Mom-and-pop approach works for developer

Who says bigger is always better? Certainly not the customers of Toronto-based Blinco Systems Inc., a 12-person, family-owned and -operated developer of international supply-chain and distribution software called 3rdWave and 3rdWave Logistics.

Take for example Honda Trading America Corp. in Marysville, Ohio. The international importer and exporter of steel, aluminium, plastic raw materials and automotive parts must balance its supply needs with the manufacturing, assembly and processing requirements of its many domestic and international partners.

Why would a firm like Honda Trading America, which is jointly owned by Honda Trading Corp. and American Honda Motor Co. in Torrance, Calif., and does more than US$1.2 billion in business annually, choose to work with a firm as small as Blinco?

Simply because Blinco is a small company, said Blair Fujii, Honda’s senior assistant manager of information technology.

“They can rapidly [adapt] the software as our business changes,” Fujii said. “And they can do it rather quickly, sometimes within three months. It’s that flexibility that sets them apart.”

Homegrown Software

Edward “Ned” Blinick, who runs Blinco Systems with his brother David, said the company grew out of the family’s international food importing and distribution business, which he and David started in 1982.

While that business was in operation, the brothers decided to develop a system to manage its supply-chain logistics. Then in 1994, realizing that the software business they began two years earlier was more profitable than the food business, they decided to devote themselves and their five employees full time to the software business.

Today, Blinco Systems employs just 12 people: David, who is president and CEO; Ned, who is vice-president; eight programmers; and two implementation specialists.

Ned Blinick said the company, which currently has 15 active clients, is looking to add two or three more programmers and a salesperson within the next several months.

Staying small allows Blinco Systems to develop totally “client-centric” products, he said, explaining that the company can easily adapt its software to fit its customers’ needs without having to reinvent the wheel. But if Blinco lands more customers, the Blinicks understand the company will have to grow. The question is how much.

Despite its size, Fujii said, Blinco Systems’ operations are compatible with Honda Trading America’s needs.

In 1993, Fujii said, when Honda Trading America decided it needed to become a complete supply-chain organization in order to be a more effective business, it began looking around for a company that could develop just the right software to allow the firm to manage its entire steel and aluminium supply chain.

“We looked at large companies like Big Blue (IBM Corp.) and smaller firms,” Fujii said. “We needed a company that could move quickly and could speak our language.”

And Blinco Systems fit the bill, Fujii said. Even though the company was small – four people in 1993 – it was willing to send someone to Ohio to learn about Honda Trading America’s business, he said.

“They came and spent time talking to people, especially those closest to the project, the people who key in the data. And they were quick studies,” Fujii said. “They listened to the process and understood what is important to our business. Working with Blinco Systems is like working with a true partner, not a purveyor of services.”

Anthony Prossi, director of information systems at Rothco, a global importer and exporter of military-type apparel and accessories, is also pleased with Blinco.

Change of Heart

“Originally, when we set out to look for software, we were looking for a larger company with a more established customer base,” Prossi said. “But we were also looking for a company that could fill certain needs, like being able to handle Rothco’s rapid-ordering system.”

Rothco, which does about US$55 million in business annually, also wanted an integrated system to handle its import and export sales needs.

The problem, Prossi said, was that Rothco couldn’t find a company that could integrate all its back- and front-office requirements.

What Rothco needed was a company to customize its software to Rothco’s business, something large companies are generally unwilling to do, Prossi said.

“Large companies were more interested in you adapting to their software,” Prossi said. “But Blinco Systems custom-tailored its software to our needs.

“We were a little nervous because they were so small, but they proved they could deliver what they promised,” he added. “We’ve been running live with their full system for a year now, and it has exceeded our expectations.”

John Fontanella, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said 3rdWave can do far more than other supply-chain software systems available.

“There aren’t many other [systems] that have the level of functionality that 3rdWave has,” he said. “The company has an impressive list of users for its size and is well worth a look if you seek an integrated suite to manage domestic and international trade.”

Not only does Blinco Systems understand the needs of large and medium-size businesses, but it can also handle the requirements of much smaller companies.

Philip Khazzam, president of family-owned Totally Nuts, a Montreal-based importer of nuts and dried fruits that does US$10 million to US$12 million in business annually and has five employees, said Blinco Systems has a firsthand understanding of the challenges facing small firms.

“When we heard they were going into the software business, we said that because they came from a small, family-owned food business, they would understand our needs,” Khazzam said.