Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spotlight On: OTT Communication

Maine-based OTT Communications has been in the telephone business for 125 years, but the company of today is completely different from what it was when it began as Saco River Telephone.

“We are primarily a business phone and Internet as well as some residential phone service,” said OTT Communications marketing manager Mary Post. The company based in New Gloucester serves western Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire and New Gloucester, Maine.

“Telephone service has evolved. Just like you transition your cell every two years, so has your phone,” said Post. “Our biggest obstacle is shedding the idea that we are just a phone company. We can customize,” Post said.

The service is VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol, meaning the Internet carries packets of voice information to the receiver of the call. Only one phone line is needed in the digital world, even for 10 people. It’s the same speed, no matter who is on the phone or online, Post said. “It optimizes itself.” No longer do customers pay for things they used to, like touch tone, intra-company calls, local calls or call recording.
The phone system is completely portable. As long as there is an Internet connection, the phone will work like it’s in the office. A restaurant can shut down during inclement weather and the hostess could bring the phone home to take new reservations and to let callers know the business is closed. A seasonal business could take the phone to Florida in the winter and no one would know any different. 

“Whatever you need, we can do it all,” Post said. “We have a unique portfolio for technology. We will build it,” Post said.

Most plans are under $100 per month. Each business has an in-person training session and more than once if needed.

“We are a local company. We really take it seriously,” she said. Customer service is very important to the company. When someone emails or calls, they might be speaking with the director of sales Bob Froberg. “How you’re handled and how you’re taken care of…that’s the difference,” said Post about the difference between OTT Communications and other phone companies. “It’s like buying a toy at the local toy shop or at a big Walmart. What relationship do you have?” Post asked.

OTT Communications is also part of the community it resides in. “We’re happy to be our businesses’ business,” said Post. They sponsor sports teams and all employees, 200 of them in New Gloucester, are given eight hours a year to volunteer in some capacity.

“We’re not industry specific, we’re business specific,” said Post. “Sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.”

Reach OTT Communications at www.OTTCommunications.com or call 1-877-643-6246.

Lucille's offers vintage, handmade goods by Leah Hoenen

An eclectic collection of new, vintage, rediscovered and remade clothes, jewelry, d├ęcor and more sits tucked inside Lucille’s, a new shop along Route 302 in Westbrook.

With gray walls, a turquoise floor and throwback music playing in the background, Lucille’s reflects the fun and spunky creativity of owners Jess Gray and Caiti Enos.

The two met through mutual friends, and a couple of short months after that meeting, they had a business plan. Gray said, “It was, ‘I like vintage,’ ‘I like sewing,’ let’s do this.”

In late 2011, Gray and Enos developed the idea for a store specializing in vintage, handmade and retro goods. They’ve been selling items online since 2012 and opened their Westbrook store in April this year.
The name Lucille’s refers neither to B.B. King’s guitar nor Lucille Ball, said Gray. “The funny thing is the lack of a story. We had a hat – a literal hat – and drew the name out of it,” said Gray. Lucille was the second name. Mabel was first, but didn’t have the same pizzazz, Gray said.

Lucille’s offers a wide range of items – found, made over and handmade – for all sorts of tastes. From books and furniture to dishes, jewelry and clothes, Lucille’s contains a plethora of vintage finds of many eras, comfortably displayed in the store on Route 302.

Proprietors Gray and Enos make a creative, artistic and complementary pair. In addition to already-made items, Lucille’s offers custom sewing. With vintage clothing, it’s often difficult to find clothes that fit properly, said Gray, so she and Enos hope to have a line of custom clothing.

“If you see something you like and it doesn’t fit, I’m pretty good at copying it,” said Enos, who makes a variety of clothing, from simple skirts to a prom dress.

Enos is a talented seamstress, but her background is in archaeology. She has dug all across New England. “I guess that’s where I get my appreciation for older things,” she said. “For a long time, I’ve been digging.”
Gray chimed in, “Now, you do a different kind of digging.”

Gray said she held a series of office and food-service jobs before Lucille’s was born. “I was always incredibly bored with regular jobs. I started selling clothing on Etsy for a couple of years,” she said.

For Gray, thrifting is a long-established way of life. “I’ve been thrift shopping since before I could walk. My grandmother had an antique store,” she said. “I’ve always loved older things. I loved hunting for things.”
The thrill of the hunt – and the unexpected find – keeps this pair going.

Poring through flea markets, yard sales and estate auctions, Enos and Gray assemble a collection of vintage finds. And, they always ask if there’s more to see.

“We ask everyone if they have anything,” said Gray, recounting the story of a trip to Orono. The pair traveled there to pick up one item, and learned the seller had a basement full of clothes. “We spent a 14-hour day going through it,” Gray said.

Enos and Gray try to schedule their shopping trips together. “We have the best luck when we’re together,” Enos said.

“I made so many aprons,” said Enos. When they started out, the pair made many aprons and repurposed frames – used to hold writing boards. “I had a craft room. We sat in there and crafted and crafted and crafted,” Enos said.

In their early days, Enos and Gray sold their wares at a flea market in Brunswick and later at Portland’s Flea for All, where they still sell periodically.

Every Friday, Lucille’s offers 50 percent off clothing.

Keep up with Lucille’s and get a sneak preview of items in the store by visiting shoplucilles.blogspot.com.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spotlight On: Windham Millworks

Windham Millworks is an international company building custom wood products for hospitals, churches, private homes and more, but w
hat is the most amazing, is that most people who live here don’t even know what or where Windham Millworks is located.

The original business started in 1957 by Walter Pulkkinen. Since then, the building has expanded in many directions, but it remains a family-oriented business, now run by Chad and his brother BJ Pulkkinen. Their father Bruce is the CEO. Out of the 75 employees, craftsmen, installers and others, many are cousins and family members or have been with the company long enough to be considered like family. 

“We can do anything inside a commercial building,” said Chad. Countertops, plastic, granite, wood, laminates, chair rails and cabinets, all of it. They have worked on three casinos, the Portland Jetport and are currently working at the 965,000 square-foot Maine General, a new hospital in Augusta. They are making 4,000 cabinets, two miles of countertops and 95 nurse’s stations, in addition to the paneling.

No matter where one looks in Maine, the woodwork was probably milled here in Windham.

“No one is selling our woodwork,” said BJ. Everything done at their mill is custom work. Most of their business is in New England, but they have shipped to California, Florida, Ohio and Japan, where they sent church pews they built. Windham Millworks creates in all wood types. They’ve worked at DiMillo’s, Cole Farms and created a 140-foot bar for the Jay Peak Resort in Vermont.

The future at Windham Millworks is looking bright, said Chad. They are now distributors of an anti-microbial treatment that helps protect the customer from dangerous mold, microbes and other contagions. They put this substance on the wood work and it will last for the life of the wood. It has unlimited potential. The treatment kills on contact and actually attracts the germs.

“We got on board early and we’re just starting to roll it out now,” said Chad.

The product was invented by Dow-Corning for NASA. Nike uses it in its tennis shoes and Delta and Boeing planes are beginning to use it in their aircraft.

“It took me a while to believe it too,” said BJ. “We are the New England distributor for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.” Businesses in this area are starting to see the benefits and are having the treatment put in their restaurants and fitness facilities.

“It’s definitely something we’re excited about,” said Chad.

The people at Windham Millworks care about their work and the Pulkkinen’s care about providing jobs for the area. “The people here are the best,” said Chad.

Pointers for new parents by Chris Wallace

It doesn’t take a higher degree to understand the value of a college education in today’s workforce. But how can families afford a diploma with today’s rising tuitions? By 2020, you’ll need an estimated $225,000 to put your child through a private college and about $105,000 for state school. Fortunately, there are some smart ways to finance an education.

Start Early
No matter how old (or young) your child is, start saving to keep up with the cost of tuition, room and board. One of the best ways to make your money work, especially with long- term investments, is to invest in the stock market. You can save much more over the years than with a traditional savings account. Consider this: Fifty dollars invested in a savings account in 1950 would have grown to an estimated $284 by 2007. Fifty dollars invested in the stock market in 1950 would have grown to about $1,952.

Compare Plans
Uncle Sam wants to help you save for college. Many different plans allow you to take advantage of tax-deferred savings while investing in the stock market, including 529s, the state sponsored investment accounts; Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, which allow you to contribute up to $2,000 annually; and prepaid tuition plans, which allow parents to lock in current rates for future tuition.

Don’t Neglect Retirement
While saving for your child’s education is important, don’t neglect saving for your own retirement. Remember, your son or daughter will have other options when paying for college—such as grants and loans—that you won’t have when funding your golden years.

Make It Easy

Whether you’re saving for college or retirement, the key is steady progress. A terrific way to keep track toward your goal is to set up automatic withdrawals from your checking account into a savings or investment account. You determine the amount you want to withdraw each month, and then your investment happens automatically.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spotlight On: MPM Sealcoating

MPM Sealcoating is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year working in the Windham/Raymond community. Aaron Cieslak started the company in Windham with his parents when he was 19 years old.
“I saw a need for it. Homeowners don’t want to do it,” he said. The season for sealcoating is short, April through November and the company works 70 hours a week during that time. The company does asphalt repair, crack sealing, sealcoating and line striping for both commercial and residential. The commercial work takes Cieslak from New Hampshire to Fort Kent working for Maine DOT and working at airports. The local residential side of the business he works in Cumberland, Oxford and York counties.

“We have all the right people in place to do residential work. We can jump from one market to another – we’re still residential specialists,” Cieslak said.

“With residential people, customer service is more important,” Cieslak said. MPM Sealcoating employees take time around garages, granite walkways and at the edge of the road. There are 13 employees who work with three 800-gallon sealcoating tanks, three crack sealing units and three ride-on striping machines.

Homeowners who do it themselves will probably have to buy a new pair of sneakers, a new pair of jeans and buy the buckets for what it will cost for MPM Sealcoating to do it, said Cieslak. The company also does it in much less time.

MPM Sealcoating has competitive pricing because it goes through 60,000 gallons of sealer per year and 200,000 pounds of crack sealing rubber, said Cieslak.

Being a part of the community is important to Cieslak and he sponsors local youth sports like soccer and basketball. He also markets his 1-800-SEALCOAT number at the Portland SeaDogs games. Locals can reach him at 892-8098 or on Facebook at MPM Sealcoating. “We have state of the art equipment and multiple crews going out,” Cieslak said.

“I still consider us a residential company even though we have enough equipment to handle something as big as the Maine Mall,” he added.  

Levinsky's raises money for Boston victims by Jon Bolduc

After the Boston Marathon Bombings terrorized New England, a Windham business decided to help give back to the victims. Eric Levinsky, owner of Levinsky’s clothing store, is currently selling Boston Strong t-shirts to benefit the Boston Marathon Relief Fund.  The shirts have been on sale for the past two weekends, and have been a very popular item.

“They have been very nicely accepted by the public,” said Levinsky.  “People are buying them, and shipping them all over the country.”

In the short time that Levinsky’s has been offering the shirt, 350 have been sold. Levinsky doesn’t anticipate that the demand will dwindle anytime soon, and says that sales will pick up once Windham undergoes its annual summer transformation into a tourist destination.

“It seems like with all the tourists we have over the summer that the interest is still going to be strong,” he said.

Levinsky says that he will keep the item in stock as long as the charity is still fresh in the public’s mind.

“I’m going to keep them in stock because it’s a good cause. I’m keeping it in stock until people lose interest in the product,” said Levinsky.

The idea to sell the Boston Strong shirts was originally conceived after Levinsky learned that Emerson College students were selling t-shirts to benefit the Relief Fund. 

“My contacts in Boston were producing the shirts, and I wanted to help with the fund the government has set up for the Boston Marathon Victims,” said Levinsky.

Levinsky also said that his clothing store is the only in the area to offer the Boston Strong t-shirts.

“I don’t know of anybody else,” he said. “I think I might be the only person doing it.  I haven’t seen any advertising by anybody, nor have I heard or seen anything in my usual chasing around and watching competitors.”

Since all the proceeds will be donated to the Boston Relief Fund, when the sale is finally over, Levinsky’s contribution to the fund will be substantial.

“They’re going to get a pretty nice check when it’s all said and done,” he said.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spotlight On: Marston Tree Service

“We specialize in sunlight.”

John Marston became owner of his own business in 1998 when he opened Marston Tree Service in Naples. “I wanted to work for myself and have enough guys that I can go home when I want to,” Marston said. He has 15 employees who will travel anywhere in Maine and New Hampshire to take care of trees. They do a lot of work for camps, he said.

Diversity is a big thing for Marston as he also opened two redemption centers/liquor stores, one in Naples and one in Windham. He has a redemption center in Bridgton to round out that part of his business. He also recently opened a towing business out of Naples, which is AAA certified and has the support of the local police departments, he said. “You’ve got to be diverse to make money,” Marston said.

Marston Tree Service has 24-hour emergency service and Marston is the detail keeper for all of the businesses. He no longer works in the woods due to medical issues, but he is still involved in the day to day operations of the business. “I always like to know what’s going on,” he said.

“We’re family-owned and operated. My son works for us, my daughter works for us,” he said. 
“We do everything to do with trees.” He’s a licensed arborist, EHAP certified to work around electrical wires, first air certified and insured with a $2 million bond.

He processes wood, up to three cords and in hour to sell as firewood, just one of his many services. He also works for the Town of Naples mowing and for the State of Maine doing tree work.

“I enjoy the outdoors. I like something different every day,” Marston said. “No job is too big or too small.” Everything they do is recycled into some form. They sell logs, timber and are involved in the PROP fuel assistance program. Safety is a strong point, having a perfect accident record, he said.

To reach Marston Tree Service, visit www.marstontree.com or call 1-888-332-1640. “I’ll beat any competitors bid by 10 percent,” Marston said. They are also members of the Better Business Bureau.

Barkery serves heathly, tasty treats for dogs by Leah Hoenen

Karen Greenleaf-Smith honed her culinary talents catering parties for human friends. But, when one of those friends asked her to make food for a sick rescue dog, her cooking went in an entirely new direction. When people saw the Easter cookies Greenleaf-Smith later baked for that pup, she was inundated with so many requests for specialty dog treats that she decided to open a barkery.
Windham’s Gourmutt Beastro and Barkery was born. Out of the barkery, on the corner of Route 302 and White’s Bridge Road, Greenleaf-Smith sells a dizzying array of gourmet goodies for dogs – all made of human-grade ingredients with no preservatives, artificial ingredients or colors.

The bakery case holds dog-friendly donuts, cookies and frosted, precisely decorated pastries. The shelves contain cheese bites and peanut-butter bones, dehydrated sweet potatoes and Yappy Meals, a healthy faux hamburger, sweet potato fries and a rope toy.

Greenleaf-Smith lists all the ingredients in each product and says she is sensitive to the needs of dogs with dietary issues and food intolerances. She already sells gluten-free and dairy-free treats and plans by next winter to produce and sell a line of raw dog food – made from locally-produced organic meats and vegetables.

Greenleaf-Smith is cheerful and witty with an infectious smile. When she sits down and talks quietly with a visiting dog (she insists they come into the store), her passion is clear.

“Dogs are the canary in the coal mine. Our dogs are getting sick and I feel it’s because of what we’re feeding them. Not only is the food we’re feeding them unhealthy for them, but the human foods are unhealthy for them because they’re unhealthy for us,” she said. 

So, she makes dog food out of human recipes tailored to meet canine nutritional needs. One such meal is braised pork with apples, sweet potatoes and ginger; this gluten-free dinner is gentle on sensitive digestive systems, while the ginger is soothing to those with gastric problems, she said. “If you add some mushrooms and onions, which dogs can’t have, it would be a human meal,” said Greenleaf-Smith.

“I’m an RN, so I understand the concept of food as medicine,” Greenleaf-Smith said. Born in Maine, she has lived in Philadelphia, Miami and New York and worked in surgical medicine, general medicine and with burn patients. She’s taught childbirth and infant nutrition. “Food is medicine, just like exercise is medicine. It was a very logical step to move from humans to dogs,” she said.
Greenleaf-Smith draws inspiration from dogs, because, she says, they deserve healthy, tasty products. “I love having them here, their personalities and hearing their stories,” she said. 

A plate of free samples recently moved to a higher shelf – she laughs and says she learned the hard way that dogs have a penchant for shoplifting. Keeping samples out of reach also ensures dogs don’t eat treats their humans don’t want them to have, says Greenleaf-Smith.

For those dogs with dietary restrictions, Greenleaf-Smith works with veterinarians and nutritionists to develop custom foods. “I will charge no more than I do for the daily dog,” she said.

Her line of dog food will be made of fresh organic organ meats, such as heart and liver, along with organic vegetables. She also plans to sell bones from the same processing plant as a healthy chew. 

“The days of us throwing stuff to the dog mindlessly while we take care of the family, I think those are gone,” she said.

Since Greenleaf-Smith is recovering from hand surgery, her staff, friends and her husband, Michael, are baking for her. “He’s actually an excellent cook and my dogs prefer his cooking to mine,” she says of Michael. Lakota, a 10 year-old Golden Retriever, and Scamper, a 3 year-old Lhasa, are Greenleaf-Smith’s dogs. Scamper, a picky eater, helps with recipe and product research and development along with some other canine friends.

“My dogs are my family and I will feed them like they are my family. My oldest daughter said, ‘I’m glad you had children before you had your dogs,’ and I said, ‘Kimberly, you have excellent instincts,’” she said, with a twinkling eye.
Find the Gourmutt Beastro and Barkery online at gourmuttbeastro.com or call 655-9663.

Be aware of the need for disability insurance by Pete Neelon

It probably doesn’t show up on your calendar, but May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month. And you might agree that such a month is useful, when you consider the following:

• Three in 10 workers entering the workforce today will become disabled before retiring, according to the Social Security Administration.

• At age 42, you are four times more likely to become seriously disabled than to die during your working years, according to National Underwriter Life & Health. 

• Disability causes nearly 50 percent of all mortgage foreclosures, according to Health Affairs, a health policy research journal.    Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) sponsors Disability Insurance Awareness Month to encourage Americans to address their disability income needs. Here’s the bottom line: You can be really good at budgeting your money and you can be a disciplined long-term investor — but unless you’ve protected at least a reasonable percentage of your income, your whole financial strategy is incomplete. And all your goals, such as a comfortable retirement, could be jeopardized.

Of course, you may not be totally unfamiliar with disability income insurance; if you work for a large employer, a group disability policy may be part of your employee benefits package. If so, you should certainly accept the coverage, which may be offered to you free, or at minimal cost. However, this coverage might be inadequate to replace the income needed to allow your family to maintain its lifestyle without dipping into your investments.

Consequently, you might need to think about purchasing an individual disability insurance policy. Here are some tips:

• Look for a policy that is “non-cancellable” until you reach age 65. When you purchase a non-cancellable policy, your policy premiums can’t be changed, provided you pay them on time.

• Pick the right waiting period. Typically, disability insurance policies don’t start paying benefits immediately; there’s usually a waiting (or “elimination”) period ranging from 30 days to two years. Obviously, a shorter waiting period is more desirable, but it’s probably also going to be more expensive. You may be able to give yourself the flexibility of choosing the longer waiting period if you have created an emergency fund containing six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses, kept in a liquid account that offers significant preservation of principal. 

• Avoid overly restrictive policies. You may want to avoid an "accident-only" policy or one with a limited benefit term (five and 10 years are common). These policies may be cheaper, but they don’t cover either a disabling illness or the entirety of your working life.

• Consider adding appropriate “riders.” It will likely add to the cost of your policy, but a cost-of-living rider will help protect your future benefits from the effects of inflation. You also might want to add a future income options (FIO) rider, which provides you with the ability to purchase additional coverage in the future with no further medical underwriting.

These suggestions are general in nature. Your financial advisor can help you determine if you need a private disability insurance policy — and, if so, what type of policy is best suited for your needs. 

But don’t wait too long to take action in this area. You can’t predict the future, but you should still prepare for the unexpected.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.