SEI Looks To Printer Market

October 20, 2006
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CASCADETOWNSHIP — Proving itself a blue-collar success story in a white-collar market, computer hardware maintenance firm Service Express Inc. is finishing off its sixth straight year of high double-digit growth with a new regional location and a launch into the printer market.

At one time the division of a local hardware sales company, SEI has found immense growth by casting off much of the standard market. It has not traditionally serviced PCs and printers, except to a limited degree in support of its server business. The company's core business is maintenance contracts for mid- to high-end servers, typically in the range of $10,000 to $150,000 per year. Most local firms are not equipped to service such large accounts, while OEMs have historically regarded these contracts as second-tier customers.

"The OEMs aren't really interested in our market; they're focused on multimillion-dollar accounts," said SEI President Ron Alvesteffer. "They're not paying attention to these customers, while we're right on top of them."

Whereas OEMs — Sun Microsystems, Hewlett Packard, IBM — are moving toward low-touch and no-touch service models, SEI is doing the opposite, ramping up its customer service with more face time and quicker responses.

"Customer service out there just sucks — everyone has horror stories," Alvesteffer said "We've brought it back to the '50s and '60s style of customer service, when you knew people cared."

The intensity has provided rapid success. SEI has averaged 20 percent annual growth each of the past six years, and is anticipating its first $20 million year, a 30 percent increase over the prior year. It boasts a 98 percent customer-retention rate and added two new regional offices last year, in Cincinnati and Cleveland, with plans to open its 11th facility in Louisville in January. Eventually, the company has aspirations to serve the entire Midwest region, all of the "flyover states" the OEMs have historically overlooked.

This month, SEI is launching a new printer division to complement its bustling server business.

"Most printer companies only do service because they want to sell you toner," said Alvesteffer. "We're going to base it on service."

The company has considered acquiring a printer company to enter this market, but decided it could not do so under its current business model.

Unlike its server maintenance business, the printer division will not be contract based. Because of the frequency of minor, easily fixed nuisances that can occur in a printer, the company decided that it would not be profitable to enter into full-service contracts. It will still focus on providing better service at a lower cost.

Last month, it hired its 100th employee, on the heels of completing a 10,000-square-foot addition to its CascadeTownship headquarters at

4845 Corporate Exchange Blvd.
off
Patterson Avenue
. It has purchased an adjacent plot of undeveloped land with the intention of building a new facility by 2010.

Through its expansion, SEI has provided a home for some of the thousands of technicians who have been laid off by OEMs in recent years.

"When you're a service engineer, there really isn't much else that you've learned to do," Alvesteffer said. "We give them a new lease on life, and treat them like the OEMs did 10 to 15 years ago."    

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