This Canadian success story is part of this week’s ICT sector series.
To learn more about export opportunities for companies in this sector, please read Canada’s ICT sector is built for exporting.
It started with a drywall contractor meeting a dairy farmer back in 1999. It sounds like the start of a joke told at the pub, but that is, in fact the way that Plexxis Software came to be.
“It may sound like a joke but we’re not kidding,” says Chad Pearson, director of business development for the software company, with a laugh.
The dairy farmer was Chris Loranger, and he was helping his neighbour, Gabe St. Denis, set up his new computer. Loranger’s business at the time was dairy farming, but he happened to love computers and that’s what brought the two men together. St. Denis is a drywall contractor with Maxam Drywall and he later complained to Loranger that there was no software specific to his trade. Soon after, he asked Loranger, who had some knowledge of coding simply because of his passion for computing, to build him an estimating system. Loranger started working on it and enlisted his cousin, Jay Fraser, who also wanted to get out of dairy farming. The two took on the project. A couple of years later, St. Denis came back and asked them to continue building solutions, this time for the project management and accounting sides.
“That’s when they realized that this opportunity was bigger than just this one drywaller,” Pearson says. “They asked another friend to help them with implementation and training and brought me on board for business development. We started to take the product across Toronto, and then realized the problem existed coast-to-coast.”
Turns out it was a niche for which the drywall industry was clamouring; other software for the building industry was all geared toward general contractors, rather than this individual trade, or any others for that matter. To that end, Plexxis designs software to ease pre-implementation planning, project management and data mapping and conversion with skilled training and support. The company says the product helps its customers’ profit margins increase because it creates significant gains in efficiency. A job that would usually require three people now requires one, for example.
“Companies either reduce their internal overhead or they repurpose that labour to more important tasks to help expand as a company,” Pearson said.
Exporting soon came online because some of Plexxis’ larger customers belonged to AWCI (Association for the Wall and Ceiling Industry), a global organization whose members recommended Plexxis join.
“When we did, we met U.S. wall and ceiling contractors and when we spoke to them, they had the same frustrations the Canadians did,” Pearson said. “They were all using a network of spreadsheets and computer systems on top of the construction software to manage their business. Since our entire focus was on their trade, it was the perfect marriage.”
In the early days, when they presented to would-be customers, the response was always: Where have we been for the last 20 years and why am I just finding you now?”
Plexxis’ first exports came in 2010 and have been growing ever since. In the beginning, they had two loyal companies, one on each coast.
“Their goals and our goals were very aligned when we met,” Pearson said. “We didn’t have any experience in the U.S. so a lot of companies were nervous about dealing with us, but these two companies took a chance and helped us gain the experience we needed at the federal, county and municipal levels. That’s where things really started to explode.”
After those relationships were sealed, the company went from having 80 per cent of the Canadian contractors who make more than $10 million annually to now having more U.S. customers, coast to coast, than they do Canadian.
“And we still have the market in Canada; we haven’t lost a single customer,” Pearson said, and added that while they’re relatively small in market share in the U.S., their customers are the highest-performing in their respective locations. “The best contractors in each of the regions in the U.S. have migrated to our solution.”