Since its founding in 1978, Earnest & Associates has established itself as the largest services company in North America dedicated to supporting the Infor ERP product line, including Infor Distribution SX.enterprise, Infor Distribution FACTS and Infor ERP TakeStock for the wholesale/distribution industry; and Infor VISUAL for the manufacturing industry.
From its humble beginnings as a shoestring operation dedicated to writing software code for mainframe computer users, E&A today supports over 400 companies located in 25 U.S. states and Puerto Rico who collectively employ over 15,000 people and generate annual revenues in excess of $8 billion dollars. These companies rely on E&A’s expertise to help manage their enterprise software systems including accounting, e-commerce, finance, inventory, purchasing, sales, warehouse management and other specialized applications.
Headquartered in the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area, E&A has annual revenues of approximately $10 million with over 70 employees in ten states including Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Cleveland, Ohio; Greensboro, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina; Meriden, Connecticut; Miami Lakes, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and Springfield, Illinois.
E&A founder and president Tim Earnest reflected on his company’s longevity in a sometimes volatile industry. “E&A has always put an emphasis on marketing proven solutions that help businesses increase their productivity and profitability,” said Tim. “We believe that whether business conditions are good or bad, we will be rewarded as long as we deliver value to our customers. To the extent that we have succeeded in this mission, we have been able to make the needed investments in upgrading our skills and services to stay current with ever-changing technology requirements,” he continued.
Today, E&A has come to be identified with the people, processes and technologies it has blended together to create one of the most capable computer system resellers in the country. As our story can attest, E&A has come to find itself as a market leader as a result of decades of diligent, hard work and surmounting a series of significant challenges to its business model. Importantly, the lessons gained from these experiences has conditioned E&A’s management team to continuously seek out ways to improve the company’s competitiveness as it strives to maintain its leadership position for many more years to come.
Tim Earnest had gained substantive computer industry experience at Honeywell Corporation where he was assigned the task of managing relationships with third-party software representatives. When offered the opportunity to build his own team with the intention to develop software for a Honeywell account, Tim took the decisive step of founding E&A. The young company’s character was tested almost immediately when the contract was severed after only two weeks on the job. E&A survived by scrambling for any new opportunities it could find and by maintaining good relationships with Honeywell’s sales agents who began to refer business in E&A’s direction.
But while E&A was gaining its footing, the computing industry went through a series of rapid transformations. As the dominant large mainframe systems of the day were displaced by more affordable mid-sized systems, the eventual glut of competition led to a shake-out among the major manufacturers. During this trying period, E&A suffered a major setback when its sales pipeline nearly closed down as a consequence of Honeywell’s withdrawal from the computer market. Fortunately, E&A managed to stabilize around a core group of highly skilled and motivated employees who remained focused on providing excellent service to E&A’s existing customers and who aggressively sought to develop new business opportunities.
In the mid 1980s, a more confident E&A management team sensed that the availability of pre-packaged software designed to run on an open computing platform might provide the company with substantial growth opportunities. Blessed with a staff that had developed a keen understanding of both technology and the unique business challenges of specific industries, E&A decided to resell and support a select number of solutions that had been developed expressly for the manufacturing and wholesale/distribution industries.
Utilizing a consultative sales and support strategy, E&A began to reach out to select industries where it could demonstrate how information technology might be deployed to gain competitive advantage. A target marketing plan designed to augment this strategy helped E&A win dozens of new accounts. This success helped E&A attract many new employees whose talents enabled the company to offer a wider array of services than ever before, including support for client/server systems running both UNIX and Windows operating systems. By the late 1990s, E&A had truly hit its stride; the company was consistently recognized by its software vendors as a top performing reseller and by its burgeoning roster of clients as a trusted solutions consultant.
As the year 2000 approached, many businesses found it necessary to revamp their technology infrastructures to avoid the so-called ‘Y2K bug’. E&A earned a substantial amount of work installing new systems and upgrading its client base, which included over one hundred accounts located throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. At this point, E&A was enjoying the latest in a long string of profitable business years and was poised to do much more.
The passing of the new millennium ushered in a markedly more austere business climate. Computer services opportunities generally began to dry up after the dot.com bubble burst and the dreadful events of 9/11 unfolded. Fortunately, E&A’s strategy of providing no-nonsense consulting services and market-proven solutions enabled the company to weather these storms at a time when many of its competitors could not. Still, E&A was faced with the challenge of how it might aggressively raise its visibility in the marketplace and compete for new business while also investing in skilled personnel who could support the kinds of new technologies that more and more of its customers were demanding.
Discussions between E&A and other computer resellers facing similar challenges soon led to the realization that a stronger organization could be formed through a business combination. Recognizing the imperative of developing a sound strategy to secure its future, E&A took the initiative and decisively struck a series of deals that it hoped would strengthen the company’s long-term competitive position.
First, in early 2003 E&A opened a sales office in Greenville, SC to leverage the talents of industry veterans who were seeking to cultivate new business opportunities in the fast-growing southeastern market; this site would be subsequently built into a full-service sales, consulting and technical support operation. Later that year, Designed Data Systems (DDS) of Greensboro, NC decided to merge its substantive and well-established operations with E&A. DDS brought an impressive array of software development, help desk, hardware, network and other valuable resources including an extensive Infor Distribution FACTS installed base to E&A. And in mid 2004 a small office was opened in the Atlanta, GA area to bolster E&A’s consultative sales and technical support competencies with the Infor ERP TakeStock product; this facility, too would grow with the hiring of highly-capable staff people who had experience supporting numerous Infor products and technologies.
The Glen Burnie, MD office became E&A’s corporate headquarters where it was decided that administrative functions would be centralized to help increase internal efficiencies and reduce costs. CRM software was implemented to closely coordinate the activities of the sales and marketing team and to facilitate more effective customer communications. Crucially, E&A could now also afford to invest in the ongoing development of its technical support people and infrastructure; E&A had gained confidence knowing that its resources would be in-demand thanks to both the success of its ongoing sales efforts and the absorption of the DDS customer base.
The wisdom of E&A’s strategy soon became evident. Customer surveys consistently indicated a high level of satisfaction with E&A’s expanded support capabilities and services. E&A also emerged as the top revenue producer for Infor and was recognized as its Solution Partner of the Year in September, 2004.
The following month, Pinnacle Solutions of Miami Lakes, FL announced that it too would be joining the E&A fold. Pinnacle’s installed base of Infor Distribution Business accounts extended E&A’s presence up-and-down the east coast from Baltimore to Miami and the Caribbean. Pinnacle also carried over a valuable mix of software, hardware, network and English/Spanish language skills to E&A.
2005 proved to be another eventful year as E&A acquired the software-related assets of Application Results in Cleveland, OH. The deal included over forty Infor ERP TakeStock accounts and a local technical support staff of highly-skilled professionals. With the acquisition, E&A became Infor’s largest TakeStock representative with more end users and more dedicated technical support, programming and consulting specialists than any other company.
As its customer base became more geographically dispersed, E&A sought to find better, more cost-effective ways to share its deep subject matter expertise with its customers. Recognizing that the Internet could provide a platform for economically delivering a continuing education experience, the company launched E&A University in the winter of 2005. The affordably-priced service was initially rolled out to Infor Distribution FACTS end users with service extended the following year to Infor ERP TakeStock and later, to Infor Distribution SX.enterprise end users. E&A’s customers responded very positively to the convenience of using their high-speed Internet connections to learn from the comfort of their own desks. With continuous enhancements to the service including unlimited access to live classes, course documentation and recordings, E&A University has played an important role in helping E&A distinguish itself from the competition.
Understanding that the traditional break/fix model of network services was being transformed with the advent of automated network monitoring and preventive maintenance solutions, E&A introduced a managed services offering in 2006. E&A managed services consultants implement solutions that help maximize system uptime and minimize downtime. In a relatively short while, many dozens of E&A’s clients have implemented E&A managed services solutions and consequently have significantly reduced their computing system’s total cost of ownership.
E&A also put renewed energy into its own software development program. E&A had authored a number of add-on modules for the Infor Distribution FACTS product catalog, including Archive, Document Delivery and Email. E&A decided to build on this legacy by authoring its Pro series modules, starting with the Pro BI business intelligence application which Infor subsequently approved for sale to both Infor Distribution FACTS and Infor ERP TakeStock users. Other software followed, including Pro Buyers Control Center, Pro ShipLink, Pro SigCap and Pro Warehouse for Infor10 Distribution Express; Pro Service & Repair and Pro ShipLink for Infor Distribution SX.enterprise; and Pro CRM, Pro ShipLink and Pro Warehouse for Infor ERP TakeStock. These affordably-priced applications have since proven to be extremely popular, helping many of E&A’s customers extend the functionality of their Infor systems.
Yet even as E&A successfully introduced multiple new products and services, attaining honors as Infor’s top-producing solutions partner for three consecutive years, E&A sought to enhance its expertise with Infor Distribution SX.enterprise; the solution was viewed as a key component in E&A’s going-forward sales strategy and represented a compelling option for existing E&A customers who might be considering a migration path from another Infor product. Although E&A had been successfully marketing the product for some time, it was felt that the company needed to do more if it wished to achieve the goals it had set for itself.
To that end, E&A entered into discussions with Dynitech Systems Inc (DSI) of Springfield, IL who had built a substantial practice around Infor Distribution SX.enterprise with over 25 major installations to date. DSI looked favorably upon the rich talent pool that E&A had built and decided that a merger would make good business sense. The addition of DSI in April, 2007 brought many benefits to E&A, including competencies in programming, consultative sales and marketing, EDI, help desk, AIX operating systems and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status. The Springfield branch has since proved to be invaluable in helping E&A achieve its growth objectives by providing additional resources and more comprehensive solutions than possible before.
Meanwhile, E&A continued to seek new ways to leverage its resources to achieve greater operational synergies. Solutions Teams were formed around each of the Infor ERP product lines whereby clear reporting structures and resources including help desk, programming, consulting and related expertise was organized. Similarly, E&A’s network services and managed services teams coordinated their respective resources, placing renewed emphasis on the sharing of technical knowledge and industry best practices. As a result, the Solutions Teams have enabled E&A to boost its internal efficiencies and ensure greater quality and consistency in the delivery of services to its customers.
The decades of work that E&A had dedicated towards building an industry-leading, professional organization were affirmed when it was named Infor’s North American Distribution Partner of the Year in June, 2007. “E&A has earned this distinction as a result of their intense focus on customer satisfaction, revenue attainment, new account acquisition and the addition of new Infor products to their portfolio,” said Mike Gadow, Infor VP of Channels, North America. “We are proud to recognize E&A for their strong performance, the value they deliver to the customer and the contribution they make to Infor’s success.”
The Great Recession that was triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 has severely tested many businesses. Fortunately, E&A has managed to find opportunities for growth by focusing on the needs of its customers.
E&A became an Infor VISUAL reseller in 2010 to enhance its solutions portfolio to the manufacturing industry. Soon thereafter, several legacy customers chose to migrate their systems to Infor VISUAL to take advantage of the product's deep functionality and modular design. Infor VISUAL has also proved valuable in attracting many new business opportunities to E&A.
In August, 2011 E&A acquired John Genter Associates (JGA) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. JGA was a leading Infor channel partner whose customer base included a number of Infor Distribution FACTS end users located in Philadelphia, PA and the surrounding area. Since that time, the former JGA accounts have enjoyed gaining access to additional services and solutions available from E&A to help them grow their businesses.
Towards the end of 2011, Proven Data Solutions (PDS) of Meriden, Connecticut was acquired by E&A. The two companies shared a common history of successfully marketing enterprise software by Infor to the wholesale/distribution and manufacturing industries for the past 30 years. PDS had also successfully developed and supported its own ERP for the PHAC distribution industry which will continue to be supported by E&A. With the acquisition, the PDS offices in Meriden, Connecticut and Walpole, Massachusetts became E&A's ninth and tenth branch offices.
E&A believes it has created a durable organization in possession of a wealth of human and technical resources. E&A is confident it will continue to attract the kind of talented personnel who are essential to helping E&A remain adaptable to change and profitable. As E&A remains focused on helping its clients reduce costs and grow their revenues through the implementation of computer technology, E&A expects that businesses will keep turning to it for guidance.
One such company is Professional Beauty Supply (PBS) of Baltimore, MD. “We have worked with E&A for a decade now,” said Betty Jane Ristau, Controller at PBS. “E&A has supported us through two successful upgrades of Infor Distribution FACTS to the latest version. E&A’s account managers have provided us with a lot of guidance and the support people have been very responsive to us as well. We have been impressed with E&A’s dedication to resolving any issues that may arise and helping us get the most from our technology investment.”
E&A thanks the many clients and employees who have contributed to its success, and hopes to serve for many years to come.