When revenues slipped at least 40% at IT consulting firm TechHouse, founder Kathy Durfee easily could have blamed the recession.
But the truth was more complicated, and more painful.
Durfee's father, William Edward Flaherty, spent two years in deteriorating health at the onset of the recession, first from Parkinson's disease and later from an aortic dissection. “I really lost focus on the business, big time,” says Durfee. “I'd like to say it was the economy, but it was also my family. I was completely distracted.”
TechHouse, based in east Manatee County, went from 12 employees and $1.5 million in annual revenues at its peak in 2006, to seven employees and barely $900,000 in revenues by 2008. Founded in 1995, the firm has mostly concentrated in two areas: classic IT support, where it's a help-desk for clients, and systems integration, where it helps clients build and maintain software.
But for a majority of 2006-2008, Durfee's thoughts weren't on the business. She traveled to Jacksonville, where her father lived, nearly every weekend. And she says she was in a fog at home during the week. Flaherty died June 27, 2008.
His death was a low point for Durfee personally. But in retrospect, her father's passing was a motivational spark to refocus on TechHouse. After a few months completely away from the business, Durfee, in fact, returned with vigor.
“I decided I'm doing this because I love to grow companies,” Durfee says. “It's a blast.”
The comeback produced a blast in sales, too. TechHouse now has eight employees, and seeks at least two more. Revenues will be back up to about $1.1 million in 2011, says Durfee. Plus, a separate business unit Durfee founded, with a focus on staffing, will push total annual revenues to $2 million this year.
Most of TechHouse's IT clients are in the manufacturing, health care or service industries. The companies are small to mid-size, says Durfee, and stretch from Sarasota to Orlando. Durfee says the core of the firm's IT work involves assistance and implementation of cloud computing, a system where software and data is maintained outside the central hardware.
The rejuvenation of TechHouse, moreover, didn't stop at the cloud.
Following her long held desire to start and nurture other entities, Durfee launched a second business earlier this year. That firm, TechHouse IT Staffing, recruits and places employees.
Durfee first tinkered with IT staffing in 2009. That's when she heard from clients who sought an employee to troubleshoot and deal with issues as they surface. The staffing business now has three employees and is closing in on $1 million in annual revenues, separate from TechHouse IT. “We've been super lucky,” Durfee says.
Next up on Durfee's wish list: to open a technical computer skills training center for local unemployed and underemployed people.
There are already several job-training centers run by government and public-private groups in the area. But Durfee says the offerings lack cohesion. Says Durfee: “I think there is a ton of barriers for people in our local area to get the right training.”