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Thermocopy: From Printworks to Principles, an Award Winning Dealership

30 Aug, 2012

Notably, Randall Sumner founded Thermocopy, a quality business technology company located in Knoxville, Tennessee, in April 1964. With just $150 dollars-worth of Thermo-copy paper, he sold supplies out of his 1964 baby blue Mustang fast-back. The first year of revenues tallied $20,158.

Now in its 48th year, Thermocopy has grown into a $16 million business technology company with 64 employees at offices in Knoxville and Johnson City. They offer the latest digital office equipment, managed services, and information management solutions that help organizations manage their documents and information workflow.
“We have added a variety of tools to help us service our customers,” says owner Steve Sumner, who bought out his father’s interest in Thermocopy and has run the business since 1994. “We installed our first network computer system and a dispatch system for service, in 1984. We were the first to do so in East Tennessee.”

Adds Sumner, “We have always been ready as a company to take on new technology if it meant better, faster service for our customers. That’s our strong suit even today: staying ahead of the technology curve.”

Industry Acclaim for Entrepreneurship
In 2006, Thermocopy won the very first imageSource magazine’s Perfect Image Award (PIA) for Dealer of the Year, and most recently was recognized them for their “Outstanding Service Program” which was presented at ITEX Expo 2012.  In 2007, the company was a finalist for the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership Pinnacle Award for recognizing business excellence. In 2009, Thermocopy won the Best of Knoxville Award for Office Equipment from the United States Commerce Association.   J. Mark DeNicola, chief financial officer and executive director of sales and marketing says, “What makes it very special to us is that the information used as the basis for the award was third-party provided. It is an indication of how highly our customers and peers think of Thermocopy as a quality business, and the impact we have on the community.”
Thermocopy also received the 2009 Excellence in Public Education Award from the Tennessee Department of Transportation in recognition of environmental awareness programs.

Secrets to success include strategic marketing for Thermocopy’s Printworks+ program, an information management strategy for businesses. The objectives of Printworks+ are:
• To control and reduce the costs of reproduction, distribution, retrieval and storage of information in a business–whether paper to paper, paper to digital, digital to paper or digital to digital.
• To support the business with technology that enables staff to accomplish work with fewer interruptions, increased department workflow productivity, increased quality of document output & reduced costs.
Sumner also attributes Thermocopy’s success to timeless business “secrets” such as accessibility and being a good corporate citizen. “We all answer customer phone calls. I get involved in issues if need be,” he says.

Green Initiatives & Eco-responsibility
In 1995, when Thermocopy created its mission statement, being an “environmentally responsible business partner” involved the proper disposal of toner. By 2007, when the company was nominated for a Pinnacle Award, the meaning of environmental responsibility had grown. As part of the Pinnacle Award nomination, DeNicola reviewed the mission statement and realized that the company showed strong commitment to customer service but lacked integrity in the environmental area. DeNicola then put in process the steps required to fulfill this portion of their mission statement. Employees volunteered to form a committee to review business processes. They created ways to improve everything from electric, gas and water use to green cleaning practices. Thus Thermocopy’s Greenworks program was born.

As a community service, Thermocopy launched the Web site GoGreenET.com to help businesses and the public find environmental resources and products. The company also created the concept and was a major sponsor for the Business in the Green contest, which has awarded more than $30,000 to companies judged to have the most beneficial green initiatives.

Company Principles At Work
The adoption of the principles outlined in two (2) books, “Good to Great” and “Raving Fans” have been very important to the development of the company over the past decade.

The major principles identified in the book “Good to Great” have been the blue print for developing Thermocopy into a great company. The principles include:
• Developing Level 5 Executives – Executives who are incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is for the institution, not themselves.
• Getting the right people on the bus, and the wrong ones off.
• Confronting the brutal facts – Creating a climate where truth is heard.
• The Hedgehog Concept  - simplicity within the three circles.
• Promoting a culture of discipline – ejecting those who do not share their values and standards.
• Technology Accelerators – If the technology fits within their “Hedgehog Concept”, they become the pioneer in the application of the technology.
• The flywheel effect - creating the sustained building of momentum.

DeNicola says, “Understanding our Hedgehog and reviewing it on a regular basis has helped us from taking the proverbial ‘wild goose chase’ when it comes to providing trendy ancillary service/products that consume resources; both human and financial, that should be devoted to hedgehog products/services.”

The adoption of “Raving Fans” customer service has enabled Thermocopy to keep clients for multiple contracts and in many cases achieve higher-than-market margins. Their outstanding service has been the catalyst for these achievements in an ever more difficult market.

The concepts in these books are communicated to every new hire so that they can more understand the culture of the company.
Sumner further elaborates that the adoption and communication of the concepts in these books helps keep everyone’s ‘eye on the ball’ saying, “While we still have work to do, I am very proud of the results of our continuing efforts to develop a great company out of what was a very good company. We are building on concepts that I believe will sustain the company for another 50 years.”

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