Guest Column | November 1, 2018

Retail Resellers: Build Your Business Around Hardware, Not On It

By Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor

Instead of lamenting over shrinking hardware margins, Technology Recovery Group (TRG) continues to diversify with unique offerings that keep its tier-one retail clients coming back for more.

Sean Kennedy
Sibling Revelry Brewing is nestled in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, just 1.2 miles down the road from Technology Recovery Group’s (TRG) headquarters. The brewery is housed in former office space that TRG has long since outgrown. The most recent of Sean Kennedy’s business ventures is a unique taproom experience, furnished with an industrial look fitting for its Rust Belt location and serviced by visiting food trucks. His other business is a bit harder to describe.

A quick glance at the TRG website might suggest Kennedy still makes his living off hardware. When it comes to hardware, TRG buys it, sells it, rents it, repairs it, deploys it, services it, and manages it. While other solutions providers in the retail world are busy lamenting the decline in hardware margins, TRG has busied itself with diversifying its offerings. In doing so, the company grew 30 percent in 2017 and is in the midst of a hiring frenzy.

Today, hardware accounts for only about one-quarter of its business. The rest is a combination of retail and mobile managed services, software, and 24/7 help desk services. Plus, in the last six months of 2018, TRG added sophisticated payment solutions and a media and consumables division to handle packaging, ID, and tracking needs for customers. Those customers, by the way, include the likes of Nike, Energizer, UPS, and Delta Airlines. Kennedy went from selling enterprise security solutions fresh out of college to a 24-year-old with a side business in 2002 aimed at extending the life cycle of old monitors and routers, to building a solutions provider with revenue well into the nine figures. He is adamant that TRG’s success is the result of tried and true business strategies — the usual tactics of reinvesting in the business, hiring the right people and investing in them, and staying ahead of market trends and customer needs. TRG is also breaking the mold with its service offerings. In doing so the company is taking the concept of “total solutions provider” — one of the most often misuse and overused phrases in the IT channel — to a new and innovative level.

SHOWCASING SOLUTIONS

TRG, which falls under the TruWest LLC umbrella Kennedy manages along with partners Michael R. Kennedy and Matthew R. Kennedy, first landed on Channel Executive’s radar when the company announced the opening of its 40,000-square-foot Retail Deployment Center. It’s one thing to add to your line card, but TRG moved well beyond that with an offering this innovative and sophisticated.

Like the brewery, the Retail Deployment Center adds to Kennedy’s real estate footprint. It’s right down the street from TRG’s 90,000-square-foot office. “Our deployment business, especially for our retail customers, has just gone through the roof. We were getting jammed up,” Kennedy says. “When you’re deploying 25,000 HP registers, or 15,000 Riverbed WAN optimization devices, or 10,000 Ingenico units, or 30,000 iPads, or 6,000 Zebra TC70s for stores, you need a lot more real estate.”

This new real estate is much more than a warehouse for hardware. As its name suggests, this was built for large-scale deployments and staging for retail customers. It also doubles as a showcase room. In a sense, TRG has recreated a trade show floor. Instead of retailers having to battle the cold and the crowds that come with the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show in New York every January, customers can see the latest and greatest in Westlake, OH. TRG constructed a mock store within the Retail Deployment Center so customers can see technology in action. The “store” includes things like four fully functional checkout lanes and digital signage. On the actual warehouse side of the building, TRG has set up a live retail distribution center, equipped with an industrial thermal mobile printing showcase and RFID-enabled inventory.

"Our view on the hardware is that it's just a piece of the puzzle, but you need it."

It’s to be expected that the Retail Deployment Center will boost hardware sales over time. But it’s the less obvious ROI that comes with relationship building that has the TRG team really excited. Kennedy says TRG has an average of three to five customers on-site each week, and in-person quarterly business reviews are a standard practice for all accounts. The ability to have the undivided attention of a customer for product demos is invaluable. “Our view on the hardware is that it’s just a piece of the puzzle, but you need it. I need to stage it, I need to configure it, I need to deploy it, I need to have my help desk services around it,” Kennedy says. “For that piece of the pie, we want to show our tier-one accounts the best technology out there.”

Showcasing the best technology extends beyond TRG’s new Retail Deployment Center too. Kennedy’s brewery is also a customer of sorts. TRG outfitted its old headquarters with the works: POS software, inventory management, and hardware. The brewery gives the TRG team an opportunity to eat its own dog food, plus it’s home to a 30-person conference room for offsite meetings. Better yet, the brewery’s growth rate is even better than TRG’s from a revenue percentage standpoint.

TAKING PAYMENTS IN-HOUSE

As if rolling out a 40,000-square-foot retail deployment center wasn’t enough to keep the TRG team busy, the company simultaneously announced another unique offering: encryption services with an in-house key injection facility. A solutions provider can’t just snap its fingers and earn ANSI TR-39, PCI PIN version 2 and Visa AOC certifications. Building this kind of solution takes someone with serious industry experience. That’s why Kennedy spent five months courting Stephen Bochniarz, whom he ultimately hired to lead the TRG Payment Solutions Division.

"This isn’t a lifestyle business for us; it’s a growth business, and to hit those growth goals year over year you need to offer your customers something else."

Bochniarz’s IT channel resume includes stints with Ingram Micro and Ingenico, and before that he cut his teeth in retail working in merchandising for The Home Depot. He knew what TRG wanted to build out was no easy task, especially since he had previously set up in-house encryption services for multiple distributors. “When Sean approached me to say, ‘Hey, how can we close the loop even further by offering payment terminals and payment solutions? What’s involved with that?’ I was blunt and said, ‘You really want to go up that tree?’” Kennedy did, and in doing so TRG is able to expedite deployment times for customers by working directly with manufacturers, distributors, and payment providers.

So why would TRG want to tackle in-house payment solutions when customers could work with vendors that already had those capabilities? Simple: Customers were asking for it, and TRG wants to be a one-stop-shop for its customers. And, of course, Kennedy realized the revenue potential. He sat down with Bochniarz to map out the costs of the project and a marketing launch date and made sure the entire TRG team was aware of the project moving forward. “This isn’t a lifestyle business for us; it’s a growth business, and to hit those growth goals year over year you need to offer your customers something else,” Kennedy says. “That’s what we thought about the payment and encryption services, that the clean room would be a great additional source of revenue for us, and it has been.”

EVOLVING SALES CHANNELS

Kennedy and his team aren’t resting on their laurels after the successful rollout of TRG’s Retail Deployment Center and Payment Solutions. He means it when he says TRG understands the need to keep offering customers more. The most recent addition, announced in September 2018, is an in-house media and consumables division to address packaging, ID, and tracking needs. TRG already had a strong reputation when it came to bar-coding and labeling hardware and service, so this was a natural progression to offer custom label/ribbon design, bulk ordering, and more.

These three new offerings are showing early signs of success, but one of TRG’s fastest growing P&Ls is the channel program launched less than two years ago. “Cuspetitors,” as Kennedy calls them, can white label TRG’s services, including refurbished hardware, site surveys, repairs, staging, configuration, and deployment. Partners can also customize TRG’s software tool, Service- Hub, which is a repair tracking, inventory, deployment, and asset management platform. Of the roughly 100 partners, a handful have learned enough from TRG to forge ahead on their own. “Some of them have actually called us up and said, ‘Hey, thanks so much, you guys have been great, but I think I’m ready to take this internally.’ I say, ‘No problem, best of luck to you.’ I’m a firm believer there’s enough pieces of the pie for everyone to be happy. My take on this is that if someone can steal my customer, that means I’m not doing a good job.”

To keep those customers happy and to support its expanded services and solutions, TRG’s headcount has grown by more than 50 employees in the last 12 months. Kennedy has stayed close to the hiring process. He laughs when he admits, “You know, I used to be a sales guy, and then I became president of a company. Now I feel like the Chief Interview Officer.”

Of TRG’s more than 275 employees, 40 make up a direct sales force. Today, Kennedy estimates about 30 percent of its revenue comes from hardware sales, managed services accounts for another 35 percent, repairs make up about 15 percent, and software sales and the 24/7 help desk bring in the remaining 20 percent. Not surprisingly, TRG’s revenue makeup is evolving. Kennedy predicts TRG’s revenue from hardware will settle between 12 and 18 percent. “We’re not going to build this business by just pushing boxes,” he says. “I’ve been pushing to drive that hardware number down over the last two years, and to sell more of the managed services. I believe what you tie around the hardware, the services and solutions, is where you’re going to make your money, and that’s where we’re heading.”

TRG’s progress in the last 12 months should serve as motivation for other VARs and MSPs. If Sean Kennedy can open a 40,000-square-foot deployment center, roll out encryption services, and hire 50 new people in a 12-month span — all while helping run a family-owned brewery — your business should be able to find the time to add something new to your line card as well.


TRG

Headquarters: Westlake, OH
Year Founded: 2002
Employees: 275+
Revenue: $110 MILLION
Offices: Cincinnati, Seattle, Ontario, The Netherlands
Growth Rate: Double-digit YoY growth for 10+ years
Verticals: Retail, Manufacturing, Warehouse/Distribution, Field Service/Delivery, Restaurant/Hospitality
Awards & Recognition: StayLinked’s 2017 Innovation Partner of the Year
2017 North American Channel Partner of the Year Award by Apex Supply Chain Technologies
B2M Solutions’ 2017 Partner of the Year Award


Riding The Customer Success Wave

Sean Kennedy’s resume is just as diverse as the solutions and offerings in the Technology Recovery Group (TRG) portfolio, where he is the president of this $100+ million solutions provider. When TRG outgrew its office space, Kennedy and his family turned the building into a brewery. When he’s not sipping craft beer or deploying tech for tier-one retail clients, he also has one foot in the SaaS world. Kennedy is a co-managing member of River SaaS Capital, which provides debt financing to growing SaaS businesses.

When Kennedy was asked what spurred TRG’s decision to add a customer success team to its 275+ employee count, he pointed back to the SaaS world. There, an efficient customer success operation is table stakes. In the managed services world, few can properly articulate the difference between customer success and customer support. TRG does have its own SaaS solution, a service portal called ServiceHub, but Kennedy’s desire to ramp up a customer success team will extend well beyond selling software. “Our sales reps take a lot of time nurturing accounts once they’re onboarded,” says Kennedy. “When they do that, they’re not out hunting and getting new business. We want a new customer success manager to come in and eventually build that customer relationship and push it along further, expand the service offerings, and grow the account.”

Currently this function is being handled by TRG’s sales administration and customer support team. Kennedy anticipates a separate customer success team will be critical to the company’s growth over the next 12 to 24 months. And at the rate TRG rolls out new services, Kennedy’s forecast for building a robust customer success team is a safe bet.