Project Bootstraps seminar held at Franciscan

STEUBENVILLE – The Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Students in Free Enterprise Chapter hosted six local entrepreneurs for its annual Project Bootstraps business seminar Tuesday at the St. Joseph Center.

Those participating in the panel included Tim Pestian of Vapor Jet Cleaning and Restoration; Dave Hindman of World Radio Telecommunications; Deanna Petrella of Signature Hair Design; Carolyn Glaub of the Center of Music and Art; Mike Biasi of Valley Converting; and Glenn Zalenski of Zalenski Family Eatery and Pub.

The event was moderated by Thomas Kelly, business professor and SIFE adviser, who thanked co-sponsors the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Small Business Development Center and the Herald-Star.

He also thanked the seminar’s six guest entrepreneurs. “They are proof positive that success is possible in the Ohio Valley,” he said.

Each panel member shared the story of how they started their own business and answered questions from the moderator and the audience, which included approximately 60 residents and SIFE members.

Zalenski said his first job was working as a cook for Elby’s Big Boy in his hometown of Martins Ferry as a high school junior.

“At the end of the summer, I gave my two weeks notice, and they were glad to get it – they said I didn’t even need to give those two weeks,” he said. “When I went back and asked for a job the next year, they said, ‘well, let’s try you as a waiter’ – I was the first male waiter they had.”

Zalenski said, despite his rough start, he worked his way up through the company after a short stint as a high school teacher. After working at another restaurant chain following Elby’s dissolution, he was fired, but described it as the “best thing that ever happened to me.

“I felt like a load had been taken off my shoulders,” he said. “Everything I was doing, thinking I was working for them, they saw as working against them. We were just butting heads. At first, I tried to argue my position, then I said, ‘this isn’t working,’ gave them my keys and said thank you very much.”

He returned home, opened the newspaper and saw an ad for a turn-key restaurant operation in downtown Steubenville. That became a “mom-and-pop operation” known as the Green Mill. Eventually, he was offered a larger space in Wintersville.

“I was shocked at the size of the building,” he said. “We were going from this little mom-and-pop restaurant to this huge business.”

Biasi said his father, Gino, had started Valley Converting at a low point in his life – after coming to Toronto in 1971 with his wife and six children, with Biasi being the youngest at 2, to work at the Toronto Paper Mill, he was fired after a year and a half with the company.

“Instead of crying about it, he went across the street and bought that company – it had two pieces of equipment and one employee,” he said. “In 1988, he went back across the street and bought the mill that had fired him.”

Biasi briefly worked for an insurance company in Columbus before coming home to the family business. “I had a choice: Either I could be a number or I could come home and work with my family,” he said.

Valley Converting now has 50 employees, down from a high of 80 in the early 2000s. Biasi said having to lay off and later terminate approximately 20 positions was “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” describing his employees as “family.” He added that several years ago, when the depressed economy slowed orders, he and his family worked to ensure workers were able to get 40 hours a week, noting he had an obligation to his employees.

“We had guys coming in as night watchmen on weekends, anything we could do,” he said. “You aren’t just supporting yourself, you’re supporting 50 people – 50 families.”

Glaub’s business acumen was honed while managing her physician husband’s medical practice, although she herself was a registered nurse. After her first husband’s death, she found herself at a loss. “I took to prayer,” she said. “Less than a month later, a friend asked me to substitute teach at a music store.”

A student whom she prepared for a state competition took first place, and Glaub was offered a job. After seeing a couple of owners come and go, a 6-year-old student suggested Glaub open her own school in a building owned by the child’s family – Canella’s Produce Co. in Weirton.

Her second husband, Jody, suggested she move to a larger facility in Wintersville, another Canella property, where she continues to do business. “God directed me,” she said.

Petrella and her husband, John, have been entrepreneurs from the start, opening Petrella Construction the same year she graduated from Wintersville High School in 1978. While acting as the bookkeeper and office manager for that company, she attended cosmetology school, graduating in 1981 and taking a job as a stylist at J.C. Penney.

In 1991, Petrella and her husband branched out with Pinnacle Properties, offering commercial and industrial real estate. At the same time, she was working for the village of Wintersville, and continued to work at the village offices until retiring in 2007.

“I thought I needed to stop working,” she said. “That lasted about three or four months before I got bored.”

She knew she wanted to go into business for herself and went back to school to learn the business side of the salon trade. In 2009, she and her husband bought and remodeled a property in Wintersville, and, by that May, she was open. However, she found her latest go-around in the business world an uphill venture.

“I was very discouraged, but I prayed and asked God to lead me,” she said.

Less than four years later, Petrella employs 15 people and operates a full-service salon.

“We’re doing well,” she said. “I have a great team surrounding me – I need them and they need me.”

Hindman came to Steubenville at 5 years old, after his father was discharged from the Air Force and returned to his hometown, where he and Hindman’s uncles operated various television and electronics businesses. He worked with his family for a time before he was “pushed out of the nest” to find his “life’s work.”

After attending Ohio University, he studied electronics at Eastern Gateway Community College before landing at Ohio Bell/Ameritech. He praised his former employers for their emphasis on discipline, respect, customer service and allowing the customer’s needs to direct the business. At the same time, he operated his own small electronics business.

However, Hindman too found himself facing a moment of doubt, including disarray in his personal life. “I felt the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Saying I needed to get my life right and find (the Holy Spirit), so I did. I began this business on my knees.”

Along with his wife and young children, he took over the office space originally operated by Eddie DeAngelo and World Radio in downtown Steubenville.

“People ask me, ‘why World Radio?'” he said. “We didn’t have enough money to pay attention, and my wife asked me what we were going to call (the business). There was this big box of left-over stationary, all saying ‘World Radio,’ so World Radio it was.”

World Radio Telecommunications now has 20 employees at two locations.

Pestian began his career as the family business, operated by his parents Edward and Dolores, was in transition. His father had delivered laundry supplies throughout the area, but found his business was being squeezed out by big box stores. Thinking on his feet, Edward Pestian invested $5,000 to purchase a carpet cleaner.

“This was 1969, and $5,000 was a lot of money,” said Pestian, who began learning the family business that same year while still a high school senior. “So I started cleaning carpets. I graduated and said I’d stick around and do this until I decided what I was going to do. Forty-four years later, I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Vapor Jet expanded to include linen services, fire and water restoration and biohazard reclamation.

When asked what they would do differently, Petrella and Biasi cautioned those going into business to take time in doing research and preparation. Pestian noted all business owners will make mistakes, but they need to learn from them. “Bumps in the road become stepping stones,” he said.

Hindman and Glaub noted a simple name was more memorable and easily searchable on Internet search engines. Zalenski said he wished he pursued his dream earlier and cautioned new business people to become familiar with any laws that might affect them. “I always dreamed of owning my own business, but I never took myself seriously,” he said.

Each entrepreneur dealt with challenges in a different way, they said.

“We sold a lot of guitars, because a lot of people were at home, singing the blues,” said Glaub of the recent economic downturn. She added it hadn’t impacted the fine art and music lessons division of the business, because people valued investing in their children and self-improvement, but the retail end, especially high-ticket items like pianos, suffered.

Biasi encouraged business owners to have open lines of communication with those government agencies they deal with, such as Occupational Health and Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. “I don’t treat them like the enemy,” he said. “I’m honest with them.”

Pestian, Biasi and Petrella encouraged business owners to control costs, encourage efficiency and budget.

Several panel members spoke about the obligations they felt toward their employees. “It’s a big responsibility,” said Hindman.

Hindman also encouraged business people to do business within the community and support other local businesses, noting each panel member had done business with one another.

“That’s the key – support the local economy as much as you can,” said Hindman. “For every $1 that’s spent outside of the community, that’s $5 lost, and for every $1 spent here, it generates another $5 in the economy.”

Zalenski encouraged future entrepreneurs to diversify, noting, in addition to his restaurant, he operates banquet rooms, provides off-site catering and attends area fairs and festivals. “We went with ‘eatery,’ because, if it has to do with food, we can do it,” he said.

He added business people may feel as if they’ve “hit a wall” and become overwhelmed and frustrated, but “there’s nothing better than working for yourself. My mother used to tell me, ‘quit playing with your food’ – and, now, that’s what I do!”

Petrella and Biasi said walking away isn’t an option, because of their commitment to their employees. “We’re part of a team,” Petrella said. “We count on each other. There’s nothing better than self-employment and giving back to the community.”

Constantly evolving to meet customer need and demand is necessary to “keep things fresh,” said Glaub.

“The No. 1 way to handle stress is prayer,” said Pestian.

Panel members agreed that part of their success was learning to balance family, faith and their business, whether that meant taking a vacation, scheduling time to be with family or prioritizing quality time.

“It’s very dangerous to be so consumed by business that you leave everything else behind,” said Glaub.

A support system of loved ones who understand their passion for business is a must, but, sometimes, the cell phone just has to be turned off, said Petrella.

“Never forget prayer,” said Hindman. “God will answer.”