A Small Firm Moves Big Crowds

June 25, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Blue Sphere Inc. has developed a Web niche in the employee moving business, whether it’s to temporary or permanent locations.

Formed five years ago by software developer Steve Goulet, the firm in its infancy developed a relationship with Grand Connection, a local event management company.

Grand Connection, itself a Web-based firm, is a travel agency that also functions as a full service event and convention organizer. It specializes in group events, meeting planning and allied transportation, convention and hospitality services, among others.

The majority of its revenue derives from its convention registration practice, an online tool that allows companies to manage blocks of convention hotel rooms.

A recent example is Grand Connection’s support of area firms involved in the NeoCon trade show in Chicago earlier this month.

Grand Connection managed a block of 500 rooms for Herman Miller and its dealers and a block of 170 for Steelcase. The firm also arranged transportation and itineraries, and even details like golf outings and convention T-shirts.

Originally, Grand Connection used a standard software application as the engine of its service, but quickly grew dissatisfied with its capabilities.

“They had already established a relationship with Herman Miller and Steelcase,” Goulet said of Blue Sphere. “We came in and offered them (Grand Connection) a good deal on a custom application, and once we proved ourselves to them, they opened the door for us to the big companies.”

Blue Sphere developed custom online registration sites for Grand Connection’s work with Herman Miller, Steelcase and Gordon Foods, and the partnership strengthened over time.

When DeVos Place opened late last year, Blue Sphere retooled the registration system to provide a version used for the 6,000 people attending December’s Midwest Woodworking Expo.

Earlier this year, it also managed a peak hotel room night of 1,600 people among nine hotels for the Michigan Townships Association.

“When a convention comes to Grand Rapids, typically the Convention (and Visitors) Bureau will include us in the bid for business if the convention wants the city to manage the room block,” Grand Connection co-owner Amy Young explained. “We’ve got two under our belt now.”

Grand Connection will manage Gordon Food’s Food Show later this year. The show encompassed blocks of rooms in 26 hotels last year in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“With Blue Sphere it’s gone so smooth for so long, I don’t even think about it anymore,” Young said. “I can concentrate on more of the travel and logistics and where the buses are supposed to be and if everyone has a room and such. Those guys have made sure the Web runs smooth.”

Now Blue Sphere has again reengineered its registration system.

Herman Miller dealer Intereum had been offering, as an ancillary service, the management of large corporate moves.

In the midst of a move itself, Intereum was exposed to the Blue Sphere-Grand Connection online system through Herman Miller, and decided that with some additional features, Blue Sphere could be used to help manage those moves.

From the custom registration system designs, Blue Sphere was able to develop mymovexperience.com, a corporate relocation Web portal customized to clients’ needs. In March, Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, Neb., began using the portal to help relocate 4,000 employees into downtown Omaha corporate offices.

“These moves only happen once in a great while,” Goulet explained. “In the case of Union Pacific, it’s the first time in 75 years. Obviously, these companies don’t have a system in place to track these moves.”

The portal will allow Union Pacific to manage move dates and assignments over the course of the three-month transition, and will provide employees a tool to order new business cards and name plates.

It also serves as a communication tool that not only provides employees details of floor plans, work stations, phone and fax numbers, emergency procedures and furniture standards but also as a trouble notification system and resolution tracking system.

Developed primarily in Microsoft .NET, mymovexperience.com gives the client Web content management capability so that it can change details without the aid of a software engineer.

The mymovexperience identity is the property of Intereum that will market the service out of its headquarters in Minneapolis.

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