Jennifer Coats

We're a lot like many of you: About $10 million a year in sales, just under 50 employees, with two building material yards and an Overhead Door Ribbon Distributor. Being small, we need technology more than the big guys, because we've got to be more efficient. Where a big dealer may have 30 people in an office doing human resources or accounts payable, I've got three: me, my dad, and our bookkeeper. That's the entire corporate staff, and I don't want to get bigger than that. Lean is beautiful! So we have to have good tools to be efficient. We think good technology makes us look bigger than we really are and allow us to focus on what really matters... our business and our customers.

One example where we've found a tool that does just that came when we started using Google Apps for Work--basically, GMail that you pay for by the user, and comes with a suite of productivity tools to make us leaner and more nimble. 4 years ago as part of creating the Builders Do it Center brand we went hunting for a way to handle our new email accounts. At that time, we had email through our local internet service provider, and we were using Outlook to access it. We were not happy with that solution. It was clumsy, hard to manage, and could not easily scale with us. The Google Apps suite means we get to spend our time managing our business rather than managing our productivity software.

I can run my entire email system from my phone anywhere in the world. Likewise, my yard operations manager doesn’t have a desk, but he can go into any computer in the branch and access his email. The point of any of these tools isn't the tool itself, its the way it integrates with how our team serves customers, and how we control our costs.

The cost of Google Apps? About $5 per user per month. We think that low price is really great.

If I could talk directly to tech suppliers, I'd say this: Regardless of what the problem is, your solution has got to be scalable and flexible--work at my head count now, but grow with me. Change is painful and expensive!. It’s got to be mobile friendly--accessible from any device from any location! Side note: Customer relationship management (CRM) software absolutely has to be a natural extension of the sales process, and that means it must work from a smart phone. (If you have a great solution that fits our industry and checks those boxes, call me!)

I have a very low tolerance for wasted effort. When we were on a previous point-of-sale system, you had to enter information on both the initial order and the purchase order. That’s silly. If it won’t eliminate work for me, it’s not very valuable. And it has to be platform agnostic: If it works only works on an Apple or Android or Windows platform, that doesn’t work for me. I’ve got guys who access data from home, and I can't afford to give some of them a company phone.

Lately I've been reading an article called "25 Ways to Make Your Company Look Bigger Than It Is." With help from the tech companies, I think that can happen.