The Farmingdale, New York dealership is well-positioned for future growth and longevity.
Spending an hour on Zoom with Gerry Ryan, president of Emerald Document Imaging in Farmingdale, New York, and his daughter Meg, an account executive and the company’s social media guru, was one of the most informative and entertaining conversations CJ and I have experienced to date during a virtual dealer tour. The father and daughter duo, along with son, Andrew, a sales rep who prefers to remain in the background, are winning customers across Long Island and in New York City by living the dealership’s tagline of “Be Good, Be Fun, Be Accountable.” Those traits were on vivid display during our conversation.
Above: The Ryan family, Andrew, Gerry, and Meg.
“We’ve used it in a lot of things we do,” explained Gerry. “If you’re not good, nobody’s going to want to deal with you. It’s technology, but you want, at least, to be fun or pleasant to be around. And you need to be accountable, to each other, the company, your teammates, and customers. We do a good job of bending over backwards for our customers. I think we’re the best choice for product, certainly on the island. We bring a lot of common sense to the equation, so if it’s not good for the customer, it’s not good for us.”
Gerry has been in the industry for over 40 years, starting as a salesperson for fax manufacturer Omnifax in 1981. In 1987, he left to start his own dealership, Advanced Business Automation. After fourteen years, he sold his dealership to Global Imaging Systems. When Gerry’s non-compete with Global expired, he was ready to begin again. Unable to find a suitable dealership to buy, he decided to build a dealership from the ground up, launching Emerald in 2010. If you’re going to start a dealership from scratch, conventional wisdom might tell you not to do it in a market where there’s already three blue chip competitors, along with other equally formidable legacy dealerships. No matter, Gerry plunged in, eyes wide open and nearly 12 years later, Emerald continues to hold its own in a tough market.
“We’re certainly not the biggest, but we think of ourselves as kind of like Braveheart,” said Gerry. “When you compete against us, we’re going to fight.”
Above: Emerald’s showroom
“We have a big teamwork approach too, where we know if we’re in a street fight, we’ll bring Gerry in,” added Meg. “Or if it’s a software solution, I’m usually heavily involved. But our biggest thing is let’s win. The other big takeaway is Gerry Ryan is an entrepreneur; he cannot work for anyone but himself.”
Gerry concurred, noting, “My mother used to say, I probably tried to build my own corporate ladder because I couldn’t climb anybody else’s.”
Emerald’s primary vendors are Canon U.S.A. and Ricoh USA. The dealership sells printers, MFPs, scanners, and software from these OEMs. It also offers MPS and document management. “With Canon and Ricoh, we have two potent lineups,” said Gerry. And Emerald’s service isn’t too shabby either. It’s been the recipient of Ricoh’s Service Excellence Award for five consecutive years.
In the Mix
In addition to traditional hardware, Emerald sells various software solutions, notably DocuWare and Kofax’s Control Suite. It also has a strong MPS offering. On the light production side, it sells Canon’s C165, while the fastest Ricoh machine it sells is the 9200.
The dealership recently closed a six-figure DocuWare sale, and according to Gerry’s contacts at Ricoh, Emerald is ahead of the curve in selling that product since taking it on a year ago. “We’ve got about $275,000 worth of business from that this year,” revealed Gerry. “We are definitely making some traction. We have a pipeline and we’re getting better on the presale and post-sale.”
“We’ve done a pretty good job of taking our customers problems and challenges and using software and even hardware equipment to solve those day-to-day challenges with paperwork,” said Meg. “Whether it’s a hybrid environment, whether they’re fully in the office or even offices that are now fully remote, we try to position ourselves that we have solutions for every type of business need.”
The Emerald team is examining other opportunities to diversify but prefers not to jump into anything new until they feel that they are ready. As technology changes, creating a shift in the industry, Emerald is keeping its own pace.
Meg has seen this seismic shift firsthand in the four years she’s been selling for Emerald. “It’s rare that a customer asks about how fast a machine is anymore, instead they inquire about its additional capabilities and how it can fit into their processes,” she said. Those questions also create opportunities for Meg to discuss how customers and prospects are handling their files, segueing into conversations about document management and print management.
“I like to position us as an office technology company, and we specialize in anything related to document management, whether you are printing the crap out of things every day or you want to shift toward a more paperless environment,” said Meg. “You need help with your scanning needs? We have something for you.”
Managed IT could be the next big thing for Emerald after document management. It wouldn’t be the first time Emerald has been in that space, but after stumbling with it in the past, the company is vetting it once again. “We shut it down pretty quick because it needed some work,” acknowledged Gerry. “We don’t want to lose business because we can’t do enough for someone. We are looking at a couple of different avenues for that right now and bringing on some additional people that could support it. We have great relationships. We have the perfect market to do that, but we want to make sure we do that right.”
That could involve another acquisition. About five and a half years ago, Emerald purchased a Canon dealership, so acquisitions aren’t a new concept to Emerald. Partnering is another option, as is building it themselves. “Some people say you got to do one of those three. Some people say you got to do a little bit of all of it,” said Gerry. “It’s definitely something we’re looking at.”
Above: Emerald’s sales team with their certificates for completing a software sales course. Note the company’s motto in the background.
Perhaps the biggest change in the company over the past year and a half has been the addition of one of Gerry’s oldest friends in the industry, Keith Elgort, who comes with a lot of industry experience.
“He helped navigate us through the pandemic, making some good moves, right-sizing, and cutting some expenses,” said Gerry. “He’s been a real help to the organization, which lets me spend more time on business development.”
Teach Your Children Well
When Gerry launched Emerald 12 years ago, the thought hadn’t crossed his mind about turning this into a family business. That dynamic happened by accident. While Meg was attending Manhattan College in the Bronx, she told Gerry how she needed to find an internship and how stressed she was because no one was answering her calls. “She started telling me what some other people were doing for internships. One of them was basically getting people coffee, so I figured, what the hell, I’m already sending her money, I might as well get something out of it.”
Above: Meg celebrates receiving a 2020 30 Under 30 Award from Long Island Business News with her parents Peggy and Gerry.
That investment has paid off for both Gerry and Meg, who initially added a social media element to Emerald. Working as an intern opened Meg’s eyes to the career possibilities at Emerald, as well as her own. “I knew I had value, but it’s not like these big New York City companies even wanted to talk to me. You’re just a number in the system. I felt like this was a cool opportunity where I have a voice in the company. No one has better interest for you than your own father. It gave me a sense of security. He told me, you’re going to help me grow and build, but he never put too much pressure on me. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, and I still get beat up by my customers sometimes, but not by him.”
As with any new job, there are ups and downs and eye-opening experiences. “I first thought sales was knocking on doors and just making phone calls,” recalled Meg. “Then, I realized the relationship aspect and what we really do. I have this awesome story to tell that I work in my family-owned business, and we’re in technology. It’s constantly changing, and I like that. That’s opened my eyes to how much more opportunity there is to come.”
Both Meg and her brother Andrew are excellent sales reps and consistently rate among the top sales reps at Emerald. “The father-daughter duo is just killer on closing a lot of business,” said Meg.
“I talk about that all the time, going out on sales calls with your kids,” said Gerry. “It’s kind of cool because half the time you’re walking into a company that’s family-owned anyway.”
Since joining the company as a full-time employee four years ago, Meg has become the face of the company in the community and the industry. “She has a dynamic to her that’s unteachable,” said Gerry. “You can buy process, you can buy administration, you can buy organizational skills. What we’re trying to do is brand Emerald as a living, breathing entity, getting the reps to build our brand and our reputation within the brand. Meg has done a great job. We bring a lot of personality to what we do, and it helps.”
Meg’s reputation extends beyond Emerald’s market and community. Gerry is a member of BPCA and recently returned from that organization’s meeting. “I get blown away when people from the industry from Iowa or Washington state ask me about Meg.”
Meg likes the relationship aspect of what she does and gets along great with her customers. “A lot of them are friends at this point,” she said. “I tailored my selling style to my personality where I don’t want to make 100 cold calls. I don’t want to bother people. I want to be a resource, and I want people to trust me.”
Meg is only 26, and for her, social media is a brilliant way of building the brand and showing the personalities behind Emerald. “Our top posts always have one thing in common, people. Whether it’s the service team getting together, taking a photo, or Andrew, showing his baby, who turns two in November, on a forklift, or something crazy like that.”
Personal branding has helped Meg win a lot of net new business and also brand herself. “I started out feeling like, oh, I’m Gerry’s daughter. But I was able to make my own connections and now, I have my own identity that’s still tied into our amazing family business, which I’m always proud to talk about.”
A critical element of Meg’s initiative to build the brand is her involvement in the Long Island business community, as well as with the Ricoh and Canon communities. Her focus is on building relationships within her community and with her customers, vendors, and other dealers around the U.S.
Overall, Gerry is pleased with the direction that Emerald is moving. He admires Meg’s ability to network and her natural curiosity. “She’s good with the technology. She’s good at breaking down barriers. She’s a good customer advocate. You never want to be an inside person. You always want to be touching customers and working on business development.”
“I’m having a flashback to when Meg first started with another young rep, Kelly,” recalled Gerry. “One day, I was talking to them, and I said, Look, you guys are both nice people. Just be yourself, don’t try to be something that you’re not. Don’t try to memorize this stuff, just have a conversation with people’”
Meg certainly is not emulating Gerry; she brings something different to the table. “I don’t know if it’s one single thing that I’ve necessarily brought in, but I do a good job of vetting products and software. I like to learn things inside and out.”
“I would say the biggest difference that she brought in is an awareness of branding within the organization, with the customer, with our manufacturers, and in the community,” said Gerry. “I don’t need to look for an exit strategy. We have the basis for a succession plan, and that’s comforting.”
Access Related Content