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40 Year Legacy

To our Members

To celebrate our four decade old legacy, we wanted to put the spotlight on those that made it all possible…our members.

Here you’ll find their stories and how COSE played at least a small part in their success. We urge you to share your story here as well.

We salute you and here’s to the next 40 years of small business success!

COSE History Video
40 Year Partner
Interactive Timeline

  • The Small Business Council is formed, which is eventually named COSE, the Council of Smaller Enterprises
  • The compact disk is developed by RCA; Philips Co. introduces the video disk
  • Electronic mail is introduced. Queen Elizabeth II sends her first e-mail in 1976
  • M*A*S*H premieres on CBS

  • Health care plans offered
  • First full-time executive director, Michael Benz hired
  • First COSE educational seminar offered
  • First COSE newsletter published
  • First small business presentation to Congress
  • Cease-fire marks end of America’s involvement in Vietnam War
  • Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) is designed
  • Jazz master Duke Ellington publishes autobiography “Music is My Mistress”

  • Management Assistance Program established, providing one-on-one assistance for small business owners
  • Membership jumps from 491 to 785 in one month
  • Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army
  • President Richard M. Nixon resigns
  • “People” magazine debuts with Mia Farrow on the cover

  • CEO roundtables begin
  • First presentation to Ohio General Assembly
  • Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge take over Cambodia
  • Unemployment is 5.6 percent
  • Edward Albee’s “Seascape” wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama
  • “Saturday Night Live” premieres with George Carlin as host

  • Creation of the first small business agenda resulting in the first small business presentation in Columbus
  • United States celebrates its Bicentennial
  • Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” wins the Grammy Award for Album of the Year
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” wins the Academy Award for Best Picture

  • COSE Programs for Growth start
  • Unemployment hits 7.7 percent
  • “Roots” premieres on TV; “Star Wars” and “Saturday Night Fever” hit theaters; and Elvis dies at Graceland at the age of 42
  • The neutron bomb is developed
  • Space shuttle Enterprise makes its first test glide from the back of a Boeing 747

  • Kaiser Permanente added to COSE health plan
  • Membership stands at 2,500
  • Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat sign “Framework for Peace” in the Middle East at a conference held at Camp David led by President Jimmy Carter
  • The first test-tube baby is born in London
  • Balloon angioplasty is developed to treat coronary artery disease

  • COSE Strategic Planning Course offered to members
  • The Shah leaves Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini takes over; Iranian militants seize U.S. Embassy in Teheran, holding hostages
  • Soviet invasion of Afghanistan stirs world protests
  • Three Mile Island nuclear reactor overheats

  • COSE plays major role in first “modern” White House Conference on Small Business
  • Ronald Reagan elected president in a Republican sweep
  • Median household income is $17,710
  • “Do you believe in miracles?” The U.S. Olympic hockey team defeats the Soviets in Lake Placid, New York
  • Beatle John Lennon is shot in New York City
  • Ted Turner launches CNN

  • Business planning seminars begin
  • U.S. air traffic controllers strike, disrupting flights worldwide
  • President Reagan wounded by John Hinckley Jr.
  • MTV goes on air
  • IBM introduces its first personal computer running DOS
  • The FDA approves the use of artificial sweetener Nutrasweet

  • Mary Jane Fabish, first woman chair of COSE, elected
  • COSE celebrates 10th anniversary
  • Membership grows to 4,700
  • Equal Rights Amendment fails ratification
  • Space shuttle Columbia makes its first mission

  • Participants in COSE’s Entrepreneurship Conference go on to start 50 businesses
  • 237 U.S. Marines killed in terrorist attack in Beirut
  • Sally Ride is the first U.S. woman astronaut in space aboard Challenger
  • The FCC authorizes Motorola to begin testing cellular phone service in Chicago

  • Health insurance plan renovated with 3,000 companies and more than 20,000 subscribers
  • COSE named one of six Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in the region to handle administration of COSE health insurance program
  • COSE Group Services Inc. formed
  • Ma Bell System is broken up
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules that taping TV shows at home on VCRs does not violate copyright laws
  • Playwright David Mamet wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Glengarry Glen Ross”
  • Apple introduces the user-friendly Macintosh personal computer

  • First COSE Strategic Plan written
  • COSE works to stop “Right to Know” legislation
  • Tom Peters speaks at Annual Meeting
  • Membership grows to 6,500
  • Mikhail Gorbachev is named leader of Soviet Union
  • Desktop publishing becomes commonly used
  • British scientists report a large hole in the earth’s ozone layer over Antarctica
  • Coca-Cola monkeys with its 99-year-old formula by launching “New” Coke

  • COSE officially designated as Small Business Development Center by U.S. Small Business Administration and Ohio Department of Development
  • “Oprah” hits national television audiences
  • Barry Diller creates the Fox Network
  • Space shuttle Challenger explodes after launch, killing all seven on board
  • U.S. House of Representatives rejects Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” policy
  • Academic American Encyclopedia is available on CD-ROM

  • Inner Harbor Project begins
  • Membership grows to 7,500
  • Iran-Contra scandal explodes
  • Eli Lilly & Co. releases Prozac for use
  • Montreal International Treaty calls for 50 percent reduction in the use of chloroflouro-carbons by the year 2000

  • COSE Cellular One service offered
  • COSE chosen to produce Inc. 500 conference
  • COSE chairman Brad Roller saluted by President Reagan for political activism
  • Pan-Am Flight 103 explodes from a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland
  • United State and Canada reach free trade agreement (NAFTA)
  • CDs outsell vinyl records for the first time

  • Total health insurance premium volume exceeds $100 million
  • COSE members testify before National Bipartisan Commission on Health Care
  • Full-time COSE Government Action staff person added
  • Tens of thousands of Chinese students take over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in a rally for democracy. Thousands are killed
  • Exxon Valdez sends 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound
  • The first World Wide Web server and browser are developed in England

  • Membership exceeds 10,000
  • 40 COSE members meet with President Bush
  • COSE insures nearly 150,000 Greater Clevelanders
  • South Africa frees Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years
  • “The Simpson’s” debuts on Fox and “Seinfeld” debuts on NBC
  • Movies released include “Dances with Wolves,” “Goodfellas” and “Reversal of Fortune”
  • President George Bush signs the Clean Air Act

  • COSE Workers’ Comp program starts
  • Group Services Inc. expands to include Toledo chamber
  • Cease-fire ends Persian Gulf War
  • The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings erupt
  • Rock group Nirvana launches grunge movement
  • Gopher, the first user-friendly Internet interface, is created at the University of Minnesota

  • President Bush calls COSE a national leader in creating “workable solutions to healthcare challenges”
  • Membership tops 12,000
  • Yugoslav Federation is broken up. United Nations expels Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia
  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed
  • U.S. leads UN effort to guard food for Somalians
  • Violence erupts in Los Angeles after police acquitted of beating Rodney King
  • Johnny Carson hosts “The Tonight Show” for the last time
  • Text-based Web browser is made available to the public

  • CBG communication services offered
  • Branch Davidian standoff with federal agents ends in fiery death in Waco, Texas
  • 1,200 members attend Stephen Covey seminar
  • Lorain native Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

  • COSE works to defeat Clinton health plan
  • Nelson Mandela is elected President of South Africa in that country’s first interracial national election
  • O.J. Simpson is charged with killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman
  • Major League Baseball players strike; the World Series is cancelled
  • “Schindler’s List” wins Oscar for Best Picture
  • White House launches Web page and initial commerce sites are launched

  • Membership includes 16,226 companies
  • Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is bombed in Oklahoma City
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opens in Cleveland
  • Cleveland Indians lose to Atlanta Braves in World Series

  • Members save a total of $95 million on health insurance, workers’ comp, long distance, and cellular phone services
  • “Mad cow” disease outbreak in Britain
  • Broadcasters, television and PC manufacturers agree on a standard for high-definition television
  • Approximately 45 million people in the world are using the Internet (30 million of those in North America)

  • Workers’ Comp Program enrolls 5,007 companies
  • 13,000 members enrolled in health insurance plans
  • CBG has 2,800 COSE participants
  • AirTouch nets 13,000 members
  • Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule
  • Indians lose to Florida Marlins in World Series
  • Princess Diana; Mother Theresa; Jacques Cousteau; John Denver; Allen Ginsberg; and Jimmy Stewart die

  • Monica Lewinsky becomes a household name after President Clinton denies having an affair with the White House intern
  • President Clinton outlines first balanced budget in 30 years
  • FDA approves Viagra
  • 77-year-old Ohio Senator John Glenn returns to space on shuttle Discovery

  • Steve Millard named executive director of COSE
  • Creation of the COSE Customer Service Team to help better serve the membership
  • www.cose.org goes live
  • Implementation of the e-strategy campaign within the Growth Association aimed at developing a new Web site and information system for the organization
  • COSE’s Retirement Plan introduced
  • War erupts in Kosovo
  • World prepares for Y2K
  • Internet users reach 150 million worldwide, with more than half from the U.S.

  • Launch of the “Get the Most Out of COSE” membership e-mail
  • COSE adds public relations position
  • Introduced online health insurance plan administration
  • First local chamber of commerce partnership with the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce
  • Launched the “Best 100” Web sites listing on cose.org
  • Introduced online learning capability
  • Fought “living wage” ordinance
  • Helped pass HB 221, Mandated Benefit Review
  • COSE members named to Gov. Taft’s Small Business Advisory Council
  • COSE Update goes full color
  • U.S.S. Cole attacked in port in Yemen
  • Cuban Elian Gonzalez is the center of an international custody dispute
  • President George W. Bush wins the closest election in decades
  • “I love you” virus disrupts computers worldwide

  • Creation of a new COSE Strategic Plan
  • Successful campaign advocating for Cleveland Hopkins Airport expansion for regional competitiveness
  • Launched the COSE Business Plan Challenge awarding more than $100,000 in cash and prizes to Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs
  • Reached the membership milestone of 16,700 members
  • Introduced the COSE Electric Program
  • Introduced the Power Breakfast Panel education series
  • Worked with community leaders, members of the Ohio congressional delegation to secure $70 million in funding for NASA Glenn Research Center.
  • Launched Capitolgate, an online advocacy resource center that gives state legislators comprehensive information about issues before them
  • Launched the COSE Key Resources Program with Baldwin-Wallace College
  • Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network launch terror attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania

  • COSE holds its first ever Business Plan Challenge Contest awarding more than $150,000 in cash and prizes
  • COSE offer Workers’ Comp Program to 700 Akron Better Business Bureau members
  • Partnered with Disney Institute to offer “Disney Keys to Success” program to 250 attendees
  • Produced “Starting Your Business” series on WCPN radio
  • COSE/Growth Association wins 2002 Award of Excellence from NAMD
  • COSE hosts four delegates from Open World Russian Leadership Program
  • Euro becomes standard currency in 12 European countries

  • Launched the Boise Office Supply Program
  • COSE ConnectFest networking events attracted more than 3,500 for the year
  • Participated in the National Small Business Association (NSBA) Small Business Congress in Washington D.C.
  • Launched COSE Box Office
  • Launched first Advocacy electronic newsletter
  • COSE.org has an average of 25,000 unique visitors each month
  • Space Shuttle Columbia explodes killing all seven aboard

  • Greater Cleveland Growth Association merges with the Cleveland Roundtable and Greater Cleveland Tomorrow to create the Greater Cleveland Partnership
  • COSE merges with NEOSA which becomes COSE’s Technology Network
  • COSE enters partnership with Weatherhead School of Management to produce Weatherhead 100 Awards
  • COSE launches www.neo411.biz with 11 other regional economic development partners
  • COSE offers first HSA plans as health insurance option
  • Launched the first COSE Member Satisfaction Survey online
  • Janet Jackson creates scandal with “wardrobe malfunction” during halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII

  • COSE and Medical Mutual reach historic long-term agreement on health insurance
  • COSE Ambassador Program created to help with member outreach
  • First COSE Ten Under 10 Awards Program held
  • COSE’s “Bedtime Stories for Entrepreneurs” book is published
  • COSE launches the online tool COSE OneForm
  • COSE supports new established Entrepreneurship Preparatory School (E-Prep)
  • NEOSA holds the first ever CIO of the Year Awards
  • COSE holds its third Business Plan Challenge competition awarding more than $350,00 in cash and prizes
  • Hurricane Katrina wreaks havoc on the U.S. Gulf Coast

  • First COSE Small Business Conference is held at IX-Center Cleveland
  • HR Answer Desk launches
  • COSE Arts and Home Business Networks are launched
  • COSE Business Space program started
  • New $300 COSE membership announced
  • COSE helps crew of Spiderman 3 movie film in Cleveland
  • COSE member services team averages 2,700 calls each month
  • COSE’s online “Candidate Information Center” has more than 15,000 unique visitors
  • Saddam Hussein is convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court and hanged in Baghdad

  • COSE moves offices to the Higbee Building at Public Square
  • COSE launches Ibuyneo.com to support area businesses with “buy local” messaging
  • COSE launches COSE MindSpring program with member editors as small business experts
  • COSE holds “holiday shopping” themed Annual Meeting in the Higbee Building
  • COSE MindShare program launches to connect entrepreneurs
  • COSE creates Member Service Team to handle all customer service issues in-house
  • COSE launches “Join Your Cause” media campaign
  • COSE completes Health Care Scenario Planning Project
  • The minimum wage increases to $5.85, up from $5.15. It's the first increase in 10 years

  • COSE awards 27 Wellness Mini Grants offering up to $1,500 for company-sponsored wellness initiatives
  • COSE helps remove Issue 4 from ballot that would have mandated employers offer seven paid sick days
  • COSE launches www.smallbizvotes.org website for election information related to small business
  • COSE releases Home Based Businesses: Dispelling the Myths research project
  • COSE Arts Network holds first Arts and Business Innovation (ABI) Awards
  • 155,000 Northeast Ohioans depend on COSE Health plans for a combined savings of more than $22 million
  • Cuban president Fidel Castro permanently steps down after 49 years in power
  • Democratic senator Barack Obama becomes the first African American to be elected president of the United States

  • Newly resigned www.cose.org launches
  • COSE helps pass Issue 6 - Cuyahoga County Government Reform
  • COSE Strategic Planning Course celebrates 30thn Anniversary
  • I Buy NEO launches “Buy Local Week”
  • COSE launches www.socialmedialeaps.com
  • More than 3,000 businesses participate in the COSE Electric Savings Program
  • PUCO names COSE “Energy Efficiency Administrator for Small Business” in the First Energy territories
  • General Motors files for bankruptcy and announces it will close 14 plants in the United States

  • COSE publishes the first Health Care Reform Gameplan™
  • The COSE Affiliate Program launches with 10 partners made up of local chambers and business support organizations
  • More than 400 attend the Business Matchmaker event held by COSE and the SBA Cleveland Office
  • COSE launches its first online Energy Efficiency Resource Guide
  • COSE and Greater Cleveland Partnership gain Green Plus™ status
  • COSE awarded $100,000 in federal and state grants to support sustainability education for small businesses
  • NEOSA raises $15,000 for college scholarships through its Cool Tech Challenge program
  • COSE launches WellnessTracks program
  • COSE awards $10,000 in prizes through COSE Energy Efficiency Challenge
  • COSE/GCP named “Chamber of the Year” at Green Plus North America Sustainability Awards
  • After 86 days of gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP caps its leaking oil well

  • COSE moves offices to 1240 Huron Road in Playhouse Square neighborhood
  • MRA position created at COSE to deepen member outreach and customer service efforts
  • More than 250 attend the first COSE Small Business Summit
  • New COSE Strategic Plan completed
  • COSE Energy receives state and federal grants to promote energy efficiency among small businesses
  • COSE holds its first Business Pitch Competition with guest judge Daymond John of ABC’s Shark Tank
  • COSE Small Business Conference attracts 1,500 attendees
  • U.S. troops and CIA operatives shoot and kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan

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We invite you to share your story with us. How you got started in your business? How you’ve met the challenges and handled success? And if appropriate, how COSE has played a role in your business? We’ll post your story here with those of your fellow members to help celebrate COSE’s 40th anniversary.

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Aeroll Engineering Corp.

For 70 years, Aeroll Engineering Corp. has been supplying flat-rolled thread dies to manufacturers of bolts that go into cars, construction equipment and other machinery. "Think of how many fasteners are in an automobile," says Carl Weaver, president and the fourth generation to run the business. (His nephew, Justin Thompson, plant manager, makes five generations to work at the company.) "Bolts are everywhere you look—they are the main parts that hold engines and exhaust systems together,” Weaver says.

Aeroll Engineering, located at 185th and Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, is a Tier 3 supplier, meaning it sells to manufacturers that sell to OEMs, such as Ford or John Deere. And over the years, Aeroll, with five employees, has built a name in the industry, Weaver says. "We have been around for so long that business just seems to roll along," he says.

This is true in spite of a stressed automotive industry, which has affected Aeroll but did not threaten the sustainability of the operation. "We have seen customers come and go out of business, and we are one of the ones that just hung in there and were diversified enough that we made it through the tough times," Weaver says.

After all, the business has weathered other ups and downs, such as in the 1980s when a lot of the type of business Aeroll does moved to China. Those customers are now coming back, Weaver says. "After so many years, it seemed like China couldn't supply quality products fast enough, and manufacturers here want quality products faster," he explains. "All of a sudden, we are getting jobs back that we lost for years. It's a good thing."

What differentiates Aeroll from its competitors is the company's ability to complete all of its processes in house. For example, Aeroll does its own heat treating rather than sending that portion of the work out to another firm. "People know when they come to us, we can deliver on a special order and we do everything under one roof," Weaver says.

The ability to accommodate a demand for faster delivery times is critical in this business. "Quick delivery is what people like," Weaver says simply.

Aeroll Engineering joined COSE in the 1970s, when Weaver's father was heading up the operation. "We've been members ever since," Weaver says, noting that the company takes advantage of COSE's workers' compensation program and other services.

This has been helpful as Weaver focuses on the day-to-day business—and as owner of the family business, he wears every hat: sales, estimates, accounting, shipping. The company has been in its current 9,000 square-foot building for 63 years, and still runs some machinery from the late 1800s, Weaver shares. The oldest machine was built in 1888. It has never broken down and works like a charm.

In the same way, Weaver hopes the same is true for Aeroll Engineering as it rolls into the next generation. "We want to push forward and be here for 100 years—and longer," Weaver says. "This means continuing to manage our customer base and suppling quality products."

Alexander's Hardware

The world of retail has changed dramatically since Alexander’s Hardware opened its doors in 1950. But customers who shopped at Alexander’s Hardware at 2337 East 55th Street before big box stores and online shopping lured people away, still shop there —and for good reason. The “old fashioned” hardware store has a knowledgeable staff to help customers solve just about every repair problem. “Our hardware expertise is deep and a great foundation for our business, which changes as the needs of our customers change,” says Doris Greggo, who grew up in the family business that her father started more than 60 years ago.

Alexander’s Hardware has evolved to accommodate new customer demands while sticking with its roots serving Cleveland’s Central neighborhood and a diverse customer base of residential, commercial and non-profit customers. “We’re here to serve the needs our neighborhood residents, while reaching out to others looking for an excellent and well-stocked hardware store,” Greggo says. “Anyone shopping with us can depend on the fact that when they walk into our place of business, they will receive great service, competitive prices and excellent choice of merchandise.”

The store has been at the East 55th location since 1958, after a fire gutted the original location on Scovill Avenue —now part of the campus of Cuyahoga Community College. “According to my father (the store’s namesake, Alex, who passed away in 1996) the hardware store stayed open for more than a year with barely a roof at the Scovill store, while the current space was being readied. That’s incredible to me, now.” Greggo says.

Greggo has been working at the business since 1986, and Alexander’s Hardware has been a COSE member since the 1970s. “COSE helped us grow our business by providing us products that allowed us turn our attention to the most important aspect of our business, providing quality goods and services to our customers,” she says, noting that Alexander’s uses COSE’s payroll partner, and takes advantage of the health insurance and workers’ compensation programs.

With more time to focus on the business, Greggo says Alexander’s has made some big changes in recent years. The “old fashioned” hardware store just installed a computer system upgrade that allows more efficient point-of-sale processing and inventory control. Meanwhile, Alexander’s offers customers a wide selection of more than 100,000 products because of its partnership with Do-It-Best Corp., a network of 4,000 independently owned hardware stores. One benefit of this partnership is that Alexander’s sells a private label Do-It-Best paint line that is manufactured by a local company. “It’s a wonderful feeling to offer a quality product that is produced right here in Cleveland,” Greggo says.

And it’s an even better feeling to be offering those products to people who shop in the city’s core. “I believe in being here,” Greggo says. “Cleveland has some very good things going on, and when you look around there is promise on the horizon. We look forward to being a part of that.”

Apple Growth Partners

It all started in an abandoned used car lot across from the Akron post office. In January 1943, income tax came on the scene for all individuals, not just the wealthy. War-time exemptions were over. Suddenly, everyone had to figure out how to file, and the post office was charged with the task of walking through the paperwork with confused citizens.

Jay Heinick, a junior at The University of Akron, watched the lines at the post office build. And he spotted the empty “hut,” located next door to a factory his best friend’s father owned. He had an idea.

“He got permission to run an extension cord out of the factory office into the hut,” says Dave Gaino, Chairman, Apple Growth Partners.
Heinick opened a tax accounting business to serve the flood of people. He hired a few classmates and two professors to help him, and soon that post office line began to dwindle as people walked across the street, tax forms in hand, to Heinick’s operation.

“The thought of the college kid employing his professors shows the entrepreneurial spirit of this firm,” Gaino relates. “Jay surely wasn’t the only student with this same thought, but he was the only one who stopped, got out of the car, did the research and started a business.”

Heinick’s effort grew into Apple Growth Partners, which has evolved into a multi-disciplinary professional services firm with 85 employees and access to global specialists through its association with Moore Stephens, an international collection of independent accounting and business advisory firms.

Apple Growth has undergone two mergers, first in 1989 with an auditing group that positioned Apple Growth as a full-service audit and accounting firm. And later in 1998 with a Westlake firm that expanded Akron-based Apple Growth’s footprint into the Cleveland area.

During expansion, Apple Growth joined COSE to provide its employees with health insurance and benefits. Over the years, the company has tapped into COSE’s networking opportunities. This year, Gaino speaks at the COSE Small Business Conference October 25 and 26 at Kalahari Resorts Convention Center, and the firm will have a trade show booth promoting its growing small business accounting service.

Gaino reflects on how the firm has evolved since he joined in 1979, when Heinick was still active in the practice. (He didn’t retire until 1983.) “Then, we were all accountants and we were all the same kind of people—and today, we have five or six really different professions functioning within this firm to really fulfill that need of clients to have a close business adviser they can call on,” he says.


When Bill Lambert started ArcSpecs 28 years ago, he set up shop in the basement of his home and struck up a couple relationships with key manufacturers to represent in the architectural aluminum products industry. Windows, doors, storefront and curtain wall—these are the types of products ArcSpecs offers its commercial clients, many of them school systems.

“Being a manufacturer rep means getting in at the ground level,” says Lambert, adding that building a strong rapport with all of the players on a job is critical: general contractors, subcontractors and, of course, the client bidding the work. “There is no free lunch in this business,” he quips.

Lambert joined COSE soon after launching the business as a way to gain access to resources he couldn’t afford as a startup. “When you’re first starting, you don’t have the knowledge of many things and you can’t afford to hire people to coach you—but I could have a coach with COSE, which was nice,” he says.

Lambert participated in COSE mentoring programs and met a general contractor who provided guidance on ArcSpecs’ business plan. “He helped me fine-tune doing business in general,” he relates. “We needed a big brother/big sister to play a role in our business, and COSE was a good thing for us because we could call to get advice on many business issues—HR, workers comp, benefits,” he says.

Gaining this knowledge gave Lambert a confidence boost early on. “We knew we had someone to lean on,” he says. And now, decades later, Lambert has a facility in Westlake, four employees and a roster of loyal customers and relationships with vendors who have helped him build a sustainable business that has lasted through the years.

ArcSpecs has worked as the manufacturer rep on projects for Cleveland City Schools, and school systems in Elyria, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. The firm also works with universities such as John Carroll, Baldwin Wallace and Case Western Reserve University.

Over the years, ArcSpecs has diversified its product menu and offered items like skylights and architectural glazing material, a type of high-performance glass. But Lambert says he has learned the key to maintaining deep-rooted relationships with manufacturers is to choose a couple of suppliers and work hard selling those products. “Diversification is a good theory, but if you grab too many product lines you can just bury yourself and spread yourself thin with too many products and not enough people,” he says.

Lambert sees the business coming full-circle these days. He is working toward a succession plan, mentoring a young professional who he believes will take the company into its next generation. And as for Lambert?

“I’m looking forward to the transition and turning another page in my life and in my career where I can use my experience that I have worked very hard on developing over the years to do something different and ignite a new passion,” he says.

Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

Aster Elements

“You need to listen to your customers, your people and the market, and you’ve got to have a plan,” says Joe Lopez, founder and president of Aster Elements, a niche fabricator of architectural metals—“the bling on the building.”

This is the philosophy that Joe Lopez has always followed and embraces today. It started with the founding and growth of New Era Builders into a nationally recognized general contractor, with clients such as NASA Glenn Research Center, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration. By listening to and delivering value for his many customers, Lopez turned his minority business enterprise (MBE) into one of the top 200 Hispanic companies in the country.

In 2010, Lopez again listened to the market. He saw an opportunity to provide a valuable service in the form of custom fabricated exterior cladding made from architectural metal. He knew he could reach out to existing clients and tap into customers of other general contractors, as well. This vision led to the launch of Aster Elements.

Aster Elements’ large-scale decorative metalwork are the accessories on a structure—the artistic details that set a project apart from the rest. The market is ripe for this service, and there aren’t many firms in the United States that preform this type of work.
The challenge, Lopez says, is to articulate in metal the architect’s vision for these aspects of the building’s design. This requires engineering and design expertise to capture the essence of a project, and precision fabrication involving complex geometry. Then, there are the project management issues to consider: delivering on time, to specification and within the agreed upon budget.

“It all comes down to execution,” says Lopez, who draws on three decades of experience executing complex projects at New Era Builders. He worked intimately with subcontractors, and learned how a good subcontractor could elevate a project. He applies these principles to the way he manages Aster Elements.

Today, after only two and a half years, Aster is making an imprint regionally with plans for international expansion. You’ll find Aster’s mark on projects in Northeast Ohio, including University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, Horseshoe Casino, The Cleveland Convention Center/Medical Mart, multiple car dealerships, the soon–to-be Ernst & Young headquarters on the east bank of the Flats, and Eaton’s new World Headquarters.

Lopez says the future for Aster Elements looks bright. “We are in a dynamic phase of our business life cycle, transitioning from a less than three-year-old start-up into an emerging leader in a complex market,” Lopez says. “It all comes down to execution, and you can’t execute if you don’t have a plan.” Lopez and his team do have a plan and are constantly refining roles, systems, methods and procedures.

Meanwhile, Lopez says many of the core principles he applies to Aster Elements’ business model he learned during the COSE Strategic Planning Course. And, as chairperson several years ago of COSE’s Northeast Ohio Business Plan Challenge, he had an opportunity to read, review and judge countless plans. “You never forget the lessons,” he says of that experience, which gave him an inside on how businesses were positioning themselves to go to market in Northeast Ohio and beyond. “It was like being involved in an incubator of entrepreneurs.”

Lopez, a COSE member for 12-plus years, is an active member of the executive board and says the relationships he has grown through the organization have contributed to his business success. “COSE lobbies, they form relationships, they form networking groups and they give you access to resources and services,” he says. “It’s an all-for-one effort, and you know your voice gets heard in Washington.”
Meanwhile, Lopez is making sure that Aster Elements gets heard regionally, nationally and eventually internationally as the business works its plan to become one of the world’s top niche fabricators of architectural metal, based right here in Northeast Ohio. “I’m proud to be in Cleveland,” Lopez says.

“I have taken the same passion and culture and momentum that made New Era Builders successful and created Aster Elements,” he continues. “We were successful because we were disciplined. And we are taking the same disciplinary management and approach to our architectural exterior cladding packages.”


It was twelve years ago this year that Briteskies' founder and owner, Michael Berlin, decided to forgo the luxury of a regular paycheck and invest a meager severance package to establish what he believed the IT consulting industry lacked: an organization in which customers could trust. Briteskies began as a vision for great customer service, with an environment where employees could develop as professionals and as a leader in technology solutions; if you were to ask any one of our clients, the answer would be unanimous and resounding, that's exactly who we are.

These are only a few of the reasons that people want to work here, that clients want to do business with us and why we're trusted. Berlin has long advocated the power of networking and relationships in business, and has been an active member of COSE since the early 2000s. Prior to the vast reaches of social media, Berlin and Bill Onion, Managing Director at Briteskies, began as COSE ambassadors; the two would attend local events representing COSE, drawing from their experiences as small business owners and managers themselves. It wasn't long before Berlin became a COSE board member; there was so much enthusiasm in his voice as he spoke about one of his most fond COSE memories: "Some years ago, there was a committee which was formed in response to Cleveland City Schools' current state of affairs.

As a business owner, not only is the success of my company crucial, but my community as well. I remember when I walked into that room; it was the 'Who's Who?' of Cleveland. There was Chuck Ratner and David LaRue of Forest City Enterprises, Jerry Sue Thornton of Cuyahoga Community College and representatives from both Jones Day and Squire Sanders, among others. What really impressed me wasn't so much that I was in the presence of all these powerful people, but that they were all taking time from undoubtedly incredibly hectic schedules to focus on something which impacts all of Cleveland. I was honored to be a part of that group."

In addition to the experiences which were presented through being such an active COSE member, there was certainly the springboard aspect, the little bit of extra oomph from which every entrepreneur can benefit. "COSE assisted Briteskies with the finer intricacies of small business ownership; figuring out health insurance coverage for employees and securing office space can be daunting if you've never had to do it. This business was my baby, my responsibility, and COSE showed me the proper way to take care of it. For one to ten [employee] organizations, there is no better group to belong than COSE," said Berlin.

Congratulations on 40 years, COSE. We thank you for all that you've given to our community, our companies and families. Because of COSE, we expect that one day we'll be congratulated on ours. About Briteskies Briteskies is a leader in helping B2B and B2C companies seamlessly develop and integrate eCommerce solutions with ERP and other enterprise software systems, providing clients with higher customer satisfaction rates and increased profitability.

Briteskies’ partners include IBM, Magento and JD Edwards. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Briteskies is an Inc. 5000 company and recipient of multiple NEO (Northeast Ohio) Success Awards for rapid growth. Briteskies is also a five-time Weatherhead 100 company as determined by Case Western Reserve University’s ranking of fastest growing companies in Northeast Ohio.

For more information, visit www.briteskies.com.


Simply doing business is not enough for Barb Brown and Margie Flynn, founders of BrownFlynn, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm that focuses on helping companies “do good and do well.” Society, the environment and the company itself all derive benefits from a corporate responsibility and sustainability strategy.

“We have a strong belief that business can drive a lot of good in the community, not only as a result of the very basic things, like employing people and providing health benefits, but by spurring economic development in the region,” says Barb Brown. “Businesses can wield their power for good.”

Brown and Flynn had been job sharing at National City Corporation, co-leading corporate communications until 1996 when they started their own firm. “So, we were already business partners in a way,” Brown relates. “And we had been friends prior to working at National City.”

With three children each, Brown and Flynn agreed in the beginning that if they were going to leave their kids to work every day, they wanted to make a difference. “If we can play a role in helping businesses see that they can do good and do well, that is really impactful, important work,” Brown says.

Sixteen years later, BrownFlynn has 14 employees and has expanded its footprint beyond Northeast Ohio. It’s not easy to catch the partners in the office these days with their travel schedules. And the scope of the business has also deepened as the firm is the first U.S. certified training partner for the Global Reporting Initiative and uses it as a framework for sustainability reporting to guide clients on their triple-bottom-line missions. (That’s people, planet, profit.)

“What is good for business can also be very good for society, and in fact, it should actually enhance a company’s opportunity to do well financially,” Brown says. “It’s not just doing good for good’s sake—it’s doing good because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the smart thing to do.”

Also, corporate responsibility is a highly valued component of company culture these days. “What society and stakeholders expect of companies has evolved, and we have tried to be a few steps ahead of the way trends are going,” Brown adds.

Brown relates how COSE is also an example of an organization that is a few steps ahead. “I’ve known about COSE forever,” Brown says, relating how she interned at the Greater Cleveland Growth Association in 1982 as a John Carroll student. She was writing newsletters and penned a story about Tower City when it was “just an idea.” COSE and the Growth Association shared space at the time.

“COSE was something that Cleveland really had to shout about,” Brown says. “It was seen as a vanguard program in the country, and the idea back then of pooling resources to save small businesses money was novel. In many ways, having such an innovative program put COSE and this region on the map.”

Brown says that the firm takes advantage of COSE health insurance and benefits, does business with partner vendors and taps into networking opportunities. “The growth in the United States in terms of jobs will come from small businesses, and to have a group like COSE where you can share stories and network with other members is very valuable,” she says.

Meanwhile, BrownFlynn focuses on hiring the best and brightest partners to help expand the firm’s thinking, Brown says. “Sustainability is here to stay, and it too will evolve, and we want to be on the cutting edge of how it is evolving so we can continue to provide value to our clients.”

Calvey Consulting, LLC

Calvey Consulting LLC was born in 2004. After working for other companies for 30 years, my husband and I decided it was time to combine our construction knowledge and our business knowledge into one venture. We headed down to the basement and relied on our past relationships to get us going. We moved around the exercise equipment and bought desks, computers, software, printers, phones, faxes, tables and chairs. We created our logo, developed our business cards and made a special place for the dog.

Our biggest challenge was making our workspace presentable in order to have clients over for meetings. We had many discussions on whether to stay in the lower level or move to an office and incur additional overhead expenses. We decided to stay in our space, which is more efficient, and it allowed us to invest more in technology, marketing and be more economical to our clients. We are also able to put in longer hours at the “office” without being away from home.

We have created a website, designed marketing brochures and expanded our knowledge by receiving certifications as Certified Professional Estimator (CPE), Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP) and Construction Industry Technician (CIT). We became more active in local construction organizations and I joined the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and have served on and off their board for eight years and currently am a director.

Through my husband’s support of NAWIC and the construction industry, he was named Industry Appreciation Award winner of the Cleveland NAWIC Chapter #156 for the year 2009. He is also on the board of the (American Society of Professional Estimators) ASPE, where he served as past president and I am the Editor of their monthly newsletter. We are also members of AIC (American Institute of Constructors) and my husband serves as an arbitrator with AAA (American Association of Arbitrators). We participate in committees with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE).

We have made presentations at meetings with PMI, AACE and AGC (Association of General Contractors). Through these organizations we have conducted seminars, published Recommended Practices and attended many conventions to learn, educate and promote our knowledge of the construction industry. One aspect of our presentations is to inform contractors and owners of the claims process, ways to mitigate claims and the importance of good record keeping.

We have found that attending these conventions and emailing occasional announcements are two of the best ways to market our business and to stay in touch with past clients. Through these organizations we have participated in a Habitat for Humanity home, Camp Cheerful cleanup project, Applewood Christmas party for children, and assisted in planning numerous organizational events. We have also participated in our community by assisting in the planning of our church expansion and being on the board of the local historical association. After a few years in business we updated our website, created more informational brochures, and became certified with the City of Cleveland as a CSB, with CMHA as an FBE, and with NEORSD as an SBE.

Since we are in the construction industry and most of our business is in the Northeast Ohio area, we have ups and downs in revenue but business has increased steadily since we started and revenue has been constant the past few years. We strive for excellence and are always looking for ways to improve our final product by keeping abreast of new technology, new industry practices and better communication. We are a service company and contractors and owners rely on our expertise to help them resolve issues. We are the company they call when circumstances cause delays in payments and they need help to build a case to prove payment is deserved or when a time extension is required.

Our strengths lie in our analytical ability to review construction schedules, develop labor productivity statistics and develop factual narratives that tell the story. We research contracts, building codes and reference manuals. We conduct personal site inspections, develop our findings and issue reports. If the project requires a formal trial for reconciliation, we act as an expert witness and produce the necessary exhibits to explain our case more thoroughly. We receive much of our documents electronically, which allows us to perform more efficient data searches.

We issue our reports with color graphics as pdf’s through email to eliminate the unnecessary waste of printing color copies. We are a small company but we have a Code of Ethics, a Drug Policy, a fall Safety Policy, health insurance through COSE, a retirement plan and participated in the COSE Wellness Mini-Grant where our goal was to run a marathon and we have succeeded in running 5 to-date. We have an organizational policy and conduct regular board meetings and we were one of the recipients of the Cose 10 Under 10 Awards in 20010.

We work hard at our business and proudly display the following quote by Thomas Edison on our website: “The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary”. That about sums up our attitude and is the reason we have passed the eight-year mark in business. We believe in Cleveland and are proud to live and work in the Cleveland area.

Cohen & Co.

Never miss an opportunity. That’s the mantra Cohen & Co. has helped its clients achieve since it was founded by Ron Cohen in 1977. Cohen wanted to be more than a bean counter—he wanted to be a business adviser, an aggressive advocate. He felt strongly that private companies desired more comprehensive financial guidance, and delivering that would drive their success. So Cohen founded a firm dedicated to the entrepreneur and small business owner, which he believed was the lifeblood of the region.

The same is true today about Cohen & Co. focus, and its commitment to entrepreneurs. The firm is focused exclusively on private companies and entrepreneurs. And in many ways, its vision is aligned with that of COSE, says Randall Myeroff, CEO. “COSE was way ahead of its time, creating an organization that provides resources for entrepreneurs, so it was easy for us to sign up to contribute our time and resources to be a part of that,” he says. “COSE has always been the pinnacle of supporting entrepreneurs in the region, so we felt close to that.”

Ron Cohen served as chairman of COSE, and the firm participated in COSE’s Strategic Planning Course and has been involved in advocacy efforts. “Small businesses have unique needs, and COSE recognized that we need a central point to be sure our voice is heard in the political arena,” Myeroff says.

Similarly, Cohen & Co. prides itself on understanding the needs of private companies. While the firm has grown from five people to 260, and its client base has expanded exponentially over the years, it hasn’t strayed from its roots of serving the startup. The firm has clients that pull in $5 and $250 million in revenue each year—and clients that have absolutely on revenue stream at all because they’re just beginning their journey.

“We will always do that work because we believe that entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of employment, capitalism—our economy,” Myeroff says.

Specifically, Cohen & Co. helps private companies be financially proactive, focus on personal and professional financial independence, and drive overall success. This means doing much more than filing a tax return. “We are very focused on advocacy and tax planning, because if you are paying too much money in taxes, that is capital that could be used to invest in equipment or people,” Myeroff explains.

Cohen does not provide “public company services,” such as Sarbanes-Oxley consulting or providing outsourced internal auditing work. “We feel an obligation to entrepreneurial companies,” Myeroff says. “We have perspective and experience and a real obligation to bring them opportunities proactively from the tax arena all the way to capital funding and business strategy. Our job is to make sure that they never miss an opportunity, and we’re rallying around that goal and climbing higher with it.”

Besides, Cohen & Co. understands what it’s like to be a growing, entrepreneurial company. It has made that difficult transition from a consensus-driven, entrepreneurial organization to a larger-scale firm that must focus on the vision and build infrastructure to ensure its sustainability. The firm understands recruitment and retention issues, succession struggles, the pains of growing big.

And making this transition has strengthened the firm overall, Myeroff says. Cohen employs a cast of young professionals, some right out of college. It is focused on raising a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs to carry the firm’s mission forward. “If our top leadership went on sabbatical for a year, our firm would be cruising because we have such a great next generation of leaders we are developing,” Myeroff says.

Every business goes in cycles, Myeroff continues. And looking forward, the firm has gained momentum. “We think we have a marketplace that is perfectly positioned for what we are the best at doing,” he says. “We have found that our belief that private companies drive the Northeast Ohio market is true.”

Compass Consulting Services

Compass Consulting Services, LLC started in August 2008. My business partner, Ruth Ramos Clifford, and I started the company out of our passion for the work that we do. We started in the worst economy that we've seen in our lifetime and had we known that the economy was crashing as quickly as it was, we probably would not have started the company. Our blissful ignorance and enormous faith were our building blocks.

When we started Compass Consulting Services, LLC, we knew that we wanted to specialize in diversity and inclusion. It was the work that we had dedicated our careers to and it was what we were well known for. As we asked for advice on our company branding, we were advised that we should have a niche area of expertise. We were also told that we should have a diverse revenue stream. We took all of the great advice that we were given and decided that we would specialize in diversity and inclusion management (our "sweet spot"), as well as leadership development, conflict management, communication, and team building. In addition, we offer services in executive coaching, facilitation, harassment training, and organizational assessments.

SInce we started the company 4 years ago, we have developed a great, diverse list of clients in various sectors, including: non-profit, corporate, educational, religious, and governmental. We have also grown to the point that we have had the opportunity to hire part-time staff, as well as other facilitators to assist in larger projects. Starting Compass Consulting Services, LLC has truly been the best professional decision we have made.

When we started, we knew we needed to surround ourselves with bright, professional individuals that could assist us in building and growing the business. One of the first decisions we made was to develop an advisory board. The next decision we made was to join COSE. We knew that joining COSE would grow our network and hopefully, our net worth. It has done both for us.

In addition, I am a COSE Mindspring Expert, which has given me the ability to write about our areas of expertise while giving Compass Consulting Services, LLC more exposure through the COSE website. We have also had the great privilege of speaking at the COSE Conference and we have been featured in the COSE Update Magazine.

Lastly, COSE provided us a great space to work in so we did not have to spend money on an office space. Being a member of COSE has definitely been one of the smartest business decision we have made.

Thank you, COSE, for all of your hard work in making it possible to be a successful small business in Cleveland...even if started in blissful ignorance and enormous faith!

Congratulations on your 40th anniversary!

Compliance Technologies, Inc.

Businesses today face layers of regulation as they work toward compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Violations can damage a company's reputation, spoil its sustainability and affect its ability to compete in a global market.

"When clients come to us with a severe pain from a regulatory perspective, we try to make that go away so they can focus on what their job is, which is manufacturing a product and being profitable," says Stephen Kovatch, founder and president of Compliance Technologies, Inc. a team of scientists, engineers and certified specialists who provide services to help clients comply with environmental, health and safety regulations.

Kovatch started the environmental business with a partner 22 years ago, coming off a tour with the EPA and a career in the private sector as a compliance officer in hazardous waste treatment. When Kovatch launched Compliance Technologies, he called COSE so he could provide his employees with benefits. Then, some 15 years later, in 2004, he took COSE's Strategic Planning Course, which shifted the focus of his business. He bought out his partner and began to expand the company's three business "blocks": consulting services, waste management and remediation/cleanup work. Adding health and safety services was a natural fit with the environmental services already in place.

"Along with [that expansion] comes marketing, sales growth, employee management and other components of running a business," Kovatch says, referencing the plan he worked on during the COSE course. Plus, he gained a group of mentors through the Strategic Dialogue Roundtable discussion group that he attends monthly. "Everything is on the table with the dialogue in that group, and it's all confidential," he says of the advice he shares with trusted peers in business.

Indeed, Kovatch worked his plan. And today, Compliance Technologies is known as a boutique firm with loyal clients, many of which have been with the firm since it opened its doors. Employees are loyal, too. Many have at least a decade tenure, Kovatch says.

"When we go out and visit with our customers, we always ask, 'Why do you do business with us?'" Kovatch says. "And very commonly, we get the same answers: 'You're always responsive to our needs, the quality of your work is very high, and you've got high-quality people who work for you'."

Kovatch takes great pride in this positive feedback.

For years, he has run a solid business with a strong reputation, based in Cuyahoga Heights, central to the industrial sector and close to freeways so the firm can be responsive to clients' needs.

And with increasing regulatory pressure coming down the pike with the current administration, Kovatch says that more businesses are concerned about compliance. "The best service we provide our clients is helping them stay legal, but fairly," he says, offering this comparison: "When you choose an accountant, you want that professional to keep you legal, but you don’t want to pay more taxes than required."

In that way, Compliance Technologies helps clients navigate regulations and achieve compliance while preserving their bottom line and profitability. "We are in it for the long-term for our clients, and the services we offer help stabilize their businesses," he says.

"When companies get on the wrong side with one of the agencies, they find out just how quickly noncompliance adds cost to the bottom line and makes them less competitive,” he continues. “And these days, people want to do business with companies that are 'safe.' We add to the sustainability and credibility of a manufacturer and help them maintain a positive profile."

Danny Vegh's

To see a real American dream story unfold, begin by stopping in at Danny Vegh’s on Lorain Road—the original 1963 retail game that started in the days of the first pool hall in downtown’s well-known Hippodrome building.

Then, progress to Danny Vegh’s four other locations in Fairlawn, Mayfield Heights, Westlake at Crocker Park and Milwaukee, Wis., the newest spot that opened before the holidays in 2011.

Inside the stores is a timeline, charting the beginning of Danny Vegh’s. It started when Danny immigrated to the United States from Budapest, Hungary, during the communist revolution with nothing more in his bag than a Ping-Pong paddle, two balls, a toothbrush and a change of underwear.

Danny Vegh became the national Ping-Pong champion in singles and doubles in the United States and Canada, and he toured the country doing shows, including The Tonight Show.

When he started the business 49 years ago, he put his name on it and people recognized him.

“When my father started the business, he really catered to doing service work for customers and pool halls, and as times changed, the pool hall scene was not as prevalent and he started to focus on residential sales,” says Kathy Vegh, who is president and CEO of the business and the force behind making the new stores more female friendly. Now, Danny Vegh’s stocks patio furniture, barstools, theater seats and any game you can imagine, from skeeball to pinball machines.

Vegh is the only female owner of a game room or home entertainment chain in the entire country. And when she joined her father in the business in 2001 at age 24, soon after graduate school.

“I was a woman, highly educated and I was Danny’s daughter,” Vegh says, adding that many in the industry underestimated her and she has enjoyed rising to the challenge of running one of the country’s premiere home entertainment and game businesses.

And COSE has provided Danny Vegh’s with a platform to tell their story throughout the years, Vegh says, relating how the company was featured in some COSE advertisements. Vegh has taken advantage of networking opportunities through COSE, as well. “COSE saw some hope in us and where my dad and I would be going together,” she says. “And I had a real sense of community from that experience. Through COSE, we were able to tell our story, and it’s more than just about selling product, it’s about the customer experience and being a part of our history.”

As for the products Danny Vegh’s does sell, Vegh handpicks every product and designs every store. She’s involved in every facet of the business. “I believe you can tell there is that feminine consideration in our stores,” she says.

But there’s a balance to strike. “I haven’t lost sight of the fact that Danny Vegh’s is, and should be, every man’s favorite store in the city,” Vegh says, adding that, “there is no bigger motivation in the world than creating something beautiful that is accepted and successful and putting your father’s name on it.”

You can still find Danny Vegh working at the Lorain Road store, which now serves as an outlet. “This is his passion,” Vegh says. “He always says, ‘I love my customers,’ and he means that. “

FIT Technologies

Becoming better, stronger, faster begins with efficiency—and in today’s world, that means running technology that helps a business work smarter. That’s job one for FIT Technologies, which partners with organizations to provide managed IT services. For one company, this could mean supplementing an existing IT staff. For another, it could involve taking on IT projects to free up staff so they can handle daily tasks. FIT Technologies also functions as an in-house IT department.

President and co-founder Michelle Tomallo says the firm has found its sweet spot. “For us, the recession really forced us to decide what we wanted to do and how we wanted to focus our business,” she relates.

FIT Technologies began in 1999 as a web-based software provider for schools. Then, the Internet was new and students and parents did not have access school information on the Web. Tomallo co-founded SchoolOne with partner Micki Tubbs, and the business quickly grew and expanded into the IT services sector.

“We were dealing with schools’ IT infrastructure, and it was important for us to have engineers on staff to ensure that the staff and students could access the Web-based tools,” Tomallo explains.

The company fortified its service capacity by hiring professionals who worked in the schools, setting up networks and ensuring the functionality of systems, even basics like e-mail. “We grew significantly, supporting more and more schools,” Tomallo says.

Then, the business moved downtown to Playhouse Square’s Idea Center, and this broadened its customer universe. The company was receiving inquiries from businesses that sought the type of IT support that the firm was providing schools. And so quite organically, SchoolOne entered the business segment and in 2007 branded its managed IT services as FIT Technologies.

FIT Technologies went to market, and the response from the business community was positive. Now, FIT Technologies employs 50 IT professionals, 30 who are based in the downtown offices and 20 who work offsite at clients’ locations. The business has expanded service offerings and geographic reach, with a presence in nine states. “We definitely have a national footprint,” Tomallo affirms.

Meanwhile, FIT Technologies faces the same recruiting challenges as other Northeast Ohio tech businesses. There are more tech jobs than talent to fill those positions. According to statistics from NEOSA, the region has had about a 25-percent increase in tech jobs since February 2012.

“We overcome that by doing our best to promote our culture, which is one where we partner with our clients,” Tomallo says. Plus, being located downtown is a big part of who FIT Technologies is. “Our location has allowed us to integrate into the downtown neighborhood and get involved in activities that we might not have considered if we were located [in the suburbs].”

FIT Technologies joined COSE when it moved from Lorain County to downtown in 2006. Tomallo says the educational and networking opportunities helped them get acquainted with the business community. “COSE connected us to services we needed and has provided us with valuable resources, whether that’s discounts or wellness programming ideas.”

Looking forward, Tomallo says the firm’s dedicated team keeps FIT Technologies on the cutting edge so they can provide clients with relevant, practical IT solutions. “There is an excitement around helping an organization become better, faster, stronger,” she relates. “With technology, we help them be more efficient, more productive and to do the work that is their mission.”

Frantz Ward

When is it ever a good time to break out on your own and launch a business? In 2000, despite the impending recession, 14 attorneys including Keith Ashmus, decided to start their own firm, Frantz Ward. “Many of us had kids in college and expenses, but there would never be a better time to try to do something on our own,” he says.

The colleagues wanted to provide a different type of counsel experience to clients—they wanted to combine the good of being big (sophisticated services) and the benefit of operating as a more intimate group, with close relationships among partners, attorneys and staff.

“So we decided, let’s do it,” Ashmus says. The new firm obtained a line of credit in January 2000 to make payroll while they performed work to generate initial receivables. By February, the firm received its first paycheck from a client. “We thought about saving it—but that’s what color copies are for,” Ashmus quips.

The firm’s partners brought loyal clients along with them. “We found out that clients have closer relationships with their lawyers than they do with their ‘firms,’” Ashmus says. And after March, just three months in business, the firm stopped using the line of credit—and never used it again.

Over the years, Frantz Ward has expanded aggressively, now with more than 60 attorneys on staff with disciplines including health care, litigation, construction and environmental law. As the firm grew in size, it continued to diversify its services. Ashmus, listed as one of Ohio’s top 100 attorneys in the annual Ohio SuperLawyer listings, specializes in employment law, business law and Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Ashmus, a leader in the National Small Business Association (NSBA), has been closely involved with COSE since the 1980s. He remembers being invited to give a seminar about OSHA—and then he gave more talks, then began getting involved in COSE’s advocacy efforts. He served as chairman of the advocacy committee in the 1990s, then vice chair of advocacy on the COSE board followed by an encore on the board as vice chair of communications. For some time, Ashmus was chairman of COSE Update.

Ashmus participated in COSE’s Strategic Planning course and grew new connections. “Many of them have continued to provide information and support over the years,” he says.

“And, of course, when we started Frantz Ward in 2000, the first call we made was to COSE to make sure we could sign up for health insurance so we’d have that benefit to use to recruit people we wanted to join us,” he says.

Today, Ashmus reflects on the growth and success of the firm. “I’m most proud that we have made this a successful place for more than 100 people to make a living and contribute to Cleveland,” he says.

Glazen Creative

Telling the story means digging for the best interviews, asking people the tough questions. It’s about exposing the rough edges, the raw emotion. The stuff that makes you laugh and cry. Video has the power to deliver “the story” in ways that move people to take action.

At Glazen Creative Studios, partners Tony Weber and Ron Goldfarb lead a team of a dozen talented staff who were handpicked because of their ability to help produce video stories that make significant community impact.

“We have to find the angle, get people to trust us enough that they are willing to share their stories, then take those musings and turn them into an effective narrative—it’s the art of storytelling,” Goldfarb says. “And we place a huge emphasis on artistry.”

The firm’s client list includes Cleveland’s big league: Sherwin Williams, Parker Hannifin, Philips Healthcare. Glazen created the film for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s $350 million expansion campaign. The United Way showed a Glazen-produced video at its annual meeting. “It makes us proud to know how much money the United Way earns each year, always meeting its goal, and we are part of that,” Weber says.

And for COSE, Glazen has created oral histories available online and interviewed members who earned Weatherhead 100 recognition. Both organizations, COSE and Glazen Creative Studios, are celebrating 40 years of service.

“We truly value COSE as a resource and are a real advocate for small business,” Weber affirms, relating that Glazen Creative started with one man, Alan Glazen, who had $80 to his name and the drive to start his own ad agency in Cleveland.

Glazen grew the agency to a $30 million operation, and in the 1990s, rebranded the agency as the full-service production firm it is today. In 2002, Weber and Goldfarb became partners, and today Glazen serves as chairman emeritus, retired from the business but not from the entrepreneurial game. He is an restaurant owner/developer and the creative engine behind bars ABC the Tavern and XYZ the Tavern, and recently acquired Ponte Vecchio and Erie Island Coffee.

Meanwhile, Glazen Creative Studios upholds its reputation for creative excellence and is the go-to for video production. If the story matters, go to Glazen. If you want a video that gets to the gut of the story, Glazen’s the answer. If you want to raise awareness, or raise funds, call Glazen. They’ll get an audience to watch, listen and act.

“We have a vision for each project, and we want our clients to be thrilled with the work,” Goldfarb says. “We have people sobbing at the end of a video because they are so moved, or rows of people stand up and applaud. That is when we know the work is really doing the job.”

These days, more people are exposed to the work Glazen Creative Studios produces because of the accessibility of video via the Web. This also means that videos must be shorter, sharper, more concise stories that are just as powerful as the longer segments clients used to request. Producing tight, deep film takes real talent.

“There is nothing more powerful than video, and we believe in telling the real stories and interviewing real people—that is the basis of our production process,” Weber relates.

Glazen told the story of how the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ended up in Cleveland, interviewing Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, architect I.M. Pei and the former Gov. Voinovich. Glazen also serves as the corporate storytellers for Sherwin Williams, creating a video for Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies nomination process that helped the company earn that honor in 2004.

Nothing gets a message across better than video. “You can see the people, the advocates speaking on behalf of the company, clients speaking about services,” Weber says.

And now, most of the videos Glazen produces are translated into at least one other language. “What’s exciting to me is how cross-continental the messages are,” Goldfarb says.

Weber adds that the power of the work Glazen produces is what inspires him, and his team at the firm, to keep telling the real stories. “The fact that we can make such a big difference, that we can actually convince constituencies to take action, to support a cause, to buy a product—the power of that…” he says. “We are the ones that produce the work that does all of this, and that amazes me every day.”

Gries Financial

When Sally Gries was looking for independent advice from a professional to help manage her family’s investments, she could find no one who could offer this promise. So Gries, who had worked with large broker-dealers in various capacities, decided to start her own firm in 1978. “The vision was that families of wealth needed independent advice, because broker-dealers were putting together investments that were very good for their companies but not necessarily beneficial for clients,” she explains.

Gries’ values were different. She wanted to bring objectivity to the process, so she set up the business as a registered investment adviser, which comes with a legal fiduciary responsibility to provide full transparency to clients. At the time, most advisers in the industry were linked in with investment products.

“You really didn’t have independent advisers who understood how deals were structured and who pulled those deals apart,” Gries says. “Many of them were not as beneficial to the client as they appeared on the surface.”

Families need an advocate to help them navigate the investment environment and make choices that will help them realize their financial goals. “Having a successful financial life doesn’t just happen,” Gries points out. “We really believe that when a person works with a financial adviser to set goals and address concerns, a very specific plan can be put together to meet those goals.”

From the beginning, Gries Financial has grown organically. “I started doing this for our family, and quickly after that, another family asked me to help them,” she relates. Thirty-four years later, Gries still maintains many of these original clients and serves the younger generations of their families out of the Cleveland headquarters office, as well as a Cincinnati office opened in 2009. And, as a natural evolution of the business, Gries Financial manages endowments, foundations and retirement plans. “We are very client driven,” Gries says simply.

Gries Financial must anticipate clients’ needs and grow accordingly. When a change in tax laws or the investment environment occurs, Gries Financial builds infrastructure in the form of skilled professionals to address these matters. That is how the firm has grown over the years. “We are small enough to have really close relationships with our clients, yet we are large enough to bring sophisticated planning and investment options to the table,” says Ed Bell, company president.

Gries Financial joined COSE over 20 years ago and has taken advantage of the group benefits, which has given the firm a recruiting edge. “COSE’s services have allowed us to properly compensate the type of quality people we always look for,” Bell says. “And COSE is very helpful in representing us with its strong advocacy organization and lobbying efforts.”

The financial universe is a dynamic one that changes daily, which makes the business exciting and challenging. The industry continues to grow more complex, but Gries sees this as an opportunity to differentiate the firm from competitors. “We simplify the complexities for our clients and clarify their concerns so it’s not so overwhelming,” she says.

Hatha Communications

At 24, I had the fortune of being the director of my department and it slowly dawned on me that if I stayed put, I had already hit my peak. So, I decided to launch Hatha Communications. The idea really came as a by-product of my first client approaching me about working with them and a key question in that interview: "So, are you a consultant, now?" To my surprise, I said "No, you're giving me a great launching point for my new PR firm" and so Hatha Communications was born.

Having spent my entire career in the government and non-profit sector, being a COSE member exposed my to the small business community in Northeast Ohio. I was able to find other COSE members that I could learn from and share ideas with on starting and growing a business at numerous networking events and have the best deal available for health care through COSE.

As I took advantage of opportunities to be involved with COSE such as writing for COSEMindSpring.com and staffing social media labs, COSE also rewarded me with exposure in radio commericals and in the COSE Update (thank you!). Hatha Communications has been in a steady growth pattern since we opened our doors and COSE has served as a wonderful tool and resource throughout the process. We look forward to being members for years to come!


It’s the little things that are a big deal in the customer service equation. And at Heinen’s, they’ve been doing things differently than other supermarket chains for nearly 80 years to ensure that the time spent in their stores is an experience, not a chore.

For one, you won’t find shopping carts in Heinen’s parking lots—ever. That has always been the case, thanks to parcel pickup. Also, while shopping you can maneuver easily because of a center aisle, not the typical way grocery stores are set up. And, prepared foods hit Heinen’s supermarkets in the 1960s. “Back then, it was unheard of,” says Jeff Heinen, who runs the 17-store northeast Ohio chain with his brother, Tom. Their grandfather, Joseph, started the company in 1929 and expanded the first Kinsman Road store into a “supermarket” in 1933.

“The reason my grandfather was successful was because he was a great innovator,” Heinen says, relating how expanding a butcher shop into a store that carried other groceries was a unique concept in the early 1930s.
Bringing new ideas to market and doing what’s best for the customer is the Heinen’s way. “My grandfather was always looking at where things were headed and always thinking about what would be best for the customer,” Heinen says. “And today, we still always ask, ‘What is best for the customer?’”

And Heinen’s also asks, what’s best for the region? That’s why joining COSE was important for the company. “If Cleveland doesn’t prosper, then by definition, Heinen’s doesn’t prosper—we don’t stand a chance,” Heinen says. “The decision to join COSE was driven by the fact that the organization helps Cleveland be more successful, and it helps businesses improve.”

Heinen’s applies that same philosophy to its stores—ensuring that what they’re offering is better for customers. So, you won’t find self-checkout lines at Heinen’s. That concept just doesn’t fit the company’s culture. Instead, Heinen’s recognizes that delivering the best customer experience is only possible when employees are satisfied. Happy employees are more productive, more helpful, more interested in going the extra mile to help a customer, Heinen says.

“Labor is far and away our biggest cost, and people in our industry look for ways to minimize labor expenses—but we really look at our people as an asset to be leveraged, so we invest in our people,” Heinen says. “If our people are satisfied, they will deliver the best customer service.”

Heinen’s works to anticipate what customers want from a grocery store today, and consumer demands have evolved over the years. Local foods are important to shoppers, and Heinen’s has placed value on buying local for nearly a decade, when they hired a produce buyer to focus on building local farmer relationships. Heinen’s knows its fishermen by name, and it understands exactly how its beef is raised. “We really manage our beef literally from birth to the retail counter, and that takes time and costs a little more,” Heinen says. “But if your beef is antibiotic and hormone-free, we think that’s important. So we do that.”

Wellness is also an important part of grocery shopping at Heinen’s today. The stores stock a selection of gluten-free and “super foods” that are especially high in antioxidants. Plus, the company has a relationship with a local holistic doctor who holds in-store seminars. And, you’ll notice a partnership with Cleveland Clinic where certain healthy items on the shelves are marked with “Go!” so shoppers know they’re making a wise choice.

“Most people understand the need to eat healthier, they just don’t understand how to do that,” Heinen says. “We are providing the knowledge and the products to help them start that journey toward making better choices.”

Home Team Marketing

Their first headquarters was in mom and dad’s attic. They tossed around ideas, and quickly realized their vision to start a marketing platform for high school sports teams was going to stick—big time.

COSE helped them move out of that starter home base and into their first real office, one of prizes, along with a $50,000 cash infusion, that Home Team Marketing won in 2002 as “Best in Show” in COSE’s Business Plan Challenge.

Brothers Peter and Regan Fitzpatrick had left national sports media jobs in New York City and returned home to Northeast Ohio, where they hatched a plan with family friend Patrick Spear to launch Home Team Marketing. The firm focuses exclusively on supporting high school sports by building campaigns for major brands like McDonald’s, Verizon, Lowe’s and Nationwide Insurance.

Hitting home reaps rewards for the schools and advertisers that reach a demographic with major buying power. “The biggest challenge facing marketers heading into 2012 is how big brands can get more local, and there are very few [advertising] platforms that can do that for them,” says Regan Fitzpatrick, who heads up the sales network that serves 6,000-plus high schools in all 50 states.

In 10 years, Home Team Marketing has grown from start-up to employ 43 people with offices in Cleveland and Dallas, Texas. Home Team Marketing is an example of small business partnering with COSE to turn an idea into a success story—and to prevent brain drain. In 2002, Peter Fitzgerald told COSE: “This contest has been great for us because it has engaged us in the excitement of competing with other entrepreneurs. And it legitimizes what we are doing. There’s a big different between having an idea and actually doing it.”

What Home Team Marketing gives high schools an alternative source of revenue. And winning play for Home Team as a business has been its ability to reach a market that was unrepresented. “When we worked in national sports media, we always thought the national brands would be better served if they had access to the high school market,” Fitzpatrick says.

Think about the demographic mix: teenagers, parents, bleachers full of consumers of all ages. The student section makes up 10 percent of a typical audience, Fitzpatrick says. The rest are ages 25 to 54. “It’s rare to get mom and dad and their kids in the same environment in an excited fashion,” he points out.

A spirited crowd is a promising one for media buyers.

And the high schools that participate in Home Team’s marketing programs take home half the winnings. Fifty percent of ad revenues Home Team generates from a high school campaign go back to its athletic programs. That’s something the schools and brands feel good about, Fitzpatrick says.

“Do well by doing good—we hear that from companies all the time,” Fitzpatrick says. “And the teenage audience are going to be the main consumers going forward. When surveyed, the No. 1 thing for them is that they will support companies that support a good cause. And there is really no greater cause than supporting high school sports.”

If you think about it, there is no Super Bowl without high school athletics. Professional athletes start playing in school before they can make it to the big leagues. And with rampant athletic budget cuts across the country, high schools need ways to fuel their sports programs. “High schools sports is under a saw financially on a national scope,” Fitzpatrick acknowledges, calling high school sports the foundation. “And that foundation is, in the last several years, cracking a little bit. “We feel proud every day that our main motivation is to help these high schools,” he continues. “Yes, we are providing a great platform for brands. But we are also able to give all this money back to high school and state associations.”

The platform Home Team provides includes A-frame signage at games, P.A. announcements, print inserts in game programs, awards banquet sponsorships and now mobile marketing. And brands can get “close to home” while maintaining a consistent message across thousands of high schools.

When Outback Steakhouse ran a campaign in schools, Fitzpatrick says the restaurants that participated by sponsoring post-season banquets and having signage and announcements in schools, saw a definite increase in sales volume.

“Advertisers are blown away that they can customize their message down to a ZIP code, and if they were doing this on their own, they would have to talk to each high school,” Fitzpatrick points out, calling their programs turn-key.

Home Team continues to grow in spite of the big picture of challenged major league sports teams that Fitzpatrick says, “were under fire with sponsorships and partnerships that weren’t really doing a lot for the community.”

“Our program gives brands access to that mass audience on a Friday night,” he says. “And in turn, brands get a huge P.R. advantage because of the money going back to schools on behalf of this program.”

Home Team has evolved from partnering with individual high schools to representing entire state high school athletic associations. The firm partners with 21 associations now, bringing campaigns to state tournaments and championship events. And the high school roster continues to grow. “The movement into the mobile and digital space is really opening up a lot of doors for us,” Fitzpatrick adds.

“We have one of the most desirable demographics in all of media,” he sums up. “The challenge going forward is to work with more brands, tell our story to more companies and get more people involved.”

Hyndsight Productions

Kelley Hynds left an established career path in news media and documentary video to start a business in the middle of the recession. In 2009, Hyndsight Productions was born out of her desire to bring together a diverse background in fact-finding journalism, story-telling documentary and creative marketing.

“We look for the authentic threads in each story and find a way to communicate those with content, emotion and creative,” Hynds says of the videos her firm creates for clients like Medical Mutual of Ohio, Lowe’s/Kichler Lighting, the City Club of Cleveland and other non- and for-profit organizations. “You can hit a homerun with video because you are able to touch on those different layers and communicate the genuine reasons why a product or service meets clients’ needs.”

It’s the old “show, don’t tell.” And video is just the way to accomplish this, whether a short-form flick to bolster a company’s brand, an informative video that tells a company’s story on its website, or visual spots produced for online media.

“Doing video in the right way for your organization is the most effective way to communicate a message from a marketing standpoint,” Hynds says, adding that the challenge in her business is to communicate the power of video to clients who are just catching on. So far, her clients have been receptive, and Hyndsight Productions has enjoyed steady growth the last three years.

Hynds admits that starting her firm during the pit of recent economic doldrums “took a leap of faith.” She has partnered with about 30 vendors—from motion graphics artists to writers to cinematographers and production assistants. She consistently works with this band of professionals to fulfill the various rolls required to create high-quality, targeted videos for clients.

Meanwhile, Hyndsight Productions seeks new business by networking in the community, and the COSE Small Business Conference has been a valuable venue for learning and connecting, Hynds says. She has taken the podium as speaker at the conference the past two years; and she found her largest client there, who hired her for a video project—and then 40 more.

As for competition, Hynds says she focuses on introducing national trends to Northeast Ohio and is less concerned about what other video production houses are doing. With a focus on story—“Everyone has one,” she points out—Hynds believes her firm is ahead of the curve in terms of presenting a cutting-edge video format to clients.

At the same time, Hynds has her eye on growth. In January 2012, she launched Hyndsight Media, a separate but associated business. “We’re getting back into the news industry,” she announces. The firm will create web videos that provide readers with impartial background on current issues. The videos will complement breaking news stories and serve as a catch-up tool for those who need a deeper explanation on subject matter.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we’d be doing as well as we are, and I attribute that to our talented team and working with clients who are open to new ideas and doing things in a creative, fresh way,” Hynds says of the firm’s success.

Outreach Promotional Solutions and The Ink Well of Akron

Usha Bansal always wanted to run her own business. In 1988, Usha and her husband Paul took the plunge and decided to buy a printing franchise; The Ink Well. It took several months to convince the franchiser to take a chance on an Asian Indian, let alone a woman.

The Ink Well of Akron started with one full-time press operator, a part-time counter person, Usha, and zero sales. However, through persistence and hard work, The Ink Well has flourished. The Ink Well of Akron now has 11 employees, a 4,000 sq. ft. facility and is the #1 franchise in total sales among 150 printing franchises across the country.

The Ink Well of Akron’s success has been attributed to three main factors. First, it is the dedicated staff. Second, it is The Ink Well’s commitment to serving its customers. Finally, it has been the support of organizations such as COSE in providing resources and connections.

When Nevin Bansal, Usha’s son, returned in 2011 to help run the family printing business, he connected with COSE. The Ink Well of Akron leverages the health insurance program, but Nevin had a chance to participate in new networking opportunities and a COSE Leads group, all of which have created new friendships and business opportunities.

In the beginning of 2012, Nevin established a second partner company, Outreach Promotional Solutions. Similar to COSE, Outreach Promos is committed to supporting our community. Outreach Promos provides promotional products to a variety of companies, but is also committed to serving the community through non-profit partnerships and charitable giving.

So far, this commitment has proved to be a win-win for Outreach Promos. With the continued support of family, the community and COSE, both organizations are well-positioned for success in the future.


If you are in a hospital and receive a leaflet that explains your medication, its potential risks and use instructions, that's very likely the handiwork of Lexicomp, a division of Wolters Kluwer based in Hudson.

Lexicomp provides drug information for consumers and healthcare professionals. When doctors prescribe a medication, they check a database that contains the latest information about the drug—details that can change weekly, even daily.

"Our goal is to have better patient outcomes," says Steve Kerscher, vice president and general manager of the business his father started in 1978. Then, it was primarily a custom publisher of directories, dictionaries and other cross-reference material. The company got into the medical industry in 1979 when it began producing lab manuals for hospitals. "All of this information was customized and hospital specific," Kerscher says, noting how Lexicomp then served as an information aggregator. The firm collected, compiled and edited databases that were provided as printed books—and then later on CD-ROM, then through an Internet platform, and today also via mobile applications.

"What has really changed for our business is technology, where information is available, and the speed at which information changes," Kerscher says.

As a growing business, Lexi-Comp joined COSE and has taken advantage of its benefits over the years. “We have been able to save cost, as well as administrative headaches, by participating in some of the programs COSE makes available to members—in particular, the workers’ comp program,” Kerscher says.

By the late 1990s, the company moved away from its position as an information gatherer and became a content generator. Today, Lexicomp synthesizes complex legal documents into readable formats for healthcare providers to understand, and creates user-friendly content based on collected research. Accomplishing this requires a team of technologists, experienced clinical pharmacists, editors and proofreaders that compile information, format it and present it in a concise, actionable manner. Plus, the team must constantly update its information and customize its "master documents" to suit hospitals' specific needs.

Meanwhile, Lexicomp's reach has expanded thanks to an acquisition last year by the global information services publishing company, Wolters Kluwer. Lexicomp operates as a clinical drug information business under the corporation's health division. "The capacity we have now as a very small business that became a part of this larger organization is transforming our ability to have a huge impact on how health care is practiced around the world," Kerscher says.

In particular, Kerscher says Lexicomp will have channels to get its drug information into the hands of providers everywhere—and well beyond U.S. borders. "We want to have our product in every clinicians’ hand across the globe, and being a part of Wolters Kluwer can help make that a reality," he says.

And clinicians need companies like Lexicomp. "The explosion of information today is happening at a much faster pace than ever before," Kerscher acknowledges. "That is really the problem for healthcare professionals. They can't keep up with all of it, and that is where a company like ours comes into play. We do that research and analyze and synthesize it, then bring back that info. So, when they are looking at that drug information, they know we've done that work for them to provide the latest and most clinically relevant information at the point of care."

Lolly the Trolley

"We are Cleveland's best ambassador," says Sherrill Paul Witt of Lolly the Trolley, the business she co-founded in 1985 with Peter Paul. "We have been out there promoting this city for 27 years—and changing people's minds. There are people who have said to us, 'I moved here because of this tour.'"

Non-profit clients like the Cleveland Clinic and universities including Case Western Reserve use Lolly the Trolley as a recruiting tool. And today, about half of the business is devoted to weddings, reunions, student tours and other special events. The rest of Lolly's riders are area residents curious about their hometown, or visitors who want a proper introduction to the city when they arrive.

And that's exactly what they get: a 2-hour, 20-mile jaunt through the city where personable tour guide/drivers share more than 100 points of interest. "There is no one who knows more about Cleveland than we do," Witt says, relating how the original tour script she wrote in 1985 has evolved significantly. "Then, there was no North Coast Harbor and Tower City hadn't opened," she says. "Ohio City was just coming to life, and the Warehouse District was barely bubbling. The Flats was still the hot place to go."   

Despite this, Cleveland had a rich story to tell and always has, Witt says. The manufacturing, the wealth on Millionaire's row, the philanthropists who shaped Cleveland's history—these stories continue to engage Lolly the Trolley’s riders. But what surprises out-of-towners the most is our hospitality. "We have a very big heart," Witt says. "The two things we hear the most are, 'What a friendly city,' and, 'Boy, is it a clean city.'"

This makes Witt proud as she reflects on the bootstrapping days of Lolly the Trolley, when she and now ex-husband, Peter Paul, started the business. They got the idea while traveling in Boston for a friend's wedding. They hopped aboard a trolley named Lolly and took a sightseeing tour of the city. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have this in Cleveland, Ohio?'" Witt recalls.

So the couple came home and began doing the groundwork. They called a trolley manufacturer, who balked at the idea of a Cleveland tour. "He never believed we'd get it off the ground," Witt says.

And they weren't so sure either when they began seeking funding for their first vehicles. Sherrill and Peter needed to raise about $50,000 and were turned down by 300 influential Clevelanders. "Thanks to COSE and the early entrepreneurship conference, I was able to find some investors and we got the company up and running," Witt says. Years later when the couple was going through a divorce, they took COSE's Strategic Planning course, and Witt says it "kept us sane and able to grow the business."

"That course helped us get through one of life’s most painful personal events because it helped us take some of the emotion out of running the business," Witt says.

At first, Lolly the Trolley was literally run out of a "shoe box" boarding point on Public Square. It grew in the 1980s and 1990s, weathered the post 9/11 blow to the tourism industry, and now the company is in a more comfortable place, with 15 tour guide/drivers and 8 trolleys.

What makes the tours a special experience for riders is the tour guides—they are the real assets of the company. Trolley Tours hires mature adults; all are between the ages of 45 and 76. And they're real characters who are passionate about learning and finding exciting nuggets to share on their tours. "We are a very personal business—we affect people's lives and give them special memories," Witt says.

Sherrill and Peter personally answer the phone and work to match clients with just the right tour guide. She’s the face of the business, and Peter is the backbone of the business, she says. He handles financials, operations and oversees hiring. “The vehicles are in beautiful shape thanks to his supervision,” Witt says.

Meanwhile, the company continues to evolve as the Cleveland landscape changes and grows. “Cleveland is a tremendous city, and we are so happy to be able to present Cleveland in its true form,” Witt says. “And that is as a vibrant, very real Midwest city with a rich history and resilient people.”

Malley’s Chocolates

Life is sweet for the Malley family, but that’s not to sugarcoat the real challenges and sweaty nights that come with running a business. Founded in 1935 with $500 and a dream, Albert Martin Malley (Mike) opened the first Malley’s Chocolates on Madison Avenue in Lakewood. Today, there are 21 Malley’s Chocolates stores, an expansive manufacturing facility on Brookpark Road and a robust fundraising business. A lot has changed since those early days, but the foundation of Malley’s brand has stayed the same.

“What my grandfather was known for when he made his first chocolate was that he had a good product at a fair price, and that is the key to our success and longevity,” says Mike Malley, part of the third generation of Malley’s running the business. Malley joined the family business after a career in publishing, now working alongside three brothers and sisters: Dan, “Bee” (Bill), Packy and “Sis” (Adele).

Mike Malley remembers his father, Bill, encouraging him and his siblings to attend COSE events when the third generation began growing their involvement in the family business. Malley’s Chocolates was part of the first wave of companies that joined COSE 40 years ago when our organization was founded.

“My dad was really big with getting involved with COSE,” Malley recalls. “It was a good way for him to meet like-minded business owners that were in the same boat with him, whether trying to find sources of financing or providing health care coverage for a growing number of employees. He met people who turned out to be lifelong friends, and they shared ideas in a non-threatening environment.”

This idea of sharing, giving and creating memories is exactly what Malley’s is all about. It’s where people gather for celebrations at the stores’ ice cream parlors, and their chocolates are just the sweet treat to make someone’s day special. “Malley’s is in the business of making people smile and enjoy themselves, which chocolate does,” Malley says simply. “We are in a fun business. The recent Easter catalogs that my brother Dan conceptualized were very clever and fun.”

It has always been that way. Malley remembers being a kid, camping out in a pup tent in the back yard with neighborhood friends. They would wait until after 11 p.m. when his father, Bill, returned home from work—stores were open late in summer because of the ice cream parlors. Then Bill would ask the crew, “Ready to go check out at North Olmsted?” That is the store with the carousel indoors.

“While dad counted the nightly receipts, we got to go into the ice cream parlor and make our favorite sundaes and bring home a bag of treats to munch on all night,” Malley shares. “We were quite a hit in the neighborhood.”

Today, Bill and Adele Malley have virtually retired, stepping out of day-to-day operations to let the third generation continue building on the sweet tradition of Malley’s and concoct the next chapters. Malley says the company has great opportunity for growth.

“We think our retail business has continued growth potential and perhaps beyond Northeast Ohio,” Malley says. “And, it’s no mystery the challenges that many schools are facing with renewing levies, and with more schools moving to pay-to-play, there is a real opportunity for Malley’s to provide a fundraising service, and we think we can grow that market as well.”

Of course, brand recognition and scaling up the business will present new challenges if the company decides to expand beyond the region. Here, Malley’s brand is a household name and enthusiasts put CHOC stickers on their cars in hopes of winning the company’s promised $500 if the mint, pink and brown emblem is spotted.

“It will take thought into how you service and grow a chain of stores as far as manufacturing facilities, logistics, infrastructure,” Malley says. “The key to all of these things is making sure we produce the best product and retain the terrific people we work with.”

Now in the business working alongside family, Malley says he feels a sense of servitude and obligation to help continue the tradition and support loyal employees who care very much for Malley’s. “The people here at Malley’s are looking to us, the third generation, and we’re in the business to make sure we sustain and maintain this,” he says.

Malley says his parents had “unyielding passion” for the business. “I mean, they really loved the business,” he says. “And they are genuinely fond of our customers, and that is one of our big-picture [keys to success]. You always hear people say, ‘Take care of your customers.’ My parents, when you came into their stores, made you feel special. And that has paid off in big dividends. As Malley’s has grown, we make sure we stay true to our roots. We may have 21 stores, but we want to make sure we are just as connected to the customers that come into every one of those locations.”

Marvin Montgomery & Associates

I had the priveldge of working with the late Larry JB Robinson as Training Director from 1972 until the company was purchased by Kay Jewelers in 1988. Larry Robinson started a Consulting Company and I joined him as VP focusing on Sales and Customer Service Training.

The first thing Larry told me was to join a non-profit and a industry related to give back and networking. I chose COSE as my networking and immediately got involved in many activities and commitees. My greatest love was Team Teaching the COSE Sales Class with Hal Becker.

I still get people coming up tom me saying remember me. You had me in your sales class. My biggest challenge was finding the balance for Business Development and doing the actual training and consulting without either one suffering. The key is scheuling.

As far as handing success. It's easy when your humble. I don't take anything or anyone for granted. I go to work every day with an attitude of gratitude.

The Marvinizer

Medical Mutual

The year was 1973, and gasoline cost 39 cents a gallon. A new Corvette Stingray had a sticker price of $5,500, and you could buy an Indians’ ticket for about three bucks. (Although, you had to peer around the beams at the old Municipal Stadium to try for an unobstructed view).

1973 was also the year COSE, founded just a year earlier to serve the needs of small businesses, began a partnership with Ohio’s largest health insurance company, today called Medical Mutual of Ohio.

This relationship would grow and prosper over the next 40 years, providing superior health and other insurance products to thousands of small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of their employees and their families in northeastern Ohio.

The business environment in 1973 was much different from today. Many health insurance companies focused on the needs of larger employers. Small businesses were left to fend for themselves.

COSE changed that by giving small businesses a wide variety of special services tailored to their needs.

In 1973, COSE sought a partner to offer health insurance to its growing membership. Medical Mutual gladly stepped forward, and together the two organizations pushed for changes in state laws to make it easier for small businesses to use their collective purchasing power to provide their employees affordable and quality health insurance.

By essentially creating an industry, the two partners empowered small businesses to offer the same kinds of employee benefits as large businesses, thereby allowing small companies to level the playing field in regards to benefits. This partnership also had the advantage of offering benefit packages that enabled smaller employers to attract the “best and brightest” employees.

Today, COSE and Medical Mutual offer a wide variety of health, dental, vision and life insurance products for COSE member companies.

Working together, COSE and Medical Mutual proved the axiom that “buying local” is a genuine benefit.

At the 40-year mark, COSE and Medical Mutual continue to exceed the expectations of the employers they both serve. The two organizations are proud of this heritage of superior customer service.

Medical Service Company

Medical Service Co. serves a growing market of people who prefer to age at home—and the customer universe continues to expand as baby boomers make this decision. Meanwhile, the 62-year-old family business battles pricing pressure and a rough regulatory environment with health care reform and an emphasis on reducing Medicare spending.

A continued focus on improving technology, expanding geographically and recruiting top talent has helped Medical Service Co. grow smart despite turbulent times. Joel Marx, whose parents started the business in 1950, joined the company in 1974 on a fulltime basis. Then, there were 12 employees and the company was primarily retail based. Today, the business employs more than 200, supporting the about 500 people. Also, Medical Service Co. has evolved into a distribution model and has 14 offices in four states. “We provide all of the things you hope you don’t need—hospital beds, oxygen,” Marx quips. “We work closely with hospice programs, and our goal is to keep patients at home.”

As Medical Service Co. has grown, COSE has been there to support the business with educational tools, resources including health insurance and benefits, and business support. “I don’t think I would be in business if it weren’t for COSE,” says Marx, who has served on the COSE board in several capacities. “The health insurance lures you in, but the value to me has been the networking and classes.”
Marx says he regularly sends employees to COSE education sessions as he works to build a team and company that can run without him at the helm. (His son, Josh, came on board two years ago and the company’s board of directors is steering the succession strategy.) “When I meet with COSE people, I get a lot of energy,” Marx adds.

This spike of inspiration is important when growing any business. Marx recounts some of the major growth markers in the company’s recent history. One is when his partner, John Geller, joined the business in 1984. “He came from a large hospital system and showed me how to think bigger,” Marx says. The business became more systems-focused and gradually implemented operational efficiencies.

Also, Medical Service Co. maintains an edge in a market by constantly improving technology. “We try to reduce the number of steps involved in all of the processes we have,” Marx says, noting that 20 percent of the company’s costs are spent in billing, processing and documentation for regulatory compliance. So, he recognizes that the more volume the company can produce, and the leaner it can run out of a single headquarters in Oakwood Village, the more profitable the business will be. “Our strategy has been to leverage management,” he says, noting several acquisitions in the last six years. “The idea wasn’t to grow just to grow, but to grow to leverage the back office and exist in an environment where we are getting paid less.”

Marx has taken a leading role in advocating for his industry, as chairman of the American Association for Homecare. He’s constantly learning. “We continue to try new things,” he says, adding that the company is getting more involved in social media.

“I tell a lot of my staff that nothing good happens sitting behind a desk,” Marx says, relating why it’s important to get involved in groups like COSE where learning and networking happens. “I love COSE because what it has done for our company and how it has allowed us to grow.”

Original Mattress Factory

Ron Trzcinski is a stickler for value and quality, to the extent that he left a position in the C-suite of now Sealy Inc., where he was president and COO at age 37, to start a business from scratch in 1990. The company he worked for was in the process of a leveraged buy-out, and Trzcinski realized his philosophy and theirs were “diametrically opposed.” So he gave them a year’s notice, and his corporate life as leader of 5,000 employees was quickly humbled to a modest office with four employees, “and one of my duties was to clean the bathrooms,” he jokes.

Trzcinski firmly believes that customers should not have to pay more for a mattress because of supply chain dynamics. Typically, when customers purchase a mattress from a retail store, that mattress is being sold to them for the second time, he explains. And in that process, the price has been inflated to about double the wholesale cost.

“We believe the way to provide value to the customer is by making a quality product in our own factories and, therefore, controlling the cost,” Trzcinski says of the Original Mattress Factory’s direct-to-consumer model. “By controlling cost, we can sell a product that is high-quality at the best price.”

Original Mattress Factory has grown quickly in the last 22 years, with 11 factories and more than 100 stores. Despite the recession, the business has thrived. “Even when volume got hurt across the industry, our numbers were down significantly less than the industry as a whole,” he says. “We didn’t take the same dips. And today, while our growth is not double-digit as it was early on, we still have growth and we think that we are going to be the last man standing because of the tremendous value we offer.”

Teaching this value to customers is critical, Trzcinski adds. Salespeople are trained to explain how mattresses are manufactured. They give customers impromptu factory tours. They compare Original Mattress Factory mattresses to other brands right in the store by showing cut-aways of mattresses so customers can see the difference.

There’s nothing pushy about the process.

“After knowledge, all you have to do is be courteous and friendly—there’s no requirement here on making a sale,” he says. “We think the customer is smart enough to make their own decisions once they have the bedding knowledge.”

Original Mattress Factory became a COSE member soon after Trzcinski started the business. “It was largely the group programs that turned us on,” he says of the ability to provide employees of the then start-up health insurance, and gaining access to competitive workers’ compensation rates.

Looking forward, Trzcinski says Original Mattress Factory will continue to grow as it has. Three of his six children work in the business, and the company was rated by an industry survey as the No. 1 retailer and No. 2 brand name in mattresses.

“We will continue to do well as long as we remember what got us here,” Trzcinski says simply.

Quez Media Marketing

Quéz Media Marketing was literally born out of a small storage garage in 2008 and has grown from two experienced people with a plastic table and a couple of MacBooks to being one of the top marketing and interactive design firms in Cleveland, Ohio.

From our days as a small creative and marketing agency, we slowly accumulated valuable clients from the ground up, and formed the strong, mutually beneficial partnerships that have allowed us to grow as successfully as we have. After three years of adding new services, integrating new team members, and building a stronger presence in the community,

Quéz underwent a tremendous spurt of growth in January 2012, expanding the team and moving to a new location in the middle of Downtown Cleveland. With COSE’s partnership, Quéz Media has been able to secure new partnerships, solidify our foundations, and work collaboratively to expand our horizons.

Quéz Media was featured in COSE Update and in COSE Commercials for six months when the company first started, beginning a long trend of partnership and collaboration. We’ve had the opportunity to speak professionally at COSE events, attend networking opportunities, and take advantage of COSE’s health insurance offerings. We have also benefitted COSE with integrated marketing campaigns including printed materials, promotional products, and teleprospecting.

We work hard At Quéz Media, because we know that we literally mean business to our clients and that our clients mean business to us. To us, that defines a partnership. Through COSE, we have built not only a long-lasting mutually beneficial partnership, but an avenue through which we can expand and form new collaborations, with equally innovative enterprises.

ROE Dental Laboratory

False teeth have been around since George Washington’s days, but you won’t find many companies like ROE Dental Laboratory in Garfield Heights that are nearly a century old.

In continuous operation since 1920, today’s ROE Dental Laboratory descended from Roe Miller, a downtown Cleveland operation that BJ Kowalski’s father purchased in 1971. (He dropped the “Miller” and kept the ROE.) The company is one of the oldest in the industry, and is a full service provider of dental prosthetics, small medical devices, which range full mounth implant borne oral reconstructions to repairs services like fixing dentures. ROE’s customers are dentists, and they’re based all over the country.

Over the years, technology has advanced so that the manufacturing processes have moved toward digital applications. “That has helped us keep our prices stable or drop our prices and improve the consistency and quality of our work,” says Kowalski, president.

Currently the greatest challenge in the industry is price pressure, he adds. “ we continue to provide a premium service and product, in more recent economic times, there is increased focus on price, patients are concerned about how much they spend at the dentist, which trickles down to us,” he says. Fortunatly, thanks to technology, we have found ways to maintain our high standards while decreasing the cost of many of our products we provide.

Still, ROE is positioned to grow 20 percent this year. As the industry consolidates, the company competes on a national basis but finds an edge in the personal customer service the company can provide, Kowalski says. And despite a dwindling labor pool—few vocational schools offer dental technology these days—ROE grows its own talent by hiring and training people in-house.

ROE Dental Laboratory joined COSE more than a decade ago and has taken advantage of resources including health care benefits and networking opportunities, Kowalski says. “We have found COSE to be as an educational resource on many subjects.”

ROE Dental is proud to be a resource for quality product and service to its clients, many of them longtime customers. “We have great partnerships with dentists,” Kowalski says. “it is especially rewarding for our staff when we get to see the final results of the work we do and how it benefits someone’s quality of life.”

Sandler Training Center

The Sandler Training Center, founded by Tom Scully in 1993, champions honest, no-nonsense consultative sales and management techniques that get results while preserving the individual team member’s self-respect.

Our philosophy embodies a comprehensive approach to selling, the mastery of revolutionary technique and an entirely new attitude toward the sales and management processes. We’re the only training organization that offers consistent, ongoing reinforcement training.

The Sandler Training Center is an authorized licensee of Sandler Training SM, a world leader in innovative sales and sales management training. For more than 40 years, Sandler has taught its distinctive, non-traditional selling system and highly effective sales training methodology, which has helped salespeople and sales managers take charge of the process.

Our training is designed to create lasting “performance improvement” rather than the motivational “quick fix” typical of many seminar-based training programs. By combining quality materials along with access to ongoing training workshops and individual coaching sessions, we provide continuing face-to-face support and reinforcement of the world’s most successful selling system.

At the Sandler Training Center, we also understand that business success is directly related to the effectiveness of upper- and mid-level managers within an organization. Sandler’s management solutions help mangers at all levels become more effective communicators, better mentors and coaches, and competent managers of change.

Through continued support and follow-up sessions, Sandler Training helps sales professionals and management executives fulfill personal and organizational goals, from initial hiring decisions to performance evaluations, from building and executing strategic sales plans to motivating people to achieve them, Entrepreneur Magazine has ranked Sandler as the #1 training company nine (9) times since 1994, including 2005-2012.

Seize This Day Coaching

Sometimes your life changes course and you decide to change with it. That’s what happened to me in late 2005. I experienced a life altering event, and decided to change my career path along with it.

So, in 2006 I launched Seize This Day Coaching. My passion for helping people problem solve, and for helping small business owners succeed has propelled me to engage in activities I could not have imagined even 10 years ago! I never thought I’d be a writer or public speaker. Yet I find that I truly love both activities. I think I enjoy them because they are avenues for me to be helpful; to provide value.

I owe a lot to COSE, it’s staff, and it’s members. As a small, solo business I’ve been able to interact on a level playing field through my association with COSE. I’ve met some spectacular people who have helped me fine tune my business and supported me while I reach my goals.

Happy anniversary COSE! Couldn’t imagine my business without ya!

Spero Smith

They met and clicked through the COSE Strategic Planning Course almost 20 years ago. Karen Spero was a nine-year veteran of the program, and a financial planner trusted by clients who appreciated her sincerity, listening skills and financial acumen. Bob Smith was a seasoned asset manager who had been working at a start-up after leaving the corporate world. Smith remembers Spero’s talk during the course’s graduation program. “I thought she had a gift to explain concepts about money and investments that can be very confusing to a lot of people,” he relates. 

So afterward, Smith introduced himself to Spero, and she suggested they get acquainted. This led to a business courtship in 1993 that ultimately resulted in a partnership and a name change to Spero-Smith Investment Advisers in 1995. “The COSE Strategic Planning course was such an important part of our own due diligence,” shares Smith, noting how they had both experienced partnership successes and failures. “Those failures really helped us know what to watch out for and what to look for.” 

Joining forces would provide clients with comprehensive wealth management services—the financial advising piece plus money management. Besides, the partnership was a succession opportunity for Spero, who planned to be able to step out of the business 10 years after the merger. 

The marriage was a happy one. “We agreed we’d never be 50/50 partners,” Smith says, explaining that the first seven years, Spero held 51 percent ownership in the firm. Then the last three years before her retirement in 2002, Smith became majority owner. All the while, Spero was vocal with clients about the merger as a succession plan. “It’s a multi-year process to demonstrate to people you have a succession plan, and you have to show clients that their interests are going to be considered,” Smith says. 

Over the years, the firm has worked to recruit and develop young talent. “We developed career paths for people,” Smith says. 

As for the culture, a no-hidden-fee philosophy was always a part of Spero-Smith’s culture—and it has always been a competitive advantage. “Today, we are seeing a nice growth in our 401(k) work with small business owners,” Smith says, relating that to the firm’s transparency and open communication. That has always served them well. In 2008 during the financial crisis, Spero-Smith staff made personal phone call to all of its clients. “We knew it was so important to call clients and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ Can we provide some perspective that will help you overcome angst about what will happen next?’” 

Translating complicated money language to the public has always been a focus of the firm. Spero regularly appeared on The Morning Exchange and was known as the program’s “money lady.” Smith began making television appearances, too. Namely, he was on call at Channel 5 on 9/11 so he could be on air, on demand. 

“Karen always worked hard to communicate to everyone in understandable terms and she understood that was important for our business,” Smith says. 

The best advice Spero gave Smith about on-air commentary: Look at the camera and image you’re talking to your parents who may know nothing about investments. 

“There’s a phrase I’ve heard,” Smith says, summing up a key goal of the firm. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care; and you can show how much you care by the words you use.”

Summers Rubber Company

Summers Rubber Co. makes hose products found in industrial plants that make everything from ice cream to chemicals. The third-generation family business opened its doors in 1949, and during that post-war era, Wendy Summers, controller, says the owners set out to “give customers their money’s worth.”

“I would say that is still important today,” Summers says, relating how the business has evolved by diversifying its customer base and opening seven other locations beyond its Berea Road headquarters. Also, the business has focused on earning important industry compliance certifications from ISO and the National Association of Hose and Accessories Distributors (NAHAD).

Summers Rubber sells to industries including construction, equipment manufacturing, transportation, gas and oil processing, chemical, paint, agricultural and food. “There are times that one industry may be affected by economic factors, so the diversity goes a long way,” Summers says.

And so does community involvement, a long-standing value of the company’s owners. Mike Summers, president and owner, was a founding member of WIRE-Net, a manufacturing support network, and has held leadership positions in industry trade organizations. Summers served as chairman of the Workforce Policy Board for the State of Ohio, and is currently the mayor of Lakewood. Summers Rubber has been a member of COSE since 1978, valuing the network of small business owners.

This community stewardship is part of the story that separates Summers Rubber from competition. Another key factor is the company’s well-trained, experienced employees. “The talent of our workforce and how they treat our customers is critical,” Summers says. Fifty-four employees work for Summers Rubber. “We deliver a premium product, and it’s really important that our employees understand that quality story and deliver that quality story.”

Meanwhile, the company also must be flexible and adaptable to remain sustainable, Summers says. “Any business needs to adapt to its market, and small businesses have that ability to change quickly, if necessary.”

Expanding into new markets has helped Summers Rubber continue growth as it maintains a close-distance relationship with customers. In some instances, a vendor has approached Summers Rubber with a proposition to open a location. In others, Summers Rubber sees that a market is underserved and has acquired operations. “We have also begun to expand our participation in the oil and gas opportunity in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Summers says.

Looking forward, Summers Rubber will continue to serve its core customers and meet the demands of new markets by keeping an ear to the market. And, its people will remain the priority. “Any business is all about its people,” Summer says. “We can’t serve our customers without employees who are good at serving those customers.”

The Executive Happiness Coach

In 1992, the first time Jim Smith (that's me) was laid off, he created a business plan for his own consultancy. But at the time he and his wife were building a family, and the thought of being without healthcare while raising four children was too terrifying. So back I went into Corporate America. Five years and three layoffs later, and having learned about group healthcare coverage through COSE, I launched my HR consulting practice.

At the time, COSE Business After Hours events were one of the best gigs in town for meeting business people, and I leveraged those to expand networks, make great business connections, and meet new friends (many of whom are part of my support team today!). One of my fondest COSE memories at the time was coming down to the (then new) offices in the Terminal Tower for networking and business-building classes.

The folks at COSE were so helpful in connecting me to some of the resources I needed to incorporate my business and set up my infrastructure. For many years my business (then called People, Inc) served a regional market with HR consulting, training, and leadership development services.

During the late 90s and early 00s, coaching was emerging as a new profession, and I began to nurture that niche. As there was little in the way of support for coaches in NE Ohio, I partnered with a small group of colleagues to incorporate a new professional association for coaches, The Cleveland Coach Federation.

Slowly we put ourselves out there and have grown from a handful to 150+ members today. COSE was a part of our growth, as we several times bought a booth at the COSE Small Business Conference to advertise and educate business people about coaching; in addition, we did some great recruiting of new members, as other solopreneurs discovered our existence!

COSE provided me some exposure to audiences in NE Ohio, as I spoke at the SBC and some smaller events around town. Speaking began to emerge as one of my primary marketing tools -- and sometimes drove revenue! As my speaking career took off, I was invited to some international venues that expanded my connections globally, and I used my well-honed networking skills to leverage those connections into new business opportunities.

One of the consistent pieces of advice I received from all my marketing gurus -- including at COSE -- was that I was too unclear in my marketing, trying to be all things to all people. I resisted listening to that message for many years. But then in 2005 I rebranded as The Executive Happiness Coach(r) and began to narrow my service offerings. The more precise my marketing message, the more my company grew.

Today I run a truly global coaching practice from my Home Office. While my home base is still NE Ohio, where i am blessed with many loyal clients, I have coached leaders in 24 countries and on five continents, using technology that did not even exist just five years ago.

As The Executive Happiness Coach turns 15 years old at the end of the year, the prospects for the future are incredibly rosy. The world is a very small place, in the end.

Tommy's on Coventry

A vegan sister, gluten-free mother, meat-eating father and vegetarian friend can gather at Tommy’s on Coventry for a meal—and everyone eats. “Everyone gets what they want here, and we have continued that theme,” says Tommy Fello, who started the business in 1972 when he purchased the drug store where he worked as a teen. Back then, he was mixing Tommy’s famous, old-fashioned milkshakes and serving some basic sandwiches he learned to make from the former Lebanese owner. There weren’t many vegetarian options in Cleveland at the time—a handful at best. And those spots came and went with the times. Tommy’s has become a Cleveland staple, and a neighborhood fixture in Cleveland Heights. It has always been that way.

“People would come in the door and everyone knew everyone,” Fello says of then and now. “It was more like a social place than a restaurant or drugstore.”

Fello couldn’t compete with large drugstore chains and moved into the restaurant business full-swing in the 1970s. His customers dictated the menu—regulars requested their favorite sandwiches, and Fello whipped up their special orders. The extensive menu is a sort of tribute to loyal customers, with selections like the Jenny (Fello’s favorite these days), a whole-wheat wrap with brown rice, veggies, vegetarian black bean chili, cheddar and grilled chicken. Or, there’s the Georgia, a tuna sandwich with mushrooms, tomatoes, homos and muenster cheese. The Jane is an escarole and potato pie based off a recipe Fello’s Italian mom made during Lent.

Fello says the dedicated neighborhood is what has kept his business alive for 40 years. “We still have a village and neighborhood mentality here, where the people absolutely make my day when they say they love something they ate and they come back and bring their children and grandchildren,” Fello says.

And those loyal customers have followed Fello up and down the street as the location of Tommy’s has changed (three times total). When a fire wiped out his storefront, he began to rebuild and neighbors would come in when construction was in progress. “They would dine here when it was half built just to get me going so I would have income to finish up the rest of the project,” he says. “I can’t tell you how much that helped me over the growing years.”

COSE has also been a valuable resource for Tommy’s in terms of cutting costs and helping increase his bottom line. “COSE has enabled us to access better rates for workers’ comp and to provide health coverage for the people who work here,” he says. “I don’t know how we would make it if we didn’t have the support, knowledge and team they put in place to help us stay on the right path, and to bring us new ideas.”

Meanwhile, Tommy’s has carved its niche as a place where anyone, with any food allergy, can eat. And in today’s world of allergy conscious diets, the diversity of Tommy’s menu attracts people of all ages from all over the region. Plus, Fello instituted a double-check system for ordering to ensure that customers’ selections are prepared just as they expect. “If a customer wants to know what type of gluten-free breads we have, we show them the choices, and there is an allergy alert button the server pushes when placing the order to follow up with the cook,” Fello explains.

Fello is one of those cooks. “I’m on the line every day,” he says. “And I’ll keep doing that until I stop loving it.” This won’t be any time soon. “When you find something you love, that is what you should do because you’ll never do a better job at something else,” he says—the advice he gives students when he speaks at schools. “If the majority of days are what make your clock tick, you know you chose the right profession. And I did.”


When the Northeast Ohio Software Association (NEOSA) joined forces with COSE in 2005 and became the first of COSE’s three business networks, Tim Reynolds, president of Tribute, an Akron-based software system company, and then NEOSA chairman was drafted to the COSE board. His involvement in COSE deepened and he eventually served as chairman in 2008 and 2009.

“COSE has gone through remarkable changes during its 40 years, and is truly a unique organization in the country in the way it provides resources and real services to the small business community here,” says Reynolds, whose company sends several of its employees to the Small Business Conference each year.

Reynolds purchased Tribute in 1994 from an industrial distributor named B.W. Rogers in Akron. “They had developed the original software that we sell, and the company wanted to get out of software and focus on their main business, which was a Parker Hannifin distributor,” Reynolds explains. “We focused the company and grew based on selling our software to distributors of Parker Hannifin, Eaton and Goodyear among others.”

What differentiates Tribute from other software providers is its specific niche in the industrial distribution sector. “As a result, we think we understand their businesses in more detail and are able to tailor our software to their specific needs,” Reynolds says.

Over the years, Tribute has expanded from 20 employees to 35. “We like to say that we pay 35 mortgages per year,” Reynolds quips.

Eight years ago, the company took on the significant task of redesigning its product and rolling out a Windows-based version. This move secured its position in the marketplace. Competitors were trying and failing at this task—and falling off the map in the meantime. Tribute had about 70 competitors in the late 1990s and early 2000. Now, the company has two.

“Our ability to redevelop our software and move with technology allowed us to stay in business, to continue serving our customers and to grow,” Reynolds says. “[The Windows project] was a multi-year effort that took a lot of financial investment as well as a good, solid team of people, and we had a lot of customers who participated in that effort,” he adds.

In the meantime, Reynolds continued his civic involvement and participated in COSE networking and educational events.

Today, Reynolds sits on the board of COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. He’s chairman of NORTECH, serves on the National Small Business Association board—COSE’s Washington advocacy partner—and sits on the board of Team NEO.

Reynolds says, “Being able to serve the small business community has been really rewarding for me.”

United Computer Group Inc

On December 8, 1987 at 26 years old and married with a six-month old, James A. Kandrac founded United Computer Group, Inc. with limited funds, and a burning desire to make the leap from the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur. Twenty-six years later, UCG continues to grow and thrive; in fact, the company has reinvented itself three times over the past 26 years.

Jim acknowledges that without innovations and staying ahead of the curve, his technology company would not have lasted, let alone prosper for over a quarter-century. Jim Kandrac speaks frequently to organizations and is a recognized IT expert with specialization in data protection and disaster recovery. In 2011, IT Jungle named UCG’s VAULT400 solution one of the Top Ten IBM i Product and Technology Trends.

United Computer Group, Inc. provides cost-effective technology products, services, and solutions customized to fit the needs of their clients today and as their businesses grow. Founded in 1987, UCG is an IBM Advanced Business Partner specializing in mid-market and enterprise clients. UCG has been rated in the top 1% of IBM Business Partners nationwide.

UCG’s products and services include: IBM Power Systems and services including AS400 and iSeries IBM Express P7 servers and storage; IBM blade servers; business continuity and resiliency services (VAULT400 cloud backup and disaster recovery); certified and pre-owned hardware; computer and capital equipment leasing; maintenance services and asset management; VAI S2K enterprise solutions; and third-party solutions for IBM Power Systems.

UCG’s VAULT400 is a premier managed risk mitigation and business continuity planning service for secure cloud backup and disaster recovery. VAULT400 backs up an entire organization’s business-critical data to their secure data centers, ensuring financial, HIPAA, and legal compliance for their clients. Safe and off-site, the encrypted data is available online at all times for immediate, user-initiated recovery. VAULT400 works seamlessly within an organization’s existing infrastructure with no additional hardware required.

News stories such as Superstorm Sandy appear on a regular basis in which a company’s critical data is lost due to backup failure, disaster, or security breach. Tape-based backups are vulnerable to theft because of the manual handling involved and they are typically not encrypted. VAULT400 removes the human element and threat of exposure through data-centric technologies of Delta processing, compression, and encryption to create a powerful and reliable security model.

Joining COSE was at the top of Jim’s list when he started United Computer Group. A member since 1987, UCG has benefited in countless ways to help Jim grow his business. The advantages of being a COSE member extend far beyond negotiating power and healthcare. Jim and his team have attended numerous seminars and networking events presented by COSE over the years, and have had the pleasure of meeting other local entrepreneurs along the way. Ideas are shared; valuable business relationships and long-term friendships are formed.

Jim had the honor of being featured as one of “Five Great Bosses” in COSE’s monthly publication in April, 1997. Today, UCG’s mission is clear: to continuously innovate; help their clients maximize efficiency and drive down costs; provide world-class customer service; and foster a healthy, team-oriented work environment for their employees. UCG’s relationship with COSE supports their mission and continues to benefit the organization year after year. From the beginning, COSE has been and will continue to be a valued partner to United Computer Group.

Warwick Communications

Warwick Communications has operated in (and out of) Northeast Ohio since 1946, making it one of the oldest and most well-respected communications companies in the area.

Like COSE, Warwick is proud of its long and storied history and shares a passion for serving and empowering local businesses. Since inception, Warwick has delivered quality communications solutions, outstanding support, and an unparalleled commitment to customer satisfaction.

The values of its many long-term employees permeate the organization and have created a strong, stable foundation for a business that has thrived for more than 60 years.

Today, Warwick continues its customer commitment, but is also powered by a commitment to the latest and greatest technological innovations. Warwick is a consultative retailer that delivers tangible solutions to business needs.

Years of proven results and demonstrated expertise has given Warwick the ability to sell and support some of the best products and services on the market.

Warwick is grateful for organizations like COSE that have supported us through the years and believe in what we're doing.

Congratulations on 40 years of positive influence and dynamic impact!

We'll Remember Co. Inc.

We’ll Remember Co., Inc. is a unique business service for other businesses. Celebrating “ 21 Years” in business this past April, We’ll Remember sells promotional items, awards, incentives, unique food gifts and all occasion cards.

We’ll Remember has been an active member of COSE since the beginning and credits COSE for their help in getting us started. Originally we were going to remember dates for medical offices and/or senior citizens. We got involved in the MAP program that COSE had and was directed into this new thing of “sending cards” and gifts for businesses. We also had counseling from several volunteer business people who directed us in getting started and helping along the way. There were Business Planning Courses that gave us additional mentors.

Cheryl believes that every customer and every employee needs to know that they are not just a number or a figure on a company’s roster. She advocates that if you remember to say “Thank You” or take the time to interact with your staff then your relationship with your employees or clients will be richer. Cheryl has helped companies develop the relationships that are needed to help any business grow.

Well Dressed Windows

Eileen Zimmerman’s window of opportunity to launch a business of her own opened up while she was invested in her family’s paint and wallpaper store. When the business started selling blinds and shades, Zimmerman grew more involved with drapery design and eventually decided to go out on her own.

At first, Zimmerman had samples created to display at craft shows—and a big order was $300. “The product we do now is much higher quality and much more sophisticated,” says Don Zimmerman, who joined the business with Eileen in 2000 and serves in a sales and marketing capacity while Eileen, who has a fashion merchandising degree, is the product and design expert.

Their home-based business in Solon provides custom fabric treatments and high-tech motorized applications for window treatments that are computer controlled. Because the products Well Dressed Windows sells are serious investments for the home, Don Zimmerman says they lengthen the sales cycle compared to their competitors. Ultimately, this means building a stronger relationships with clients, he says.

“We take doing it right and doing what’s best for the customer very seriously,” Zimmerman says. “Because our products have a very long life span, that means once people spend the cookie jar, they are going to have what they bought for a long time. We like to make sure there is enough time in the sales cycle for people to get comfortable so they will be happy with the results over the long haul.”

Most of Well Dressed Windows’ business today comes from referrals from interior designers and satisfied customers. Plus, Don and Eileen belong to a COSE Leads Group and participate in Mindshare, where they can tap into a “board” of fellow business owners to gather ideas and learn.

“Mindshare has helped us stay on task and get focused in our business—it’s like a master mind group,” Zimmerman relates, adding that he and Eileen are in different Mindshare groups. “It’s important for us to be around other businesspeople who help us learn and grow, and we help them learn and grow.”

The Zimmermans say they are perfectionists in their business. “We really care about what we are putting into a customer’s house, and people appreciate that effort,” Zimmerman says, adding that each custom window treatment and fabric treatment like throw pillows and bedding are one-of-a-kind. “When you design something and it looks really pretty and the customer is happy, that’s a nice experience,” he says. “We put a lot of effort into getting that result.”

Weschler Instruments

What started in 1941 as a meter repair shop has evolved into worldwide manufacturer and distributor of electrical and electronic measuring instruments. The rugged, reliable instruments Weschler supplies go into electric and nuclear power generation facilities, oil and gas platforms, automobile factories, steel mills, chemical plants, military ships and various other industrial applications.

Over the years, the company has expanded its capabilities, acquired product lines and grown its supply footprint. Today, Weschler’s business is split evenly between manufacturing and distribution and the company is one of America’s largest providers of analog and digital panel meters.

We are most proud of the new products we have developed that are creating a lot of excitement in the power utility field,” says Dave Hughes, who took over the business in the early 1970s with his brother Doug.

Recently, Weschler Instruments has invested research and development dollars into retrofitting and upgrading instrumentation for the nuclear power industry—and the company has projects in progress all over the world, including North America, South America, Asia and [Europe]. “We see tremendous growth potential worldwide for some of our newer products,” acknowledges Matt Hughes, who joined the leadership team along with his brother, Ryan. They represent the next generation of Weschler, and they’ve got their eyes on growth.

Both came from careers in investment banking with experience in mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and initial public offerings. “We are actively seeking opportunities to take the business to the next level by pursuing a number of diverse growth avenues,” Ryan Hughes says.

Of course, the challenge in an industry like this is keeping up with evolving technology, Matt points out. “We have a lot of analog and digital meters that, in the past, have been specified for facilities, but we are now seeing newer technologies such as MMI and touch screen applications as the future of the industry,” he says. “We must keep up with these new technologies so that we are not only in the replacement market but a center and leader for new product development.”

The key is to decide when and where to invest time and research funds. “We are spending a significant amount of time redefining our corporate vision and strategy,” Ryan says. “With a new focus, we will be able to more effectively allocate capital to those growth initiatives that are most aligned with our long-term goals.”

Meanwhile, as with many manufacturers, Weschler Instruments is focused on attracting young talent to the organization to continue a legacy of producing cutting-edge instrumentation.

 Along those lines, Dave says he’s pleased at how the transition of his two sons into the business is going—a melding of new school and old guard as the brothers respect the history and knowledge of longtime workers while introducing fresh ideas. “Our management is excited about the future of the company and potential growth,” Dave says.         

Weschler Instruments is a longtime COSE member, and Matt says he and his brother have attended the Small Business Conference and took away valuable ideas about savings initiatives and product offerings. Ryan adds, “I have seen and heard how COSE has helped us out in the past and we look forward to accelerating our participation with COSE into the future.”

Acceleration is an ongoing theme at Weschler, with the next generation driving the business forward into the new economy. Dave is still involved in everyday operations, but is taking a step back. “I’m proud of the way Ryan and Matt have integrated into the business … and I am confident they will position Weschler for sustained success into the future,” he says.