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History of GBC .... or how it all began

I am Lorna Schauseil, founder and president of GBC Systems, Inc., and got my start in the ice and bottled water industry in 1989 when I answered an ad for a Certified Professional Secretary with computer experience at Tyrol Data Systems. I had worked with computers since 1984, and had some programming experience in Dbase, as well as accounting and word processing experience. For those of you who may be interested, prior to that I was a woodworker making small arts and crafts items and remodeling houses before I got into computers. At Tyrol, I started out as the receptionist, bookkeeper, and assistant to Charlie Kent and the other two people in the office.

I began learning the Tyrol program and was soon answering questions and helping customers. I immediately loved the job, the people and the ice and water industries in general. During my first few months I became an assistant on an installation and I was hooked. I could not think of a better job for me and continued helping existing customers and training new customers. I spent the next ten years as the main person for training, installations, customer support, and converting new customer data.

Watching the industry and how it was rapidly moving toward Windows based systems, everyone in the office tried to convince Charlie (owner of Tyrol) to write a Windows program. Charlie did not like Windows (or Bill Gates for that matter) and refused, stating that Windows was too slow and no one liked Windows. It became increasingly difficult to support the program on the newer Windows versions.

Although I still loved the job, the office politics and constant bashing of Windows (because the Tyrol program did not work well on the newer Windows) steadily grew more tense and I left in 1998 to pursue other avenues. I obtained all of the Microsoft Certifications (MCSE, MCDBA, MCSD, and MCT) and worked as a Microsoft Certified Trainer for the next three years, teaching students how to manage and manipulate a Microsoft SQL Server Database. However, in 2001 I was enticed to come back to work for Tyrol and help out. After a few months it was apparent the program had major difficulties on Windows, and when Charlie again declined to change to Windows I decided to take on the task myself. I knew what the industry needed and wanted – and I knew how to make a program that would work and allow customers to manage their business and assets.

In June 2002, GBC Systems, Inc. was formed and we started the flow charts for the program. I shared office space with Charlie and hired a full time programmer. Charlie asked if I would also hire his programmer part time as he only programmed the handhelds and there was not enough work to keep him busy. And so we began.

Charlie, my new programmer, my part timer, and I went about figuring out how to make this all work. Charlie gave us all the benefit of his knowledge, past mistakes and successes (for which I am still very grateful). Together we figured out how to solve the cooler and merchandise dilemma to allow our customers to manage those assets. We created a mechanism to store what type of cooler or merchandiser the customer had even if the serial number was not known and set up the monthly billing without adding bogus serial numbers to the file. It also allowed our customers to manage the billing by filtering on billing information to quickly find those customers who were not being billed and correct it before it went too long and the customer claimed the cooler was theirs.

Price lists for the industry was another major problem to be solved. Creating price lists and prices for customers was fairly standard throughout all of the available programs; however, to increase the price (or even to see what the price was for more than one price list) was a major nightmare. Although we simplified this process, it remains one of those items we are constantly enhancing with suggestions from our customers and new technology.

The next thing on the list was custom reporting – how do you give owners, managers, route managers, sales and marketing people what they need whenever they need it? The answer was custom reporting where anyone could learn to get their own reports by choosing tables and columns from a defined list. We have many customers who do not learn how to use custom reporting and their requests are easily fulfilled with our online support. So far, I do not believe we have failed to achieve any report that our customers have requested – most of them in a matter of minutes.

One more little thing that was a huge problem was telephone numbers. When I converted customer data to Tyrol there were telephone numbers everywhere. Two telephone numbers and a FAX number were just not enough and phone numbers were in the address fields, the purchase order fields, the notes, etc. After discussions, we gave our customers the ability to add as many phone numbers as were needed for each customer. A really minor thing that helps a great deal in a world where there are so many telephone numbers for each customer.

Our first customer was Wonderland Ice of Beldin, Michigan. They may have suffered a little bit as we programmed more and more things that were crucial to the ice industry. I hired another programmer and two testers who just went through the program and manual to find errors. We had to add things like negative payments received from their customers, dealer distributors whose sales were entered in the system but not counted as sales for any purpose. We also needed to be able to segregate those accounts receivable balances to make sure the dealer’s customers were paying. We continued building the program as we encountered things that were necessary for our customers to manage their businesses.

I began this whole venture with the intention of making a perfect program for the ice and bottled water industries. As it turns out, we will probably never achieve the perfect program – but we do have an excellent program that allows our customers to manage their business if they have the desire to do so. The flexibility that was created by my ‘part timer’ has allowed us to give our customers what they want and need while still maintaining one program that is the same for all of our customers.

I would be remiss here if I did not mention the genius of my ‘part timer’. The full time programmer I hired has long since gone in other directions and Howard, my part timer, stepped in as full timer to take full control of the program. He has pulled the rabbit out of the hat many times to solve problems for our customers and his abilities as a programmer continue to amaze me and our customers.

For the future, we will continue specializing in the ice and bottled water industries as it is a well known fact that you can’t be all things to all people. As I look at the competition and their wide variety of industries for which they are suited I am happy solving the problems of ice and water customers. GBC Systems, Inc. is small and does not offer 24/7 support; however, some of our customers would testify that we do as they all have my cell phone number and are welcome to call any time they need help. Our customers always get the same people on the telephone and they normally do not need to explain something more than once. Our code is the same for all customers (with a few adjustments and specialized tables to help track information) and is easily tested before we send out upgrades. We treat our customers as family and are glad to accommodate them with individualized help, support and advice.

As the company grows, we continue adding features to the program at no additional cost to our existing customers. Most of our ideas come from our customers and we don’t charge for items that make our program better. Our billing policy is also easier on the budget than most as we have a one fee policy that covers everything so you can budget your software expenses. One annual fee covers all support needed – we do not bill for any extras throughout the year. We also do not charge for additional workstation or handheld licenses. Although we have discussed moving away from this policy, all existing customers will remain on the one-charge for everything and never be charged for additional modules or support. Our only additional charges come from acquisitions, new databases, and/or data conversions.

We wrote the program in the Microsoft .Net platform using Microsoft SQL Server for the database, (hoping that Microsoft would never become obsolete like so many programs in the market) with a few additional add-ons that gave us great flexibility with functions in the program. As of now we have been through several operating system upgrades and have had no issues with the program running. Windows 7 is in testing but I am fairly confident that the program will run with no issues because we didn’t have any with Microsoft Vista.

Our ideal customer is the company with executives who are tired and frustrated with canned reports that do not tell them what they need to know. All programs allow you to enter new customers, tickets, etc. and retrieve canned reports. GBC allows our customers to have quotas set for salesmen and monitor their progress every day, monitor equipment transfers and servicing, monitor the temperature of merchandisers at every stop, or a host of other specialized monitoring functions we have set up for our customers.

So that, in a nutshell is our company past, present and future. We are small, have a good time, take care of our customers and have very few headaches. Life is good.

Lorna H. Schauseil,
President, GBC Systems, Inc.