Marketing &Selling Dealer Services
Making the Intangible Real and Believable
Leadership for the Balance of the Recession Making a Partnership Work: Itâ€™s Not a Marriage, or Is It? Specialized Sessions at OFDA Conference
Kershner Office Furniture, PA Dealer, Sponsors Fundraiser for Local Child Abuse Support Organization
Linked In to OFDA? What are dealers doing to diversify their product offerings to increase revenue in this economic climate? What are your thoughts on sharing large projects with another dealer? If you’re a DDMS furniture module user, what have been your experiences using it for project management? These are just three of the questions currently posted on the discussion board of OFDA’s LinkedIn.com group page.
From left to right: Kershner Office Furniture’s Susan Marck, Bernie Conlee of Global - The Total Office, Chris Kirchner of PCA and Kershner Office Furniture Bruer Kershner with some of the 300 plus stuffed animals at their recent fundraiser. In King of Prussia, PA, Bruer Kershner and his team at Kershner Office Furniture recently provided an outstanding example of dealers’ commitment to giving back to the community when they served as a gold sponsor for the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance (PCA) and its 10th annual Bear Affair event. PCA is a worthy cause by any definition—the organization provides healing and support for victims of child abuse—and the Bear Affair is one of its biggest fundraisers. Thanks to the support of organizations like Kershner, PCA raised close to $100,000 from this year’s event, as over 300 attendees brought stuffed animals for the children and checks for the organization that serves them. “We were thrilled to have the support of the Kershner organization,” commented PCA executive director Chris Kirchner. And that support wasn’t limited to just the fundraiser. Earlier this year, Kershner’s helped the organization when it moved to a new headquarters. The move created the need to outfit several interview rooms and private offices, as well as a reception area and boardroom, and not surprisingly, money was tight. The Kershner team, with a generous assist from the folks at Global – The Total Office, stepped up to the plate and then some to get the job done. “Working on the project really gave us the opportunity to see PCA and its work up close and gave us more than enough reasons to support them,” reports Kershner’s Susan Marck, who served as the dealership’s lead contact on the project. “They were looking for practical solutions on a limited budget and we were happy to provide them and go one step further with our support through sponsorship of the Bear Affair,” she added. continued on page 3 SEPTEMBER 2010
Ideally, each of these questions and others like them would be generating a small avalanche of responses and plenty of dialog among group members. Unfortunately, that’s not really happening right now, mainly, we suspect, because most people are still getting used to LinkedIn and all the other new online networking platforms. But even with the current relatively low level of participation, the potential is clear. Most dealers, particularly in today’s tough business climate, have more questions than answers and the OFDA’s LinkedIn group page and its discussion area provide a highly efficient way to get informed opinion and feedback, literally at your desktop. Right now, there are over 800 members in the OFDA LinkedIn group and if you’re not already one of them, joining is free and easy. And once you have joined, try your hand at posting a question or giving your ten cents on one that’s already on the site. One of the most important roles OFDA plays for our industry is as a neutral forum for the exchange of ideas and information on issues of common interest and concern. The OFDA LinkedIn page takes that role to the next level and shows the association at its best—proactively taking advantage of technology to reach out to all industry members in new and innovative ways. And the more folks who participate, the more effective and valuable that effort will be. So what are you waiting for? Just point your web browser here to get started. http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=1426847
Simon De Groot Editor in Chief OFDealer PAGE 2
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CWC, Atlanta Herman Miller Dealer, Hosts Product Show They’re still working through the business cards at CWC in Atlanta, after the Herman Miller dealership hosted its first end user show last month. In addition to highlighting the latest office furniture solutions from Herman Miller, Kimball Office, Global-The Total Office, National Office Furniture, OFS and other key vendors, the show also featured the latest in office supplies, copiers, printers and related products from Copy Atlanta, the equipment dealership CWC purchased last November. “Copy Atlanta is a relatively small business right now—just about $2 million in annual sales,” reports VP of Sales Scott Marshall. “But we have the right infrastructure and the right people in place to grow it and are hoping to reach $10 million over time.” CWC’s Product Show provided a valuable opportunity to introduce the dealership’s new equipment venture. The event drew some 150 attendees from the greater Atlanta area’s corporate elite, and was built around the dealership’s new “Apples and Oranges” marketing platform, which is designed to showcase how CWC differentiates itself in the marketplace. Evidently, the new marketing approach is working, if the CWC’s current backlog—“up significantly,” Scott says—offers any
indication. But like just about everyone these days, he says he and the rest of the CWC team are waiting for more positive trends in the overall employment picture before icing up too much champagne!
Office Liquidators, Denver Dealer, Mark 25th Anniversary with Special Nonprofit Giveaway Event It’s 25 years and counting for Office Liquidators in Denver and for Dennis Meyer, that not only means time to highlight a special landmark for the company he started back in 1985, but also one more opportunity to give back to the community that has supported him and his team. The dealership has been running specials on the 25th of each month to celebrate, but last month they raised the bar by taking over some temporary showroom space near their regular location, filling it to the rafters with office furniture and then proceeding to give it all away to deserving non-profits in Colorado. It was billed initially as a $25,000 Giveaway, but that was just for starters. “It was first-come, first-served for the two-hour event and people started standing in line literally at 4:00 a.m.,” Dennis reports. continued on page 4
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By the time the doors opened, well over 100 people were waiting, along with crews from two local TV stations. The event ended up putting more than $56,000 worth of office furniture in the hands of 85 local nonprofits—not a bad day’s work, by any measure. Now all Dennis and his team have to do is figure out a way to top it for their remaining monthly celebrations this year!
RKR, Florida Dealer, Finds New Opportunities from Chamber ‘Buy Local’ Program When times are as tough as they are these days, business as usual doesn’t really cut it anymore. Just ask Ray Rogers, partner with his wife, Karen, in RKR Office Furniture in Ocala, FL.
Under the program, government agencies can get local quotes exclusively for expenditures up to $35,000. There's also a local preference policy in place for local businesses so that depending on the project size, they can still be considered for bid awards if they come with 3 or 5 percent of out-of-county quotes. “I've seen a lot of difference in the last 12 months,” Ray told a local business publication. “There really is a concerted effort to make sure that the local businesses are given an opportunity to participate…The business I've been offered, I'm either able to secure it or it went to another local business. It means more opportunity for us. More work has been brought to me to participate in as a result of this program.”
Business in Ocala has been difficult of late, to say the least, with unemployment in the area running at around 14% or worse for most of the past year.
In addition to the Buy Local program, Ray has also stepped up networking efforts in general and currently sits on three different chamber committees, including two focused on the buy local effort and a third charged with local business development.
In response, Ray and Karen have been working with their local chamber of commerce on an ambitious “Buy Local” program to encourage other businesses to help keep valuable dollars circulating in the community and supporting locally owned and operated companies.
And as for results? “We’re seeing far more interest in the marketplace in doing business with us,” Ray reports, “and even though the market is still challenging, new government projects are opening up and we’re also seeing more activity on the part of local small businesses.”
We Can Help You Reach the Summit x
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BIFMA: July Orders +9%; Shipments +11% Earlier this month, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) released its statistics for July and for the fifth month in a row, the numbers were in plus territory, providing further evidence of continued strengthening in the market. BIFMA reported July orders increased 9%, compared to a 33% decline in the same month last year. July shipments were up 11% year-over-year, compared with a 29% decline in July of last year. “Consistent with recent months, the July BIFMA statistics support our thesis that the contract office furniture industry is bottoming,” commented analyst Budd Bugatch of the Raymond James investment house. “We are encouraged by continuing order momentum within the office furniture industry and would note that prior year growth comparisons remain pretty easy for the balance of 2010.” Bugatch said that while the industry’s economic drivers remain mixed, he views a double dip recession as “a low probability event” and expects the recovery to proceed in a saw-tooth fashion. On the plus side, Bugatch noted corporate profits have improved for three consecutive quarters, balance sheets are flush with cash, and business confidence continues to stair-step higher. Less positively, he said the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, though reports of recent increases in temporary staffing may indicate that the beginning of more sustained job growth is at hand, he suggested.
BIFMA lowered its 2011 order and shipment growth forecasts to 4.3% and 6.7%, respectively; down from 9.9% and 11.1% previously.
Personnel Moves at Office Furniture USA Office Furniture USA has hired Steve May and Mike Cohan as regional managers and promoted Tracy Brakebill to the position of director of dealer development. May, a 24-year veteran of the industry, comes to Office Furniture USA from May First, a manufacturer’s representative company. Prior to May First, May was a field sales consultant for MVK Group and director of sales services for DMI Furniture. He will work with OF-USA dealer partners in the Mid-America region, which includes South Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan, along with portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and North Carolina. Cohan, a 13-year industry veteran, was the corporate accounts manager for Watson Furniture Group in Chicago. He was also a territory manager for Spaceco Business Solutions and a manufacturer’s representative for R.K. Witt and Associates. He will work with dealer partners in the Midwest region, which includes Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas and portions of Kentucky. Brakebill, who has been with Office Furniture USA for five years, was promoted to director of dealer development in response to the company’s growth, the company said.
“While weakness in commercial construction is likely to remain a drag on project-related business for the foreseeable future, we believe the high national vacancy rate (17.3% in 1Q10 versus 17.0% in 4Q09 and 15.2% last year, according to Reis) suggests the initial recovery may be driven more by absorption of existing space, and be less dependent on new office construction,” Bugatch added.
“In the past three years, we’ve added more than 70 new dealer partners,” said Brad Armacost, president of Office Furniture USA. “Tracy has been a big part of that effort, and her promotion is in recognition of that. It also allows us to better utilize her talents and abilities as we continue to grow and expand.
Separately, last month BIFMA, in conjunction with Global Insight, updated its overall industry forecast, predicting 2010 orders will increase 4%, up from its previous estimate, while it estimates 2010 shipments will decline 0.5% versus its prior -5.1% forecast.
Ghent Manufacturing, Inc. earlier this month announced organizational restructuring it said was designed to accommodate its latest acquisitions and help to bring the businesses closer to their respective markets.
Leadership Changes at Ghent Manufacturing
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The restructuring creates two major product groups: Visual Communication Products Group and Furniture Products Group. Janet Collins will take over as president of the Visual Communication Products Group and John Rouse becomes president, Furniture Products Group.
bookcases and more custom-like storage selections. Renegade offers fully assembled units and shell-based components for tailored configurations.
Collins has been with Ghent for the past four years and most recently held the position of president of the company’s VividBoard division. Rouse has been with Ghent for sixteen years as senior vice president. As part of the restructuring G. Mark Leasure has been named CEO, succeeding George Leasure, who will remain as chairman.
Inscape Acquires Acme Architectural Walls’ Intellectual Property; Establishes Marketing Relationship with Acme Sales Group Inscape Corporation has purchased all intellectual property and trademarks owned by Acme Architectural Walls, a manufacturer and designer of demountable office partitions. Jack, Marc and Michael Teich, former owners of Acme Architectural Walls, have formed a new business entity, Acme Sales Group, and will represent Inscape’s wall product portfolio in the New York area. They will market and provide project management for all of Inscape’s wall products, including some former Acme designs and constructions, to architects, clients, general contractors, client representatives and construction managers. “This purchase and the addition of local representation is a good fit for Inscape as we continue to invest in growing our architectural walls business,” said Kent Smallwood, general manager of Inscape’s architectural walls division. “The Teich family has been successful in marketing architectural walls in the competitive New York market and we are very pleased that they will be part of the new Inscape team in this strategic market.”
National Office Furniture’s Renegade Series Now on GSA Contract
Bush Industries Rebrands GSA Products Under BBF and Workplace Solutions Bush Industries has announced that its office furniture products offered to the GSA market have been rebranded under BBF (Bush Business Furniture) and Workplace Solutions by Bush Furniture. Currently, Bush has four product lines offered to federal government customers through the GSA Federal Supply Schedule and through individual state schedules. In addition to the current product offerings, Bush also has plans to offer other new products to the GSA market next year, the company said.
October Dates for NeoCon East
National Office Furniture’s newest casegood series, Renegade, is now available on GSA Contract. Renegade is designed to perform in a multitude of spaces from private offices and open areas to teaming and mobile workforces. It features mix and match surface and chassis options, layered surfaces and storage solutions along with a full line of credenzas, overhead cabinets, freestanding lateral files and wardrobes,
“This is our go anywhere series where collaboration and personal space coexist beautifully. Not only does it have the capability to create typical private office settings, it also has a more contemporary styling that features layered surfaces and storage. Add its environmental attributes, durability, versatility and great price point, and we’re very excited to add this to our extensive line of GSA Contract selections,” says Kourtney Smith, vice president of marketing for National.
The eighth annual NeoCon East has been rescheduled to October 28-29, at the Baltimore Convention Center, MMPI, organizers of the event, has announced. More than 7,500 attendees and 250 exhibitors are expected for the event, show organizers indicated. For more information, about NeoCon East, visit www.neoconeast.com or call 800.677.6278 (MART).
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Interactive Dealer Panels, Breakout and Roundtable Discussions Featured at OFDA Conference
In addition to the exceptional keynote and general session speakers highlighted in the August OFDealer, this year’s OFDA Dealer Strategies Conference will host 21 separate breakout sessions that will address strategic planning and organization development, sales and marketing, operations management, and financial management and profit improvement related issues impacting all dealers.
Many of these sessions include dealer panels and facilitated roundtable discussions that will stimulate dialog about how dealers can reshape their business models, streamline their organizations and apply new business development strategies to effectively address the fundamental changes occurring in the office interiors business. This type of exchange of ideas, best practices and new business opportunities has never been more critical to your success!
Breakout Session Highlights Strategic Planning and Organization Development Track “Leading Yourself First: Transcending Your Leadership Level to Push Through for Dramatic Results” Join Libby Wagner for a unique, practical, and reflective session on how to get real clarity on where you want to go with your leadership development. Be prepared to ask yourself some tough questions (and gain some answers!) on what’s next for you.
“Exit Planning for the Business Owner – The Seven Step Exit Planning Process” and “Exit Planning - Transferring Your Ownership to Insiders” Leaving your company is likely to be the biggest event of your life! Make sure it is a profitable and fulfilling one by developing
a personalized exit planning roadmap. Ken A. Stiefler, President, eXITS, LLC will focus on three key objectives for a successful business exit: leaving the company on the date you choose, transferring the company to the right successor and leaving the company with the amount of cash desired to secure a comfortable post-business life. In a second session, Stiefler will address dealers who are considering transferring their company to insiders—family members, co-owners, key employees or an ESOP. It involves less risk, both in reaching the exit and getting paid. This session will help company principals clarify their internal ownership transfer options and outline a step-by-step process to start or accelerate the process. continued on page 9
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“Creating a Sustainable Dealership Model—Taking Action Now, For the Future” Successful dealers periodically “reinvent” their businesses to stay abreast of market changes and emerging trends. The cycle of change is accelerating. Industry consultant Jim Heilborn will moderate a panel in which three dealers who have recently made very significant changes in their business models will outline the strategic drivers and logic behind their adoption of new strategies, their related operational and financial goals, challenges faced, specific changes they have made and results achieved.
“Change Management—What Are You Doing Differently in Your Dealership Today and How Is It Working?” This roundtable discussion, facilitated by Jim Heilborn, is designed to broaden the dialog among dealers, service providers and manufacturers regarding important initiatives, large and small, that are planned, just launched, ongoing or recently completed. Heilborn will facilitate a discussion focused on the strategy behind such initiatives, challenges faced and overcome, and results achieved or expected. OFDA invites conference attendees to share their best ideas and practices for mutual learning and benefit.
“Business Killers – Where Do You Stand on the Risk Barometer?” As business owners, we're focused on running our business. Every day brings new challenges, opportunities and decisions. But there are six mistakes that consistently cause businesses to fail. This interactive session, built around short video case studies and moderated by Ken A. Stiefler, allows you to assess how well you have protected your company from the six biggest mistakes that can kill a business.
Sales and Marketing Leadership Track “How to Recruit and Hire Novices That Sell Profitably” Our industry is running out of experienced sales professionals. In order to grow your top line, you must recruit, hire and train novices, profitably. During this presentation, Gil Cargill will show you how to screen novices based on behaviors and aptitude (those items which cannot be trained). Then, and this is the "secret sauce—how to train, transition and manage them into becoming a fully capable and profitable sales professional working for your company. Don't miss this idea-packed presentation. Gil promises to show you ways in which your company will grow its top and bottom lines by employing these strategies.
“What Dealers Need to Know about the New BIFMA Furniture Sustainability Standard and level Certification” level is the new multi-attribute, sustainability standard and third-party certification program for the furniture industry. It has been created to deliver the most open and transparent means of evaluating and communicating the environmental and social impacts of furniture products in the built environment. Leading industry manufacturers have embraced level in their products and facilities and are now training the A&D community and other influencers of office furniture buying decisions on its merits. This session, led by Mendy Claridge, LEED AP for National Office Furniture, will provide an overview of the key features of level and explain how dealers can enhance their value as a resource to customers through deeper knowledge of this comprehensive sustainability standard and certification program.
“Top 10 Gotta Do’s of LinkedIn for Business Development Professionals” Wayne Breitbarth, a Haworth dealer from Wisconsin and industry expert on maximizing the value of LinkedIn as a sales tool, will outline 10 key “gotta do’s” that sales professionals and dealer principals must implement to ensure they gain high value from their investment of time and energy in LinkedIn, the leading business-focused social media platform. This step-by-step, disciplined approach will provide the comprehensive road map to you need boost sales and profits using LinkedIn.
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“Sales Effectiveness and Best Practices in New Business Development: Finding New Ways to Communicate Value” Dealers of all sizes and all markets face unprecedented challenges today in differentiating themselves and “selling value” to combat competitors’ commodity pricing and customers’ rising expectations. WPF president Greg Nemchick will moderate a panel of leading contract dealer principals who will highlight their processes to boost sales effectiveness and their best practices in new business development designed to communicate the distinctive value of the many services they offer to customers.
“Turbocharge Your Sales through Internet Lead Generation” This interactive panel session will outline what makes a web site into a strong lead-generating asset for dealers’ and other industry companies’ sales teams. Moderated by Jason Kirby, director of vertical operations, eBoost Consulting, this session will feature information and case studies drawn from office furniture dealers’ experiences to build a foundation and practical understanding of how independent dealers can harness the Internet while reducing the cost per lead.
Operations Management Track “Role of Recycled Office Furniture in Meeting Industry LEED and level Sustainability Standards/Certifications” A panel of industry remanufacturers, refurbishers and furniture liquidators will outline current and emerging initiatives to provide dealers with high-quality recycled product options that will help their customers achieve LEED points and implement sustainability practices. Through a series of case studies, panelists will clarify how they are approaching sustainability and furniture life-cycle issues in their business processes and products and suggest ways dealers and installers can effectively communicate and serve as a knowledgeable resource to their customers on recycling practices and products.
“Grow Revenues and Profits from Business Process Improvement” When was the last time you realigned your business processes, people and technology to adjust to the pressures of our competitive industry and the economy? Dealers on this panel will outline how they have overcome: bottlenecks in sales and other key processes; unbalanced workloads; increasing errors in specification or execution that impact customers and profits; inadequate leveraging of technology; and failures to capture appropriate design and project management revenues or to manage delivery and installation services profitably. Gain a perspective on ways to support your sales staff that allows then more time for prospecting and sales activities.
“Identifying, Implementing and Managing Outsourcing Strategies in Your Business” This interactive panel discussion, moderated by Brenda Brodt of Junge + Associates, will bring together an experienced panel of dealers and outsourcing partners to share concrete strategies for leveraging third party services. Topics will include how to increase profits, manage capacity and augment expertise while maintaining the client experience and minimizing risk.
Financial Management/Profit Improvement Track “Managing Banking and Finance Relationships – 2010” Sam and Leslie Thacker of Business Finance Solutions will provide a current outline of the state of U.S. finance for office furniture dealers and manufacturers and some near-term banking and credit market predictions. They will offer a practical roadmap on how to match your financing needs with the range of public and private banking, non-traditional lending and government funding sources available. They also will highlight business best practices (accounting, owner financial literacy, customer credit and contract management) that will help your company secure necessary capital for future growth.
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â€œBenchmarking Your Operations and Financial Performance: Applying OFDA Survey Results to Improve Business Processes and Profitabilityâ€?
Technology Trends and Applications Track
Each year OFDA conducts a detailed survey to define financial and operating benchmarks that participating dealers can apply to help them set realistic future goals to improve cost management, revenue generation and profitability. This panel discussion, moderated by Jim Mills, principal of Office Interiors, will outline the results of OFDAâ€™s just-released annual survey report and assemble a diverse group of high profit dealers who will share their approaches toward applying OFDA benchmarks as a tool to manage their businesses more effectively.
â€œConsidering a Merger/Acquisition? â€“ Important Tipsâ€? A growing number of dealers are considering a merger or acquisition as a means to boost their market share to a more profitable level. Sam and Leslie Thacker return for a session that will outline todayâ€™s business valuation realities and offer practical tips on evaluating potential synergy between buyer and seller and on understanding sales structuring and financing options; critical due-diligence, insurance and other risk management processes; and effective leveraging of your trusted accounting, legal, banking and risk management advisors.
â€œLeveraging and Integrating Technology Tools for Improved Processes, Customer Experiences and Profitabilityâ€? Todayâ€™s challenging business environment requires that dealers find ways to increase efficiency, improve communications and reduce internal operating costs. Effective use of technology is the catalyst to not only increase employee productivity, but also improve the customer experience and overall dealer profitability. David Solomon of SolomonCoyle will show how leading dealers are leveraging their investment in design, specification and business systems, as well as CRM, Microsoft SharePoint and other new technologies. This session will also review examples of cases in which dealers are integrating new technologies in areas such as lead management, work order management and project management to differentiate their companies in the market. Learn to compete to win, and manage your business more effectively. With so much valuable content, the 2010 OFDA Dealer Strategies Conference offers a tremendous opportunity for dealers to gain fresh insights, network and take home practical ideas and tools to improve their businesses. OFDA invites you to register online at www.ofdanet.org/conference.
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Marketing &Selling Dealer Services
Making the Intangible Real and Believable By Barry E. Coyle
Contract furniture dealers face an underlying challenge in marketing and selling their services. It’s the challenge of promoting something that can’t be seen, touched or otherwise directly experienced until after it’s been purchased and can’t be assessed for its true value until after it’s been “consumed.” Dealers who learn some basic tactics for overcoming the challenge of intangibility can do a great job at marketing and selling their services.
How Service and Product Marketing Differ Contract furniture products offer some instructive points of comparison when thinking about dealer services. Products have measurable physical characteristics. Prospective buyers can learn about these characteristics by looking at product photos taken in either a studio or installed environment. They can peruse brochures full of tantalizing descriptions, specifications, options and feature/benefit lists. They can physically view the products, touch them, walk around them and even try them out before committing to an order. On the other hand, with services: s Production and consumption are inseparable. SEPTEMBER 2010
s The “product” can’t be inventoried and therefore is time- and schedule-dependent. s Intangible elements dominate value creation. s The “product” can be difficult to visualize and understand in advance of purchase. s The customer is often involved in co-production. s People are the main component of service delivery. s The time factor is of great importance. Look, for instance, at the co-production that typically occurs when delivering design services. The dealer’s staff and the customer are usually in close communication during the design process and may even spend time working side by side. The quality of the staff’s interaction with the customer is an essential yet intangible component in the effectiveness of the service being delivered. This doesn’t occur in product manufacturing, where the production site is usually a long distance from the customer and the project site, and the manufacturer enjoys full credit for the quality and value of the product. Consider also that, because people are the main component of service delivery, services are often more variable than products in result. continued on page 14
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Customers can look at a chair in your showroom and purchase it in quantity, knowing they will get a nearly exact copy for each purchase. As much as we try, we can’t guarantee that level of consistency with services, and buyers know it. Since co-production, the people component and other intangibles dominate value creation for most services, we have to find ways to make these intangibles real to potential buyers. Examining the key stages of customer decision making gets us closer to understanding the kinds of tactics to employ.
Three Stages of Customer Decision Making It’s rare when a prospect for your service decides to become a buyer all at once. More likely, the purchase decision results from a series of experiences in which the potential buyer "touches" your dealership and gets to know the people, processes and other elements that make up the desired service. By breaking down that series of experiences, we can start to see opportunities for addressing the challenge of intangibility. In the pre-purchase stage, prospects focus on (1) comparing the value propositions from competing service providers, and (2) managing perceived risk. In modern business school jargon, the process of comparing value propositions involves looking at three kinds of attributes: search, experience and credence. Search attributes are verifiable facts such as the square footage of your warehouse, the types and coverage limits of insurance you carry, the number of people on your staff and their professional experience, and so on. Think about statistics and other information that would help a prospect determine how your service operation stacks up to your competitors’. When search attributes can’t be evaluated or are limited, you can influence prospects by allowing them to experience the service before they purchase. For instance, you might let the person visit an installation in progress or watch the design staff as they double-check plans for accuracy or take a guided tour of your warehousing operation. Exposing the prospect to your experience attributes can also put pressure on competitors who may not be prepared or willing to have their operation viewed firsthand. Credence attributes are service-delivery factors that are very hard to evaluate, such as accuracy or quality. They create the kind of buyer hesitation that is often addressed by offering money-back guarantees. Managing perceived risk is another way of describing the hesitation in a buyer who is worried that something may go wrong. Like
credence attributes, it can be minimized by offering warranties, money-back guarantees or by affording the prospect a pre-purchase experience. The service encounter stage is where most dealers do a good job of differentiating themselves by making “professionalism” tangible—attractively branded trucks, field staff dressed and acting professionally, proactive communications, etc. Don’t forget that with many dealer services there is extensive interaction with the client during project execution. The client’s perception of that interaction will be as important as the service result and it can influence the client in confirming that their decision to purchase your service was a good one. When good service results combine with a positive client perception of your interactions, you’re a long way toward closing the next service sale with that client. Finally, there’s the post-encounter stage. This stage is more critical in service sales than in product sales because of the people factor (variability) in service delivery and because customer expectations aren’t always consistent with what we think they are. It is even more important to call clients after each service encounter to find out if they are satisfied and why (or why not). In the post-encounter stage, you want the customer to be re-confirming the rightness of their decision to buy your service, thus making it easier for you to gain repeat business.
Marketing Clues and Where to Find Them In marketing and selling services, we use clues to make the intangible aspects of our value proposition become real and believable to our prospects. All aspects of the service operation should be thought of as clues, including the physical space where the service operation is housed (warehouse or design department), the tools and equipment used in the operation (such as dollies, carts, computers, software) and the output of the processes (forms, reports, drawings, etc.).
Results, Value Propositions and Clues Let’s walk through an example of developing a value proposition and appropriate clues for a dealer service. We will use installation as our service. First, we need to understand what our potential buyer wants an installation service to accomplish. We call this the result. continued on page 16
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The result in this example would be an installation that is complete and on time, with high-quality assembly and workmanship and a competitive price. Now we need to put together our dealership’s value proposition. That is, what our dealership offers that will produce the result and do it better than our competitors can. Our value proposition is that our installation service is dependent upon: s Skilled, trained, experienced and professional staff s Efficient, organized installation process s Great planning and job management So, our great staff, plus a refined installation process and a tightly managed planning and management process, allows our installation service to succeed at the result that our buyer wants from this service. Our problem, though, is that our competitors probably brag about the same things and unless we can show that our promises of competence are real, our value proposition is just as intangible as theirs.
Processes and procedures are also facts if they can be documented. We might want to discuss how we support our installation efficiency through extra equipment, lean-installation training, staging plans, pre- and post-installation meetings, detailed work order packets, etc. We can offer the buyer various opportunities for interaction with our installation service operation: visiting an ongoing installation, watching crews get ready to leave in the morning, observing product receiving activity in the warehouse, watching the dispatcher take calls and build the schedule for the coming days. Stories of jobs that were performed in an extraordinary manner are better than lists of projects. What makes your service real is talking about how you handled a last-minute request or succeeded when there was a very tight schedule or had to overcome adverse site conditions.
Conclusion A service offering is just a promise backed by intangibles until after the client buys the service, experiences it and decides whether it lived up to the promise.
To succeed we must support our value proposition with enough solid clues to convince the buyer that what we are saying is true, and by implication, that our competitors’ claims may not be true unless they have good clues as well.
To overcome the challenge of intangibility, we have to develop our own value propositions and then find or develop enough marketing clues to make them credible to potential buyers and to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
We categorize clues into four types: PHYSICAL, FACTS, STORIES and INTERACTION.
Making the intangible real and believable isn’t difficult once we learn that what we normally see as the operational elements of our service operation are also rich sources of the clues we need for effective marketing and selling.
Physical clues to help validate our value proposition (professional, organized, process oriented) would be a very clean and well-organized warehouse and installation office space; new-looking trucks and equipment in sufficient quantities to make for an efficient installation process; well-designed forms and documents; a staff that looks and acts professionally. Facts could be the number of staff; number of years of installation experience of the crew and how long those staff have been with the dealership; the number of carts, dollies, pads, etc. that we have; the size of our crew and the peak staffing we have been able to sustain; the number of jobs we manage daily; the size of our warehouse, including the square footage and number of bays and pallet positions; the number and type of vehicles; how many dedicated delivery routes we have; the type and amount of coverage of our liability, workers compensation and warehouse/transportation insurance; the security setup for our warehouse; etc. SEPTEMBER 2010
In the service business, where the dealership has to develop its own marketing materials and value propositions, every completed project is as much an opportunity to market how we produce repeatable success as it is a result that shows up on the P&L statement at the end of the month.
Barry Coyle, principal of Solomon Coyle, LLC, is a nationally-known consultant to contract furniture management and service businesses. Coyle specializes in dealer and service economics, operations, project management and installation estimating. He has provided consulting services to more than 70 dealers, manufacturers and independent installation businesses throughout North America, and is a frequent speaker at industry events. www.solomoncoyle.com
dealerPROFILE CUBICLES OFFICE ENVIRONMENTS
Gaining Sales from the Outside In By Alicia Ellis
For Mark Canavarro and his company Cubicles Office Environments, traditional sales and marketing efforts have gone by the wayside in favor of white hat SEO, organic rankings and live chats. Don’t know what we’re talking about? You should!
Like many 40-somethings who grew up
business leads was through traditional
Canavarro focused much of his time on
using the earliest of PCs, Mark Canavarro
sales and marketing methods like phone
customer service and fast, efficient
was fascinated with the Internet and its
book advertising, purchasing lists, bulk
delivery and set up as his primary
potential to grow business and increase
mailings, cold-calling and at the time, the
differentiator to the competition.
revenues. Working as a sales manager for
burgeoning email blast.” “From initial contact, we will be on site to
a large refurbisher in 2000, Canavarro So when Canavarro decided to branch
meet our clients, put together space
out on his own and start Cubicles Office
plans, and a proposal all within 24 hours,”
Environments in the San Diego market in
said Canavarro.” All other things being
“The web site was great but the search
2002, his approach to sales and
equal, this shows our clients that we take
engines were in their infancy and people
marketing remained traditional, although
building a relationship with them very
had a hard time finding us,” Canavarro
he was optimistic about the use of web
said. “Leads were not localized, so even
sites as more than just a resource for
if a business found your company, they
product and contact information.
oversaw the creation of the company’s first web site.
companies that included a large scale
were often from outside your selling territory. The only way to really get new
Through alliances with a range of
An unaligned dealer working with Global
mover/installer that they bring in for large
– The Total Office, SitonIt and Friant,
corporate projects, Canavarro is able to continued on page 18
continued from page 17
focus completely on sales and growth of office furniture and a
n Quarterly eNewsletters to reach out to existing clients
few niche market products like artwork and whiteboards. Achieving their goals was no small task and it took time, but “We absolutely will do whatever it takes to make the client happy
according to Canavarro, it was well worth the effort. The
at the end of the day,” Canavarro continued. “Sometimes it
company no longer uses traditional methods of sales and
costs us a little money, but one happy client will tell other people
marketing; spending almost all of its marketing budget online.
about their experience.” “There are companies that will tell you they can get you great While referrals were initially the most cost effective form of
rankings quickly but they utilize unethical practices or ‘black hat
marketing for the dealership, they can be few and far between
SEO’ that are frowned upon and can actually result in being
and by 2004 Canavarro knew that it was time to change his
penalized or even having the web site removed by the search
engines,” warns Canavarro.
“I was spending more than $6,500 a month on advertising and
“The idea is to achieve higher ranking through ‘white hat SEO’
lead generation but finding few really qualified prospects,” he
practices such as easy navigation, specific meta elements, great
recalled. “I am a firm believer in inbound marketing and the value
content, blogs and relevant links to build more credibility in the
of getting someone to pick up the phone and call me or send
eyes of the search engines.”
me an email requesting somebody to contact them. When I put the choice in my clients’ hands to contact me, the sales process becomes ten times easier because they have chosen us as opposed to having a sales rep cold call constantly. People in a position to purchase or pick a vendor are bombarded with
According to Canavarro, natural or “organic” rankings are the triggers to increasing site visits. And, if you engage in both organic and paid search engine efforts you are able to use a wider group of contextually relevant keywords to attract more leads.
telemarketing, email marketing, direct mail. With inbound
Canavarro currently has a paid Google link that costs anywhere
marketing it is the complete opposite.”
from $1 to $2.50 per click. This, in combination with his organic
With that philosophy, Canavarro employed the help of eBoost Consulting,
specializing in working with businesses to develop new
rankings, has put Cubicles in the top three paid listings when people use the search term “office furniture San Diego” and in the top two natural listings.
Internet-based strategies to grow business and concentrate the
“Studies have shown that if you have a top ranking paid ad and
flow of prospects.
organic listing, people are 80% more likely to choose your web
“eBoost was able to show me that through the effective use of our web site, tracking capabilities and search engine optimization (SEO), our company could actually generate
site,” said Canavarro who receives more than 2,000 unique visitors to his web site a month. “All told, we generate 150-200 calls and emails per month, about 50 a week or 10 per day and my cost per lead has dropped to $11 to $15 each.”
in-bound pre-qualified traffic,” explained Canavarro.
In order to achieve and maintain its rankings, the company had
A plan was formed that included:
to optimize its web site as well. They added a blog where they n Optimizing the company web site to make it both informative and user-friendly
quarterly eNewsletters to all existing and potential clients.
n Paid advertising on Google to increase “white hat” web site rankings
“It is a process that must be monitored continuously,” said Canavarro, who meets monthly with eBoost to discuss data and
n Increasing organic ranking (how often a person visits your web site) through the use of meta elements (specific words or groups of words that help search engines categorize a web site) n Tracking all unique web site visitors
discuss new products and company information and send
fine tune pages and has someone monitoring their web site every day. While it may appear simple and user-friendly on the outside, behind the scenes, the Cubicles’ web site is well oiled tracking continued on page 19
continued from page 18
machine. Not only does the web site log who visits but it can also
Cubicles was bringing more than $4 million in revenues and had
tell what pages are visited and where exactly a visitor scrolled to
earned a ranking in the San Diego Business Journal's list of
and how long their mouse hovered over a particular spot.
fastest growing companies.
“If we find that a person’s mouse tends to hover over a particular
Canavarro has accomplished exactly what he set out to do and
spot on our web site, we may choose to feature something new
looks forward to continuing to incorporate technology and the
there,” said Canavarro.
Internet into his marketing plans.
The latest innovation is a “live chat” feature that allows a person
“Until the industry recovers, our plan is to keep overhead as low
to ask for help or better yet, allows a Cubicle representative to
as possible, manage cash flow properly, and constantly look for
jump right onto the webpage and chat with a visitor.
new ways to get in front of potential clients and encourage them
“If we see someone moving back and forth between say two
to get in front of us,” he says.
different desks, we can jump in and ask if they would like more
Got questions or interested in learning more about Internet lead
information or if they need any help in making a decision,” said
generation? OFDA’s Dealer Strategies Conference will feature a
Canavarro. He says this feature can also be used through his
session on “Turbocharge Your Sales Through Internet Lead
smart phone, so he never misses a potential client.
Generation” hosted by Jason Kirby of eBoost Consulting and
It’s been five years since the initial plan was formed. Canavarro now has six employees, and before the current recession hit,
featuring Canavarro as a panelist. Visit www.ofdanet.org/conference to register today!
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Leadership for the
Balance of the Recession By Bill Kuhn
Bill Kuhn, principal of William E. Kuhn & Associates, is a noted industry consultant, writer, and speaker with over 35 years of industry experience. He consults with dealer principals and their management teams in areas of strategic planning, leadership and organizational development, marketing, financial management, valuation and merger/ acquisition. For more information, contact Bill by phone: 303-322-8233, fax: 303-331-9032, or e-mail: BillKuhn1@cs.com.
In my July column earlier this year, I highlighted three areas for dealer strategic focus for the second half of 2010, specifically pricing products and services, allocating resources (i.e., making smart choices and trade-offs) and managing cash flow. While the emphasis is still on strategy, it will take genuine leadership to do well for the balance of 2010 and into 2011l. I feel we have gained a better picture of the state of the industry over the last two months. BIFMA recently updated its projections for the remainder of this year and for next, calling for virtually flat performance this year (down 0.5%) and a 6.7% gain in 2011. The Architect’s Billing Index has improved over the past three months. While still below the 50% line of demarcation between expansion and contraction, the index edged up to 47.9 in July, considerably improved from its trough of 33.9 in January 2009. This index tends to lead construction by 9 to 12 months, telling me that sales will still continue to be pretty flat in the foreseeable future, but will, in all probability, pick up in the second half of 2011.
On a more discouraging note, informal surveys show that 20-25% of dealers have dropped out of the market. I personally think that figure is a little overstated; however, if the flat market continues, the decline in the number of dealers will end up considerably above that estimate. I know of far too many office furniture dealers struggling to hold on for a just a few more months until the market picks up. My crystal ball says that a market increase won’t happen in time for many of them. Let’s face it. We are a much smaller industry at $9 billion as compared to the $13.4 billion we were as recently as 2007. That’s the bleak side of the equation. On the other side, dealers who have had the vision and leadership to move into a broader range of products and services, new markets, and additional market sectors have, by and large, been doing quite well. Remember, the statistics I’ve cited relate to office furniture only; they do not include areas such as education and healthcare, two growing markets, particularly the latter. continued on page 21
continued from page 20
Which leads me to the crux of this article: It is enlightened leadership that is—and will continue to be—the determining factor in the success or failure of dealerships.
Prahalad also talked about “Velcro organizations,” in which people and capacity can be rearranged and recombined creatively and quickly without major structural change.
In working with today’s dealers, I’m seeing three important leadership qualities emerge that I believe will influence whether their dealerships are to survive and prosper.
To achieve such agility and organizational realignment, he emphasized the importance of training and cross-training in many different worker skills. I couldn’t agree more!
An Appropriate Vision for the Times I’ve always preached the importance of vision, a clear sense of company purpose and direction. Your customers and your workforce want to know what your business stands for, where it is going and what that path and direction will mean to them. If a well-defined vision is realistic for these challenging times, it will lead to a strong corporate culture, company-wide employee engagement and high performance—provided it is supported by the appropriate actions. There have been articles written recently saying that strategy without execution is not strategy. I concur, and likewise I would add that vision without action is not vision. With the state of our economy and the challenges within our industry, I now expand the word vision to mean “bifocal” vision, i.e., to have the insight and wisdom to look forward, to assess risks and opportunities—for both the short and long term. In an article in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review titled Roaring Out of Recession, authors Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria, and Franz Wohlgezogen write about the (only) 9% of companies that come out of a recession stronger than ever. A key take-away from their article is the need to find that delicate, but optimal, balance of offense and defense. Preventative measures such as cutting costs are necessary to survive a downturn, but at the same time, identifying unique investment and business opportunities provides essential momentum for the day when growth returns. For example, visionary leaders find ways to cut costs not only by reducing payroll in the short term, but by improving operational efficiency that can continue to benefit the organization as the economy improves. They also carefully evaluate the consequences of making cuts in marketing spending that might result in having to spend more money later to recover and regain market presence.
Agility, Organizational Realignment, and Training The late C. K. Prahalad, distinguished professor of strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, wrote, “In volatile times, agility rules. It’s the ability to scale up and down and reconfigure resources rapidly.” SEPTEMBER 2010
In the recession of 2000 and again in this recession, one successful dealer has told me that, “We reorganize constantly in order to address our key issues. Every two weeks, we reassess our market and our priorities.” Another dealer commented, “Our key to success is being flexible and quick. We make fast decisions, but based upon as much current information as we can glean.” When I study the results of leadership like this, I not only find a major increase in dealer agility, but I additionally find a much more talented and diversified workforce at all levels throughout the organization.
It’s All About the Customer When virtually all companies are struggling, it’s clearly a critical time for dealers to build strong relationships with their customers. Dealers must thoroughly understand customers’ changing needs, their priorities, their decision-making processes and where their funds are to be allocated. Dealers must also nurture their customers’ trust and respect as a supplier and consultant who can provide a broad range of services and solve technical difficulties, leaving the customer to focus on more pressing needs. On the part of dealer leaders, building these relationships requires communication and understanding of each key customer. On the part of the dealer’s sales and support staff, it requires ground-level intelligence providing timely information for the company to create strategy and make informed decisions. This level of knowledge goes well beyond most current CRM programs. Close ties with customers are the answer in terms of existing business and future business once the industry is back in a growth mode. We have a challenging twelve months ahead. Leadership within our dealer network will determine the future role of the dealer, and within dealer organizations, who will succeed and who will fail. A year from now, more will be sorted out in terms of winners and losers and there will likely be many fewer dealers. Take what leadership steps are necessary to not only survive, but thrive.
Making a Partnership Work: It’s Not a Marriage, or Is It? By Libby Wagner
A friend of mine is currently watching a partnership with one of his long-time clients implode. Okay, implode is a strong word, but it’s not far from what a business partnership break-up feels like: to collapse inward violently; to demolish. In fact, many who have either experienced this first-hand or who have watched from the sidelines know this is almost (if not exactly) as terrible as the divorce of a married couple: the loss of a dream, a sense of wasted time, sadness, anger, the divvying up of resources and property. No one sets out with this in mind and no one wants to go through a terrible break-up, even if in the end it’s for the best. Generally, in the work I do, I try to prevent this sort of break-up by improving leadership, communication, clarity and culture, so that the partners can either behave proactively getting started off on the right track, or if not, we work with an intervention model to try to set things straight before they get irreparable. To be sure, not all partnerships are salvageable and not all are worth fighting for. Sometimes, it’s time to call it quits. Sometimes, it’s okay to move on. How do you know? And how can you prevent this from happening to you?
You’ve Always Got Three Choices! Using the Influencing Options Three Choices Model—Influence, Acceptance, Removal—is one of the most empowering things you can do when you are examining a partnership that’s not exactly in the place where you want it to be. Influence means you come up with a plan to bring about change. This is where you might work with a trusted advisor or a consultant. Acceptance means that whatever it is that’s not working is something you’re willing to let go of so you no longer let it affect you negatively. Removal is, well, removal. This is the break-up or at least the radical reorganization of things.
Don’t Pick Toxic If you are not experiencing the kind of partnership you want and you do not select one of these three options, you’re really choosing to be in what can turn into the “Toxic Zone,” a place where you are unhappy, frustrated, stressed, negative and even miserable. continued on page 23
continued from page 22
Even the malaise of mediocrity is toxic. That’s your signal that something needs to be done. People who are getting started in a business or a business partnership often do not seek the outside help of a consultant to gain clarity and behave proactively. They are focused on getting money in the door, people on the street and getting the word out. They often believe that with their great ideas and passionate commitment, everything will just work out. And if they start making money right away, it’s almost worse. They succeed in spite of themselves until they reach the point of the next level of growth (like hiring more employees, taking on bigger clients or customers, instigating new technology, etc.) and realize painfully that they can’t keep doing it the way they have been because the terrain has changed. Either way, “outset” or “renewal” are both good places to get really clear on your partnership.
Keys to Creating Your Successful Partnership 1. Clearly communicate your company vision and mission. Don’t underestimate the power of this. If you’re not on the same page literally, you never will be. 2. Clearly articulate your roles, responsibilities and scope of work. Who does what? Who’s responsible for sales? For marketing? For being the front person for the company? Work all of this out, and document it. 3. Define how you will make decisions, especially around new initiatives and money. Where do you have collaborative decision-making? Where do you have autonomy? What will you delegate? 4. Define how you will resolve conflict or disagreements and have a plan for confronting and creating accountabilities. This is really important because it allows you to get back on track when you get off. If you don’t have the skills to do this, invest in them. It’s critical. 5. Identify how each of you will be able to grow and develop within the business. Do a little dreaming! What is the ratio between work time and discretionary time? What are the values you share with your partner and the ones you don’t? What will the business support in terms of professional growth and what’s on your own? 6. Examine and define your exit strategy if it’s time to dissolve the business or retire. Look at all your options and revisit regularly (annually) to evaluate what has changed and what remains. Again, a trusted advisor or consultant can help here.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go? Take a look at the following list. The more you can put a “check” by, the greater the need to reevaluate the partnership relationship and the more urgent it is for you to select either “Influence” or “Removal.” 1. You do not look forward to coming to work; your heart’s not in it. 2. You seem overly exhausted, tired and burned out. 3. You are not addressing issues directly or resolving issues in a timely way. 4. You are speaking through others—employees, colleagues, lawyers and consultants—for long periods of time. (or you’re not speaking at all!) 5. Your organization itself is suffering, i.e., low employee morale or high turnover, decreased profits and revenues, decline in market share, diminished reputation in the industry. 6. You feel like you’ve exhausted your personal and emotional resources to try to make it work and it’s just not.
Finally, What About Relationships? An entirely different article could be devoted to relationships and the impact on business partnerships. The simple idea is this: Relationships trump everything. Whether it’s a family business, a marriage/business partnership, best friends or college buddies—each of these dynamics plays into whether or not a business partnership is going to be set up for success, whether it will be complex and high-maintenance, and in the end, the decisions made need to take these relationships into account. Many people will let the business suffer because the cost to the personal relationship isn’t worth it. Or, as sometimes happens, the opposite occurs: Personal relationships suffer because the business is interfering. Choosing to balance your many “marriages” is both challenging and gratifying and it requires self-reflection, honesty, and the willingness to ask for help when you need it!
Libby Wagner is the founder of Professional Leadership Results, an organization specializing in human performance, productivity and ethical communication. (www.libbywagner.com). You can learn more about her proven ability to help companies create commitment cultures that can endure any economic environment and achieve astonishing results by attending her presentations at the upcoming 2010 OFDA Dealer Strategies Conference in Florida next month.
Tips on Maximizing your IT Budget By Dave Brysch and Vincent Tran
Ensuring your business takes full advantage of the latest advances in technology can have a significant positive impact on productivity and the bottom line. But successfully managing your company’s technology investment can be tricky business. There is a fine line between the putting yourself on the “bleeding edge” and falling behind. Finding the balance means staying competitive.
Making do with what you have Existing hardware requires continual maintenance and monitoring. The failure of a desktop or server can mean costly downtime or recovery. 1. Keep up with patches and software updates. Whether on old or new hardware, keeping up the latest protection can save hours of costly recovery. Always be sure you thoroughly test all upgrades and know how to roll back before deploying them. 2. Keep it clean. Dust, static, moisture, fluctuations in temperature and humidity can wreak havoc on a data center. Have proper and regular cleaning schedules. 3. Protect your machines with battery backups rather than just surge protectors. Battery backups do a better job of providing your equipment with a constant stream of “clean” power, free of spikes and dips. They also prevent sudden shut-downs, which can be disastrous to hardware. 4. Restrict traffic and access to your hardware by implementing security policies. This can prevent accidents and limit the introduction of unwanted elements into your data center. When it comes to software, make sure you authorize what’s being installed on all workstations. 5. Test your disaster scenarios. Set up testing periods where you take down servers and fail over to their backups. Understand how long the entire process will take and what it will mean to the business. Test your backup power generators and batteries. Check that your software backups are really working. 6. Vendor warranties and support policies. Research whether the products you’re using are still under warranty, have outstanding recalls or have available support for older, “end-of-life” models. Lacking support when you most need it is a recipe for disaster. SEPTEMBER 2010
Upgrading or replacing Knowing when to upgrade is only half of the equation. Acquiring the right hardware, the right way, is the rest of the battle. 1. Explore software-as-a-service (SAAS) and infrastructureas-a-service (IAAS) offerings. On demand services allow you to take advantage of the latest technology without incurring a large cash outlay. Cloud-based IAAS offerings can drastically reduce or even eliminate on-site server hardware and the costs associated with operating a data center. An added benefit to IAAS is your data and business systems are located in a secured off-site location. 2. Warranties, warranties, warranties. For mission-critical appliances and devices, there’s never a bad time to have the original vendor insure your purchase. With high-touch devices such as laptops and mobile phones/PDAs it’s even more important. Consider third-party providers who are beginning to offer warranties that are just as good as the manufacturer warranty, and sometimes at a lower price. 3. Price out scalability. Whether it’s a new laser printer or a new server, identify the device’s weakest link and determine what it requires to function properly at peak demand. With a printer, it could be as simple as knowing when and where to purchase toner. With servers and hardware, determine if it’s capable of being upgraded with new drives and RAM. 4. Research and test compatibility. Often times the latest and greatest devices may not necessarily provide backwards compatibility. Make sure you have all the cables, wiring, and space required to properly support the new devices.
continued on page 25 PAGE 24
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General advice 1. Set up monitoring. Monitoring applications enables you to track the health and vital signs of your network and lets you remain proactive in paring down costs and planning upgrades. For instance, network monitoring lets you know if the bandwidth you’re paying for is too much or too little. You can quickly determine the hard disk utilization of a particular server and if a desktop has unauthorized or out-dated software installed. Monitoring is the first step towards maximizing your IT ROI. 2. Keep anti-virus, malware, spyware up-to-date. Out of date security not only is dangerous to your customers’ data, but a compromised machine leads to early failures and can result in a complete loss. Your entire corporate security is only as strong as your weakest point. 3. Hire a reliable vendor to support your IT staff. Most businesses rely on one or two IT staffers operating a help desk in break/fix mode. All too often, they are constantly repairing and maintaining devices, and never planning ahead. They’re usually spread thin, and are unable to keep up-to-date on the latest certifications and skill sets. Utilizing an IT vendor that offers a broad range of services—and fixed rates—can help ensure consistent service levels.
4. Review telecom and software contracts. Negotiating down costly connectivity, telephony and support contracts can quickly reduce monthly operating expenditures. Vendors will often renegotiate rather than lose a customer. You may already have many of these tips instilled, but if you haven’t, start today. Once you’ve identified and corrected the inefficiencies, you can start utilizing IT as a way to help drive productivity and increase efficiency rather than as a burden and uncontrollable expense. Dave Brysch | President | Channel Dynamix Dave has a long history of providing software and IT services for the contract furniture dealer market. His experience stems from years of developing custom applications and supporting complex, mission critical infrastructure. He founded Channel Dynamix in 1999, and has since guided it to become a leading provider of analytics and managed IT services.
Vincent Tran | Channel Dynamix Vincent heads the Interactive Services division for Channel Dynamix. He specializes in web and application User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) development, with a focus on how people interact with data. Prior to joining the IT side, he ran his own award-winning creative and web agency for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter @channeldynamix