Find a niche where the barriers to entry aren’t too low, become an expert in it, perfect your customer service and then go out and win some lucrative contracts with the government. That’s Craig Waltzer’s formula for success, and it is working.
Seven years ago, Waltzer founded GovComm, a boutique contract manufacturer of weather-proof cameras and microwave sensors that provide real-time communication from roads to transportation management centers. GovComm is one of the few qualified intelligent transportation system manufacturers that is certified in Florida.
Because there are, of course, very stringent requirements for equipment installed above highways and arterial roads, there are currently only four competitors on the Florida Department of Transportation’s approved product list.
“There are probably over 100 items on the compliance matrix that we had to be able to meet in order to qualify,” Waltzer explained. “There are very few that are able to jump thru all those hoops that we are able to do so we put ourselves in a position to compete with some of the better known companies.”
In addition to safety and hardening requirements, GovComm had to program its cameras to communicate with the DOT’s software.
That has led to contracts in many of the Florida DOT’s districts, as well as Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and Lee County, among others. GovComm also has won business with the Georgia and Tennessee Departments of Transportation and some other countries, too, Waltzer said.
It hasn’t been easy, but Waltzer’s experience is a contracting success story others could learn from.
In a previous post about the pros and cons of contracting with state and local governments, Luis Batista, a procurement specialist for Florida PTAC at FIU, said it’s smart for small businesses to start with state and local governments before trying the federal contracting market. That provides “performance history” they can leverage for federal work, among other benefits.
Waltzer believes government contracting makes a lot of sense for small businesses in niche markets because otherwise you are competing by price. GovComm was founded in 2012.
THE ROAD TO FIRST CONTRACT
“We were certified in February 2015 with our cameras by the Florida DOT and we thought the phones would start ringing and the orders would come through our email, we thought that was our cash register,” said Waltzer.
“My partner and I kind of sat here and looked at each other and nothing was happening. We found out we had to get out there and make it happen ourselves.”
How did they do that? They gave away cameras. That’s not easy on a shoestring budget because those cameras are $3,000 and up. “I told my wife we are going to have to eat spaghetti for a month so I could give cameras to my customers.”
GovComm’s partners knew they had a higher quality camera than our competition and that FDOT districts all make their own buying decisions, as well as cities and county agencies. Said Waltzer: “We would say “hey put these on the same pole as the camera you are already using. Keep it for several months and tell us which camera works out better, which gives the sharper images, daylight, nighttime, rain, whatever the conditions might be. We went head to head and we started getting some work. We were able to enter the market, our competition wasn’t happy about it.”
That leads to another nugget of wisdom from Waltzer:
“You need to shake the bushes. The business isn’t just going to come to you because you are a small business … You really have to make it happen. If you have a better product, you have to be able to demonstrate that product and show how you are better.”
By the way, he still gives out cameras to new customer prospects to prove the value.
“It is five years later and we have 5,000 cameras hanging up in Florida.”
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