With Lead Tool, Anderson Twp.'s 4me Group creates a way for builders to improve upon their success

Former Shiels Lumber owners delve into software

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- In the words of 4me Group co-founder Chase Shiels, it's crazy to think that in 2017, customer relations management software could disrupt an entire industry.

But that's what the Anderson Township-based startup wants its software to do in the retail building products industry -- and it's already started to happen, Shiels said.

The Milford resident and company CEO, has known about that industry since he was a youth working for his father, Dan Shiels, at Shiels Lumber Co., a business the younger Shiels' great-grandfather started in 1891. Dan Shiels sold his interest in that business in 2010 and now works with his son in 4me Group.

Retail building products industries are behind the times when it comes to managing customers, Shiels said.

"These industries are a little tech-adverse," said 4me Group vice president for sales Kyle Cheslock.

4me Group's software, Lead Tool, aims to change that by helping retailers keep track of their customers and potential customers. It's like Salesforce, a popular CRM software Shiels said is designed with larger enterprises in mind, ones that can afford to have a full-time system administrator on the payroll.

"We would call it a one-size-fits-all," he said. "We're vertical-specific."

How does it work?

Walk into a small retail flooring store that doesn't have Lead Tool, Shiels said, and you're likely to be greeted by a salesperson who has no way to track your information or schedule follow-up calls. The latter is especially important in flooring, he said, because the average buyer takes 149 days to close the deal after he starts researching a purchase.

Lead Tool automates the process of making follow-ups, sending out quotes and the rest of the sales process. Once the customer's name is entered into the system, it also gleans information about the customer from the customer's social media sites.

A savvy salesperson can use that information to establish common ground and make for a better sales experience, Cheslock said.

That's important, Shiels said, because sales has gone from being a transaction to an experience. "Flooring is a commodity. … the product is the same. The only thing that differentiates the online home center and the specialty store is the sales experience," he said.

Does 4me Group have customers?

It's the official CRM partner for the retail flooring network of Shaw Floors, one of the largest flooring manufacturers in the United States, Shiels said.

Shiels declined to disclose revenue figures, but said he expects sales to grow by more than 100 percent this year. The company started making sales fairly quickly after the first version of its software was introduced in early 2015, he said.

Are there investors?

Outside investors, whom Shiels declined to identify, have put $600,000 into the business. That doesn't include time and money contributed by Shiels and his other co-founders, who are his father and Joakim Stensson.

The main reason they took on investors, he said, was so they could hire employees like Cheslock, who formerly worked with Dotloop Inc., a Cincinnati startup that sold for $108 million to Zillow Group Inc. in 2015.

What's been their greatest challenge?

Explaining to retailers how important it is to follow up with customers using this kind of technology, Shiels said, a fact that's surprising in this age of e-commerce. His team has found many retailers who've built great businesses but who are asleep at the wheel when it comes to CRM.

What's next?

Find more customers, but also keep building and improving the product.

"We are industry people who saw a need," Shiels said. "We are not just technologists who identified a market opportunity."

And for that reason, he added, they want to see the industry continue to prosper and grow. "Any way we could contribute to the success of our customers in this industry, I would say we've done something right."

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