Twenty-five years ago, Mike Vickers convinced his brother-in-law Jeff Gardner to leave the world of public accounting for a new career. Vickers had been laid off from his job at a wiring and cabling company but kept getting calls from one particular customer.
Gardner and Vickers made about $10,000 on the job, enough to entice them to go into business together. But Carousel Industries wasn’t the only venture Vickers and Gardner partnered on. They also opened Carousel Marketplace, a deli with which they shared a phone line for about six years.
“We were going to be the next Subway,” says Gardner with a laugh.
Vickers and Gardner sold the deli as Carousel Industries grew from a $75,000 company in their first year to a $3 million endeavor in 1997 when they became a Lucent dealer, largely thanks to their work for Reynolds and Reynolds. That helped the Exeter, R.I.-based IT integrator expand across New England, then into Maryland and later up and down the East Coast of the U.S.
The deli, by the way, became a warehouse that was sold in 2015, and Carousel Industries now boasts its own phone lines.
Steady Growth for Quarter-Century
Carousel has continued to grow, exceeding $525 million in revenues in 2016, in part because of the acquisition late last year of another Rhode Island IT integrator Atrion, which had a relationship with Cisco that appealed to Carousel.
“We’ve been competitors, we’ve been partners and we’ve been friends,” says Gardner about Atrion and its CEO Tim Hebert, who is now chief client officer for Carousel Industries.
“Success is about listening to your customers,” says Gardner. “As we’re seeing the market transition, it’s becoming more about helping customers with their business outcomes, not about representing manufacturers. “What we’re doing is helping customers drive their revenue or cut their costs. We take all of the anxiety and hassle away from our clients and give them only one company they have to deal with,” he says.
“Success is about listening to your customers … helping customers drive their revenue or cut their costs.”
JEFF GARDNER, CAROUSEL INDUSTRIES CEO
Hebert has noticed a similar transition in customers’ expectations and requirements of integrators if they expect to succeed in this new world. “There’s been a huge shift in the last five years about how people view technology,” he says.
“They’re trying to change their business models. It’s not just about the fact they think they need to have technology.”
During the so-called Great Recession in 2007 and 2008, many companies struggled to stay afloat and were forced to cut costs, lay off employees and more. For Carousel, it seems the opposite happened during that time.
“If anything, we had more clients, because they need to streamline the number of vendors,” says Gardner.
Jim Marsh, now a partner and chief revenue officer at Carousel Industries, came to the company in 2001, when the company was focused on cabling and bringing in about $3 million in annual revenue.