The engineers and designers who buy Acumen Technical Associates' aluminum framing products -- brackets and plates that come in thousands of configurations -- are highly visual people. So when Steven Geroux, founder and president of the Woonsocket (R.I.) company, heard about software he could use to make a 3D catalog, he had to have it. Even when his business mentors thought a 3D catalog was too ambitious for his five-person company, "I was adamant that it was going to be successful for us," he says. "Engineers and designers want to see their materials in real time and from many vantage points."
His instinct was dead-on. Gone is the 20-page booklet Geroux once used to market his wares. Now customers can log on to www.acuframe.com and view a catalog of 450 products, then download the images to their own computers. Since Geroux added it to his company's Web site in 2001, the catalog has brought in about $500,000 in sales and turned the company from a local success into a $2 million business with customers across the country. "We experienced exponential growth in a very short period of time," says Geroux. "We now enjoy a base of customers from every state." About 80% of Acumen's 1,000 current customers, up from 100 buyers in 2003, are based outside Rhode Island.
Geroux kept costs low by doing most of the work himself. He was already using computer-aided design (CAD) software made by Concord (Mass.)-based SolidWorks when he learned about the company's catalog product, 3DPartStream.net. Geroux creates images of Acumen's products using CAD and then uploads them to SolidWorks' site via a broadband connection. SolidWorks stores the images on its own servers, then installs the full 3D catalog on Acumen's Web site. Geroux says it takes only a few minutes to add an image to the catalog.
The bill: about $10,000 to develop the catalog, plus an ongoing fee of $750 a month for SolidWorks to maintain the site and to add new images. "3D modeling is the new standard in designing for engineers," says Geroux. "When you take something out there on paper, it's a step backwards." And for Acumen, just so two-dimensional.