Years ago, when Karen and John M. Cunningham Jr. gambled their mortgage and 401(k) to start their GPS-based company, Vehicle Tracking Solutions in Deer Park, they would pitch to anyone who would listen. Now they've learned to target the "pain points" of each industry. They know that maintenance jobs need to be clustered, delivery companies need to monitor unloading time, limousine companies need to separate their waiting time from their driving time, and irresponsible driving habits need to be noted.
"For every hour of an engine running, you burn one gallon of fuel. If you can cut down five hours of fuel per month, you pay for my system," says John Cunningham, 40. The first five years were lean, but as the business reaches a benchmark of $10 million in revenue in its 12th year, Vehicle Tracking Solutions is seeing a large amount of add-on business as fleets expand again, he said.
How did you find your niche?
I believe it's all about user experience and the detailed mapping quality . . . making it so user-friendly that someone who is not extremely computer savvy finds it easy. In one or two mouse clicks they can get the vital information about where their vehicle is.
What do most customers want?
Years ago people wanted to catch drivers if a driver was taking liberties. If a driver took a vehicle home, they wanted to prevent the driver from doing side work with their truck. But now it's not about catching something wrong, it's about improving and doing things right. So if you have a heating and air-conditioning business that's [servicing] shopping centers in an area, you can put these calls on a map, and wherever their drivers are doing other work they can have them respond to where they are closest geographically. They can get a full day's work without wasting time. The other part is record-keeping. For example, for limousine companies my system can keep track of billing and waiting time so the limousine driver can concentrate on safe driving.
What are the main industries you service?
Building supply is our biggest, municipalities, heating and air-conditioning and home oil delivery.
Do you have a save-the-day story?
A couple of weeks ago a tree company had a $40,000 wood chipper stolen. The owner realized the theft, went to his computer, tracked it, and we were able to recover it in less than three hours and the police made an arrest. We not only track vehicles, we do boats and heavy equipment. We also had a garbage truck taken by an emotionally disturbed person, and it was recovered pretty quickly.
What did it take to start the business?
My business partner and the strongest thing I have going for me in my life is my wife. She was my fiancée at the time. We got married on April 28, opened the business May 1 and found out we were expecting our first child that Father's Day in June. We joke and say we went "all in": We leveraged everything we had -- borrowed against her 401(k), remortgaged my home. It was a leap of faith.
NAME: John Cunningham, president and founder, Vehicle Tracking Solutions LLC in Deer Park
WHAT IT DOES: Uses GPS satellite technology to help fleet owners and operators improve efficiency and increase profits
REVENUE: $10 million