How the Automation of a Family Business Led to Its Sale
Member of the founding family, eBlueprint
How does a conservatively run, family-owned company manage the conversion from a byzantine series of manual blueprint operations to streamlined web-based automation and not only survive, but thrive? The experience of Cleveland-based e-Blueprint provides more than a few clues. And Brett Scully, a member of the second generation of the founding family, shared them with OVA members at the October 10th luncheon.
Begun in 1972 as Lakeside Blueprint by Brett's father, Anthony Skully, the company did reasonably well over the years, growing by a healthy 8-10% through much of the 1980s, and attracting a loyal group of core employees who started with the company at an early age and stayed for many years.
Brett explained that, owing to his father's ingrained conservatism, the company was marked by a similarly conservative operational and financial style through much of its history. While that may have frustrated him at first, he recalled, it also helped save the company during a couple of especially difficult periods, when many others probably would have been forced out of business. "Being conservative really saved us," he said. "We were so close to blowing out, but we never did."
Still, the company's processes were complicated, even convoluted, and its management team knew there had to be a better, more efficient and less costly way to operate.
Lakeside slowly began to computerize and otherwise streamline parts of its processes. Then, as the Internet hit its stride in the second half of the 1990s, management saw that it needed to convert its operations to the web. They fumbled around at first, and eventually pulled back. Eventually the company went to a major web developer, which charged $50,000 for a feasibility study (it found that Lakeside couldn't afford to do what the contractor was suggesting).
They fired that company, but began closely studying its report. Eventually management found the right contractor, and began tackling the online process conversion project once more. This web developer forced the leadership team to explain in great detail precisely what services it provided its clients, which proved to be more difficult than it would have appeared.
"It was so frustrating, because seemingly the easiest part—explaining what we did—was the hardest part," Brett recalled.
The web contractor eventually broke down all the company's operations into 128 flow charts, a first step toward making the services available for clients online. "We took every one of those flow charts and worked with it," Scully said. In 2001 came the debut of its online service, eBlueprint.com. "Our business completely changed. Old machines were going out the door and new ones were coming in." By July 2005, the company had reached a milestone: the operation was paperless. That same year, the company changed its name to eBlueprint.
With a couple million dollars invested in the fully electronic system, eBlueprint now wanted to earn a real return from that proprietary technology. "It gave us some pricing advantage, but we wanted to use it to really get a pop," he recalled. The most obvious path seemed to be growth through a merger and/or acquisition. Just as the company, which was now doing about $11 million a year in annual business, began considering its options, the biggest player in its industry—American Reprographics—came shopping, and made a purchase offer they couldn't refuse. In October 2007, the deal was finalized, and the previous CEO of eBlueprint remains a divisional president for the parent company.
True to the bootstrapping corporate culture of the one-time Lakeside Blueprint, he began with the company in 1986, as a delivery driver.
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Located in Ohio, Mr. Carter is an IN-State Investment Specialist to Credit Suisse’s Customized Fund Investment Group. He is responsible for managing the $102 million Ohio-Midwest Fund, a regionally-targeted private equity program focused on high-performing venture, growth and buyout fund investments.
He also has oversight responsibilities for all the other CFIG regionally-targeted programs, including the Venture Michigan Fund, Michigan 21st Century Investment Fund, Indiana Future Fund, as well as others.
As an example of potential impact of regionally-targeted programs, the Ohio-Midwest Fund has committed $72 million dollars to 12 return-oriented fund managers, who in turn have:
- invested over $125 million into Ohio businesses,
- attracted an additional $62 million in co-investment dollars to these businesses,
- positively impact over 2,600 Ohio jobs.
Mel also serves on a number of private equity, economic development, and charitable boards.
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Specialty Equipment for the Motor Sports Industry
Doc Z International, Ltd., has been selling starters in the motor sports industry for several years. But it hopes to expand its business significantly with its patented, low-cost dynamometer/load tester that offers increased diagnostic abilities to small to mid-sized maintenance shops serving the motorcycle, moped and motor scooter market.
The company is seeking $190,000 to finalize engineering, establish inventory and fund promotional and sales activities.
For more information, contact president Art Zimmerman, at email@example.com, or by going to www.doczintl.com.
The Pierogie Lady Hopes Second Time is a Charm
In the 1990s, Mary Poldruhi and her company Parma Pierogies went from start-up to working-class legends after presidential candidate Bill Clinton stopped at her store and raved about her and her product. He later crowned Mary one of his "faces of hope" and invited her to his inauguration. But the company went out of business in 1999. Now, she wants to try again.
She teased OVA members by recounting how, after being downsized from her job at AT&T, she made a presentation to the group in 1991, asking for a $250,000 investment. "You told me it wouldn't work," she recalled, adding that after she successfully launched anyway, she later got invited by OVA to be a keynote speaker. "So listen up this time."
She is seeking $2 million for a building and specialty equipment.
For more information, contact CEO Mary Poldruhi, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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