Home-based software maker competes for sales in crowded field

LITTLE EXAGGERATIONS MAKE TINY COMPANY SOUND IMPRESSIVE

September 09, 1991|By Rick Ratliff | Rick Ratliff,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- Wayne Goldzweig's business card lists his employer as the Data-Trak Corp. His title is senior technical consultant. The company address is Suite 100 in a building on Philomene Boulevard in Lincoln Park, Mich. Call the phone number and you get a receptionist.

It all sounds so impressive.

But the receptionist is actually an answering service. The Philomene address is not an office building but Mr. Goldzweig's tiny brick bungalow. There is no "Suite 100," unless it is the spare bedroom where Mr. Goldzweig keeps his computer. And though Mr. Goldzweig calls himself a consultant, he is, for all intents and purposes, the entire corporation.

Data-Trak is a personal computer program Mr. Goldzweig wrote to help small businesses monitor inventories, print invoices and keep records of their customers. It includes password protection, record-sorting options and automatic screen blanking features, all for $339 or less. And he designed it to be so easy to use one almost never needs to look at the owner's manual.

"I don't know of any other program that does all that," he says.

Desktop computing allows one person to function like an entire company, and software publishers even can use their PCs to manufacture their product. But like many small software developers trying to break into the mass market, Mr. Goldzweig finds it a lot easier to make programs than to sell them.

According to the Software Publishers Association, a Washington-based trade association, competition among software manufacturers for space on shelves in the nation's computer stores is fierce.

Many software companies are tiny; of the association's 800 member companies, more than half have annual revenues of less than $1 million. Nevertheless, many potential customers seem uncomfortable buying software from a home-based manufacturer.

"I find most people like to deal with a company that has more than just one person," says Mr. Goldzweig. That explains his little exaggerations -- not only on his business cards but in promotional fliers lauding "the quality of our work" and promising customers, "our staff is ready to assist you."

Mr. Goldzweig, 34, created Data-Trak in his spare time while he worked as a programmer and in other jobs for various firms. In April, Mr. Goldzweig went into business for himself, hawking his program to retailers, small-business people, anyone who will buy one of the versions of his program.

Enthusiastic customers include Alan Paternoster, owner of X-Act Printing in Dearborn, Mich. "This program does all my pricing correctly," Mr. Paternoster says. "I had tried a lot of other programs and none of them would price my jobs right."

And Kathy Schmittling, who runs BKS, an eclectic Taylor, Mich., firm that offers secretarial work, printing and dog tattooing, calls Data-Trak "a lifesaver."

"It keeps me abreast of my inventory," she says. "If I can use it, anybody can. I had tried lots of other accounting programs and got really frustrated, but this one is quick and easy."

Rave reviews. Yet in the four months since Mr. Goldzweig introduced his product, he has managed to sell only nine copies.

Sitting with his cowboy boots scuffing against the carpeting of his living room, Mr. Goldzweig describes his struggles. He talks about taking copies of his product from store to store, from business to business, often to no avail. One retail chain told him the product is too narrowly focused. Another chain refused to sell the program because its box doesn't have four-color printing.

"When I took it to retailers, I didn't get much response at all," he says. "I tried to contact big software distributors in California. All I got was voice mail. It's like unless you're Microsoft, nobody wants to look at your stuff. It's a tough road. It really is."

Mr. Goldzweig has depleted his savings in this struggle to launch his software. Yet he still has faith.

He sets up booths at computer trade shows and makes cold calls to small businesses he sees in listings at the chamber of commerce. He wants to offer the program to new business school graduates and would demonstrate it in seminars for small-business people.

He figures if he can sell enough copies on his own, he can afford to advertise in magazines aimed at entrepreneurs. Maybe then he can make a decent income through mail order, he says.

"I mean, how many small businesses are there in the United States and internationally?" he asks. "We could sell this thing in France if someone would just translate it into French. We want to be national and international. There's no limit. People are crying for all this new technology to help them."

Mr. Goldzweig stands ready to answer their calls. And so does the rest of his staff.

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