Change will do you good Featured

8:00pm EDT May 14, 2006
When eCompany Store opened for business, Craig Callaway had one goal: to be the best online distributor of promotional products in the nation. Three years later, Callaway, CEO of the Alpharetta-based company, realized that the Internet-focused business just wasn’t performing the way he wanted it to.

“When you buy these tchotkes, people like to see them and touch them and feel them,” says Callaway. “They want samples and they want a dialogue about them, like what happens when it gets wet, will it hold up, do you have it in triple-X. ... There’s just a lot of questions they have when buying these things. [And so] this sole reliance on the Internet sales model did not work for us in the early years.”

So Callaway and the company changed course. Rather than focus entirely on online sales, the promotional product solutions company would also offer customers access to local sales reps, who could demonstrate products at meetings and offer more personal service.

The new solution appealed to both tech-savvy and hands-on buyers, and eCompany Store’s sales skyrocketed. In 2000, revenue was $5 million; in 2006, it projects revenue will near $40 million.

Smart Business spoke with Callaway about how eCompany Store’s two-pronged sales system has helped it grow.

What was the key to eCompany Store’s rapid growth?
The key is focus. The key is to figure out what your gift is, what your strength is, what market you’re going after. Put a discipline around that and don’t look left, don’t look right, stay focused.

That’s what we had to do. We were going to be a dot-com, and when that didn’t work, we said we’re going after the Fortune 500. By staying true to that second strategy, we’ve been successful.

If there’s something that business owners trying to become larger business owners could do, it’s to develop and have the discipline to remain focused on your strategy. It’s just so easy when you’re small to get distracted and to say we could do this and we could do that, or we could be in this market or that market. It’s about focus.

How has your focus on a dual online and in-person sales strategy helped the company grow?
The technology gave us a competitive advantage. The distributors in our industry have been slow to invest in these technologies, (but) it’s what we were all about.

So when we go and compete against other businesses, trying to win the business of Xerox or Microsoft, we tout our technology, and people have a hard time saying that they can compete with us, because we put so much money into it to begin with. So really we’ve leveraged it. But now we have also created a geographic sales force, so you get both.

How do you keep up with changing technologies?
We’re always implementing new solutions and we’ve found that there usually are some material savings that can come from making the right choices, but the big challenge is cost. And if we can hire somebody in our technology group to be a bulldog, really be a negotiator, to find ways that we can save money, then we can overcome those cost challenges. And that’s what we’ve done, essentially. It’s his job to find ways to lower our technology cost.

What challenges come with the dual-sided operation, and how have you addressed them?We really have had to change the structure of the company so that we have people focused on the geographical selling effort and another team of people focused on selling by using our online catalog, by using more of our technology. We have those broken into two distinct responsibilities, but each one of those responsibilities has the same customer. Xerox buys from the online store, but Xerox also buys from the salesperson.

We’ve had to have those separate positions, and sometimes that can create a little conflict or confusion at the customer level. So we have realigned ourselves so that we’re a single selling team (on each) account. So even though (the sales representatives) have two different ways to get you product, they’re a team on the Xerox account. They both now report to the same person. And that was huge for us.

How has this structure helped eCompany Store grow?
It gives you two great stories to tell. On the human side, we’ve got you covered, and on the technology side, we’ve got you covered. We’re going to scratch both of those itches for you.

We call on corporate America, big Fortune 500 companies, and what they want is personal attention and integration into their systems. We can scratch that itch quite well.

How to reach: eCompany Store