Recycled Glass Biz Wins With Cloud Computing

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Sheppard believes his company's unique technology implementation has played an important part in Vetrazzo's fast growth. "We wouldn't be at 36 employees -- and looking for more -- if we didn't have this. The effort that used to go into IT development has gone into growing the business."

Plus, he says, "there's the measurable stuff, and then there's the unmeasurable stuff. What's the cost if the wrong thing ships and a project gets delayed waiting for the right product? Customers don't like it," he says, and they tell their friends. And that can be deadly for an emerging company. Do it right, though, and a company can quickly gain a good reputation. "We constantly get, 'Oh, we thought you were a much bigger company.' Because our Web site helps us do things right. Most people get to this stuff much later in their life cycle."

Of course, the key question is exactly how much the system has led to actual sales. "That's a trick to measure; we're still wrestling with that," Sheppard says. "We sell through the channel," he explains, so "we don't have that same direct-sales visibility. Leads go to the distributors for follow-up." And Sheppard doesn't know if any of Vetrazzo's distributors use Salesforce. "If I could get them to, it would be great!"

So, how did Vetrazzo end up using Salesforce and Force.com as its technology platform? At the time, Sheppard says, "I wanted to do this all on the Web, no hosting."

"Initially, it was a buy-versus-build question," he adds. "We looked at a handful of off-the-shelf solutions, but they only worked in silos. We were not going to buy five different $50,000 applications and then try to integrate them. So we looked to build our own application and had to scale down our expectations."

And there was another problem with Vetrazzo building its own application. "Even if [a developer] agrees to build it, they may not deliver it," Sheppard says. Not surprisingly, Salesforce's Collins agrees: "You create a spec, then sign your life way, but you have no idea what you're actually going to get."

"If you're a small business, good luck testing," adds Collins. "It's extremely expensive, and if you can't try things" before you buy, you're taking a big risk unless you stick with Excel and other rudimentary tools.

Sheppard recalls thinking that "it would be great if I could do it on something like Salesforce," but didn't think that was possible. "Until we saw Force.com, we didn't see anything that had bridged that gap. Then, when I realized I could do it on Salesforce, there was no way I wouldn't do it on Salesforce."

Of course, the choice of Salesforce wasn't really that simple. It turned out that "one of our investors knew [Salesforce CEO Marc] Benioff, and I was already a Salesforce CRM customer," Sheppard says. "He put me on to [Salesforce's] Adam Gross on the technology side, and I got an Oracle buddy to write a spec in exchange for a new countertop."

What's Next For Vetrazzo's Technology

The company's products are sold by 13 regional distributors, and they need to be kept in the loop as well. So Sheppard is installing an Articulate-based online training portal. (Sheppard says the Force.com AppExchange product in this space didn't meet his needs because it doesn't actually host the portal.) Other IT projects in the works at Vetrazzo include adding to the 25 custom modules and using the system to generate outgoing e-mail blasts.

Collaboration is another key issue for the company: "Every document that's public facing has been signed off on by top executives," Sheppard says. To make that kind of sharing easier, "a year from now I would expect to be using some sort of collaboration software," adding that "version control is a big thing that gets me."

If it all seems like a bit much for a small company that makes kitchen countertops, Sheppard doesn't see it that way. For him, putting everything in the cloud makes it easier. "I come from the software industry," he says, "but I'm not a techie."

Fredric Paul is publisher/editor-in-chief of bMighty.com and SmallBizResource.com.

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