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The customers are mine Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002

Randy Muntean lost a key salesman at CopyRight Inc. in January, and with that employee, one of his biggest customers left too.

Muntean learned a valuable lesson about the copier company he founded in 1989: In a cutthroat, high-turnover industry like copier sales, he had to make sure his customers never got too attached to one of his 11 employees. Muntean had to make sure customers were instead loyal to CopyRight and himself personally.

Muntean, who worked for seven years as a salesman at Copeco, says it's an issue facing many business owners, though perhaps it's more critical in an industry that averages 100 percent employee turnover annually.

Today, he proclaims, "I am the business. I have to be."

Muntean employs four salespeople, but he makes half the sales himself. Sales doubled in 1997 to $1 million. Maintaining customer loyalty with his half is easy. It's the rest he worries about.

"With the major accounts others sell, I stay involved one way or another. I'm in on the close or final installation.

"I know that contact," he says. "I can call that person three months from now and he'd know me."

CopyRight has about 650 customers, and Muntean maintains that he knows enough about each of them individually to feel in control. "I keep all of that information in my head," he says.

Vicki Smith of ABB Service Inc. in Massillon, a six-year CopyRight customer, says Muntean has made his presence known at her 125-employee company. "He put in a lot of our new machines himself," she says. She acknowledges that while many businesses might not know the owners of the companies they patronize, "Anybody here could call Randy if we needed to. We know that."

While CopyRight salespeople and service technicians might be the first point-of-contact after a sale, Muntean makes sure he personally maintains relationships with his customers.

"I write letters and call, and check in with them periodically. They know my door is always open."

CopyRight offers lifetime performance guarantees, which Muntean wants customers to know isn't just his salesperson's word or his company's word, it's his promise. "Anybody can call me anytime of day," he says. "I've given people my home number to reach me on the weekends."

The promise of customer satisfaction has been tested, such as in the case of the Stark County Recorder's Office, which has problems with one of three copiers it purchased from CopyRight.

A copy-guard unit, which allows a copy debit card to work, kept malfunctioning. Muntean paid to replace the unit only to have it blow again, then paid for an electrical contractor and other specialists to figure out the problem was caused by the building's electrical system.

He says fixing the problem-which had nothing to do with the machine he sold them-has cost him $2,000. "But the point is that I'm here to take care of the customers.

"I've replaced whole machines before at no cost, no matter the reason. You have to do that today," he says.

Muntean has developed a safeguard for maintaining personal contact. He personally renews maintenance agreements, which guarantees regular communication beyond nice letters or courtesy calls.

These efforts explain why he wasn't too concerned this spring when his sales manager resigned to go to another copier company. So far, he hasn't lost any of the manager's customers.

The tenure of CopyRight's salespeople ranges from a few weeks to two years. His five technicians have been with him for one to five years.

Muntean makes sure his employees also know he's active in every aspect of the business. "I'll unload a truck. I'll deliver a machine. Whatever I have to do, I'll do it. I don't care."

CopyRight projects a 20 percent to 30 percent sales increase in 1998. Muntean admits he's not in danger of becoming "too big" anytime soon, but says he sees $4 million to $5 million as the maximum sales he wants to reach in today's dollars.

"You can grow to the point where you lose touch with your customers," he says. "I want to be bigger but small enough to care about the customer. If you get too big, you're chasing your tail."