WennSoft Strikes Vertical Gold

A job-costing application born from its construction industry roots grows into a successful business.

When you've been in the construction business for more than 80 years, you learn what it takes to create a solid foundation. In the case of Wenninger Co., that goes for constructing businesses, not just buildings.

Founded in 1911, Wenninger Co. grew to more than $60 million in annual revenue by the late 1990s. Along the way, company executives realized they needed a better way to get a handle on company costs. They turned to the firm's IT department, which created an application specifically for managing large construction-related projects.

The solution, which was built on top of the Great Plains accounting system, worked so well that in 1993, the company started to sell it to other construction firms. In 1994, the company landed a large contract with Honeywell International Inc. for its software.

The Honeywell deal was a turning point that prompted the construction firm to create a new entity to take full advantage of its job-costing application. In 1995, WennSoft was officially born, with a simple goal: To improve efficiency, expedite reporting and create cost-saving opportunities for its customers, says Julie West, vice president of operations at the New Berlin, Wisc. firm. The offspring has grown and prospered, even while its parent company is no more; Wenninger Co. was acquired by Total Comfort of Wisconsin Inc. in November 2004.

In the Beginning
In its early days, WennSoft tracked the construction crews, equipment and materials it used in its large construction projects—time-consuming but necessary tasks, designed to maximize efficiencies and cut costs.

"WennSoft has walked in the shoes of many customers," West says. "It allows us to target our solutions to specifically address many of the needs and business challenges that are encountered regularly by our customers."

WennSoft built on its foundation in the construction industry by expanding into markets with the similar challenges of effectively managing people, services and equipment. Today, WennSoft offers several software packages that focus on improving efficiency, reducing expenses and streamlining processes for companies in vertical markets including not only construction, but utility infrastructure, telecommunications, architecture and engineering, power generation and elevator and escalator, to name a few.

In addition to focusing on closely related verticals, WennSoft created modularized software solutions that span the breadth of activities related to its target markets. Its product portfolio includes applications to help customers manage service tasks, equipment and job costing. The company also sells a series of tools to add specialized functionality, such as reporting, filtering and connecting to Microsoft Project, and it offers consulting, training and product support to its customers.

Julie West
"WennSoft has walked in the shoes of many customers," says Julie West, vice president of operations for the company.

Partnering for Success
In addition to industry know-how, the company points to its strong bond with Microsoft as a key to its success. Because WennSoft built its initial offering on Great Plains (now Microsoft Great Plains and soon to be Microsoft Dynamics GP), partnering with Microsoft was a natural progression.

"To work with Microsoft, an organization truly has to have a strategy as to how they are going to work that partnership and what their goals and objectives are," West says. "We set out annually what our goals are and what our opportunities to work with Microsoft are."

For example, WennSoft built vertically focused, jointly developed Go-to-Market (GTM) programs with Microsoft and aligns its product development efforts to ensure its products take full advantage of the latest business and mainline applications from Microsoft. WennSoft actively participates with Microsoft in joint advertising, case studies, demand-generation programs, tradeshow efforts and joint funding of industry-specific events, West says.

Most recently, WennSoft developed a jointly funded marketing campaign that includes a customer success video on CD, special events, telemarketing programs and a direct mail campaign, she says.

The company also works closely with Microsoft in product planning. Wennsoft beta tests many Microsoft products, and participates in partner advisory councils.

Building such a strong relationship delivers dividends, according to WennSoft. "The opportunities that have been made available to us have accelerated a hundred-fold from where we were two years ago," says West.

Headquarters: New Berlin, Wisconsin

Web Site: www.wennsoft.com

Phone: 262-821-4100

Top Executive: Jim Wenninger, President and CEO

Established: 1995

Microsoft Partner Level: Gold Certified

Microsoft Competencies: ISV and Business Solutions

Annual Revenue: Confidential

Growth Rate: 15 percent to 20 percent, year-over-year, 2005 vs. 2004

Number of Employees: 80-plus

Top Verticals: Materials handling, utility infrastructure, telecommunications, power handling, heavy construction, architecture and engineering, power generation, elevator and escalator, heavy highway and construction technical, public sector and specialty trades

Awards: Microsoft Business Solutions Inner Circle

Clients: Emeco International, the Miller Group, Yale Equipment & Services Inc., Egan Companies Inc., SBA Communications, Maxwell Construction

The Partnership Payoff
The company also credits its strong partner channel, which includes about 200 VARs and independent software vendors, for its continued success and reputation for good customer support. "A majority of our competition sells directly," says West, adding that WennSoft's network of VARs allows it to point customers to someone local who is knowledgeable and cost-effective.

Ultimately, WennSoft hopes each of its partners will focus on a specific vertical market. "These partners will continue to develop an arsenal of industry knowledge that they can draw on to become the local expert and provider of choice," says West.

A Customer Perspective
WennSoft's vertical expertise and close alliance with Microsoft encouraged Herman Goldner Company Inc., a Philadelphia-based mechanical contractor that specializes in heating and plumbing systems, to take a look at the solution provider's offerings. Herman Goldner has been a WennSoft customer since 1999, when it replaced its in-house, Unix-based application with WennSoft's job-costing and service applications. "We were looking for a Windows-based system that offered Y2K compatibility," says Tony Le, system administrator at the company, which now uses Microsoft Great Plains. "We also wanted something that had strong roots in our core accounting product."

WennSoft's relationship with Microsoft gave the company credibility. "Their close relationship with Microsoft assures us that they are here to stay and gives us confidence in them as an organization," says Le.

Herman Goldner is able to manage its costs better simply through close tracking and enhanced reporting capabilities, Le says. The system also has made it significantly easier to share business information with the banks, lenders and accountants it uses in its business. "We get snapshots every day about the dynamic changes in the cost of our projects," says Le. "Qualitatively, we've increased our margins and are more profitable as a business because of it."

Looking to the Future
Today, WennSoft revenue is growing at about 15 percent to 20 percent annually. To maintain or increase its growth rate, the company wants to expand its base of in-house consultants. But with experienced personnel difficult to find, West says WennSoft is turning to its channel for more support. The company has enhanced its partner training programs, which include the opportunity to shadow a WennSoft consultant to help its resellers get up to speed on product implementation.

WennSoft hopes to expand its reach into new vertical markets and new capabilities with the help of its ISV partners. For example, the freight industry is moving to technology-based solutions heavily, West says.

"We are looking to drive even closer to a better understanding of our customers' need for technology, not just for the solutions we provide today, but for those from other ISVs that we can partner with to make better long-term solutions for our customers," West says.