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Faces of 2013: Carpentersville tech reseller sums up year in a word — change

ScholarBuys'  Bob Smith left  Matt Ryan. Sun-Times Medifile

ScholarBuys' Bob Smith, left, and Matt Ryan. Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:08AM

This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our local communities in 2013.

CARPENTERSVILLE — Change is the word that sums up business in 2013 for Matt Ryan and Bob Smith, founders of ScholarBuys in Carpentersville.

It seemed as if the schools, colleges and universities that the tech reseller markets deep discounts to on technology-related products all at once chose to adopt cloud computing. The physical change in software — cloud computing is the storage of information on the Internet as opposed to inside the device — caused customers to revamp how they deployed their technology, Ryan said.

Switching to the cloud required schools to put into place wireless infrastructures and active networks, all in a secure and controlled manner.

With kids bringing to class each day up to five of their own technological devices, clients worked with ScholarBuys to devise a way for students to access school resources from those devices without causing breaches in security, Ryan said.

In 2013, the business partners found themselves having to change how they sold to schools and serviced accounts.

“Adobe had a major change in its licensing program,” Ryan said. “We adapted to the change — it is now a cloud-based solution — became experts in it, and offered it to our client base.”

The tech reseller’s competitive edge is negotiating special pricing and services on behalf of clients with companies like Microsoft, Adobe, HP, McAfee and VMWare. They do it by grouping together customers with common needs and leveraging big savings for them by purchasing in bulk. What’s more, the discounts trickle down to students and faculty, who can purchase products for their personal computers at reduced prices.

“In Texas and Illinois, we negotiated a group purchasing agreement for 23 educational institutions,” Ryan said. “It resulted in a significant price break on all of the schools’ computers.”

ScholarBuys finished the year with sales revenue of $11.5 million, Ryan and Smith said.

“Profitability is the same as last year. It’s the first year we haven’t grown, largely due to the changes in our industry,” Ryan said of the business they founded in 2007. “But we adapted to those changes, we got over the hill, and we’re looking forward to growth in 2014.”

Ryan and Smith launched ScholarBuys at the start of “The Great Recession,” and managed to build a nationwide clientele. In Illinois alone, the tech reseller handles a majority of the software licensing for about 50 colleges and universities, and often gains a lot of business from referrals, Smith said.

ScholarBuys’ staff of nine employees fill sales, marketing and operations roles from a sleek, 2,250-square-foot, loft-like space at 11 West Main Street — the former Illinois Iron and Bold Building recently rehabbed by Otto Engineering.

Moving forward, Smith said employees will receive extensive training on seven products that will be significant to clients in the coming year: mobile device management, virtualization, wireless networking, back up and disaster recovery, security, Microsoft, and digital media.

The biggest challenge now for Ryan and Smith is hiring staff, and getting new recruits quickly trained and up to speed.

“We are always looking for local talent to join our team,” said Ryan, inviting interested applicants to apply. “Feel free to drop us a resume.”

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