Small Biz Winners Growing with Technology

Wednesday Oct 29th 2003 by SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff
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A distinguished group of small- and medium-sized business owners are honored for their innovative use of networking technology as Cisco Systems announces the winners of its 'Growing with Technology Awards' for 2003.

A California winery, an Illinois packaging manufacturer, and a small shipping clearinghouse are among this year's winners of the Cisco Growing with Technology Awards. Cisco Systems recently announced the winners of its annual awards, which recognize small- and medium-sized business owners for their unique adoption of networking technologies as a launch pad to their growth and success. One grand-prize winner and two runners-up in each of five categories were selected from more than 500 applications received by Cisco for the 2003 contest.

The winners of the Cisco Growing with Technology Awards were recognized during a presentation ceremony Monday night in San Francisco. Grand-prize winners received $25,000 worth of Cisco networking equipment and a complimentary Cisco networking assessment and consultation valued at $3,000. The awards program allows small businesses to reflect upon how technology benefits their operations and highlights how small businesses can take advantage of information technology to create competitive advantages.

Differentiating a Commoditized Service
The winner of the Cisco Growing with Technology Awards for innovations in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) this year is D.W. Morgan Co. The small company, consisting of 47 employees, is based in Pleasanton, Calif.

As global as FedEx, DHL and other shipping companies claim to be, most companies that utilize such services don't single-source their shipping through just one service. To track the progress of the many packages the typical shipping department has in transit at any given time can mean checking a half-dozen websites. That's where D.W. Morgan comes in. It provides shipping services with its own trucks on the ground or international delivery service through air, as well as a single online destination where customers can track their shipments — no matter which service they use.

Morgan uses middleware technology to link to the closed systems of shipping firms such as FedEx, or to customers' enterprise resource planning systems, such as SAP or Oracle. Customers can also receive reports about their inventory on-demand or on an automated basis.

"They can see what's coming in or going out anywhere in the world," said David W. Morgan, president, who founded the company in 1990. "We enhance the customer relationship by offering the data they need in real time."

Morgan has been in the shipping industry almost as long as there's been overnight shipping services. He started at Federal Express in 1981 at age 17, and has also worked for Emery Worldwide and Consolidated Freightways.

"Information is the key to enhancing the relationship between suppliers and customers. You can't differentiate yourself just on the commodity," Morgan said. "You have to differentiate yourself through software, and that's where we fit in."

Just-in-Time Operations
The winner of the E-Commerce category is Corrugated Supplies. Based in Bedford Park, Ill., Corrugated Supplies' 110 employees have to move as fast as they can to turn around orders for customized packaging and displays. Owner Rick Van Horn took the extraordinary step of supplying customers with PCs running a customer application enabling them to dial in to corporate servers and both place and track orders. The company was an e-commerce pioneer before most people had even heard the term.

Through the company's website and its networking capabilities, Corrugated Supplies is able to process 600 orders daily — roughly 85 percent of those orders are placed online and the majority of the orders are turned around within 24 hours. That's important for Corrugated Supplies' customers, because they tend to be small players that compete with larger, vertically integrated rivals.

But Corrugated Supplies uses its network to offer more than just speed, the company has developed software that enables its customers to enter instructions from their clients into the system and have it automatically generate orders for materials. The customer receives an e-mail confirming the transaction. As a result, Corrugated Supplies' customers are managing the flow of raw materials through the company's website, helping the company attain new levels of supply chain efficiency.

The website allows customers to customize their packaging on the fly. If a customer wants to change an order prior to its completion — even if it's in the queue for a machine — they can, by clicking on an "edit" icon next to the order. The Web-based ordering system lets Corrugated Supplies offer more special requests. Because Corrugated Supplies' inventory information is integrated with the system, customers can see immediately whether an order can be fulfilled.

The website also incorporates shipping information as well, tracking all products as they come off the manufacturing line and are loaded for shipping. The result is better production control, reduced inventory, and the ability to operate in a real just-in-time environment.

Small businesses can buy off-the-shelf software and live within the confines of it. But if you know how you want your business to run, you can build software to improve the value proposition for your customer, just like Corrugated Supplies did.

Networking Down on the Farm
The winner of the Cisco Growing with Technology Awards for innovations in Sales and Marketing this year is Cooper-Garrod Farms. Based in Saratoga, Calif., Cooper-Garrod Farms consists of five employees. Owner Bill Cooper is the fourth generation to manage the 240-acre parcel of land that stands on the crest of a hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Silicon Valley.

Cooper came to be a vintner — and to technology — circuitously. Though he attended the University of California at Davis — one of the best schools for oenology thanks to its proximity to the Napa Valley — Cooper actually studied international relations and went into the foreign service. The end of the Cold War inspired his retirement, but before he left in 1996, Cooper was impressed by the U.S. federal government's fledgling efforts toward e-government.

When he returned to the farm, Cooper realized that his small business needs technology. "You can't do it all yourself and you can't hire everyone you need," Cooper said. Having every building on the farm networked means that everyone is on the same page — literally and figuratively — when it comes to both the winery's website and its accounting software. But it also means that, when the action in the tasting room is slow, someone can use the computer located there to do some other work, without leaving it unattended.

"We all wear many hats here," Cooper said. Also networked are the Cooper-Garrod Farms stables, a board-and-care riding facility that's part of the farm. It shares the same accounting software, and some of the same employees, as the winery.

"Being a small operation, we can't advertise everywhere we'd like to," Doris Cooper said. "The website for the winery has been the key. It gives people directions, it lists our hours, and the fact that we're open daily." It also lists special events, such as the tasting of specific varietals. Bill Cooper estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of first-time visitors first found the winery on the Web.

Many of its competitors only open their tasting rooms on one of two days on the weekend, as Cooper-Garrod Vineyards initially did. But to be more competitive, the Coopers opened the tasting room from Wednesday through Sunday, and the website trumpeted the fact. Now it's open seven days a week, even through the winter, and people show up from out of state on a regular basis. The winery's impressive strides in using its website to increase marketing visibility and spur sales makes it special among the 44 wineries dotting the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz.

More important is that the winery's Web marketing helps spur its 15 percent annual growth in two ways. It brings people to the tasting room, which accounts for up to 55 percent of the winery's sales, while the online-ordering capability adds as much as 15 percent to monthly sales. The winery recently put up a page to help out-of-state buyers navigate the inconsistent liquor laws governing shipping, but interestingly, noted Bill Cooper, much of their online sales go to locals who want the convenience of delivery.

"The bricks-and-mortar side gets us to break even," Doris Cooper said. "But it's the extra push the Web gives us on the winery side that makes the difference." The Cooper-Garrod Winery may be small in size, but the Web maximizes the fruits of its labors.

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