Friday, April 07, 2006

Seven Million Dollar “Boring Business” Secret

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A. J. Wasserstein Story

While attending business school in New York, A. J. Wasserstein looked at various business opportunities to start his entrepreneurial venture. After graduating from the Stern School of Business at New York University in 1991, A. J. Wasserstein, then 24, returned home in Southbury, Connecticut to raise money and start Archives Management, his newly hatched file-storage company. He was attracted in the records storage business in large part because it is a steady business. "The model is, once you get a customer, you have a customer for life. It's a long-term decision for our clients. We'd like to think we have them forever - if we live up to their expectations."

OK, so keeping files for customers is not glamorous. It does not even sound sexy. But as company president, Wasserstein probably finds nothing dull about earning $7.0 million in annual sales. As he himself admits, “Yes! It is a boring business. We’re a boring simple business that makes a lot of money, which is fine!”

Every business has its own economic characteristics, and his research showed that records management is a solid business model. Consider these: recurring cash flow; long term contracts; high capital barriers to entry so there are few competitors; and high switching costs for customers if they want to move to another company. As Wasserstein contends, “When I wake up on January 1st, I know what my revenues will be for the next 12 months.” While capitalization costs may be high, there is also a built-in growth rate, allowing the company to grow internally at about eight percent a year even without making incremental sales. Boring as the task of keeping other people’s files maybe, you can understand what made Wasserstein fall in love with this industry.

To turn this “boring” business into something exciting, Wasserstein and his management takes a creative approach to customer and employee relations, and makes it fun. According to him, “We have wonderful people programs in place. I think we are cutting-edge technology.”

So why is Archives Management successful?

“I think we’re good sales people. We are successful because of our creative sales people,” he is quick to point out. While other companies cite their advanced technologies and innovative products, Wasserstein credits their ability to differentiate themselves by bringing creativity, energy and ingenuity into the sales process as the main reason for their success.

Another strength of Archives Management is the efficiency in the way it handles and delivers the files and paperwork they store for their clients. The speedy and accurate retrieval of stored records is made possible by the company’s use of cutting-edge technology.

“We’re in a situation where technology and customer service coincide,” he said. “We are great users of technology. We are extremely, extremely computerized.”

Archives Management has made significant investments in the past four years on new technology to improve the business. Employees use sophisticated hand-held scanners, costing about $2,000 each, to keep track of orders on the delivery run. They also have printers costing $1,000 each that can print receipts with activity records for each document, so they know exactly where the paperwork has been.

So what is the secret of his personal success? “None! There is no secret,” Wasserstein chuckles.

To be good in business, however, his first advice is to always start out with a good business. As his own experience shows, a good business is one that has good economic characteristics and fundamentals, and covers a lot of business sense.

Second, an entrepreneur must be energetic, optimistic and full of passion about his or her own business. “Your business will not succeed on 20 or 40 hours a week. It’s got to be your number one priority probably for at least the first 3-5 years. Then maybe after 5 years, it is a real business and will have some energy and progress on its own. But initially you are the driving force behind your business.”

An entrepreneur also needs to be success and development-oriented, possessing sheer energy and persistence to just keep going. Sometimes, business owners need to call a customer 20 to 50 times just to follow-up, and this requires persistence. “I think some people fail to recognize that the persistence factor is what really drives a lot of people to success in all walks of life,” says Wasserstein. Persistence, creativity, ingenuity, coupled with a thick skin to handle all the rejections -- these are the tools of entrepreneurial success.