the newspaper is vested and interested in the community; and they have higher level of trust toward the information presented by the newspaper than other sources. Competition keeps you sharp, but the other aspect is some of the competition doesn't have a very good reputation for veracity.

You serve on a number of community boards and are a member of several national press groups. You also serve on the Ohio Newspaper Association board and as state chairman of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. How has serving in these positions affected you as president and publisher?

It's very easy to get trapped behind your desk, dealing with inside issues, and let the community walk by your door and never notice it. My level of involvement gets me talking to people, gets me understanding broader issues and allows me to hear people who might either be complimentary or critical of the newspapers we manage.

It's vital to have people in your management structure who aren't afraid to go out and listen to what people are saying about their products. It's easy to hide because most of the time, if you're the newspaper guy in the community, you're going to receive more complaints than compliments. Whether it's, 'My newspaper was under the porch' or 'You covered this badly,' you can't be afraid of that because that's how you learn and adjust. HOW TO REACH: The Repository, (330) 580-8451 or www.cantonrep.com; The Copley Press, www.copleynewspapers.com