Daily News

FLORENCE — Florence Bank promoted Jeremy Melton to the position of senior vice president, director of Operations and Risk Management, and hired Robert Raynor to serve as vice president, Compliance and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) officer.

Melton joined Florence Bank in 2012. Prior to his recent promotion, he served as first vice president, Risk Management, Compliance, and CRA officer. He is the board chair and a member of the finance/audit committee at Tapestry.

Raynor joined Florence Bank in April 2019 with nine years of banking experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Springfield College. He is a board member and treasurer of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke.

“We are thrilled to announce the addition of Robert and the well-deserved promotion of Jeremy,” said Florence Bank President and CEO John Heaps Jr. “Their skills and expertise are invaluable, and I look forward to seeing both of them flourish in their respective roles.”

Daily News

WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond, one of the leading full-service engineering and environmental consulting firms in the Northeast, climbed 19 spots this year to number 222 on Engineering News Record’s (ENR) 2019 Top 500 Design Firms ranking. In the past two years, Tighe & Bond climbed 38 spots as the firm continues to grow its regional market. ENR ranks its list of top 500 design firms nationally based on design-specific revenue from the previous year.

“We are very excited to climb 19 spots in this national ranking, which we believe is the result of continuing to execute on our strategies of expanding in our regional markets along with attracting and retaining outstanding staff across the organization,” said Bob Belitz, president and CEO of Tighe & Bond. “Of course, we could not achieve these accomplishments without the trust our clients have in us to work on their behalf and deliver superb project outcomes.”

Daily News

GREAT BARRINGTON — The Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative (BFMC) will host two summer filmmaking workshops: one for 15- to 19-year-olds from Monday, June 24 to Friday, June 28, and one for 11- to 14-year-olds from Monday July 8 to Friday, July 12. These week-long workshops will meet daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Berkshire Community College’s South County Campus, 343 Main St., Great Barrington. Early dropoff (9 a.m.) and late pickup (5 p.m.) is available by request.

The purpose of the workshops are twofold: for kids to experience what it’s like to work on a real movie crew from creation of an idea to the final edit of the project, and for the group to produce a high-quality short film championed in every aspect by everyone in the group. The kids will work collaboratively — performing as actors on camera; running the lights, camera, and sound; editing; and marketing the film’s premiere to the community. On the final night, parents, friends, and the public will be invited to attend, and the young filmmakers will participate in a question-and-answer session with the audience. Each participant will walk away with a copy of the film and the experience of creating a professional-quality film together. 

Specific topics covered will include story structure, screenwriting, character development, cinematography, sound recording and mixing, lighting, editing, sound design, and marketing. 

“We are thrilled to be offering this filmmaking workshop for the young people in our community,” said Diane Pearlman, executive director of BFMC. “Video is becoming more and more important as a tool for communication. We need to teach our kids the importance of working cooperatively on a project, while giving them the tools necessary to tell a compelling story.”

The course is being taught by writer, director, actor, and educator Patrick Toole. For four years, Patrick taught filmmaking and animation at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, N.Y. He also co-created the After School Film Project with the Chatham Film Club and numerous other afterschool film and theater programs for middle- and high-school students. Toole has written, directed, and edited more than 30 short films and founded and curated several local film festivals, including the Berkshire Shorts Film Festival. He is the co-founder of the Whitdiots improv troupe and Emergent Ensemble Theater Co. He studied film at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. 

All equipment will be provided. The cost for the week-long workshop is $325. Students will need to bring lunch. Class size is limited. To register online, visit shop.berkshirecc.edu or call (413) 236-2127.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute (MCCTI) is offering the opportunity for students to take the necessary training to become a casino dealer in Massachusetts. Everyone who successfully passes two classes is guaranteed an audition with MGM Springfield. It will be possible to begin training in June and be working by September.

There are two options, one on weekdays and one on weekends. The weekday class meets Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from June 3 to July 23, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Immediately following blackjack is the carnival-games course, which runs during the same time frame and ends on Aug 26.

The weekend class meets Saturday and Sunday, June 1 to July 20, from noon to 6 p.m. Immediately following blackjack is the carnival-games course, which runs during the same time frame and ends on Aug 18.

“You bring the fun, guest-services personality. We’ll teach you everything else you need to know,” said Michele Cabral, director of MCCTI.

Classes are taught by MGM Springfield supervisors on the casino grounds. The tables, chips, and cards are close replicas of those on the casino floor.

The cost for the two classes is $598. To receive more information or help signing up, stop by MassHire Springfield on Wednesday, May 15 from 10 a.m. to noon; Friday, May 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; or Thursday, May 30, from 9 to 11 a.m. MassHire Springfield is located at the STCC Technology Park, 1 Federal St., Building 103-3. Drop-ins are welcome.

MCCTI is a partnership between Holyoke Community College, Springfield Technical Community College and MGM, and is authorized by the state of Massachusetts to provide the training required to become a licensed dealer. To get more information or to enroll, visit www.mccti.org. Class space is limited.

Cover Story

Pedal Power

 

Catherine Ratté, principal planner and Land Use & Environment section manager at the PVPC

Catherine Ratté, principal planner and Land Use & Environment section manager at the PVPC

ValleyBike had, by most accounts, an up-and-down first year, and we’re not talking about the hills its bikes make a little easier through electric pedal assist. But on the whole, 2018 was an encouraging success, with gradually increasing ridership across the network’s six municipalities, despite a slow and incomplete roll-out of the 50 stations and 500 bikes. With further expansion possible, hopes are high that more people will ditch their cars for a bike ride in 2019 — and then turn that ride into a habit.

A regional bike-share program may have seemed like a novel idea for many Pioneer Valley denizens last year, but for those who helped bring it about, it’s far from a new concept.

“We’ve been talking about it in the Pioneer Valley for 15 years,” said Catherine Ratté, principal planner and Land Use & Environment section manager at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. In fact, the PVPC produced a report in 2008 documenting previous bike-share programs around the world — including the Yellow Bike program that once existed at Hampshire College as well as the Bixi Bikeshare program in Montreal — and encouraging Pioneer Valley municipalities to look into establishing a regional program.

A lot has happened since then, but the main development was the emergence of electric pedal-assist bikes that help riders navigate hills and long distances they might not have wanted to attempt before. It was a game changer, Ratté said.

“Part of it was being a broad region — how can people get from Amherst to Northampton to Springfield? Then electric pedal assist came along, and we said, ‘oh, this could be a regional program,’” she told BusinessWest.

That program, known as ValleyBike, currently encompasses six communities — Northampton, Amherst, Springfield, Holyoke, South Hadley, and Easthampton — with others possibly on the horizon. A rider is free to pick up a bike at any of the 50 stations and drop it off at any other.

“The idea is to replace car trips with bike trips, and pedal assist makes it easier for all ages and abilities to use,” said Ratté. “It’s a big piece of acting on the climate crisis, but we also have a public-health crisis, and people don’t always have the opportunity to be physically active. ValleyBike makes it easier for people to bike to work. Maybe they aren’t physically fit enough to bike without pedal assist, and they don’t want to arrive at work sweaty — but they’re still exercising.”

A recent PVPC report detailed use of ValleyBike during 2018, its inaugural year. Even with limited availability and a slow ramp-up of stations (more on that later), the service logged 26,353 trips last year, an average of 170 per day, generating 83,735 miles — the equivalent of 3.3 times around the earth.

With the numbers expected to increase in 2019, that represents a significant front in the battle against traffic and air pollution, said Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of Planning & Sustainability.

“Our biggest commitment this year is to get more people to say, ‘yes, I really want to use this,’” said Feiden, who has long been one of the region’s strongest proponents of a bike-share network. “Nationwide, about a third of the people using bike shares are coming out of their car — making what would have been a car trip otherwise. If we can get you out of your car, that’s great from an environmental standpoint and a congestion standpoint. And that’s the part we need to grow most in the system.”

According to the year-end rider survey that helped the PVPC generate its report, the vast majority of users — 77.9% — rode ValleyBike less than five times per month, and 2.8% used it daily, with another 2.8% riding five or more times per week. These figures suggest that many users rode the bikes for leisure rather than to commute, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Feiden said.

Wayne Feiden says ValleyBike organizers have several goals

Wayne Feiden says ValleyBike organizers have several goals, from reducing traffic and air pollution to getting people more physically active.

“We have a lot of goals, and each one serves different purposes,” he noted. “One is just to get people to exercise more. So that’s been great, and it’s also been a diverse set of users.”

Indeed, 28.8% of survey respondents were between 18 and 30, 52.1% were between the ages of 30 and 60, and 6.9% were over 60 years old, while the gender split was close to even.

“People who use bikes tend to be younger, but these bikes are reaching a broader range of users, which is great,” he said. “Getting people healthier is wonderful, as is giving people transportation options, whether they can’t afford a car or don’t want to drive a car for environmental reasons.”

“The idea is to replace car trips with bike trips, and pedal assist makes it easier for all ages and abilities to use. It’s a big piece of acting on the climate crisis, but we also have a public-health crisis, and people don’t always have the opportunity to be physically active.”

One goal moving forward, he said, will be to increase usage of memberships. Annual passes ($80) accounted for just 13% of all rides in 2018, and monthly passes ($20) represented another 28%.

Those riders, Feiden said, are the ones more likely to use ValleyBike Share for commuting to work or other daily commitments, and to turn biking from a leisure activity into a habit and a lifestyle. “Once you sign up for a year, you tend to build your commitment.”

For this issue, BusinessWest looks at the ways ValleyBike is building on its own commitment — and its momentum, both electric-assisted and figuratively.

Winding Path

To its proponents at the PVPC, ValleyBike is a key component of the region’s path to a sustainable future by promoting healthy habits and reducing greenhouse gases emitted by vehicle trips. If managed effectively, the year-end report notes, the program could also reduce the need for road repairs and expansion, and has the potential to improve the effectiveness of the region’s transit system.

Following the 2008 report exploring the concept, UMass Amherst launched a free bike-sharing program in 2012 funded by student government fees. The same year, Northampton’s Planning and Sustainability Department began researching a program for that city.

Mayor David Narkewicz approved a single bike-share station downtown, but by early 2013, officials determined that a larger system, either city-wide or, better yet, region-wide, was preferable. At the same time, Amherst officials were meeting with representatives from Amherst College, Hampshire College, and UMass to explore a town-wide bike-sharing program.

Soon after, the PVPC secured a Massachusetts Clean Energy Center grant to work with several area communities to advance clean-energy strategies, selecting advancement of a regional bike-share initiative as a priority for funding.

The ValleyBike station at Court Square

The ValleyBike station at Court Square, one of 11 in Springfield, saw the sixth-most ride starts across the entire network in 2018.

Between 2014 and 2016, the PVPC worked with a group of member municipalities — Amherst, Holyoke, Northampton, and Springfield — to research and advance regional bike-sharing. In 2016, Northampton, with PVPC and regional support, applied for and obtained federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds for a regional bike-share network for four communities, later adding South Hadley as a fifth member.

A year later, Northampton, with PVPC and regional support, released a bike-share RFP and awarded a contract to Bewegen Technology for a 500-bike, 50-station system in the five communities. Toward the end of 2018, Easthampton obtained a Massachusetts Housing Choice grant for ValleyBike and joined the regional consortium, growing it to six municipalities.

The year-end report notes that ValleyBike had a rocky start due to issues with station installation, bike availability, and kiosk usability. Only 26 stations were open when the system went online on June 28, and another 17 were added in July and August. The remaining seven opened at the start of the 2019 season, bringing the total to 50.

After a slow start, the popularity of ValleyBike saw large increases in the first few weeks of August, reaching its peak ridership between Aug. 21 and Sept. 3, dipping slightly as temperatures dropped and students went back to school in early September.

“This is the first regional, multi-community, all-electric-pedal-assist bike-share program in the world. It was a really ambitious idea,” Ratté told BusinessWest. “It could have been smoother, but we had fantastic numbers of riders from all communities. And we definitely are eager to expand the coalition.”

She noted that possible expansion communities include Hadley, Chicopee, and West Springfield, should the PVPC secure the necessary additional funding. “We hope to keep it growing and expanding as well as adding some stations in the existing communities.”

“Nationwide, about a third of the people using bike shares are coming out of their car — making what would have been a car trip otherwise.”

With a longer season this year and more bikes — the network typically had about 167 available last year, but will offer 500 at the 50 stations in 2019 — she expects an uptick in ridership and increasing interest from the communities not yet on board.

“Hadley and Chicopee are the two holes in the system we’re trying to fill. We’re also trying to expand to West Springfield, but that’s more expanding out rather than filling in holes,” Feiden added. “Obviously we have to get more funding for new stations; there are many more locations that would make sense than we have money for.”

He added that more corporate sponsors are needed to make the system more sustainable. “But businesses are seeing the value for it — a third of the stations in Northampton are on private property. People gave us easements or licenses, whatever they needed to do, because they saw the value. One is at Cooper’s Corner in Florence, a small grocery store, and I hope people shop there because they gave us some really valuable real estate.”

Sustainable Future

Between climate concerns, public-health awareness, and simply enjoying the outdoors, bicycling — especially when pedal-assisted on those tricky hills — holds appeal to many demographic groups, Ratté said.

“If you ask people what they want in their region, a bike share is a popular thing. People expect their cities to fund options for getting around. And the cool thing is, you don’t have to stay inside your municipality; the same bike can go from place to place. It’s very convenient.”

That said, the program would benefit by coordinating more closely with public transit systems, she noted. According to the year-end survey, 27.5% of riders used ValleyBike in conjunction with other types of public transportation (such as rail or bus services). Organizers had hoped that bike stations could be located close to public transportation so public-transit riders could utilize the bikes to reach their final destinations. However, due to complications regarding the need for electrical outlets in close proximity to stations, this goal was not always met. That’s something planners are looking to remedy with future bike-station placements.

“People rely on the bus,” she said, “and to be able to use ValleyBike to get to and from the bus stop would be great.”

On a related note, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts worked with the Pioneer Valley Regional Ventures Center, the not-for-profit arm of the PVPC, to allocate $12,000 per year over three years to provide subsidized memberships for economically disadvantaged residents of the region, particularly those who live in transit-rich urban cores. Bewegen was not able to launch this aspect of the ValleyBike initiative in 2018, and more people are expected to use ValleyBike when the access passes become available this year.

So far, however, people seem to be using the bikes mostly for enjoyment. Of the year-end survey respondents, 52% said they used ValleyBike mostly for leisure, while 21.2% used them to commute, 5.5% wanted to reduce pollution and traffic congestion, and 5.2% were focused on the health benefits. Notably, 36% reported an increase in riding bikes of all kinds since using the system.

“In some ways, the biggest criticism is people asking, ‘why didn’t you come to my neighborhood?’” Feiden said, noting that Northampton added one stop this year and has applied for a grant to establish four more. “And that’s great. It’s nice to get beat up for not doing it.”

The hope is that the coming years will see fewer of those complaints as ValleyBike continues to expand, giving more people an excuse to leave their cars behind, get their legs moving, and maybe leave the air a little cleaner.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Green Business

Saving Graces

Clarence Smith, owner of Final Touch Barber Shop in Springfield

Clarence Smith, owner of Final Touch Barber Shop in Springfield

While outwardly in the business of providing energy, Eversource is making a name for itself in the business of conserving energy as well. Indeed, it has a deep portfolio of initiatives that are slicing energy bills, reducing peak-demand periods, and making a real impact — on both Main Street in Springfield and main streets across the Northeast.

Clarence Smith doesn’t have any trouble remembering when Eversource Energy entered his life — and his business — and helped him see the light, in all kinds of ways.

It was early June 2016. Muhammad Ali had recently passed away, and the boxing legend was on everyone’s mind. Coincidentally enough, he was also on Smith’s wall — the back wall of Final Touch, his barber shop on State Street in Springfield, to be more precise.

A representative of Eversource, the energy company based in Hartford and Boston, with a large presence in Springfield, happened to walk by and see the mural, said Smith, adding that he came in for a closer look, an impromptu visit that led to a wide-ranging discussion and, eventually, some improvement in the numbers on his electric bill.

“He was coming from a meeting at the health clinic across the street … he walked by and said, ‘wow, that’s a beautiful picture,’” Smith recalled. “We talked about Muhammad Ali, I showed him other pictures I had, and I eventually learned that his father used to do some boxing.

“We had a conversation about boxing, and then he said, ‘hey, I work for Eversource. We run a program — how would you like to be part of it?’” Smith went on, finishing the story (sort of) about how he became involved with the utility’s Main Street Energy Efficiency program, which has now impacted businesses on a great many streets in several different communities, and is now focusing on the Indian Orchard section of Springfield.

Through the initiative, business owners save an estimated $600 to $1,000 a year in energy costs through steps that include new and more efficient lighting, occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats, and water-saving devices.

Penni McLean-Conner

For both Eversource and Massachusetts, Penni McLean-Conner says, conservation is the “first fuel.”

The Main Street initiative is one of many that Eversource has launched with the broad goal of reducing overall energy consumption across the region and across the Northeast, involving communities, neighborhoods, and landmarks ranging from the corner market to Springfield’s Union Station; from Fenway Park to TD Bank Garden.

Others include a small-business program that provides no-interest loans to ventures to undertake similar energy-efficiency projects, often with dramatic results, such as those recorded by the Dakin Humane Society at its facilities in Springfield and Leverett.

There’s also a new focus on solar power, electric-car charging stations, and initiatives to improve storage in many locations — from UMass campuses to Cape Cod — with new technology, including lithium ion batteries and so-called ‘ice batteries’ (more on them later) to better handle peak loads, help alleviate outages, and improve reliability.

And while reducing the amount of energy consumed may seem counterproductive for a utility that sells that commodity, it makes perfect sense, said Penni McLean-Conner, senior vice president and chief customer officer for Eversource, noting that energy conservation is now a state priority and a state mandate.

“We’re at the end of the pipeline, so energy is expensive, and therefore it’s important that we leverage this resource and use it as wisely as possible,” she explained. “And Massachusetts leaders have recognized that conservation is the first fuel, something that was established with the Green Communities Act. And with that, the state has created the regulatory framework and policy framework that has allowed utilities to thrive by investing in energy-efficiency solutions.”

And Eversource has, indeed, invested in a number of these solutions, designed, overall, to help reduce the state’s carbon footprint and, locally, enable utility customers of all sizes and all business sectors to do what Smith did — trim (that’s one of his industry’s terms) his energy consumption.

“Our entire energy-conservation portfolio looks like an asset,” said McLean-Conner, who oversees a team of some 1,200 employees charged, overall, with managing the customer experience and developing ways to improve it. “In a three-year period, our energy-efficiency programs will build the equivalent of a 750-megawatt power plant. That’s powerful, because can you imagine siting a 750-megawatt power plant and getting all the lines up?”

Kim Kiernan, energy efficiency consultant for Eversource

Kim Kiernan, energy efficiency consultant for Eversource, with Charles Brush, owner of Indian Orchard Mills, which has benefited from the utility’s energy-conservation programs.

For this issue and its focus on green energy, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Eversource’s Main Street program and its many other initiatives aimed at helping businesses become greener — and save green at the same time.

Current Events

Charles Brush says he’s “a small business that manages space for lots of small businesses.”

That’s an intriguing, but accurate, description of the Indian Orchard Mills, a large mill complex along the Chicopee River that is home to more than 150 businesses. Many of them are artists who don’t use large amounts of electricity, but maybe half are manufacturers that do, especially those that make use of compressors.

“When machines start up, they create a demand — when machinery kicks on, it creates a higher rate that we pay,” said Brush, who has already had the lighting at the mill changed once through the Main Street program. With another upgrade to LED now in the discussion phase, he’s also hoping to perhaps implement some other electric-efficiency programs regarding machinery and compressors.

“We’re talking about doing what’s known as soft-starting,” he explained, “so that when a compressor comes on, it doesn’t just go from ‘off’ to ‘on,’ which creates that load; it soft-starts the motors so it doesn’t create a spike in demand.”

As noted, Brush is not your typical small business participating in these energy-efficiency programs — his mill complex boasts more than 500,000 square feet of space being put to all kinds of uses. But his issues are in many ways the same as those facing business owners occupying one-tenth, one-hundredth, or even one-thousandth of that footprint, which is about what Smith’s barbershop covers.

Every small-business owner is looking to reduce energy consumption and, therefore, their monthly bill, said Kim Kiernan, energy efficiency consultant for Eversource and manager of the Main Street program, and the utility is committed to helping as many as it can.

“Our plan is to have everyone changed over to LED lighting by 2021,” she said, stating just one of the program’s goals, adding that the Main Street program, which started in Springfield and has been expanded to several other communities, has assisted more than 600 businesses to date.

While all business owners are in the same boat when it comes to energy consumption and the need to reduce it, very large customers do have their own specific issues and challenges, said McLean-Conner, adding that Eversource breaks down the business community into several categories of customers, with usage being the determining factor.

“We don’t look at business customers as one homogeneous group; we realize that our customers have different needs, so we do a lot of segmentation,” she said, adding that very large customers — think colleges and universities, hospitals, the new MGM casino, large manufacturers, and refrigerated warehouses — have their own account executive assigned to them.

But there are also teams assigned to different business sectors comprised of large users — education, healthcare, food-processing plants, and others — with the specific goal of identifying ways to save.

“And each of the solutions for those sectors is different,” she explained, citing the example of higher education and work the utility has done in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“When I’m working with education, there’s considerable focus on labs, said McLean-Conner. “Those labs have intense energy needs, so the focus is how we reduce that. MIT was one of the first customers to sign on with us with a strategic energy agreement, a multi-year agreement and a public commitment by MIT and Eversource to reduce energy use over a period of time.

“They have actually increased square footage and reduced overall energy consumption — it’s a tremendous story,” she went on. “But it’s been done through the investment of wise energy-efficiency efforts, whether it’s building envelope and ensuring that the building itself is well-insulated, or heating and ventilation to make sure those systems are increasingly controlled, and lighting, which is obviously huge.”

There are a number of these tremendous stories being written, said both McLean-Conner and Kiernan. Like the one at MIT, they involve the customer partnering with Eversource to achieve stated goals when it comes to reducing energy consumption.

“In a three-year period, our energy-efficiency programs will build the equivalent of a 750-megawatt power plant. That’s powerful, because can you imagine siting a 750-megawatt power plant and getting all the lines up?”

They involve communities — Springfield was among the first, if not the first, city to ink what’s known as a strategic energy agreement with the utility — as well as large customers (UMass Amherst and Yankee Candle in this market are some of the examples cited), and literally thousands of small businesses.

“We try to develop custom solutions for these large organizations,” said McLean-Conner, noting that, at Yankee Candle, for example, the utility worked with the company to showcase various lighting options for franchisees — systems that would not only enhance the customer experience but reduce energy consumption and lower electricity bills.

Watt’s Happening

One of the keys to achieving those goals is making a dent in peak-demand periods, an important development for all commercial consumers, said McLean-Conner, because they pay not only for the energy for they use, but for the peak usage as well.

And recent trends show the peak moving higher, she said, motivating utilities like Eversource to look for innovative solutions, many of them involving a combination of energy conservation and storage of power for use during those peak-demand periods, usually in the middle of the summer when chillers of all sizes are operating at once.

“We want to avoid building resources just for those peak moments — we want to clip those peaks,” she explained, adding that one initiative in that realm is the installation of a large lithium-ion battery-storage system with the goal of reducing peak energy demand on the campus.

Funded through a $1.1 million state grant from the Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage project, the battery-storage system will provide power that would otherwise have to be purchased from the power grid at premium rates — and it will also provide a research site for clean-energy experts, researchers, and students, said McLean-Conner.

Ice batteries do much the same thing, she noted, adding that there are a few in place across the state. These thermal storage systems produce ice at night when the demand for energy is at its lowest point. When the outside air is hot, the stored ice melts and is used to cool the building with existing air conditioning ducts and fans, but not the compressor, which requires power, she explained, adding that shifting power demand from peak times to non-peak hours is one of the major goals of the energy efficiency programs.

While working to reduce those peak-demand periods through storage initiatives, Eversource continues to work with business owners of all sizes to reduce energy consumption.

With the Main Street program, it works with very small businesses, generally shop owners who are leasing property. Launched in 2015, the program has program has focused on different communities — Pittsfield, Easthampton, Southwick, West Springfield, Ludlow, and Greenfield among them, with Hadley and Amherst next on the schedule — and sections of Springfield each year.

In the City of Homes, work began, appropriately enough, on Main Street, moved to State Street, then to the ‘X,’ and now, as noted, it is focused on Indian Orchard and customers like Charles Brush. There are some 400 small businesses in the Orchard, as it’s called, and Kiernan would like to sign up at least half of them.

That will be a challenge, she noted, because these are partnership efforts, and sometimes, some selling is required to recruit these partners.

Indeed, Kiernan noted that small-business owners, especially those who take part in the Main Street program, are, generally speaking, understandably worried about possible scams and wary of claims of reduction in their energy bills. But once Eversource can convince them to not only listen to the pitch — sometimes it’s difficult to even get a foot in the door — but implement many of the suggested steps, they’ll discover that the savings are real.

The process, with both the small-business initiative and the Main Street program, begins with an assessment by electrical contractors and then development of a detailed plan to reduce consumption. Lighting, specifically a switch to LED lighting, is a big element in these plans, said Kiernan, calling it “low-hanging fruit,” but important fruit, generally able to yield a 40% reduction in cost over what was in the ceiling.

But there are other considerations as well, such as refrigeration, HVAC, motors and compressors, occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats, and others, she went on, adding that measures are implemented without interruption to the business in question.

Eversource provides an incentive to participate, Kiernan added. With the Main Street program, 100% of the project’s cost is covered by the utility, and with the small-business program, 70% of a project’s cost is covered, and the utility will finance the rest over two years, with a zero-interest loan.

Generally, the cost of the loan is more than covered by the savings generated by the measures implemented, she went on, adding that the customer’s bill doesn’t increase through participation. When the loan is paid off, the bill will then decrease by that amount.

In many cases, as noted, all this sounds too good to be true, and utility customers need to be convinced that it isn’t, Kiernan went on, adding that, while it works diligently to do this, often it has help from those who can see first-hand that the benefits are real.

Positively Charged

People like Clarence Smith. He’s become an ambassador of sorts for the Main Street initiative, encouraging many of his business neighbors to take part.

“People don’t believe it until they see it,” he explained, noting that he’s encountered plenty of initial skepticism about the project. “I’m a testament to this program; I’ve seen how it’s worked for us, and if people ask me, I’ll tell them it can work for them, too.”

It all started when someone from Eversource saw his mural of Muhammad Ali and came in for a look and a talk — a talk that led to another of thousands of small steps to reduce energy consumption across the state and the region.

As McLean-Conner noted, conservation has become the first fuel for Eversource, as well as the state, and this mindset is creating a spark — in all kinds of ways.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Accounting and Tax Planning

Looking Back — and Ahead

April 15 has come and gone, and many people are not looking back on the recent tax season with fond memories. Indeed, for many there were surprises and refunds lower than expected. One of the keys to not being surprised or disappointed is planning, as in year-round planning.

By Danielle Fitzpatrick, CPA

Many taxpayers think about taxes only once a year, and that one time is when they are filing their income-tax return. However, taxpayers should be thinking about their taxes year-round.

Many people do not consider how a change in their life may affect their taxes until they see the outcome the following year. Surprises may be avoided if they were to seek the advice of their tax professional ahead of time.

Seeking the advice of a tax professional throughout the year is very important. Certified public accountants (CPAs) who specialize in tax are not just tax preparers. CPAs can be trusted advisors who can help meet your personal wealth-creation, business-management, and financial goals.

Danielle Fitzpatrick

Danielle Fitzpatrick

The 2018 tax-filing season brought some of the biggest tax-law changes that we’ve seen in more than 30 years, and left many taxpayers surprised with their tax outcome. Perhaps you were pleasantly surprised by the additional money you received because you have children, or maybe you were one of the many who were shocked because of the reduced refunds or liability that you owed for the very first time.

If you were unhappy with the results of your 2018 tax return, you now have an opportunity to plan for the future. Review your 2018 income-tax return and determine if changes need to be made. Did you owe money for the first time because your withholdings decreased too much, or because you are now taking the standard deduction due to the loss of several itemized deductions?

Consider this — if your income and deductions were to remain relatively the same in 2019 as they were in 2018, would you be happy with your results, or do you wish they were different?

“If you were unhappy with the results of your 2018 tax return, you now have an opportunity to plan for the future.”

After you have looked at your 2018 income-tax return, you should then consider what changes may need to occur in 2019. Your tax accountant can help you determine how an expected change can impact your tax liability and try to ensure that you are safe-harbored from potential underpayment penalties.

Individuals may be subject to underpayment penalties on both their federal and state returns if they do not meet specific payment requirements each year through withholdings and/or estimated tax payments. Your accountant can also help you determine if a change in withholdings at work or through your retirement is necessary, or whether there is a need to adjust or make estimated tax payments.

These changes can help you avoid, or reduce, any potential underpayment penalties.

There are so many changes in a person’s life that could impact their tax return. Some changes include, but are not limited to, getting married or divorced, having a baby, sending a child to college, retiring, or starting a new job.

Maybe you have decided to start your own business and now are responsible for self-employment tax. Or maybe you have decided that you need to sell that rental property or second home you have had for many years. Perhaps you are a beneficiary of an estate for a loved one who passed away or have decided to sell stock through your investments. These are all examples of changes that could significantly impact your taxes.

Businesses also experience changes that could have an impact on their business returns. These changes include, but are not limited to, purchasing or selling a business, investing in a new vehicle or piece of equipment, or maybe the company has grown and you want to start providing benefits to your employees.

All the above examples could have a major impact on your individual or business income-tax returns, and that impact could be reduced if you were to reach out to a tax professional for advice before the next tax season. Besides the changes briefly mentioned above, here are two lists of questions (personal and business) that may be helpful in your next discussion with your tax professional.

First, some questions to ask your accountant in relation to your personal taxes:

• How much should I be contributing to my retirement, and which type of retirement best suits my needs?

• Am I adequately saving for my children’s education, and should I consider an education savings plan?

• Do I have adequate health, disability, and life insurance?

• When should I start taking Social Security benefits?

• When do I sign up for Medicare?

• Have I properly planned for Medicaid?

• Do I need a will, or when should my existing will be updated?

• Should I consider a living trust?

• Are my bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts set up appropriately so they avoid probate if I pass away?

• Are my withholdings and/or estimated tax payments adequate?

• When should I sell my rental property, and how much should I expect to pay in taxes?

• Can I still claim my child as a dependent even though they are no longer a full-time student?

• I’m inheriting money from a loved one who passed away; will this affect my taxes?

• I’m thinking about starting my own business; how will this impact my taxes going forward?

• My financial advisor told me I would have significant capital gains; how will this affect my tax liability?

Here are some questions to ask your accountant in relation to your business:

• What business structure is most appropriate for my circumstances?

• How do I know if my business is generating a profit?

• Am I pricing my products and services properly?

• How would my business function if my bookkeeper left tomorrow?

• What controls should I have in place to prevent employees from misusing company funds?

• Should I upgrade my accounting software?

• Do I need compiled, reviewed, or audited financial statements?

• Are my withholdings and/or estimated tax payments adequate?

• Can I claim a deduction for an office in my home?

• Should I buy a new truck or equipment before year-end?

• Should I buy or lease a vehicle?

• Should I implement a retirement plan before year-end?

• What is the overall value of my business?

• What should my exit strategy be?

• What are the tax consequences of selling my business?

Whether you are experiencing a major change in your life or want to plan for your future, do not forget to reach out to your tax professional to determine how it may affect your income taxes. u

Danielle Fitzpatrick, CPA, is a tax manager at Melanson Heath. She is part of the Commercial Services Department and is based out of the Greenfield office. Her areas of expertise include individual income taxes and planning, as well as nonprofit taxes. She also works with many businesses, helping with corporate and partnership taxes and planning

Banking and Financial Services

Adding It Up

It’s no secret that too many Americans make poor borrowing decisions, fail to save for retirement, even lack basic budgeting skills. That financial-literacy deficit begins early, say local bank and credit-union officials, which is why area institutions offer programs and classes to help people — both teenagers and adults — forge better strategies for making their money work for them, not drag them down.

So much, Lena Buteau says, comes down to tiny decisions that add up.

Take that morning coffee. If someone spends $2.69 at Dunkin’ Donuts every morning, that comes out to well over $900 a year. Spend $7 or $8 on lunch five times a week instead of packing a lunch at home, and you’re looking at around $2,000 a year.

“When you think you can’t afford something, look at your daily expenses,” said Buteau, vice president of Retail Administration at Monson Savings Bank, while explaining the importance of MSB’s financial-literacy programs, many of which target students, but which are needed by many adults, too.

For instance, people of all ages often struggle to understand the long-term impact of buying on credit, she noted, using the example of someone who buys a $650 laptop at Best Buy but takes a $150-off deal to put it on a store credit card at 25% interest, then pays only the minimum every month. At that rate, that laptop would be paid off in seven years — eventually costing more than double its original price tag.

“When you explain this, the kids are shocked at the numbers,” she said. “It really touches home.”

Because so many habits and philosophies are forged early, Buteau said, “we go in and teach students about saving, lending, credit scams, how to keep your money safe, and much more.”

And it’s not just schools, she added. “We want to go to church groups, Boy and Girl Scout troops, anybody that will give us an hour of time for a financial-literacy class.”

“No disrespect to the schools, but they’re not preparing kids for real life — how your credit score affects your insurance and buying a car, how to handle a checkbook.”

Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union, said his institution has an internal focus on financial literacy.

“No disrespect to the schools, but they’re not preparing kids for real life — how your credit score affects your insurance and buying a car, how to handle a checkbook. People don’t go into banks anymore; they do stuff online, and you can get ripped off if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

For that reason, Arrha has worked with high schools in the past on financial-literacy programs and is currently planning another program for local students.

“When we were kids, we had home-ec class, and they used to explain how to do a checkbook. They don’t do that anymore, and I don’t know why,” Ostrowski said, before offering one possible reason. “With all the regulations schools are under, for MCAS and other things, they’ve bailed on programs like this, but they’re absolutely critical for kids’ development and future life.”

Jon Reske, vice president of Marketing at UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, pointed out that financial literacy, and education in general, has long been part of the credit-union culture.

“Why? Because, unfortunately, your parents and my parents probably never taught us anything about personal finance, especially if things weren’t going well in the household,” he told BusinessWest. We take the opposite approach — we say your kid should be involved in understanding how the budget works in your house.

Jon Reske says even good budgeters can be tripped up by a bad loan — with long-term consequences.

Jon Reske says even good budgeters can be tripped up by a bad loan — with long-term consequences.

“We also do workshops on a regular basis — everything from homebuying 101 to how to create a budget to understanding credit,” he added, noting that the latter is especially critical, as the average American, between the ages of 21 and 65, will borrow about $1.5 million, and bad decisions can compound quickly and have a long-term impact. “You can be the greatest budgeter in the world and be smart about your pennies, but if you make bad borrowing decisions, you can be overwhelmed by debt.”

Monson Savings also conducts workshops for adults, such as first-time homebuyers, and offers a Credit Builders loan program, which is an effective way to, as the name suggests, build credit without going into unmanageable debt. The customer borrows a certain amount from the bank, which is deposited into a savings account and cannot be accessed until the loan is repaid. Not only does the borrower build positive credit through on-time payments, but at the end, the balance, plus interest, is available for a down payment on a car or home, a cushion for emergencies — anything, really.

In short, area institutions understand the deficits that exist when it comes to financial literacy and how that impacts the decision-making process — and how bad decisions can turn into years of heartache. And they’re doing something about it.

A Matter of Confidence

A new national survey by Junior Achievement USA and Citizens Bank shows that more than 30% of teens do not believe they will be financially independent of their parents by the age of 30. Sixty percent believe they will own a home by that age, 44% believe they will begin saving for retirement, and 43% think they will have paid off their student loans.

“With a strong economy, you would think teens would be more optimistic. It just demonstrates the importance of working with young people to help them better understand financial concepts and gain confidence in their ability to manage their financial futures.”

“These survey findings show a disconcerting lack of confidence among teens when it comes to achieving financial goals,” said Jack Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “With a strong economy, you would think teens would be more optimistic. It just demonstrates the importance of working with young people to help them better understand financial concepts and gain confidence in their ability to manage their financial futures.”

Financial literacy has long been a cornerstone of Junior Achievement, but there’s no shortage of educational programs available at credit unions and banks.

“Money is very emotional. It’s one of the hardest things to talk about, even with your spouse,” Reske said. “And it’s hard to be objective. That’s why it’s nice when people come to our workshops and say, ‘I’m not emotional now; I’m looking at the objective side of it. I wish I’d taken this before getting that loan.’”

While money issues can seem overwhelming at times, he added, financial-literacy tools are much more accessible than they were 10 years ago if people know where to look. He also outlined a number of concepts people attending UMassFive’s workshops might learn. For example:

• If you’re able to pay bills weekly, as they arrive, do it. It reduces the risk of missing a deadline and winding up with a late fee, which is easy to do when you pay the whole pile of bills once a month.

• Start building an emergency fund. According to a U.S. News & World Report study, two-thirds of Americans would struggle — and often do — to come up with $1,000 for an emergency, like an urgent car repair or medical procedure.

“So what happens? You put it on a credit card, and now you’re paying 21% interest, and soon $1,000 turns into $1,200,” Reske noted. “And an emergency fund can keep you from missing a rent payment or not getting something fixed on your car, which could lead to a bigger repair in three to six months.”

• Check out your credit report on an annual basis, if only to make sure everything is correct. “If the activity on your credit report is inaccurate, you’re getting an inaccurate score, and most rates you get are based on your score.”

• Put every credit card on a minimum automatic payment so you don’t miss any payments — and then pay more principal when the bill arrives in the mail. Also, it’s not a bad idea to dedicate one credit card to online purchases only, to more easily identify instances of identity theft.

• Finally, it’s never too early to start saving for retirement. According to Forbes, 33% of adults have zero saved for retirement.

“Social Security will pay a portion of your expenses, but not all,” Reske said. “Time is more valuable than money because of compounding interest. If you start planning at 50 or 55, you just don’t have enough time; you’ve wasted 20 years. And if you have a 401(k) at work with an employer match and you’re not on it, you’re being foolish.”

Budget Battles

UMassFive also conducts a workshop for high-school seniors in which they choose a career, get a salary, and then go from station to station filling out a budget in different categories, from housing, transportation, and food to luxury items and student loans — and trying to stay within that budget.

“Kids say, ‘I never knew how expensive things are,’” Reske said. “People wonder why a 40-year-old can’t come up with $1,000 for an emergency; it’s because they weren’t taught that the key is to get in front of problems as early as possible” with smart budgeting followed by spending discipline.

Monson Savings runs a similar program in local schools. “One thing I build in there is student debt. If you want to spend $30,000 a year on college and go for a $30,000-per-year job, you’re not going to be able to pay that back,” Buteau said, stressing the importance of making smart decisions about college — if college is even the best option.

In fact, she said, many kids today are so focused on college — because it’s what their schools push — that they may not be aware of careers in the trades that offer robust salaries and no long-term debt.

One thing is for sure: whether in high school, college, early adulthood, or beyond, there’s no bad time to learn more effective strategies for handling money, budgets, and credit — in other words, to become more literate.

“If you’re sick, you go to the doctor,” Buteau said. “If your car is broken down, you go to a mechanic. If your pipes are broken, you call a plumber. But if you have trouble budgeting or financing, no one thinks to go to the bank for advice or a class. And it’s free.”

And when it comes to finances, there’s nothing wrong with free.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Business of Aging

On the Path of Discovery

Skip Matthews says Louis & Clark

Skip Matthews says Louis & Clark is continuing a process of evolution and response to changes in the marketplace that began in 1965.

By now, a good number of people in this region know the story of how the second-generation, 55-year-old company known to most as Louis & Clark came to take that name.

The sign over the pharmacy on Memorial Drive in Chicopee in the mid-’60s read ‘Airline Drug,’ an obvious nod to what was then known as Westover Air Force Base, just a few hundred yards away. But before long, many customers had unofficially renamed it, using the first names of the partners — and pharmacists — who had acquired the business, Louis Demosthenous and Clark Matthews, who just happened to share names with those famous explorers (sort of).

“There weren’t really marketing companies back then,” Skip Matthews, Clark’s son, explained with a laugh. “It was just … we were Airline Drug, the customers started calling it Louis & Clark, and they kept calling it that, so they changed the name. I imagine that feeds your ego pretty well, too.”

Perhaps a less-known story (although the company is investing considerable time and energy in telling it, as we’ll see later) is how this company continues to evolve and respond to change — within the industry, in societal needs, in demographics, and even in the way companies are operated.

We’ll start with the much longer name over the door. Under the ‘Louis & Clark’ in large type (with a stick figure in a wheelchair taking the place of a traditional ampersand) are the words ‘Pharmacy & Home Medical Supplies,’ and they go a long way toward telling this story.

“Our employees possess a world of knowledge. Our emphasis is on unlocking all that knowledge instead of having people place an order, come in and pick it up, and leave.”

Indeed, a company that once had several pharmacies scattered across this region has seen that division of the company remain vibrant while also taking on a different look and feel. There are fewer locations — in fact, just one — but also a greater focus on convenience and delivery.

It’s all on display at the company’s recently opened pharmacy on Brookdale Drive in Springfield.

Formerly located on Page Boulevard in the same city, the company calls this a ‘long-term-care-facility’ pharmacy, one that focuses on delivery, packaging, and medication management, especially through a relatively new service called the MediBubble, its new medication-management system delivered to those in assisted-living facilities, group homes, nursing homes, and independent-living situations within the community.

The MediBubble is a medication package that helps individuals safely manage what prescription medications they take, and when, he explained, adding that each package contains all of one’s medications for a specific time of day, this reducing confusion when taking multiple medications.

Diane Cordeiro says one of the main focal points for Louis & Clark

Diane Cordeiro says one of the main focal points for Louis & Clark is to build relationships and boost awareness of its many products and services.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people to remember if they’ve taken their pills,” he went on. “With MediBubble, they simply have to look at the sheet. If that bubble has been opened, they’ve probably taken their pills.”

Meanwhile, the medical-supplies side of the operation, which itself dates back to 1978, has grown considerably and also evolved to meet new and different needs and bring a higher level of service to customers. Matthews explained this by stressing that the company doesn’t simply supply medical equipment. It also provides education and advice, something that isn’t available to those who might be tempted to merely order something online.

“The big point of emphasis now is becoming more and more knowledge providers as opposed to order takers,” he explained. “That’s a challenge for us and a challenge for our industry; people have options — they can go to a pharmacy, or they can try to find something online. For people to come into our location, there has to be a reason — it’s too easy to buy things anywhere else.

“Our employees possess a world of knowledge,” he went on, adding that some have been in the business for three decades or more. “Our emphasis is on unlocking all that knowledge instead of having people place an order, come in and pick it up, and leave.”

Over the years, the company has developed a number of specialty services, including the Pink Mermaid Mastectomy Boutique, located in the medical-supplies location in Groton, Conn., and a focus on foot care in all its medical-supplies locations — in Springfield, Easthampton, and East Longmeadow.

And it continues to find new ways to bring quality service and convenience to customers, a pattern that has continued for 55 years. For this issue, BusinessWest looks at how this ability to respond, adapt, and evolve has positioned Louis & Clark for continued growth in an always-changing healthcare landscape.

Blazing New Trails

Before talking about the present and especially the future, Matthews first stepped into the way-back machine and returned to 1965 — and actually a few years before that, when his father and Louis Demosthenous were classmates at the Hampden College of Pharmacy in Chicopee, long since merged into the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.

After graduation, they went in different directions — mostly work at pharmaceutical chains — before deciding to go into business for themselves. They acquired Airline Drug, and as you now know (if you didn’t know before), the partners’ first names, not their last, as is so often the case, became a brand.

And a brand that quickly expanded its presence across the region as the partners opened additional pharmacy locations.

Indeed, just a few years after acquiring the Chicopee facility, they opened a second on Breckwood Boulevard in Springfield, across from Western New England University. Additional pharmacy locations were opened in the center of Wilbraham (1970), Ludlow (1971), Page Boulevard (1972), Baystate Medical Center (1988), Mercy Medical Center (1992), and Holyoke Health Center, among others. The first medical-supplies facility was located in one of the company’s pharmacies in West Springfield.

Kim Vigliotte, seen here in the fitting area

Kim Vigliotte, seen here in the fitting area in the East Street, Springfield location, is a compression specialist and pedorthist who consults with 25-30 customers a day.

As the landscape changed and pharmacy became much more of a volume business, the company consolidated those operations and focused its attention on the types of business that the large chains dominating that landscape were not interested in — specifically delivery and packaging, like the MediBubble, said Matthews, who has been involved with the business since graduating from college in 1987 and assumed full ownership a few years ago.

The recently opened facility on Brookdale Drive will deliver to individuals and facilities within a wide geographic radius, from Greenfield to the north to Westfield and beyond to the west, to Monson and Palmer to the east.

As noted, the service specializes in bringing packaged medications to those who take anywhere from five to 15 medications a day, and it is becoming increasingly popular, said Matthews, adding that the pharmacy side of the business remains vibrant — but different than it was decades ago.

And the same can be said of the medical-supplies division, which has seen more dramatic growth over the years.

Indeed, there are now four locations — what Matthews calls the ‘hub,’ a large showroom and warehouse on East Street in Springfield; a satellite location in Easthampton; a recently opened retail location in the Heritage Plaza in East Longmeadow; and the location in Groton, which was an acquisition of an existing facility.

As was noted earlier, Matthews said the focus is on not merely supplying or resupplying a wide range of items — from catheters to compression socks; from incontinence products to wheelchairs — but also supplying information, education, and guidance.

“People need help, and sometimes they don’t even know what’s out there to help them — like a different product or a different size of a given product,” he said, again stressing that the company strives to move well beyond merely taking and filling orders and dispensing more knowledge.

This is especially true when it comes to foot care, said Kim Vigliotte, a compression specialist and pedorthist, who spends much of her time at the East Street location, but rotates to all of the company’s medical-supply locations.

She told BusinessWest she assists individuals with a range of foot problems, including diabetes, vascular disease, and non-healing wounds, and sees, on average, 25 to 30 people a day at the Springfield location.

“A patient comes in with a prescription from their podiatrist or primary-care doctor, and we do a foot evaluation or evaluation of their legs, and determine which product would be most appropriate for them to address whatever issues they’re having, be it pain, swelling, or ulceration,” she said, adding that there are a number of products on the market now that can improve quality of life for such patients. Her work is focused on matching them with the right ones, and she acknowledged it’s very rewarding work.

Charting a New Course

While working to improve service to customers, Louis & Clark has also been working to improve efficiency and develop and then follow a roadmap for continued growth, and it has been helped in this regard by adaptation of what’s known as the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS).

In simple terms, EOS is a system by which companies large and small can manage and strengthen six key components of business operation: vision, data, process, traction, issues, and people.

Rachel Duda says Louis & Clark has been very proactive

Rachel Duda says Louis & Clark has been very proactive in its outreach to a number of constituencies.

The company now has separate leadership teams for its two divisions — pharmacy and medical supplies — thus enabling Matthews to focus more on the vision side of the equation and long-term strategic planning.

This new structure has allowed for better, sharper focus within each division, said Diane Cordeiro, the company’s marketing manager and also the integrator, or chief operating officer, for the medical-supplies division, adding that it also enables them to work better together toward the same goals.

“The integrator is the individual who is responsible for keeping all the different business units working together — finance, HR, operations, marketing — and just make sure that each unit is working to the best of their ability and that their leader is having them maximize everything they do on a day-to-day basis,” said Cordeiro, who joined the company in 1990 as a cashier and moved steadily up the ladder. “We want to have everyone working toward the same goals and being enthusiastic about their day-to-day, helping customers, working with referral groups, and enabling us to stand out from every other standard medical-supply location.”

Elaborating, she said one of the emerging priorities for the company is to make the public fully aware of all it does — and all the knowledge its employees possess, work that dovetails nicely with the main title on her business card: ‘marketing manager.’

“I want to see that part of the business grow,” she said, referring specifically to medical supply. “And, obviously, this involves making new relationships with new referral groups, maximizing outreach for relationship building, and just letting people know who we are and what we do.”

Rachel Duda, a marketing assistant for the company, said Louis & Clark has been very proactive in its outreach to a number of constituencies, including physicians’ offices, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, and group homes, in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, in an effort to build awareness of the company as a resource.

“It’s all about education — individuals don’t know what they don’t know,” she explained, adding that the company has taken things to a higher level in recent years with a program called ‘lunch and learn.’

As the name implies, it involves lunch and learning — about Louis & Clark and its various services, said Cordeiro, adding that lunch is very often the only time to get the full attention of a staff at a physician’s office or residential facility.

“We offer these to any new opportunity or referral group,” she explained, “including doctor’s offices, home-care agencies, physical-therapy offices, rehab facilities, anyone who would be prescribing products that we dispense.”

The lunches are definitely having an impact, Cordeiro went on, adding that company is receiving prescriptions from a number of new sources. And they are just one example of more aggressive outreach that benefits both parties.

Another is a relatively new initiative involving on-site visits to senior centers and senior-living facilities for everything from ice-cream socials to hot lunches to what are known as ‘tune-up clinics.’

“Our in-house technician will go on site on a scheduled day, and any individual who is from that community can bring down their walker, their wheelchair, anything that might need some sort of adjustment, new wheels, new brakes, whatever,” she told BusinessWest, adding that for parts under $5 there is no charge, and for parts over that amount, the individual pays just the retail cost.

That explains why these tune-ups have become hugely popular and also a huge part of the company’s efforts to tell its story and build new relationships, something it’s been doing since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

Making More History

After Louis Demosthenous retired more than a dozen years ago and Skip Matthews took on a leadership role, there was brief — as in very brief, apparently — discussion about changing the company’s name again to Skip & Clark.

Those talks were brief because it was decided this name didn’t roll off the tongue as well and didn’t have the historical connection. Besides, Louis & Clark had become a regional brand, one that had become synonymous with service and innovation.

So, while the name hasn’t changed, the company remains, in a word, fluid as it continues to discover — pun intended — ways to better educate and better serve its customers.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Driving Forces

Peter Picknelly says Peter Pan is taking steps

Peter Picknelly says Peter Pan is taking steps that make the company more agile, a necessary trait in a changing bus business.

Peter Picknelly says the higher prices that consumers are experiencing at the gas pump are a fairly recent phenomenon, with the surge coming over the past few months or so.

But in the bus business, such changes to the landscape can, and usually do, have a quick and profound impact. And Easter weekend provided ample evidence of this.

“Business was up 18% over the same period a year ago — we were really busy over Easter weekend,” said Picknelly. “When gas prices go up, we see an increase in ridership, and they’ve been going up.

“It’s almost instantaneous — when fuel prices go up, it hurts our customers, and they look for alternatives,” he went on. “Meanwhile, holidays are generally a pretty good barometer of how business is going overall, and we saw that Easter weekend.”

Elaborating, he said that fluctuating gas prices — they come down as often as they go up — are just one of the reasons why agility is perhaps the best quality a bus company can possess these days, and also why Springfield-based Peter Pan is currently taking a number of steps to become even more agile.

“It’s almost instantaneous — when fuel prices go up, it hurts our customers, and they look for alternatives.”

Indeed, the company is expanding its fleet — five new buses were recently delivered, and 10 more are on order, far more than the number replaced in what would be considered a typical year — and also adding new routes, hiring more drivers, and utilizing technology (a revamped website and a new app) to make it easier to know where all those buses are going and to buy seats on them.

Meanwhile, Peter Pan will soon have its own ticket counter at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, a long-awaited, very expensive, and logistically complicated undertaking that Picknelly said will give the company invaluable visibility in the city where it does its highest volume of business.

All these steps, as noted, are designed to make the company more agile and better able to thrive in an always-changing marketplace, but one where bus travel is seemingly as popular as ever, and perhaps even more so as younger generations eschew the automobile and look to other — generally simple and inexpensive — ways to get from here to there.

Peter Pan is currently in an expansion mode, adding new buses, drivers, and routes.

Peter Pan is currently in an expansion mode, adding new buses, drivers, and routes.

“What the buses specialize in is high-frequency service at very reasonable fares — and that’s what people are looking for,” said Picknelly, who described Peter Pan as “once again the fastest-growing bus line in America,” meaning it has held that distinction once, if not a few times, and he believes it does again, especially as he watches many competitors scale back.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Picknelly about why he feels he can make that claim and the specific steps that back up that boast.

Route Causes

Picknelly told BusinessWest that as part of the process of ordering those new coaches he mentioned — each with a price tag of roughly $550,000 — he a few other team members (his wife, Melissa Picknelly, vice president, and Marketing Director Danielle Veronesi, to be specific) spent a considerable amount of time recently trying out some options for the seats in those vehicles.

Decades ago, there probably wouldn’t have been a need for such an exercise — a seat was a seat. But that was then. These days, as with seemingly everything else you can buy, there are options, and lots of them.

“The average ride on our buses is three and a half hours, and we’re looking to make it as comfortable as possible,” he explained. “There’s a lot to look at with these seats — how the seatbelt clicks, how they adjust, how comfortable they are … the one I think we’re going to go with is actually an inch and a half lower than others, which we think will provide for a better ride.”

That attention to detail with seats speaks volumes about the overall mindset driving the company — pun intended. It’s a customer-based approach that is spawning a number of new initiatives, starting with the new buses and why they’ve been ordered.

Picknelly said the coaches the company buys, like workhorse planes bought by the airlines, can be in service for decades. But eventually they need to be replaced, and in a typical year the company will cycle out a least a few.
But this year’s order placed with Motor Coach Industries (MCI) is especially large and includes not only replacement buses, but ones needed to cover new routes and expected heavier traffic on some existing routes.

In that first category are new routes on Cape Cod and between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

On the Cape, the company, which in the past only brought riders as far as Hyannis, now services just about every community between there and Provincetown, said Picknelly, an aggressive expansion effort that began at the start of this year.

“We’re expecting that to be huge,” he said, adding that bus service can and should be viewed as an alternative to trying to drive to those communities, especially in the summer. “We’re running express service and we’re connecting in from Logan Airport, downtown Boston, and New York City — those are our biggest destinations to Cape Cod.”

Elaborating, he said the company currently runs eight buses a day between Boston and Hyannis, and will expand that number to 12 in the summer. Meanwhile, it currently runs two a day between Hyannis and Provincetown, and will at least double that with the summer schedule.

Further down the coast, the company recently (meaning just last week) expanded service between three of the biggest cities it serves — New York, Baltimore, and Washington — to essentially provide more options for customers.

“We currently serve Philly to New York, Baltimore to New York, and D.C. to New York,” he said, prior to the expansion of the schedule. “We’re now going be serving Philadelphia to Baltimore and Philadelphia to D.C.; we’re expanding our route to connect those cities together.”

The reason for such expansion is obvious — demand, he went on, adding that the company will start with seven buses a day to each city, but those numbers could rise.

And there could be still more additions to the schedule after the Encore Boston Harbor casino opens its doors next month, said Picknelly, adding that the company is in discussions with ownership about running buses from the casino to South Station and other connecting points, shuttles, and other work.

As he talked about all this growth and the potential for more to come, Picknelly said technology has played a big part in it. As one example, he cited a revamped website that went live just before Easter, one that not only heightens awareness of routes and schedules, but greatly simplifies the process of buying a ticket online.

And the buying public is moving increasingly in that direction, he said, noting that today, 80% of tickets are purchased online, a number that moves higher with each passing year, although there are still many who still walk up and buy at the counter — especially in New York, which explains the company’s huge investment at the Port Authority.

This heavy volume of online sales brings benefits for the customers, obviously, but also for Peter Pan, said Picknelly, adding that they take a lot of the guesswork out of scheduling and staffing buses.

“In the olden days, for lack of a better term, we would have a consistent schedule, seven days a week the same schedule,” he explained. “Now, because people buy tickets in advance — it’s a reservation and it’s a guaranteed seat — we know exactly how many people are going to be on the bus, and we modify our schedules accordingly.

“In many cases, our schedules are different on Tuesdays and Wednesdays than they are on Thursdays, and very different from what they are on Fridays, Saturdays, or Mondays,” he went on. “We adjust our schedule product based on consumer demand on a daily basis; before it was guesswork and ‘set it and kind of forget it.’ Now, we have staff looking at the numbers and the trends, and we adjust every day.”

Elaborating, he said that, if the 2 o’clock bus to Philadelphia is filling up, the company may well add a 2:30 run. And with a new app the company is rolling out in a few days, a customer can, among other things, change his or reservation from the 2 to the 2:30, if they know well in advance that they’re going to be running a little late.

The app will also make buying tickets even easier, because it will log previous purchases, recognize trends, and enable the consumer to rebook a schedule with one click, said Picknelly, adding that many of these developments are unique within the industry.

Also unique will be the ability to buy what Picknelly called ‘commuter tickets,’ 10 tickets at once, for example, at a discount price that consumers can load onto their phone and use whenever they want.

“No one else is doing that in our industry,” he said, using that phrase to refer to many of the recent innovations. “And these are things that we think are game changers.”

The Ride Stuff

Returning to the subject of online buying and the benefits it brings, Picknelly said the company can make adjustments for weather, holidays, special events, and, yes, soaring gas prices.

“If we know there’s a snowstorm coming, we can cut schedules and combine them,” he explained. “We’re able to forecast much better and adjust our product based on consumer demand. We’re much more agile than we used to be, and the consumer benefits from that.”

There’s that word again, and it’s a word you didn’t hear much when it came to transportation in general and bus companies in particular. But you do now, and Peter Pan keeps finding new ways to be agile and benefit from that important quality.

That’s a big reason why Picknelly believes that, once again, this is the fastest-growing bus company in the country.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]