The changes were little rumblings at first, handed down from the home office and just enough to knock employees out of the normal routine.
Before they locked up their Lube Stop shops for the night, could they please switch off the computer monitors?
Other requests soon came from company president Tom Morley: Set aside computer toner cartridges, and stop throwing away used oil filters — both would now be recycled. The same went for expired computer monitors and old antifreeze sucked from customers’ cars.
Then Morley changed how the company’s roughly three dozen stores ordered oil. For years, Lube Stop shops routinely filled dumpsters with empty plastic, quart-size oil containers and the cardboard boxes in which they were shipped.
As each trash container filled, guys would be sent out to hop on the pile and smash it down to make room for more empty boxes and bottles.
“It was kind of fun, actually,” recalls
Andrew Sellars, assistant manager at Lube Stop’s Cuyahoga Falls location.
Eventually, all those boxes and bottles disappeared and were replaced with barrels, tanks and 180-gallon tubs.
That was all small stuff. Continental drift compared to the earthquake still in store.
Last spring, Morley added EcoGuard — an oil-change service using re-refined oil — to the traditional options available to Lube Stop customers. Even the employees wondered what management was thinking.
Did the company really expect people to buy used oil? And just what would this recycled oil look like?
How are we going to explain this to customers? Sellars remembers thinking at the time.
The technology to cook contaminants out of used motor oil and mix in additives to make new lube has been around for more than a decade. But would Lube Stop be able to sell the service to customers conditioned to think of used oil as dirty, damaging and definitely not something they’d want around their engine?
Now, less than a year later, about 40 percent of customers who pull in for an oil change at one of Northeast Ohio’s 37 Lube Stop locations request the EcoGuard lubricant. The company’s sweeping environmental and sustainability programs have caught the attention of, and won awards from, organizations both in the government and in the industry in Ohio and beyond, including being named the fast lube operator of 2008 from National Oil & Lube News.
“You need someone that’s really going to kind of step out and really believe in a product and sell it,” says Garrett McKinnon, the publication’s editor. “He had the luxury of looking at it from a completely fresh approach. ... He really didn’t have any preconceived notions.”
The move, made by a man who found green while working with black, has yet to be reproduced throughout another regional or national chain in the industry. But Morley really wishes more would follow.
“The message is, ‘Do it. Don’t be intimidated,’ ” he says. “Just start somewhere. Start small.”
And where most companies talk about growth, Morley sees building beyond his business to create a sustainable oil-recycling industry within Ohio, complete with re-refineries and oil-blending facilities.
“We’re working hard to shed the whole ‘mistake on the lake’ phenomenon,” he says.
Just as residents have changed their consumption habits to include recycling and cutting back on waste, so too must companies, according to Morley.
“Society gives businesses the right to operate,” he explains. “And if you abuse that right, they’ll take it away from you.”
If Morley thought of Lube Stop at all through the years, it was likely how anyone else who grew up around Cleveland did. The company’s ’80s radio jingle lives deep in the minds of many.You can’t top Lube Stop for an expert oil change. Lube Stop.
In May 2002, fresh from the University of Michigan with a master’s in business administration, Morley saw himself going into a green industry, maybe something with advanced energy or resource renewal or working with the technology required to engineer water filtration systems.
A former classmate from Michigan, the daughter-in-law of Lube Stop founder Jerry Forstner, brought up the idea of Morley running the oil-change company. It was intriguing, he thought, the chance to be at the top so soon after business school. The product was easy enough to understand, and the company led the Northeast Ohio market.
But, motor oil? Could one get any further from pure water and renewable energy? He had never worked at the company or even in the auto industry. “You could imagine my conundrum,” he says.
Ultimately, it was Morley’s wife, Katie, who suggested the job might be a good opportunity.
Why he’s successful » Morley took an obscure product on a sales list — re-refined motor oil meant mostly for government fleet vehicles — and put it on the oil change menu for the average customer last summer. So far? About 40 percent of the roughly 30,000 oil changes the company does at its 37 stores each month are with the green EcoGuard service, and he’s caught national attention for his initiative.
Where you haven’t seen him before » Doing an oil change. Although he’s learned the difference between air filters (cleans air for engine) and cabin filters (cleans air for people in the car), Morley still hasn’t done an oil change in his five years as Lube Stop president. He has changed serpentine belts, though. “It’s not that hard, actually,” he says.
Yikes! » Oil from one change (about four to five quarts) could contaminate as much as 1 million gallons of water (Lake Erie has more that 127 trillion gallons).
Tom Morley, President
“Tom,” she told him. “Someone’s got to watch out for that oil.”
“Those were her exact words,” Morley recalls.
Forstner founded Lube Stop in 1985 when a 10-minute, while-you-wait oil change was still a novelty. The company grew and eventually absorbed regional locations once occupied by a national competitor.
By the time Morley arrived nearly a decade later that newness was gone. Trust had also been damaged as reports of consumer fraud were documented at national chains.
“If it happens at Jiffy Lube, it might as well have happened at Lube Stop,” Morley says. “It damages the whole industry.”
So, he set aside his dreams of green for the moment. More important, Morley understood, was to dissect, document and devote time to understanding how the business ran and how it could run better. What he found was a jumble of ideas, technology and service levels. Not all stores could communicate customer history with each other. Aged dot matrix printers crashed.
And he wanted to be sure employees built relationships with the company’s customers and their cars, rather than reap a one-time reward. So Morley created eight goals that the company’s 250 employees should strive to reach in order to create happy customers. He called it The Lube Stop Experience.
“We are not selling oil changes,” he says. “We are selling a feeling. Either the customer’s going to leave our shop happy, or they’re going to leave feeling that took too long or I got taken.”
The process took most of the first year he was at Lube Stop, but Morley found economizing intersecting with his environmental initiatives in-wait. That whole idea to shut off the computer monitors every night? It saves the company about $3,500 a year on roughly 25,000 kilowatt hours of power they don’t have to buy. That’s money that falls to profit, Morley says, profit the company shares with its employees.
“We could talk to our field in a way that they get it environmentally and strategically and ethically,” he says. “It’s not going to reverse global warming, but it’s better than nothing.”
Morley built upon the momentum. He began distributing information on groundwater awareness in 2006. Remember the overflowing trash bins? Buying oil in bulk eliminated about 250,000 bottles and 30,000 cardboard boxes that Lube Stop trashed each year.
“We were generating an unacceptable amount of waste,” Morley says.
The gains would end there for some, but Morley thinks beyond his shops.
Because he changed how Lube Stop gets its oil, there were now fewer deliveries to its locations, which meant less fuel being burned and, consequently, less emissions generated.
Why switch from the Cherry Bomb hand cleaner Lube Stop mechanics once used to Fast Orange? Well, the Connecticut-based company has a distribution center in Solon, which means Lube Stop is putting money back into Ohio’s economy.
Why consider offering re-refined oil? To Morley, it was a better solution than sending waste oil to be burned in furnaces, a system that uses up its energy and eliminates the potential to send it through the cycle yet again.
So, less than a year ago, Morley rolled out the EcoGuard service.
“I didn’t have this preconceived notion that customers would shun it,” he says. “They were starting to see that it was more than talk, that we had proof.”
Plants have re-refined oil for about 30 years. But, much like trying to sell American drivers on diesel engines during that era, what the product promised and what it could deliver rarely matched.
“There were a lot of inconsistencies from batch to batch,” McKinnon says. “Most of the companies doing the re-refining back in the ’70s were smaller independents, and they just couldn’t make a go of it.”
As technology advanced, refineries were able to bring used oil back to the standards of virgin crude. Now, completely recycled oil meets industry standards, which means consumers can use it in their vehicles without voiding warranties.
Yet, the only real mandate for the substance was for use in government fleet vehicles, a leftover from the Clinton administration. The rest of the market? Little to no interest, McKinnon says.
Even Morley wasn’t out looking for re-refined oil at first.
Two years passed from when he first spied it on a supplier’s price sheet to when he actually talked with a distributor about the option. As he investigated the idea, anyone, anywhere during 2007 and early 2008 became a sounding board for the concept of offering green oil changes.
A roundtable gathering of almost 75 Ohio businesspeople interested in sustainability urged him onward.
He posted a poll on Lube Stop’s Web site asking whether customers would take advantage of re-refined motor oil if it met manufacturers’ standards. “Yes” votes accounted for almost 48 percent of the 785 votes, with another 25 percent saying maybe if they had more information.
But, when he asked two friends at a dinner party whether they were interested in such a service and one said she’d gladly pay a little bit more for an environmentally friendly oil change, Morley knew he’d be able to go green without compromising the business’ profitability.
“That was kind of when my gut said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ ” he recalls. “I wasn’t going to roll out an oil change service that’s going to lose money. That’s not good for the business.”
The first resistance came from within the quick-change industry. At two different gatherings, Morley got tepid reaction to his plans. Some of his mentors told him to “be careful with that,” while others reiterated just how bad a reputation re-refined oil had through the years.
“They didn’t understand how serious I was about going with this,” Morley says.
As the company got ready to add the service last year, Morley made sure employees knew how to explain it. They were also trained that EcoGuard was just one option, not a wholesale replacement of the traditional oil change. Despite what seemed like overwhelming encouragement, not every existing Lube Stop customer would want to, or could, make the switch and the company could not afford to lose 25 percent of its customer base.
“Our biggest concern was how to carry the product,” Morley says. “I wasn’t going to carry it in bottles and cases because that didn’t make sense.”
Get Morley talking long enough about his dreams of green, and he’ll inevitably reach for a photo cube near his desk and show you a picture of Snowy.
The cantankerous Barred Rock rooster watches over a flock of 10 laying Black Star hens at the coop Morley keeps at Arrow Creek Farm, his family’s Gates Mills home. Snowy’s been a good manager of the flock — even crowing one cold night when the group was accidentally locked outside its coop — and Morley has dreams of one day supplying fresh brown eggs to local restaurants. “My whole interest in this thing has kind of spun out of control,” Morley says.
Morley wants his customers to think more about sustainability as well. Lube Stop’s Web site has links to places consumers can contact to reduce the amount of junk mail they get and where they can recycle furniture and cell phones. There’s even information about the company that is seeking to create a windmill energy farm just off Cleveland’s shore in Lake Erie.
Morley’s even done some research into what comes next on the motor oil horizon. His dislike of the industrial meat business in the United States means he’s not likely to add biodegradable motor oil that shuns petroleum altogether in favor of using animal fat by-products from slaughterhouses.
“I would be reluctant to jump on board with a product that is dependent on animals,” Morley says.
Instead, he’s already spoken to an Ohio company that uses plants to make biodegradable lubricants. He’d be willing to give that a shot if the raw materials came from the leftovers of the corn and soy harvest to avoid the Ethanol fiasco where fuel competed with food.
“You’re not creating a competing dichotomy of resources,” he says.
Even with re-refined oil, Morley would love to move the entire process within the state rather than spend the money and the fuel to truck it from outside the state. That future is growing closer too, with a re-refining plant soon to come on line in Columbus.
Think local, buy local, build local — that’s the goal of sustainability, Morley says, and his goal, too.
“Real sustainability is about trying to promote community building,” he says. “I’m bullish on Northeast Ohio. I think we’re going to turn it around."
— Erica Jacobson
Country Fire Protection
John Lubinski never dreamed of being a fireman like other kids. He wanted his own business. And after the fire-protection company he worked for in the Carolinas was sold, Lubinski got his chance. He cashed in his 40l(k) (“It was a very paltry sum”), and the Walsh Jesuit High School graduate hurried back to Ohio to start Summit County Fire Protection in Stow. The company, now known as County Fire Protection Inc., has 16 employees and provides fire-protection sales and services in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and beyond.
One man, one garage »
To start, Lubinski operated out of the upstairs of a friend’s business and an unused garage.
Movin’ on up » “With the growth of sales and employees came a need for larger facilities,” Lubinski says. A 12,000-square-foot facility in Brimfield, with office space and a warehouse, provides plenty of room for the U.S. DOT-certified hydro testing for fire-fighting equipment.
Ahoy! » “We inspect the fire equipment aboard the Great Lakes shipping vessels,” Lubinski says. “It’s a different world,” he says of the massive freighters.
The more the merrier! » Initially selling only fire extinguishers, County Fire now provides fire alarm, fire suppression, exit and emergency light services, to name a few. Its clients include the telecommunications and the steel industries. And in case of emergencies, County Fire provides a 24-hour, year-round answering service to meet customers’ needs.
A good accident ... » His path to owning a fire-protection business happened “by accident,” Lubinski recalls. The CEO worked his way through Carolina Safety Associates — from the shop to the sales office to regional management — before Grinnell Fire bought it in the late ’90s.
... and a good boss » Since starting in September 2002, Chris Cogar has followed Lubinski’s path up the ladder with County Fire. He talks fondly of “the little extras” Lubinski provides for his employees. For example, after Cogar had a heart attack a few years ago, Lubinski and his wife sent food and called to check on him. “He really cares about the employees,” Cogar says.
Regionalism is ... » about giving back to the area, Lubinski says. The company is associated with various chambers of commerce and philanthropic efforts. “It’s important to be involved in those organizations and support them. Our philanthropic efforts follow that lead.”
Northeast Ohio is important to my business because ... » “That’s where we’re based, and it’s where the employees come from,” Lubinski says. “We hire and promote from within. So it’s all based here.”
— Francis Bova III
Carmine Izzo is always three steps ahead — a perfect trait when you’re the vision guy. But you’d better have someone who can get everyone else to follow the trail. “I need to be pulled back to make sure we take all the steps,” says Izzo, president of Amotec, a Westlake-based global search firm he founded in 2000. That’s where Steve Melfi comes in. He’s the process guy. “We have different skill sets that complement each other,” says Melfi, vice president, who came onboard last summer. It must be working: Amotec opened a Toledo office in November.
Picture this » Hanging in the company lobby is a framed photo of Izzo decked out in full ’70s garb, including a pair of too-large zebra-print platform shoes complete with plastic fish floating in the heels. He agreed to wear it if employees raised $5,000 for Harvest for Hunger. They did, and he wore the costume at Crocker and Detroit roads with a sign saying he sold his soul for the charity.
Mistakes are good »
“I expect [employees] to make mistakes,” Izzo says. The key, of course, is to grow from them. Izzo learned an important lesson during the opening of the Toledo office. “I didn’t line up the phone system correctly. I thought it’d be done in two weeks; it took two months.”
Changing gears » After initially focusing on automotive recruiting, Amotec diversified and continues to do so in areas such as IT, infrastructure, alternative energy and medicine.
Rise and shine » “I get up every day,” Izzo says, “because I like to see success, to see young recruiters buy a new car or a home. That’s pure joy for me.”
Interview don’t No. 1 » A candidate once popped opened his briefcase in the middle of an interview, took out a Dr. Pepper and started drinking it. When Izzo later asked him why, he said, “I was thirsty.” (He didn’t get the job.)
Interview don’t No. 2 » Melfi recently interviewed a potential new recruiter for Amotec, who spent the entire time checking his watch and text messaging. (He didn’t get the job, either.)
Interview do » During a recent job interview, a newly hired Amotec recruiter said, “Just give me an opportunity. I will not disappoint you.”
Sometimes you just know » “We can’t train drive,” Izzo says. “Or passion,” Melfi adds.
Regionalism is ... » Vital, says Izzo. “For Cleveland to have success, Akron and everybody else has to be successful. We have to start thinking that way. Everybody has strengths.”
Northeast Ohio is important to my business because ... » “I just love Cleveland, period,” says Izzo. “We’re staying here,” Melfi adds. “We’re not going anywhere.”
— Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz
David Lazor started Lazorpoint, a technology consulting firm, a decade ago with a basic growth strategy: pound the pavement. He networked, searched out clients and maintained them by sticking to his word. It worked. Lazorpoint grew every year. But recently, Lazor realized he needed a shift in strategy to continue down the road. “There are only so many hours in a day for networking,” he says. So he hired Caxton Growth Partners to devise a new growth plan. They went a step further: In January 2008, Lazorpoint merged with Caxton to offer a wide range of growth-focused consulting services.
Table manners » Lazor, a University of Michigan grad, started Lazorpoint after working at Intel for only about a year. “I financed the company personally. As a service business, you don’t need much capital to get started — as long as you can put food on the table. The trick is, you just don’t pay yourself very much, or anything, if you can afford it.”
Eight is (old) enough » At 8, he started writing software and brainstorming business ideas. “But you’ve probably heard of people who went into business for themselves because they can’t take direction from anyone else. That isn’t me. That’s not why I left Intel.”
Playing the field » Lazor’s grandparents owned a dairy farm, where he milked cows, cleaned stalls, drove the tractor, bailed hay and then stacked it in the barn. “When you’re out in the fields in 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity, you start to learn what work is. Hard work.”
Crash courses » Lazor encourages employees to exceed a client’s expectations, because much of the company’s growth comes from increasing services to its strongest customers. For example, an employee recently volunteered to help a new client through a systems crisis that wasn’t part of his assignment. “He spent half a day on it. That is something that could potentially lead to some big opportunities with that company.”
Economic worries? » Though the company started to see some softening in December, Lazor is unfazed. “In my early years in construction or on the farm, you could [either] roll over and play dead or go out there every day and find a way to get the job done. We are still seeing opportunities.”
What’s in a name? » A friend in marketing recommended the name Lazorpoint. At first, Lazor was hesitant: He didn’t want to come off as self-centered by using his own name. But colleagues at Intel liked it. “Lazorpoint sounds focused. The vision is to be the point person to help your company grow faster. For a lot of reasons, I decided to get comfortable with it.”
Regionalism is … » “The stuff we read in the paper and see on the news — the concept that we should figure out how to share resources. Instead of these little fiefdoms, we can get the economy to scale by acting more as a region as opposed to individual cities.”
Northeast Ohio is important to my business because … » “That’s where I grew up.”
— Sarah Filus
Ken Stasiak has hacked into more phone lines and computers than mostmovie villains. But the North Royalton native gets paid to do it legally by companies who want to find shortcomings in their systems. Stasiak started his career in the security practices of Ernst & Young and Andersen LLP before starting his own company, SecureState, in 2001. In its first year, Stasiak brought in $450,000, which is impressive, but totaled less than its sales for January 2009, a new record. Currently, the 37-employee company has seven openings. “My recruiter isn’t very happy with me,” Stasiak says. “I just told him we need these employees yesterday.” So what’s the trick? As the economy gets worse, people turn to unethical means to make money, he says. Security becomes more important.
Baby steps »
Stasiak incorporated SecureState six days after the 9/11 attacks. Though he left Andersen with some leads, everyone was too concerned about the economy to buy. A month later, he found out his wife was pregnant with twins. “She had no job, I had no insurance.” He financed the company with $1,500 of his own money and didn’t take a salary for eight to 10 months. “Fortunately, we lived off friends and family for a while.”
Lift-off » SecureState picked up a contract with NASA Glenn in 2003 doing threat analysis and counterintelligence. “It opened a lot of doors.”
Shingle life » Stasiak’s first job was building houses. “I was doing roofing — which is really tough work — and another guy looks over at me and says, ‘Are you going to do this the rest of your life?’ I decided on that roof that I was going to college.”
Fit to be dyed » As a 27-year-old CEO, Stasiak was charismatic but looked like the stereotypical hacker with dyed blond hair. “I had to hire someone with some gray hair and use that person for a front to get through that age curve. Now people expect you to be young and hipper in this business.”
Fun and games » “War Games is my favorite hacker movie. I’m kind of known for breaking in through the phone lines — the old modems — that’s my forte. The guy in the movie breaks in through the phones.”
Big hack attack » Back in the late ’90s, Stasiak ran a hacker site. It got hacked. “I had this terrible feeling like someone violated my space. I ran home. I threw my door open like I’m going to find someone there. Of course, there wasn’t — someone did it from across the country.”
Team building » SecureState’s Cleveland office is complete with kegs, pinball machines, a company basketball team and pole-dancing classes. “We have a really relaxed atmosphere,” Stasiak says. “HR doesn’t like me much. But when you’re breaking into systems, you have to think outside the box. Most good ideas come from gently drinking.” Other perks include full medical coverage, pet insurance and identity theft insurance.
Regionalism is ... » “I don’t know what it is. [To his assistant] Do you have Wikipedia up? When you start out you think small, regional. Then you think national. We just picked up international. We’re doing an account for the government of a country overseas.”
Northeast Ohio is important to my business because ... » “Forty percent of clients are outside the area, and a lot of them have ties to Cleveland. ... It allows you to make a bond and rapport with clients."
— Sarah Filus
The Garland Co.
Richard J. DeBacco sees a future where trees commonly grow high above busy downtown streets and vegetation thrives in lush rooftop gardens throughout the city. His commercial roofing company uprooted tradition in the ’90s when it introduced its green rooftop system. Now, market demand has finally caught up with the Garland Co.’s Earth-friendly thinking. “We’ve chosen not to participate in this recession,” DeBacco says.
Civic pride » The Garland Co. was founded in 1895 and moved to downtown Cleveland in 1908. “We’ve often been asked, ‘Why not move out to the Sun Belt or someplace like that?’ But there’s nothing like the business atmosphere in Cleveland.”
Local growth »
The Garland Co. recently manufactured green roofs on seven Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority buildings near both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. The vegetation can range from grass and flowers to 10- to 15-foot trees. In an urban setting, Garland’s green roofs minimize the heat generated by the sun beating down on traditional roofing materials. In short, more green space equals a less brutal summer swelter with better air quality and less rainwater runoff.
Green pioneers » The Garland Co. was one of the first to bring the European and Asian practice of planting trees and grass on roofs to the United States. Still, it took a while to catch on. “It’s only been in the last five or six years that the country has started to embrace the advantages of green roofing and green technology,” DeBacco says.
Roof tops » While Garland’s vegetative roofs have attracted a lot of attention, the company also offers standing-seam metal roofs, flooring repair and restoration, design-build construction management and other services.
On being employee-owned » “The feeling of ownership inspires everybody to do their very best,” DeBacco says. “Without [our employees] we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have. So we felt it only fair: They built the business, it’s fair to give them ownership.”
Seizing the moment » With President Barack Obama’s call for the country to harness renewable energy resources, DeBacco sees the potential for exponential growth. In 2007, Garland dedicated a portion of its resources to making alternative energy sources easier to purchase, install and maintain. “Now that the government has begun to issue tax credits and other inducements to people to utilize solar energy, it is becoming an important piece of our future,” DeBacco says.
Regionalism is ... » “The Midwest is different from the East Coast and the West Coast and even the South. The Midwestern work ethic, I think, is second to none. We are very hardworking, family-type people. We’re not glitzy or glamorous. We’re just the Midwest.”
Northeast Ohio is important to my business because ... » “There is no place like Cleveland to cultivate a business atmosphere. ... We have great shipping, highways and rail lines. The lake has been a great asset.”
— Mike Montgomery
2009 NEO Success Award Winners
Accellis Technology Group
Acorn Technology Corp.
Advantage Technical Services
Alliance Staffing Solutions
AQUA DOC Lake & Pond
AVID Technologies, Inc.
Blue Technologies, Inc.
Cambridge Home Health Care
Capital Acceleration Partners
Corporate Technologies Group
County Fire Protection Inc.
Cynergies Consulting, Inc.
DesignWise Construction Co.
E-merging Technologies Group
FirstCredit International Corp/
Garland Industries Inc.
Group Management Services
Herschman Architects Inc.
Howard, Wershbale & Co.
Idea Engine, Inc.
InfoCision Management Corp.
Inverness Investment Group
Liberty Bank, N.A.
Lunar Cow Design
Marous Brothers Construction
Military Products Group, Inc.
National Interstate Insurance
Paragon Consulting Inc.
Park Place International
Perspectus Architecture, LLC
Planned Financial Services
Predictive Service, LLC
QualCare LLC dba
Home Instead Senior Care
Regency Construction Services
Roscoe Medical, Inc.
Shearer’s Foods, Inc.
Small Hands Big Dreams
Learning Centers, LLC
SS&G Financial Services, Inc.
Studio Graphique, Inc.
Talan Products, Inc
The Brewer-Garrett Co.
The Lube Stop, Inc.
The Reserves Network
Tradex International Inc.
Turning Technologies, LLC
Twist Creative Inc.
Vital Resources Inc.
Wellington Technologies, Inc.