By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2003-10-01 Print this article Print

This battery distributor bet its business on an order-taking system developed initially by one programmer, in his spare time.

-Man Wild Card"> One-Man Wild Card

Battery-Biz doesn't use the BOS for everything. For example, Marish says it's still easier for his company to handle accounts payable with Intuit's QuickBooks software. But the BOS is the backbone of his company's order and inventory management systems. It's used to procure and receive products, barcode-label boxes on the warehouse shelf, track customers and orders, generate pick lists of the products needed to fill an order, calculate the shipping cost, and print the UPS or FedEx shipping label.

In its ROI analysis, Nucleus Research pegged the system's cost at $643,000 for the first three years. The company would have had to hire 15 more people to process the same order volume without the system, so the personnel savings equate to $360,000. Leaner inventory saved another $400,000, and increased orders attributable to the system were worth an estimated $280,000 in the first year and $680,000 every year since. The system paid for itself in five months, according to Nucleus. Baseline and Nucleus earlier this year recognized the company's achievement with the Grand Prize in the 2003 Technology ROI Awards.

The wild card is Keller himself. When Baseline first tried to contact his company, all links to its Web site pointed to a home page that was offline, and phone numbers were inactive. The phone number of the business where we finally found him was answered "batterysavings.com," the name of a site that resells Battery-Biz products.

Keller says the Keller Systems site was offline temporarily while he changed hosts. Because he gets most of his customers through referrals, he hasn't put a high priority on Web marketing. He also acknowledges he is still trying to figure out how to compete in a space dominated by far larger vendors.

However, he has found he can make money by convincing customers such as Battery-Biz to let him create consumer Web sites linked to the BOS software. He has a similar arrangement with West Coast Trends, maker of Club Glove golf travel bags, to resell its product at LastBag.com. West Coast Trends also operates its own site, clubglove.com.

Marish says he thought twice before placing his systems in the hands of a vendor so dependent on one man. What if Keller gets hit by a bus or simply gets distracted by other opportunities? While Marish has not regretted the choice, he recently hired Shawn Usmani, a programmer who is capable of maintaining and enhancing the BOS software independently. Usmani has received some tutoring from Keller, but says he also finds the BOS easier to work with than other ERP products.

"It was designed for expansion, and it's pretty straightforward because of that," Usmani says. Where other programmers might have tended to embellish, he adds, Keller seems to have taken advantage of standard Powerbuilder programming techniques wherever possible.

"If you can do it, that's the way to go in terms of responsiveness and capability," Marish says.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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