Right Down The Middle
Medium-sized systems integrator Carter Control Systems, Inc. benefits from being a mid-sized solutions provider. Here's how it's done.
Carter Control Systems, Inc., (Frederick, MD) has built a name for itself in the mailing industry, while having no desire to become a powerhouse. Company President Tom Carter likes his company's position in the market. At $15 million in sales and 70 employees last year, Carter Control Systems is a mid-sized company providing total solutions in the letter-mail and packaging segments of the mailing industry. The company has provided solutions for the U.S. Postal Service, Sears, American Express and AT&T.
The Benefits Of Being In The Middle
"I see being a mid-sized company as a benefit," Carter explains. "We are able to quickly move into market opportunities within our industry. This is possible because we are small enough that we don't have to manage by committee. Decisions can be made with just a few people."
"Our credit line is better than those of small companies. We are financially stable, and we can hire a more diverse workforce from which to draw."
Carter doesn't want the company to grow any larger than approximately 100 employees. "With that many employees and the current product we produce, I estimate we could reach $50 million. If we became any bigger, we would be forced to grow beyond our means or we'd have to put a limit on the number of projects we do in a year."
Carter Control Systems attracts customers through product demonstrations at trade shows and advertisements in trade publications. "We won the Sears account through a trade show," Carter says. "The retail store had a consultant searching for a mailing solution, and he stopped at our booth and liked what he saw."
Why Custom Solutions?
Solutions are tailor-made to fit Carter Control Systems customers. The company produces conveying equipment for both market segments (letter-mail and parcel), from the initial design concept to the finished product. Typical solutions include patented machinery, designed to sort mail or parcels in a mailroom or warehouse. This machinery is controlled by Carter Control Systems software, which also integrates fixed-mount bar-code scanners to speed up the shipping process. Fixed-mount HoloTrak bar-code scanners pull information from bar codes on letters or packages, and quickly tell the machinery where to send the mail.
In most installations, a second bar code is added after the package is scanned. "This second bar code contains mailing information like airline flight numbers and times of departure and arrival. This information is helpful if the package will be shipped by the U.S. Postal Service Airmail system. Similar information is located on address labels if shipment is made by carriers such as UPS, FedEx, or RPS," says Carter.
Keeping Large Accounts Through Customer Satisfaction
Despite its size, Carter Control Systems is able to attract larger companies because of its track record in customer satisfaction. "Normally, we work with companies that are mailing more than 1,000 parcels or trays of mail per day," Carter explains. "Each tray of mail holds 300 letters, so our systems are designed to handle at least 300,000 pieces of mail each day. Our typical customers are companies that send out large mailings, like phone companies and credit card companies." Catalog companies, parcel companies and fulfillment houses keep large amounts of stock in warehouses. When orders come into the warehouse, they are placed on a conveyor and are run through machines which direct the parcel to the various courier services.
Continuity In Customer Service
Carter Control Systems installs about 60 solutions per year. Each project engineer is responsible for 30 past and current projects at a time. "If a customer has a problem with its system, the same engineer who designed and installed the system handles repairs," says Carter. This gives customers and employees continuity, and the ability to build working relationships.
"Typical on-site installations take about one week to complete," says Carter. "For another week after the installation, we provide on-site support and employee training. But the greatest advantage to our customers is our remote diagnostic capabilities." Each of Carter's installations is equipped with a modem attached to the PC that runs the mailing system. Project managers can use the Internet to check on customers' systems in real time at the customers' requests.
"We've had remote diagnostic capabilities for the past year," says Carter, "and it has been a strong selling point. Since we have installations across the country, this technology saves us money in the long run. We don't pay to fly engineers to the site to fix every problem. A problem that can be diagnosed online can usually be fixed with a handful of instructions. Our customers can activate this service any time they wish. Diagnostic testing is included with every service package."
Project engineers can also use the online diagnostic function to make sure that systems are running at optimum levels. Carter details one case of a project engineer who caught an operation error by chance, as it was occurring.
"One of our engineers accessed an installation at CSG, a large commercial mailing facility in Omaha, NE. Obviously, a new operator was running the system that day. The operator kept pushing the machine's start button, and our project manager could see this in real time. An alarm also appeared on our screen stating that an access door was open on the machine. A safety function requires the access door remain closed during operation. The operator was not aware that the door was open and was causing the start failure. The engineer sent a typed message reading 'Close the access door,' which appeared on the operator's screen in real time. The alarm immediately disappeared, the machine started, and we haven't observed a problem since that incident."
Hiring And Keeping Employees
Carter retains project managers and other employees by offering an outstanding work environment. The company does this by:
- paying salaries instead of hourly wages for most employees
- promoting from within instead of hiring outside management
- paying for the entire cost of health insurance
- offering free life insurance
- providing profit sharing for vested employees
- offering 401K plans.
"We have less than a 5% turnover rate," boasts Carter. "I have employees who have been with the company since it was founded 18 years ago. Typically, if employees stay with us for a year, they will work for us for the duration of their careers. Again, having less than 100 employees is a benefit, because we know all of our employees."
Carter says he benefits from his company's location when it comes to hiring employees. "Since we are located in Frederick, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C., we can recruit in the Capital City, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the outlying areas of Maryland. Our employees avoid the traffic in the major cities."
The company has explored using the Internet as a hiring tool. "We recently used an online job hunter to place six employees. Our hopes are to use our Web site to advertise for new employees. We also hope it will attract more customers."