The world’s supply chain has never been more interdependent as it is today. And as a global pandemic continues to redefine modern commerce, one thing is certain—to have stronger suppliers, we need stronger relationships with suppliers.
Recently, I spoke with Byron Carroll, President and Founder of Carroll Communications, Inc—a US-based, veteran-owned small business. By incorporating a data-based, objective assessment, his company has grown three-fold against a commercial environment like no other. That success has also brought myriad benefits to both downstream clients and upstream suppliers—for a more resilient chain and partnership ecosystem, overall.
In this first instalment of our conversation, we discuss how the pandemic has changed the nature of trust among global counterparties, how businesses are looking at (and adjusting to) dynamic aspects of risk, and how companies (like his) are leveraging their strengths and relationships in the face of uncertainty.
To get started, tell us what Carroll Communications is all about.
We are a value-added reseller, primarily serving the United States federal government. Along with IT and communications, telecommunications, services and equipment, we take various components and turn them into solutions while using market research. We also do installations, and thread different companies’ capabilities together. In 2020, our main customer was the Department of Defense, followed by the Department of Veterans Affairs—then system integrators, as well as large prime contracting companies. And we're quickly becoming an international company as well.
That's great. And how many countries do you operate or do business in today?
Around eight different countries—the United States being the primary.
How has the last year been for you and for the trajectory of your company overall?
Sure, so 2020 was definitely a challenging year, with a lot of indecision. And a lot of, just, the unknown. So we diverted our energy—by using our international network—to help our customers and several of our suppliers meet the unknown needs of the moment.
We also became a major supplier to the Veterans Health Administration (a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs)—the largest hospital system in the world. And actually, we had 3x growth in 2020, in addition to doubling our staff. All in the year of COVID.
So, we were able to grow and expand. And I would attest that to the fact that our feet weren't stuck in concrete. We were able to move fast—adjusting to the challenges of the day.
And we definitely had several things working to our advantage—
One, we're already a remote workforce. We do have our headquarters based here in southeastern North Carolina, and our corporate facility is here as well, but our teammates are around the country.
And as a smaller company, having not as many in-person events gave us a level playing field when it came to travel budgets. Since everybody is expected to be doing Zoom meetings, we didn't have to really compete with the big guys (who have a much bigger budget for travel and for trade shows and things of that nature) because they weren't happening.
I imagine that in order to be nimble and innovative in this environment, along with a distributed team—you really have to have a strong set of core values?
It’s in our DNA to be a solid partner: doing exactly what we say we're going to do, being credible and a proven entity. And that's one of the ways we've been able to integrate RapidRatings’ FHR Network, because we can say those great words, but it's really awesome when you've got third-party individuals coming in and assessing that, so you can back up those words. And sure, Carroll Communications is a company that is extremely healthy, that is solvent. And our financial strength and health is definitely bedrock-stone to that.
We're also a company composed of around 80% of veterans; we’re a veteran-owned company. We’re service focused first—business second. And, combined with a solid foundation of financial health and credibility, those are the kind of things that make up Carroll Communications and make us who we are.
What defines partnership, beyond transactional value, to you and your company?
So many different things. But at the end of the day, just being the kind of person that I would want to do business with myself—you attract who you are.
And so I look at the partners, as I do my teammates (our staff): they're investing their livelihoods, and they're taking chances and risks for me just like I'm doing for them. We've got a commingled relationship.
Our suppliers as well. If they're not supplying us great quality products for us, then when we're really not going to be very strong.
Ultimately, our customers are trusting us. And all of this intermingled trust in partnership—to be able to achieve great things—is based on us doing what we say we're going to do. And not just once or twice, but as an extended relationship for, you know, days to months and months to years of being a trustworthy company and group of individuals.
Not all companies have a Financial Health Rating that is as strong as yours, especially after the last year. How would you frame the assessment to your own upstream suppliers?
There are 3 years of history with RapidRatings. We don't hide this at all because people deserve transparency when it comes to the nature of our business; and it's something we're able to offer. So, we put our FHR right on our website. We even put it into our proposals whenever we're sending them out.
We actually look forward to getting our rating, because it's just another opportunity to excel as Carroll Communications and a chance for us to get better and better.
And then we are also going into The FHR Network and looking at our suppliers, before we partner with them to see how they were assessed, and what's their strength. It’s our starting point for any conversation.
So, if they're not as strong, what’s the impact? Is it going to be on the product quality? Is it going to be speed-to-market? Am I going to be waiting on my orders to get delivered? Where are they actually hurting?
These are the types of questions we need to ask—to build those honest, long-term relationships that benefit everyone.
Would you ever leverage your FHR with financial institutions or insurers?
Oh, absolutely, we use it as part of our general documentation.
I actually use our assessment before I send over financials, as a first step. Because it's a third-party assessment, it kind of pulls in and alleviates some of the air out of the balloon for you know whether or not our financial stability is going to be worthy of them.
Eventually, they’ll want to see our financials, of course, and while we're generating those financials and getting those documents ready, we send over our RapidRatings report to them just to say “hey, we are going to be credit worthy”. So, it’s not only their opinion, but it's their opinion and RapidRatings coming together to help them make their assessment. And so, we use it as a first strike. For our suppliers, too, and then we also ask them for their RapidRatings report at the same time.
We love to hear it. And you know, you've been so generous with your time today, is there anything that we didn't cover that you'd like to add?
You know, presidents or leaders of small businesses may be feeling a little nervous about submitting their financials to a third-party company, like RapidRatings.
I can tell you: you don't need to be nervous turning in your financials to them, they're going to treat you with respect, they're going to come back around and not only give you a score and give you a benchmark to work from and to improve, but also give you some tools to be able to use their network to protect your business, protect your company's reputation, grow from that—while learning how their analytics and how their software comes up with a rating—so that you can be a stronger, healthier company.
I did delay for a while and I did have a lot of nervousness before submitting my information. It was unwarranted; I didn't need it. I was extremely happy when I got the rating back. I actually wasted time not submitting our financials.
And then I can also just add some free advice for some of the large enterprise companies that are thinking about whether or not to partner with RapidRatings when it comes to helping their supply chain: do it. It makes a stronger supply chain. There's so many places where you can mitigate risk by using RapidRatings and they've got several products that aren't just simply monitoring of your key suppliers once or twice a year but throughout. So, I highly endorse RapidRatings. I highly endorse their team, that they have individuals, that are professionals. And they're the best of the best. And this is a revolutionary product; you are pioneers in this industry.