Anyone who has ever heard of Halliburton undoubtedly knows of its enormous government purchasing and procurement contracts. By some estimates, the oil and gas logistics company pulls more than $20 billion a year into its Houston headquarters off of contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But even when a war isn't involved, the government spends billions outsourcing materials and logistics needs to private corporations, and there's no reason why dealers cannot be in on some of that action. “Since we started government sales, we have shipped boatloads of lumber,” attests Kelly Fox, general manager of 11-unit, Seattle-based Dunn Lumber. “They buy so much material, and they're not margin-conscious. When you can sell a $100,000 lumber package at 35% margin, you know you are doing something right.”
Fox, like many pro dealers who have eyed government sales as a possible profit center, initially struggled with government purchasing protocols. Fortuitously, business talk over Christmas dinner in 2004 led him to Onvia, a provider of “government business intelligence” where his brother-in-law was managing IT. “At that point, we hooked up with the Onvia Guide,” Fox says, “and got several hundred initial business contacts in the local, state, and federal government, as well as some industrial contacts. But it was still quite complicated, taking about 20 to 30 hours a week worth of research to make it work.”
Then in April of this year, Onvia launched Onvia Navigator, which the company describes as a “cutting-edge search tool” to slice and dice the roughly 4,000 new active leads the company pulls daily from a scan of some 3 million public records to include in its Dominion database.
Just how quick and efficient is the new Onvia Navigator? Fox says he's cut his research time to two hours a week and has gone from virtually zero to millions of dollars in government sales. Onvia Navigator, in particular, helps Dunn narrow searches by location, client, project type, and products needed. Fox gets instant access not only to what projects are about to go up for bid, but who the purchasing contact is (including address, e-mail, and phone number), which company has won similar bids from the contact in the past, and what the payment terms of those bids were.
“Onvia as a whole has allowed me to be No. 1 in my neighborhood because I know everything that is happening. That allows me to go into my competition's backyard and be No. 1 in his neighborhood, too,” says Fox, who likens the subscription-based service (subscriptions begin at $575) to an insider's playbook that demystifies the game of government sales. Since May, Dunn has picked up million-dollar contracts with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Seattle, and various commercial accounts, including a deal to rebuild all of the decks for Trident Seafoods' fishing fleet. Onvia Navigator also gives him a heads-up any time a residential developer begins securing land or applying for a permit.
In light of the new revenue stream, Dunn Lumber is creating an industrial sales division to focus exclusively on ferreting out and following new leads with the help of Onvia Navigator, with two seasoned sales reps at the helm. That's exactly the aim of Onvia's systems, says company vice president of products and services Michael Balsam: to allow small businesses without Halliburton-sized contacts and research teams to quickly gain access to government spending. “If you sell staples,” Balsam says, “we can help you.” With zero-to-millions examples like Dunn, it doesn't take a Dick Cheney to figure that out.