International Computer Company Navigates a New Frontier: Its Own TC Backyard

TRAVERSE CITY – A multi-million dollar Traverse City computer company that has been quietly serving heavyweight clients around the globe-Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, NASA and others-is turning its focus home, to northern Michigan companies.

Established in 1976, Frontier grew steadily over the years by purchasing used IT equipment, refurbishing, and then reselling the gear to companies that either needed particular equipment that was no longer available from its respective manufacturer, or didn't want to spend the money on new systems or spare parts.

"We're able to offer refurbished equipment at 50- to 80-percent off new prices to clients in more than 140 countries," explains Steve Hawn, the company's President and CEO, who joined the team as a sales rep in 1993.

In addition to full systems, the company stocks an estimated 100,000 spare computer parts in its 36,000-square-foot warehouse near Cherry Capital Airport. "We ship out 50 to 60 different orders a day," estimates Hawn.

A large share of the company's business is with computer systems produced by IBM, Hewlett-Packard/Compaq, Sun and Cisco.

When a system is purchased, the company's technicians break down, repair and inventory the components that are then warehoused. It's a technologically demanding process that requires constant study of the steady flow of new technologies.

"We have highly trained people who make our success possible," says Hawn. "Most of our 26 employees in Traverse City have been with us for several years, and we appreciate all of their efforts."

Hawn is quick to note that the company is 100-percent owned, operated and managed by its employees. In addition to its TC staff, Frontier also operates a facility in the Netherlands to serve its European client base.

Unlike many technology companies that have been battered by the global economy, Frontier is looking to add staff members. "We're always looking for new talent," says Hawn. "We've brought people in from all walks of life and look more for great personalities and work ethic than degrees."

With the August acquisition of 28-year-old Processing Concepts Limited (PCL), the company now provides an array of computer network services and enterprise software solutions to the Traverse City area. PCL owners Gene Sauter and his son Will Sauter brought their expertise to the Frontier team.

"We can do anything a business will need, from setup to maintenance to web hosting," explains Hawn. "It's project management from conception to implementation to service. We bring a global experience to local companies, and we're really interested in working with businesses of all sizes. We believe that small businesses will lead to other opportunities. No one is too small."

The company has already helped solve computer needs for several northern Michigan clients, including BATA, Munson Healthcare, Matrix Group Financial Services and the Beaver Island School District.

Despite its global success, prior to the PCL acquisition, Frontier was pretty much unnoticed in the local business community.

"We want to change that and are turning our attention to the Midwest region," says Hawn.

Despite the struggling economy, Frontier has maintained strong sales. The company posted record sales of $18 million in 2005. That slipped to $14 million last year, but sales for 2009 are on pace to rebound to $15.5 million, according to Hawn.

Helping to keep those sales solid is the Microsoft certification that Frontier recently earned. It enables the company to make Microsoft products available to clients at reduced costs, plus lands Frontier some financial backing for events. Frontier officials expect to attain Microsoft's elite Gold Partner status soon.

To help raise Frontier's local profile, Hawn will host an open house at the company's Business Park Drive headquarters on Nov. 10 and will have a booth at the Traverse City Business Expo on Nov. 17. "We invite folks to stop by our open house and see our operation," he says. "We really want to be a larger part of the Traverse City community."BN