Through Thick and Thin
Strategic partnerships for the lifeblood of SSCS. While each brings something different to the table, they have one thing in common: each is integral to our success and growth.
Even if you spend only a fraction of your time in the business world, you know that the term “partners” gets thrown around carelessly, maybe even recklessly, blanching the meaning out of it and rendering it cliché.
Not at SSCS. Partners inform our corporate culture, and they have done so since our earliest days. They’re part of our lifeblood. We wouldn’t be here without them.
Back in the early 1980’s when we had little more than a handful of dedicated employees and our flagship product was called Service Station Manager, a business forms company, looking for a way to transition their paper business to the digital world, bought into the vision of our founding members. They partnered with us, providing precious resources that helped us capitalize on market opportunities as they presented themselves.
“New companies often aren’t consistent in their approach due to a scarcity of resources,” notes SSCS Sales Manager Shawn Herrick. “This is hugely problematic because customers and prospects respond favorably to consistency; it creates the kind of market distinction that’s noticed by high performing retailers. If you can’t deliver it, you’re at a disadvantage.”
SSCS managed to sidestep this pitfall, in part, because of the support of our partners in our earliest days. This support allowed us to achieve and sustain consistency. It allowed us to methodically engineer the best available solutions.
While no two partnerships are the same—each brings something unique to the table—they do fall into a few broad categories.
For starters, there are corporate partners like Circle K, Sunoco, and ExxonMobil that add scale to our efforts by allowing us to quickly expand our market footprint through a network of franchisees. These agreements also provide access to any number of significant new opportunities. We extend each other’s visibility and reach to an extent that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Then there are the independent owner-operators that form the lion’s share of the retail petroleum industry and a plurality of our customer base. This is partnership at its most personal. We work side by side with these entrepreneurs in the trenches adding efficiency and profitability to their stores, while we benefit from forming personal relationships with the best independents in the business. The advantages SSCS realizes extend beyond the financial. We’re exposed to a spirit of innovation that helps guide how our products and services should evolve to meet future customer requirements.
While the corporate and independent partnerships we build ultimately focus on the needs of the end user, our relationships with vendors, distributors, associations, and other third parties are a bit different and provide some unique challenges as potential advantages are less direct and harder to quantify. A third party may recognize the power of SSCS solutions and the viability of the framework we’ve constructed to support our customers in a general sense, but the specific benefits to these companies is less obvious since we don’t directly sell to these companies.
“We’re asking a local distributor or vendor to recommend us to their customers based on our merit as an organization and as someone with whom it’s good to be associated,” states Herrick. “A solution provider might try to simplify this process by offering a commission to a third party or its dealers, but discounting our value isn’t a viable methodology for SSCS. As a company we’re relationship-based, so our goal is to convince a third party on the value of forming a relationship with us—that it’s an advantage that can’t be measured in monetary terms.”
Examples of how this approach works for us are plentiful, but for purposes of discussion let’s focus on our relationships with POS providers. SSCS provides more interfaces to more POS systems than anybody in the industry because our reputation precedes us. “These companies talk to each other,” Herrick says. “They know we do it right, ensuring that we’ll create a technical and procedural template that will allow their product to shine. For us it means crafting the widest variety of POS solutions possible to address the needs of the largest possible set of prospects.”
The relationship-based model has become more challenging to sustain as the number of technology companies serving the industry increases. Competition is fierce. The abundance of market chatter makes it more difficult for SSCS to have its message heard and its outstanding performance recognized.
Understanding this, SSCS continues to explore ways to make our value resonate with potential vendor partners. Often it begins with giving a supplier a taste of the superior experience we provide via a small project. For example, a supplier may wish to sell a new POS system to one of its retail clients, but is grappling unsuccessfully with data conversion issues. We’ll mention that our Professional Services department is expert in converting data from one POS to another and that we can make it a turnkey process for their prospect. As we pull off the mini-project successfully, the third party gets an up close and personal look at our value proposition on a small, manageable scale.
“In this scenario, the vendor looks like a hero because they’ve made the transition easy for their customer,” Herrick says. “The data in the old scan file is preserved and being read by their brand new register within a business day. The vendor closes the deal and leaves their customer’s store worry free because they partnered with us. We’ve now created an entry point in our relationship with the third party that we can expand moving forward.”
While SSCS diligently looks for candidates with which to create favorable new partnerships, it makes a concerted effort to nurture and strengthen the relationships it already has, looking for new and better ways to provide benefit.
“A good partnership is like a good marriage,” Herrick adds. “You have to bring the best out of your partner and they must do the same for you. We never take them for granted. We endeavor to foster an atmosphere of mutual trust. Once you do that, you’ve sowed the seeds for a relationship that will develop, grow, and prevail through thick and thin.”