Mention the firm Bahl & Gaynor around the investment water cooler and you are likely to get, "Oh, yeah, the dividend guys."

There's a reason for that.

"It's as simple as it gets. We only buy companies that pay and grow dividends every year," says Vere Gaynor, founding partner and president.

Over two decades, Bahl & Gaynor has grown to be one of the top independent investment counseling firms in Cincinnati with $5.1 billion in assets under management.

One could say their investment philosophy is quintessential Cincinnati. It's a conservative, common sense belief that well-run companies with a competitive market advantage will consistently pay dividends and grow them regularly. The Bahl & Gaynor branding slogan says it all: dividends pay dividends.

For validation of that strategy, Gaynor, and Bill Bahl, chairman and founding partner, only have to look out their Third Street window to glimpse the Procter & Gamble towers as the symbolic anchor of the dividend investment model.

"I see a company that has raised its dividend for 53 straight years with an average compound rate very close to 10 percent," says Gaynor.

Their dividend savvy strategy means B&G doesn't pretend to predict the whims of the market. Nor does it get caught up in other conventional market wisdom, such as tracking index funds, derivatives or worrying about rates of return.

"We buy very good companies and we want to hold on to them for a very long time," says Bahl. "What we don't do is buy a company at $50 and hope we can sell it at $60. We want to buy a company at $50 and never sell it, because the dividends and earnings continue to go on."

Bahl and Gaynor joined forces in 1990 after literally competing against each other for clients, earning each other's respect. In the "¢80s, Bahl was the chief investment officer for Fifth Third Bank, later holding a similar position with Northern Trust Co. in Chicago. Gaynor had been the managing partner at the Cincinnati office for Scudder, Stevens & Clark.

The two acknowledge their dividend-centric approach was not always the sexiest investment buzz in town.

"Ten years ago a lot of people thought we were a little out of touch and a little stodgy, because of the dividend return," says Gaynor.

"The focus in the late "¢90s was all on capital appreciation; no one cared about the dividend. Today you can't turn on CNBC and not hear a discussion about dividends. The reason is because there is no return anywhere on things, like treasuries and money market funds."

And it's often Matthew McCormick, one of the firm's key banking analysts, driving the cable news dividend discussions. McCormick has become a go-to guest frequently seen on CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business channels, especially when it comes to evaluating the investment potential in the banking industry.

McCormick's message usually echoes the firm's core value.

"If a dividend gets cut, we don't want to own the company," says Bahl. "And every major U.S. bank cut dividends in the last year. So, we have been pretty negative on the investment banks. We are more interested in regional banks where their primary business is lending."

In a sense, the dividend/ownership culture is applied as well to hiring the firm's 14 investment professionals. Each has an ownership stake in the firm and each is literally vetted for years before they are hired.

"We know who we are going to hire over the next couple years because we've been talking to them for the last couple," says Bahl.

"And it's always been part of our philosophy that the portfolio managers need to own a piece of the firm. That way their interests and our client interests are 100 percent aligned."