By Jenny Calison
COVINGTON – Although C-Forward prides itself on its technological sophistication, its operating credo is simple: Do what`s best for the customer.
Following that philosophy has enabled the young company to sustain healthy growth and high retention of customers.
The computer network consulting firm touts its record of continuing relationships with 99 percent of its customers and expanding its customer base almost exclusively through referrals.
When the firm was established in 1999, it had two clients; it now has about 100.
“Everything we`ve done has been long-term image, long-term investment,” founder Brent M. Cooper said.
Simply put, C-Forward helps small businesses use everyday computer software effectively. It serves as a network administrator for companies that don`t need a fulltime IT professional. It can enable different kinds of computers to work together on a network or remote location. And it can provide voice and data cabling, antispam and antivirus software, and wireless technology.
Cooper said this year has been exciting for the firm. It moved its offices from Fort Thomas to downtown Covington to help revitalize the city`s core and to be near the Madison E-Zone and other high-tech companies locating nearby.
The numbers look good. After first-year revenues of $180,000, C-Forward doubled its sales. With annual growth in subsequent years of 15 to 20 percent, the company is on track to reach sales of almost $1 million this year.
And within the last three months, C-Forward has garnered three different honors. This summer, it was one of two service category winners of the Northern Kentucky Chamber`s Small Business Success Awards (the other winner was Systems InSight, profiled Sept. 7). In September, C-Forward was named one of the chamber`s “Emerging 30” small businesses, based on its size and growth. And at about the same time, the Better Business Bureau said the company was one of 14 Tristate finalists for its Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. The winner will be announced Oct. 23.
Being honored for consistent growth and other good numbers is great, sales manager Brant Puckett said, but the company prizes the BBB`s appraisal of its business practices.
“Our entire organization has worked hard to follow ethical guidelines in such a competitive market, and it is so nice to be recognized for our efforts,” he said. “We like to think that we`re not sitting across the table from our clients, we`re sitting next to them.”
The company hit some potholes in the early part of its journey. When Cooper launched C-Forward, he was its only employee. He invested about $10,000 in training the first person he hired, only to have the technician leave soon afterward. A software program he`d seen as a strong element of his consulting portfolio was discontinued. The company`s first vehicle was badly damaged in an accident, and the technician driving it was laid up for two weeks.
But there were some early successes as well.
“The first week I got a call from someone I`d never heard of,” Cooper said. “His company became a client and is still a client.”
That first hire was replaced by Scott Johnson, who is now technical support manager. As C-Forward`s workload has increased, so has its work force. In addition to Cooper and Puckett, the company now employs six people.
Puckett said Cooper`s ability to maintain a consistent staff has been important in keeping the company`s customer base.
“We`re in it for the long-term relationship,” he said. “If you have the same technician coming out time after time, it helps both the employee and the customer. The more you know the customer, the more you can do a better job of serving them.”
To keep his staff, Cooper has invested heavily in training and benefits. He has also established a collegial management style and invited employees` input on critical decisions. One such occasion was when the cost of C-Forward`s health-care plan increased 26 percent and Cooper decided to explore alternatives.
“Brent took three quotes from three different insurance companies, and we got to vote on which one we would like to select,” Puckett said. “We didn`t pick the cheapest one.”
When Cooper contemplated moving the operation to Covington, he asked his staff for their thoughts on the matter. The plans took into account several employee concerns. Because the payroll tax in Covington is twice what it is in Fort Thomas, Cooper adjusted each person`s salary so take-home pay wasn`t affected.
“It`s good business,” he said. “I believe that if we treat employees better than they expect, they`ll stay with us. If we can keep this core group of people, we`ll be a successful company.”
Creating people networks
Although it works with computer networks, the networks that C-Forward finds most valuable are those it forges with people.
The company is active in the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the Mason-Landen-Kings Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. It also works closely with the Children`s Home of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati social services agency Tender Mercies.
Every three months, C-Forward sponsors a free seminar designed to help users of small-business computer software or other technology. Topics include remote access, wireless technology, servers and e-mail.
Nov. 12, the company plans to host an open house in its new quarters at 5 W. Fifth St.
Information: (859) 442-7877 or Web site.