Though its founding day might indicate a trick is about to be pulled, Knoxville, TN-based Thermocopy did, in fact, begin on April 1, 1964, with Randall Sumner and two partners each kicking in $50 investments to go with a $3,000 note for operating capital. The company debuted as a dealer for NCR, selling its brand of Thermocopy paper. The name seemed a natural fit.
The company plugged away during that first year, generating revenues of $20,158 selling the paper and NCR adding machines. Randall Sumner’s son, Steve, purchased the company from his father in 1994 and immediately embarked on a five-year plan aimed at reaching the $10 million plateau, which would enable it to compete with the IKONs and Dankas of the world. Sumner pursued a number of larger accounts and the company expanded its geographic footprint.
More than 50 years later, the company has grown to the $14 million mark, backed by 65 employees and a Mountain Empire branch located in Johnson City, TN. It offers clients the full line of Ricoh products and also provides HP large-format inkjet printers and Kyocera printers. Its solutions partners include EcoprintQ, PSIGEN, M-Files and Fujitsu.
Thermocopy has carved out a niche for itself serving the East Tennessee market and continues its growth strategy with the help of newer offerings, including managed IT and cloud services. The company has its share of raving fans, and its president is determined to continue his father’s vision of being the best, rather than the biggest. We spoke with President Steve Sumner to learn about how these new services will enable the company to fulfill its founder’s ideals.
How is business this year? Where do you see your greatest opportunities for growth?
SUMNER: We are on track to hit or exceed our target growth number of 10 percent by the end of the year. There were several keys. We changed our territory strategy to geographic territories. We had an open system prior to last year. We’re getting a lot of traction out of managed IT, which we rolled out this year. Our greatest opportunities for growth continue to be with the products that are our economic engine: MFDs, printers, and solutions that integrate with those products. However, to enhance future revenue streams and profits, in January we implemented a business plan to sell a suite of professional services, including managed IT, cloud solutions, and security compliance audits.
Tell us about the suite of professional services. How has it fared so far?
SUMNER: We have watched companies that were early adopters of managed IT lose bucket-loads of money over the last 10 years. We hope to have learned from the mistakes and successes of companies that have made profits in the business. It is a difficult sell. We sold our first managed IT deal in April. We are seeing more leads all the time, which is a large part of the game. I am optimistic.
What does Thermocopy pride itself on?
SUMNER: Even before the term “raving fans” was coined and became part of popular lexicon, we were creating raving fans. My father did not set out to be the largest technology company in East Tennessee, but he always wanted to be the best. I, and our team, strive to carry on that legacy. We are committed to serving our clients, employees, and community. Today, there are more tools available to measure that component, including the Net Promoter Score, which for us is hovering at 96-plus year-to-date. I am proud of that and the efforts the Thermocopy team have put into making that score what it is.
Tell us about your Prntworks+ managed print services.
SUMNER: The development of our Printworks+ program was the result of differentiating us from our competition at a time in our industry when every account representative was saying the same thing to the client: that is, the customer should consolidate printers to MFDs as the prints are less expensive than the MFDs. Of course, that was a correct statement, but let’s face it, printers were and still are considered an entitlement, and most administrators did not want to fight that battle. Also, most organizations did not really know what their printing costs were. Our Image Output Assessment (QuickView) is the major component of the program. It is a deliverable that calculates and demonstrates to the client what are their true printing costs and inefficiencies. We do not always deliver cost savings, but we do always provide a plan for our clients to account for every cost going forward and to make their operations more efficient.
How does the QuickView program enhance customer processes and overall efficiency?
SUMNER: The QuickView immediately zooms in on a company’s current total print environment usage and costs. It is then utilized to intelligently and effectively offer suggestions to realign their print environment technology and processes, often improving productivity and decreasing expenditures almost immediately. The client receives an IOA (QuickView) document that includes an introduction to management explaining the process; an outline of the key interviews with priority end-users and any discovered information; an asset list of all equipment found in the equipment layout phase of the assessment; and a basic layout of the office environment and equipment. Finally, they receive a print audit segmented in a variety of ways to include total prints by printer, total prints organization wide, and the costs associated with current document flow. They also receive suggestions and recommendations that include how to improve costs and productivity within the document flow model. It is a strategy for moving forward with improving information management.
Your company has been ranked number one in the Ricoh Prestige Certification Program for technical service. What makes your service organization so strong?
SUMNER: I am very proud of our service department’s success. In 2007, we started putting great emphasis on and incentivizing our technicians to achieve professional IT certifications. At that time, we also added a certified trainer to our staff. I believe that this is what laid the groundwork for their recent success. Also, there is a healthy competitive spirit within the department. Bottom line, we have the right people on the bus!
How does the Centriworks division, which offers comprehensive software solutions, fit into the overall value proposition of Thermocopy as a separate entity?
SUMNER: The Centriworks division was formed in 2005 to house all our solutions products, our Image Output Assessment/QuickView, and now our managed IT services. The value proposition is simple: when selling our Printworks+ program, an independent consultant trained specifically to do assessments performs the task as opposed to a sales person. This adds credibility to the process and helps to overcome the old technology connotation of the Thermocopy name.
What do you look for in your employees? How do you recruit and retain good ones?
SUMNER: We typically recruit by utilizing our centers of influence. We are looking for candidates that exhibit the behavioral energy to do the job. We have been a client of Riordan and Associates for years and utilize their process to determine a candidate’s behavioral energy. It is very comprehensive and includes a screening interview, then a behavioral energy assessment which determines the candidates “can do,” and a long interview (two to three hours in length) in which the hiring manager determines the candidates “will do.” We retain good people by making sure they have the right attitude, skills, and knowledge to do the job. This provides the team members a good foundation with which to succeed in our organization.
Did your company make a big investment in the past year or hold an event?
SUMNER: We have just started a remodeling project that will easily cost as much as the original cost of the buildings. The whole facility is receiving a facelift. We didn’t have a collaborative space for our young employees to gather; we were basically a cubicle farm. This is the most significant investment in the facilities since 1993. The remodeled facilities will support our recruiting and marketing efforts.
Who do you see as your biggest competition, and how do you differentiate your company from them?
SUMNER: Our biggest competition are those companies which always, no matter what the situation, take the “no margin” route to sales. In most cases, the company’s management team is doing their clients a disservice because most of the time the client, through their vendor’s fault, is ignorant of the possibilities. They give away margins required to reinvest in the company, and their sales representatives are not true trained consultants but rather order takers. We differentiate ourselves by offering the client/prospect a free education pertaining to their document flow environment and what the future possibilities are from the best technology company in town. It does not work all the time, but it works enough of the time that I like our odds!
Environmental consciousness is important to your company. Tell us about your Greenworks program and the GoGreenET.com online resource for customers.
SUMNER: The Greenworks program is part of Thermocopy’s commitment to be an environmentally responsible business partner. The program is designed to help Thermocopy as well as its clients become better stewards of the Earth’s resources. Greenworks grew out of our nomination in 2007 for a Pinnacle Award recognizing the company’s excellence in the East Tennessee business community.
In 2008, we founded GoGreenET.com, a free, online resource created to guide East Tennessee businesses and other organizations towards being more environmentally responsible. The site provides basic information about products and services that can help your business meet its sustainability goals. The goal is improvement, not perfection. GoGreenET.com also encourages businesses to look for ways that go beyond the basic first steps presented on the website.
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
SUMNER: My wife Donna and I live on Norris Lake with our two daughters. We spend a lot of time on the water surfing and water skiing with friends. We are also surrounded by national parks and state forests with hundreds of miles of off-road trails. When we are not on the water I enjoy exploring the back roads and trails on off-road motorcycles.