Diversifying its product offerings and acquisitions positions the 44-year-old Colorado dealership for ongoing success.
Above: Frontier’s new headquarters is just two miles from downtown Denver.
Scott Schnabel is a man on a mission. A 27-year document imaging industry veteran, he joined Frontier Business Products a year and a half ago. Frontier recruited Schnabel because the owners, Carol and Peter Mitschke, were looking for someone to continue growing the dealership and prepare it for the future. Despite hesitations about moving from the East Coast to Colorado, he accepted the opportunity with the blessing of his wife and family.
Above: Frontier Business Products executive team, including Emelie Saccomona, CFO, Owners Carol and Peter Mitschke, COO Scott Schnabel, and Robert Moore, area sales manager.
Schnabel has a rich history in the dealer channel, including 12 years at Centric Business Systems in Owings Mills, Maryland, and 13 at Connecticut Business Systems in Wethersfield, Connecticut, where he got his start as a sales rep after college. “I’m excited that Carol and Peter are confident I can help grow the business,” said Schnabel. “They don’t even want to entertain selling the company to a third party. They want a clear distinction of where the company is going and have the business be what it was when it started 44 years ago. This is a nice opportunity and exactly what I was looking for.”
Above: Schnabel (center) cuts the ribbon celebrating the grand opening of Frontier’s new Denver headquarters this fall.
Frontier Business Products currently has five locations in Colorado, supporting 65 employees. This includes a new sales office in Denver, one which supports its growing managed network services team, and a new headquarters it just moved into in Aurora. Acquisitions are integral to Frontier’s growth plans. A soon-to-be-finalized acquisition will extend Frontier’s reach into a new market. “You can grow as big as you want if you have the right people, but acquisitions must be a part of our process, too,” said Schnabel.
Above: Schnabel’s son Ethan stands in the center of Frontier’s spacious new headquarters warehouse.
Despite not being the biggest player in many of Frontier’s markets currently, that’s not stopping Schnabel and the Mitschkes from thinking big. “I’ve always wanted to be the dominant player in any market,” said Schnabel. “We’re making good strides on the sales side. Net new business is up dramatically, and we have a great service and administrative organization.”
Above: The interior of the new office building has a mix of open and private offices.
Schnabel is currently focused on four objectives:
- Ensure Frontier has an excellent consultative sales force who are great listeners, understand what’s important to the client, and provide the right solution. “We want to support the client in a way where they feel like we’re their long-term partner and trusted advisor,” noted Schnabel.
- Ensure outstanding leadership is in place. “People want to stay with companies with great leaders,” observed Schnabel.
- Ensure Frontier is the best from a service and administrative perspective.
- Ensure there is a culture of success.
“When you tie those together, you become something special and start making strong strides in a marketplace,” said Schnabel.
Frontier’s hardware vendors include Ricoh, Sharp, HP, RISO, Lexmark, and Brother. With a partner like Ricoh, it’s not surprising that production print is on its menu of offerings. Frontier offers customers the full range of Ricoh’s production print products. “I am spoiled because Ricoh has their Customer Experience Center in Boulder,” said Schnabel. “We’ve leveraged that a ton. They fly in people from all over the country to see the print shop and demonstrate the technology. We have the best showroom for clients in the production world to show off that technology, and it’s in our backyard.”
Frontier’s A4 offerings include Brother, Lexmark, Sharp, Ricoh, and HP. HP A4 and A3 are recent additions. Asked about the challenges of taking on a new line, Schnabel is optimistic about the opportunity to sell this technology. “HP’s name recognition is strong,” said Schnabel. “The A4 is taking off quickly, and we’re starting to see traction on the A3 side.”
Diversification is not a dirty word at Frontier. Schnabel recalls how Tom Johnson of Global Imaging Systems preached the one-stop-shop approach. “That’s what we have to be in today’s world,” acknowledged Schnabel.
DocuWare and Square 9 represent Frontier’s ECM/document management solutions providers. Schnabel sees value in both vendors. The dealership has savvy solutions specialists who fully understand these products and can identify the best solution based on the customer’s applications.
Frontier has been offering IT services for more than eight years. The dealership has IT specialists, and since the beginning of 2022, it has been adding a deal or two a month. “That part of the business is growing nicely,” said Schnabel. “IT is part of our talk track when we speak with clients, and as that part of the business grows, IT will be an important part of being a true solution provider.”
The dealership also offers Crexendo phones under the IT services umbrella. It also sells a fair amount of Sharp Aquos boards. “I want to make sure that people are aware of all the different things we sell,” said Schnabel. “When I talk to a client, or somebody asks me what we do, I tell them we manage the client’s network and pretty much everything that hangs off it, whether it’s copy or printer technology, phone systems, document management software, or backfile scanning, taking paper and putting it into electronic format for the client.”
Schnabel asks his sales reps to hit on everything Frontier offers when meeting with customers and prospects. “We have a flyer that the reps cold call with, and it has all the distinctions of things that we do so we don’t get branded in just one category,” revealed Schnabel. “You can’t just be that one-trick pony anymore. You must diversify. We’re taking that to heart and driving that hard. We’re investing with people to ensure we can do that well.”
According to Schnabel, the next diversification opportunity could be Dynabooks from Sharp, which Frontier is taking a hard look at, especially after hearing Sharp President and CEO Mike Marusic tout diversification during a recent Sharp Road Show.
Supply Chain Woes
The inevitable question about the supply chain came up, and Schnabel acknowledged that Sharp has done a better job than most of the other OEMs. “We just delivered and billed for two large transactions we sold in January ,” reported Schnabel. “So, there are still some challenges. Things are certainly much slower than what I’m used to. I’m used to telling the customer, in the best times, 10 to 15 business day deliveries. The good news is that it is becoming more of a reality than not, seeing improvements in the back half of 2022.”
Frontier has been taking care of its sales force during these slower-than-usual inventory turns, paying them on deals even when the products have yet to be delivered. Meanwhile, Frontier’s reps are adjusting. “They are starting to figure out where that sweet spot is,” said Schnabel. “Like, if I sold over here, how quickly would my customer get their solution?”
Hiring and Retention
Frontier has a tenured sales force. “They bring great maturity and customer confidence when they walk into a room,” said Schnabel. But as The Cannata Report’s Annual Dealer Survey reveals, hiring and retention are one of dealers’ top three concerns, and that’s a concern at Frontier too.
Above: The new Denver headquarters has plenty of meeting room space.
“Even in the best of times, it’s hard to find good people, so forget about whatever we’re going through right now,” lamented Schnabel. “I’ve had more than one conversation with somebody saying, ‘I can work from home, and I don’t have to work as hard. And frankly, I get compensated pretty darn well to do that.’”
Even though Schnabel believes you must work hard and maximize your time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., he acknowledged that attitude doesn’t fit everybody in the sales world. To offset that attitude, Frontier has a two-week training program for new employees. “I’m looking for good people with qualities I can’t teach,” he said. Frontier works with its internal recruiter. “My recruiter is doing a good job identifying those candidates. We’re hiring some people right out of college and bringing them up the curve with our program. The hard part is staying disciplined. It’s just waiting for the right person versus just hiring.”
What kind of growth can we expect from Frontier Business Products in 2023? “The ambition is always the same year over year,” replied Schnabel. “It’s just doing better than we did the previous year. And taking the right steps to be considered the best at what we do. If we do that, growth will come.”