Creativity is a word most commonly associated with artwork, music, or poetry, but the Oxford Dictionary offers a supplementary definition. It calls creativity the use of original ideas or the imagination.
The broader definition lends itself to some local entrepreneurs who stretch their potential using fresh, unconventional ideas– digging into their experience and making calculated risks to quell daily obstacles and invent new, better ways to do business.
We at IndependentNEPA have found that these clever business owners have a common drive. Of course, increasing revenue and reducing expenses rings true in all business, but we find that the most creative of these strive for excellence, their customers at the forefront.
Providing exceptional services and products stands paramount for these locals, and we have chosen to spotlight a few of them in this issue for their ingenuity and commitment to their reputations.
These particular characters have started at the bottom, or inherited from those who started there, and they built only up.
Through shifting markets and developing technology, they have embraced what will push them forward, rejected what might be toxic, and had the wisdom to know the difference.
We are a small business ourselves, and we know the immeasurable time needed to build a business.We know the 40-hour workweek does not apply and we recognize the importance of sound investment of time and resources.
That knowledge and experience prompted us to highlight a few exceptional creative thinkers in our region.
Keith Eckel,Owner of Eckel Farms,Clarks Summit
Scrolling through information on his iPad™ while a display followed national weather patterns behind him, Keith Eckel sat in his Clarks Summit farm office and explained how research and technology have become critically important to running a farm efficiently.
He said it starts with research. Running soil tests lets you know what the ground needs to be supplemented with to grow hearty veggies.
Fertilizing the soil has become drastically more efficient. By applying nutrients to bands of soil, rather than broadcasting it across entire fields, fertilizing costs have been cut in half, and this practice has only been around for about 25 years.
He said a farmer should be following research that comes out of places like Penn State, one of the nation’s largest agricultural research centers, and then using the new information effectively.
Through these educational extensions, Eckel said he learned about new climate tracking systems that tell them when to apply fungicides.
In damp conditions they may have to spray every five days, but if they can predict a month or two of dry weather, they might have to spray for fungus and mold only once a month.
“Our fungicide applications have been reduced up to 35 percent,”he said.
“You need to be a low-cost procedure, you need to be efficient. There’s not one magic bullet.”
But, implementing these best practices in the correct manner produces a quality product that customers can identify and choose over the competition.
The second-generation farmer said now, during down times, he keeps on about six employees to make sure all the equipment is ready for tilling season, which kicks off around April 1.
During harvest time, he employs about 75 to gather the crops.
Eckel looked proud as he explained the farm has delivered fresh corn daily to local grocery stores like Wegman’s, in Wilkes-Barre, for more than 10 years.
For years now, right around July 4, he opens a fresh, sweet corn stand on Wyoming Avenue, near
the Wyoming Valley Monument, where he sells his produce at the peak of freshness – from the farm right to the table.
Jim Corbett, President of Minooka Subaru, Moosic
In 1954, Jake Corbett started a used-car dealership that stands today with a much different face.
From 1954-1970, Corbett had dealt only used cars from his showroom along Birney Avenue, in Moosic.
The small-time salesman took a chance when he signed on as an official Subaru dealer in 1970.
Subaru, a Japanese automaker, brought its cars to sell in the United States only two years earlier.
The vehicles are known today for their fuel efficiency and durability, but then, before any American could have enough time to pack on 300,000 miles, Corbett followed his gut and started selling Subarus.
Corbett’s son, Jim, who has served as company president since 1975, said they just grew with the Subaru name.
“As Subaru became prominent, so did we,” Jim said.
He said currently there are about 200 new and used cars on the lot.
From the start, he has had to be creative in growing the company, managing advertising and
acquiring space for the cars.
“We had to adapt buildings for business,” Jim said.
They recycled an old bank building and a warehouse across from the showroom for a service department until they could build a new maintenance facility.
“It’s very important (to be creative), to ride the up-and-down economic roller coaster,”Jim said.
To combat the ever-changing economic landscape, they have put a lot of effort into advertising.
“Advertising is very important,”he said.“We really had to stretch our advertising budget to build visibility.”
The best advice he could give to aspiring business owners: “Trust your instincts and don’t believe naysayers.”
Ruth K.Smith,Founder of Ruth K.Smith Real Estate
There are not enough words to describe Ruth K. Smith and her impact on the Wyoming Valley.
Smith is a success story of a pioneering woman with a strong spirit. She was born in the Wyoming Valley, but her family moved to rural Ellenville, N.Y., where she received her early education in a one-room schoolhouse.
Today, Smith works full-time in the real estate company she founded, which consists of three locations and 65 employees.
Innovative thinking and hard work are the seeds of her success.
In 1966, Smith began selling real estate with a local broker to help supplement her family’s income while raising three children.
After nine years of learning and cultivating a clientele, she ventured out on her own.
“Looking back, it is amazing to me how I did that,”she said.“I could work from home. I could work from anywhere where there was a phone; it is amazing how many people now work from
home. Back then it was unheard of.”
At the time, Smith recalled, two other women who owned their own realty companies were Claire Hart Cummings and Betty Kanarr.
She remembers designing her first logo, using the shape of a small house, with her initials inside the house and smoke coming out of the chimney.
While fostering her business, Smith began to notice commercials for the franchise Century 21.
Watching the real estate market grow, Smith was ready to take the next step. In the 1980s, she joined the Century 21 family.
Today, that one-woman operation has grown into a business with locations in Mountaintop, Kingston, and the Back Mountain.Two of her children, Kevin and Ruth, along with trusted colleague David Hourigan, now manage Century 21 Smith-Hourigan Group.
But, the development of her business was not the only venture Smith accomplished. Her most creative endeavor helped start the Valley Community Bank in the 1990s.
Being on the board of directors of a small community bank gave her the opportunity to see the banking industry from a different angle, besides mortgage financing.
The bank has since changed hands five times and is currently known as Wells Fargo, according to Smith.
Creative thinking is still a key to her success, and Smith encourages her staff members to put
themselves in the buyers’shoes to minimize their stress.
“You only have a customer for short periods of time. In that time, make the most of it.” Ruth K. Smith’s motto.
Eileen Godin contributed to this story. See her profile on our Writers' page.
WVIA President Bill Kelly on NEPA business leaders
Our Northeast Business Journal television interviews, 100 of them after four years, reveal far more similarities than differences. I’ll tell you about the role that education, relentlessness, sacrifice, family, mentors, and ideas played, but let’s begin with what inspired WVIA to start these programs.
Over a long and interesting career as broadcaster, journalist, fundraiser, and privileged public media manager, I had met some important and very successful business people. But these VIPs were NOT what very many cynics assumed: pompous, intimidating,
uncaring, and selfish. My experience proved all of that a myth, and thus, we had an idea for a new TV program.
What do they all have in common?
For one thing, love for this region we all call home!
In fact, many first refused to even consider an interview until we said,“We’re all going to die someday and you have priceless lessons to share with upcoming generations of potential entrepreneurs.”We asked them to see the interview as a gift to the region’s future.
What else characterized all Northeast Business Journal interviewees?
Perhaps the #1 lesson is that they all saved money. All are clearly intelligent but some lack a high school diploma.They all knew early that being selfemployed was their destiny. Most started from nothing and grew a business that despite (or maybe because of) serious setbacks, became a major employer.
Some inherited a once modest family enterprise, then multiplied it far beyond what the founder could have imagined.
For many, mentors played an important role and they are today mentoring others.
They know their employees by name and feel economically responsible for their families. And, each one had an idea that started it all.
Failure attached itself very often to those ideas, but these people just refused to surrender.
Finally, there are two other Business Journal discoveries that are converting cynics to believers in free enterprise. The interviewees are all grateful for, and even humbled by, their success; and they are generous. Philanthropy cannot be taught, but it can be learned and these people are graduates.