It’s been nearly a year since Marty and Leslie Wood took a personal leap into the information technology business world via a fast-growing franchise called CMIT Solutions.
To say the Columbus husband and wife have hit their stride in a relatively short period of time could be an understatement. Their independently owned and operated company, with an office on Rosemont Drive, was declared the “Franchise of the Month” in July by Austin, Texas-based CMIT Solutions. The criteria include client satisfaction and retention, revenue growth, and the number of client devices managed by the franchisee.
“Their level of commitment to supporting Columbus’ small- and medium-sized business community sets an example for our entire franchise system,” CMIT’s President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Connally remarked on the honor.
The couple, both born and raised in Columbus, now are setting their sights on growth. Their current clients include medical offices, manufacturers, lawyers, a staffing agency and an accounting firm, with their CMIT office serving locations with as few as a couple of computers, with the capability of overseeing 100 to 150 or more.
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The Ledger-Enquirer visited recently with Marty and Leslie to discuss their job, how they chose a franchise and what it takes to keep things running smoothly in a world that seemingly can be filled with viruses and device malfunctions. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. You worked for Total System Services for a quarter-century, Marty. That’s some top-level experience for this new venture?
A. Marty: This business is really a little different because I was on the programming side of the house at TSYS, working directly with clients and coding to their needs, versus the back end, the operations, the network, the PCs, and making sure everything could talk to printers and all of that. I didn’t do any of that.
Q. That’s part of what you do now?
A. Marty: That’s where our key focus is. Of course, I’m been familiar with it and I know enough about it having been in that business for 26 years. It’s been a pretty good transition, an easier transition for me technically than for Leslie (who has been an interior designer for years). But I’m still learning a lot.
Q. Are you still involved in interior design, Leslie?
A. Leslie: I’m doing some commercial jobs. But I’m really trying to focus on CMIT, and doing sales and marketing.
Q. How did you land on CMIT as a franchise?
A. Marty: We looked at a lot of different opportunities before we settled on CMIT. We worked with a franchise broker. They test you and tell you what type of business you would excel at, and steer you away from some things and steer you toward others. They test you and tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are ... We looked at a lot of different opportunities, everything from pet stores to medical equipment to moving and storage.
Q. That’s thinking outside the box.
A. Leslie: That’s what the franchise broker recommended that we do. In order to work with them, they won’t do it unless you look at other things because they’re in business to help you succeed. So they want to make sure that they steer you in the best direction.
A. Marty: We felt like this franchise would be the way to go to jump-start us into the business because of the support you get. It was important for us. … After we narrowed it down to CMIT, we actually went out to Austin, Texas, and spent several days out there meeting the home office folks. Then we spent four or five months interviewing existing CMIT owners. That’s one of the things that we were impressed with is that they all opened their doors, mainly via a phone call, to talk to us and tell us about their experience and starting up. We interviewed probably 25 different owners.
Q. Then you made the big decision?
A. Marty: We went back out to Austin for two weeks and did training and last Oct. 1 is when we opened up our doors.
Q. What does CMIT offer clients?
A. Marty: It’s anything IT related for small- to medium-sized businesses. That covers everything from hard drive — if it goes out on your desktop — to your monitor going bad. So it’s hardware sales when necessary. It’s the infrastructure supporting the IT. It’s the network, the machines, the servers. It’s backup and disaster recovery. The biggest thing that we do is offer proactive monitoring maintenance and management of your business IT infrastructure … anything that supports your business. We want to take that over and be responsible for it so that you don’t have to deal with it. You can get on with running your business.
Q. With computers in general, everyone needs them, wants them, and has to have them to get things accomplished?
A. Marty: I agree with you. That’s a very valid point. I challenge you to find a business today that doesn’t rely on IT. There’s not very many. So along those lines, it’s extremely important to make sure that your IT is there when you need it. There are some statistics you read. For example, data breaches, that gets a lot of press. There are some statistics that say 75 percent of small businesses that experience a data breach, they’ll be out of business within three years.
Q. That’s alarming.
A. Marty: It’s things like that that keep small business owners up at night when they hear about these things. Leslie can tell you, that’s one thing that always kept her up at night (with her interior design business), is losing her files and all of her data for her clients and billing and accounting information. She had that happen.
Q. You did?
A. Leslie: Two different times. I once had a computer crash, and I once saved my information on a flash drive, but when I took it to my client everything was gone off of it. It was not a great situation.
Q. What goes through your mind? Panic?
A. Leslie: Yes. It was just all of the work and all the files and all of the information and the pictures (gone). We actually have a company now that we can send a computer that has crashed or a flash drive or whatnot, and they have great success with retrieving the information. Really, that’s the beauty of CMIT is that we can offer some services that I feel like a lot of Columbus businesses have never seen.
Q. Your experience with data loss helps you empathize and understand what clients can go through?
A. Leslie: Absolutely … We have two expert technicians that we’ve hired that run our IT part, and then we also utilize another franchise in Peachtree City. He has six technicians available to us whenever we need them, and then we have more available to us in Atlanta.
Q. They can handle remote work?
A. Leslie: They can do remote work and they can come down and help us set up large jobs. It’s really neat the support you get for the franchises at CMIT. That was so important to me, because after being in business for so long and Marty being in the corporate world, I wanted a company that would do what they say they would do, and be there as a family and be there to help us learn this business and grow it. And they were. They’re amazing.
Q. The bottom line, you’re there to protect vital records and data?
A. Marty: Protecting the data, backing up the data, and then making sure all of the equipment’s running efficiently. A customer we have is in manufacturing and they’re 24 by 7. So if their equipment is down and they’re trying to make a product, they’ve got people, a lot of labor and expense, standing around doing nothing. The same thing in a medical office. If you’ve got exam rooms and you need to go in and utilize the machine that’s in the exam room and it doesn’t work, you’ve got a problem.
Q. So you do constant checkups on the equipment?
A. Marty: One of the components, an agent, we install on every device. That agent helps us facilitate our monitoring of the network and these individual devices. We have a network operations center. There’s an East Coast and a West Coast. It’s over 800 technicians and they monitor all of these devices that are under management by CMIT franchises. So they’re really behind us monitoring things and, mainly after hours and on weekends, they can remotely handle any issues that may come up (such as virus patches). If they can’t remotely handle it, they’ll obviously call us and we’ll go on site and do what we need to do. We rely on the network operations center to monitor and alert us when issues appear or when something is a symptom that you might have a problem coming.
Q. How often do you have to go physically to the client?
A. Marty: It just depends. A lot of times we go just to say: How are you doing? We do have quarterly meetings with our clients and we have metrics we take to show them, hey, you’ve had this many virus attempts that we’ve blocked, you’ve had this much spam blocked, this is the utilization of the disk space on your system. It’s in the green, it’s fine. Or if it’s in the 80-percent range, we might need to start planning on increasing that (disk space).
Q. What is your daily life like on the job?
A. Marty: I’m operations and running the day-to-day aspect of the business. I still accompany Leslie to some of the sales presentations. Myself or one of the technicians will go with Leslie to the first meeting to find out what are your pain points. Where are you having challenges within your It? And we take a look at the environment and what type of equipment they have, everything related to their IT. Then we bring the assessment information back and go over it to come up with whatever recommendations there might be. It may be: You’re in pretty good shape. Or it may be: You need to beef up your backup solution a little bit. If you’re having a lot of calls for equipment failure, maybe it’s time to have your hardware refreshed. There are different things that we might come back and recommend.
Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of your jobs?
A. Leslie: You have a business that has computers and lot of times they don’t think they need IT service. They think they can do it themselves. What they don’t understand is they’re taking so much time from what they could be doing to be productive and increase their revenue by working on a computer, that they would be better off having a managed services provider there to do that. It’s getting them to understand that.
A. Marty: I think there’s two things. They look at the hard costs. If they come in in the morning and turn their computer on and it crashes, well now they know they’ve got to call ‘Joe Whoever,’ the break-fix guy, to come in and fix their computer. Well, it may take him an hour to get there, and once there it may take an hour or two hours or whatever to troubleshoot it. Then he may have to go get a part if he doesn’t have it. Before you know it, you’ve lost half a day or a full day, or whatever it may be. Then (the customer) gets a bill from the repair guy and it may be $400 or $500 or whatever, and that’s the hard cost.
But there are soft costs, and that’s where he wasn’t able to support his customers, and he may have employees in his office that weren’t able to do their jobs. So those soft costs add up. And then there’s frustration, and the sleepless nights worrying about those types of issues. So there’s a lot of soft costs and it’s hard to convince a client that there’s more than that bill you’ve got in your hand from the guy that came in and spent an hour or two fixing your computer. At the end of the day, break-fix-type solutions are a whole lot more expensive in the long run than what we do, which is more of a managed service provider … We have more of a flat fee-type of solution, where the client pays the same thing every month and it includes all of our services, and the client can count on it being the same every month.
Q. You’re an insurance policy, so to speak?
A. Marty: Right.
Q. Finally, what is the most rewarding aspect of your jobs?
A. Marty: For me, it’s having satisfied, happy clients. It’s being able to help them run their business and grow their business because I’m taking care of their IT. That’s really what motivates me.
A. Leslie: Customer service. That’s what I’ve always been about. We were both born and raised in Columbus and when someone calls to have work done, you want to make sure you’re exceeding their expectations, that you go beyond what they think they’re getting. That’s really, really important.
Marty and Leslie Wood
Hometowns: Both were born and raised in Columbus
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Marty and Leslie both graduated from Hardaway High School in 1984.
Marty has earned several degrees — Columbus State University, 1990, Bachelor of Business Administration, BBA, Finance; Columbus State University, 1992, Associate of Applied Science in Technology, Computer Programming; and Columbus State University, 2002, Master of Science, Information Technology Management
Leslie earned a Bachelor of Science degree, BS, Interior Design, Furnishing and Equipment, from Auburn University in 1988
Marty worked full time managing operations and staff at McKinley’s Restaurant and Bar while attending Columbus State; he then was hired as a programmer at TSYS, embarking on a 26-year career and progressing through the IT ranks from programming into project management and, eventually, executive leadership roles over the TSYS Analytics Group, which is the company’s data warehouse and business intelligence organization.
Leslie worked with Creative Interiors in Columbus as a designer from December 1988 to April 1994, then established Interior Insights Inc. and has been owner, president and designer from May 1994 through present day
The couple has been married 27 years and have three children — son, Martin Wood, 22, daughter, Mallory Wood, 19, and son, Scott Wood, 14
Marty loves to hunt and fish “anytime and anywhere,” while Leslie enjoys hanging out with family and friends, horseback riding, and trips to the beach. They both love to spend time at Lake Harding and travel with their youngest son, watching him play baseball