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Finding a need and filling it Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

In 1988, with just $2,500 in start-up capital, Regina Duffey launched Noritech Inc. from a spare bedroom in her home.

In starting her own company -- which integrates, distributes and markets computer systems and services -- Duffey left behind a successful sales career at Digital Equipment Corp. She says she simply saw a need and filled it.

She worked alone for two years before she was able to hire her first full-time employee, and she estimates her first-year revenue at $60,000. Today, Noritech occupies 6,000 square feet of space and employs 15 associates. Revenue for 2000 is projected to reach $6 million.

So what's her secret to success? Personal attention and excellent customer service, she says.

"Larger corporations have a tendency to have so much volume that they cannot give individualized attention to their customers," she notes. "They are not able to get decisions made quickly and you have to go through a lot of bureaucratic exercises to get things done. I thought I could shorten that whole process by being available to my customers, delivering product on time and making sure all the details were taken care of, and I was right."

Noritech's goal is to deliver the best products at the best prices in the time required.

"Our customers want their systems on time. They want the services that go along with them, and they want us to be available," Duffey says. "When you call this office, you're not going to get a recording that channels your phone call through several menus. You're going to get a real person, and we're available to answer questions immediately. Because of that, our customers feel better taken care of."

Duffey acknowledges there have been many challenges in building her own business.

"While our smallness has been an asset in allowing us to provide excellent customer service, the perception of our smallness also has been a detriment," she says. "Corporations sometimes don't want to deal with small businesses because they have the perception that we can't ship all over the United States, or they think we are less financially able to fulfill business, and that's just not true."

Duffey also says the challenge of finding capital to operate and grow her business was ever-present.

"One individual who saw me struggling offered to write a letter to a supplier guaranteeing me for a credit line," she says. "That letter really helped me get started."

To help control costs and provide the best products, Noritech operates on a just-in-time delivery system. The company maintains no inventory, instead ordering computer systems from suppliers as needed to fill customer orders. This allows it to avoid the cost of warehousing equipment, while offering its customers the latest, most up-to-date computer hardware.

Although Noritech sells primarily to customers in the government sector, Duffey says the company is moving into the corporate sector. Additionally, "We have a level of retail, which is sold to our training center customers."

That retail product, which Duffey has dubbed the Chocolate Chip Computer, is manufactured locally for Noritech. The system is designed for home use and comes loaded with Internet access as well as K-12 educational software in areas such as math, language arts, reading and history.

Duffey is always looking for good people to help grow the business -- particularly computer trainers, sales reps and administrative personnel. And just as she believes listening to her customers and providing personal service is the key to continued business growth, she also believes listening to associates is necessary for any business to thrive.

"My employees are volunteering every day to come to work for me," she notes. "They could work other places, but every day they get out of bed, get in their cars and come out here and do a job for me, so they deserve to be heard when they have suggestions or concerns.

"It's important that I pay attention to my employees and help them feel like they are part of the team and that this is their company, too." How to reach: Regina Duffey, president, Noritech Inc., 861-1181 or www.noritech.com

Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN magazine, however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.