Comark Federal Undergoes Metamorphosis

Comark photo

"If we don't do $50 million in 1998, there should be someone else in my seat.''
-Alan Bechara

Vice President and COO
Comark Federal Systems

Comark Federal Undergoes Metamorphosis

By Dennis McCafferty
Staff Writer

Boosted by a $50 million U.S. Census Bureau contract and a recent federal market turn toward leased information technology, Comark Federal Systems has dramatically turned around its fortunes in the last year, company officials say.

The demand for leased products plays right into the company's niche as a reseller of commercial, off-the-shelf computers, microcomputers, software and peripherals.

In 1995, Comark Federal generated $1 million in federal sales. In 1996, it brought in $20 million in federal sales. In that year, the 20-employee division of Bloomingdale, Ill.-based Comark Inc. went from losing $100,000 a month to breaking even.

Comark Federal predicts $32 million in sales in 1997 and $50 million in 1998. And in 1999, division officials predict $100 million. It's all about sticking with what you know and establishing a proven track record with federal customers, they said.

"It's really a matter of blocking and tackling,'' said Alan Bechara, vice president and chief operating officer of Comark Federal. "If we don't do $50 million in 1998, there should be someone else in my seat.''

Bechara's confident remark is consistent with that of an executive not afraid to make changes. A five-year executive and vice president with Chantilly, Va.-based Government Technology Services Inc., Bechara joined Comark's federal sales division in October 1996, and he changed the name in March from Comark Government and Education Sales to the more direct Comark Federal Systems. (Previously, there was some confusion that the division dabbled in state, local and education-related government business - and even training - which it doesn't do.)

Then, Bechara oversaw a recent change of scenery for the division. And with the office location move - heading from the Interstate 270 corridor in Gaithers-burg, Md., to Chantilly, Va. - Bechara said the new digs can only help his company.

"It's right in the middle of the action,'' Bechara said. "You know that in this segment of the industry, 80 percent of the business is done between Tysons Corner and Dulles.''

Parent company Comark Inc., a 20-year-old, privately held reseller that had $800 million in revenues last year, opened its government sales operation in 1984. But it didn't open an office in the Washington metropolitan area until 1995, with a location in Rockville, Md.

Its federal fortunes turned around in September 1996, when the company took a big leap from General Services Administration-tied sales to land the large laptop contract with the Census Bureau.

That contract calls for Comark to provide laptops to the agency for the next five years. One-third have been delivered through leasing arrangements. So far, the company has received $8 million in sales from the contract. That's just ahead of the contract's $10 million estimated yearly value.

And that promises to grow even more in 1998, when agency officials plan to lease 20,000 laptops over a six- to 12-month period to boost technology for the year 2000 Census count.

The company also is expected to boost its ever-improving business prospects with the GSA's schedule sales program. On Tuesday, Comark reached an agreement to provide leased products through schedule sales and is nearer an agreement with the GSA to sell services on its schedule.

Last year, Comark made $5.5 million through the GSA schedule. This year, the company is on track to double that, said Elise Snight, GSA business development manager for Comark Federal Systems.

"It opens up a whole bunch of avenues to sell equipment,'' Snight said.

The GSA has been touting the services side of schedule sales lately, with officials predicting that services will dwarf product schedule sales in the next couple years. And while Comark is looking to offer services, company officials say it will be more of a sideline.

"We are definitely going to be a one-stop shop,'' Bechara said. "But I don't know how big services will be for us. Those jobs go to the big boys.''

Like other companies, Comark has found much opportunity opening because of procurement reform, and not only with respect to the GSA schedule program. Noncontracted sales have picked up as well.

In the federal sales arena, open market purchases of computers and peripherals dramatically increased from $9.8 million in the 1995 fiscal year to $37.8 million in 1996, according to Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., a market research firm.

For Comark Federal, those sales accounted for nearly all of its $1 million in revenues in 1995 and increased to $9 million in 1996. More agencies are making their own decisions and pulling out credit cards to make purchases because of procurement reform's emphasis on adopting commercial buying practices.

"If they're confident that you'll deliver, they'll call you,'' Bechara said. "You fill their order and you're done. But don't burn them, or you'll be gone.''

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