By GREGORY ZELLER // If you’re looking for economic indicators from within the innovation space, consider the sizzling summer just wrapped by Intelligent Product Solutions, the Hauppauge-based product design and development firm.
The official numbers aren’t fully tallied yet, but well-laid plans, a long-awaited boost from the company’s Seattle satellite and some fortuitous timing created a perfect summer storm of momentum and opportunity, according to president Mitch Maiman.
“Summer has classically been a relatively slow time for us,” Maiman said. “Even in a good year, summer is generally slow. But this year, we had so much momentum … that even the typical sluggishness of getting projects approved didn’t slow down the pipelines.”
Maiman credited strong business among repeat customers and the rise of IPS’s Seattle facility, which opened in 2013 and became profitable for the first time this summer.
Maiman credits the growth to the Seattle shop’s new industrial design manager, Weston Van Wambeke, a “mature and very experienced guy” who’s been around the proverbial block.
Working as a freelance consultant when IPS picked him up in late winter, Van Wambeke brought to the table a host of professional connections that have already helped IPS develop new clients, many of whom are following what Maiman considers a typical new-customer pattern, hiring IPS for smaller niche projects and then retaining the firm for larger efforts requiring more product-design expertise.
The pattern has played out with some of IPS’s largest customers, including Physio-Control – a Washington State-based manufacturer of external defibrillators and monitors – and Tyco, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of fire-protection products including sprinklers and valves.
“We started working for Tyco on a very small project,” Maiman noted. “Then we landed a larger niche project that expanded our services, and now we’re engaged in a dialogue for a much bigger, multidimensional project. That’s the way we typically work with larger clients.”
Also fueling the firm’s sizzling summer were years spent developing IPS’s Internet of Things capabilities – turning everyday items into connected “smart” devices.
“Even before IoT was a buzz phrase, we had a lot of those skillsets in the company, and we were working to develop products that are smart, connected and have applications on the back end to leverage the information coming from the devices,” Maiman said. “It’s coinciding now with the rising tide among companies looking to take typically stand-alone products and connect them with iPhone and Android interfaces.
“You’re seeing it show up everywhere: in jewelry, in low-end appliances, in things that typically haven’t been smart, connected things,” he added. “Not all of these ideas are going to survive, but there’s a lot of investment going there now, and we’ve positioned ourselves as experts in that space.”
Another boost for IPS’s summer business, this one slightly less predictable: “Much crisper decision-making” by IPS clients on all levels, according to Maiman.
His company’s work generally involves proposals that require multiple client-side approvals, and “when you send over proposals in the summer, it’s usually hard to get a quick turnaround,” he noted.
“You hand it to one manager, who has to route it to the VP of engineering, who’s on vacation,” Maiman said. “Then he comes back, but now the director you were working with is out, and when they both finally get back, then it has to go to the director of finance, who just took a week off. Even technical evaluations hit a snag in the summer.”
But this summer, Maiman added, clients appeared more ready for action than ever – a possible reflection of an improving economy – including several new customers attracted by the firm’s ongoing social media marketing and SEO campaigns.
Those efforts generated “out-of-network” opportunities IPS hasn’t traditionally seen in the summer months, the president said, helping make the quarter closing Sept. 30 – IPS’s fiscal fourth quarter – noticeably solid.
“Typically, in our fiscal fourth quarter, we’ll marginally break even and sometimes even suffer a loss,” Maiman noted. “We have people on vacation, too, and when people are being paid to be out, you have fewer billable hours and the same expenses. But we turned a good profit this summer, and that’s huge, because the first three quarters of our fiscal year were strong.”
Fiscal 2016 is looking good, too, with new opportunities brewing with two of IPS’s largest existing customers – PepsiCo and Zebra Technologies, which acquired Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business last year. IPS is also “on the cusp of landing several other Tier-1 customers,” according to Maiman.
“I think we have a very good shot of getting in the door with three or four other Fortune 100 clients,” he said. “And once we get in the door with a small project, we tend to grow our relationships with those kinds of clients.
“Going into the next calendar year, I’m expecting that we’ll have several new foundational clients,” Maiman added. “And we’ll just build from there.”