In 1999, Alice Reimer, her husband, Brian, and family friend Sean Fynn started Evoco Inc., a Calgary-based company that helps construction companies, real estate developers and building owners save time and money in completing new construction and remodelling projects.
After taking several years to find the best markets for their solution, they found success with one of the world's largest retailers. This customer made Evoco a profitable business, but the trio wanted to build a global business and establish themselves as an industry leader.
There was one small problem. Evoco was not allowed to mention the name of the very large retailer that was now its customer.
This created a challenge: How could the company attract other large and profitable clients without being able to leverage the credibility of having one of the world's largest retailers as a very satisfied client?
Mr. Reimer taught computer-aided design (CAD) at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) back when most people were still on dial-up modems. One day, he and Ms. Reimer started to think about the thousands of dollars companies spent on drawings and renderings of buildings that were printed and shipped to the various parties involved in the process of constructing or remodelling a building.
"Printing and distributing documents for one location alone can cost $3,000 to $5,000 during construction. Imagine that cost multiplied by a volume of buildings and the number of changes to designs along the way, and you can see how quickly it adds up," she says.
They started to talk with Mr. Fynn, a data-warehousing expert then working in Silicon Valley, about all the money these companies could save if they shared CAD files over the Web instead. The three created Evoco, now a 75-employee company.
"We spent most of our time in the early years educating the market on how the Internet and software-as-a-service (SaaS), or what is now called cloud computing, could help businesses be more efficient and significantly reduce project costs" says Ms. Reimer, Evoco's president and chief executive officer. Mr. Fynn is now the vice-president of information technology and Mr. Reimer left Evoco to start another company, but remains on its board.
"We were SaaS before SaaS was sassy," Ms. Reimer adds.
Then Ms. Reimer received a call from an architectural design firm in the United States. The firm's own customer – one of the world's largest retail chains – was about to build hundreds of new locations in the United States and needed a way to share drawings and architectural renderings within the company and with outside parties, such as architects, consultants, contractors, permit issuers and vendors.
"Saving a few thousand dollars on each store would add up to millions of dollars, given the number of stores the retailer was planning to build," Mrs. Reimer says.
Evoco ended up with that large retailer as its own customer, building for it a customized product that automated some of its complex building programs and saved the client hundreds of thousands of dollars. This earned Evoco the status of trusted adviser and helped its founders learn the many nuances of large-scale construction projects. The company remains a customer.
The founders used these lessons to build a proprietary platform which, along with related services, helps customers building or remodelling at least 20 locations cut printing and distribution costs, increase environmental compliance, and maximize returns on capital investments by helping retailers get new and remodelled stores finished sooner.
Every day that is saved in opening a store that is new or remodelled helps to generate revenue more quickly, which directly affects the bottom line. "In the industry they talk about 'revenue weeks – the importance of holding a store build on schedule knowing that every week of delay in a store opening ultimately comes down to revenue impacting consequences" Ms. Reimer explains.
As cloud computing started to become a more accepted business model, the timing was right to go after new accounts with a platform that was at the leading edge. But getting other large chains to bite without the ability to name their initial large customer provided difficult for Evoco.
After conducting a sales analysis on Evoco's very large retail customer Mrs. Reimer realized how much leading retailers work with numerous suppliers during the construction process, and how much strong relationships with key suppliers in the construction industry could be a viable way to gain business from these big retail companies.
So she made the creation of strong relationships with key suppliers – architects, engineering firms, and general contractors – the company's first priority.
While technology makes it less expensive and easier to have virtual meetings, Ms. Reimer felt that, as a supplier outside of the United States in a fairly niche market, only face-to-face meetings would create true business-building relationships.
To speed this process, Evoco invested in being part of industry organizations, sending multiple team members to conferences, and exhibiting at and attending trade shows where these suppliers and retailers congregated.
"It was important to be a part of the community, to have that personal touch to our name, and to develop the kind of relationships that only face-to-face meetings can nurture" Ms. Reimer says.
The personal touch and face-to-face meetings have proven extremely successful, but they've come at some personal cost.
"Most of the sales and executive team have gold frequent flier status, and I personally spend better than half my time on the road. I'm often greeted at the Calgary airport on a first name basis," Ms. Reimer says.
It wasn't long before key retailers, architects, engineering firms and general contractors understood the value of being part of a system that expedited new construction and remodel volume build programs that would save time, reduce complexity, and help retailers start to generate revenue more quickly.
"These architects, engineer firms and general contractors became huge advocates – or as Seth Godin [a top marketing author] calls them 'sneezers' – who made introductions and talked to their customers about the merits of using Evoco's product," Ms. Reimer says.
Evoco now has a global business that serves some of the world's top retailers, including Luxottica Group, whose subsidiaries include Sunglass Hut International, LensCrafters and PearleVision, as well as Home Depot Inc., and Cineplex Inc..
These customers helped expand Evoco's product offerings to include newly launched construction bid, change order, and invoice management modules that help streamline processes and provide visibility to budget forecasts and cash flow, as well as having the company launch an iPad application for in-field inspections.
"I'm extremely proud of what the team has accomplished over these past years. We now have large, recognizable customers whose name we can leverage, and great relationships with key suppliers in the industry. I'm looking forward to what the next few years holds for us as we build out a global business," Ms. Reimer says.
Craig Elias is the founder of Shift Selling Inc. and an entrepreneurship instructor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.
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