Training is CPR’s foot in the door, said Kenneth Clark, director of sales and marketing.
“A customer takes some classes from us. The next thing you know they’ve signed a support agreement with us. And then the next thing you know we’re building an application for them or whatever. Our relationship with that client grows.”
CPR — which says it is the largest full-service technology company in West Michigan — operates training centers at its Grand Rapids headquarters on Galbraith Avenue SE and at the M-TEC Center on Elm Valley Drive in Kalamazoo.
The company got into training two years ago after purchasing the PC and training business of a Kalamazoo-based Microage franchise.
“We had always wanted to expand into the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-southwest-Michigan marketplace, and were talking about opening an office down there,” Clark recalled.
“What that gave us was people and a customer base that already existed and enabled us to fast forward what we were already intending to do. It also gave us something that was a natural extension of the overall services we provide. It fit very well into our strategy of one-stop-shopping for IT services.”
Until recently, CPR’s training component was primarily user-based training — teaching applications such as DreamWeaver, Crystal Reports, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, among others — courses it continues to offer every weekday.
But two months ago the company hired Jeffrey Harkema and ramped up its training program to include technical training for technicians. It also added a testing center for customers seeking certification.
Harkema, senior technical trainer and systems engineer, is in his ninth year in the training field.
He previously worked for a company no longer operating in the Grand Rapids area and briefly owned his own company. He has taught for companies such as Data Solutions, CompuMaster and Best Buy.
When Harkema came on board in late October last year, CPR began offering technical training courses, more than 10 of which include certification training.
Certification is a “stripe.” It’s a “union card,” Clark said. “It’s something that’s really required in the marketplace to enhance somebody’s resume and qualifications.”
Most classes typically run three to five consecutive business days. But some certifications can require as many as seven five-day course seminars, Harkema noted.
CPR currently trains some 600 to 1,000 people a year, but that number may double or even triple before long.
The company has already witnessed an overwhelming demand for technical training, and the technical courses have doubled CPR’s training output, said Joe Wood, director of the CPR Learning Center.
The company has reached a point where it has to build more classroom space at its Grand Rapids location, where it has one classroom that accommodates up to 15 people.
It also has two classrooms at the Kalamazoo M-TEC.
The company is now finalizing plans to add a 24-seat, divided classroom to its headquarters on Galbraith Avenue, Clark said.
In fact, CPR is now on the front end of a cooperative arrangement to provide training for M-TEC centers in West Michigan, so courses CPR offers also will be offered through those training centers.
All the M-TECs CPR talked with were enthusiastic about the idea, Wood said.
“They may have one person from Holland and one from Muskegon and two from Grand Rapids taking a technical class. We can pool all of them together at one site and each of those sites can get credit.”
CPR does a lot of customized training. Currently, about 20 percent of training is done on site at the customer’s location.
A lot of times employers don’t want 10 employees out for three consecutive days of training because it’s a big drain on the company’s resources.
So CPR sometimes goes on site and teaches two-hour workshops where the customer can revolve employees through the training and then they can go back to their desks and immediately use what they just learned, Clark said.
“That’s something I think is a little bit different about what CPR brings to the table from a training perspective.”
There are some large companies in West Michigan that like to hold private or semi-private classes limited to people within their own organization, Clark added. That allows them the freedom to speak openly and discuss application initiatives they may not want competitors to know about.
Clark said CPR is positioned very well in the marketplace for a couple of reasons.
First, he said, training is often the first line item in a company’s budget to be scratched in a sour economy, and CPR is betting there will be a lot of pent-up demand for training when the economy turns up again.
Second, a lot of training companies have either folded or faded away from the West Michigan marketplace. What remains are a lot of smaller players and the very large New Horizons Computer Learning Centers.
Though New Horizons is the world’s largest computer training company, Wood claimed that it has a very small share of the overall market, underscoring the fact that there are a lot of small training centers out there.
He said companies spent $3.1 billion on training in 2000 and $3.5 billion in 2001, despite the economic downturn.
CPR believes it’s poised to capture a bigger piece of that profit pie in the months ahead.
“We believe that good old-fashioned economics and competition is going to prevail,” Clark said.
“People want choice and we’re going to be there to be that choice. We believe our value-add of bringing a lot more to the table than just the training element is going to be very appealing to customers — especially as they start to reinvest in training.”