Experience with VoIP Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Communications are important for any business. When you need communications to not only receive orders from customers and place orders with vendors but also to host a radio call-in show, you need a system that provides mobility, serviceability and dependability. Tying into your computer system and saving money are added benefits.

Dr. Len Brancewicz, owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Rochester, Pa., and co-host of nationally syndicated “Ask the Pharmacist” radio show, depends on his telephone.

“In my business, if I lose the ability to communicate, I’m done,” Brancewicz says. “With several business segments to run and calls needing to be returned all over the country, I need a communications system that is first dependable and second cost-effective. A VoIP system was just what we needed.”

Smart Business talked with Brancewicz for more insight on how and why he chose this system and what it has done for him.

What exactly are your business and communications needs?

Besides owning and operating The Medicine Shoppe in Rochester and The Nutrition Shoppe in Wexford, I am a partner in Medicine Shoppes in Oakmont and Penn Hills. I also co-host the ‘Ask the Pharmacist’ radio program live five days a week in the Pittsburgh area and at various times throughout the country on numerous radio stations and satellite radio through syndication.

In the pharmacy world, we have to be very efficient in processing all the different layers of insurance. To compete with the grocery stores and other chains, we need to fill prescriptions the quickest way possible, communicating with multiple doctors, insurance companies and vendors. All of the updates in computerization over the past several years and the advent of DSL paved the way. Our business also requires frequent one-onone conversations as patients and callers have questions that can only be answered by individual conversations by telephone.

We needed a system that allowed us to receive numerous calls at all times of the day and night and be able to route them in an efficient manner for both the customer and us.

What was the primary trigger that got you looking at VoIP?

We were notified last summer that the Rochester shopping center that includes our store would no longer have the phone and Internet service that we had been using and that we would have to change providers. I had known John Curry at Curry IP for some time and asked him to do an analysis of our whole communications and computer system.

The first thing we did was put in two DSL lines from two separate companies. We then set up things so that if the line with phone system goes down, it is automatically switched to the other line with the computer system. The same thing happens with the line to the computer system. It would automatically switch to the other line.

The next thing we needed was an economical phone system that provided virtually unlimited calls. We have to return calls all over the U.S., and regular long-distance charges would have been very costly.

The next step was to reanalyze the whole system. We started with just the one store and the radio show. Now that we have had some experience, we have a much better handle on what can be accomplished and how we can make communications between locations more cost-effective. One area we are discussing is combining purchasing by networking the stores. Not only would there be cost savings, but we could track inventories more efficiently.

What kind of cost savings have you realized?

Our previous communications, local and long-distance phone service and Internet connections were running between $820 and $860 per month. We have doubled our service. Last month was our first full month, and the bill was $349. Yes, we have the hardware and DSL lines to pay for, but we are getting more done at less cost per month, so it won’t take long to make up the initial costs.

Do you have any suggestions for those considering VoIP?

Choose a vendor that is easily accessible and is willing to really try and understand your business and its needs. Be flexible and willing to update as new processes are evident. If no downtime is a critical factor, make sure you have failsafe systems and someone to contact quickly if problems occur. Plan not only for immediate needs, but also look at how you might grow and how a properly designed system can help.

LEN BRANCEWICZ is a Pittsburgh-area entrepreneur. Reach him at (724) 728-7455 or though the Web site www.lenandjoe.com. Reach John Curry, owner of Curry IP Solutions (www.curryip.com), at (412) 307-3600, ext. 9007 or john@curryip.com.