For a complete list of this year's SBC 50 businesses, see 'The SBC 50,' December 2001 SBC.
Location: Albany, Ind.
Principal: Jim Davis
Business: Cartoon licensing
Tech: Maintains database of licensed products, and gives access to current and potential clients.
Jim Davis may have created the comic-strip character of Garfield the cat, but John Jones keeps him running. Jones is the director of information services for Paws Inc., a 56-employee company created in 1981 to handle the merchandising and licensing of Davis' work. The Albany, Ind., company has always tried to be on the leading edge of technology. 'Jim saw very early what computers could do for his business,' Jones says.
Currently the company handles 24 international agents and nearly 500 licensees, and keeping track of them is no small task. Way back in 1990, the company commissioned a piece of proprietary software, the Licensees Approval System, which now serves as a repository for all data on licensees, contracts, and approval cycles of products. The first pieces of data about a new licensed product will usually be specifications, such as 'cotton short-sleeved t-shirt.' Details will then be added about the market, design, and concept.
By linking its approval system to the Internet, Paws has made the whole process easier. Previously, shipping the art from Europe for approval could take five to ten days. 'One of the greatest things for us has been the Internet, so we could build a Web site to offer these services especially to our international licensees,' Jones says. 'Now the entire approval process, right up to the production sample, can be completed on line.'
Existing licensees can log into the system through a secure Web site that lets them track where their product is in the approval process. They can also search the art bank. If a licensee wants an image of a tennis theme, he can log into the system and type 'tennis' and find all of the images that have already been drawn.
Many other processes at Paws Inc. are now electronic. 'Up until about 4 years ago the comic strip was all hand drawn,' he says. 'We'd have to ship the drawings by UPS to the newspaper syndicate and hope they made it back because that's all very valuable, original art.'
Now all the strips are scanned and sent over the wire. This simplifies the process and helps Paws protect the artwork. The company sells original strips for anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 a piece. And though strips sent by UPS were insured, they were only insured for the value of the paper the strips were drawn on, as Paws rudely discovered when six weeks of strips were lost by the shippers.
'We saw very early on how we wanted to do things,' Jones says. 'I think a lot of people miss the business to business aspect of the Internet.'