CELEBRATING 20 YEARS
IT WAS JULY 2001 WHEN PROSPERITY PLUS STARTED ITS FIRST OFFICIAL DAY IN WHAT'S BECOME TWO DECADES OF SUCCESSFUL CONSULTING. JOIN US AS WE TAKE A LOOK AT SOME HIGHLIGHTS AND REFLECTIONS.
A Milestone Anniversary is a Great Time to Reflect on an Evolving Industry
By Jim Kahrs
Prosperity Plus celebrated its 20th year in business in July, and as amazing as it is to consider how fast that period went by, I’m equally surprised at the 34-year span I’ve enjoyed in the office systems industry.
I started my career in October 1987 with Monroe Systems for Business. For those of you not familiar with Monroe, the company sold high-end adding machines and calculators as well as a line of copiers. I was hired fresh out of college as a sales rep in Suffolk County, NY. One thing that was very different when I started in the business was the type and level of training offered. Shortly after being hired, I was sent off to training classes in New Jersey where I was joined by other sales reps from around the USA. We received classroom training on sales skills. This was a great foundation for someone with no formal sales training or experience.
Along with basic sales training we were given in-depth product knowledge training. It was expected that every sales rep knows the systems we were selling inside and out. This included extensive training and drilling on demo skills. We learned to demonstrate every product and to tailor that demonstration to the potential customer’s specific needs. There was regular role playing in weekly meetings where we practiced sales skills and demo skills with our peers. In fact, Monroe, being a high-end calculator company, would have managers from headquarters come out to each branch to observe each sales rep’s calculator demo. Those who never’t had this training would be surprised at how much a calculator could do. There were many shortcuts that reduced the number of keystrokes needed to complete calculations.
To this day I still use the calculator skills I learned then. More importantly, I still use the sales and demo skills I learned. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that many dealers make is shortchanging their sales reps on sales and demo skills training. The internet has brought us so many great things, yet I believe it’s contributed to the deterioration of true sales training. Common practice today has many reps merely watch videos, and while that can be a great tool, it will never replace the practice, drilling and role playing that traditional training offered.
During my 34 years in the industry, I have also seen changes to the overall product offerings. In the late 1980s the fax machine became a business staple. This little machine revolutionized business communication. Instead of using overnight mail services or local couriers to quickly deliver paperwork, the fax machine could send it over a phone line in minutes. It was interesting to watch business transformation based on one simple tool that we had the ability to sell.
Shortly after the fax machine there was a big push to move copiers into higher volume settings that could unseat the offset press for many jobs. Manufacturers scrambled to bring faster, more versatile machines to the market. These larger systems allowed for automatic duplex copying, reversing document feeders for double-sided originals and multiple options for collating, stapling, folding, etc.
Things that are standard in today’s systems were revolutionary at the time. Many manufacturers hired high-volume specialists to focus on these products and train dealer sales reps on how to sell them. This evolution continues today with manufacturers bringing more production print options to the market. What is interesting to me is the fact that some have come full circle, going back to ink-based processes that were the staple for years among printing presses before dry toners were ever invented.
The next big evolution was in the direction of digital machines. During this age, the mainstream copier was based on analog technology where an image was cast onto a photosensitive drum via lights and mirrors. Using electromagnetic charge, the drum attracted developer (basically metal filings) that acted as a carrier for the toner that would be transferred to the page. Digital systems no longer relied on mirrors to project an image, they used a scanner to convert the image to a digital format and sent the image to the main body of the system to be printed.
Some of the early digital copier systems were simply a scanner mounted above a printer. However, this brought about the birth of the multi-function device. Since the main engine was a printer and the input was done via a scanner the system could provide straight printing from the network, scanning to the network and faxing capability with the addition of a fax circuit board. Sales reps had to learn about networks and connectivity. It as quite the learning curve for many. The copier we all knew so well just needed to be plugged into a power outlet. These new digital systems were also being plugged into the company’s computer network. However, this advance would open the industry to many other opportunities. Many of the dealerships that excel in IT today cut their teeth in this world back in the 1990s.
Full-color copiers were another big transformation. Looking at the landscape today it is hard to imagine a time where the only option was to copy in black and white. The introduction of color brought its own challenges with the need for specialists to help navigate the complicated process. These machines needed a special interface or controller to handle the process of accurately copying color. The key term being “accurately.”
To most people black toner created a black image and there was little attention paid to the variations of black. However, variations in color were a different story. If someone was buying a color system to copy and print marketing materials, the blue that the system printed needed to be an exact match to the blue in the company’s logo. Close wasn’t good enough. Once again, manufacturers hired specialists to lead the charge. Many dealers chose to employ sales specialists to handle color systems. Those that did were typically seeing much better results.
In my 34 years I have also seen events that shaped our industry.
I started with Monroe Systems for Business in October 1987. Coincidently, that was the same month as Black Monday, one of the biggest stock market crashes in history. I learned quickly how to sell in a down economy. The beauty of this industry is that, with the proper approach, you can sell in up markets as well as in down markets. When money was tight, our sales messages were focused on savings. When money was abundant, we emphasized technology and innovation.
The event date coincidence followed me in my career evolution. I started Prosperity Plus in July 2001 from my home in New York. Two months later the economy in New York took a big hit following the terrorist attacks of 9-11. It was time to test my pivot skills as I moved to help our dealer clients weather the storm. In 2008 we saw the financial crisis that was driven by the housing market crash. This event tested many businesses again as money became tight. Banks were struggling and businesses were holding on to cash. Once again, we had to get creative to weather the storm. In 2013, under President Obama, capital gains rates were increased from 15% to 20%. This made for a crazy year end in 2012 as business owners who had been considering a sale of their business scrambled to complete transactions before the tax hike went into effect.
On a side note, 2021 is shaping up to have the same busy fourth quarter as President Biden and the Democratic majority in the Senate are looking at increasing capital gains again.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most recent and widest reaching event we have ever seen.. This crisis has created more change in our industry in a short period of time than any other event. It has changed the way dealerships sell, the way they handle service, how and where staff work and much more. Here at Prosperity Plus, we decided early on to invest a tremendous amount of time into learning the government stimulus programs so we could be a resource to our clients and the industry as a whole. I am thankful that our efforts here have helped so many dealers weather this storm.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I cannot believe how fast 34 years have gone by. Putting this article together has reminded me that as much as things change, the important things remain constant. Focusing on the basics like training, demo skills, learning new technology, navigating up and down financial markets and handling negative events will bring success. Business only becomes more difficult when we get away from these basics. It seems everything comes back to the basics.
Being in this industry has given me tremendous gifts. So far, I have seen the evolution of an industry, met thousands of wonderful people, had the opportunity to help many businesses and raised a pretty awesome family along the way. I truly enjoy what I do and plan to continue for as long as the work can be helpful to others and enjoyable. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Prosperity Plus, it is fun to consider what the next 20 years will bring.