A Market In Motion
Digital content creation applications require plenty of storage. Integrator Atlanta CAD Services not only provides the storage, but offers high-tech integration and creative services for its clients.
ACS had been offering computer aided design (CAD) services and products for four years when, in 1990, a customer made an unusual request. The customer had designed a manufacturing facility for a large company and was preparing to display the plans at an upcoming engineering seminar. But, instead of traditional blueprints and models, the architect wanted ACS to create a virtual tour of the plant.
"We knew it could be done, but we also knew it would be pricey," recalls Billy Casanova, vice president of the family-owned ACS. "Hollywood was using this type of technology in movies, but we had to find a product that would work on a PC." Research led ACS to discover a PC-based product called 3-D Studio. After numerous sleepless nights and frustrating days, the VAR completed its virtual tour of the manufacturing facility.
Since that initial project, ACS has changed dramatically. Digital content creation (DCC) has exploded. "People started coming to us for this new service. It really started to mushroom," says Casanova. He estimates that 90% of ACS' gross sales now comes from DCC services, and 10% comes from traditional CAD services. Those numbers were reversed only eight years ago. The 14-employee company now focuses much of its energy on staying on the cutting edge of the DCC market. From hiring employees with artistic skills to holding frequent seminars, ACS prides itself on being a one-stop shop for DCC customers.
Staying Ahead Of The Technology Curve
Most people might associate DCC with animated commercials or special effects in movies and television shows. However, there are also more practical uses for the technology, such as computer- or Web-based training programs and streaming video over the Internet. Only now, with the convergence of processor speed, bandwidth and inexpensive memory, are many more DCC applications becoming possible. The recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference reaffirmed the direction of ACS.
As Casanova wandered the show floor, he saw that companies, en masse, were converting from a linear to a digital broadcast environment. While some companies were scrambling to capitalize on this trend, ACS had already positioned itself. "The entire market is heading toward digital and we're already there. Potential customers were asking us about solutions that are pretty standard for us. In fact, we are getting ready to move on to the next step of this technology," comments Casanova.
Obviously, selling commodity products is no way to make big profits. That's why ACS tries to stay at least three to five years ahead of the technology curve. One of the best ways to stay ahead of technology is to work very closely with your vendors. For example, DCC applications require massive amounts of storage. One second of digital animation requires 30 frames, and some frames are 4 MB in size. In a one-minute commercial, for instance, the storage adds up quickly. To solve the inevitable storage problems that accompany a DCC sale, ACS works with vendors to create new solutions. Two years ago, the company was conducting seminars about Fibre Channel technology in storage systems. Now, many end users and vendors are moving toward Fibre Channel. "You have to work with the technology before your customers are ready to adopt it," says Casanova. "You have to find one client to whom productivity is more important than budget. Then you can do R&D (research and development) with that client and come up with new solutions."
Attracting Big And Small Clients
The DCC market has exposed ACS to a wide range of clients. Some clients are digital animation artists who work in small offices or home offices. Other clients are Fortune 500 companies. Similar to most markets, large companies tend to have a longer sales cycle than smaller companies. "A complete system sale to a small company usually costs between $15,000 and $50,000, and the process is pretty simple. We require a 25% deposit, and the balance is COD," explains Casanova.
Selling to corporate customers is not usually as straightforward for ACS. In most cases, a person within a department of a large company contacts ACS. If that person is sold on the technology, then ACS and the company employee must champion the sale to senior management. "Senior management is usually leery about implementing new technology. They want to see proof of concept, or, more often than not, proof that a competitor is using the technology," adds Casanova.
A recent sale is typical of how ACS lands corporate accounts. The head of a training department within a large company contacted ACS to help with a computer-based training application. The company wanted to disseminate training information with video over an intranet. "We explained to the representative what needed to be done and he saw how it would impact the company's network. So, we needed to talk to the MIS (management information system) staff and the CIO," says Casanova. "In this case, I came in the back door and got a meeting with the CIO. Now, we had an opportunity to sell an enterprise application and more storage. We would never have been in that situation if all we had was another ‘me, too' solution."
Helping Your Competition Help You
If visitors drop by ACS unannounced, the odds are fairly good that they will be able to attend a seminar of some type. The company conducts seminars on its products and applications up to three times each week. Casanova not only invites current and potential customers to the seminars, but he also invites competitors. However, competitors sitting in ACS' 50-person conference room don't bother Casanova. Actually, he says he benefits from it.
"At the seminars, we talk about the cutting-edge solutions that we are developing and new technology that we are using. Our competitors who attend the seminars aren't nearly as advanced as we are," comments Casanova. As a result, competitors rarely leave the seminars and then bid against ACS on a future deal. It is more likely that competitors will recommend ACS to customers who are looking for a high-end DCC solution. Or, competitors might call ACS if they need assistance on a DCC sale.
Using What You Sell
ACS' focus on the DCC market has led the company to offer products and services that other VARs do not. For instance, ACS will perform digital animation for customers that need to outsource the work. Also, ACS will thoroughly test a new system before installing it at a customer site. Because ACS uses the systems it sells to customers, the company is more than qualified to make the proper system recommendations.
Casanova uses a joke about the difference between a used car salesman and a computer salesman to prove his point. "The difference is that the used car salesman knows when he's lying," quips Casanova. "You have to understand what you are selling to your customers. Some customers will shop our quote around and go with a less expensive VAR. Inevitably, those customers will come back to us and be willing to pay for the added services we provide."