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By Bob Vrbanac, Chronicle Staff
Waterloo’s FoxNet Solutions has grown into an award-winning tech company, recently being named the Top Small Business Solution Provider in Canada at the annual Computer Dealer News Awards.
The information technology firm was the top Canadian company with less than 10 employees in revenue at the competition, generating more than $11 million in revenue in 2012.
In fact, the company just recently added its eighth employee, and despite its relatively small size it’s the second consecutive year that it took the top honour from the Computer Dealer News Awards.
The award came on the heels of being recognized with the HP Partner in Excellence-Growth Award and a global tech conference in Las Vegas in March.
But despite the accolades the question the company president Bill Fox most commonly receives is what exactly do they do?
“My wife (Nancy) is tired of trying to explain what we do,” said Fox. “She just tells people that we’re secret agents.”
But that irreverence, and the hint that this is the type of tech company that does things a little differently, might be the secret to the company’s success — it’s customer service. And the company’s headquarters in a converted century home on Erb Street in the uptown core gives a taste of why they have contracts with major clients like Hewlett Packard, the University of Western Ontario and Dofasco.
It starts in Fox’s office with its watery blue theme and life-sized imitation of the marlin he caught off Florida’s coast hanging on his wall. The other corner is devoted to his favourite hockey team — the Montreal Canadiens — and includes two red seats from the demolished Montreal Forum and other Habs paraphernalia.
The company’s downstairs boardroom might look typical except it has a cherry-wood bar at one end with cold beer on tap and a new neon FoxNet sign hanging in the corner. This is one of the comfortable customer service extras that the company likes to provide and has made them a favourite to host corporate and charitable events, including an annual golf fundraiser for KidsAbility.
“It started out as a photography studio,” said Fox. “Now we have a training centre, we do customer events here and we have signage that everybody can see when they go by.
“Again they don’t know what we do, but everybody remembers that rock (with the FoxNet) sign when they drive by. But moving here was one way of elevating our business and letting people know we were here because we’re all B to B (business to business) and the general public wouldn’t be able to identify what we do.”
The awards are nice said Fox, but they are more of a means to an end to help them get the word out about what the company does and the impressive client list they service.
“The awards validate what we do,” said Fox. “We go after fairly large companies, so when they ask how big are you we tell them we’re in the top 100 in Canada for the last several years.
“That gives them a little more of a comfort level that we can do business with them.”
It’s surprising how even in this age of technology it’s the personal touch that still registers with a lot of clients, and Fox said they deliver it with a loyal, knowledgeable staff that can deliver end-to-end service spanning solutions including providing the architecture, design, planning and implementation of IT services.
“Basically we’re kind of like designers and architects of infrastructure,” said Fox about the business. “Most of these companies have certain business applications and they need the infrastructure to drive it.”
That includes providing their expertise in server and storage consolidation, providing back-up and recovery solutions and building networks.
“A lot of our business is virtualizing desktops and servers,” said Fox. “Storage is a big part of it because the need for storage keeps growing and growing, and those are big projects for us.”
FoxNet celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and Fox said the company is poised to keep growing as data continues to be compiled.
“We’re looking for those more complex data-centre type customers who want somebody to come in and say here’s how you do it and here’s what you need to do,” said Fox. “We have consultants that do all the implementation and then all the service is handled by the manufacturers.
“Everybody thinks we’re an Internet or networking company, but it’s really dealing with these data centres where we thrive.”
Fox laughs off all the trouble he had explaining what FoxNet Solutions does, so he refers back to his wife’s description.
“She says I’m a secret agent,” said Fox, laughing again. “I can live with that.”