Rick Lott and Tom Frederick won the entrepreneurial equivalent of the Super Bowl earlier this year when they sold Zeno Office Solutions, the office equipment supply firm they founded in 1996.
Document management giant Xerox bought Zeno, with $65 million in annual sales, for an undisclosed sum in April. The firm still exists today, now under the name Zeno Office Solutions, a Xerox company. It has about 280 employees and nine offices across Florida, from its Tampa headquarters to Fort Myers, Sarasota, Jacksonville and Orlando locations.
Longtime business partners Lott and Frederick, however, didn't spend too much time on the celebration. In fact, their next go-big mission is already underway: to attack another business-to-business service-oriented industry, IT support. “We know how to deliver a very high-end service,” says Lott, who is also a Plant City commissioner and former mayor of the east Hillsborough County city. “Now we want to do it in the IT world.”
They aim to do that through Tampa-based Zymphony Technology Services. The 10-year-old firm, previously Zeno Technology Services, and before that, Infinity Technology Solutions, is one of the larger managed IT services and cloud-computing firms in the region. Lott and Frederick acquired Infinity last year and turned it into a Zeno division.
Terry Hedden, a Business Observer 40 under 40 winner in 2012, founded Infinity, but left about a year after the sale. The firm now has around $5 million in annual sales, about 50 employees and offices in Tampa, Sarasota, Orlando and Atlanta. It has more than 350 clients.
Zymphony, which recently formally announced its name change, from Zeno, hopes to grab an even bigger portion of market share by targeting two segments. One part is small businesses that don't have an IT services provider. The other piece is companies that have a provider but could use a new or upgraded service.
The sales pitch, regardless of segment, says Frederick, is to provide clients with a help desk that does more than fix an Internet outage or help transfer documents to the cloud. Frederick says the firm's “expertise is in making complex technology easy and cost efficient.” That goes from Microsoft Office 365 training to IT contracting.
Zymphony also intends to differentiate itself in a competitive yet fragmented industry by expanding services. The firm now has a software development division that creates mobile applications for clients. It also expanded its creative services division, which works on social media and digital marketing for clients. Says Lott: “We want to look out for what our customers' pain points are.”
Lott and Frederick met in 1990 when both were executives at Danka Business Systems, once one of the largest office equipment firms in Florida. A fourth generation Plant City native, Lott began his career with Danka in 1980, when he was a copier tank cleaner. He worked his way up and at one point he ran mergers and acquisitions. Frederick, meanwhile, worked in sales at Harris 3M before Danka.
The duo left Danka in 1996 to form Zeno Office Solutions. They started with a $2 million acquisition of another firm and grew with acquisitions and signing up customers. The firm managed to double annual revenues four times, says Lott, to reach $65 million by 2013 — despite an inconsistent economy. “Each downturn,” says Lott, “was an obstacle and an opportunity.”
The pair takes the same approach to Zymphony. It currently seeks companies to acquire, though it's focused on doing more for current customers. “We want to dominate this market first,” says Frederick. “We want to be a competitive force in this industry.”