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Daily News

CHICOPEE — Residence Inn Chicopee announced that Samantha Peia has been appointed the hotel’s new director of sales. The four-story, 115-room hotel is located at 500 Memorial Dr. and has been open since September 2013.

In her new role, Peia will be responsible for leading and directing the development and implementation of strategic sales and marketing plans. Prior to joining Residence Inn, she was senior sales manager at Courtyard by Marriott in Farmington, Conn. She holds a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Boston University and has worked in multiple positions with Marriott hotels.

“Based on Samantha’s outstanding record, we are confident that she will be instrumental in ensuring the success of the Residence Inn Chicopee,” said Karen Warren, the hotel’s general manager.

Construction Sections
Outlook Improves for Commercial Builders, Despite Stiff Competition

Fred Snyder, left, and Eric Forish

Fred Snyder, left, and Eric Forish spend a moment outside the new Westfield Senior Center, one of many projects keeping Westfield-based Forish Construction busy.

It’s only January, but Keiter Builders Inc. in Florence already has challenging projects on its roster for spring and summer.

“We’re seeing signs that 2015 will be busy, and the year is shaping up to be a good one,” said company President Scott Keiter, as he went through a list of contracts the firm was recently awarded. “We don’t have all the work we need yet, but we’re looking forward to getting more in the spring. This time of year is always slow for us, but the jobs we have are multi-dimensional and we’re excited about what we have lined up.”

Dave Fontaine Jr. said Fontaine Brothers, Inc. in Springfield is also doing quite well and has enough to work to last through the end of the year.

In fact, he expects 2015 to be better than 2014, which was solid.

“Public projects slowed down last year compared to what we saw immediately following the recession. It wasn’t dramatic, but there was a little less work,” said the company’s vice president. “We do a lot for the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and they didn’t have as many jobs. But things seem to be normalizing and we have a lot of good opportunities for 2016; a decent amount of large-scale public work and private clients who want projects done; things seem to finally be settling into a relatively normal economic climate.”

Eric Forish agrees. “The recession has passed,” said the president of Forish Construction in Westfield as he explained that private projects diminished significantly for a few years during the downturn in the economy, but are on the rise again. “Last year was our best year ever and I believe that 2015 will be a very good one.”

Renaissance Builders in Turners Falls has also had plenty of work. “We were extremely busy last year. We hired four new field personnel and one new office worker,” said President Stephen Greenwald, adding that most of the company’s commercial projects were privately funded. “While they haven’t been large in volume, they were extremely steady throughout the year.”

Still, commercial builders agree that competition is stiff, particularly for public jobs, which requires meticulous attention to detail and an ability to bid low, but not too low.

“The economy has stabilized, but it’s a new reality; we’re still adjusting to it and don’t know whether we can trust it,” said Greenwald. “The margins are better, but they will never go back to what they were before the recession. If you want to stay competitive, and busy, you have to be extremely accurate in your bidding. There is no room for mistakes.”

Keiter concurred, and said his company works very hard to estimate projects appropriately, and more importantly, execute them. “Margins are lean, but we are bidding to be successful. We win some and lose some, but we believe our systems are efficient, which helps us stay more cost effective than some of our competitors,” he explained. “We put a lot of energy into developing systems across the board from sales and estimating to production.”

Local companies say that downsizing their expectations helped some of them weather the recession. “Things got tight for a few years and a lot of companies dove after work and lost money. But we knew what we needed to do; we were cautious and realistic and did not try to maintain the same volume,” Fontaine said.

Forish Builders took a similar approach. “One of the keys to our success is that we have always been a very lean and aggressive company,” said its president. “This was not the first recession our company has gone through, and because we have learned from our experience, we made adjustments quickly.”

Competitive Arena

Although the economy is improving, the landscape has changed for commercial builders, as national companies are now competing for local projects.

“Firms are setting up offices in Springfield,” Fontaine said, adding that there are two ways that commercial builders get public jobs. The first is by prequalifying as a general contractor and bidding competitively; and the second is to be selected as a construction manager at risk. In this scenario, the property owner or agency chooses a contractor based on its experience and fees, and they join the project team during the design phase.

Dave Fontaine Jr.

Dave Fontaine Jr. says the volume of both public and private construction projects has increased in recent months, and the trend should continue into 2015.

“It’s a fee-based system and that’s the market where a lot of larger companies are competing with us,” said Fontaine, adding that very large firms typically have sophisticated sales and marketing departments. “But we have been relatively successful. We have hard bid cost-efficiency experience as well as the expertise it takes to be a construction manager, which sometimes works to our advantage, especially with clients we’ve worked for in the past.”

Greenwald also noted an influx of competition.

“We showed up to walk through a simple job priced at $50,000, and there were 16 builders there, so we didn’t bother to bid on it,” he said. “In the last two years, we have seen more and more builders from out of the area bidding on public-works jobs that range from $50,000 to $2 million, so if we think we will be outbid, we don’t follow through.”

Renaissance Vice President Tricia Perham added that it takes time and money to put together a bid, and in the current market, the investment is not always worthwhile. “As a result, we’re focusing our energy on referrals and past clients. But ironically, sometimes a municipality wants to hire us but has to hire someone else, because they are mandated to take the lowest bid,” she said, adding that this happened recently in the town of Montague.

Forish recalled a recent public job that he believes might have drawn four to six bids prior to the recession. “There were 12 companies bidding for it,” he told BusinessWest. “There is less opportunity right now in the public sector than in the private sector. But I don’t worry about what other companies are selling. We are selling ourselves and our product is very strong.”

Some local contractors speculate that the national companies opening offices in the area are doing so because of the $800 million MGM Resorts International Casino that will be built in Springfield’s South End.

However, area commercial builders don’t expect to be hired to build the casino and although it is far too early to tell who will get the job, they believe it will go to a massive national or international company.

“But there may be other opportunities as companies relocate or find they need to expand when they begin providing services to the casino, so, it may indirectly help area contractors,” Forish said, adding that suppliers and subcontractors are likely to benefit from the casino complex.

Plentitude of Work

The firms BusinessWest interviewed say they are doing well, however, despite fierce competition and other factors.

Fontaine Brothers recently finished a new $85 million high school in West Springfield and is close to finishing work on the new, $33 million Auburn High School, which was done under construction management at risk.

In addition, the firm recently completed a new junior/senior high school in East Bridgewater as well as Monomoy Regional High School in Chatham.

“Worcester has also been a very strong market for us for the past 15 years, and we have a presence in Eastern Mass.,” said Fontaine. “But Western Mass is our home market.”

His company will continue to be busy throughout the winter as it begins work on a new elementary school in Athol and ground is broken for a library renovation in Shrewsbury. “We are also finishing up the renovation of the old Chicopee High School,” Fontaine said, adding that the entire interior was gutted.

Other projects include demolishing the Plains Elementary School in South Hadley and building a new one, as well as additions to Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School in Hadley and Southwick High School.

“Our work through 2015 is solid, so we are focusing on picking up projects late in the year that will carry us through 2016-17,” Fontaine said.

Keiter Builders does some residential work and has contracts to build a few new homes this year. But it has also landed a significant number of commercial jobs, and recently finished the Convino Restaurant in the basement of Thornes Market in Northampton, which opened several weeks ago.

“The work was very involved, because the space had never been used for a restaurant before,” Keiter explained.

The builder also completed demolition and reconstruction of the entryway to the Smith College Conference Center last summer, and is wrapping up work on the Carroll Room in the Campus Center at the college, where it installed maple paneling.

Other projects include shoring up a number of large granite stairways for a private client on an historic, commercial building in Northampton and a residential housing upgrades project at Smith College.

“It’s multifaceted, involves multiple buildings, and will include roofing, new windows, paint, and upgrades to their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems,” Keiter said of the work at Smith. “The work will be done during an eight-week period over the summer when students are on break.”

In addition, Smith hired the firm to handle the McConnell Hall Observatory project, which includes removing a flat roof and putting a domed ceiling on the structure.

“We’re also working for Western Builders on a commercial project in Holyoke,” Keiter said, noting that it’s not uncommon for his company to subcontract with other area builders on large projects.

Forish said his firm is also busy. “We’re finishing a fire-protection system at the UMass Dubois Library as well as a wastewater treatment plant for Kanzaki Specialty Papers in Ware. And last summer we completed a highway department complex in Deerfield and a large addition to Holyoke Charter School,” he said, adding that work on the new Westfield Senior Center and a new facility for Sarat Ford Lincoln in Agawam is underway, as are large additions to Pioneer Valley Christian School and Astro Chemicals Inc.

Renaissance Builders also has its share of contracts. It is upgrading a manufacturing facility, renovating a multi-family apartment building for a commercial landlord in Northampton, and will replace a condominium complex in the spring in Gill that burned to the ground.

Paradigm Shift

Greenwald said the margins on private work have improved compared to what they were a few years ago. But improvement is relative, he added, because five to seven years ago, the numbers were a lot better. “We bid on projects if we think we have a good chance of getting the work, especially if it is a unique job with difficult logistics or circumstances and we have a good idea of how to solve the problem,” he told BusinessWest.

Indeed, the ability to do specialized work helps local commercial contractors. Fontaine said 90% of its work involves green building, and last year the firm was named as one of the “Top 100 Green Building Contractors” by the Engineering News Record.

Renaissance Builders also does its share of green building, and Perham said that has given the company an edge over other commercial builders. “We’ve put a lot of energy into training our employees in green-building techniques and energy efficiency. We have also done work for chemically sensitive clients,” she said.

Since the economy has improved, contractors agree that the forecast appears bright for the coming year. “Things in our network are slowly progressing in the right direction, and the year ahead in the Pioneer Valley looks good,” Keiter said.

Fontaine agreed. “The landscape has changed as larger firms have entered our market. But we are also competing with local firms that have been in the valley for decades,” he said. “Overall, we’re excited to see what 2015 will bring, and we certainly hope other local contractors do well, as it helps the local economy to have work stay here.”

Forish concurred. “Everyone had at least one tough year during the recession,” he said. “But we adjusted quickly, and things look better, at least for the short term. We hope it continues in the long term.”

Business of Aging Sections
Emeritus of East Longmeadow Caters to Residents’ Requests

Philip Noto

Philip Noto says the Emeritus of East Longmeadow building was carefully designed to accommodate the needs of aging seniors.

Philip Noto says the difference between Emeritus of East Longmeadow and other local assisted-living facilities can be found in the details.

“It’s easy to get the big things right, but small things play a major role in the happiness of residents,” said the facility’s executive director, noting that this is the reason why he fought to get granite countertops and full-size refrigerators installed in every unit when the building was under construction.

“I had managed other assisted-living facilities and listened to complaints from residents who wanted to keep ice cream in their freezers, but couldn’t do so because of their size. It might sound like a small thing, but paying attention to small things is what sets us apart from other communities,” he told BusinessWest, adding that his insistence on granite countertops was based on the knowledge that many people who move into residential communities are leaving upscale homes and don’t want to downgrade their kitchens.

Nathan Grenon, regional director of sales and marketing, agrees that small measures make a significant difference, and says everyone employed at Emeritus does their best to cater to residents’ requests. He cited an example of a 97-year-old woman who had been a gourmet cook who told them she hoped their chef would make homemade cream of carrot soup.

“She told us she had requested it for five years in another facility, but it was never prepared,” Grenon said. “So, we introduced her to our cook, who made it exactly the way she wanted, and today it is the most popular soup on our menu.”

Noto and Grenon cited myriad other examples of resident suggestions that have led to change within the state-of-the art, two-story, 90,000-square-foot building that opened April 21 on 10 acres of land on Parker Street. “Emeritus is a 25-year-old company; we recently merged with Brookdale Senior Living, and we now have more than 1,150 properties across the country,” Noto said, adding that decades of feedback from seniors were incorporated into the design of the East Longmeadow facility.

The building is airy, spacious, and well-lit. Comfortable chairs surround a cozy gas fireplace near the entrance, where residents gather to socialize or take part in activities. There is also an expansive dining room with a cathedral ceiling, a library, several courtyards, a business area equipped with computers with large touchscreens, a private dining room that can be reserved for family functions, a café where residents can prepare foods they like or enjoy snacks throughout the day or evening, a game room, a movie theater that seats up to 20 people in full-size armchairs, and a plethora of other common living spaces.

“We have 71 assisted-living units and one of the largest, most expansive memory-care neighborhoods in Western Mass.,” said Grenon. “There is a nurse on duty from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and we offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy on site.”

In addition to enjoying a full roster of activities, many residents stroll daily on a quarter-mile pathway that circles the building. Benches are set along it so they can stop and relax, and many gravitate to an outdoor gas firepit that burns brightly during inclement weather. In fact, residents enjoy going outside so much that a number of activities scheduled to take place inside are now held outdoors in response to their feedback.

Changing the Landscape

Noto reiterated that seemingly small details, including the food choices on the menu and the daily activities, make a difference in how happy residents feel on a daily basis.

To ensure that staff members know what residents want, Emeritus holds three monthly meetings and invites everyone who resides in the building. One is focused on general suggestions to improve the facility, the second gives people an opportunity to suggest new foods they would like to see served in the dining room, and the third allows them to vote on activities they want to engage in, as well as destinations for day trips.

“This is their home, and we want to get their input so we can adjust our program to meet their needs,” Noto said. “Our residents have a voice. Their concerns are heard, and we change things that are important to them.”

Grenon concurred. “We want to make their experience here as pleasurable as possible.”

Indeed, many changes have been made as a result of the meetings, which range from creating an area in the dining room where male residents can eat together, to rearranging the furniture in a common area and game room.

“The residents wanted to move the poker table into a room of its own, so we did it,” Noto said.

Grenon added that new activities have also been instituted, such as a Bible-study club that meets every Thursday. “The idea came from residents who were interested in spiritual activities,” he noted.

Brittany Sheehan

Brittany Sheehan shows off a life station in the memory unit at Emeritus at East Longmeadow, designed to evoke memories in residents who have children.

The fact that Emeritus does not require people to buy into the facility and residents rent on a month-to-month basis also gives them peace of mind. And although there are scheduled meal times, residents who miss a meal can be served at any time in the dining room. In addition, each unit has its own thermostat, which allows people to adjust the heat or air conditioning to their personal comfort levels.

These factors, combined with the dedication of employees, have led to success, and although the facility has been open only eight months, 45 of the 71 assisted-living units are occupied. Residents range in age from 66 to 99, and the ratio of females to males is about 50-50.

The assisted-living units include one- and two-bedroom suites with one or two baths. Each one contains a microwave, a full-sized refrigerator, and several large closets with a lockbox. The bathrooms have spacious showers with heat lamps and no lips, reducing the risk of tripping. In addition, the transitions between carpeting and wood floors are very smooth, making it easy for people to move through the community.

But Noto said the way residents are treated trumps the beauty and functionality of the real estate, and added that every member of his staff is passionate about their job. “We have an extensive interview process for job candidates. Every employee needs to feel they make a difference in the lives of our residents every day.”

Enhanced Memory Unit

Space has also filled quickly in the Acres, the memory-care unit, and Grenon said having it within the building allows people to “age in place,” giving them the option to move into it if they need extra help or support.

In fact, having assisted-living units and a memory neighborhood under one roof is ideal for some couples, he noted, explaining that one resident who lives in an assisted-living suite visits her husband every day in the Acres, where they stroll down the wide hallways within the secure neighborhood.

The thought that went into the design of the building can be seen in the layout of the shared rooms in the Acres. Although they were built for two people to live in, the only thing they actually share is the bathroom, which is situated between their private suites. Each person has their own door that opens into their living space, and shadowboxes are stationed outside that families fill with photos or mementos to help their loved ones easily recognize their personal entranceway.

Again, Grenon said families appreciate the attention to detail that is part of the program as much as the enhanced real estate.

“An example of this is that, when staff check on the residents every hour throughout the night, they have to enter each person’s bathroom and press a button to signal that they have actually been there,” he noted, explaining that the signals are recorded, which alleviates any anxiety as to whether the hourly checks actually occur.

The Acres also contains unusual ‘life stations,’ designed to promote activities that are familiar to residents. One contains a crib filled with baby dolls, a changing table with doll clothing, and a rocking chair. “Many of our residents are mothers, and when they see the dolls, they pick them up, change them, rock them, and even bring them to meals,” Grenon said.

Another life station contains a map and globe and was created to spark memories about places residents have visited, while a third has a collection of men’s and women’s hats, scarves, and jewelry they can don at a dressing table with a mirror.

“The life stations are part of our effort to keep them engaged and keep their brains stimulated. We don’t want people staying in their rooms,” Grenon said.

A special ‘quiet room’ was also built into the unit. It doesn’t have windows and is used by staff members as a place to bring residents who are agitated or suffering from the confusion that can occur when the sun sets. “They can turn on relaxing music and calm the person down in this quiet, secure place,” he explained.

Memory Care Director Brittany Sheehan says caretakers in the Acres are trained in how to deal with memory loss, and get to know each resident well. She added that the caregivers serve the residents’ meals and help them with daily tasks of living, such as dressing and showering, which allows them to build solid relationships through continuity and familiarity.

“It also helps them learn what each resident likes and dislikes,” Sheehan said. “But before they even move in, I have their families fill out a detailed, six-page questionnaire so we can provide personal touches they would have enjoyed at home. For example, a resident might like a cup of tea every night before going to bed. We do our best to customize our care to fit each individual’s needs.”

She runs a monthly support group for families and meets with them on a regular basis. “I call them if their loved one is having a bad day or a really good day. And every month I mail them ‘A Moment in Time,’” she said, explaining that it is a handwritten letter with pictures of their loved one engaged in activities.

Quality of Life

Grenon said Emeritus has quickly become a valuable community asset.

“Before it was built, many people were apprehensive because they didn’t know what to expect,” he explained. “But officials in East Longmeadow and people in the surrounding towns have been very supportive since we opened, as they appreciate what we have to offer.”

Noto agreed, and said the facility’s staff will continue to focus on improving small things that make a difference.

“Our residents have a voice, and we change things in response to their requests,” he said. “Everything we do is aimed at providing quality care, which is important because this is their home.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Basketball Hall of Fame and the Rotary Club of Springfield have announced their honorees for the fifth annual Basketball Hall of Fame/Springfield Rotary “Service Above Self” Luncheon on Dec. 5 at noon on the Hall of Fame’s Center Court. This year’s honorees — who live out the Rotary motto “service above self” — are local residents York Mayo and Bob Perry, and national honoree Bob Delaney.

Mayo is a long-time community volunteer and has served as chairperson of a $1 million capital campaign for ReStore Home Improvement. He is CEO and president of the Roger L. Putnam Technical Fund. He has served on the advisory board of ROCA and is co-founder of the Millbrook Scholars Program. He is the co-founder of the Springfield Unity Festival, which was held the week of Oct. 12. He currently mentors five people. In addition, he serves on several boards and committees regionally and nationally.

Mayo has been the recipient of several prestigious service awards, including an honorary degree from Springfield Technical Community College, the 2010 William Pynchon Award, the 2010 United Way Spirit of Caring Award, the Western New England University Presidential Medallion, and the National Conference for Community and Justice Human Relations Award. He is active in the Christ the King Lutheran Church congregation in Wilbraham.

Mayo graduated from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. After six years with Mobil Oil and Carborundum Abrasives, he joined American Saw and Manufacturing Co. as a Lenox sales representative in Baltimore, Md. Over the course of his 30-year career with American Saw, he served in many capacities, including sales representative, sales manager, vice president of International Sales, and senior vice president of Sales and Marketing.

Perry has always been involved in the community. A few of the organizations he has been involved with include the Exchange Club, the Greater Springfield YMCA, the Western Mass. Lacrosse Officials Assoc., the Roger L. Putnam Technical Fund, the Children’s Chorus of Springfield, and Ronald McDonald House, as well as being a platelet donor at the American Red Cross.

His greatest passion has been Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity. Recruited by Mayo in 2000, Perry became committed to the organization. He is currently the board president, a position he has held for 10 of the 14 years he has been involved. He and his wife celebrated their 35th anniversary with a groundbreaking of the local Habitat’s 35th house, for which they were the major sponsors.

In 2011, he co-founded, with Mayo and Dr. Mark Jackson, the Millbrook Scholars program, which provides housing, tutoring, and life-skills mentoring to graduating seniors from Springfield area high schools. Perry was named a 2011 Hometown Hero by Reminder Publications and a 2011 Difference Maker by BusinessWest magazine, and earned the William Pynchon Medal from the Ad Club of Western Mass. in 2012.

Perry is a 1973 graduate of Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He started his career in public accounting with Grant Thornton in Boston, where he became a CPA in 1976. He later worked for Greenberg, Rosenblatt, Kull and Bitsoli, where he became partner of the Springfield office in 1987 after five years with the company. He had his own consulting practice from 1991 to 1995, providing business-planning services to closely held companies. In 1995, Perry joined Meyers Brothers and became partner in 1998. He retired as an active partner of the firm in 2008, but continues to provide technical and consulting services to the firm on a part-time basis.

National honoree Delaney is a dedicated and hard-working NBA referee and crew chief, consultant, public speaker, and founder of two basketball-officiating academies. He has a background in law enforcement and worked with the New Jersey State Police. In a joint operation between the New Jersey State Police and FBI, his years of undercover work and testimony led directly to the conviction of more than 30 Mafia criminals.

Tickets to the luncheon are $50. For more information on sponsorships or to purchase tickets to the luncheon, contact Jason Fiddler, director of Museum Sales, at (413) 231-5540 or [email protected].

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Joelle Tedeschi, LPN, has been named executive director of Ruth’s House, an assisted-living facility of Jewish Geriatric Services (JGS).

Tedeschi brings more than 25 years of diverse experience in elder care to this position. She will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the assisted-living community located in Longmeadow. She will also continue to oversee business development at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home, the position she’s held since coming to JGS in July.

Before joining the nursing home, Tedeschi served as the regional director of sales for Golden Living in Canton, Mass., where she was responsible for the sustainable growth of 18 hospice and direct-living centers. Prior to this, she was the regional director of Sales for Kindred Healthcare in Louisville, Ky. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sales and marketing from Massachusetts Bay College in Wellesley.

“Joelle clearly brings us a wealth of business-development experience in senior living,” said Martin Baicker, president and CEO of JGS. “In addition, she is also a licensed practical nurse, and we feel confident that, under her leadership, Ruth’s House will continue to flourish.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Basketball Hall of Fame and the Rotary Club of Springfield have announced their honorees for the fifth annual Basketball Hall of Fame/Springfield Rotary “Service Above Self” Luncheon on Dec. 5 at noon on the Hall of Fame’s Center Court. This year’s honorees — who live out the Rotary motto “service above self” — are local residents York Mayo and Bob Perry, and national honoree Bob Delaney.

Mayo is a long-time community volunteer and has served as chairperson of a $1 million capital campaign for ReStore Home Improvement. He is CEO and president of the Roger L. Putnam Technical Fund. He has served on the advisory board of ROCA and is co-founder of the Millbrook Scholars Program. He is the co-founder of the Springfield Unity Festival, which was held the week of Oct. 12. He currently mentors five people. In addition, he serves on several boards and committees regionally and nationally.

Mayo has been the recipient of several prestigious service awards, including an honorary degree from Springfield Technical Community College, the 2010 William Pynchon Award, the 2010 United Way Spirit of Caring Award, the Western New England University Presidential Medallion, and the National Conference for Community and Justice Human Relations Award. He is active in the Christ the King Lutheran Church congregation in Wilbraham.

Mayo graduated from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. After six years with Mobil Oil and Carborundum Abrasives, he joined American Saw and Manufacturing Co. as a Lenox sales representative in Baltimore, Md. Over the course of his 30-year career with American Saw, he served in many capacities, including sales representative, sales manager, vice president of International Sales, and senior vice president of Sales and Marketing.

Perry has always been involved in the community. A few of the organizations he has been involved with include the Exchange Club, the Greater Springfield YMCA, the Western Mass. Lacrosse Officials Assoc., the Roger L. Putnam Technical Fund, the Children’s Chorus of Springfield, and Ronald McDonald House, as well as being a platelet donor at the American Red Cross. His greatest passion has been Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity. Recruited by Mayo in 2000, Perry became committed to the organization. He is currently the board president, a position he has held for 10 of the 14 years he has been involved. He and his wife celebrated their 35th anniversary with a groundbreaking of the local Habitat’s 35th house, for which they were the major sponsors.

In 2011, he co-founded, with Mayo and Dr. Mark Jackson, the Millbrook Scholars program, which provides housing, tutoring, and life-skills mentoring to graduating seniors from Springfield area high schools.
 Perry was named a 2011 Hometown Hero by Reminder Publications and a 2011 Difference Maker by BusinessWest magazine, and earned the William Pynchon Medal from the Ad Club of Western Mass. in 2012.

Perry is a 1973 graduate of Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He started his career in public accounting with Grant Thornton in Boston, where he became a CPA in 1976. He later worked for Greenberg, Rosenblatt, Kull and Bitsoli, where he became partner of the Springfield office in 1987 after five years with the company. He had his own consulting practice from 1991 to 1995, providing business-planning services to closely held companies. In 1995, Perry joined Meyers Brothers and became partner in 1998. He retired as an active partner of the firm in 2008, but continues to provide technical and consulting services to the firm on a part-time basis.

National honoree Delaney is a dedicated and hard-working NBA referee and crew chief, consultant, public speaker, and founder of two basketball-officiating academies. He has a background in law enforcement and worked with the New Jersey State Police. In a joint operation between the New Jersey State Police and FBI, his years of undercover work and testimony led directly to the conviction of more than 30 Mafia criminals.

Tickets to the luncheon are $50. For more information on sponsorships or to purchase tickets to the luncheon, contact Jason Fiddler, director of Museum Sales, at (413) 231-5540 or [email protected].

From the Governor to an Update on NASA, the Expo Will Have It All

The final countdown is underway for the fourth annual Western Mass. Business Expo, a day-long event that will feature everything from one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s last appearances in the region to an update on NASA’s next-generation space telescope.

The Expo, organized by BusinessWest and again presented by Comcast Business, will take place Oct. 29 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield. As has been the case the past three years, this will be the place for business owners and managers to be.

WMBExpoComcastDateThat’s because there will be something for everyone, from lively breakfast and lunch programs to nearly a dozen informative seminars; from intriguing special presentations on the Show Floor Theater to the day-capping Expo Social, one of the region’s best networking events, this year sponsored by MGM Springfield and Northwestern Mutual.

“Since BusinessWest became involved with the Expo in 2011, the goal has been to create an environment where this region’s business community could be informed, entertained, and inspired, while at the same time gaining invaluable exposure before an audience of decision makers,” said Kate Campiti, the publication’s associate publisher. “This year, we’ve once again accomplished that goal.”

Indeed, in addition to more than 150 exhibitors, the Expo will feature a host of intriguing and informative programs, starting with the breakfast hosted by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

It will feature outgoing two-term Gov. Patrick, who is expected to talk about his administration’s many accomplishments over the past eight years, while also providing an outlook on this region’s future.

The Expo’s luncheon, presented by the Professional Women’s Chamber of Commerce, will feature keynoter Patricia Diaz Dennis, a member of MassMutual’s board of directors, a former senior vice president for AT&T, and former presidential appointee.

The Expo will also feature a number of special presentations on its Show Floor Theater. These include a morning talk by Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and Delaney House and a serial entrepreneur, called “The Entrepreneurial Process.” This will be a highly interactive program centered around the process of turning a dream into reality.

Speaking of dreams, one of the afternoon programs on the Show Floor Theater is titled “NASA Is Alive: Testing the Next-generation Space Telescope.” It will feature Brian Comber, an engineer with NASA who will discuss his work in the ongoing development of the James Webb Space Telescope and its potential to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Expo organizers are also planning a forum featuring candidates for governor of the Commonwealth, although they are still awaiting commitments for those hopefuls.

In addition, there will be more than a dozen informational seminars. These will cover three broad areas: Professional Development, Entrepreneurship, and Sales and Marketing, and feature titles ranging from “The Path to Building Name Net Worth” to “Unleashing Peak Sales Performance” to “What Does Your Billboard Say?”

Expo Social sponsor MGM Springfield, which plans to build an $800 million resort casino in the city’s South End, will also present two seminars, titled “Doing Business with MGM Springfield” and “MGM Resorts International: Dedicated to Community and Diversity.”

The Expo will wrap up with the encore to last year’s well-received and highly inspirational Pitch Contest — featuring area startup ventures and organized by Valley Venture Mentors — as well as the Expo Social.

Other sponsors include silver sponsors DIF Design, Health New England, Johnson & Hill Staffing, and MassMutual Financial, and education sponsor the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

BusinessWest will present its comprehensive guide to the Expo in its Oct. 20 issue. For more information, to register, or to purchase a booth, call (413) 781-8600 or visit www.wmbexpo.com.

Departments People on the Move

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) has named Elizabeth Barajas-Román the foundation’s new CEO. Barajas-Román has been a leader in progressive movements, including advocating at the national level for the health and rights of immigrant women and their families. Most recently, she was a manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she directed a portfolio of partners that campaigned for state and federal policy change to improve government performance on issues that impact children’s health. Barajas-Román brings a background in impactful philanthropy, data-driven strategy design, fund-raising through philanthropic partnerships, and creating coalitions and mobilizing partners. “We are very excited to have Elizabeth as the new head of the Women’s Fund,” said Michelle Theroux, chair of the WFWM board of directors. “Her experience, nationally as well as locally, provides a unique perspective for the fund as we continue to grow and bring attention to the issues surrounding women, girls, and our community.” Previously, as the director of policy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Barajas-Román directed the organization’s Washington, D.C.-based office, where she was instrumental in expanding the visibility of NLIRH on the national stage. Barajas-Román was frequently invited to be a voice in national policy discussions in the media, at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in target states. In addition, Barajas-Román’s leadership has been recognized by several national fellowships, including the Center for Progressive Leadership Executive Fellowship, the Rockwood Leadership Institute, and an appointment to the American Public Health Assoc. Committee on Women’s Rights. “I’m thrilled to be leading this dynamic public foundation at such an important time,” said Barajas-Román. “Women are at the center of every issue impacting families today: healthcare, equal pay and economic security, safety and freedom from violence. A Women’s Fund is able to highlight these issues, aggregate resources, and collaborate with existing community organizations to develop impactful, sustainable solutions.” Barajas-Román’s background also includes positions as a journalist, researcher, and director of policy and operations at a primary-care clinic for uninsured youth in Boston. She is a certified project-management professional, is a graduate of Oberlin College, and received her master’s degree in international policy from Harvard University.

The American Red Cross of Massachusetts announced the selection of Kim Goulette as the new Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Chapter. With more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit administration, she succeeds Rick Lee, who retired on Aug. 6 after 30 years of service to the Red Cross. Goulette began her new role on Aug. 4. “I am thrilled to welcome Kim to the American Red Cross of Massachusetts,” said Ralph Boyd, Red Cross of Massachusetts CEO. “Kim is a successful administrator with a strong skill set in growth management, and I am confident that her steady leadership and excitement for the work of the Red Cross will effect a seamless transition and guarantee the continued success of the Pioneer Valley Chapter in delivering essential services to the community.” In her new position, Goulette will provide leadership to the local volunteers and paid employees who serve the residents of the Pioneer Valley with life-saving programs and services. “I’m honored to be selected for this key role with an amazing organization,” she said. “I look forward to working with the dedicated volunteers, employees, board members, community partners, and donors to strengthen our communities and help people in need.” Goulette most recently served as executive director of Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry Inc. in Chicopee, where she managed day-to-day operations and worked with board members and committees to raise funds to support the work of the organization. Previously, she served as director of Employment and Community Based Day Services at Aditus in East Longmeadow, as well as regional director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts. Goulette earned her bachelor’s degree from Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire and serves as a Chicopee Rotarian, a member of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, and a board member and services committee chair at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Jeffrey LaValley was recently appointed Community Outreach Manager at Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity. LaValley’s primary responsibility is the development and execution of strategies to increase awareness and financial support of the affiliate’s mission. LaValley will play a pivotal role in implanting the organization’s capacity-building efforts, specifically the 30 in 3 campaign, the affiliate’s vision to serve 30 families in three years. He also will oversee Habitat’s annual resource-development plan, including outreach efforts to foster a positive identity for the affiliate in the community. Most recently, LaValley served as executive director and director of sales and marketing for Shaker Farm Farms Country Club in Westfield. Previously, he served as associate director of donor relations for Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield. Prior to that, he was the community-development coordinator at Noble Hospital in Westfield and director of alumni and parent relations at Keene State College in New Hampshire. LaValley received a bachelor’s degree in journalism/public affairs and a master of education in curriculum and instruction from Keene State College. He also earned a certificate in fund-raising from UMass Amherst.

Fallon Health, a nationally recognized healthcare-services organization, announced the appointment of B. John “Jack” Dill to its board of directors. Dill is President and CEO of Colebrook Realty Services Inc., a privately owned, full-service commercial real-estate firm headquartered in Springfield. Dill oversees commercial real-estate development, management, finance, brokerage, and consulting. Prior to this role, Dill was executive vice president of SIS Bancorp and SIS Bank (now TD Bank). Dill holds a Counselors of Real Estate designation and is a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. He is a founding director of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp. (MHIC), a nonprofit equity investor/financer of affordable housing, among other services. To date, MHIC has placed in excess of $1 billion in qualified developments. Dill is currently chairman of the Board of Springfield School Volunteers Inc., a member of Springfield Business Leaders for Education, and director of the Springfield Education Fund. Additionally, he is the current campaign chair of WFCR New England Public Radio’s 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign. Dill has held leadership roles on the boards of many organizations, including Baystate Health System and Baystate Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, Counselors of Real Estate, Western Mass. Life Care Corp., WGBY public television, and American International College. An alumnus of Williams College, Dill pursued a P.M.D. at Harvard Business School and attended the School of Mortgage Banking at Northwestern University.

New England Promotional Marketing announced that former abc40 anchor Maggie Pereiras has joined its team. She will be contributing to the NEPM sales force and creating a cohesive social-media platform for the company while highlighting the success of its clients. Pereiras acquired her bachelor’s degree in communications with honors from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. after graduating from Minnechaug Regional High School. She began her professional career as an editor for Avon Products Inc. and then Victoria’s Secret, both in New York City. Upon returning to Western Mass., she began working as an account executive for WGGB Channel 40/Fox 6. Shortly thereafter, she transitioned from advertising sales and became the host, executive producer, and editor for abc40’s local lifestyle program, SimplyLiving. The program allowed her to sharpen her creativity and build lasting relationships with many businesses throughout the area. Once SimplyLiving had run its course, she transitioned again to become a reporter and anchor for abc40’s news team. Pereiras has a strong background in creative marketing and social media.

Brian Kane, a professor and researcher at UMass Amherst, is this year’s co-recipient of the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA’s) prestigious Alex L. Shigo Award for Excellence in Arboricultural Education. The award honors ISA members for enhancing the quality and professionalism of arboriculture through education. Kane is the Mass. Arborists Assoc. professor of Commercial Arboriculture at UMass Amherst. He is an ISA-certified arborist who started climbing trees professionally 25 years ago. Kane invites his students to participate in his tree research, supports them in their tree-climbing competitions, and guides them to be skilled future workers and business owners in arboriculture. ISA honored Kane at a ceremony on Aug. 3 in Milwaukee as part of the 90th annual ISA International Conference and Trade Show.

Lathrop Communities recently announced the appointment of Mauria Sirum, RN, as the new director of Wellness and Home Care. Sirum is a graduate of Vermont Technical College and Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., and has a broad range of healthcare experience, including supervision and leadership. Early in her career, Sirum served as a CNA at Berkshire Health Systems and worked as a staff nurse and nursing supervisor for the Sisters of Providence Health System. Just prior to joining the Lathrop team, she was director of nurses at Wingate Healthcare, where she oversaw the nursing department and memory-care neighborhood. She is devoted to transparency, communication, a person-centered wellness philosophy, preventive health education, and initiatives for residents and those who care for them, as well as staff development and team building. In her spare time, Sirum serves on the board of directors for Arena Civic Theater and works as a costumer for plays in her community. Lathrop is a not-for-profit affiliate of the Kendal Corp., and manages independent-living communities in Northampton and Easthampton, serving older adults in the Quaker tradition.

Back to School Sections

New Programs Prepare People for Careers in Manufacturing

Several weeks ago, Bob LePage met with a fourth-generation manufacturer who is having problems finding new employees with the right skills to fuel his company’s growth.

“He told me his competitors were also having a difficult time and he gained new customers when another fourth-generation manufacturing company went out of business because they could not find enough talent,” said Springfield Technical Community College’s vice president of Foundation & Workforce Training.

In response to the growing need for skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, STCC launched several new programs this summer and expanded existing programs that provide training and retraining for careers in the field.

Specifically, STCC’s associate-degree program in precision machining doubled in size last September from 40 to 80 students, thanks to a $2 million upgrade of the school’s Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center. “We have all new CNC machines, computers, high-end computer workstations, and software. We also hired two new faculty members as well as technicians,” said STCC President Ira Rubenzahl, adding that there will be a total of about 250 students in non-credit and for-credit manufacturing-related programs this fall.

From left, West Springfield High School students Lexi Pastore, Jared Schelb, and Chris Brown prepare to make key fobs under the direction of STCC Professor John LaFrancis.

From left, West Springfield High School students Lexi Pastore, Jared Schelb, and Chris Brown prepare to make key fobs under the direction of STCC Professor John LaFrancis.

And on Aug. 28, a class of 15 students who were carefully honed from a field of 60 applicants will graduate from a free, 10-week, intensive accelerated manufacturing technician production program. It was created collaboratively by STCC and Holyoke Community College, with input from more than 50 manufacturers. Participants range from recent high-school graduates to an individual in his 50s returning to the field after years away from the industry.

The accelerated program includes a combination of classroom and hands-on training in machining, and will continue this fall, with a class at STCC’s Smith & Wesson Center and another sponsored by HCC. The latter will consist of evening sessions held at Dean Vocational Technical High School, with hands-on training there and in the Smith & Wesson Center.

“The program provides students with production, foundational machining, and fabrication skills,” said LePage. It includes classes on machinery, instrumentation, LEAN production, blueprint reading, teamwork, and manufacturing math. Students are also given exposure to the industry via speakers and field trips.

When the first class graduates later this month, members will receive certificates of completion, OSHA 10-hour cards, and mechanical-aptitude certificates. Companies have already interviewed them in anticipation of the upcoming commencement, and LePage said starting salaries should between average between $35,000 and $40,000.

The program was funded by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, MassMutual, Suffolk Construction, and Smith & Wesson.

LePage said the college has weekly meetings with administrators at Smith & Wesson, who invested more than $200,000 in the center five years ago and continue to support it.
“Our plan is to expand the program; we want to offer it at UMass Amherst and in two other communities in addition to Holyoke,” he explained. “We need to grow capacity so we can meet the volume needs for the region.”

Other measures to fill the gap include an increase in the number of training sessions for employees of manufacturing companies, accomplished through a partnership with the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB). It allows individuals and small groups working in the field to update their skills at the Smith & Wesson Center. Larger manufacturers with six or more employees have the option of sending them to the center or having instructors from the college conduct on-site trainings in their locations.

Credit and certificate programs are also part of the mix, and STCC offers a CNC certificate in design, a CAD-CAM certificate, and an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering technology. Classes are held four nights a week to meet the needs of people already employed who want to step up their careers, as well as those in traditional degree programs.

Early Exposure

STCC and its partners are also looking to the future, and this summer, the REB paid for a group of 10 students from West Springfield High School to attend a new, two-week summer session called “Pathways to Prosperity” at the Smith & Wesson Center.

The teens, who will be entering their sophomore year this fall, were selected by the school and were among a group of 60 students who toured the center in the spring. “The program gave us the opportunity to expose students from a non-vocational high school to manufacturing,” said John LaFrancis, professor of Mechanical Engineering.

The students learned how to design parts using computer software programs, then took the design for a small bottle-style container with four sides to a rapid prototyping machine.

LaFrancis said they worked as a group to decide what to emblazon on two sides of the container, and chose their high-school Terrier logo for one side and put their names and/or a quotation on the other.

“This was an additive process which required them to add material to manufacture their bottles,” said LaFrancis. “Each student got to keep their container, and they will make good holders for pens and pencils.”

The students also chose a design for a brass key fob, and emblazoned ‘STCC’ on one side and their name or something else on the flip side. “The key fob was a subtractive process in which they removed material to reveal their individual designs,” LaFrancis explained. “The program has been a real success, and we would like to hold it again. But we want to expand it to two campuses so we can expose more students to manufacturing.”

STCC and its partners are doing all they can to meet that goal and interest young people in manufacturing. “The program was part of a strategy to build awareness about career opportunities,” LePage said.
Rubenzahl added that exposure to opportunities in manufacturing should start in middle school. “Students can have careers as engineers, run CNC machines, do design work, programming, quality control, or go into sales and marketing,” he noted. “Manufacturing is a hot field for employment in the Pioneer Valley, and, given the economy, it’s important for people to understand this and take advantage of it, because if there are not enough new employees, companies won’t survive.”

One reason for the shortage of skilled workers is the number of Baby Boomers who are retiring. “We believe the region will need 300 to 400 workers in the next few years,” said LePage. “One company that recently partnered with us told me they expect to lose two-thirds of their staff to retirement.”

The need has echoed throughout the Valley, and the new programs have been created through proactive collaborations with the REB, Holyoke Community College, and high schools with vocational technical programs, as well as information elicited from local manufacturers.

“We’ve been working to improve our ability to educate students for the manufacturing sector for 10 years, and people are wowed by what we are doing,” said Rubenzahl. “Manufacturing is the most important sector for revitalization in the Pioneer Valley; the area was a center for manufacturing during the 19th century, and there are many legacy companies, new companies, and a lot of skill in terms of business acumen to build on. An expansion of manufacturing will be the basis for building a robust economy here. Plus, these jobs pay well, and the college wants to provide the education students need to get good-paying positions.”

He added that STCC’s partnerships with manufacturers are growing in number, which heightens the school’s ability to link graduates to jobs while raising awareness about career opportunities through tours and informational sessions.

Solid Foundation

LePage said many people are unaware of the number of small manufacturers in the region who provide specialized products for the medical, auto, and aerospace industries. Pay for entry-level positions averages from $12 to $17 an hour; people with a one-year certificate earn between $40,000 and $50,000, and those with an associate degree gross about $50,000, or $70,000 with overtime.

Bob LePage, left, and John LaFrancis show off one of the new machines in the Smith & Wesson Technology Application Center at STCC.

Bob LePage, left, and John LaFrancis show off one of the new machines in the Smith & Wesson Technology Application Center at STCC.

“Machinists, highly skilled machine operators, and those who support the process are in demand, and we now have training for all three levels,” LePage said.

Although STCC and HCC have created new programs, Rubenzahl said economic-development agencies and department heads need to place more emphasis on manufacturing. “I believe they need to make it an important priority because there is a huge potential future in terms of jobs and industry growth if we can all get on the same page,” he told BusinessWest.

He cited, as one example, the $1.5 billion appropriated by the Legislature to replace rail cars on the Mass. Bay Transit Authority Orange and Red lines, since it has been mandated that they must be manufactured in the state.

“We would like Western Mass. to become so prominent in the manufacturing sector that it would be the logical and most cost-effective place to do this work,” LePage said. “But we need to raise our game to be able to attract that type of business.”

This requires an educated workforce, especially since the manufacturing sector is very dynamic and large capital investments are required for companies to be successful. “We can’t compete with Mexico and India in terms of labor, but we can compete by making high-end devices, which are some of the key products which companies in this region specialize in,” Rubenzahl said, adding that he spoke to a manufacturer who showed him a $1 million machine and said he would be happy to pay someone $50,000 to $60,000 a year to run it.

“Companies have made huge investments in order to be successful, but they need highly educated people,” he went on. “And there are a lot of small, local companies here doing tremendously sophisticated work.”

Future Outlook

LePage argues that long-term planning has been critical in developing the new programs. “No one institution can solve the problem — it takes a collaborative regional approach,” he said. “But we plan to continue to add new components to our program at STCC meet the region’s needs.”

Gary Masciadrelli, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department, agreed.

“STCC is fully supportive of supplying the manufacturing industry with current and future workers today, evidenced by our programs in the high schools and for adult learners,” he said. “We look forward to continuing them in the future to meet demand.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Jeffrey LaValley was recently appointed community outreach manager at Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity.

LaValley’s primary responsibility is the development and execution of strategies to increase awareness and financial support of the affiliate’s mission. LaValley will play a pivotal role in implanting the organization’s capacity-building efforts, specifically the 30 in 3 campaign, the affiliate’s vision to serve 30 families in three years. He also will oversee Habitat’s annual resource-development plan, including outreach efforts to foster a positive identity for the affiliate in the community.

Most recently, LaValley served as executive director and director of sales and marketing for Shaker Farm Farms Country Club in Westfield. Previously, he served as associate director of donor relations for Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield. Prior to that, he was the community-development coordinator at Noble Hospital in Westfield and director of alumni and parent relations at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

LaValley received a bachelor’s degree in journalism/public affairs and a master of education in curriculum and instruction from Keene State College. He also earned a certificate in fund-raising from UMass Amherst. With nearly 20 years of experience working in higher education and healthcare settings, LaValley brings a great depth of experience to Habitat for Humanity, including a background in public relations, marketing, event and program management, as well as knowledge of annual fund and major-gift strategies, volunteer management and board development, and strategic planning.

Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity is a housing ministry dedicated to strengthening communities by empowering low-income families to change their lives and the lives of future generations through home ownership and home-preservation opportunities. This is accomplished by working in partnership with diverse people, from all walks of life, to build and repair simple, decent, affordable housing. Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity has helped 58 local families (54 with home ownership and four with home preservation), as well as over 90 international families, realize their dream of home ownership over the past 27 years.

Sections Technology
When It Comes to IT, Responsibility Is Reaching to the Top


Greg Pellerin

Greg Pellerin

When it comes to your company’s IT infrastructure, whose job is it, anyway? Who takes the blame (or maybe even the fall) if something goes wrong? More and more, responsibility for an IT failure is reaching all the way to the executive suite.

In May, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel resigned after a major data-security breach. Some said it wasn’t his fault, but the company’s board disagreed, saying it was a result of underinvestment in Target’s IT systems. The Associated Press quoted Daniel Ives, analyst for FBR Capital Markets, who said, “ultimately, it’s the CIO and the IT managers that are really more in the weeds, but just like the head coach of a football or basketball team that doesn’t make the playoffs, the CEO is ultimately responsible.”

And consider the case of James Thaw, president and CEO of Athens Regional Health System in Georgia. Thaw’s organization, like almost every hospital in America, had invested millions in implementation of an electronic health record (EHR) system. Whether there was pressure on the IT department to roll out the new software before it was fully tested is unclear, but according to the Athens Banner-Herald, the result was near-chaos.

Physicians sent a formal letter of complaint to the hospital’s administration claiming the implementation process was too aggressive and resulted in “medication errors, orders being lost or overlooked, emergency-department patients leaving after long waits, and an inpatient who wasn’t seen by a physician for five days.”

The letter was published less than two weeks after the hospital’s PR department proudly touted the new, integrated system as “the most meaningful and largest-scale information-technology system in its 95 year history.”

Thaw and Chief Information Officer Gretchen Tegethoff have since resigned.  Whether they were responsible for pressing the ‘go live’ button prematurely is unknown. Most hospitals contract with a team of external consultants who sit alongside representatives of the institution’s medical and administrative staff to oversee implementation over a one- to four-year timeframe. The fate of those consultants and team members is unknown.

So, what’s an executive to do? Most CEOs got to where they are because of their strategic abilities, not necessarily their technical strengths. What questions should they be asking their staff regarding major IT decisions?

“It comes down to two words: integration and communication,” said Michael Feld, president of VertitechIT, a nationally renowned expert consultant in IT management, and the acting chief technology officer at Lancaster General Hospital.  “IT is the engine that keeps an organization running, but oftentimes, CEOs will treat the department as a necessary evil.  Your IT people need to know where the company is going and how technology will play a role in that growth. When they don’t, you’ve got problems.”

Feld offers up three areas of advice on how to avoid an IT disaster that could have implications in the C-suite and the entire company:

• You wouldn’t think of launching a new sales or product initiative without announcing and getting buy-in from the sales and marketing departments. Integrate your IT department in the same way. Make sure everyone, from your chief information officer to front-line system engineers, understand issues that affect the life of the company.  Everyone should understand IT’s role in achieving those goals.

• Plan an off-site retreat with your CIO. He or she is, after all, no different than the CEO, one level down. Senior company executives need to know what your network can do, not necessarily how it’s done. Place the focus on understanding risks, benefits, costs, and the relationships all of them have to each other.

• Put your personal biases on the shelf. That new company initiative may have been born in your office, but it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that IT can just make it happen. Keep asking questions and challenge whether your internal systems and people are ready to press ‘go.’ Is there a fail-safe, redundant backup plan in place when something goes wrong? Are your internal people trained and fluent in its operation, and are there outside resources lined up for those special situations? If the answer is no, find out why.

No one wants to just throw money at a problem, hoping it will go away. But you can’t fight a fire without a long enough hose, and that new fire truck will be useless if there’s not enough water coming from the hydrant. In the end, it’s the chief that will take responsibility if things spin out of control. To paraphrase Smokey the Bear, ultimately, you can prevent forest fires. n

Greg Pellerin is a 15-year veteran of the telecommunications and IT industries and a co-founder of VertitechIT, one of the fastest-growing business and healthcare IT networking and consulting firms in the country; (413) 268-1605; [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Six-Point Creative Works Is Doggedly Determined to Help Clients Grow

Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch, president and CEO of Six-Point Creative Works, and her colleague, Dexter

If there was ever a time when effective marketing meant a snazzy brochure and not much else, Meghan Lynch said, that time is long past.

“You can create a brochure, but if it’s created in a vacuum, it’ll be used in a vacuum,” said Lynch, president and CEO of Six-Point Creative Works, a seven-year-old advertising, branding, and marketing firm in Springfield that goes well beyond that simple description. “You want to make sure you’re giving people the tools that will serve them well in the field.”

Elaborating, she noted that “lots of companies tend to think of marketing in terms of the physical item that is produced, or a website. But the jobs that really excite us, and I think the jobs where we bring the most value, are open-ended questions like, ‘we are trying to enter a market we’ve never been in before; how do we tap into that?’ or ‘how do we make sure this product launch is successful?’ or ‘we’re going through a merger; how do we make sure we don’t lose the value of our brand while getting new value from this new business?’

“Very rarely is the answer to those questions a brochure,” Lynch went on. “It’s usually a complex strategy and a lot of different messages hitting at different times and in various ways.”

And that means becoming a true partner with its client businesses.

“I think we work really well with clients who either don’t have their own marketing department, or might have one or two people in marketing, but don’t have a full, large department, and feel like they need some creative support,” she explained. “For companies with no real marketer or just a small, limited marketing department, we can almost serve as their marketing department.”

Moreover, she added, “we like to think of ourselves as part of the company, which means we can get into aspects of their business that aren’t usually our business. We’ve helped industrial companies spec and source products; we will help companies design products, get into their product development, how does something feel in your hand, how is it packaged on the shelf? Companies trust us to collaborate with us on all aspects of the organization.”

That’s pretty serious business for a firm whose mascot is a cute, exuberant cartoon dog, and an office where every day is take your dog to work day; while she spoke with BusinessWest, Lynch occasionally petted her brown mixed breed, Dexter, who had curled up on a chair next to her. Nearby, another employee’s dog, a black Swiss mountain mix named Quincy, wandered about, occasionally sniffing at the visitor.

“We found that having dogs as part of the work environment is really a positive thing,” Lynch said. “If somebody’s having a stressful day or dealing with some stuff at home, they might just need to hug a dog or need somebody to show them some attention; it’s definitely a good balancer.

“And if you start to get too caught in your own head, a dog will do something funny and pull you out of it,” she added. “It reminds you that life is short. Marketing, while certainly important, is not the Baystate ER. It helps you keep things in perspective, keep that work-life balance I also think is so important in having a happy, productive team.”

For this issue’s focus on sales and marketing, we visit an agency that has gone to the dogs in all the right ways while helping its clients reach the audience they need to succeed and grow.

Shedding Expectations

Speaking of going to the dogs, the economy was about to do just that when Lynch joined co-founders David Wicks, chief creative officer, and Marsha Montori, chief creative strategist, in launching Six-Point in 2007.

“We felt like, if we can make it when things are bad and companies aren’t spending money, then when things turn around, we should be OK,” Lynch said. “Even though it was a risk to start a business, it was something we felt so strongly about, and something we were so excited about, that it didn’t seem like a risk to us; it felt natural.”

All three founders came from both strategic and creative marketing backgrounds, “and we wanted to have an agency that was a perfect balance between strategy and creative, instead of prioritizing one over the other, because they really go hand in hand,” she explained. “We had a few loyal clients in the beginning — most of whom are still with us — and we really grew from there.”

Six-Point’s cartoon canine mascot

Meghan Lynch says Six-Point’s cartoon canine mascot reflects the loyalty, exuberance, and energy the company wants to bring to its clients.

In fact, Six-Point soon outgrew its original space on Bridge Street in downtown Springfield and relocated to larger quarters nearby, with a Hampden Street storefront. Lynch said it has always been important to have a Springfield address and identify with a city the partners believe is on the rise. “We’ve had a really good experience down here, and I we have a good neighborhood that provides a good working environment for our employees, even though much of our business comes from outside the area.”

The six points in the company name are based on six basic stages of creating a strategy for clients: rapid ramp-up and coming to basic decisions about goals and strategy; creation of a detailed communications action plan; creative development and turning goals into effective concepts; execution of the plan; tracking return on investment; and future evolution of brand strategy.

Most of Six-Point’s clients are nonprofits, consumer brands, and industrial or business-to-business companies.

“Once in a while, the discussion comes up, ‘do you specialize in a certain market?’ I think sometimes there’s a certain power in that, but with the team we have in place, our clients really benefit from the fact that we work in a number of markets,” Lynch said.

“If you only do nonprofit work, or only do industrial work, or only do consumer work, you can get tunnel vision and don’t become an asset to clients,” she went on. “They’re already in that industry; they already have that expertise. They’re counting on us to bring that outside perspective … we get people to think outside of their day-to-day environments. We’re not caught up in their jargon or other things unique to their market.”

For example, “consumer marketing tends to be on the cutting edge, pushing the envelope, and we bring some of that mentality to industrial companies, bring some of that emotional branding, which can be really powerful and not usually seen in those industries,” she explained.

“A lot of those clients want to talk about features and benefits, and sometimes forget that, at the end of the day, the decision to do business with a company is an emotional one. It’s about trust, and not always a logical argument, but a gut feeling — ‘I like that company; they look like they have their act together. I want to do business with them.’ We work hard to create those emotional connections, regardless of industry.”

Paws and Effect

When it all clicks, Lynch said, it’s a gratifying feeling.

“Whether it’s renaming a company or creating a new logo or doing a product launch,” she went on, “when you see the client start to feel that energy, we know we’re hitting it right, and we don’t have to convince them of it.”

Six-Point’s recent work with Hot Table, a small but growing chain of panini restaurants, is a good example. The firm designed the eatery’s new logo — a simple, stylized sandwich with the signature grill marks of a panini press — in addition to other branding and marketing services.

“That was really fun because [owner John DeVoie] came in with a big vision,” she told BusinessWest. “He has the bones of greatness in his company, and a very clear vision about what he wants Hot Table to mean; he wants to make it synonymous with panini.

“It’s really fun to work with somebody who comes in with energy and a big vision and just trusts you to execute it with him,” she added. “I showed him a lot of logos, and when he saw the grill marks we created, he said, ‘that’s it.’ He sees the potential that has as a brand mark. He got excited, we took his vision seriously, and we also see his potential.”

But marketing isn’t only an outreach to potential customers, Lynch stressed; it’s also a process of buy-in from employees of the client company.

“One thing a lot of companies are realizing is that they have an internal audience as well, and in order to create a successful brand, you need your employees to be on board as well,” she said. “Brand launches and product launches that aren’t internally launched properly do not do as well as those where everyone internally is on the same page, speaking the same message, excited about what’s happening.”

Take Bay Path College, another long-time Six-Point client, which recently became Bay Path University.

“They’re an example of a well-kept secret that’s starting to get out,” Lynch said, adding that university President Carol Leary has long had a clear vision for what becoming a university would bring to the table. “There’s a lot going on there, and not everyone grasps the good work they’re doing.”

So Six-Point created an internal video shown at a recent convocation of professors.

“We interviewed students on what they felt like as freshmen and what they feel like as seniors and the changes these women have undergone; some started out as shy and unsure and are now successful, confident women,” Lynch said. “I left the interviews thinking, ‘I need to keep track of these women; I might want to hire them.’ They were changed, and the stories they told were amazing.”

The video was powerful, and an effective marketing piece in its own right, even though it would never be seen outside the campus community, because it inspires people to be ambassadors for their own organization, and empowers them to better articulate the importance of what they do.

“It hones the power of the brand and storytelling to make people feel good about the work they do every day. They get a strong sense of why they show up for work every day,” Lynch said. “Sometimes it takes somebody from outside to remind you, ‘holy cow, we’re amazing.’ When you get into the day-to-day, you can lose that excitement.”

Telling Tails

Lynch enjoys the “rush” of hitting the sweet spot in a marketing campaign or branding effort, and credited her staff with those successes.

“We have a group of very like-minded, curious, creative, and really brilliant people,” she said, noting that only about half the agency comes from an advertising-agency background; everyone else comes from other industries. “Even though we all have marketing in common, we’re not lifetime agency people. And the whole team shares that sense of excitement when we hit it right. I don’t feel like I have to rally the team; we do that for each other. It’s just a really, really nice environment to work in.”

A literature major in college, Lynch said she considers herself more analytical than creative, but added that Six-Point has several people in each category. “What we have in common are a love of good work and a love of problem solving. We bring our different skills, and there’s room for both here, which I really appreciate. There’s not a sense that the creative types, the artists, get special recognition. All are important for who they are and what they bring to the client.”

The idea, she said, is to come up with concepts that fit the client’s needs, not the personal taste of the team. “There’s no ego here, which makes me happy. I feel like we truly foster collaboration and appreciation of the good idea and the right solution over my point of view or my creative preference.”

It makes for an energetic, upbeat environment that any dog — real or cartoon ­— would appreciate.

“Our mascot reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously,” Lynch said. “We try to embody that loyalty and exuberance a dog brings to everything; he’s always excited to see you, always brings energy to whatever he’s doing. Every time he sees a tennis ball, it’s like the first time. We want to bring that to the client, that sense of refreshment and enthusiasm. That’s often what people count on us for.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HADLEY — Pioneer Valley Hotel Group announced that Britney Archambault-Jackson has been appointed general manager of the Comfort Inn Hadley hotel. As general manager, Archambault-Jackson will direct all areas of the hotel’s operations, including guest services, sales and marketing efforts, and hotel administration. “Based on Britney’s outstanding record in hotel management, we are confident that she will be instrumental in ensuring the success of our Comfort Inn,” said Shardool Parmar, president of Pioneer Valley Hotel Group. Archambault-Jackson has been in the hospitality industry since she was 18 years old. Prior to joining the Comfort Inn Hadley team, she worked at the Econo Lodge and the Marriott, both in Hadley, and completed a program in dental assisting. In 2010, she was a Howdy Award finalist. “I love taking care of people, and this is such a great way to do it,” she said. “We don’t just give our guests a place to sleep; we provide them with an experience, and I take great pride in ensuring that each guest’s individual experience is the best it can be.” Owned and operated by Parmar & Sons of Hadley, the Comfort Inn features 84 guest rooms and suites and one meeting room that can accommodate up to 40 people.

Daily News

AGAWAM — Chez Joseph announced the appointment of Pamela Vadnais as the new sales and marketing manager. She is responsible for business development and coordinating marketing initiatives on behalf of Chez Josef’s comprehensive event-planning and hosting services, including weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, retirement parties, proms, fund-raising events, awards, banquets, holiday functions, corporate events, and more. “Pam has extensive experience in the hospitality industry,” said Marc Sparks, president and CEO of Chez Josef. “She brings a goal-oriented approach to event planning, inviting our guests to envision the event, and she works strategically to make those visions a reality.” Vadnais is a veteran of the hospitality industry with more than 20 years of experience. Prior to joining Chez Josef, she spent more than 10 years as a catering and events coordinator at a local country club and was a program officer and development assistant for the Jimmy Fund. Vadnais is a long-time Western Mass. resident and a graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham. Additionally, she is active in her community and has held several industry-related positions, including concession manager for a performing-arts center. She is currently a chairwoman for the annual parish fund-raising picnic for St. John the Baptist Church in Ludlow. “Pam’s previous experience coordinating catering is very beneficial for our guests here at Chez Josef,” said Executive Chef Marcel Ouimet. “Food is always a central element to any event, and she really understands how to tie in the details like flavors and presentation. Her skills complement our existing staff, and I’m excited to see how she will help us grow.”

Business Management Sections
Massachusetts Export Center Helps Firms Do Business Overseas

ExportDPartTo Ann Pieroway, the statistics speak volumes.

Take, for example, the fact that Massachusetts companies exported more than $26.8 billion in goods last year — a 4.63% increase over 2012 — and ranks as the 17th-highest exporting state in the U.S.

Or that the Bay State ranks second nationally in seafood exports, third in medical-device exports, and fourth in the U.S. in high-tech exports. Or that 28% of the state’s manufacturing workers depend on international exports for their jobs, which ranks fourth nationally.

Those achievements don’t happen in a vacuum, said Pieroway, regional director of the Western Mass. office of the Mass. Export Center (MEC).

“We have a very simple mission: to help companies throughout the Commonwealth achieve success in global markets and contribute to economic growth in our state,” she said. “The goal is to maintain jobs or grow jobs.”

It does so by providing a range of resources to client companies, from counseling and technical assistance to market research and assessment, to a wide range of training programs to help businesses navigate the tricky, hyper-regulated world of exports. As for the center’s effectiveness, Pieroway said, the numbers speak loudly there, too.

“For our latest impact study, we sent out a questionnaire to our clients — significant clients, not just somebody we’ve answered questions for,” she explained. Almost 70% responded, and reported $240 million in financial return from their dealings with the MEC in 2011. “That’s not total exports; that $240 million for 2011 is their increase in export sales due to the help they’ve received from the Massachusetts Export Center.”

With a background in offshore manufacturing, Pieroway has been involved in the export arena since 1983, when she was appointed to the governor’s International Trade Council.

“Back then, there were 27 different groups that had their fingers in international trade, but no one primary group,” she said, explaining the germination of the MEC. Paula Murphy, who still serves as statewide director, got the program running 20 years ago, and Pieroway came on board soon after. “We’re a specialty center of the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network, which put the funding in.”

Ann Pieroway

Ann Pieroway says the success of the Massachusetts Export Center can be measured in the additional dollars exporters bring into the Bay State.

Today, the center is primarily funded by the Small Business Administration, with a matching commitment from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

The state contributes as well, Pieroway said, and studies show that, for every tax dollar it kicks in, $4 is pumped back into the state economy. “So we don’t get cut; we’ve always been level-funded. We put out an impact study that goes to all legislators, and everyone can see what we do — $240 million is a lot of money.”

She also noted that the $2.2 trillion in overall U.S. exports accounts for 9.8 million jobs. “Supposedly, every time you get a $125,000 increase in export sales, a job is created somewhere in the network. That’s very important to us here in the Valley.”

Helping Hands

While Pieroway wasn’t at liberty to name specific clients, she did cite a broad range of services the agency provides, including:

Export counseling and technical assistance. These services are customized to each client’s needs, and might include:

• Export planning and preparation;
• Assessment of export readiness;
• Export strategy and international business-plan development;
• Assessment and selection of target export markets;
• International sales and marketing;
• Identification and qualification of overseas customers and partners;
• International payment and financing;
• Export logistics, including shipping, documentation, terms, and controls;
• North American Free Trade Agreement compliance and eligibility; and
• Working with export service providers, such as international banks, law firms, and freight forwarders.

International market research and assessment. The center has access to a wealth of information on export markets. Examples of research provided to clients include:

• General information on doing business in different countries;
• Demographic, economic, political, and cultural information on different countries;
• Market size, characteristics, and trends;
• Trade barriers and regulatory issues;
• Detailed statistical information on U.S. exports by state, product, and country.

International business-development assistance. Through the center’s partnership with other state and federal government agencies, companies can take advantage of specific programs to market their products and services internationally. These services include:

• International business-plan development;
• Assessment and selection of target export markets;
• Guidance on international sales, marketing, and distribution-channel development and management;
• Identification and qualification of overseas customers and partners;
• Participation in overseas trade shows and missions; and
• Connections with state and federal overseas offices for in-country support.

Export training programs. Partners for Trade, the state’s official export training initiative, is a regional collaborative between the Massachusetts Export Center, chambers of commerce, trade associations, economic-development agencies, and the private sector, working together to present frequent seminars on international trade.

Partners for Trade programs offer Massachusetts companies an overview of topics like international marketing, legal issues, export logistics, international distribution, and others, including country-specific and industry-specific export issues. Much of the training is provided by international trade experts from the private sector, including international business lawyers, export consultants, freight forwarders, international bankers, and international business executives from area companies. On average, more than 1,000 companies participate in the Partners for Trade program each year.

The Massachusetts Export Resource Center. Launched in 2012, the MERC offers a wide range of instructional and practical information on exporting, including training modules, video guides, workbooks, and templates.

The bottom line, Pieroway said, is that the MEC deals in information — lots of it.

“When I first started this job 19 years ago, we used to get reports from the Department of Commerce monthly, and we would send requests to Amherst; our research people would send us a stack of paper like this to take to our clients,” she said, spreading her hands a foot apart. “We no longer have a research department; we do all our own research, or have our interns do research. The things available today were nowhere near available 20 years ago; it’s all Internet research now.”

That information is invaluable to companies navigating the often-thorny, heavily regulated world of international business. Pieroway told of a seven-month-long effort to help a client send a product to China. “Anything going to China gets extra scrutiny. They finally allowed it, with all kinds of conditions. I just pray this company adheres to those conditions.

“We’ve helped companies in every industry there is,” she added, “from agriculture to guns to butternut squash to cosmetics to precision machining — you name it,” she said. And whether a client needs a license or legal assistance or any of a host of other requests, “I connect them with somebody who can help them. We have a wonderful network of support across the Commonwealth.”

Ship Shape

The day she spoke with BusinessWest, Pieroway was preparing for a Partners for Trade seminar in Holyoke called “Fundamentals of Exporting.”

“We want people to have a basic understanding of the process. For some people it’s daunting — there’s a little more paperwork going international — but we achieve results the same way you would domestically: research your client and find out who they are.”

The MEC recently launched another program, called Compliance Alliance, a forum for exporting firms that offers:

• Periodic briefings that address a variety of regulatory compliance issues and provide an opportunity for exporters to network and share best practices with one another;
• Conferences and seminars that provide in-depth training across a broad range of compliance and operational issues. Speakers include exporters, law firms, consulting firms and representatives from government export regulatory authorities;
• An e-newsletter containing updates about current compliance issues and events; and
• Online resources, such as a member directory, a compliance resource library, and a job board.

That word ‘compliance’ comes up often for a reason, Pieroway said, adding that the federal government has tried to simplify international trade, but those efforts have often just made it more difficult.

“We’re doing a lot more webinars, so a lot more people can participate, from all across the country,” she said. “We’re known for our compliance training. We know what companies are going through, and we do a lot of hand holding here.”

That hand-holding has led to national recognition, especially in 2008, when the agency won both the Presidential E Award for excellence in exporting — the highest honor the federal government issues in the exporting arena — and the SBA’s Service Excellence and Innovation Award.

“This year, we won the SBA award for the state and for the region,” Pieroway said. “We feel we should have won the national award, too. I think they thought we’d won too much.”

A 2010 survey found that more than 11,000 Masschusetts companies were exporting goods — about 90% of them small and medium-sized businesses. Along with all the other resources the MEC provides, Pieroway boils a company’s international-trade success down to a strong commitment — of people and resources — by top management.

“You’ve got to have someone in charge of this,” she said, reflecting back to when a company’s compliance ‘expert’ was often a secretary tasked with figuring out how to move product out of the country. “So they became the experts. Now there’s more emphasis on training.”

Pieroway conceded that most companies still get involved in exporting by being reactive, not proactive — for example, when foreign buyers take an interest in a product at a trade show. But the world has been shrinking, so to speak, for a long time, and opportunities abound in other countries for businesses willing to seek it out and learn the ins and outs of exporting. And that takes work.

“You cannot do international business sitting in your chair in your office; you have to leave the country to be really successful,” she said. “It depends on your commitment — of time, personnel, and money.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Meetings & Conventions Sections
Sheraton Springfield Excels at Helping Groups Get Down to Business

Ernie Taddei, left, and Paul Marcelina

Ernie Taddei, left, and Paul Marcelina say business travelers appreciate the 18,000-square-foot 4 Fitness Health Club at the Sheraton Springfield.

The Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel is the largest hotel in the area, with 325 rooms. It has recently undergone more than $7 million in renovations and features unusual architecture and amenities, which include a 12-story atrium, two restaurants, and 24 areas where meetings or conventions can be held.

But general manager Paul Marcelina says that what sets its apart from its competitors is the fact that every hotel associate is steeped in the “five human truths,” which allow them to meet the basic emotional needs that all human beings share.

“Our goal is to create an emotional connection with our guests. We all want to belong, feel special, be understood, reach our fullest potential, and be in control,” said Marcelina, citing the results of a study conducted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in 2009 that changed the hotel’s culture.

“We consider ourselves to be friends of our guests, which is reflected back to us every day in our guest-comment cards. Every guest and every trip is different, and we are aware of the needs and time constraints of weekday business travelers as well as the needs of social travelers here on weekends,” he added.

Although the hotel has its share of tourists, about 60% of its annual revenue comes from business groups, whose members travel from throughout New England and beyond. “We’re the largest hotel west of Boston, north of New Haven, and south of Montreal,” said Peter Picknelly, president of Monarch Enterprises and owner of the Sheraton Springfield.

The hotel is part of the Monarch Place complex, which includes a 25-story tower that contains 400,000 square feet of office space as well as a parking garage for 200 vehicles. “It adds to our appeal,” said Ernie Taddei, regional director of sales and marketing for the hotel, explaining that many business travelers who stay at the Sheraton have meetings scheduled in Monarch Place.

But there are other features that make the hotel a sought-after location for business gatherings. “We have 30,000 square feet of meeting space, and everything a business needs is under one roof, which is difficult to find outside of Boston or New York City,” Marcelina said. “We know we are competing with hotels in Hartford, Boston, and Philadelphia, so we spend time figuring out how to attract businesses to Springfield and this hotel.”

He told BusinessWest that meetings can be held concurrently in spaces that can accommodate from two to 1,000 people, or 100 8×10 pipe-and-drape booths. In addition, the Grand Ballroom can serve dinner to 1,000 people at one time, while cocktail hours for up to 2,100 people can be held on the first three floors of the atrium.

Other perks include state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, as well as LCD projectors and specialty AV items available from hotel vendors. “Our vendors stay on the property during the entire convention, to make sure everything is done correctly,” Taddei said, adding that the hotel’s recently upgraded sound system “allows people to hear perfectly from one end of a convention space to the other.”

The Sheraton has also developed close relationships with many local attractions, which allows guests to purchase discounted tickets to basketball games or other events, and Taddei said these tickets are often made available to people staying there for several nights.

“It’s not just about the rate and meeting room, it’s about what we can do to make a stay more enjoyable,” he said. “We don’t want our guests to be bored.”

In addition, the hotel’s full banquet kitchen allows event planners to customize menus and match the décor of the dining room to a chosen theme. Food offerings are also frequently expanded, and hotel salespeople sample dishes on the menu and provide input. For example, after a recent sampling of hors d’oeuvres created for a wedding party, officials decided to offer them to business groups.

The Sheraton, which averages about 200,000 guests per year, has also made major upgrades to its Internet technology, which allows guests to operate several devices at the same time in their rooms. There is also ‘the Link,’ an area found in all Sheraton hotels that offers guests computer use and a copier and printer at no cost in a comfortable setting.

Staying Power

Bartender Carmine Capuano

Bartender Carmine Capuano says cocktail hours for up to 2,100 guests can be held on the first three floors of the Sheraton Springfield’s atrium.

Marcelina said there have been a number of renovations completed at the Sheraton over the past few years. Upgrades include new furniture, wall coverings, artwork, carpeting, drapery, bathrooms, lighting, and sound systems.

But due to its architectural design, changing the environment was no easy feat.

“Our atrium is visible from all floors, and it was very challenging to complete the renovations without bothering our guests,” Marcelina said, explaining that scaffolding had to be built from the second to 12th floors.

But today, people delight in looking up to the top of the glass ceiling or down to the lower floors, depending on where their room is located. The view is enhanced by special lighting along the outer wall of every floor, which is programmed to change colors every few seconds.

“It’s a special visual effect, and large conventions or parties can select colors that match the theme of their convention,” Taddei said. “Lighting is important, and we can also splash colors on the ballroom floor to match a business’ taste, which is nice for a company meeting and also nice for social functions such as a wedding.”

Another bonus is the hotel’s 18,000-square-foot 4 Fitness health center. “It’s the largest hotel health center in Massachusetts and has state-of-the-art equipment, a sauna, racquetball courts, and spinning classes,” Taddei said.

A large swimming pool beneath a domed glass ceiling and adjacent outdoor sunbathing area add to the appeal, and as a result, the hotel also caters to annual meetings and events held by religious groups, sports groups, youth groups, and other groups that often take part in competitions at the nearby MassMutual Center.

But despite outstanding physical amenities and a good location, hotel officials say what separates them from their competition, and results in repeat business, goes back to their focus on “human truths” and the behavior of hotel associates.

“We can say that we have nicer artwork or a warmer pool, but that is not going to make the difference between a good or exceptional experience,” Picknelly said. “What we do starts from the time a person arrives at the front desk and continues until they leave. But getting to that point is not an easy task. It takes a collaborative effort by all of our associates.”

To that end, great attention is paid to detail. Each employee’s name tag includes a hobby or interest, which often sparks conversations with guests. And associates are schooled to notice things such as a guest wearing a Red Sox cap and ask questions related to such items.

“We don’t consider the check-in process part of a transaction; it’s a welcome service that is all about engagement and interaction and is part of the warmth connected to our core values,” said Marcelina, adding that, when guests leave, they are asked about their stay and invited to return. “The connection we make is what separates us from our competition.”

Employees are also trained to take notice of details in guest rooms. For example, Marcelina said, if someone from the cleaning staff notices a guest has an empty Diet Coke in their trash can or an empty Hershey’s candy wrapper, he or she can replace the items with a note that tells the guest to enjoy them and their stay.

Taddei has been with the hotel since 2009 and said many guests come to Springfield to enjoy local attractions, which range from the Basketball Hall of Fame to Six Flags New England and the Big E.

“We are lucky to have them in our backyard,” Picknelly agreed.

But the atmosphere in the hotel changes in response to the day of the week and who is staying there. In fact, Picknelly likens it to a transformer.

“Monday through Friday, we cater to a business clientele,” he explained. “But on Friday afternoon, we transform into a leisure hotel, which means we adopt a different culture.”

That includes offering breakfast later in the morning for guests who want to sleep in, longer pool hours with more attendants on duty, and other measures designed to make hotel stays memorable and relaxing for guests of all ages.

Picknelly said small things are important and uses the example of newspapers to make his point. “My son gets all of his news from the Internet, while I prefer a real newspaper,” he said. So, newspapers are delivered to each guest’s room early each morning.

The hotel’s theme is the fall season in New England. “The artwork was commissioned, and every guest room has a piece twice the size that you would normally find in a hotel room,” Picknelly said. There is also a large mural over the main entrance to the grand ballroom depicting three scenes that reflect Springfield’s history and attractions.

But hotel executives stress that the reason people choose the Sheraton and return there is because of the service, and all new associates participate in the Sheraton Service Culture Training.

“It allows our associates to understand the diverse needs of our guests and also allows them to exceed their expectations,” said Marcelina. “We listen to the people who stay here because we want them to feel they belong, which goes back to the human truths.”

For example, when the hotel stopped serving dinner in the sports lounge, it was quickly reinstated due to demand, as was popcorn in the bar when another snack was substituted.

Meaningful Interactions

Marcelina said people have many choices when it comes to choosing a hotel. “But when you know the person behind the desk cares about you and looks forward to seeing you again, it makes a difference. And we feel this way about everyone who stays here.”

Indeed, the culture, combined with recent upgrades, have proven to be a recipe for success. “A lot of our conventions are repeat business, and we are already holding space as far out as 2017,” Taddei said. “We are selected over other places even when our location isn’t as convenient. People choose us because of our consistency and because our staff is trained to make sure they have a memorable experience.”

Marcelina said the formula is simple. “It goes back to the human truths,” meaning every guest leaves feeling special and cared about.

Sales and Marketing Sections
Springfield-based TSM Design Opens Second Office in Hartford

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design will now have a marketing and design presence in two anchor cities.

Nancy Urbschat recalls the moment she and her team at TSM Design saw the small yet attractive office space in the historic former G. Fox & Co. department store building in downtown Hartford, and knew they’d found a home.

Or, to be more specific, a second home.

Indeed, the cozy, 475-square-foot space at 960 Main St. officially became the second location for Springfield-based TSM on Jan. 8. The office provides the company with opportunities to better serve clients based in Northern Conn. or who do business there, said Urbschat, principal of the firm since 2005, and also greater capacity to expand a client list that already includes a number of businesses across several sectors.

“To have a presence in two anchor cities felt great,” she told BusinessWest as she talked about the decision to expand. “I’ve long believed that Hartford-Springfield is a very robust market.”

And it’s a market that can better be served with a visible presence in each municipality, said Janet Bennett, the firm’s director of marketing since 2005.

“We were going down for meetings all the time, and the more we discussed it, we felt that if we were really going to do this, we needed to put ourselves in Hartford for real and have a real presence here,” she said.

With that presence, the marketing and design firm expects to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital, and also seize momentum from what those at TSM describe as an improving economy on both sides of the border.

Urbschat said marketing and advertising budgets are among the first things to be cut during a downturn like the recent recession, and they’re also some of the last things to be restored. But she’s seeing definite signs of progress.

“That’s the natural order of economic downturns and recovery, and I feel we’re in recovery,” said Urbschat, who speaks from the experience gained from living through several recessions. “That’s the beauty of being a small business — we’re lean; we can make adjustments as needed and respond. We took appropriate measures, and now we’re off to a fantastic start in 2014.”

For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with the team at TSM about their move into Hartford and what it means for the firm moving forward.

Capital Idea

Urbschat has long noted — and taken great pride from — the fact that her firm is not merely based in Springfield, specifically the historic Stearns Building on Bridge Street.

Instead, it has long been quite involved in efforts to help market the city and tell its story — both to those who live within it and those who would need a map to find it — while also promoting it as a great place to live, work, and do business.

TSM Design

A second office at 960 Main St. in Hartford will allow TSM Design to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital.

For example, Urbschat and her team launched Pro Springfield Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about the City of Homes, asking residents and officials to “say something nice.” She also chaired the Art & Soles project a few years ago, an initiative that saw the downtown decorated with colorful, five-foot-high sneakers in a nod to its history with the sport of basketball.

But while Springfield has been, and will remain, both the firm’s base and its passion, there was a clear need to expand to the city 20 miles to the south.

“We’re Springfield believers, and this is our anchor,” she noted. “Our footprint is solidly in Springfield, but we were ready for a new challenge, and there’s opportunity in Hartford.”

And as the TSM team looked for a base from which to pursue those opportunities, one of the first stops was the former G. Fox building, the art-deco landmark that has become home to Capital Community College and dozens of other tenants large and small.

Bringing the TSM name there ushers in a new chapter in the colorful history of the firm created by Leslie Lawrence and first called The Super Market.

Urbschat joined the venture a few months after it was launched and became a partner in 1990. The firm’s name was rebranded to the acronym TSM in the late ’90s to reflect the development of a wider range of work, especially design and branding. When Lawrence retired in 2004, Urbschat bought the business.

Using subcontractors — or partners, as Urbschat calls them — for specific needs in video production and web development, the current four employees have specific strengths in marketing, design, and creative thought and application. Urbschat is keeping the operation lean by having one team operate both locations.

Bennett, who is now spending much of her time at the Hartford facility — which Urbschat calls a ‘mini-me’ office, due to its similar contemporary, TSM-style decor — explained that growth is certainly attainable, and the vibe in the capital city is palpable.

“It feels like it’s hopping,” she told BusinessWest. “Even the sense on the street when you’re walking around, there’s a lot of buzz, and it’s exciting.”

Urbschat agreed, noting that some 80,000 people work in downtown Hartford, maybe 10 times the number that work in Springfield’s central business district. Some of those 80,000 work in marketing and advertising, she acknowledged, but while there is plenty of competition, there is also ample opportunity for growth for TSM.

With 15 active clients, the firm’s team is selective about whom they work with, and will keep that same philosophy in Hartford. While the company handles many types of businesses, it targets second-stage, ‘best-in-class’ companies with 150 or more employees and that share TSM’s core values. And there many of these in the Greater Hartford area.

One example is the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. That landmark, which includes a number of buildings and facilities, has seen its identity superseded by the 17-day fair that takes place there every fall — the Big E. TSM has been contracted to help rebrand the operation and tell what Urbschat calls the “amazing story of the history of the Eastern States Exposition.”

Over the years, it has done similar work for businesses and organizations ranging from Springfield Technical Community College to the Springfield Falcons, and currently boasts clients such as Barr & Barr Construction, Westfield Bank, and Baystate Health.

Right Place, Right Time

While some might view the Hartford office as a fresh, new start for the TSM team, Urbschat is quick to say that there’s nothing new about what TSM will offer businesses in Connecticut.

“This is an extension of what we already do, and we have a well-honed process; we’re just doing it in a new city,” she said, adding that she still enjoys coming into work every day. “When it stops being fun, we’ll probably just say, ‘OK, it was a great ride.’”

But for now, talk about the ride is restricted to the present and future tenses, and, with this expansion into Hartford, it is getting much more exciting.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing Sections
Savage Arms Continues a Tradition of Entrepreneurship, Innovation

Al Kasper

Al Kasper says a passionate team focused on innovation and lean manufacturing is the key to success at Savage Arms.

Al Kasper says there are three business fundamentals that have made 119-year old Savage Arms, the world’s largest manufacturer of hunting rifles and shotguns, so successful since its well-documented recovery from Chapter 11 bankruptcy two decades ago.
The first is a dedicated and passionate leadership team, one that has been hand-picked over the past 20 years. The second is a focus on lean manufacturing that was decidedly missing for most of the ’70s and ’80s, one of the main reasons for the company’s financial turmoil. And the third is a practice of innovative product development, enabled by a company-wide philosophy of not only listening to customers and industry experts, but also responding proactively to what they’re saying.
Kasper — who took the helm as president and CEO after ATK, an aerospace, defense, and commercial-products company, completed its acquisition of Savage in June — said those traits were instilled by his predecessor, Ronald Coburn, who is credited with rescuing the company from bankruptcy.
And today, they are taking Savage to the top of a highly competitive shooting-arms industry, with more than $200 million in annual sales, said Kasper, adding that the lessons learned then still apply today.
“Ron, himself, went out and sold,” recalled Kasper, who joined Savage 1996 as Coburn was staging the comeback. “Coming out of bankruptcy, the company didn’t have a lot of resources, so he literally went customer to customer — Wal-Mart, Kmart, and others — and was successful getting our rifles into those stores at the time.”
The efforts brought much-needed revenue to the company and gave it the time and breathing room to create a culture defined by innovation and entrepreneurship.
Indeed, while fixing what wasn’t working from an operations standpoint, and putting the company on a sound fiscal footing, were Coburn’s primary missions at first, he later created — and continued to inspire — new-product development and continuous improvement in production efficiency that caught the attention of the world.
Looking back, Kasper pointed to the year 2001, what he called ‘the renaissance’ of Savage Arms, and what followed, which was the growing popularity of the model 110, the flagship rifle of the company, and important innovations such as the AccuTrigger and AccuStock (more on them later) — key developments in taking the company to where it is today.
While talk of more stringent gun-control measures is driving sales of guns and ammunition to new heights in this country, Kasper said the lessons learned years ago and the ability to stay on the cutting edge of innovation are the real driving forces behind Savage’s continued success.
For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest toured the cavernous, 350,000-square-foot Savage Arms plant in Westfield to get a first-hand look at how the entrepreneurial spirit that originally defined the company and then enabled its historic comeback is still very much in evidence.

Taking Their Best Shot

The famous Savage Arms Indian head logo

The famous Savage Arms Indian head logo is on display in the company’s museum-like front lobby. It was a gift from Chief Lame Deer to company co-founder Arthur Savage in 1919.

Tracing the company’s history, Kasper said the story begins with Arthur Savage, inventor of the model 99 hammerless lever-action rifle, and Joshua Stevens, inventor of the .22-caliber long rifle cartridge, two entrepreneurs who struggled to get their own ventures off the ground, but persevered and came together to launch the Savage Arms Company in Utica, N.Y.
“Arthur Savage was a prolific inventor — he started with a rifle and built the company from that point,” said Kasper as he showed BusinessWest the expansive front lobby at the plant, which serves as a museum of sorts, showcasing hundreds of rifles, handguns, and some of Savage’s other developments, including an upright washing machine invention and the world’s first motorized lawnmower.
By 1919, Savage and Stevens were manufacturing high-powered rifles, .22-caliber rifles, pistols, and ammunition. Their products caught the attention of Cheyenne Indian Chief Lame Deer, who struck a deal for lever-action rifles in return for Indian-reservation support and endorsement — as well as the imagery that became the Indian head Savage Arms logo, which remains in use today.
Savage passed away as World War II was beginning, but the company provided a variety of weapons for that conflict, including something called the Savage-Halpine torpedo, as well as machine guns for planes and ground forces.
The company moved to the Westfield location in 1959 and continued to grow, said Kasper, but between the early ’60s and late ’80s, several public and private corporations owned and sold Savage Arms.
“These owners were conglomerates and/or private-equity holders that just continually took cash out and put no cash in,” said Kasper, adding that the slide that ended in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing was a two-decade-long decline characterized by inefficient operations — to the point where the cost of making some products exceeded their sales price — and an overall lack of passion in the leadership of the company. With no new-product development and no advancement in equipment, the quality of the products plummeted, and the company fell on very hard times.
Enter Coburn as president and CEO in 1989. Kasper said he analyzed the production line and determined that the only product being made profitably was the lowest-volume product, the model 110 bolt-action rifle.
“Ron did a phenomenal job of taking the corporation from bankruptcy in 1988 and righting the ship, positioning the company to begin a growth path,” said Kasper. “He simplified the right products, stayed the course, and started putting a team together.”
Indeed, Coburn halted all production and, once his analysis was complete, began to focus on lean manufacturing of that one product.
By 1995, Coburn raised enough money to purchase Savage Arms and took it private, later hiring Kasper to assist him with the financials and operations of the company.
In the years to come, the company would put its name on a number of landmark innovations, including the SNAIL, a Savage-designed and patented environmentally friendly shooting-range system that has since been adopted by the NRA, FBI, numerous special forces, all major firearms manufacturers, police, military, and private shooting clubs in the U.S. and 14 other countries.
Meanwhile, in 1998, a hunting handgun called the Striker Rimfire was introduced through a newly acquired factory in Canada, and in late 2000, Savage developed the world’s first smokeless muzzleloader and introduced a number of short magnums to complement its Centerfire rifle series.
While Coburn may have started the rebirth of Savage Arms through independent retailers and national giants like Wal-Mart, in recent years, the rise of mega-specialty sporting-goods stores, like Dick’s, Cabela’s, and Bass Pro Shops, gave Savage even more effective points of sale. Featuring Savage Arms products in an atmosphere that is almost Disney-like for hunting and target-shooting enthusiasts, the manufacturer rose to prominence and caught the attention of ATK.
On June 24, ATK announced that it had completed the acquisition of Savage Sports Corp., allowing Savage’s products to be natural complements to ATK’s existing hunting and shooting sports ammunition and accessories business. Ron Johnson took over briefly as Savage’s CEO after Coburn’s retirement until the sale with ATK, then moved on to head up Savage’s BowTech Archery brand, which ATK did not acquire.
“The Savage acquisition adds tremendous capability to our hunting and shooting sports portfolio,” said Jay Tibbets, ATK Sporting Group president. “Their current offerings are well-positioned as affordable, high-quality products, and Savage Arms will help make us a more valued supplier to our customers.”
Kasper praised ATK’s flexible integration plan and its understanding that, with limited resources, and business being as healthy as it is, shipping products on time and keeping customer service at a high are main focuses.
The company now boasts 468 employees in the Westfield plant, and another 158 split between the Ontario, Canada plant and the Suffield, Conn. sales and marketing office.

High-caliber Innovation
Returning to the Coburn legacy, Kasper explained that the former CEO and the team he was building had no qualms about reaching out and seeking advice from experts and those who love hunting and target shooting, and this willingness to reach out has become another key element in the company’s success.
Bill Dermody, director of marketing for Savage, calls this practice “corporate humility,” while quickly acknowledging that this is his term for outreach.
“At Savage, if we want to get into a certain market — long-range target shooting, for example — we don’t assume we know everything,” Dermody told BusinessWest. “We’ll go out and find experts on that topic and bring them in and have them advise us on how that product needs to be.”
But simply soliciting feedback isn’t enough, said Kasper.
“It’s whether you listen to them or not that matters most, and we know our competitors are hearing the same things and seeing the same things in the marketplace,” he said.  “Yet, we’re the first to be there and address the issue with a particular product.”
In addition to calling upon experts, listening to customer opinions is a company policy, and commentary is solicited via e-mail and phone, and at more than 70 consumer events and 85 private gun clubs per year in the U.S. alone. Such outreach has been a driving force in the company’s new-product development, strategic plan, and pattern of innovation in recent years.
For instance, the model 110, the former staple of the company during the 2001 renaissance period, is now obsolete. “That gun today has no common components to what Ron was peddling in the ’90s,” Kasper said with a laugh.
The reason is the AccuTrigger.
It was developed by the company in early 2003, and it became the answer to a nagging problem within the industry — the need for a better, crisper trigger that would prevent discharge from jarred or dropped guns. The trigger problem was inadvertently supporting an already established, and quite aggravating, after-market industry of custom gunsmithing, known as ‘trigger jobs,’ that brought an additional expense to gun owners.
“So we looked at these things that gunsmiths were doing to customize rifles and said, ‘how can we do that on a manufacturing basis?’” said Dermody. “How do we give the end user what he wants right up front as a final product?”
The AccuTrigger did more than just solve a safety and accuracy issue for all rifles; it set a new standard in the industry and put Savage back on the map.
“AccuTrigger made people that had never considered buying a Savage want to pick up a Savage and check it out,” said Dermody. So significant was the development that it pulled customers from major competitors like Ruger and Remington.
“If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we’re the most flattered gun company out there,” Dermody added. “And it took everybody [competitors] about five to six years to figure out a way around the patent.”
Not content to rest on its laurels — another trait instilled by Coburn and his leadership team — the innovators at Savage looked for the next problem to solve. They found that, due to the market moving from wood stocks, which would scratch, warp, or dent, to synthetic stocks, which were lighter and less rigid, a new problem had arisen: heat and stress would cause the stock to flex ever so slightly, causing the bullet to fly off line.
The solution, eventually named the AccuStock, was an aluminum-rail system molded into the stock, engaging the action three-dimensionally along the rifle’s entire length.
Both the AccuTrigger and AccuStock are textbook examples of how Savage Arms has stayed on the cutting edge of technology in the industry and how its tradition of innovation has generated visibility and, more importantly, sales.
Today, Savage Arms offers more than a dozen gun models, but there are more than 1,000 SKUs to customize each product. The biggest seller now is the Axis bolt-action mounted rifle, designed and developed to be a low-cost, high-value, entry-level hunting and sporting rifle, offered in a number of calibers.

Triggering Results
The front lobby at Savage has always been a tribute to the past, and for a few decades, that’s all it was, because the past was all the company could celebrate.
But today, the pieces on display, including some of the innovations of the past few decades, are symbols of an ongoing tradition of excellence and innovation, and a clear indication that this company isn’t done with creating products that can change an industry.
“The most important part of Ron’s legacy is the team he built here,” Kasper said. “We’re not short on ideas; there are exciting opportunities that lie in front of us.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Technology
VizConnect Takes Mobile Marketing to New Heights

Ed Carroll, co-founder of VizConnect

Ed Carroll,
co-founder of VizConnect

Ed Carroll says businesses, salespeople, or entrepreneurs who are not advertising on mobile devices are losing customers, and his claim is backed up by many studies, including a survey showing that more than 86 million people sought business information last year via their smartphones.
The co-founder of VizConnect in Springfield first became aware of the trend in 2004 when he was working as a television newscaster and Facebook began to gain in popularity. “I saw a paradigm shift taking place away from mainstream media, and one night I began thinking about how businesses could use it because they are completely underserved in that area,” said Carroll, who eventually came up with the idea for the high-tech company he started in 2011 with sales and marketing guru Brian Dee.
The company’s product, a video-based mobile marketing platform, is designed to help small companies or businesspeople keep pace with changes in the way products and services are marketed today.
“Large companies have staffs and people who keep track of trends, but 80% of the economy is small businesses, and they don’t have the budget to do what they need to do to compete in the mobile scene,” Carroll told BusinessWest. “There has been a huge shift to mobile marketing, and everyone in business needs to think about how to get their message onto a mobile device.”
VizConnect has grown quickly, and today is operated by a team of partners who oversee more than 400 distributors. The product they sell has been test-marketed and improved since it was introduced to the marketplace, and most of the distributors came on board in the last six months when the company took steps to grow its sales force, due to enthusiasm about the software.
When people scan a VizConnect QR code or text message a keyword with a code, they come face to face with options that allow them to watch a video, download a coupon, view items on sale or a customer testimonial, learn more about a product or service, communicate directly with the seller, or buy the product. They can access these with a simple click, and after they watch a video, their screen changes, giving them the option of clicking again to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn; calling the company; making a purchase; or anything else the business elects.
“Right now most QR codes go to a static website; we have made them more dynamic,” Carroll said. “Our platform was designed to be a call to action.”
He explained that what comes up on the screen after someone texts to a keyword or scans a QR code can make or break a sale. “Research shows it takes the human mind about six seconds to decide whether to stay or go. It’s a yes or no,” Carroll said.
He added that businesses that fail to use simple techniques to engage customers on mobile devices will soon be left behind. “This is the 21st century, and it’s all about mobile.”
Dee agrees. “Studies show that people never get more than three or four feet away from their mobile devices, and where they get their information drives their decisions,” he said.
VizConnect’s platform costs $60 a month and allows clients to market their products or services in different ways to different audiences, which can include messages in more than one language.
The common denominator is that a customer is immediately given choices. They can click on a window that says ‘see more inventory,’ one that says ‘call,’ or another that prompts them to take a different action.
These options are customized and linked to up to 10 QR codes that can show different videos or display different information. “We have simultaneous multi-messaging so people can target a mailer to a Spanish- or English-speaking demographic. It’s a very versatile platform,” Carroll said, adding that it allows companies to capture the cell-phone numbers of people who visit their site.
“They can legally market to them until they text the word ‘stop,’” he explained, as he used his smartphone to demonstrate the sequence of events.

Menu of Options

Brian Dee

Brian Dee says the company is adding distributors across the U.S. and is eyeing global expansion.

When the VizConnect video platform was first created, the text-messaging option did not exist. “The first year, we only had QR and video,” Dee explained.
But as text messaging grew in popularity, they integrated it into the software. “It allows consumers to have a choice,” Carroll said, adding that the majority of people choose the text-messaging option.
Dee agreed, noting that “QR codes have a place, but the jury is still out on them.”
However, they do serve a purpose. Since they can be created in color, many companies are using them as part of their brand. “We suggest that our customers use a QR code with their logo and the words ‘scan or text to’ a designated code next to it,” Dee said.
The text message prompt and/or QR code can be put on a business card, billboard, refrigerator magnet, T-shirt, or the menu a pizza shop staples onto a box. “The menu could sit in someone’s house for a year, and they could scan it every night to get the dinner special,” Carroll said. Codes can also be saved on a smartphone.
And if a QR code is scanned by just one person, then relayed to any form of social media, it can lead to a great deal of exposure. “If a code gets scanned once, it could be viewed more than 1,000 times by someone who has more than 1,000 Facebook friends,” Carroll said.
However, the texting option is far more popular. “It’s absolutely a key concept of our business and the one the majority of people are using,” Dee said, adding that each customer gets 10 QR codes that are married to a keyword and a short code that goes along with each of them.
Whether the customer sends a text message or scans the QR code, it takes them to the same interface. “Texting is an everyday part of American life, so it’s the perfect bridge for a small business to reach their customers on their smartphones,” Carroll continued, reiterating that it can drive them to a coupon, video, or whatever message or video the company or salesperson wants to project.
In addition, these messages can be changed on a daily basis as VizConnect gives clients the tools to deliver, manage, and store an unlimited amount of video.
“Video engages. It creates a response. It works,” Carroll said. “It’s the most engaging medium that has ever been created because it hits all the senses and invokes an emotion whether someone is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Everyone who watches will be stirred to do something. It’s easy to create and doesn’t have to be long to be effective.”
Videos can be created at no cost with the client’s smartphone, and even a six-second video is effective.
“The longer it is, the more boring it becomes. And if you don’t like it, it’s easy to redo,” Carroll said as he picked up his smartphone to make a short video of himself talking. “If you have a restaurant and sell cheeseburgers, you can grab your phone and shoot a high-definition video and tell people it’s a great buy. Or you can serve one to someone and have them say, ‘this is delicious. You have to try it.’ Testimonials are the best way of getting new business, as they give you credibility.”

Spreading the Word
Carroll and Dee sold their product door to door for more than a year, all the while ironing out kinks and improving its efficacy. They also chose a select number of people to help them.
But after incorporating texting into the software, they made the decision to go public last November and offered people a way to join the company by becoming distributors.
They hold informational seminars every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in their offices on the 14th floor of the Sovereign Bank building on Main Street in Springfield for potential customers and salespeople, along with team-building conferences and training seminars.
“We have a direct selling platform, and in this economy, people thinking about starting their own business or developing a way to generate extra income can join us,” Carroll said, adding that they have plumbers, firefighters, and law-enforcement officers working for them.
The company also has six partners — four who are local and two in San Francisco. Carroll, an Associated Press and Emmy-award-winning on-air personality, has appeared on local television newscasts throughout New England as well as CBS Evening News, and spent many years producing and appearing in weathercasts, news features, and special programs.
Dee, the company’s secretary and chief sales officer, spent 20 years in sales, with a focus in sports marketing. His career includes managing credit-card marketing programs for MBNA America and Bank of America in conjunction with the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots, along with many major college sports teams.
President Paul Coleen was a former bond trader on Wall Street, while attorney James Henderson is treasurer and provides the company with legal counsel.
And they say news about VizConnect is spreading fast. Accolades include the fact that the company was named one of the top five technology start-ups to watch by Mass. High Tech and the Boston Business Journal last year.

Moving Forward
As the smartphone industry explodes, Carroll and Dee expect their business to continue growing. “It’s comes down to this: smartphones are where people go to get information to make a decision,” Carroll said.
Dee concurred. “We’re excited about the future as we continue to add distributors across the U.S. and eventually look forward to international expansion.”
Which makes perfect sense, with multilingual options and a product designed to keep pace with the times.

Departments People on the Move

Mary Paquette

Mary Paquette

Mary Paquette has been named Director of Dexter Health Services at American International College, where she will operate in a dual capacity, serving as both a clinician and Director of Medical Services. As a senior member of the Student Affairs Leadership Team, Paquette will have shared responsibility for division-wide strategic planning and assessment activities, manage the day-to-day operations of the campus health center, provide direct medical care, and respond to medical emergencies as required. Paquette will also serve as an advocate for student health needs, managing and providing leadership for a broad range of student-development-oriented departments and programs, which will focus on prevention and education to help students become knowledgeable healthcare consumers. Paquette served previously as associate director of health services at Western New England University. She earned her BSN degree from Elms College and her MSN degree from UMass Amherst. She also studied Coronary Care Nursing at Middlesex Community College and received OSHA/occupational medicine training at STCC, and works in the Emergency Department at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn. and Hartford Hospital.


Trisha Neill

Trisha Neill

Holyoke Medical Center announced the promotion of Trisha Neill to the position of Manager of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Neill received her BS in Physical Therapy from the University of New England, and during the past year, she completed her doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from Simmons College. She has worked in a variety of physical-therapy positions throughout Western Mass. and has been with Holyoke Medical Center for 11 years.


Spherion, a national recruiting and staffing franchise, recently announced that Brian Houle is the new local franchise owner/operator of the West Springfield office. Houle will be responsible for leading the growth of the firm in the region. He is expanding temp and temp-to-hire for non-clinical healthcare positions and will focus on professional-level positions for direct hire in the areas of accounting and finance, human resources, engineering and manufacturing, and sales and marketing. Houle has a BS from the University of Lowell and an EMBA from Suffolk University, and served in the Massachusetts National Guard.


Julie Buehler was recently appointed Vice Chancellor for Information Services and Strategy and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at UMass Amherst. Buehler, who has served as deputy CIO at the University of Rochester since 2008, will oversee UMass Amherst’s Office of Information Technologies. Working with the campus administration, individual colleges, and faculty governance bodies, and in coordination with the UMass system IT office, she will also plan and implement the campus’s information and electronic communication strategy, including academic, research, and administrative computing. Buehler, who was an American Council on Education fellow in 2010-11 at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has also been leading an organizational development initiative at the University of Rochester to strengthen communications, foster diversity, and improve the IT unit’s alignment with institutional goals. The pilot effort led to the creation of a new professional-development program for staff to share expertise and develop leadership skills. Buehler received her BS in accounting from the State University of New York at Geneseo and was licensed as a Certified Public Accountant in 1994. She earned her MBA with a concentration in accounting and information systems in 1997 from the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Rochester.


Kazimierz Borawski

Kazimierz Borawski

Kazimierz Borawski, Vice President of Finance at United Bank, recently graduated from the New England School for Financial Studies at Babson College, an intensive two-year program for bank managers, run by the Mass. Bankers Assoc. Borawski, who joined United Bank in 2010, is primarily responsible for coordinating all phases of financial planning, asset-liability management, profitability analysis and reporting, peer-group comparisons, and investor presentations. In addition, he is a member of United’s Asset Liability Management and Enterprise Risk Management committees. His past experience includes a role as an accounting consultant in the Retirement Services division at MassMutual Financial in Springfield. Previously, he served as senior financial associate with JPMorgan Chase in New York City, in the investment banking division. Borawski has an MBA from Manhattan College and a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Baruch College in New York.

Departments People on the Move

Steven Mitus

Steven Mitus

Steven Mitus, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Balise Motor Sales Co., was recently honored as the 2013 Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (ACCGS) Richard J. Moriarty Citizen of the Year at the ACCGS annual meeting. The award is given annually to honor the memory of Richard J. Moriarty, a long-time active participant in the ACCGS and individual who gave of his time, talent, and personal and professional resources to the local community. Currently, Mitus serves as a trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and chairs its audit and finance committees; a trustee of Baystate Health and a member of its compensation and audit committees; a trustee of Willie Ross School for the Deaf and member of its executive committee and former Chair of its audit committee; a trustee of the National Conference for Community and Justice; a director of Health New England; and a corporator of PeoplesBank. Formerly, Mitus served as a trustee of the Springfield Technical Community College Foundation and served as its treasurer and chair of the investment committee; a trustee for the Mass.State Automobile Dealers Association; a trustee of Sisters of Providence Health System and a member of its finance committee; a trustee and vice chair of Brightside for Families and Children; and a director of New England Public Radio and Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. Mitus has served in his present capacity with Balise since 1986 and is a certified public accountant and a chartered global management accountant.
Lauren Pellegrino

Lauren Pellegrino

Berkshire Community College (BCC) recently named Lauren Pellegrino Director of Recreational Services for the college’s Paterson Field House. She is responsible for overseeing the facilities, including the pool, tennis courts, soccer fields, fitness center, and gymnasium. She also is involved with fitness and wellness programming for students, faculty, and staff. Pellegrino formerly served the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington as Fitness And Wellness Manager and previously served as assistant to the Director of Athletics & Wellness Center at The College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y. Pellegrino holds a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., is currently working toward a master’s degree at Bay Path College, and is a member of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
Mark Teed

Mark Teed

Mark Teed, principal of Teed Capital Management recently joined Raymond James as senior vice president for investments. With more than 30 years of financial services experience, Teed is an investment advisor with more than $225 million in client assets under management and a registered broker in 23 states and territories. He is a regular commentator for local TV news on market and investment trends.
The Springfield law firm of Weiner & Lange announced the addition of Jennifer Butler as an Associate. She will concentrate her practice in the areas of bankruptcy and commercial litigation.
Dr. Robert Campbell, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, adult spine surgeon, and orthopedic trauma surgeon, recently joined the medical staff Cooley Dickinson Hospital and sees patients at Hampshire Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Campbell received his medical degree with honors from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and completed his orthopedic surgery at Brown University-Rhode Island Hospital, where he also completed fellowships in spine surgery and orthopedic trauma. Campbell earned board certification from the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is dual fellowship-trained in spine care and orthopedic trauma. In addition, Campbell served four years as an active duty orthopedic surgeon in U.S. Army and completed a tour in Afghanistan.
Consolidated Health Plans Inc. (CHP), a Berkshire Hathaway Company, recently announced the appointment of Drew DiGiorgio as President. He will oversee management of sales and marketing, claims operations, customer service, audit, special risk and human resources.  DiGiorgio has been an integral part of Consolidated Health Plans over the past 18 years, and through his involvement in sales, marketing, carrier and client relations, product development, account management, and provider relations, has allowed CHP to grow into one of the most successful businesses in Western Mass. DiGiorgio holds a BA in Business from Framingham State University.
Diane Kieras-Ciolkos, owner of Escapes For Everyone in Hadley, has been named as one of 96 Travel Impression Ambassadors fro a newly launched program, www.travimp.com/ambassadorprogram, and will act as a brand advocate for Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas through September Kieras-Ciolkos was selected by Travel Impressions and Atlantis based on her booking history, her personal experience and knowledge, and communication skills through social media.

Sales and Marketing Sections
How to Avoid These Nine Common Marketing Mistakes

Christine Pilch Mancini

Christine Pilch Mancini

Business generally doesn’t just find you. You have to work hard to educate and attract the people who want and need your product or service. That’s marketing.
But the game has changed dramatically over the last five years or so, as the economy forced businesses to tighten up their expenses. In addition, social media has leveled the playing field and enabled small companies with tiny budgets to compete with much larger companies that have deep pockets. It has become very tempting for businesses to consolidate staff or try a do-it-yourself approach to their marketing.
Be it unfamiliarity, lack of education, or square pegs in round holes, there are a lot of marketing mistakes costing companies precious dollars these days. Are you making any of the following mistakes?

1. Me, Me, Me Messages
Nobody cares about how great you are, how long you’ve been in business, and that you’ve got good service. They only care about what they get. The old adage, ‘what’s in it for me?’ is truer now than ever before in people’s over-scheduled lives. They care about things that make their lives easier, save them time, help them, and solve a problem, so don’t bother with marketing messages that don’t point out how you can benefit them.
Benefits are much more effective in piquing interest than features. Take care to minimize and remove language that emphasizes the words, I, me, we, us, my, and our and turn your message around to what ‘you’ get.
Hint: Read the first page of your website. If your message isn’t primarily about ‘you,’ meaning ‘your customer,’ you might be wise to hire a good copywriter for a tuneup.

2. Not Tracking Results or Return on Investment

If you aren’t tracking results, how can you be sure which marketing efforts are paying off? This should be true of every marketing tactic that you use, be it something traditional — such as a TV ad, membership in an organization, or a print ad — or new-media initiatives, like a Facebook page, Google AdWords, or a Pinterest contest.
Tracking results can help you react quickly when something isn’t working quite right. If you watch carefully, you will be able to switch gears when messages get stale or don’t hit their mark. Pinpointing lead sources is certainly more difficult, as people tend to jump all around the web en route to you, but there are ways to track your results, and it’s to your advantage to know where you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Hint: If you want to drive traffic to your website, Google Analytics is a terrific tool for gauging the success of your efforts. You can see exactly where your traffic is coming from. You can also build unique landing pages on your website that are fed from different lead sources. Or you could obtain a special phone number or embed a special offer to track a particular advertisement. The more specific you can be, the better.

3. Neglecting to Set Goals
If you haven’t set goals, how will you determine when something is successful? Every business has its own measurement of success, and, likewise, each marketing tactic and/or campaign should also have its own objectives. Be specific. For example, a Facebook page could have many different objectives over its lifetime: growing its fan base (‘likes’), building interaction, or driving traffic to your website. Set your goals before you implement something new, and set new ones for subsequent campaigns.
Hint: If you want to increase sales of a particular product, check how your numbers have been in the past, decide on a reasonable expectation for the promotion you plan to put forth, and establish a number that you want to hit within a certain timeframe. This will allow you to react during the process, adjusting your marketing or augmenting if necessary, so you can achieve your goal.

4. Not Testing
The ability to cost-effectively test something new varies by media, but it is usually very easy to do on new-media channels. Use them to see who is attracted to particular messages, what time they see them, etc., and then use this information in other venues to help better target your ads.
Hint: Many companies test-market videos on YouTube, which gives them the ability to see how many people watch their videos within a particular timeframe, the demographics of those viewers, and how much of the video they watched, without having to buy expensive TV time. Post your own test videos and use this information to customize future videos and marketing messages that better appeal to your target audience.

5. Refusing to Try Something New (Especially When the Old Stuff Stops Working)
Familiarity is comforting, but an old advertising tactic that used to work, but is barely producing new leads, is wasting your money. Suppose you used to get lots of business whenever you ran a particular TV ad, and you haven’t seen those results for a long time, but you keep running the same old ad because you like having your friends and family see you on TV. Wouldn’t it make more sense to shift that money into something new? This could be a fresh, new TV spot, direct mail, radio, or new media. The possibilities are endless.
Hint: Don’t let your ego get in the way of bringing business through the door. Business owners, their kids, and their pets are usually not the best TV personalities, and they often actually turn off potential customers.

6. Misusing QR codes

A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned with a smartphone and takes a user to a webpage. They are best utilized for a user to get more information about whatever you are promoting in print, which could be on something such as a mailer or print ad. The single greatest misuse of a barcode is using it to link to a webpage that is not optimized for mobile. This just wastes the user’s time and causes frustration because non-mobile-optimized pages are very difficult to read and navigate on a small screen.
Other mistakes include neglecting to provide the ‘more information’ that you promised, and using QR codes on the web or within e-mail.
Hint: You can stop printing product information through the simple use of a QR code applied to your product, which brings your customer to the right page on your website for all the information he needs for the use and service of your product.

7. Buying Lists and Fans
You’ve likely seen offers of thousands of e-mail addresses or Facebook fans for your page, but what is the worth of someone who doesn’t want or need what you have to sell? Doesn’t it make more sense to talk to someone who has interest in your product or service and may actually purchase from you? Lists that you can purchase are usually not targeted, and the e-mail addresses are usually not connected to people who opted in to receive your messages, so they will consider you a spammer. That can lead to big problems.
Purchased Facebook fans are no more valuable, as it’s easy enough to hide a page feed from one’s newsfeed, so your messages aren’t being seen. Yes, your number of fans may seem impressive, but those fans are worthless if they never receive your messages and have no interest in what you’re selling.
Hint: Even when creating your own e-mail list, make sure it is comprised only of people who opt in to receive your messages. Sending to the e-mail addresses of your social-media connections and those from business cards that you collect is impolite and unprofessional. These people will likely consider your messages spam.

8. Letting a Non-marketer Coordinate Your Social Media
Social media for business is a marketing function. Yes, any kid fresh out of college can set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for you, but what do they know about marketing your business? What messages will they send? How will they handle angry or disappointed customers? Will they plan and track?
Hint: There is a reason that it’s called social-media marketing. When looking for someone to handle your social media, make sure that they understand how to market your business. If you wouldn’t put them in a traditional marketing job, they are not qualified to handle your social media either, unless working under the direction of someone who is a marketer.

9. Separating Digital Marketing from Traditional Marketing

Social media and traditional marketing are so closely intertwined within companies these days that separating them makes as much sense as having your sales and marketing departments operate exclusive of each other. Campaigns should be synched so that you’re not sending competing or non-complementary messages. This also prevents the danger of one department not knowing what the other is doing and possibly undercutting each other.
Hint: Create a system whereby information freely flows between traditional- and new-media people within your business. This could be accomplished via daily or weekly meetings, a spreadsheet that team members update, or perhaps even through a private Facebook group, where departmental activity and plans are logged. Facebook displays to the group leader who reads what content on its groups, so it is apparent when something has or has not been read. Regardless of the method, communication is critical.

Bottom Line
Everybody wants a good return on their marketing investments, so if you’re making any of the above mistakes, changing course just might not only save you money, but also bring in more business to boot.
If you’re in over your head or many of the techniques mentioned above are Greek to you, perhaps it’s time to call in a qualified marketer to bring fresh ideas to the table.

Christine Pilch Mancini owns Grow My Company and is a marketing strategist. She trains businesses to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537-2474; growmyco.com; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch;

Holiday Party Planner Sections
New Ownership Has Ambitious Plans in Place for Chez Josef

Marc Sparks

Marc Sparks has worked his way up the ladder from waiter to operations manager, and now to owner of Chez Josef.

Marc Sparks, the new owner and general manager of Chez Josef in Agawam, has a saying for his staff during the vital and busy prom season. “A prom is not just a prom; it’s a room of future brides and grooms.”

But that saying could also be refashioned to fit his new position. It would go something like this: ‘a waiter is not just a waiter; he or she could be the owner of the company someday.’ And that would fit the story of Sparks’ life perfectly.

On July 2 Sparks, through his new hospitality-management company, finalized acquisition of Chez Josef from the Skole family, thus beginning a new chapter in his intriguing career in the hospitality business, one that started in 1990, when he was a waiter in the main ballroom, aptly named the ‘Allan Room’ after Allan Skole, one of three founders of the complex.

“It’s been an exiting ride,” said Sparks of the acquisition process and subsequent developments and strategic initiatives. “Our vision is to grow this business, to honor where we came from, and look forward to the future.”

His obvious pride for his place of employment for nearly two decades is matched only by his respect for the Skole family, who, starting in 1969, built and managed one of the first-of-its-kind banquet halls in the region.

“Allan and Ron [Allan’s son, who passed away in 1999] were visionaries in this business, and they showed me the ropes,” said Sparks. “It’s why I say we honor the past and look to the future.”

The banquet hall, which has been long known as a grand location for weddings, proms, gala fashion shows, and corporate events such as the Super 60 and Pynchon Awards, will soon be given an extensive facelift, said Sparks, adding quickly that, while the look may change somewhat, what won’t is the facility’s dedication to customer service — and being on the cutting edge of change in this highly competitive business.

For this issue’s holiday party planner and focus on area banquet facilities, BusinessWest talked with Sparks about his entrepreneurial gambit and how he intends to make the past prologue for this Agawam landmark.



In 1991, Sparks was attending UMass and working his way toward a degree in Psychology. He applied for work at Chez Josef as a bartender, but the Skoles talked him into waiting tables, and he caught the hospitality bug.

He would stay with the company, taking several titles, and eventually operations manager. Throughout his tenure, he said he carried out his various duties as if he had a “vested interest” in the company, and admitted that, if the opportunity to acquire the facility ever came about, he would work to find some way to make it happen.

And in 2010, those pieces starting falling into place.

“I said to the Skoles, ‘if there is ever an opportunity to step in and purchase’ … and that started the ball rolling,” he explained, adding that the progression was a natural one, due to his many years there. The parties explored options together, and the result, said Sparks, was a transition as seamless as possible.

And a big reason for this is the staff, he said, noting that many, like him, have modest beginnings and long tenures with Chez Josef.

For instance, Executive Chef Marcel Ouimet has been with the company for 42 years, and started as a dishwasher. Anne Wright, second in charge in the kitchen, has 30 years with Chez Josef, as does Edmond Flebotte, executive assistant and purchaser. In comparison, Robin Wozniak, director of sales and marketing, is a relative newcomer, having started just five years ago.

Sparks noticed something in Wozniak, who soon rose up through the ranks, just as Sparks had done, and became a trainer and supervisor. But it was a bit iffy at first, he admitted.

“The first day, I wasn’t sure she was going to make it, but she proved me wrong,” laughed Sparks. “There’s a lot of longevity here; people don’t leave.”

As this experienced team takes the landmark into a new era, one of the keys to future success, said Sparks, is to change with the trends in the industry. But this is something it has always been able to do.

“Chez Josef has historically been a trendsetter, in my opinion,” he told BusinessWest. “We will continue that mission though research and attending trade shows around the country.”

This trendsetting began with Allan Skole in the late ’60s, when standalone banquet houses were a rarity. In fact, most get-togethers, such as proms, happened in the gym at the local high school, and wedding receptions were smaller or held at the local country club. Skole, a classically trained culinary artist, and two partners were pioneers with their concept for Chez Josef, named for one of the partners.

“Even with pioneering this facility, the way that Allan designed the building is brilliant,” said Sparks, adding that the center hallway in the middle of the building that guests never see is a sound-dampening feature to keep the clatter of the kitchen from the guests. Oversized bars were also unique for that time, as were the two grand curving staircases, reminiscent of southern mansions.


Fare Game

Sparks said he plans to continue this pattern of trendsetting. His plans are to remain on top of every new wrinkle and curve in the banquet business, and he’ll get to customers’ hearts through their stomachs.

“Everybody is a foodie,” he explained. “With developed palates, you really have to be on top of your game to wow your customers.”

He noted that banquet cuisine is now a global experience, and the fare is a result of East meets West. But the way in which the food is served is also changing.

“There are more chef-attended ‘action’ stations, small-plate and sampling stations, and not sitting down to a four- or five-course meal,” said Wozniak. “Even brides are looking for the action stations; they want the interaction, the camaraderie, and the socialization.”

Sparks and Wozniak both see multiple reasons for this shift from sit-down to stand-up, and number one is the ability to more readily network. Station fare also allows clients to be more creative with the menu while maximizing often-limited budgets.

But keeping up with all that’s new will require due diligence.

“We made a decision, as a company, to constantly reinvest in our staff, in tradeshows, food shows, classes, seminars, and the annual Catersource Conference & Tradeshow in Las Vegas,” said Sparks. “Our job is to be cutting-edge, with the Chez Josef spin; we call it the ‘Chez Josef experience.’”

And that ‘experience’ is in a seemingly constant state of change, he went on, because that is the way things are in this industry now, as the Internet has made clients more savvy about trends and products, while technology makes this almost a 24/7 business. As a result, the pace of the hospitality industry has accelerated, and in many ways.

“I share with my staff that we are in a time like no other; it’s real-time information,” said Sparks. “Brides, clients, they all want accessibility, they want to know what’s going on, and we are linked remotely, in the field, in real time.”

Wozniak said Internet-educated clients are ever-more demanding, which poses both challenges and opportunities.

“They have a definite vision, so we need to meet and exceed that vision,” she said, adding that there are obvious rewards when they do. “All this encourages us to think outside the box.”

Sparks calls this personalized process “active listening as a team,” and said that, of 20 proposals received per week, half are customized, a number that continues to rise.

As the close-knit team works to build the Chez Josef of the future, a new catering arm called Chez Gourmet is being added. It will offer full-service catering, from dinner or holiday pickups and deliveries to 10-person luncheons, said Wozniak.

“We’re rebranding ourselves and growing this business,” added Sparks.

Also on the horizon is an extensive, multi-faceted renovation effort, with the first aspects of that initiative due to be completed next spring, said Sparks, adding that the facility plans to have one capital project going on every year.

“And we’re committed to working with local contractors who are willing to work in off times, overnight, so as not to interrupt business.”


Giving Back, Moving Forward

One of the other commitments Sparks has involves giving back to the community.

For two full days just after the June 1, 2011 tornado struck the Greater Springfield area, Chez Josef chose to take on the task of helping to feed a few hundred people breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a local church, allowing the women who had started the process a few days to rest.

And during Hurricane Irene, the staff worked with the American Red Cross to deliver food to a few of the elderly-housing units in Springfield, said Sparks, adding that assistance to area nonprofits, in the form of special pricing for fund-raising events, is ongoing.

“One of my thoughts when taking on this role is that we have to give back till it hurts,” said Sparks. “It’s our task to give back and build relationships, and that’s one of the reasons this [ownership] transition has gone so smoothly.”

It’s all about teamwork, and there are no short cuts, added Sparks. “I tell my staff, ‘we wouldn’t cut corners on your day; don’t do it on someone else’s.’”

This is one of many sayings, or operational philosophies, that have guided the company for more than 40 years, he noted, while getting ready to get back to work. And they will continue to guide it through this next chapter in a storied history.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Departments Incorporations
The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.




Krishna Gopal Inc., 457 Granby Road, Chicopee, MA 01013. Priti H. Patel, 2 Smith Place, Williston Park, N.Y. 11596. Convenience store and liquor license.



Che Bella Salon & Spa Inc., 833 & 835 Springfield St., Feeding Hills, MA. Anna Lisa Martino, same. Beauty salon.


Wishbone Productions Inc., 43 Warburton Way, Northampton, MA 01060. Matthew McCloghry, same. Fundraising sales and marketing services.



Russell Enterprise Inc., 265 Dickinson Hill Road, Russell, MA  01071. Nadezhda Burkovskiy, same. Truck leasing.


Metropolitan Insurance Union Inc., 251 Boston Road, Springfield, MA 01109. Lance D. Letourneau, same. Insurance company.


Goodness Outreach Ministries Inc., 145 Bay St., Springfield, MA 01109. Derrick Augustus Samms, 801 Chicopee St., Chicopee, MA 01013. Community outreach.

Re Green Springfield, Inc., 1441 Main St. Suite 601, Springfield, MA 01108.

Timothy J. Ryan, 72 Morningside Park, Springfield, MA 01108. Non-profit organization designed to include the development, creation, and implementation of sustainable planting, caring, and maintenance of trees and vegetation in the city of Springfield. This includes the development of programming and initiatives to raise and expend funds for the planting, care, and maintenance of trees and the urban forest on both public and private lands within the city of Springfield.

Iglesia Pentecostal Jesus La Rosa De Saroin Inc., 316 1/2 Bermont Ave., Springfield, MA 0110. Mercedes Figueroa, 44 Allen Park Road Springfield, MA 01118. Bible studies and religious services related to the church.

Bonneau Anesthesia Services, Inc., 69 Mashapaug Road, Sturbridge, MA 01566. Jean-Paul Bonneau, 69 Mashapaug Road Sturbridge, MA 01566. Nurse anesthesia services.



Ar-Rahman Co. Inc, 470 Main St., West Springfield, MA  01089. Abdulkadir Hussein, 483 Union St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Grocery store.

Car Development Inc., 122 Doty Circle, West Springfield, MA 01089. James E. Balise, 122 Doty Circle, West Springfield, MA 01089. Financing and redevelopment of real estate.

Affordable Home Improvement By Paul Inc., 533 Elm St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Pavel Panasyuk. 533 Elm St, West Springfield, MA 01089. Home improvements.




Lucmar Livery Inc., 2460 Boston Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095. Paul J. Martins, 16 Lembo Dr. Wethersfield, MA 06109.




40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Owner and Founder, Wild Apple Design Group

Amy Scott

Amy Scott

Amy Scott laughed when she heard someone describe her as a woman “without the word ‘no’ in her vocabulary.”
“When people see my résumé, or I recite the litany of projects that I’m working on, they often wonder how on earth I do all this,” she offered as an explanation. “But it has a lot to do with efficiency, why I’m able to do as many things as I do. That’s at the core. It’s not that I’m crazy, or that I can’t say no, because I actually can. I selectively choose the nonprofits and charities that I plug into.”
Over the years, that list has included the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, the Zoo at Forest Park, the MSPCA of Springfield, Habitat for Humanity, Friends of the Homeless, and countless others.
“The reason why I choose to do so many nonprofit projects is that I find that other people who are involved in quality projects are also high performers,” she explained. “So it puts me in the right company.”
And that’s a message she likes to pass on to her clients.
As owner of a marketing and graphic-design firm, when Scott draws up something for a new client, “I ask them to consider a nonprofit facet as part of a well-rounded marketing strategy — to consider a grassroots approach, which means networking, networking, networking.
“And being visible when you’re doing that,” she added. “Everyone makes out in the end.”
With the coming of summer, Scott said she’s looking forward to fielding a new account: the Holyoke Blue Sox.
“I’ll be doing their sales and marketing,” she said, “and I’m finding that this is extremely exciting, because not only am I absorbing minor-league sports, which is a whole new dimension for me, but the Blue Sox are a nonprofit, and through them I was able to launch a tremendous number of fund-raisers through youth baseball leagues and school systems.”
Clearly, before the first shout of “play ball,” Scott has already hit a home run.
— Dan Chase

Sections Supplements
Low Bids Create Budget-friendly Opportunities, but for How Long?

Center of the Sciences and Pharmacy

WNEC saw its Center of the Sciences and Pharmacy go up at a budget-friendly time for those who want to build.

It’s been the bane of builders for a long time now: with demand for commercial construction down and competition fierce, they’ve been forced to bid very low to have any chance at winning jobs. That has trimmed profit margins to a bare minimum, eased only by material and labor costs that have remained suppressed as well.
All that has created a landscape of opportunity for businesses willing to take the plunge and build during a time of economic stagnancy.
“It’s still an exceptionally good time to build, and it probably has been for a year, year and a half,” said David Fontaine, president of Fontaine Brothers in Springfield. “And that trend is continuing.”
Higher education is one industry that has embraced the advantages of building when prices are low, said Fontaine, whose firm counts colleges and universities among its niches. He recently finished a new math and science building at the Berkshire School in Sheffield; “the price on that was 25% below the budget just a few years ago.
“The private colleges seem to have picked up on this,” he continued. “Last year we just finished the pharmacy school at WNEC, which benefited immensely from that market, and a dormitory at the College of the Holy Cross; they put that out to bid a year ago and benefited tremendously.”
Fontaine said some boards of trustees are looking anxiously at their own squeezed budgets, yet rationalizing that saving 25% or more on needed capital projects is a smart move in the long term. And that’s true across all regions of the state.
“We’ve competed for six or seven decent-sized schools in Eastern Mass. in the past year, and they have all come in 15%, maybe 20% below projections,” he said.
The state has been another beneficiary, seeing its federal stimulus dollars stretch further than officials had anticipated. Early last year, according to a Boston Globe report, the winning bids on 48 transportation projects had collectively come in $59 million below the $226 million that state originally estimated the work would cost. The average was 22% below contract estimates.
“It is a good time to build, no matter what sector you’re in,” said Peter Wood, director of sales and marketing at Associated Builders in South Hadley. Contractors only hope more companies realize it, creating a larger pool of projects and gradually raising bids, before a rising tide of material costs makes their outlook even more dire.

Steeling for Change
Indeed, many materials costs are beginning to rise — a good sign for the industry in the long term, but one that could pinch already-stressed builders right now, as bid prices remain flat for the time being (see related story, page 26).
Specifically, November saw significant jumps in prices for diesel fuel and copper — two key resources in construction — while weak demand for construction forced them to hold down bid prices despite the cost increases, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
These price jumps “could be the last straw for some hard-pressed contractors,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, in his monthly report. “With unemployment in construction running at 18.8% — double the all-industry average — any more business failures will only add to the industry’s misery.”
Then in December, prices for materials used in construction jumped 0.9% (and 5.4% for all of 2010), while price indexes for finished buildings remained flat over both time periods. Construction costs also outstripped the producer price index for finished goods, which rose 0.6% in December and 4% in 2010.
Simonson noted that prices soared at double-digit rates over the year for four key construction materials. Diesel fuel prices climbed 2.3% in December and 28% in 2010; steel-mill product prices rose 0.5% and 12.5%, respectively; copper and brass mill shape prices were up 1.3% and 12%; and prices for aluminum mill shapes rose 12% over the year, despite a 0.2% dip in December.
“Structural steel is a big-time barometer of what’s going on, and it has started to creep up in the last month,” Fontaine said. “It’s an indicator that manufacturers and suppliers can only provide a product for so long at costs that don’t make any sense. It’s changing direction, and it has to; we’ve had two years of people just giving things away. And when steel starts to climb, a lot of things follow it.”
For contractors, there is worse news to come, said Simonson, noting that, since the latest data was compiled, suppliers have announced further price increases for copper, steel, and diesel fuel. “With contractors unable to pass along the increases in the price of finished buildings, many firms could be pushed out of business,” he said.
Even as material prices rise, weak demand for construction, combined with intense competition for work, is forcing contractors to hold the line on bid prices, Simonson observed. The producer price index for new office construction actually dropped 0.8% for the year. The index for new industrial buildings was up 0.4% in 2010; for new warehouses, it rose 0.4%; and for new schools, it was up 1.3% for the year.
Other items that contributed to the December climb in material costs included lumber and plywood, architectural coatings, paint, brick and structural clay tile, and gypsum products. Prices have remained fairly stable nationally for asphalt paving mixtures and blocks, concrete products, and insulation materials, according to the association.
“Contractors have been unable to recoup these costs in what they charge,” Simonson added. “Indexes for new office, school, warehouse, and industrial buildings were virtually unchanged … over 12 months. Prices charged by concrete, roofing, electrical, and plumbing contractors showed very small movements in either direction.”
Contractors are likely to be squeezed by rising material costs and flat prices for completed projects for the foreseeable future, Simonson predicted. He forecasted that contractors would experience periods of simultaneous price spikes in multiple materials in 2011 as the U.S. and foreign economies pick up speed.
“Unfortunately,” Simonson said, “demand for construction will be erratic for months to come, worsening the price pinch that has already devastated too many firms and their workers.”

Doing What’s Necessary
In the meantime, builders and subcontractors alike continue to bear the squeeze in order to keep working, and low winning bids remain the order of the day, continuing a period of opportunities for businesses willing to invest in additions and renovations.
“The subcontractors seem to be extremely hungry, as far as doing what’s necessary to keep surviving in this market,” Wood said. “Many are more than willing to travel outside their comfort zone — from Eastern Mass., Connecticut, and the Albany area, they’re coming to the Valley.
“Contractors in the private sector have the ability to pick and choose their subcontractors, but you still want to pick the most reliable as well as the most cost-effective ones,” he continued. “We do our best to see the local subcontractors working instead of just taking the lowest bid — and the locals are giving us competitive bids, so they’re not getting shut out of the marketplace.”
Yet, with costs on the rise, the squeeze continues. The question is, when will more companies take advantage?

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

We Must Separate Doctors from Industry

This summer, Harvard Medical School announced new restrictions on the relationships between its faculty and the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries. The policy prohibits faculty from accepting gifts and meals, limits their consulting income, and requires public reporting of any payments received. The stated goal is to eliminate a perception of undue commercial influence in medical education. This is the right decision by Harvard. It is now time that all other medical schools and teaching hospitals follow suit.
The medical/pharmaceutical industry influence on academic medicine is ubiquitous. In 2007, a survey of academic department chairs published in the Journal of the American Medical Assoc. revealed that 60% reported some form of personal relationship with industry, including as a consultant, paid speaker, officer, founder, or member of a board.
While many of these relationships are appropriate, an increasing number go off-track. Later that same year, the Department of Justice filed criminal complaints against four of the five medical-device manufacturers in New Jersey, alleging that the companies used consulting agreements with orthopedic surgeons as inducements to use a particular company’s products. According to Justice, the investigation revealed it was common practice that surgeons “were paid tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for consulting contracts and were often lavished with trips and other expensive perquisites.”
More recently, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has investigated research conflicts of interests at numerous teaching hospitals and academic medical centers, including Harvard Medical School. In October 2008, an article in the the New York Times noted that Grassley’s findings “suggest that universities are all but incapable of policing their faculty’s conflicts of interest.” Eric Campbell, a health policy researcher at Mass General and Harvard Medical School, called these consulting arrangements “one of the great wink-winks of all time.”
Things must change. Medical schools and teaching hospitals have nothing to fear by establishing more appropriate restrictions governing their relationships with industry. The experience of our hospital system is one case in point.
Several years ago, clinical leaders at our system, UMass Memorial Health Care, became concerned about the problem created by these relationships. As a result, we launched a comprehensive process that resulted in the adoption, in 2007, of one of the strictest vendor-relations policies in the nation. Among other things, we prohibit gifts, meals, and entertainment, eliminate industry influence in medical education, restrict consulting to true scientific (not marketing) issues, and restrict access by sales and marketing representatives at our facility.
At first, there was skepticism. Some physicians resented the suggestion that accepting a mug or a free lunch somehow taints their medical judgment. Others worried that we would lose industry support for medical education and they would not be able to stay current on the latest drug and device developments. But almost three years later, there has been nary a whimper. No grieving at the loss of free lunches or dinners, and very few complaints about the loss of any educational opportunities. Indeed, most physicians are happier with the more limited, and more appropriate, interactions with industry. And they don’t mind writing with generic pens.
Recently, we conducted a survey of our physicians and residents to determine the level of support for our policy. While there remains some skepticism, almost two-thirds of respondents said they wanted UMass Memorial to continue to play a leading role among academic medical centers in promoting a strict policy. One resident said the policy made him so proud that, as he leaves his training, he asks all his potential employers about their policy.
This is not about demonizing pharmaceutical and medical-device companies. Our policy continues to allow significant contact with industry. These companies are vital to medical research and our continued ability to discover new and improved ways of caring for patients. But when we allow the good parts of those relationships to be sullied by the bad, we undermine the integrity of the entire interaction.
All of academic medicine needs to now acknowledge that the goals of a profit-driven industry, while laudable, do not always align with the goals of independent scientific research, teaching, and the delivery of high-quality patient care. Harvard is not the first to go down this road, but it may be the most influential. It should not be the last.

Douglas S. Brown is senior vice president and general counsel, and Stephen Tosi is chief medical officer, of UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester.

CEO’s Success Is Measured in Dollars and Scents

It was just after 7 a.m. on a Friday, and Harlan Kent was on the road — again.
His destination this time was New Hampshire and several of the Yankee Candle stores there. Kent, who became CEO of the company last fall, does this often. He talks to the people who run the stores, and he talks to customers. The goal is the same: to find out if the store in question is providing the kind of products, services, and experience that the corporation demands of each outlet.
“I tell them I work for Yankee Candle — I don’t tell them I’m the CEO,” he told BusinessWest when asked about his MO for these store visits. “This is definitely a part of being in retail. I can travel anywhere in the U.S. and be visiting our stores, which is certainly a problem for my wife, because it means every time I’m on vacation, there’s going to be some stores for me to go to. And that doesn’t make her too happy.”
Kent said he considers these visits a big part of his job description, and also the company-wide mission to build, promote, and protect the Yankee Candle brand, which happens to be just one of many famous names he has sold during his career.
Others include Vlasic pickles, Dole pineapple, Winchester ammunition, and Pepperidge Farm products. “I have a passion for brands,” he said, adding that those food-related résumé stops dovetailed nicely with another passion — cooking.
Indeed, Kent spent a year between high school and college at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, learning the art of food preparation. He later had a number of summer jobs working in various restaurants. Kent still likes the kitchen and says he makes a mean spaghetti avongele (white clam sauce), and satisfies his sweet tooth with many endeavors involving chocolate. But his only interest in the restaurant at the Yankee Candle complex in South Deerfield (Chandler’s) is eating there.
“I get to see what’s going on there, and get my fix that way,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be disrespectful to our chef and venture into the kitchen; I do all my cooking at home.”
At the company’s headquarters in South Deerfield, he is, most definitely, more interested in work involving another of the five senses — smell. Yankee Candle now has roughly 200 scents in its inventory (most stores carry about 75 at any given time), and new ones are being created each year, New additions include ‘vanilla cupcake,’ ‘strawberry buttercream,’ ‘tropical lifestyle,’ and ‘pineapple tilantro.’
“One of the teams I have the utmost respect for here is our fragrance team — they’ve been doing a fabulous job for a lot of years,” said Kent. “They are responsible for rolling out, on average, 20 new fragrances a year, and to get there, they start with more than 2,000 fragrances that they’re evaluating that they’ve culled down to get to those 20 fragrances.
“They’re incredibly creative,” he continued, noting that, contrary to popular belief, there are still countless possibilities still to be considered. “They’re always coming up with new twists on how to combine fragrances or new ways of providing variety in versions of a fragrance.”
Monitoring additions to the portfolio is just a small part of the workload for Kent, who, in his current role and, previously, as COO, has steered the company through the Great Recession with relatively modest revenue declines (4%), and is now focused on establishing sustainable growth and expanding Yankee Candle’s presence around the globe.
For this, the latest installment of its Profiles in Business series, BusinessWest looks at how Kent will go about those assignments, and why visits like the ones he was making in New Hampshire play such a key role in that process.

Waxing Nostalgic
As he was driving to Deerfield in 2001 for his interview for the position of senior vice president of the Wholesale Division of Yankee Candle, he called his father to get his take on that career opportunity.
If he was looking for encouragement, he certainly didn’t get it.
“He told me that sounded like a pretty silly idea,” Kent recalled, “because he’d been to a number of dinner parties recently and no one was burning candles. So he didn’t think it would be a good business to get into. I had to explain to him that it wasn’t those kinds of candles, he wasn’t the customer we had in mind, and that this was actually a very good business.”
Still, this wasn’t a career stop he could have imagined. “I certainly never envisioned myself working in, or aspiring to work in, the candle industry,” he continued. “But it’s been fabulous.”
Kent interviewed with Yankee Candle because, after four years as senior vice president and general manager of the Wholesale Division at Totes Isotoner Corp. in Ohio, he was looking for a new career challenge and a return to the East Coast.
Over the course of a 25-year career in business, Kent has worked with and for a number of famous brands, and in different capacities. He said his work history has three distinct parts — first some time in consulting and strategic planning, then several years in brand management and marketing, and then the last third in general management. After a stint with Bain and Co. as a consultant, he went to work for Dole Food Co., Castle & Cooke Inc. in a marketing and advertising capacity. He went from there to the Campbell Soup Co., where, after a stint as director of strategic planning, he worked in a number of divisions building several name brands.
He served as marketing manager for the frozen dinner brand LeMenu Healthy, and later became senior marketing manager for Vlasic. From there, he took the position of business director for the frozen foods division of Pepperidge Farm, and later became vice president of marketing for that company, handling Milano, Goldfish, and other iconic trademarks.
His next career stop was at the Winchester Division of Olin Corp., where, as vice president of global sales and marketing, he executed a complete business turnaround for the for the $260 million recreational, military, and industrial ammunition maker.
While there was wide diversity with the products he sold and marketed, there were some common denominators with all those stops.
“I always had a passion for the team I was on, and a passion for brands — I always fall in love with the brand I’m working on,” he explained. “I also have a passion for solving business issues. All of the companies I’ve worked for have had that combination of opportunities. I’ve been very lucky.”
Kent has had to rely on all those passions as he’s maneuvered the company through the prolonged economic downturn. The retail sector suffered considerably during the recession, he explained, and Yankee Candle was certainly no exception.
Still, the company has managed to control its revenue declines while also continuing efforts to expand its presence. Yankee Candle is now in 42 states, and has some 3,000 stores in Europe, another 2,000 in Canada, and more than 3,000 in Asia.
“We now export candles from Deerfield, Mass. to Beijing, China,” he said, adding that the company opened two stores in that city last October, and there will undoubtedly be more to follow. “There’s an unbelievable opportunity there; just look at the numbers. There are 13 million people living in Beijing, and another 4 million come into it every day to work. That’s 17 million people, which adds up a lot of opportunities to sell candles.
“And scented candles are catching on there,” he continued. “We see that as a gradual growth opportunity for us. But we’re having great success in Asia; we started in Japan, we’re having a lot of success in Korea, and now we’re starting in China. We’re very excited about the possibilities.”
Kent hasn’t visited the stores in Beijing yet, but he’s made countless stops at facilities in several different countries. In each case, the broad assignment is the same — to gauge the experience being provided, to customers and employees alike.
“I’m really interested in understanding first how our team is taking care of customers in that store,” he explained. “There are three things that we talk about at Yankee Candle in terms of strategies that the company is all about. One of them is creating a sensational product experience, and for that you need have well-thought-out, quality products. The second is providing shoppers with a very rewarding and enjoyable in-store experience, and the third is creating sensational work experiences for our team.
“When I’m in a store, I’m interesting in making sure we’re creating the best shopping experience possible for our guests,” he continued. “I’m focused on what the store looks like, how the product is presented, and how warm and engaging the sales team is. And then I ask a lot of questions about what is the company can be doing to support them.”
More questions are then put to customers, he explained, about everything from the products to the competition.

Tales from Retail
When he’s not working, Kent says he spends considerable time traveling with his wife and three children. The whole family is athletically inclined, and there have been a number of ski trips, including one recent sojourn to the French Alps.
“I had just one regret, and that was that we went before the dollar started getting strong against the euro,” said Kent with a laugh, adding that he’s traveled extensively in this country and overseas.
And at almost every stop there have been visits to Yankee Candle stores to gauge the thoughts of managers, employees, and especially customers. Such stops may put a holiday on hold for an hour or so, but they are, as Kent said, part of being in retail.
And they’re especially part of this company’s success story.

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

Sections Supplements
Hoteliers Are Doing Better, But Still Have Reservations

Lewis Kiesler

Lewis Kiesler says today’s short booking window makes it difficult to predict future hotel stays.

It’s been a rough few years for area hoteliers, who have seen the recession and soaring gas prices take big bites out of both corporate and leisure bookings. But 2010 is off to a decent start, and there is optimism that the upward swing will continue as the sector heads into its busiest seasons.

Lewis Kiesler was talking about how the hotel industry has fared since the economy crashed and how it has affected leisure travel.
“People are making arrangements at the last minute. You can enter a month that looks weak, then have people call up on a Wednesday and say they plan to arrive on Friday. It makes it very difficult to manage things when you don’t have advance bookings,” said Kiesler, president and general manager of the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Course in Lenox.

His sentiments reflect those of other hoteliers across Western Mass., who say it is extremely difficult to predict what the rest of the year will hold. They hope things will improve, because 2009 was fraught with uncertainty as companies cut back on business travel and turned to vehicles such as Webinars in lieu of holding conferences in hotels. To make matters worse, the number of group tours fell, and people stopped booking hotel stays weeks in advance.
“We are seeing more business that is short-term than in the past. We don’t like it, but it’s a reality,” said Paul Picknelly, president of the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place, who also owns the Hilton Garden Inns in Springfield and Worcester and the Country Inn and Suites in Holyoke.
Connie Foster, director of sales for the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, which includes the Comfort Inn and Suites in Ludlow and the Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn in Hadley, says that, instead of making reservations two weeks to two months in advance, people are now calling two days to two weeks ahead. Even motorcoach tours, which used to book 18 months out, are booking only three to four months ahead.
“That business has gotten better, but there are fewer tours. People are making sure they have money in their hands before they are confirming trips,” said Foster.
Roughly half of the bus tours scheduled to stay at The Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield last fall cancelled, said General Manager Chuck Burnick. That was especially significant since October is normally a strong month due to the popularity of foliage tours in the Berkshires.
“Last year was the worst year I have seen in the past 10 years,” he told BusinessWest. “It got bad after 9/11, but it only lasted for a few months. This year we are up about 4% in occupancy, which is not great, and we are cautiously optimistic. But it’s really hard to predict the future because of the short booking window.”
Many business conferences were cancelled last year, and hoteliers said it was not unusual to see multiple-day conference schedules changed to single-day events. It didn’t help that most of those who did stick to multi-day conferences cut back on extra bonuses.
“It all comes into play,” Picknelly said. “Corporate clients scaled back in terms of conventions, and attendence was down. They continued to come here, but only had about 80% participation. Some groups cancelled breakfast or held one social hour instead of two.”
Foster has seen the tide of corporate travel ebb over the past three years. “Business travel still hasn’t picked up to where it was in 2007,” she said. “But it is increasing slowly, which is very promising.”
In fact, the EASTEC 2010 conference staged late last month in West Springfield was so successful that hotels in the area sold out. “This year, we were at 100% capacity,” Picknelly said. “We are seeing fewer and fewer cancellations and doing better than we did last year. It is still a little slower than we want it to be, but we are doing well.”

Guarded Measures
Still, it has become critical for hoteliers to maintain a vigilant watch over trends in the industry. They are keeping a close eye on competitors and hoping mainstays such as youth sports, the Big E, the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, and other annual scheduled events, coupled with a pent-up desire on the part of the public to travel, will result in numbers that mirror or exceed those seen in 2009.
But they aren’t banking on anything.
“No one knew what would happen this year,” said Bill Hess, general manager of the Springfield Marriott. “We have stablized, and I think the second half of the year will be better. But if I look at the next six weeks, it’s a little soft. We are looking 90 days out to make sure we are priced properly.”
Kiesler believes there is some pent-up demand for travel and people are starting to feel better about spending. “But the whole thing is fragile because of the world picture,” he said, referring to problems in Europe and elsewhere. “I’m cautiously optimistic and hope it’s not just an aberration.”
In order to stay in the game, some hotels have had to cut their rates. Others refuse to do so, and all report working hard to avoid layoffs so they can continue to deliver services that insure guests have pleasant stays.
“We didn’t reduce rates because we felt it was important not to have a fire sale,” Hess said about the Springfield Marriott. “But we made sure all appropriate discount channels were open and value was there for people who were willing to plan ahead.”
Access to Internet specials and Web sites that allow people to compare rates has also fueled competition. “People have become very savvy. We used to say, ‘this is the rate,’ but now people call and tell us they have found a lower rate somewhere else and ask if we can match it,” Foster said, explaining that some hotels are offering people a low introductory rate, then doubling it for return visits.
“It’s scary, and the general feeling is that, when business is down, you need to lower your rates. But if I did so, I would have to reduce services and take things away, and we are trying not to do that,” she said. “I’m a big fan of value integrity.”
Unfortunately, some operations found they had no choice.
“We had to lower our rates last year to be competitive, but now we are trying to get back to where we were,” Kiesler said about Cranwell. Burnick said the Crowne Plaza reduced its rates slightly last summer, during a time period when they normally would have risen.
Bill Brown also reported a rate reduction. He is the director of sales and marketing for the Welcome Group Inc., which includes the Hampton Inn in West Springfield and the Enfield Crowne Plaza, which the Welcome Group purchased last September. It is undergoing a $1 million renovation and conversion to a Holiday Inn, which should be completed by mid-July.
Brown says he feels 100% more optimistic about business growth than he did last year. “I think people are beginning to have a little more faith in the future and think the worst is behind them,” he said.
But he believes 9/11 and the radical downturn in the economy in 2008 resulted in caution in the corporate and leisure travel populations, and he feels that is unlikely to change. “In the past, people made decisions about where to stay based on location, amenities, or luxury without even blinking an eye,” he said. “Now, people who used to spend $139 for a room are spending $99. So the whole hotel community has had to react.”

Forging Ahead
Although 2009 was difficult, Picknelly said, the Sheraton spent more than $3 million last year renovating its facilities. Improvements included refurbishing guest rooms and meeting spaces, as well as adding a free, state-of-the art business center called the Sheraton Link.
“Our commitment to customer service is paramount, and our customers have been very pleased with our investment,” he said, adding that it resulted in an increase in business.
Picknelly chose not to eliminate sales staff, although other hotel chains did so due to a lack of performance results.
He said the Sheraton has a joint marketing program with Six Flags, and business has increased over the past few weeks, which he attributes in part to fuel prices. “When gas approached $4 a gallon, it changed people’s travel plans,” he said. “Fuel has stabilized, which is a positive thing for us, because it’s no longer a concern for the average family. I think stay-cations are behind us now.”
The Basketball Hall of Fame moved its enshrinement ceremonies to August this year, which should help. They are usually staged after Labor Day, and Picknelly and other hotel owners are hopeful that families will be able to enjoy it this summer and extend their stays to visit area attactions. “We are pleased that they changed it to August,” he said. “It’s much more family-friendly and should result in an increase for restaurants and hotels.”
Hess is also hopeful about the second half of 2010. “The social segment of our business has been consistent. People are still getting married and having bar and bat mitzvahs and retirement parties. I think that will help offset the corporate decline and will allow us to finish close to last year,” he said. “Youth sports are still strong as teams have to travel to compete, and there are events coming up in the fall such as the Big E and the Tip Off Classic at Thanksgiving.”
Foster expects her group’s numbers to be up 2% to 3% percent over last year. “If they get up to 4% or 5%, I’ll be ecstatic,” she said.
Although 2009 was difficult, and the first quarter of this year was somewhat stagnant, Brown said his group’s numbers are running parallel to last year when they ranked second in occupancy rate among local competitors. “A lot is due to the economic climate, but the Hampton Inn in West Springfield was one of the market leaders in our competitive set. That means we did a very good job with our market strategies,” he said.
“Our business revenues are still behind 2009, but from April to June we saw some significant rebound, which is a good indication. We also got more inquiries in the second quarter, although the corporate market is still cautious about how they want to spend their dollars.”
He echoed Picknelly, saying a key ingredient to growth will revolve around the type of season that Six Flags, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Big E have.
“If these premier attractions generate more activity than in the past, it will be a clear sign that people are traveling — that the leisure traveler is back on the road again,” he said. “Everyone came into the first quarter hesitant, but the winter months are typically slow in Western Mass.”
Hotels in the Berkshires also have their eye on the future. Kiesler says advance bookings for July and August are ahead of last year in both the business and leisure arenas. “We survived 2009, and over the last few months we have seen a significant increase over last year’s bookings,” he said. “Tanglewood is reporting their advance sales are ahead of last year, which is a huge draw for business in the Berkshires.
“Everyone in the U.S. who is in the hospitality business has gone through a rough time, but things are coming back,” he continued. “It’s only June, and we have already exceeded our budget for groups for the year. The lead time is short, but we are cautiously optimistic that, if we see last-minute bookings, we will be in pretty good shape.”

Cover Story
STCC/UMass Partnership Created to Take Incubator to
the Next Level



Springfield Technical Community College and UMass Amherst have announced a partnership involving the Springfield Incubator in the Scibelli Enterprise Center on the STCC campus. The collaborative effort is expected to breathe new life into a facility that has struggled — due in large part to the economy and the loss of a $500,000 state subsidy — while also increasing the university’s presence in Springfield.

Marla Michel and Ira Rubenzahl were trying — but not ultimately succeeding — in their efforts to come up with a single word to describe what they’re doing with the Scibelli Enterprise Center in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College.
Both thought ‘reinvent’ was too strong a word and, overall, not accurate, since the basic operating model for the facility won’t change appreciably. Also cast aside were ‘reposition’ and ‘rebrand’ — they don’t really tell the whole story, they said — and while Michel appeared to like ‘rejuvenate,’ the two ultimately decided they would need phrases, not a single word, to convey their intentions.
“We’re going to take things to a much higher level,” said Rubenzahl, STCC’s president, as he talked about the Enterprise Center and the Springfield Incubator it houses, home to a few small businesses (clients) and several business-support agencies, and which will now be operated in partnership with UMass Amherst.
Michel, who works for the university as executive director of Strategic Communications and Outreach, and who also now directs the incubator as a shared executive, went further.
“We want this to be the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass.,” she said, noting that her broad plan is to take the center, which opened a decade ago but has struggled in recent years with declining occupancy, from being a purely mixed-use facility — meaning that it has incubated ventures across many business sectors — to a ‘modified mixed-use’ center, or home to only IT-enabled companies and different kinds of ‘green’ enterprises.
She’ll start with a venture called Texifter, LLC, a spinoff company based on text-analysis research conducted by Stuart Shulman, a professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst. Describing his business in broad, simple terms, Shulman said they are “power tools for language” that, as the company’s contrived name indicates, allow users to sift through text — large amounts of it.
Texifter software and techniques can help government officials, academic and legal researchers, non-governmental organizations, and corporate employees make searching, sorting, and analyzing large numbers of documents far more manageable, he explained, adding that the company now has a small staff and is moving out of the research-and-development stage and into the contract-procurement stage, said Shulman, who spoke with BusinessWest from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington after talking with representatives from several government agencies about how his products can help them.
This makes Texifter exactly the kind of venture with which Michel is hoping to fill the many available suites at the incubator.
To grow the tenant population, Michel intends to aggressively market the incubator, which many small businesses, operating in basements, attics, and garages, probably don’t know about. While making them aware through a variety of vehicles, from social-media outlets to direct communication with area colleges whose students and faculty members have become entrepreneurs, Michel will also work to inform them about the benefits of incubation. And she says there are many.
“Research shows that 67% of companies that are incubated succeed, while for those that are not, it’s less than half,” she said. Thus, a part of her job description will be work to convince entrepreneurs looking for space to grow to look for an incubator and not simply square footage in an office building.
For this issue, BusinessWest looks at how the new partnership between STCC and UMass Amherst evolved, and why officials at both schools believe the collaboration will enable Michel to achieve that goal of making this the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass.

Schools of Thought
Rubenzahl said there were a number of factors that brought the two schools together several months ago in discussions about the enterprise center. Chief among them was the fact that the facility had hit a wall of sorts in its efforts to attract and effectively incubate clients, and for several reasons.
First, STCC lost its $530,000 state subsidy for the center — which paid for staff and operating costs — in the wake of massive budget cuts across the public college system stemming from the economic downturn and its harsh impact on revenues to the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, the recession also took a toll on entrepreneurs trying to take their companies to the proverbial next level; many were slowed in their development due in large part to difficulties obtaining financing, and thus were not willing to take on the costs of moving into commercial real estate, he continued.
“Companies can’t get started without financing,” he said. “We would have more startups if entrepreneurs could get the money they need to get started.”
There were also some staff changes and turnover in leadership positions at the center, said Rubenzahl, adding that, collectively, these factors provided what he called “an opportunity to revisit” the facility and plan its future.
And as he did so, Rubenzahl recalled reading somewhere that in the original legislation for the technology park at STCC, opened in 1996, there was wording to the effect that UMass Amherst should be considered as a potential partner in that venture. This recollection, reinforced with suggestions from others to initiate a dialogue with the state university, prompted Rubenzahl to commence talks with Tim Milligan, executive vice chancellor for University Relations, and John Mullin, dean of the university’s graduate school, director of the Center for Economic Development, and point person for the so-called Springfield Initiative, the university’s ongoing efforts to increase its visibility and impact in the City of Homes.
Mullin told BusinessWest that the incubator project touches on at least a few of the primary goals for the initiative, including the twin desires to be more visible and to bring more of its spinoff companies to Springfield and its suburbs (see related story, page 9).
He recalls meeting last fall with Paul Stelzer, president of Appleton Corp., which manages the SEC and tech park, about ways to partner on the incubator and create momentum there. “Very gradually, a couple of things morphed,” he said, “including the idea of the university directing startups to the incubator, and the other was providing someone who would be a coordinator or manager.”
Fast-forwarding a little, Rubenzahl and Michel said these initial talks eventually led to the creation of a formal partnership that involves a ‘what,’ a ‘who,’ and a ‘how.’ The ‘who’ would be Michel, who has been part of several economic-development-related initiatives at UMass, including efforts to take research from the laboratories to area communities. She will now split her time between the university and the incubator, with the institutions splitting her salary.
The ‘what’ would be a collaborative effort between the college and the university to make the incubator a bigger economic force in the region. Doing so would serve many different purposes, said Michel, listing everything from potential job growth to giving the university a still-greater role in economic-development efforts in the region.
As for the ‘how,’ as in how to make the facility the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass., Michel says she plans to utilize all the resources and connections available to her to bring more, and higher-quality, clients to the incubator. Creating this critical mass will achieve many goals, from making the facility far more self-sustainable (more on that later) to making the incubator a desired landing spot for entrepreneurs.
Moving forward, the operating model will remain essentially the same, said Michel, noting that this means attracting clients with sound business plans and growth potential, properly incubating them, or giving them the help they need to get to the next level through the agencies in the SEC and three-person advisory boards assigned to each client, and then ‘graduating’ them into the community in two or three years and using their spaces to assist more small businesses.
“This is the model that (former STCC President) Andrew Scibelli created,” said Michel, “and we don’t have to change it; it works.”

Getting Down to Business
What will change, however, is the makeup of the incubator’s clientele. Indeed,
to make her vision for the incubator become reality, Michel wants to recruit more companies like Texifter, which fits the profile for the preferred client in a number of ways. For starters, it can take advantage of the extensive fiber-optic infrastructure that runs through the technology park. Also, it is technology-enabled, has strong growth potential, is ready to move from R&D into the sales and marketing phase, can clearly benefit from being in the incubator and around business-support agencies, and may soon to be in a position to hire STCC students and graduates.
“This is the kind of company we’re trying to attract, and we believe there are many that fit this profile,” Michel said, noting that UMass Amherst probably has several spinoffs that already meet this description or soon will. Technology-related companies are a prime target, as are certain types of ‘green’ ventures, she said, noting that what are known as ‘green-technology companies’ may not be suitable for this type of incubator because of the long periods of time it takes to move products from the drawing board to reality.
Shulman has spent a number of years in the R&D stage, perhaps 10 by his count, but is now ready to move forward. He has one employee at present, but he hopes to have five within a year and perhaps 15 in two years. The growth rate will largely be determined by how many clients, especially government agencies, the company can add as either a primary contractor or subcontractor with other text-analysis companies. That’s why he was in Washington the day he spoke with BusinessWest.
“I was making presentations to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, and others,” he said. “They all have one form or another of a common problem: either large piles of small documents or small piles of large documents. We’re trying to build search engines to get around document piles.”
One challenge facing Michel as she sets out to lease up the incubator is finding such companies. There are many out there, but some keep a low profile, she said, adding that UMass spinoffs like Texifter will obviously be among the primary targets.
Another challenge will then be to convince such companies to come to Springfield and the incubator, she continued, noting that it will be her job to sell the entrepreneurs in question on the benefits of incubation. Overall, she doesn’t think it will be a hard sell.
For starters, she said that, while operating out of one’s basement or garage may be cheap, it’s not an effective way to grow a business. The Springfield Incubator provides clients with facilities they simply couldn’t have in their home, such as a shared receptionist and conference rooms, and close access to agencies such as the Small Business Administration, the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network, and SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
There are also more far-reaching advantages. Quoting statistics provided by the National Business Incubator Assoc. (NBIA), Michel said that incubation substantially reduces the risk of small-business failure. According to a report called “Incubation Works,” “historically, NBIA-member incubators have reported that 87% of all firms that have graduated from their incubators are still in business.”
There are benefits for the community, as well, she continued, citing more MBIA stats showing that, in 2005 alone, “North American incubators assisted more than 27,000 start-up companies that provided full-time employment for more than 100,000 workers and generated annual revenue of more than $17 billion.” Also, research has shown that 84% of incubator graduates stay in their communities.
The primary goal at the SEC will to make the incubator self-sustainable, or at least much more so than it has been historically, said Michel, noting that most incubators receive some sort of support — be it state, federal, or both — and the Springfield facility will certainly be aggressive in pursuit of such support.
And this is a good time to be doing so, she continued, adding that the federal government is putting additional emphasis on supporting innovation, and is making funds available to incubators and also companies like Texifter.
Indeed, Shulman said his venture will soon receive funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which he expects will help the company add staff and gain government contracts.
“The way the program manager describes it, the U.S. governments wants to invest in companies it wants to see succeed, but without taking any equity,” he said. “We’ll get $100,000 on July 1, and that could grow to $150,000 by the end of a six-month period. Then we’ll be eligible to get another $50,000 if we can bring in $50,000 from another source between now and Oct. 15. All told, we can get $200,000 from SBIR that will allow us to hire some programmers and pay lawyers to do something other than borrow cash.”
Meanwhile, Rubenzahl said the timing is also right as far as entrepreneurs stepping forward with new concepts, many of them out of sheer necessity, with the recovery taking on a decidedly jobless look and feel.

Room for Growth
At a packed press conference at the SEC to announce the partnership between STCC and UMass, Shulman was one of the final speakers to reach the podium. He talked at some length about what his company does (always a fairly difficult task), and then about what brought him to the incubator, specifically the physical space, but also, more importantly, the support he’ll find inside the facility.
Then, speaking for every entrepreneur who’s ever signed the front of a paycheck, he said that getting a venture off the ground isn’t anywhere near as easy as it might look.
“It is scary being a startup,” he told those assembled. “I have to admit that there was a month or two there when I woke up every morning sick to my stomach. I suppose it’s only going to get worse, but having this resource here has made it possible to forge on.”
In many ways, those last few words can also be used to describe how the STCC/UMass partnership will breathe new life into a facility that has always had vast potential.
One term won’t suffice, but ‘forge on’ does it nicely.

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

Marox Corp. Brings Surgical Precision to Medical Manufacturing
Instruments of Progress

Brad Rosenkranz says innovation in spinal surgical components has increased at a rapid pace — as has competition among designers and manufacturers.

Brad Rosenkranz keeps a model of the human spine in a corner of his office at Marox Corp. in Holyoke. If nothing else, it’s the best way to demonstrate exactly what the manufacturer’s products do.

At one point, he held a cervical plate, formed from titanium, to the front of the spine, showing how it provides stability in the neck area when it’s used by surgeons in the treatment of traumas or degenerative spine conditions.

He also produced a few titanium pedicle screws, which hold in place the rods used to repair and connect the vertebrae; and talked about an organic polymer thermoplastic called PEEK, a lightweight, biocompatible substance used as a spacer between vertebrae. It’s radiolucent, meaning X-rays can pass through it, which is a benefit to doctors.

“Surgeons like it because they can see,” said Rosenkranz, Marox’s vice president of sales and marketing. “There are usually three titanium markers we assemble into PEEK, and on an X-ray they show up as three dots, showing surgeons how the implant is positioned.”

Other Marox products include spinal hooks, components for the hip and knee joints, and even some dental products and small parts for endoscopes, all of which contribute to the 59-year-old company’s reputation among the region’s leading manufacturers of medical implants.

Marox’s customers are OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers, which supply medical practitioners with surgical and other types of devices. “We work with large OEMs, medium-size OEMs, we even work with startups — the whole spectrum,” said Rosenkranz.

“With spines, the industry has come out with more and more products that are vastly improved,” he noted. “The spine was a grossly underserved market, but now a lot of companies are entering the field, trying to take on the big spine companies, and now I think the industry has become saturated with OEMs.”

Meanwhile, he said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has become more stringent about approving new medical devices, particularly for technology that is similar to anything already on the market. “It’s difficult,” he said of the increased competition to design products. “But it’s pretty good for patients now.”

Testing Their Metal

When Manfred Rosenkranz and his three sons acquired Marox in 1988, it manufactured a variety of items, ranging from small-arms components for Colt and Smith & Wesson to commercial hardware products.

Soon thereafter, Marox started becoming heavily involved in the aerospace industry. Meanwhile, its production of an angioplasty product became its entry into medical manufacturing. One of those niches would not survive.

“After years of seeing volatility taking place in aerospace,” Brad Rosenkranz said, “and having more and more opportunities presented with medical implants, we realized that, in order to capitalize on the opportunities in medical, we had to phase out all other industries, including aerospace. And the growth in the spinal-implant market worked out very well for us; we rode that wave.”

He stressed that Marox isn’t a design firm, but does contribute in some ways to the design process — specifically, taking the design a customer has developed and providing input on manufacturability.

“We might say, ‘if you change this component here, it will make it a lot easier to produce.’ They’ll say, ‘yes, we can make that change,’ or ‘no, we can’t; that’s a critical dimension.’ Ultimately, with our feedback and theirs, we agree on a design that works for them, that meets their needs and also meets our production needs.”

Rosenkranz explained that the medical-machining industry is in many ways beholden to regulatory decisions. For example, a technology known as motion preservation, which allows joints to fully articulate instead of being fused together, wasn’t being covered by public payers, and the momentum of development in that area slowed down as a result. It’s now being overtaken by something known as dynamic stabilization.

“It looks like the industry is moving more toward dynamic stabilization,” he said, explaining that the technique connects two sections of the spine and reduces the prevalence of adjacent level disease, which is a pathology that develops in a vertebra adjacent to a fused bone.

“Dynamic stabilization allows some movement — not a lot, but a little bit,” he explained. “Kind of like a shock absorber, it allows the rod to bend and move, and allows adjacent bones a little movement. It’s better for bones to have that flexibility and movement because, if you don’t have that, you tend to have some negative effects. This dynamic stabilization creates the movement the bone needs and helps a lot with adjacent level disease.”

Rosenkranz said it’s tough to predict where the next breakthroughs will come, a forecast partly clouded by uncertainty surrounding health care reform and how any change in the health care system will impact peripheral industries, like medical manufacturing.

“Nobody really knows, with the current administration, where this is all going to end up,” he said, adding that he expects innovation to continue whatever the structure of health care. “This is a very progressive industry, and they’ve come a long way in terms of technology.”

However, while components and tools for spinal surgery have consistently become more sophisticated over the years, he added, some products have stayed relatively unchanged over the past decade — notably certain components for major joint replacements — simply because they do their job so effectively.

“The designs on hips and knees haven’t changed too much over the years,” he noted. “They work really well, so it’s the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ type of thing.”

Room to Grow

Marox — with its emphasis on lean, efficient manufacturing and its pristine facility — is, like many modern plants, a far cry from the old stereotype of the dirty, chaotic factory floor.

But not everyone knows that, Rosenkranz said, and it’s a challenge to make sure people understand what today’s manufacturing floor is like, and to raise the prestige of what are often very high-tech jobs — which is why he conducts tours of the facility for trade-school students.

“We want to show kids that, hey, there is something to manufacturing,” he said. “I think it may have gotten a bad rap, that it’s not glamorous, and people have jumped to computers, software, and IT because they’re the glamour jobs, and manufacturing got left in the dust.

“But we’re showing kids that this is high-tech, precision work, making really sophisticated components — and, on top of that, for a good cause,” he continued. “Some people hear ‘manufacturing’ and think of a dirty foundry, a dark, gloomy, grungy place. But it is very clean and high-tech. We’ve been told our facility is reminiscent of a European facility, with lab coats, where everything is clean and neat.”

Rosenkranz is excited not only about the work that Marox performs, but for the whole umbrella of burgeoning bioscience applications, from synthetic bones and stem-cell products to bone-growth stimulators and other technologies that fall outside Marox’s metal-machining specialty.

Economic-development experts have long pegged Massachusetts as a hotbed for such cutting-edge industries, and Rosenkranz doesn’t doubt that this region could be a growth sector, at least for high-tech precision machining.

“I think there’s good talent here in Western Mass.,” he said. “Finding skilled workers is a problem that everyone faces nationally, but here in Western Mass., I think we’re just as well-off if not better-off than anyone else in terms of a skilled workforce. Around here we have a lot of manufacturing, and a lot of colleges having more awareness in terms of what’s available in manufacturing.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth over the past several years,” he added, “and it looks to be so in the future as well. It’s a great industry to be in.”

For anyone, that is, with the spine to take on some high-tech challenges.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

The Difference Makers Class of 2010 Will Be Honored on March 25

The stage is set — sort of.

Details are falling into place for what should be a very special night, when BusinessWest honors its Difference Makers class of 2010. The date? March 25. The place? The Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The time? Things start at 5 and will go till whenever people are done celebrating.

The occasion? Recognizing the talents and many accomplishments of this year’s Difference Makers. They are:

  • The Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, to be represented by its executive director, Mary Walachy;
  • Ellen Freyman, shareholder with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C.;
  • James Goodwin, president and CEO of the Center for Human Development;
  • Carol Katz, CEO of the Loomis Communities; and
  • UMass Amherst, represented by its chancellor, Robert Holub.
  • To read the stories of these Difference Makers, visit the BusinessWest Web site, www.businessswest.com.

    More than 400 people are expected to turn out for the event, which will feature a networking hour, introductions of the winners, a short speech from each one, some live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres and food stations, and an update on Project Literacy, an endeavor launched by the first class of Difference Makers in 2009, and one that will be continued by the 2010 winners and all future classes.

    This effort, said Kate Campiti, BusinessWest’s associate publisher and advertising manager, was designed to focus attention on the broad issue of literacy and to direct energy and imagination to specific projects to address this critical issue. In 2009, the Difference Makers, working with staff at BusinessWest, collected hundreds of books for the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative through the United Way of the Pioneer Valley.

    In addition, said Campiti, the group drafted a long-range strategic plan for maintaining the focus on this subject and fulfilling a new stated mission: “Creating a Culture of Literacy — One Book at a Time.”

    “It’s really going to be a fun, exciting evening,” Campiti said of the March 25 festivities. “There will be some great networking opportunities, and, of course, we have some wonderful stories to tell.”

    Thus, this is an event with a purpose, said Campiti, adding that the event has been crafted to not only introduce the winners, but to use their stories to inspire others and hopefully create more momentum for the region moving forward.

    This momentum is summed up in what will be an ongoing theme for the Difference Makers event, the so-called Butterfly Effect, said Campiti, referring to the concept that small events (such as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings) can have large, widespread consequences.

    Five area companies have signed on as sponsors for the Difference Makers event: Catugno Reporting/Sten-Tel, Comcast Business Class, Peritus Security Partners, the law firm Royal & Klimczuk, and Sarat Ford/Lincoln Mercury.

    Tickets for the event are $50 each, and tables of 10 are available. For more information or to order tickets, call Melissa Hallock, BusinessWest’s sales and marketing coordinator, at (413) 781-8600 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (413) 781-8600      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, ext. 10; or e-mail[email protected].

    Contractors Must Tighten Belts, Stay Flexible to Survive the Recession
    Concrete Strategies

    Joe Marois (right, with Vice President Carl Mercieri) says his company is facing unprecedented bid competition, including some from out-of-state builders.

    To Joseph Marois, the most difficult part of running a business during a deep recession is minimizing the pain — for everyone.

    “Our goal is to maintain our workforce,” said the president of Marois Construction in South Hadley. “We feel that we owe it to our people to try to make sure they’re not laid off. They have families, and they’ve been good to us.”

    But that’s not easy at a time when a shrinking job pool, combined with a surge in competition from increasingly desperate bidders, many from outside the region, have combined to push profit margins way down.

    “The bids right now are marginal in terms of profits,” Marois said. “It’s very competitive. We’re getting quotes with upwards of eight to 18 bidders from all throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. We don’t usually see all that; normally there’s three or four bidders on a job. It’s kind of depressing.”

    It’s an account being told and retold throughout the Pioneer Valley as contractors try to stay afloat amid continued economic turmoil, a time when private companies and public agencies alike are pulling back on new capital projects and reducing opportunities for builders in all niches.

    So instead of asking them to repeat this litany of hardship — it’s certainly not a new story — BusinessWest asked area builders a different question: how do contractors slog through such tough times? After all, they’ve survived recessions before. In most cases, the answer is as simple as watching every penny until the dollars start rolling in again.

    Budget Blues

    Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors, said she’s not doing anything that most others in the industry aren’t also doing to minimize the current fiscal pain.

    “We’re tightening our belts in every possible way,” she said. “There’s not a line on our income statement that we haven’t assessed, which continues to cause a ripple effect. We have cut costs, we have eliminated any non-essential purchases or programs, and our main focus, when spending money, is on the training and support that allows us to provide a better product and service to our customer. Otherwise, if a purchase is not job-related or a required improvement in the services we are providing, the purchase is being delayed.”

    Marois mentioned similar cutbacks. “We’ve taken some vehicles off the road,” he said, “and initiated other ideas to dramatically minimize our costs and overhead.”

    Meanwhile, Associated Builders in South Hadley has also been taking a close look at containing costs. It’s been a difficult but necessary process, said Peter Wood, the company’s director of sales and marketing. For starters, the firm has closely examined the number of hours its trucks and other equipment are in service, making sure resources are properly utilized and not used for “busywork.” And the cutbacks don’t stop there.

    “Normally, like everyone else, we implement as many cost savings as we can in the company,” Wood said, “whether that’s reducing the number of employees due to the amount of work or looking at energy consumption — making sure that we have all the proper efficiencies, not leaving lights on, anything that has to do with energy use.”

    Energy efficiency is a common way to save costs, although it sometimes requires some investment up front in new materials or equipment. But with ‘green’ business becoming an important consideration for companies across all industries, Campbell said, it’s something builders should be looking at anyway.

    “Our driving force, now as before, is energy efficiency and green initiatives,” she said. “Certainly the cost savings on our electric bill make the investment something I can justify.”

    In addition to cutting costs and seeking such efficiencies, many contractors say maintaining diversity in the types of projects pursued can be an effective hedge against a downturn.

    “We do both public and private work,” Marois said. “We don’t have one niche right now; we bid anything.”

    At the same time, Wood said that contractors need to understand their strengths and not panic and chase jobs that might not fit their business model.

    “We try to stick directly to our core values, which is how we’ve tried to do business for the past 35 or 40 years,” he told BusinessWest. “That means looking at projects that fit our business profile — strictly design-build, using our in-house engineering and architectural services.

    “We’re broadening our area; we may be looking at going a little farther geographically from our base, looking at projects we might not have looked at in busier times,” he continued, “but we always keep in mind that we have a successful business plan and a reputation for not trying to do things we’ve proven not to be as competitive at, or are out of our realm of expertise — for instance, public work, schools, bridges, etc.”

    According to Wood, companies that go far outside of what they’re good at for the sake of chasing down a few dollars are the ones least likely to survive a recession.

    “We’re fortunate — even in down times, when all contractors are struggling to maintain a level of profitability — that we have a solid business plan and a consistent approach to how we do business,” he said. “Staying on the path of our business plan, though difficult, is allowing us to survive. It has allowed us to maintain a certain level of business that may not be seen across the board.”

    No End in Sight?

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction-industry employment has declined by 1.6 million nationally since the start of the current recession, with 53,000 of those job losses coming in December 2009 alone. What worries some builders is the idea that this period of belt-tightening and minimal profits might not end anytime soon.

    “I think this recession has some unique qualities that limit our ability to make a determination as to what’s going to happen; it’s difficult to predict whether or not we’ll continue to spiral downward,” Marois told BusinessWest.

    “We’re dealing with failures of large institutions, federal bailouts of an unprecedented nature, which is increasing our debt ceiling nationally, and that’s causing confusion for business leaders and their ability to make sense of the whole thing,” he added. “Normally industry corrects itself, but unknown forces seem to be complicating that process.”

    Even if the economy does begin to rebound, he posited, builders won’t reap the benefits until after businesses regain the confidence to tackle capital projects again — and then proceed through architectural planning and the bid process.

    “From the time they decide there’s some confidence in the industry, it could be three or four months before we got the job, and then two or three months before we started realizing an infusion of capital,” Marois said. “So the relief is not going to be immediate.”

    Until that relief does arrive, builders will keep grappling with those razor-thin profit margins, double-checking every budget item — relieved that they’re not yet a casualty of an economic downturn that continues to be as unpredictable as it is destructive.

    Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

    Cover Story
    Springfield Armor Set to Win Games, Win Over Fans


    On Nov. 27, regular-season Developmental League, or D-League, basketball will come to the Pioneer Valley when the Springfield Armor square off against the Iowa Energy at the MassMutual Center. Tip-off that night will cap months of work to bring a team here and then introduce it the Western Mass. community. Principle owner Michael Savit, who picked Springfield over a host of other cities in the Northeast, including Providence and Worcester, admits that this decision represents a bit of gamble, but one that he believes will eventually pay off.

    Michael Savit says he could, in theory, have placed an NBA Developmental League team almost anywhere in the country.

    But that’s not what Savit, owner of several minor-league baseball teams, had in mind, nor was ‘just anywhere’ what the National Basketball Assoc. wanted, either. The NBA wanted the D-League, as it’s called, to expand eastward and northward (most of its 16 teams are west of the Mississippi), and Savit — a native of Boston who operates his business, the HWS Group, in Wellesley — wanted to locate a team close to home.

    He looked at cities ranging from Providence to Worcester, to Kingston, home of the University of Rhode Island, but ultimately decided on Springfield.

    “I decided that if I was going to give this a shot, Springfield made the most sense,” he said, citing everything from the city’s status as the birthplace of basketball to its proximity to Hartford, Worcester, and other population centers. “I just had a feeling, a gut instinct, that this was a basketball community.”

    Soon, he’ll get to see if those instincts are correct. The franchise now known as the Springfield Armor (a name chosen in part to reflect another piece of the city’s history, the Springfield Armory) will begin its regular season with a Nov. 27 game against the Iowa Energy at the MassMutual Center.

    Alex Schwerin, the Armor’s general manager, isn’t predicting a sellout for that night, but he says filling the house is definitely doable given the extensive promotional work being done and the level of interest he’s witnessing. Overall, he’s projecting first-year attendance of perhaps 3,000 per game (not quite half the capacity of the MassMutual Center for D-League games), which would be a solid start for the new franchise and enough to at least break even for the year, which is the unofficial goal going in, or one of them, anyway.

    “Minor-league sports is not a huge moneymaker from year to year,” he explained. “But if the league does well and the team does well, then the value of that franchise will increase, and if you’re an owner or an investor, that’s what you’re looking for.”

    For the past several months, Schwerin, a graduate of the UMass Amherst Sports Management Program who worked for some of Savit’s baseball teams before being given the opportunity to guide the Armor out of the gate, has been putting the pieces in place for the inaugural season. Such work includes everything from assembling a management team and hiring a coach (former Celtics star Dee Brown) to picking a name (a rather involved process) and even hiring a dance team that will perform during the games.

    But much of his work falls under the category of building awareness for this team and making it part of the regional landscape. This has been ongoing, and tireless, work, he said, noting that he, Sales Director Eric Reddy, and, more recently, Brown have ventured anywhere and everywhere they can to be visible and amass some name recognition for their franchise.

    “We’ve been to pancake breakfasts, heart walks, chili cookoffs, you name it,” said Reddy. “We’ve gone pretty much anywhere where we can get our name out in front of the public.”

    For this issue, BusinessWest goes behind the scenes with those readying the Armor for battle this fall. There will be two major initiatives, said Schwerin — winning on the court, obviously, but also, and much more importantly, winning over fans and corporate sponsors.

    Net Results

    As part of his work to be visible and build awareness, Brown was behind the microphone on Oct. 30, addressing attendees at a so-called Developers Conference designed to familiarize the development community with opportunities that exist in the City of Homes.

    He followed Mayor Domenic Sarno to the podium in the ballroom at the MassMutual Center, and was the last of a few morning speakers who preceded a lengthy bus tour of the city and afternoon remarks by city and state economic development leaders. Paraphrasing Brown’s remarks, he told those assembled that the Armor and the city of Springfield were essentially doing the same thing at the same time: creating some excitement and pulling the necessary ingredients together for success.

    “Like Springfield, we’re building from the ground up,” said Brown, who told attendees that the NBA has a term for cities of Springfield’s size: ‘micropolitan area.’ This means it’s not as big as a metropolitan area, but it certainly has the wherewithal to support a D-League franchise.

    Brown has introduced a number of area residents and business owners to that term. Since being hired in August, he’s spoken before groups ranging from area chambers of commerce to the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, to area nonprofit groups staging annual meetings. Often, these groups have dialed his number, seeking a celebrity voice, but just as often, the team is making him available as part of a broad marketing initiative.

    Brown said his messages vary somewhat, but what he generally tells his audience is that the D-League is a quality product, worthy of an investment in a ticket.

    “It’s not semi-pro … it’s professional basketball,” Brown told BusinessWest, as he took a quick break from preparation work for the league’s player draft last week. “Each NBA team has probably two or three players who spent time in the D-League; nearly 20% of the NBA’s players spent some time at this level.”

    Schwerin concurred, noting that, if the 360 best basketball players now working in this country are in the NBA, most of the next 200 or so best players are in the D-League. “It’s some of the best basketball in the country,” he said, noting that the Armor will serve as the affiliate to three NBA teams — the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers.

    The team’s rosters, capped at 12, will be made up of perhaps a few NBA players assigned to the D-league by their clubs to develop their talents (hence the name), Schwerin continued, with the balance comprised of former college players who were not drafted into the NBA, perhaps some former NBA players, and some from overseas. In each and every case, the player’s goal is to get to, or return to, the big leagues.

    It was this quality of talent that convinced Savit that could sell the D-League product, and when the NBA approached him about establishing a team after a franchise in Anaheim folded, he consented, thus agreeing to join the likes of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Maine Red Claws, the Tulsa 66s (named after the famous highway), and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

    The question then became where to place this franchise, Savit continued, adding that Springfield’s geography, demographics, and historical attachment to the game invented by Dr. James Naismith eventually provided the answer.

    And so far, Springfield is showing signs that it could be the basketball town that Savit perceived it to be. Schwerin and Reddy said that season-ticket sales have eclipsed the 1,500 mark, and they have confidence they can match that number with game-day sales to hit their attendance targets.

    Still, they know that they still have considerable work to do to institutionalize the Armor brand and make this team part of the local fabric.

    Points of Interest

    Schwerin said the NBA announced the awarding of the Springfield franchise nearly a year ago, when he was in job-search mode. He left minor-league baseball and Savit’s employ to return to his native Western Mass. and seek opportunities here. When Savit called asked if he would be interesting in leading the D-League franchise, he jumped at the opportunity.

    “I was looking at some other things,” he explained, “but what really interested me in this was a new team; this represented a chance to start from scratch, which is somewhat of a unique thing in this business.”

    And start from scratch he has. Indeed, since April, he has been hard at work on a laundry list of to-do items needed to get the team ready for its 50-game schedule.

    At the top of that list was assembling a management team, and one of his first draft choices was Reddy, who handled sales and marketing for the America East Conference (a college athletics league) until he was downsized earlier this year and found himself in search of a new opportunity.

    Other steps included the hiring of Brown, enlisting much-needed support from the business community, making travel arrangements for lengthy road trips that will take the team across several time zones, selecting team colors (black and silver), coming up with a mascot (they have one, but it hasn’t been named yet), and all manner of work that falls under the heading of marketing and public relations.

    And then, there was the task of coming up with a name and logo. Regarding the former, team officials compiled a list of finalists — Fame, Spirit, Colonials, and Founders were also on a list put through what Schwerin called the “NBA washing machine” to weed out potential copyright violations and politically incorrect monikers — and then asked area residents to vote. Armor emerged as the winner.

    The team then hired the Springfield-based marketing firm Six-Point Creative Works Inc. to come up with a brand, the imagery that will be used on everything from uniforms, stationery, and business cards to T-shirts and other merchandise for sale on game days and the team’s Web site.

    All of this took a back seat, of sorts, to the overriding mission — the building of a financial model, which, in this case, was based on the majority of revenues coming from ticket sales. There is a small radio-broadcasting contract, said Schwerin, and many corporate sponsorships, but the rest of the revenue comes from the gate, which means a heavy emphasis on both season-ticket sales and game-day transactions.

    As for corporate sponsorships, they form a solid revenue stream, Schwerin continued, and the team has secured several, from companies including MassMutual, Big Y Foods, Mercy Medical Center, the Springfield Sheraton, and others.

    Overall, Schwerin is predicting that the Armor can at least break even in their first year of operation, but there are many unknowns and several intangibles.

    “There is a lot of overhead — 12 of the teams are west of the Mississippi, and two are in California, one’s in Nevada, one’s in Idaho … that means considerable travel,” he explained. “But we’re very optimistic; there’s a great deal of excitement surrounding this team.”

    To drive ticket sales, team officials are keeping prices low — there are packages for so-called ‘flex tickets’ (10 for $99), for example — and focusing on group sales and getting families out.

    There are birthday-party specials, for example, that offer 10 lower-level tickets for $99, said Reddy, with an added bonus: the birthday girl or boy’s name on the video board.

    Meanwhile, the team is casting a wide net, trying to attract fans from not only the 413 area code, but also Connecticut, the Worcester area, Eastern New York, and other regions. The broad goal is to attract not simply the hardcore basketball fan, but the occasional fan who might be attracted to a product Schwerin said is better than Division 1 college basketball, as well as families looking for an economical night out.

    And while winning on the court is obviously a factor in the team’s success at the gate, the far-bigger ingredient is what Schwerin called simply “the experience.”

    “Our goal is to make people want to come back,” he explained. “To do that, we have to show them a good time, and that goes well behind what happens on the court.”

    At the Buzzer…

    “The Future of the NBA Today.”

    That’s one of the many marketing slogans now being employed by the Developmental League. It speaks to the level of talent on the display and the ultimate goal for those who take the court in Fort Wayne, Tulsa, Albuquerque, Reno, and Sioux Falls.

    But the tagline also speaks to Springfield’s entry in this league. Indeed, the future is now, and Armor officials are intent upon making the most of their golden opportunity.

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


    Transforming Young Minds

    The Electrical/Robotics Technology Department at Springfield Technical Community recently staged its annual summer robotics camp. Eleven middle-school students from Springfield took part in the two-week camp, which gave them an opportunity to learn about the field and build their own robot. At left, Kamari Long displays his robot, while below, Aailyah Gordon (left) and Daryen Ramsey-Thomas show what their creation can do. Sponsors for the camp again this year included the Hampden County Regional Employment Board and the Black Men of Greater Springfield.

    A Cut Above

    Paul DiGrigoli, owner of DiGrigoli’s Salons, put his talents on display at a recent trade show of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, providing free haircuts to attendees. Here, he chats with BusinessWest Sales and Marketing Coordinator Melissa Hallock.


    200 for Tea

    On May 20, more than 200 women representing business, community, local government, health care, interfaith ministry, social welfare, and education gathered at the Colony Club in Springfield to sip fine teas in support of Square One and its early-education and intervention programming for children and families. This was the third year Square One has organized the event as a fund-raising effort to support the early education and care, parenting, school-age and family support services provided daily to 1,100 children and families throughout Hampden County. The event is critical to the organization’s ability to provide tuition assistance to families who are without the financial means to access early education and care for their children. Nearly 90% of Square One’s families, while employed, are earning just $15,000 a year or less. Clockwise, from above: from left, Carol Leary, president of Bay Path College, Judy Matt, director of the Spirit of Springfield, and Carla Sarno, first lady of Springfield; Kathy Cardinale, owner of Cardinale Design; some of the 200, most sporting festive hats, gather in the courtyard; from left, Kate Kane, managing director of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network’s Springfield office, Kim Lee, vice president of Advancement for Square One, and Donna Safford Fleury, with Vinson Associates.

    Learning Experience

    BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien goes over material with Melissa Ciolek, a 2009 graduate of Holyoke Catholic High School who recently ‘shadowed’ O’Brien and others at the magazine. Ciolek, who will be attending the University of Delaware this fall and has designs on a career in communications, spent several days with BusinessWest staff members, learning about everything from interviewing, writing, and editing to sales and marketing. She also spent several days shadowing managers and staff at ABC40.

    The Only Way to Travel

    Peter Pan Bus Lines is becoming one of the first inter-city bus lines to have wireless Internet available to passengers through the installation of WiFi technology on its fleet. The company is in the process of installing the WiFi technology on 150 buses in its motorcoach fleet at a cost of around $75,000, not including Peter Pan’s labor to install the technology. Seen here promoting the WiFi service is Bob Guistimbelli, Peter Pan’s most recent ‘3-million-mile, accident-free’ driver.

    Steps in the Right Direction

    Matt D’Amour of Big Y Foods cuts the ribbon at the start of the 2009 Pioneer Valley Start! Heart Walk. More than 700 walkers stepped up for the American Heart Assoc. by participating and raising more than $200,000 to fund research for heart disease and stroke. Pictured with D’Amour are members of the 2009 Executive Walk Committee: Evan Robinson, left, a stroke survivor and Dean of Pharmacy at Western New England College, and Carlos Martins, vice president of RiverBend Medical Group.


    The Bank of Western Massachusetts in Springfield has hired Anthony P. Simone as AVP-Wealth Management Advisor.


    Communication Solutions Partners in Southwick, the communications division of Whalley Computer Associates, announced the following:
    • Mike Lata has been named to its Account Executive Team.
    • Melissa Derouin has been promoted to manage the back-office operations.


    Douglas J. Packard has joined Bancnorth Investment Group Inc. as a Financial Advisor based in the TD Banknorth store in South Hadley. Packard provides individualized retirement and financial planning services, as well as plans for families and small businesses.


    Spec’s Design Group, LLC in Springfield announced the following:
    • Mary A. Wilczynski has earned certification as LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) for Commercial Interiors.
    • Karen Michalowski has earned certification as LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) for Commercial Interiors.
    Wilczynski, founding principal, and Michalowski, bring 48 years of commercial design experience to the firm. They are also certified with the National Council of Interior Design Qualifications, and their professional memberships include the American Society of Interior Designers, the International Designers Assoc. and the Retail Design Institute.


    Texcel Medical in East Longmeadow has named John Mulvihill as Vice President, Sales and Marketing.


    Dave Worroll, Manager of the McDonald’s at 28 Hazard Ave., Enfield, Conn.; and Carmen Barrett, Manager of the Massachusetts Turnpike east McDonald’s in Blandford, were recently honored as being among the top 10% of McDonald’s managers in Connecticut and Western Mass.


    MassMutual Financial Group’s Retirement Services Division in Springfield announced the following:
    • George Sutherland was named Division Sales Manager, Institutional Sales, for the Southeast region.
    • Scott Buffington was named National Sales Manager for MassMutual’s Taft-Hartley market segment.


    Terri LaFlamme has joined the Feeding Hill office of Park Square Realty as a Sales Associate.


    Monson Savings Bank announced the following:
    • Lena Buteau has been promoted to Retail Banking Officer.
    • Nancy Dahlen has been promoted to Assistant Vice President for Residential Lending and Servicing.


    Risk Management Advisors of Canton, recently named Reed V. Hillman to its executive team as a Senior Principal.


    Ingrid Bredenberg, Founder and Senior Consultant of Bredenberg Associates in Montague, was recently honored as a Sapphire Award winner at the Inscape Publishing MindLab Conference in Washington, D.C. Sapphire Award status is based on purchases of learning assessments and materials from Inscape Publishing.


    Steven Bouffard will head the new Pulmonary Rehabilitation and Recovery Program at Country Estates in Agawam.


    Valerie Demerski of Barbara Demerski Real Estate, has been awarded the National Association of Realtors Green Designation. She is now qualified to help clients evaluate the costs and benefits of green building options and related financial incentives.


    Douglas R. Guthrie has been promoted to Senior Vice President for Comcast’s Western New England region. In this role, Guthrie is responsible for operations, financial performance and customer service for more than 800,000 Comcast customers in more than 300 communities.

    Kyle Snow of Snow and Sons Landscaping in Greenfield has passed the certified landscape professional and certified landscape technician test and is nationally certified by the Professional Landcare Network, also known as PLANET. PLANET has more than 4,200 member companies and affiliates across the country.


    Nell Elizabeth (Beth) Lorenz, President and Treasurer of Lorenz Honda in Greenfield, was recently honored for her nomination for the 2009 Time magazine Dealer of the Year Award. Lorenz was one of a select group of dealers from across the country recently feted at the 92nd annual National Automobile Dealers Assoc. Convention & Exposition in New Orleans. The Time magazine Dealer of the Year Award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted awards for new car dealers. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers, but they must also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to effective community service. Lorenz was chosen to represent the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Assoc. in the national competition — one of only 49 dealers to share such an honor from more than 19,500 nationwide.


    James E. Majka, CRPC, has joined Bancnorth Investment Group Inc. as a Financial Advisor based in the TD Banknorth branch in Westfield. Majka provides individualized retirement and financial planning, including individual retirement accounts, investment and managed-money programs, portfolio review, annuities, mutual funds, life insurance, long-term care insurance, wealth accumulation, and retirement plans for individuals, families, and small businesses.


    Douglas E. Fish has been promoted to Associate Vice President for Financial Services at American International College in Springfield. Both the Financial Aid Office and the Office of Student Accounts report to Fish.


    Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., with offices in Springfield and Northampton, announced the following:
    • Attorney Lina Alexandra Hogan has joined the firm as an Associate. Hogan concentrates her practice in the areas of business law, business litigation, and bankruptcy law.
    • Attorney David K. Webber has joined the firm as an Associate. Webber practices in the areas of business transactions, estate and succession planning, taxation, and nonprofits.


    Kara Arsenault has been promoted from Advisor to Unit Manager for lia sophia, a fashion jewelry company. Arsenault, based in Wilbraham, has met or exceeded her personal sales and recruiting goals to achieve this level of leadership.


    Avada Hearing Care Centers announced the following:
    • Carla Bartolucci, representing Avada of Chicopee, Avada of East Longmeadow, Avada of Easthampton, Avada of West Springfield, Avada of Westfield, and Avada of Wilbraham, recently completed a two-day, advanced-business-level workshop for key managers in Louisville, Ky. Managers participated in a forum where they exchanged ideas on management techniques in their respective regions. The exchange allowed managers to discuss their successes and challenges, and how to use those experiences to continuously improve attention to detail and the experiences of their patients.


    Top Avon representatives including Linda Kershaw of Granby recently joined the A-list in Hollywood to celebrate their success. Division and district managers, along with top-performing representatives, enjoyed a weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Highlighting the weekend was a gala dinner with actor Patrick Dempsey, known as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy. Dempsey spent time with the Avon achievers, posed for photos, and thanked them for contributing to the successful launch of Unscripted, his signature scent with the company. Since it launched last November, Unscripted has become one of Avon’s top-selling men’s fragrances. Winners were chosen based on their fourth-quarter sales performance compared to the prior year. In addition, leadership representatives who helped recruits advance during that period were also selected for the honor.


    David Stanley Anton recently achieved membership in the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), the premier association of financial professionals. Anton is a one-year MDRT member. Attaining membership requires professionals to adhere to a strict code of ethics, focusing on providing top-notch client service, and continuing to grow professionally through involvement in at least one other industry association. Attaining membership in MDRT is a career milestone achieved by fewer than 1% of the world’s life insurance and financial services professionals.


    Innovative Business Systems Inc. announced the following:
    • Mike Ross, Technician, has earned the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) designation, a multi-exam process that tests the candidates’ ability to design and implement an infrastructure solution that is based on Microsoft Windows Server software.
    • Jeremy Redmond, Network Engineer, has earned the Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) designation on XenServer 5.0. The CCA certification validates the skills necessary to implement a specific Citrix product.


    Environmental Compliance Services announced the following:
    • Alexandra Riddle has passed the state-licensed site professional exam. Riddle is a Principal and Senior Project Manager who has been with the firm since 1989.
    • John Niedzielski has passed the state-licensed site professional exam. Niedzielski, also a Principal, is the Agawam branch manager. He joined the firm in 1998.


    Cyndi Driscoll Downs has joined the East Longmeadow office of Landmark Realtors as a Real Estate Agent.


    Crocker Communications announced the following:
    • Carole Sweet has joined the firm as a Client Support Manager. She will oversee client support operations in Springfield and Greenfield.
    • Jack Cominoli has been named Infrastructure Operations Director. He is in charge of inventory, purchasing, facilities, and Crocker Networking Systems.


    The Pioneer Valley USO announced the following:
    • David Jubinville, Co-owner of the Jubinville Insurance Agency in South Hadley, has been named President of the Board of Directors.
    • Richard Lavallee, Director of Building Operations for Appleton Corp. of Holyoke, has been named First Vice President of the Board of Directors.
    • Bruce Marshall, Co-owner of WARE Radio in Palmer, has been named Second Vice President of the Board of Directors.
    • Martha Mangini, Administrative Assistant at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in Ludlow, has been named Secretary of the Board of Directors.
    • Rene Faivre, Specialty Production Manager of Loose Leaf Inc. in Holyoke, has been named Treasurer of the Board of Directors.
    • Alan Tracy, Owner of Tracy Brothers, a roofing company in South Hadley, has been named Executive Director.


    Debra Call has been promoted to the new position of Clinical Director at the Children’s Study Home. She directs community-based therapeutic services through a new partnership with the Community Services Institute of Springfield. Call has worked with the Children’s Study Home for 10 years, most recently as Program Manager in family services.


    Brenda Flower has joined Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New England as a Sales Associate. She will provide residential real-estate services in Longmeadow.


    The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts announced the following Board of Directors members:
    • Attorney Susan. G. Fentin has been named President.
    • Kelly DeRose has been named Vice President.
    • Nancy Sherman has been named Vice President.
    • Richard Burkhart has been named Treasurer.
    • Jeffrey Ciuffreda has been named Clerk.


    Stacey M. Earnest has been named Director of Sales and Marketing of the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa in Groton, Conn.


    United Bank, based in West Springfield, announced the following:
    • Anthony R. Franco has joined the bank as Assistant Vice President of Commercial Banking.
    • Donna M. Easton-Vicalvi has joined the bank as Assistant Vice President of Government Banking.


    The Lower Pioneer Valley Regional Educational Collaborative in West Springfield announced the following:
    • Anna Bishop, Finance Director, has been recognized by the Govcrnment Finance Officers Assoc. with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and certificate of recognition for budget presentation.
    • Anne McKenzie, Executive Director, has been recognized by the Government Finance Officers Assoc. with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and certificate of recognition for budget presentation.

    Sections Supplements
    Entré Computer Rolls Out an Aggressive Growth Strategy
    The leadership team at Entré Computer, from left, Bob Bellamy, Andi Aigner, Robert Braceland, Liz Soticheck, and Norm Fiedler.

    The leadership team at Entré Computer, from left, Bob Bellamy, Andi Aigner, Robert Braceland, Liz Soticheck, and Norm Fiedler.

    The landscape in the computer sales and service realm has changed considerably over the past quarter-century, with ever-improving technology and an evolving field of competitors. Through it all, Entré Computer Center has remained a constant, enjoying steady growth fueled by a strong focus on the customer. As the company marks 25 years in business, it is embarking on an aggressive growth strategy, one that seeks to add customers to the portfolio and expand the roster of services provided to existing clients. President Norm Fiedler says the key to success is simply doing more of what the company has always done — provide solutions, not merely products and services.

    Norm Fiedler has been working in the technology field since around the birth of the personal computer. As president of the West Springfield-based Entré Computer Center, he works, and in many respects lives, in a world of bytes and hard drives, servers and high-speed printers.

    And while he’s well-versed in all that, naturally, what he really likes to talk about is … marbles.

    He has a large bowl full of them on the credenza in his office, along with a yellow polishing cloth. A booklet called The Marbles — which he wrote, had published, and now distributes to customers and seemingly everyone else who might want a copy — explains it all.

    “Life,” he writes, “is an accumulation of treasure, and the more abundant and brighter the treasure, the more rewarding and successful the life.” Treasure, in this case, means marbles, with each one representing someone that an individual has met in his or her life, he continued, listing family, friends, a next-door neighbor, a first girlfriend or boyfriend, schoolmates, and teachers.

    “These marbles, these relationships need to be polished,” he said, noting that co-workers and clients are also marbles, and the fact that he treats them as such explains the solid, consistent growth of this company over the past quarter-century.

    “This is the basic philosophy that has defined this company, and my life really,” said Fiedler. “We’re all about relationships … and that’s what differentiates us from our competitors.”

    And now, as the company celebrates that milestone quietly, Fiedler and his leadership team are preparing to grow that marble collection in a figurative, if not literal, sense, through aggressive expansion plans laid out over the past several months.

    That plan calls for 20% to 25% annual growth (and those are conservative estimates) over the next several years, and to meet those goals, Fielder is relying on strong teamwork and a core of leaders — specifically an expanded sales team charged with acquiring new business and essentially turning it over to account managers and customer-service representatives who will work to not only retain these additions to the portfolio but provide them with a evolving, expanding roster of services.

    Leading the team will be Robert Braceland, vice president of sales and marketing, who came to the company about two years ago. He told BusinessWest that his job boils down to customer acquisition, and he intends to do so across a wide spectrum of business sectors.

    Other members of the team are vice president Andy Aigner, accounts manager Bob Bellamy, and Liz Soticheck, director of administration and human resource management, who Fiedler described as the “glue” of the company. They all have key roles in the relationship-building process, and for this issue, they talked with BusinessWest about where they want to take this company and how they intend to reach that destination.

    Crafting a Game Plan

    Braceland called it a ‘SLED’ business.

    That stands for ‘state, local, and education,’ he explained, meaning, essentially, public-sector entities that comprise a significant niche in the technology-solutions-providing business.

    And it’s just one of many targets identified in Entré’s growth strategy. Others include the health care sector, the retail (or point-of-sale) segment of the market, large companies — meaning those with more than 500 employees — and many others.

    Adding business, or marbles, in each of these sectors, essentially comes down to taking market share from the many types of competitors in this market, said Braceland, listing everything from small technology solutions companies to national office-supply chains such as Staples. Entré will approach this exercise with an eye toward heavy emphasis on its strong customer-relations work, which he says comes down to partnering with the client to meet as many of its needs as possible.

    “‘Partner’ is an overused term these days,” Braceland acknowledged, “but that’s the best way to describe what we are and what we do. We partner with our clients to help them make the most of the opportunities that today’s technology offers them.”

    It’s been this way since Fiedler and business partner Kirk Barrell ended their search for a new, joint entrepreneurial venture back in 1983 by becoming part of a then-fledgling chain that eventually grew to 350 locations across North America (Fiedler’s was No. 53). The West Springfield facility, located on Memorial Avenue, is just one of 11 remaining privately held entities that still have the Entré name, and the only one in this region.

    “I was looking for a new opportunity,” said Fiedler, who worked for many years in sales and marketing for companies in the abrasives field. While with Bendix Corp., he met Barrell, and when the two found themselves unemployed after the company was sold, they invested significant time and energy deciding where to take their careers.

    “We were looking for something for the long term,” he explained, “and decided that the personal computer was where we wanted and needed to be.”

    Much has changed since 1983, said Fiedler, noting that many of the chains and individual companies that Entré competed against back then, such as Computerland and MicroAge, are long gone, and technology continues to improve and evolve. Meanwhile, the scope of Entré’s mission has changed as well; it began as a retail company and has evolved into a business-to-business entity focused much more on service. What remains constant, however, is the company’s resolve to be not merely a provider of products and services, but a deliverer of solutions.

    And what has fueled success has been that focus on relationships, he said, adding quickly that these come with both clients and employees, and both are equally important — and also intertwined.

    “Most of our employees have been with us for a number of years, and our philosophy has always been employees first,” he explained. “Because if employees are happy and motivated and feel good about themselves and their company, they’ll take good care of the customers.”

    It is this solid operating platform that Fiedler and other members of his team believe will support the company through its growth initiative and help it meet or exceed some aggressive goals.

    Taking Their Best Shot

    As he outlined that growth strategy for taking Entré to the next level, forged late last year, Braceland said it will have two main thrusts — acquiring new customers across all those sectors he mentioned, and providing more services to those clients, as well as to a strong core of 200 existing customers.

    These services include everything from installation to network issues; parts to printer repairs; supplies to something called ‘end-of-life’ work, meaning environmentally friendly disposition of equipment, a growing concern for ‘green’-conscious businesses of all sizes and an emerging opportunity for ventures like Entré.

    “As companies come out of older technologies, including PCs, servers, printers, and empty toner cartridges, they’re faced with the question of what to do with it,” said Braceland, adding that helping them find an answer is a relatively recent addition to Entré’s roster of services. “The worst thing they can do is take it to the landfill, first because this equipment is hazardous to the environment, and secondly, because there’s potentially confidential data sitting on those devices.

    “What we do is provide corporations with options as far as protecting their data and disposing of what’s called E-waste,” he continued, adding that Entré has been successful in adding this work on to other services ranging from hard-drive sweeping to print management.

    Describing the latter, he said it comes down to helping companies reduce their printing costs across the board and make the most effective use of the technology they’re invested in.

    Overall, said Aigner, who brings many years of experience in the food-service industry to his role at the company, Entré has shown the willingness over the years to make what he calls “investments” in the customer and service to same, and this won’t change as the company grows. What will change, though, if all goes expected, is the number of investments being made.

    Bellamy said that the main goal, and the primary challenge, for Entré is to get that proverbial foot in the door at companies and public entities like school departments. Once it does so, he’s confident that the company can get all the way in.

    “If people give us the opportunity to show what we can do, we make the most of that opportunity,” he explained. “If we get a chance, we perform, and we win. That’s how we’re going to win market share.”

    Braceland concurred. He said Entré and its sales team has been cultivating new customers and relationships for the past year or so — this is a lengthy process that usually takes several months — and that this work is starting to bear fruit. Once the company gets its foot in the door, he continued, it goes about the process of gaining the trust of the client.

    In this business, as in all others, trust must be earned, and this is accomplished by meeting and exceeding expectations, anticipating client needs, and then devising strategies to meet them.

    “Our aggressive goals for growth will be met through what I call efficient customer life-cycle management,” he explained, adding that this comes down to consistently adding services for existing customers while efficiently managing the client base.

    Time to Shine

    Summing up where Entré stands with implementation of its growth strategy, Fiedler said, “we’re at the 10-yard line, with 90 yards to go.”

    But there is no shortage of confidence that this team will reach the end zone, because of the expertise and determination it brings to the assignment.

    Not to mention that philosophy that has propelled Fiedler and other team makers for a quarter century — the notion of marbles, continually polishing them, and growing the collection.

    If all goes as planned, Fiedler may need a bigger bowl for that credenza.

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


    Northampton Cooperative Bank has promoted Tracey E. Egloff to Vice President. Egloff, the bank’s loan officer, oversees the residential-loan department, supervising underwriting compliance, approving loans and facilitating closings.


    Dr. Carolyn J. Brown has joined the Jewish Geriatric Services Family Medical Care practice. Brown is board-certified in internal medicine and has practiced medicine in the Pioneer Valley for more than 25 years.


    Florence Savings Bank announced the following:
    • Edward J. Garbacik has been elected Vice President, Investment Executive, of Financial Services;
    • Robert S. Allen has been elected Assistant Officer of the Compliance Department;
    • Linda M. Bates has been elected Vice President, Project Director, of the Operations Department, and
    • Ian T. Vukovich has been elected Project Officer of the Human Resources Department.


    Janel Beaulieu has been named the Business Development and Sales Manager at TD Banknorth in Hadley.


    Baystate Dental has added Dr. Nadia Church to the general dentistry practice. Church is welcoming new patients at all six Baystate Dental locations.


    PeoplesBank in Holyoke announced the following:
    • Sheila F. King-Goodwin has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Retail Banking;
    • Stacy A. Sutton has been promoted to First Vice President, Retail Banking;
    • Joseph R. Zazzaro has been promoted to First Vice President, Information Technology, and
    • Duane H. Camp has been promoted to First Vice President, Consumer Lending.


    Family Wealth Management Inc. announced that Doug Wheat has joined the company as a Financial Planner.


    Kira Dunn has been named Executive Director of the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women in Boston. The organization conducts public hearings across the state to assess the issues of most importance to women in the Commonwealth, and also conducts the annual Unsung Heroines of Massachusetts Awards at the State House each spring.


    Deborah A. Geisler has been named Branch Manager of the ninth full-service branch office of Hampden Bank in Longmeadow.


    MassMutual Retirement Services in Springfield announced the following:
    • Ian Sheridan has been named President of First Mercantile Trust;
    • Stan Label has been appointed Vice President and National Sales Manager for First Mercantile, and
    • Four members of First Mercantile’s existing management have been named to Sheridan’s senior leadership team. Alan Dunaway, Vice President, Business Development, will oversee First Mercantile’s key accounts, TPA channel, and the distributor development unit headed by Susan Conrad. James Pratt will continue to lead First Mercantile’s finance operation, including oversight of the company’s operations team led by Pamela Greenwood, Director of Operations.


    Cary Szafranski has been hired as an Associate Attorney at Gelinas & Lefebvre, P.C. in Chicopee.


    Holly J. Fuller has been elected by the Easthampton Savings Bank Board of Directors to serve as Branch Officer at the Locust Street office in Northampton.


    Holyoke Medical Center announced the following:
    • Dr. David Tupponce has been elected President of the Medical Staff;
    • Dr. Vijay Gandevia has been elected Vice President of the Medical Staff, and
    • Dr. Brigid Glackin has been elected Secretary/Treasurer.


    Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield announced the following:
    • Bruce Westcott has been named Vice President of Business Development. He is responsible for sales and marketing strategies for Peter Pan Bus Lines and the Peter Pan-owned companies Camfour-Hill Country and Belt Technologies.
    • Joanne Berwald has been named Director of Human Resources.


    Kerry A. Haberlin has joined Rankin & Sultan, based in Boston, as an Associate. Haberlin previously served as a judicial intern for The Honorable Bruce M. Selya of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. She also interned for the Joint Committee on Public Service, Massachusetts General Court.

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