Inspiration comes from strange places.
In Kat Shenoy’s case, it came from a flea market in Solebury, Bucks County.
Shenoy, the president and CEO of Blue Bell software developer E-SoftSys Ltd., had always thought flea markets were small-time affairs with maybe two dozen vendors, tops. As a result, it had never occurred to him to develop software for the people who run them.
Both things changed in early 2001 when he visited Rice’s Market, which says on its Web site that it hosts as many as 700 vendors and 15,000 shoppers.
The manager, Chuck Kane, is a friend of Shenoy’s. And he told Shenoy that there were no good software packages for running markets like Rice’s and that there were plenty of markets like Rice’s around the country.
That was all Shenoy needed to hear. He had E-SoftSys, which he had founded the previous year, develop software for running flea markets. The company sold it to Rice’s and then sent representatives to the National Flea Market Association’s next annual convention where they landed some other big markets as customers.
“Based on the success of this, I started looking for other, smaller industries where people rent space,” Shenoy said.
He found two — the trade-show industry and the self-storage industry — and had E-SoftSys send people to conventions for both. As Shenoy suspected, both industries had software requirements that were similar to each other and to the flea-market industry. So he had E-SoftSys come up with software for both of them.
“What we focused on was the technology and the customer support,” he said. “My philosophy is, you provide the best customer support possible and the product will sell itself based on referrals from other customers.”
That philosophy appears to be working. E-SoftSys has grown to 100 employees and, although it still gets half its revenue from custom software development, the other half comes from its flea-market, trade-show and self-storage management software.
E-SoftSys recently landed a big customer in the last industry when Stor-All Management Ltd. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., which has more than 29,000 units in 44 locations, implemented its Self Storage Manager software.
“It’s not often you get a company with 44 sites switching their applications,” Shenoy said.
Jeff Anderson, Stor-All’s CEO, said his company evaluated all the leading self-storage management systems available.
“With the exception of Self Storage Manager, none came close to meeting our key requirements,” he said.
Among other things, Stor-All needed to be able to smoothly import the information about its tenants from its old software and to keep its management operations up and running after a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Shenoy attributes Self Storage Manager’s popularity in part to its architecture, which features both a centralized database and databases at each site. That gives self-storage companies the ability to centrally control prices and programs, as well as generate reports, while allowing individual sites to be able to keep operating when the Internet connection to their headquarters is down.
“Individual sites can do all the operations they need to do,” he said.
E-SoftSys’ background is also a plus. Because it started out as a custom software developer and still does custom software projects, it’s willing to customize its products for flea-market, trade-show and self-storage customers in ways its competitors often aren’t, Shenoy said.
It also does search-engine optimization and Web-site development for its customers, including the National Flea Market Association and Rice’s, which it developed Web sites for.
“Our clients like the fact that we are a one-stop shop for all [information-technology] services,” Shenoy said.