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STEVE GERHARDT IS A NETWORK
services agent in Holmdel, N.J. He came into the role the way many do when the carrier he worked for, Econophone, closed up shop with literally no warning.

I was a sales manager running a couple of sales offices for them. They came to my office unexpectedly and said, Steve, we are shutting down North America. I said, When? They said, Effective immediately.

With a new baby, a mortgage and hundreds of accounts without service, Gerhardt made the decision to go out on his own and not put his familys or customersfutures in the hands of a single company ever again.

At that given moment, I think I was more focused than I ever was, he says. And despite his wifes queries about when he was going to go get a real job, Gerhardt says he knew he would be more successful as an agent than he was in direct sales.

Part of this confidence came from two longtime customers, Joulé Inc. and Atlantic Mills Inc., which stayed with him as he got their services up and running with new service providers. When the carrier stopped providing service with no notice, I contacted Steve, recalls John Logothetis, vice president at Joulé, a temporary staffing company based in New Jersey and with 20 locations in the Eastern United States. Hes the only one who did anything to get us back in business.

That was in 2001. Today, Gerhardts agency, D&M Enterprise Group, claims more than 10,000 mostly commercial customers, bills 17 million minutes per month and provides local, long-distance, Internet, conferencing, calling cards and other advanced communications services.

Steve fits the classic agent DNA, says Rick Dellar, co-founder of Intelisys Communications Inc., a master agency based in Petaluma, Calif., which counts Gerhardts company among its subagents. Dellar defines the prototypical agent as a classic sales guy who started on the direct side and became an agent when Corporate America failed him. In essence, he is Joe agent, says Dellar. Intelisys was one of the vendors that helped Gerhardt rescue his stranded accounts.

Those two key accounts Atlantic Mills and Joulé not only helped Gerhardt keep his house but remain loyal customers of a growing agency that supports not only the Gerhardt family but six other D&M employees.

Explaining the allegiance, Gerhardt says: Most customers dont get the customer satisfaction they are looking for. If you can give them that, they will always stay with you.

Atlantic Mills, which manufactures disposable towels from three plants in New Jersey, has purchased local and long-distance through Gerhardt for 11 years. I told him then, when we signed with him, that what we were looking for was continuity of service so we didnt have to call different people, and to stay competitive on the rates, says the companys vice president Jack Brady. Thats the way its worked over the 11 years.

Brady says Gerhardt also is attentive to Atlantic Mills problems. He gave me his cell phone number and I can call him 24 hours a day, he says. That came in handy when the company had a fire at its headquarters plant in Lakewood, N.J., on Good Friday last year. Brady says he was unable to get in touch with the local phone company to forward the administrative phone lines to a second plant 35 miles away in East Windsor. I couldnt get a hold of anyone to call forward those lines, Brady says. Finally, I got a hold of Steve and he worked it out so come Monday morning the calls were all forwarded.

D&M customer Logothetis has similar praise for Gerhardt and his team. I get calls every day from different people trying to sell me phone services, he says. My stock answer to them is that I am very satisfied with who Im working with right now. Even if they could give me a little bit cheaper price, it wouldnt be worth it for me to make a change because I would lose the service I get from Steve.

Joulé counts on Gerhardt and the D&M team to keep its voice and data services up and running and to help the company open new offices quickly in response to market opportunities, says Logothetis. His customer service is tremendous, he says. I never hesitate in calling him up and asking him questions if we are thinking about doing something here and getting him to participate in the pre-planning.

Gerhardt welcomes all calls the good, the bad and the indifferent. They will always call me on the good days when they are going to add new service. They will call me in the bad times when there is a problem, and when there is just a question and they dont know what to do, he says. If I am in the front of their minds, when there is something in regards to their voice and data services, they will always call me and not anyone else.

Taking those calls is a team of project managers each assigned to their own accounts but cross-trained to assist every account. The phones are answered by one of the team members with the greeting, customer service. Although Gerhardt is the president of the company, he also is in the hunt group, taking calls.

I think I lead by example, says Gerhardt, citing a page from his military training as an Army sergeant during Desert Storm. Every morning when we first come in, we sit at the conference table and say, Heres whats going on from the sales side and from the customer service side.

It must be working. D&M, which reports more than 40 percent year-overyear growth from 2004 to 2005, and a 1 percent attrition rate, was built entirely on referrals, says Gerhardt. Ninety percent of the referrals come from existing customers, he says, and the others from arrangements with phone system vendors like Shared Technologies Inc., BDS Inc. and TELX Communications.

Gerhardt says he is hopeful to stay on pace for 40 percent growth again in 2006. He is optimistic, based on his recent wins of some larger, multilocation accounts, such as Bolger Engineering. The biggest challenge, he says, will be partnering with suppliers with staying power. With all the different mergers going on, there is going to be less choice, and we just need to find the right partners to be with so four or five years from now, they are still standing, he says.

Even with a potentially dwindling supply base, Gerhardt is confident there is a place for a company like D&M in the communications supply chain. What we bring to the table is more than one solution. … There is value for that because we do all the due diligence for them and help them out with all their customer service issues. So, theres a need.


Up Close & Personal

CEO:

Steve Gerhardt

Company: D&M Enterprise Group

Whats D&M: Gerhardt explains: I always say, it Doesnt Matter because its the service that counts.

Web: www.dmenterprise.net

Headquarters: Holmdel, N.J.

Employees: 6

Customers: 10,000 – plus

Direct Suppliers: PAETEC Communications Inc., MetTel Inc., ACC Business, Network Billing Systems, The Conference Group, Monmouth Telecom Inc., DSL.net Inc., Access Northeast and Comcast.

Master Agents: Intelisys Communications Inc., Wireless World

Favorite Pastime: Coaching his kids team sports

Season Tickets: the Nets, the Mets, the Jets and an amphitheater

Obsession: I am a lunatic when it comes to customer service.

Singular Talent: I pretty much know every customers phone number in my head. Its scary.

First Job(s): I remember having three jobs one summer. In the morning I worked in the school cleaning the desks. In the afternoon, I worked in the stationery store, and at night I was the dishwasher for a Chinese restaurant.

Lyrics to live by: Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king. And a king aint satisfied til he rules everything. Badlands by Bruce Springsteen

Links
ACC Business www.accbusiness.com
Access NorthEast www.axsne.com
Atlantic Mills Inc. www.atlanticmills.com
BDS Inc. www.bdstelephone.com
Bolger Engineering www.bolger-eng.ie
Comcast Corp. www.comcast.com
Conference Group, The www.conferencegroup.com
D&M Enterprise Group www.dmenterprise.net
DSL.net Inc. www.dsl.net
Intelisys Communications Inc. www.intelisyscorp.com
Joule Inc. www.jouleinc.com
MetTel Inc. www.mettel.net
Monmouth Telecom Inc. www.monmouth.com
Network Billing Systems www.isgcom.com
PAETEC Communications Inc. www.paetec.com
Shared Technologies Inc. www.sharedtechnologies.net
TELX Communications www.telxcompany.com

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