Mike Plourde – Geiger
- Written by: Jim Cavan
- Produced by: Zachary Brann
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Back in the early ‘90s, if you wanted to order promotional products through Geiger, you first needed to open the Yellow Pages, call an 800 number and wait a week for the company catalog. Once the wares were chosen—coffee mugs, let’s say—you’d connect with a sales rep through another 800 number.
Place the order, snail-mail your business’ logo for emblazoning, then wait a few weeks for the package to arrive.
To be fair, it’s a model that worked for decades, helping grow the humble, family-owned company into a bona fide industry giant.
But then, along came the internet. Then Amazon. By the mid-2000s, Geiger was doing the vast majority of its business online. Unlike some of its competitors, the company learned to adapt.
It’s Mike Plourde’s job to make sure that trend continues.
Plourde, who’d been with the company since 1992 and “knew the business inside and out,” was promoted to director of IT in 2013, shortly after the company hired its chief information officer, Dale Denham, a veteran of the advertising and promotions sectors.
For Denham and Plourde, it was clear that in order for Geiger to grow, it needed to reimagine the customer-salesperson relationship, which was still reliant on an order-by-phone model.
After installing a new e-commerce platform, Denham and Plourde retrained the company’s sales reps to better leverage the technology.
“We wanted them to be seen as more than just door-to-door salespeople,” Plourde recalls. “As our customers got younger and younger, we had to have processes that reflected that dynamism.”
Now, Geiger’s 400 sales reps—who function as independent contractors—can build their own custom websites in as little as 60 minutes. Featuring add-ons like batch ordering, which allows Geiger reps to offer discounts to clients by combining orders, these “pop-up stores” have made product purchasing easier than ever before.
Choosing from among the company’s massive product selections, which includes as many as 250,000 product permutations, independent contractors can customize their offerings to better serve their clientele.
“We essentially serve two sets of end users: our buyer clients, through Geiger’s main website, as well as our hundreds of independent contractors, who bring their business to Geiger to process their orders,” Plourde says. “So we did a lot of listening early on, these platforms are the result of that.”
What was once a weeks-long process can now be done in a matter of minutes—from item customization to product preview (complete with the client’s uploaded logo) to when the order is sent to Geiger’s enterprise resource planner (ERP).
As Geiger’s online presence continued to grow, its back-end processes were in need of a similar upgrade. Just as it had for most major projects since 2000, the company contracted The Mesa Group—a Dallas-based business management firm and industry leader—to help with the overhaul.
“Geiger was one of our first five or six clients, and we’ve helped them restructure and manage their IT needs at various points along the way,” says Jim Smith, owner and president of The Mesa Group. “Most of these measures involved taking existing technology and upgrading the software. There’s a level of trust they have in us to help them accomplish these major initiatives, and I can say that respect is more than mutual.”
With The Mesa Group’s help, Plourde replaced an end of life ERP infrastructure in 2013. Using Informatica 360, a product management system that functions much like Excel, the team made troves of data available to its various websites—product details, vendor information and so on.
The company also created a series of self-service reporting tools to better track orders, invoices and inventories. Rather than having to rely on internal auditing, sales reps and clients can now receive PDF or Excel reports whenever they want.
Geiger around the world
Thanks in large part to these and other IT improvements, Geiger is experiencing unprecedented growth, much of it international.
That presents challenges for the company’s ERP, which was designed to bill only in U.S. dollars (even though Geiger’s website accepts multiple currencies). Having spearheaded an ERP upgrade before, Plourde knew the risk involved in transferring all of Geiger’s documents—orders, payroll, accounts payable and so on.
“A lot of ERP transitions fail, so this wasn’t something that any of us necessarily want to undertake,” Plourde says. “But the benefits of doing so will be huge.”
Beginning this year, Plourde and his team are beginning the piecemeal process of taking chunks of data—including customer and vendor data—out of the existing ERP and storing it in cloud-based servers. Not only will that help extend the ERP’s life, allowing time to source a future ERP option; it also allows the team to modify product information more easily.
According to Plourde, the plan is to pivot Geiger to cloud-based alternatives in lieu of on-premises storage, where the company currently houses its 350-plus websites.
This is happening in conjunction with a massive headquarters renovation—encompassing 105,000 square feet, and involving everything from solar panels installation to environmental design.
“It’s all part of becoming a more flexible business across the board,” Plourde says. “Five years ago, none of us had any idea how we might get into the international market. But we’re there, and we’ve created the technology foundation to make sure we stay there.”
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