Helping hand

GSA sales facilitator takes charge of contracts for clients

Company Snapshot

Technical Communities Inc.

Headquarters: San Bruno, Calif.

Founded: 1998

President and CEO: Peter Ostrow

Annual revenue: $67 million

Business: To link vendors of goods and services with government agencies through the General Services Administration schedules.

Source: Hoovers Inc.

Peter Ostrow, Technical Communities

When U.S. forces secured Baghdad International Airport during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they needed to reopen the facility quickly to move troops and materiel into the country. An initial task was repairing the airport's communications network.

The Army turned to Technical Communities Inc., a nine-year-old company that facilitates sales between vendors on the General Services Administration schedules and government agencies.

"Because we keep both East and West Coast hours, we were incredibly responsive to their questions around delivery and were able to get to the factory much quicker than if they'd gone directly to the manufacturer," said Peter Ostrow, president and chief executive officer of the company, which is based in San Bruno, Calif.
The Army received the needed network test kit in Baghdad in less than two weeks.
Receipt time is critical to the company's business model, Ostrow said. "What you really want to do is make sure that somebody's product or service is in the right place at the right time when somebody is interested in learning about the product or buying it," he said.

The company's approach to the government market has paid off with annual growth of 60 percent a year since 2001, Ostrow said. The company also is expanding, opening an office in northern Virginia. It has hired Stephney Morris as business development manager for the Washington area.

One of Technical Communities' services is to put vendor products on the GSA Advantage and other government Web sites, including DOD Emall, operated by the Defense Logistics Information Service, and the Naval Inventory Control Point Mart, NAVICPmart, which manages more than 400,000 spare parts for naval aircraft, submarines and ships.

Ostrow said even vendors that have been on the GSA schedule a while can benefit by outsourcing to a firm like Technical Communities. "It's not that they can't do it themselves," he said. "We can save them time, and we can reduce their risk in the [reseller] channel. In many cases, it's worth the trade-off for them to not manage their own schedule."

Technical Communities isn't alone in acting as an agent for companies trying to sell to the federal government. The ImmixGroup Inc. of McLean, Va., and the Washington Management Group of Washington, D.C., also offer similar schedule management services. The ImmixGroup is ranked No. 66 on Washington Technology's Top 100 list of the largest government contractors.

One of Technical Communities' clients is Anixter International Inc., a Fortune 500 distributor of communications products. Anixter had a three-person staff managing its GSA sales, but as business grew, it got tougher to keep up with GSA regulatory, administrative and format changes.

When Anixter signed with Technical Communities, "they moved those three people into sales, so they were able to sell more," Ostrow said.

Technical Communities takes charge of contract management, pre- and post-sales support and marketing services. "We also do all of the quoting, all of the follow-up. We handle all of the order management, all the billing, all the collection," Ostrow said. The company also ensures that its clients' offerings meet GSA's best-pricing requirements.

When you're on a GSA schedule, "you are required to [meet] a number of procedures with all your other business, not only the government but also commercially," said Ryan Panos, vice president of global sales at Aeroflex Inc., a Plainview, N.Y., manufacturer of microelectronic testing and measurement products for communications and network systems.

The Army and Navy are among Aeroflex's top GSA customers, with sales as high as $40 million to $50 million a year. "It's fairly significant," Panos said.

"We have seven divisions, but only a few of them participate in GSA," he said. Selling to the government through Technical Communities provides a firewall so the company as a whole doesn't have to meet GSA regulations.

Companies with both commercial and government business tend to separate them because the commercial-contracting culture is very different from the contracting culture in the government market, said Dendy Young, former president and CEO of GTSI Corp., a government solutions provider and reseller.

Government sales facilitators such as Technical Communities, ImmixGroup and Washington Management Group serve an especially useful function now that the number of companies on GSA schedules has mushroomed, Young said. He attributed the expansion mainly to GSA's addition of services providers in the late 1990s and the growth of homeland security information technology companies since 2001.

"Since '02 or thereabouts, there's been a flood of new companies coming to Washington saying, 'We can do this too, we can do this too,' " Young said. "Of course, they don't know enough to know what to do, and so the first thing they do is outsource the contract negotiations, which is a smart decision on their part."

But outsourcing doesn't mean the companies don't have to comply with GSA rules. "That is a misunderstanding that is fairly common in our industry," Young said. Failing to abide by GSA pricing regulations, he said, "is where most of these companies run afoul."

Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at dhubler@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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