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VOL. 125 | NO. 153 | Monday, August 9, 2010

Vanick Group Offers Businesses Custom Tech Solutions

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

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Jim Van de Vuurst, left, and Lou Powell are two of the principals of Vanick Group, which has three lines of business: web applications development; their own software service solution called TOTUS (Latin for “total”), a sales and marketing tool; and SAP consulting services.  Photos: Lance Murphey

Jim Van de Vuurst always wanted to start his own company.

He moved to Memphis from Detroit in his teens, then attended the University of Memphis, where he took one computer course and “fell in love with it,” eventually graduating with a management information systems degree before going to work for International Paper Co.

From there, he worked for global software company SAP, for which he traveled week in and week out.

“I did the traveling road show for as long as I could stand it, flying out on Sunday night and coming back on Friday,” Van de Vuurst said. “I did that for almost three years and the travel got to me and that’s what prompted me.”

In 1998, he got together with a group to form the company Sierra, which he – along with partners Larry Slavick and Lou Powell – restructured in 2001 as Vanick Group.

Jim Van de Vuurst, center, and Lou Powell, right, principals of Vanick Group, speak with employees Chase Fryer, from left, John Thomas and Tim Laughlin about the implementation of a custom applications development.

Vanick Group has three lines of business: Web applications development; its own software service solution called TOTUS (Latin for “total”), a sales and marketing tool; and SAP consulting services.

“We write custom Web-based applications for our clients,” Van de Vuurst said. “We work with our clients in a very consultative fashion … to automate business processes with Web technologies.”

Vanick consults with its clients on business opportunities, whether to increase revenue or reduce costs through some sort of automation. Staff gather requirements, work within the client’s framework and then take the requirements back to the office to build a solution before deploying it onto the client’s network, if not host it for them.

Those solutions may involve setting up an e-commerce application to be seen and used by an end-user consumer, or a back-of-the house returns application to help automate the process of tracking and assessing those returns.

Whatever the solution may be, it’s the personal relationship with clients – even more so than the technology – that drives Van de Vuurst.

“All three partners are very actively engaged in selling. I’m not one of the smart guys,” he said jokingly, “so I take care of the books and sell and take care of the relationships … most everything except build.”

Vanick works with many well-known companies, both large and small, throughout the Mid-South, including The ServiceMaster Co., Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, International Paper, Smith & Nephew and MCR Safety.

Investment banking group Duncan-Williams Inc. has been working with Vanick a little more than two years, “ever since our firm decided to have a pretty aggressive growth strategy,” said Gary Lendermon of Duncan-Williams.

“We’ve used them for their TOTUS product to help us with our branding … and we’ve used them quite successfully doing back-end programming for our intranet site and our corporate website,” Lendermon added.

These companies might not have the expertise needed in-house, their staff could be already saturated with work, or they might need a customized solution. In some cases, outsourcing is a more cost-effective and efficient process.

“We work very closely with the actual business unit that needs a solution and then we would work hand-in-hand with their existing IT department if they have one,” Van de Vuurst said.

“We do outsource a fair amount of work, and they just seem to be a really good fit with us. They really do come in and learn our business,” Lendermon said.

Vanick has had 10 straight quarters of growth and saw revenues last year of $4.2 million with the average job being $20,000 to $30,000, though Van de Vuurst is quick to point out that this fluctuates because of the fluid nature of its consultative approach.

“We’re very focused on customer satisfaction, so most of our clients are not one-time clients,” he said. “We start with an original solution and they continue to come back to build on that solution over a long period of time.”

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