Fortress Business Systems Dealer Profile
Securing Documents and Accounts, with the Support to Match
History in Brief: Born in September 2015, nestled in the Idaho Panhandle; provides office technology products and services, is already delivering managed IT, and has strong local market share in the healthcare and legal verticals
Headquarters: Post Falls, Idaho
Locations: 2 (Idaho)
Employees: Approximately 20
Hardware Partners: (A3) Samsung, Xerox; (A4) Samsung; (Wide Format) Mutoh
Noteworthy Software Partners: Biscom, DocuWare, Nuance, PaperCut, Prism, Samsung (PrinterOn)
This is a story about flexibility. It’s also very much about learning through experience, doing whatever it takes to be successful, and rapid growth. There’s most definitely a yin and yang flavor here too, along with strong relationships with both customers and technology partners. But most of all, this story is about Danika.
Back in 2013, Jerod Keyser was a sales manager for a dealer in North Idaho. He and some of his colleagues were frustrated by many things that were happening at that company—“the death of customer service” in particular—so they began discussing the idea of building a dealership of their own. Over time, due to the incessant negative vibes at work and a major family health issue, it became apparent to his wife Amber and him that they should just go for it and start the company themselves.
“Last year was our first full year in business and we had revenue of $1.9 million,” said Jerod, General Manager of Fortress Business Systems. “Our average sale is one to three devices, like for travel agencies and real estate agencies, but some fairly sizeable opportunities do exist in Spokane, the largest city in our territory. Coeur d’Alene is second, otherwise it’s a whole bunch of beautiful, rural towns. Still, you’d be surprised to know that all the big players are in this part of the country—there are a lot of fish in a very small pond.”
That hasn’t stopped the Keysers from constantly elevating their company to new heights, though. At the outset it was Amber, Jerod and one other person, but in less than two years that number has increased to roughly 20, a mix of industry vets, Gen Xers, and Millennials. FBS opened a second location in November, certainly a bold move in a short span of time for such a young company (both have showrooms). And they got things up and running only six weeks after Jerod had left his previous job, but the truth is they had no choice: It was time to take back control of their life and do right by all three of their daughters, namely Danika, who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2015.
|Amber (Office Manager and Controller) and Jerod (General Manager) Keyser, also known as the founders of Fortress Business Systems.|
FBS is a predominantly Samsung house. In less than two years the company has placed around 500 A3 Samsungs in the field. It uses the Samsung My Support system, which has allowed FBS techs to handle almost 80 percent of service calls remotely. “Samsung has been very good to work with, so we were nervous when we first heard about the sale to HP,” Amber said. “Getting reassurance that our competitors wouldn’t just be able to take on the Samsung line because they’re big HP players was key.”
“Change is inevitable, we’re still a little worried, but we’ve become more comfortable with the situation over time,” Jerod said. “Even after this three-year moratorium where HP and Samsung (S-Printing) will carry on as two distinct brands, my gut says they should always be two distinct brands. What could potentially frustrate us is if HP starts shedding Samsung execs and employees—both organizations have tremendous credibility and leadership.”
The Keysers were fortunate to partner with a trio of other companies: FBS is the lone Mutoh (specialized wide format) dealer east of Seattle to North Dakota and north of Boise, the sole Datacard (ID card printers and software) dealer over an equally huge expanse of land, and has taken on the Xerox line recently to see if it can make hay in the light production arena. The company also has its own remanufactured toner business which, thanks to FBS’s in-house expertise and a strong local message, is today pulling in $20K per month.
“Our average sale is one to three devices, like for travel agencies and real estate agencies, but some fairly sizeable opportunities do exist in Spokane, the largest city in our territory. Coeur d’Alene is second, otherwise it’s a whole bunch of beautiful, rural towns. Still, you’d be surprised to know that all the big players are in this part of the country—there are a lot of fish in a very small pond.” –Jerod Keyser
On the Thursday prior to the Super Bowl in 2014, Jerod received a call from Danika’s school. She had a low-grade fever and looked pale, but Amber and he just thought that their youngest daughter had the flu. By Sunday, though, Danika still wasn’t feeling well, and because their oldest daughter Alexandria has asthma, the thinking turned to a respiratory illness. Tests were run, all of which came back negative, but a doctor noticed a rash on Danika’s chest and told the Keysers to go to the hospital for an ultrasound. Maybe she was coming down with mono?
Later that night, Jerod took Danika to the ER as her rundown state had continued. The doctor who analyzed her bloodwork realized that his suspicions were correct and had her immediately checked into a children’s hospital, where a more specific and comprehensive evaluation could be performed. The result was that, yes, eight-year-old Danika had leukemia. But what kind?...
Hours passed. Amber and Jerod waited. Paced. Hugged. It was finally determined that she had chronic myelogenous—not acute lymphoblastic—leukemia, which is treatable but not 100 percent correctable. Complicating matters was that Danika’s white blood cell count had skyrocketed, and to top it off she has the Philadelphia gene that makes bone marrow transplants less likely to take. However, following “the longest 15 days of our life” in the children’s hospital, her levels stabilized and she was homeward bound.
|Fortress Business Systems is headquartered in Post Falls, Idaho, with a second location in Sand Point.|
“The MPS conversation is becoming easier to have with customers, but getting them to sign on the dotted line remains tough,” Jerod said. “We don’t have a specialist or a subject matter expert, rather we rely on our salespeople to move the dial.” As he explained, FBS has agreements with organizations with five or fewer devices to those with over 100, but the pushback is normally that the business just doesn’t need the added service. Regardless, the company is good from an MPS cash flow standpoint but doesn’t have nearly enough contracts, he believes.
FBS has already accomplished plenty on the software side. During early strategy sessions, Jerod was insistent that the company understand workflow in a variety of verticals, notably healthcare and legal. “We had a keen desire to be on top of the risks and liabilities organizations face,” he said. “What’s great to see is that our learning is paying off: Approximately 90 percent of our software sales are in those two markets, and we have almost 80 percent of the largest legal firms in the area using Samsung equipment we installed. If you don’t invest in digital documentation, OCR processes and cloud storage, you’re a dying breed.”
Like with software, managed IT represents 10 percent of the company’s revenue—given that FBS hasn’t been around for a long time, it’s impressive. The company had been using a pair of consultants on any IT-related project, but last summer they were brought onboard full-time and bam! a new department was created. “Most of it is Greek to me, but what our IT team specializes in is security assessments,” Jerod said. “Big business or SMB, it makes no difference. They do anything from performing detailed network resource analysis to vulnerability scanning to a variety of remediation work, and they make best practices recommendations and can assist in attaining compliancy with HIPAA and SOC 2.”
So, security. It’s been a critical component of Fortress Business System’s philosophy since Day 1 and is duly reflected in the company name. “At work, at school, wherever, we all want to feel secure,” Amber said. “Especially at home.”
“If you don’t invest in digital documentation, OCR processes and cloud storage, you’re a dying breed.” –Jerod Keyser
Danika goes for a checkup every three months and, until something better comes along, takes a chemo pill every day. In September she’ll turn 11, and has really taken to playing the piano. Her older sisters Alexandria (17, enjoys her part-time job and is planning on attending the University of Idaho after high school) and Rylee (14, a passionate volleyball player and is both nervous and excited about starting high school in the fall) have been watchful of Danika long before her illness set in.
All of which fills Amber and Jerod with, well, an extreme sense of parental satisfaction. Gratitude. High school sweethearts who started dating when they were 16, they complement each other at work—Amber runs the front office, Jerod the back—and even more so at home. “For fun we often travel to Seattle or the coast with the girls, and because we’re natives of the Idaho Panhandle, Jerod is actually fifth generation, we’re course quite outdoorsy,” Amber said.
The fact that the Keysers not only know the history and culture of the region but also “speak the language” of the area is, according to them, a huge differentiator for FBS, one that has helped set a friendly and familiar tone that’s easily relatable to the people. “Another reason we started Fortress Business Systems is that some of our out-of-state competitors that have a nearby location were gobbling up market share, so we saw a hole that desperately needed to be filled,” Jerod said. “We’re a local company that’s growing alongside thousands of local companies that are growing too, and we aim to help as many of them achieve new heights.”
|Alexandria (left) and Rylee (middle) Keyser are amazing big sisters to Danika, who they often include in activities with their friends.|