If you call New Jersey-based Touchboards, you won’t get an automated service line telling you to press a button or putting you on hold with elevator music, but a real, live person who can actually answer your questions. “We try to exploit our technical knowledge since we’re not going door-to-door,” explains Richard Wagner, president of Touchboards, an authorized manufacturer and distributor of major brands of interactive whiteboards, overhead projectors, and educational-technology products. “The guys in our office [are] much more knowledgeable than the guy who is more relationship-based showing up at your doorstep and buying you lunch. We prove ourselves with our knowledge. We do have a few outside sales guys, but we do well using the internet.”
A decade ago, many people doubted that Touchboards would be successful relying almost exclusively on Internet sales. “We sell high-end, technical equipment,” explains Wagner. “Traditionally, this type of equipment was primarily sold ‘on the street’ with sales people lugging it around from [one] location to another to show potential customers. When we first wrote our business plan in 2001, we knew there was probably a large percentage of customers who didn’t want a salesperson knocking on the door to demonstrate their equipment and would prefer a demo video or to have someone with tech expertise walk them through the product over a conference call or webinar. Ten years ago, no one believed that [selling this stuff over the Internet] was possible, but we did it, and we did it pretty well.”
In fact, Touchboards has done so well in the world of e-commerce that the company, a division of InterWorld Highway, LLC, won the award of top 500 internet retailers for every year consecutively from 2007 to 2010, and has steadily grown to $35 million in sales. The company also continues growing its workforce to meet the evolving demands of its Internet-based business, with 15-percent employee growth in just the last year.
In addition to leveraging the Internet, the company’s competitive edge is its knowledgeable sales team and outstanding customer service. “We sell big-ticket items,” Wagner explains. “Our average sale is in the $600 or $700 range. So, if you’re going to buy something [at that price point], you don’t want to get the wrong thing. By nature, our sales guys have to know the equipment, so the customer feels comfortable buying from us, and that’s been our approach from day one.”
To train its staff on product knowledge, Touchboards brings in manufacturers to do trainings on the products for sales staff. “To reinforce that, we go back and have tests and quizzes,” Wagner says. “We’ll go as far as to have pop quizzes on the equipment.” Because the Touchboards sales force knows its products so well, they expectedly receive very positive customer response. “When we recommend something, it actually works for them,” Wagner explains. “If you ever go on reseller ratings, you can see in the reviews what people say about us. There are only 45 companies in country that have a perfect score with over 150 reviews, and we’re one of them. They talk about our sales people. Things like, ‘Thanks for the help, support, or for following up.’ I think that’s what builds a loyal customer base.”
In addition to product knowledge and excellent service, Touchboards is well aware that pricing is still a major factor in where customers choose to take their business. “Our pricing is always competitive,” Wagner says. “One of our website survey questions asked if customers would buy the product elsewhere if they could get it 5 percent less, and someone wrote two paragraphs about how great one of our sales people was but then said they would go somewhere else if it was less. We pay attention to that.”
The company also pays attention to engaging its staff, which is evident in the long-term tenure of most of its employees. “I think [our employees] like the interaction with the customers and the people in the office get along with each other,” Wagner says. “They enjoy coming to work.” Although the company, which is located five blocks from the beach in Long Branch, New Jersey, recently weathered a record-size hurricane, Wagner says it’s just one hurdle of the many that the company will face and overcome. “Things come along, things happen, and you tackle them,” Wagner says.
In the near future, the company plans to tackle a $2 million revamp of its website, ERP system, and many administrative processes [scheduled for release in spring 2012 at press time]. “Our company goal is to double the size of the company every year for the next five years,” Wagner says. “By 2014, we’re hoping to have $114 million.”