Super 60 Lunch
The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield recently staged its annual Super 60 luncheon, an event to honor the region’s top-performing companies in the chamber’s Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories. At left, Cordia Harrington, president and CEO of the Tennessee Bun Company and the luncheon’s keynote speaker, chats with Mark Morris, public relations manager for Health New England, and Peter Straley, president/CEO, Health New England, the event’s presenting sponsor. At right, Straley and Jay Primack, right, managing partner, Moriarty & Primack, PC (platinum sponsor), present a Super 60 plaque to Jim Sasenecki, president, Brookdale Associates Inc. the top finisher in the ‘growth category.’
Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Craig Melin, left, shakes hands with John Heaps, president of Florence Savings Bank, at a recent ‘topping off’ ceremony for the $50 million expansion project at the hospital. Employees and physicians of the hospital, donors to its Caring for the Future campaign, and nearly 100 members of the community attended the ceremony, which marked a milestone in a two-year project that started in April of 2005 that will add a four-story, 116,000-square-foot building to the hospital’s campus. The building will contain eight surgical suites, a wing of 32-single-occupancy patient rooms, a centralized laboratory, and central sterile supply area and an expanded Joint
Hampden Bank recently staged an open house for its newest branch on the mezzanine level of Tower Square. Here, Hampden’s president, Thomas Burton, left, chats with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien.
The Chicopee and Greater Holyoke Chambers of Commerce staged Commerce 2005, their fall trade show, on Nov. 3 at the MassMutual Center. Clockwise from top left: Andy Hogan, Kevin Hart, Marcos Garcia, and Sean Hogan of Hogan Communications do their best Blues Brothers impression; Martin Johnson and Gilbert Nieves greet visitors to the Citizens Bank booth; Bob Gaboury and Tim Haas of Holyoke Gas & Electric staff the utility’s booth.
Medical Practice Expands its Horizons
Its just one cog in the works that make Baystate Ob/Gyn a successful business as well as medical practice in Western Mass., but it serves as an excellent example of how those two sides of the company must work together at all times in order move forward as a thriving, progressive, and, above all, safe health care business serving women of all ages across the region. Baystate Ob/Gyn has been recognized and lauded for that growth by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce Super 60 program, which put the practice among the top 10 – number nine – for revenue growth.
“As we expand,” explained Vogt Pisano, “new technology – and the issues implementing that new technology can present – is just one thing that drives us to continue to focus on providing quality care to our patients. It forces us to figure out the best way to implement new procedures, to learn everything we can about them and to value the input of everyone here, and it is one reason why we are providing great care, growing as a business, and can also be recognized for that growth by something like the Super 60.”
Indeed, several changes have been in the works in addition to the introduction of the EMR system at Baystate Ob/Gyn, which will create a paperless office and represents the first step in regional, clinical integration, according to Vogt Pisano, which will likely be ongoing in Western Mass. for the next 10 to 15 years.
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New health care providers have also joined the company in order to focus on the specific needs of women at different stages of life, such as the teenage years, childbearing age, and the golden years. The practices suite of outpatient and minimally invasive surgeries has broadened to offer more comprehensive and convenient care to its patients, including a progressive sterilization procedure called Essure, only available locally through Baystate Ob/Gyn. Bouchard noted that the practice has also begun to focus more on alternative health options for women, in order to provide not only more convenient and comprehensive care, but more holistic care as well.
“For us, better care equals better business, and vice versa,” said Bouchard.
And she and Vogt Pisano agreed that Baystate Ob/Gyn has seen definite signs of that business improvement over the past two years.
“We have no complaints,” Vogt Pisano said. “We increased our business size in 2003, and our provider base increased. What Ive seen since then is the same high level of care for our patients and the same high level of organization within the business, but on a larger scale.”
That expansion in 2003 included a new location, creating a five-office network in Springfield, West Springfield, South Hadley, and East Longmeadow, and necessitating, Vogt Pisano said, a “very intentional culture change” within the business, which now employs about 75 people.
“It has been challenging but enjoyable putting this group together,” she said. “We worked hard to create that new culture because of the specific goals we wanted to achieve; many practices, as they get larger, tend to centralize, but our growth has been very different. Because womens health is so community-based, we have expanded across the region, and yet still understand that it is of the utmost importance to maintain community involvement and a small-practice feel in order to be successful.”
Part of creating a new corporate culture that would preserve the practices accessibility for all types of patients and also grow and change within the increasingly technology-based industry of health care, Vogt Pisano explained, is to recruit physicians, midwives, and other health care providers specializing in a variety of areas within obstetrics and gynecology. That allows the practice to appeal to many age groups – teens, the elderly, and women of child-bearing age, for instance – and allows each physician to concentrate on his or her own specialties, thus improving the quality of care their patients will ultimately receive as they progress in their own careers and professional interests.
“Its also a real draw for physicians that they will be able to focus on their specialties, rather than stretch themselves across a wide gamut of services,” she added, noting that anything that attracts new providers to Massachusetts is a boon for both the economy and the quality of care available in the Commonwealth.
“Its hard to recruit physicians to Massachusetts, particularly in ob/gyn, she said. “We cant ignore the issues surrounding malpractice liability; its a huge issue that will continue to be a challenge. I do believe, however, that the collaborative model we have developed here is helping us to attract the best providers as well as helping us achieve the needed balance between clinical and business issues.”
That model also takes into account several other issues surrounding ob/gyn, including the need for female providers and employees, who relate well to patients, and further diversify the profession, and the inclusion of all employees at all levels within the organization when formulating plans for the future or when problem solving.
Bouchard said she views the businesses model for staff involvement one if its keys for success.
“Everyone has a piece of the pie,” she said. “Were firm believers in understanding first how people do what they do, then asking for their input on issues that they are involved with every day.
“You have to listen to people and appreciate their insights and ideas,” she continued. “That is one way that we balance the clinical and business sides of things, and keep the entire practice in balance.”
And Bouchard added that no other area is affected more by the crossover between clinical and business concerns that technology upgrades at Baystate Ob/Gyn. The practices EMR system, for instance, will be rolled out in stages and is expected to be fully operational and in use by the practices clinical professionals by January. The system will have a notable effect on the streamlining and accessibility of patient information, not to mention the fulfillment of HIPAA privacy and security requirements. But implementing the system has been no easy feat, requiring not only the introduction of a system foreign to all of Baystate Ob/Gyns employees, but also a new, broader way of doing things on an every day basis that employees will have to adjust to.
Its attention to the smaller things that many administrators would otherwise not think of when implementing the system that Vogt Pisano thinks will ultimately make the change a successful one.
Nurses, for instance, were able to collaborate with others to voice their concerns and to rectify them. They told Vogt Pisano they didnt want a system that required a lot of navigation just to get to one portion of a patients record, because that would affect the quality of patient care. They were also concerned about the overall size of the electronic equipment they would be using; both of those concerns, and others, were taken into account when choosing a system and a method of introducing the new procedures.
“I think weve done a good job of it,” Vogt Pisano said. “Everyone has had training. This has been a lot of work, but EMR has become a huge part of our practice, and will be part of our ultimate success. But people are reinventing the wheel constantly when it comes to health care technology, and I think our model is one that will allow us to embrace those new challenges and move forward with positive growth and excellent care.
“Im excited about continuing to offer excellent care to our patients during challenging times.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Chamber Salutes Top-performing Companies
Higher education and health care. Those are two of the economic sectors displaying strength and resilience in the Pioneer Valley, and areas producing many of the area’s new jobs.
So it’s not surprising that both realms are well represented on the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce (ACCGS) Super 60 list for 2005. Indeed, three of the top performers on the ‘Total Revenue’ chart are private colleges based in Springfield — Western New England College, American International College, and Springfield College. Meanwhile, both the Revenue and ‘Revenue Growth’ lists are dotted with health care and health care-related businesses — from physician groups to a chain of drug stores.
But there are many other business sectors represented on the lists as well, from retail to manufacturing, transportation to hospitality.
“Diversity — that’s the strength of our local economy; we’re not dependent on any one area,” said ACCGS President Russell F. Denver. “The Super 60 list has always reflected that diversity; it’s an accurate barometer of the health of our business community.
BusinessWest looks this issue at those barometric readings, and what the Super 60 list reveals. Scanning the names, Denver said the compilation, which includes a mix of familiar names and new faces, reveals that many companies of all sizes are doing well, and that bodes well for the Pioneer Valley.
The diversity that Denver spoke of can be clearly seen in the Super 60’s Revenue category.
At the top of the chart is a veteran of the program, Pride Convenience Inc., which operates gas stations and convenience stores, and is advancing plans to build more (see related story, page 19). But there are also the three colleges on the list, some retailers — including two auto dealerships, a recreational vehicle seller, and Manny’s TV and Appliance — and an engineering firm specializing in the design of food-processing plants (the Dennis Group).
And then, there’s Berkshire Blanket, the Ware-based manufacturer of fleece blankets that has seen strong, steady growth over the past several years.
The health care sector is also well represented in the Revenue category, with a mix of ventures, including Disability Management Services Inc., Louis & Clark Drug, Hampden County Physicians Inc., and the Mental Health Association.
“Diversity — that’s the strength of our local economy; we’re not dependent on any one area. The Super 60 list has always reflected that diversity; it’s an accurate barometer of the health of our business community.”
To qualify for the Revenue list, companies needed to compile at least $1 million in sales in 2004. The average for the 30 companies that made the list, however, was more than $30 million. Combined the Revenue winners logged more than $1.1 billion in total sales.
The top five Revenue companies were:Pride, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Springfield College, Western New England College, and Northeast Treaters. Berkshire Blanket was one of nine newcomers to the list. The others were Astro Chemicals, Environmental Compliance Services (previously listed on Revenue Growth lists), Heatbath Corp., M.J. Moran Corp., Manny’s, Mental Health Associates, Sound Seal, and Springfield College.
While diversity is prevalent on the Revenue list, the word defines the Revenue Growth chart, as a look at the top-five performers reveals.
First-place finisher Brookdale Associates is a machine tool distributor. The runner-up, meanwhile, a Westfield-based venture called Little Rill Corp., specializes in the packaging of ice-melt and other products for national manufacturers. Third on the list is a staffing agency (United Personnel Services), followed by Dimauro Carpet and Tile, and an insurance agency (Field Eddy & Bulkley).
Further down the list one finds a day care center, a farmers’ supply company, a truss-making venture (see related story, page 22), a company making a new, more powerful line of hand dryers, Springfield Spring , and MacKenzie Vault Inc., the East Longmeadow-based maker of cremation urns.
There are also several health care-related businesses on the Growth list. They include Baystate Ob/Gyn Group , Micro Test Laboratories, a pharmaceuticals manufacturer, Consolidated Health Plans, and Pediatric Services of Greater Springfield.
Nearly half the companies on the ‘Growth’ list are newcomers. They are ACT Vehicle Equipment Inc., Allston Supply Co., Amherst Farmers Supply Inc., Dimauro Carpet & Tile, Excel Dryer, Field Eddy & Bulkley, James J. Dowd and Sons Insurance Agency Inc., Little Rill, Mackenzie Vault, Norman B. Keady Const. Co., Pediatric Services, Springfield Spring, Truss Engineering Corp., and Wright Architectural Millwork.
To make the Growth chart, companies needed to log at least 20.6% growth over the past three years. The average for the group, however, was 49%, and three-quarters of the firms on the list recorded at least 30% over that time.
The Super 60 companies will be honored at a luncheon at Chez Josef on Oct. 28. For more information, or to order tickets, call (413) 755-1313, or visitwww.myonlinechamber.com.
Area Blanket Manufacturer Finds its Comfort Zone
Company President Rick Lotuff said requests for new blankets are rare, but they do happen. One customer recently called in, for instance, with a receipt dating back seven years in hand – and said her blanket was starting to wear down. Based in part on his amazement that she had retained her receipt, but more so on that lifetime guarantee his company offers, Lotuff made sure a new blanket was in the mail to the customer right away.
“Its about creating repeat customers,” he said. “If I maintain a strong relationship with our customers and show them that we are true to our word, theyre going to tell their friends about us, and we are going to grow.”
Berkshire Blanket was actually born out of a similar friendly gesture in 1993. Lotuffs sister, Mary, conceived the simple idea of creating a fleece blanket, sewing a homemade gift for a friend using some extra material she found at Ricks former sew-and-cut business.
The polyester fleece material, often used in jackets and other outdoor apparel, proved to serve well as a warm, soft blanket, and an appreciated gift. It wasnt long after that Mary, Rick, and their brother Joe collaborated on a second blanket, this time a prototype for a product they felt had some potential to sell. They borrowed their mothers idea for a name – Berkshire Blanket, chosen because its alliterative quality was appealing and, they thought, best reflected the type of product they hoped to market: quality, aesthetic blankets and throws that were manufactured with care to be long-lasting and, above all, warm.
Company:Berkshire Blanket Inc.
They might not have guessed right away, however, how much early success the company would enjoy. The same year that first blanket was sewn, Berkshire Blanket made its first sale to a national company; Lotuff showed the sample blanket to management at Marshalls department stores, and immediately, the company bought 3,600 pieces.
Berkshires mission, Lotuff explained, is to continue to create simple, quality products using the best materials, which in turn enhance lifes “quiet moments.” That philosophy touches every part of the companys operations, from production to packaging, and has spurred strong growth over the past 12 years. A recent spike in sales over the past two years, in fact, has helped Berkshire Blanket become one of the top blanket and throw manufacturers in the nation, in addition to landing the company on this years Affiliated Chambers Super 60 list, coming in at number 10 for Total Revenue and 20 for Revenue Growth.
Thats not to say that business has always been warm and fuzzy for Berkshire Blanket; there have been a few hurdles to clear over the years. Lotuff explained that after that initial Marshalls sale, the company saw a dip in orders from major stores, and an overall sluggish performance.
The problem was not an intangible one for Lotuff, however. He surmised that the issue was that his products intrinsic selling point was being hidden by the vinyl zipper bags in which Berkshire Blankets were stuffed.
“They were sitting on the shelves in those bags, and people couldnt touch them and feel how soft they are,” he explained. “We removed the bag, and now our blankets are unwrapped, held together in a roll by a bungee cord, a paper wrap around the middle of the blanket, or some other ribbon or strap.”
“A lot of our focus has gone more toward feeling — seeing a good product, and then going a step further and offering images that reflect what it means to have a warm, comfortable product.”
That change, said Lotuff, serves as an excellent example of Berkshire Blankets attention to its central mission statement. New packaging may seem like a small shift in a companys overall direction, but soon after switching to minimal packaging, the company became the number-one selling throw company in the nation.
And Berkshires major marketing initiatives continue to revolve around the strength of the product itself and its packaging, said Ellen McNulty, marketing director.
“We had an ad campaign we used two to three years ago in some national publications,” she explained, noting that the ads, which appeared in Martha Stewart Living and the New York Times magazine, among others, can still be seen on the Berkshire Blanket Web site and reflect the idea of simplicity that the company constantly revisits.
Each ad includes only one word describing the product, such as ‘soft, ‘inviting, or ‘warm, and features a Berkshire Blanket in a setting that best depicts each adjective. The ad that describes the blankets as ‘natural, for instance, shows a throw bundled to resemble a sushi roll balanced between two chopsticks.
But after 9/11, said McNulty, the company became increasingly focused on packaging rather than print, Web, or television advertising, in order to curb marketing costs and best utilize its advertising dollars.
“We wanted the product to serve as a mini-representation of the company visually,” she said. “A lot of our focus has gone more toward feeling — seeing a good product, and then going a step further and offering images that reflect what it means to have a warm, comfortable product.
“Our imaging shows a lifestyle that is a simple one,” McNulty continued. “One in which there is time to read, to garden, or to just sit quietly on the porch. Those are the things we try to focus on because when you walk into a store, you see a lot of different products, but our packages share the same simple positioning.”
The Soft Sell
That packaging has carried the company through a few new-product introductions in the past year, and both the packaging and new items, as well as a constant focus on the quality and consistency of existing products, Lotuff said, have allowed the company to grow at the rate it has in recent years.
“We also have a flexible sourcing model,” he noted. “We can source materials from China, Taiwan, or Pakistan, for instance, and that flexible outsourcing allows us to grow in a way we could not otherwise.”
That growth has been particularly evident over the past two years. Two years ago, Berkshire Blanket recorded a 45% surge in sales, and for 2005, the company has projected an impressive increase of 100%. It is growth that McNulty said is thanks to a number of variables – among them, the strength of the market and the readiness of stores and consumers alike to welcome new products made from new, synthetic materials.
“The critical thing is that Berkshire is constantly developing new products,” she said, “but that doesnt always translate into company growth.”
McNulty used Berkshires most recent offering, blankets and throws made from a material called Serasoft, to illustrate that point.
“Serasoft hit a new chord for us that we were excited about, but when the products were first unveiled, retailers werent ready,” she said. “Its all about what the market is looking for. When business is strong in our industry, people dont want to change what is working. What happened, though, was the acrylic business was starting to wane, because the product was not as durable as it used to be, and was not as successful with consumers.
“When acrylics started to leave the market,” McNulty continued, “Serasoft replaced it and brought to customers exactly what they were looking for – a blanket that is warm, easy to care for, and durable.”
And if a blanket meets those criteria, then it in turn meets the internal standards – and reflects the mission of – Berkshire Blanket, Lotuff said. He agreed that the new Serasoft product line is one reason the company has done so well in the past two years, but far from the only reason.
“We just began to evolve,” he said. “We went from polyester fleece blankets to other types of blankets, using sweatshirt material, Berber, T-shirt fabrics… always soft, comfortable fabrics. We are expanding into comforters now. Newness helps spark new growth, but its the little things that keep our momentum strong.”
Little things like money-back guarantees and customer service, Lotuff noted. And the company also hasnt strayed far from the product that started it all.
Berkshire Blankets factory outlet store, adjacent to its corporate offices on East Main Street in Ware, offers fleece pillow cases, hats, scarves, vests, and a number of blankets and throws made from both synthetic fabrics like fleece and Serasoft and natural fabrics such as cotton, wool, and silk. But nationwide, in the 4,000 stores Berkshires products can be found including Linens and Things, Bed Bath and Beyond, and K-mart and in international locales including Japan, the majority stock throws and blankets very much like Mary Lotuffs original creation.
And thats a notion that gives everyone a warm, fuzzy feeling – guaranteed.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Russ Denver says the Greater Springfield Chambers Super 60 program, which began life as the Fabulous 50, was never intended to be a scientific compilation of the regions top-performing companies.
After all, there are thousands of businesses in the Pioneer Valley, and only a few hundred are nominated for the honor. "Some companies are shy," said Denver, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (ACCGS), explaining why some businesses dont participate. "And some simply dont want people to know how well theyre doing."
But the annual list is nonetheless a very accurate barometer of whats happening with the regions economy, said Denver, who said he examines each list closely for trends and signs. In recent interviews, Denver said that, despite a somewhat soft economy and the severe fiscal challenges facing Springfield, the local business community has produced a number of success stories. Bright spots of note include the health care sector, financial services, retail, and higher education.
These trends have been verified with this years list, said Denver, noting that there are more than 10 health care-related companies on the roster, as well as several financial services businesses from benefits providers to a few insurance companies. Meanwhile, there is a wide variety of retail operations, including several car dealerships, a boat seller, a power equipment operation and a Harley Davidson dealership (see the full list of companies, page 26).
There are even two private schools on the list Western New England College and American International College (AIC).
"Looking over this list, two things stand out in my mind," said Denver. "First, the fact that consumer product companies have done quite well, which would defy all the media coverage about a perceived lack of consumer confidence."
Denver also noted the proliferation of health care companies, a sign of that sectors emergence as an economic engine.
"This the largest number of the health-care related companies that weve had on our list," he said. "This shows that we not only have a strong base of businesses in that sector, but that theyre doing very well."
While the Super 60 has become an economic barometer, said Denver, it has also become a brand. Indeed, a number of area businesses make use of their inclusion on either the total revenue or revenue growth list in their advertising, he said, and the phrase "Super 60 company has become part of the local lexicon.
"The program provides great recognition for employees that theyve contributed to the success of the company," he said, adding that Super 60 serves as a vehicle for communicating business success stories in the Valley. "We started this to highlight the importance of business to our region, to highlight the fast-growing companies, and to inform the public that a lot of really good things are going on in the business community."
The Super 60 companies will be feted at a luncheon on Oct. 29 at Chez Josef in Agawam. The keynote speaker for that event will be Arthur J. Rolnick, senior vice president and director of marketing for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who will speak on the economics of early childhood development.
In Good Company
Change was the order of the day with this years Super 60 list, especially in the revenue-growth category. Half the list, 15 companies, is new from last year, and the top five has only two repeats, the day care center Giggle Gardens, which was the runner-up for the second year in a row, and Thrifty Financial Services, which placed fifth.
At the top of the revenue-growth list for 2004 is Agawam-based U.S. Tank Alliance (USTA), an underground storage tank solutions company that has recorded average growth of 160.9944% over the past three years.
Company President Joel Hershey said there have been a number of state and federal regulations passed over the past 15-20 years regarding underground and above-ground tanks, and U.S. Tank Alliance was created four years ago to take advantage of opportunities presented by that legislation.
The company, which covers roughly the eastern half of the country, has regional facilities in Columbus, Ohio, Tampa, Fla., Baton Rouge, La., and Cinnaminson, N.J., in addition to the corporate headquarters in Agawam.
USTA provides a number of services for commercial clients, residential property owners, and municipalities, including tank cleaning, inspection, compliance programs, system training, project management, and consulting. That diversity, coupled with its geographic reach, has enabled the company to achieve strong growth each year since its inception, said Hershey.
"We put a number of services under one roof, and that makes us fairly unique," he explained, adding that USTA counts a number of global petroleum dealers, area cities and towns, and individual homeowners on its client list.
Rounding out the top five are two newcomers to the revenue growth, Focus Business Supplies Inc. and Northstar Recycling Group (Northstar previously qualified for the total-revenue list).
Other newcomers to the growth list are Baystate Dental, P.C., Baystate Ob-Gyn Group, Brookdale Associates, Diamond RV Center (a previous qualifier for total revenue), Elm Industries, Falcetti Music Inc., First American Insurance Agency, Firtion Adams Funeral Service Inc. (see related story, page 25), Healthcare Resource Solutions, Micro-test Laboratories, and Ten Novembre Group, Dba The Bordeaux Co., and United Personnel Services.
Alta Stark, communications director for the ACCGS said the threshhold for making the growth list was 26% over the past three years, with average growth of just over 65% for the 30 companies that qualified.
On the total revenue side of the ledger, there were four newcomers, AIC, The Center for Human Development and its subsidiary, Behavioral Health Network Inc., and Kittredge Equipment Corp. (see related story, page 23).
Topping the revenue list is Bertera Enterprises, which has been a frequent Super 60 qualifier and a family business that has grown steadily over the years.
Company President Aldo Bertera said it all started with a gas station on Route 20 in West Springfield that was operated by his father. Aldo and his brother, Robert, eventually opened a Subaru dealership on Riverdale Road in 1973. The Bertera family of auto sales and service businesses continues to grow, and now includes eight dealerships and two collision centers.
The corporation includes four dealerships on Riverdale Road Subaru, Lincoln Mercury, Chrysler, and Suzuki as well as Bertera Metro Jeep Chrysler Plymouth and Auto World by Bertera, both in Springfield, and Bertera Chevrolet Oldsmobile Pontiac in Palmer. The latest acquisition came this past summer, when the company acquired Balise Chrysler Jeep and melded it with Bertera Dodge in Westfield.
Rounding out the top five in total revenue were newcomer, Sarat Ford Enterprises another of the four auto dealerships on the revenue list and Peter Pan Bus Lines and Pride Convenience Inc., and Western New England College.
Stark said that the average annual revenue for the 30 companies on the list was more than $48 million. Total revenue for all companies on the list exceeded $1.4 billion.
Four companies on the revenue list also qualified for the revenue-growth chart Camfour Inc., Louis & Clark Drug Inc., OK Pet Supply, Peter Pan, and Pride. Meanwhile, four revenue-growth winners also qualified for total revenue Brookdale Associates, Diamond RV, Environmental Compliance Services Inc., and Northstar Recycling.
For more information on the Super 60 and awards lunchon, visitwww.myonlinechamber.com