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Carl Schell

Usherwood Office Technology Dealer Profile

Nourishing Growth and Positive Energy through Managed IT

Jul 25, 2016 12:22:28 PM

Usherwood Office Technology logo

Fast Facts
History in Brief: Created in 1976, quickly became the leading regional provider of Information Technology solutions and services; aggressively integrating the past with the future to deliver managed IT to customers in New York and Vermont, as well as parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire
Headquarters: Syracuse, New York
Locations: 9 (New York, Vermont)
Employees: Approximately 120
Hardware Partners: (A3) Canon, Samsung, Xerox; (A4) HP, Lexmark, Samsung; (Production) Canon, Océ
Noteworthy Software Partners: Canon (uniFLOW), Nuance (eCopy), PaperCut, Pharos, Square 9

“Most people around Syracuse know me more for my love of hockey than the business my family has run for 40 years,” Lou Usherwood said. That will soon change, no doubt, considering Usherwood Office Technology has taken gigantic steps forward in the last three years and is poised for even greater growth.

“Very few times in our history have we felt a pure excitement for what we do and how we do it, from everyone in the company, but that’s clearly the case today,” he said. “The IT piece adds a whole other level of sophistication and complexity, which brings new challenges—and when you’re challenged, you’re usually most happy.”

While managed IT (MIT) isn’t Usherwood’s primary revenue stream, it’s a primary driver in both customer engagement and closing deals. A decade ago, before MIT became a “thing” in the industry, the company sat at $7 million in revenue. By 2013, before launching its Odyssey Global network monitoring software, revenue had increased to $12 million. But last year, with MIT outpacing even the key segment of production (15 and 10 percent of revenue, respectively), the company pushed past $23 million.

Lou Usherwood, President and CEO of Usherwood Office Technology
Lou Usherwood, President and CEO of Usherwood Office Technology

Since Lou purchased the business from his parents in 1997, he’s adhered to the philosophy of “opportunistic expansion,” that is, to fly under the radar and maneuver swiftly. “We acquired two dealers in Binghamton and converted them into a single office, but we had to reach the bigger cities in Upstate New York to feel the impact,” he said. “I’d rather ‘cold start’ a location, and thanks to some key personnel we hired and Canon‘s support of our dealership, including through its leasing portfolio, Rochester is our second largest branch.”

Similarly, the company opened an office near Burlington, Vermont, about a year ago and then merged with Exterus Technology for Business less than six months later—a move that not only brought regional help into the fold but netted the Xerox office line, too. “We fell short of our ‘Statewide by 2005’ goal, but we’ve still benefitted in many ways and it’s given us the confidence to go farther east, to Boston,” he said. “To think that Usherwood had 70 percent share in the two counties we originally served…”

The company’s story around production began in 2008, also via talent acquisition. Usherwood had never been in that space, but these new employees had the understanding and the attitude to make it happen. As he explained, the company isn’t equipped to handle very high volume production, but it can definitely accommodate customers in the 10 million impressions per month range. “It thrills me that we’re on the second or third generation of production devices with a number of our clients,” he said.

Lou reported that the company’s Top 10 customers represent 15 percent of revenue, with SMBs accounting for much of the rest of the pie. He views wide format as an “interesting” market but doesn’t see significant growth from it. And always one for balance and diversification, he’s directed the salesforce to hit “down the street” businesses to improve the company’s onesie-twosie base, in somewhat of a return to Usherwood’s roots.

“Very few times in our history have we felt a pure excitement for what we do and how we do it, from everyone in the company, but that’s clearly the case today. The IT piece adds a whole other level of sophistication and complexity, which brings new challenges—and when you’re challenged, you’re usually most happy.” –Lou Usherwood

The company’s legacy in MIT dates back to 1983. “My dad is open-minded and progressive—he likes to take chances and saw an opportunity with computers,” he said. “Charlie, my older brother, had been learning about MS-DOS and was spearheading that initiative. He left Usherwood for about nine years and worked at Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems, and it was during that time that we stopped selling computers. They were becoming commoditized, RadioShack had entered that picture, and there wasn’t a clear vision of where they were heading.

“So once I bought the company, I called Charlie,” he continued. “We agreed the computer industry was eventually going to cross with document imaging in a more serious way than previously, and that it would be smart to get ahead of the competition with servicing IT needs. Then, he accepted my offer to be our CTO.”

Leading from the front, the brothers went to a Microsoft boot camp to gain that certification, which would be huge in forming partnerships, they thought. Lou passed the first test—Windows NT Workstation—but failed all the others, though he did come up just a point shy in TCP/IP subnetting. Charlie, conversely, soared through the battery without blinking an eye.

Usherwood’s foundation in IT was helpful when digital printers and MFPs arrived, but the Microsoft certification cemented the fact that the company was thinking outside of the box—pun intended. It began by selling MS Server, Exchange Server and Small Business Server and was also able to deploy SQL Server (at one point it even built its own servers, but that wasn’t profitable). “Our Microsoft tech could talk to your Microsoft tech, which made us look tech savvy and we won many deals because of it,” he said.

Now, all efforts revolve around managed IT, of integrating hardware and software with the infrastructure as a service that results in a more controlled environment. Lou admits he would have loved having IT partners back in the day, but the notion that IT can be a turnkey solution is completely insane to him. “You have to be willing to invest $1.5 million,” he said. “You must train and certify educated people—it’s not about turning wrenches, so don’t just have your best copier techs supporting IT. You’ll make the same mistakes we did, and we’ve made a lot of them.”

Serving New York, Vermont and parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Usherwood Office Technology is headquartered in Syracuse and has eight other branches.
Usherwood's showroom in Burlington, VT

If MIT is big in the office, hockey is even bigger in the Usherwood household. Lou himself plays three or four times a week, participates with Charlie in the over-50 national tournament in Florida, and has coached all three of his daughters—his 2007 Syracuse Stars squad finished third in the nation. And for the record, he’s a diehard Blackhawks fan and his wife roots for the Penguins.

Those two teams have hoisted the Stanley Cup a combined five times since 2009, but it all still pales in comparison to the “One of the Best Places to Work in Central New York” award the company has claimed in each of the last two years. “What I’m especially proud of is that it’s based on people writing in to describe why their organization deserves the recognition,” he said. “The human resource is as important as the financial resource.

“Attracting quality workers and keeping them is similar to customer service,” he continued. “When done correctly, it transcends any time period. So, regardless of how big Usherwood gets, we want both our employees and clients to get a sense of that boutique experience, because that’s an easy and proven way of fostering loyalty.”

“You have to be willing to invest $1.5 million. You must train and certify educated people—it’s not about turning wrenches, so don’t just have your best copier techs supporting IT. You’ll make the same mistakes we did, and we’ve made a lot of them.”  –Lou Usherwood

According to Lou, being in managed IT isn’t about the number of deals, it’s about the right deals—organizations must value both print and IT, and even then it’s not guaranteed—and that free isn’t scalable. “Years ago, if a business needed 50 laptops, we’d go in and do it for nothing,” he said. “But that changed around 2013, when we transitioned to billing for everything and ensuring that the customer has everything it needs.”

To support MIT, the company has a couple of vCIOs, a pair of SMEs and, of course, CTO Charlie Usherwood. Beyond that, Odyssey Global—company-branded software for SMNP device discovery—is a “total play” for any document imaging technology infrastructure. Part MIT and part MPS, it provides diagnostics on virtually anything, such as when toner is low or out, device service is required or, for computers, if there’s an error with a hard drive that could lead to a bigger issue.

After the full evaluation of the environment, Usherwood makes recommendations to the organization—which carries a $1,500 fee because the business can walk away with the suggestions in hand and not have to sign a contract. Customers must commit to a three-year MIT deal with Usherwood and then they receive quarterly reviews to help strategize devices and documents and build a more efficient office.

All this end-to-end monitoring is done in the Technical Assistance Center (TAC), which is 12 people strong and covers Tiers 1–3. Obviously of vital importance to what Usherwood is about these days, the TAC recently closed 80 percent of first-level IT issues in a week without having to send a tech—within reach of the company’s target of 90 percent for IT calls.

A dealer is like a big ship in that it could take some time to turn around. If you ask Lou Usherwood, this is precisely the case with managed IT. “You might have the money, you might have the expertise, but your culture just might not support it, let alone allow it,” he said. “But once your team is on board and synced up, that massive cruise liner will suddenly feel like a motorboat and changes will start happening, organically and rapidly.”

Hockey is a big passion of Lou and Charlie Usherwood—and they don’t just watch from the stands.
Shoot that puck and score that goal!