Solving it with Software

A background in software helped CEO Lorne Schwartz lower the costs of trade-promotion-management services.

MEI Computer Technology Group is dropping costs for trade-promotions-management solutions’ niche manufacturers, with its cutting-edge technology

Overcoming barriers is the number-one priority at Montréal-based MEI Computer Technology Group, a provider of web-based trade-promotion-management solutions for the consumer packaged-goods industry.

“We know there are barriers to moving small- to medium-sized companies over to our service from the Excel spreadsheets on which they’ve relied for years,” says CEO Lorne Schwartz. “Our job is make the barriers as low as possible.”

MEI was founded in 1983. Schwartz, whose background is in software, joined the company in 2008 and saw tremendous opportunity to improve the level of service being provided to the industry.

MEI gives packaged-goods companies the ability to integrate trade-promotion-management into existing sales-and-marketing accounting systems to better track trade spending, performance, planning, forecasting, and reconciling. MEI’s web-hosted enterprise software solution, TradeInsight, provides a near real-time picture of sales from warehouse to consumer, performs sales forecasting, and eliminates the phenomenon of having multiple spreadsheets being compiled in various departments of the company.

“Being from the software industry, I had a very different viewpoint on what was possible,” Schwartz says. “I was surprised that an industry that offered a software service available at an inexpensive price [with a] great ROI was doing so few deals in a year.”

At the time, typical trade-promotion-management services being offered by competitors involved a lengthy process to get started, a large upfront payment, expensive ongoing fees (upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 per month) with a three-year commitment, and a tremendous investment of staff resources. The cost and burden of innovation fell almost completely to the manufacturer.

“I don’t like that model,” Schwartz states bluntly. “It doesn’t work.”

So, he set about promoting a new offering: MEI’s web-based service would allow manufacturers to access leading-edge promotion-management and -analysis software services with no up-front cost, but rather a low monthly fee of less than $2,500 per month. The burden of managing and upgrading the software falls to MEI, which employs about 60 people, almost half of whom are software developers.

“Our challenge is to change the way manufacturers think about managing promotions,” Schwartz says. “We need to show them they can get in quickly and inexpensively, and immediately begin using the real-time information MEI provides to track the effectiveness of their promotions at the retail level—so that they can make the best decisions on where to invest their promotional dollars.”

Schwartz also notes that a typical consumer packaged-goods company will spend up to one-third of its budget on trade promotions.

“That’s a lot of money to spend,” he says. “They need to be able to assess quickly which promotions are succeeding as they plan their spending. If they are not getting any lift with all that spending, what’s the point?”

Business is growing at MEI, as new clients continue to come on board at a steady pace; and innovation never stops. In June, MEI launched an app for iPhones and iPads to allow clients to track their promotions from any location.

“Essentially, we are in the business of educating manufacturers as to what is possible,” Schwartz says. “We are doing that now, through tools like webinars, blogs, and whitepapers. Before now, no one was taking the opportunity to educate the market on what is possible and beneficial. We are doing that, and letting the results speak for themselves.”