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General Meters eyes rapid growth as it approaches the quarter-century mark

As the first installment in the CR80News series on the major players in the campus card market, the following profile of General Meters Corporation investigates the company’s history, products, and philosophy.

In the late 1970’s, attorney Leon S. Gottlieb had grown weary of the partners in his firm utilizing the office equipment without sharing in the expenses. In his spare time, he invented an electronic reader and magnetic stripe card system to track usage of the office machines, enabling each partner’s usage to be monitored and billed. His system attracted the attention of other law firms, major companies such as Xerox and Kodak, and even the law school at Brigham Young University.

In 1979, Mr. Gottlieb left his law practice to found General Meters Corporation (GMC). The law school at BYU would be among the new company’s first clients and would help shape its future—requesting that the copy card be integrated with the student ID card giving rise to GMC’s University One-Card System. General Meters was in the campus card business.

For nearly a quarter-century, GMC has been refining their device controllers and hardware offerings, developing on-line debit accounting systems, and creating software to control nearly every aspect of campus operations. From meal plans to housing facilities and bookstores to recreation centers, GMC technology automates and streamlines campus operations. Today, the Colorado Springs-based company has more than 80 products and more than 350 higher education clients in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It is among the last of the original mealplan and campus card vendors to remain privately held. The company’s operating divisions generate millions in annual sales and employ more than 50 full time individuals. GMC’s European Engineering division has 9 employees to provide immediate software fixes and develop solutions for international customers.

The GMC on-line campus card offering is a full suite of configurable applications. According to Jeff Zander, GMC vice president, the company’s primary competition comes from the other on-line vendors—Blackboard, Diebold, and CBORD. The company’s strength, he says, comes from its ability to provide a single database, single manufacturer solution utilizing industry standard open architecture and ODBC compliant components.

The following Q&A section highlights CR80News’s conversations with Mr. Zander.

CR80News: What sets you apart from the other vendors in the market?

Mr. Zander: As a single manufacturer, single database, single card solution GMC will take responsibility when problems occur. At a GMC installation, there is not a series of vendors tripping over each other at every turn. Because of this, finger pointing is virtually eliminated before implementation commences. Additionally, we have spent in excess of ten million dollars on R&D alone since 1991.

CR80News: You have offered some innovative pricing structures in the past, like the lease-purchase. Can you describe your pricing and payment structures?

Mr. Zander: Pricing is based on the number of “initial active accounts,” or card holders. Purchase, lease, and lease-purchase programs are available. We have a great program where an institution makes reasonable monthly payments and then has the option to credit these payments to the purchase of the system. Also, a unique “zero money down—pay as cards are created” option is available. When I hear an institution say that they just don’t have the money to invest in a card system, I get excited. I don’t think that any other company can compete with GMC when it comes to flexible modes of payment.

CR80News: We first discussed the high rate of turnover among vendors in this industry almost ten years ago. It is still occurring today, yet General Meters remains independent?

Mr. Zander: We have elected to remain independent to this point. When a larger company buys a smaller one and later elects to concentrate on it’s core business the larger company will often sell the smaller company to the highest bidder with little or no regard for the existing client base that they once found so attractive. We are open to corporate buyout and investment offers; but not at the risk of abandoning the clients who have put us where we are today.

CR80News: General Meters seems to have a high number of Canadian customers. Why is this?

Mr. Zander: I have spent much of the last decade on the road in Canada and was blessed during 1992 with an award at the nation’s number one ranked institution, the University of Waterloo. This award provided instant credibility, and a host of other awards followed. Of particular interest isthe fact that I did not have representation or support in Canada at the time. I attribute our success to the GMC training program, part of which includes the training of existing campus personnel to manage the implemented card system components in a cost effective manner utilizing existing budgets and personnel. Almost 90% of the support provided to GMC clients is software related and provided over the telephone, modem and/or with diskettes. Spare parts are kept on campus and happy clients spread the word. I personally thank General Meters for making the products that made my sales efforts fun and productive in the United States, Canada and Europe and thank all of our clients who have made this process one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences in my professional career.

CR80News: What are your plans with regards to newer technologies such as smart cards, biometrics, wireless, or RFID?

Mr. Zander: Alternate technologies will definitely have a place in our future, but today the mag stripe remains not only more cost effective, but more reliable. Our OneCard 6.0 Platinum product line supports magnetic stripe, bar code, proximity, smart chip and/or biometric applications. Our engineers are constantly evaluating and working with alternate technologies preparing for the day when the cost-benefit ratio makes the timing rights.
CR80News: You appear to have had a good year and some big wins. Tell me what your team has been doing right–or what your competitors have been doing wrong?

Mr. Zander: Part of our success of late can be credited to out new platform, OneCard 6.0 Platinum. It is a 32 bit Windows-based ODBC/SQL web enabled OneCard solution. We have also seen increasing interest in our cost effective, creative financing solutions. We listen when our clients and prospects speak.

CR80News: How has your product line matured recently–say in the past 18 months?

Mr. Zander: The introduction of OneCard 6.0 Platinum offers clients a 32 bit Windows based ODBC/SQL web enabled OneCard solution with a number of automated methods to accept deposits including machines and the Internet. The system supports magnetic stripe, bar code, smart chip, proximity and biometric applications and includes hundreds of reports designed for each department/auxiliary the system serves on campus.

CR80News: Why do you think it is that campuses don’t seem to blink at $5 million ERP or SIS expenditures but still struggle to come up with a small percentage of that amount for a campus-wide card system that controls identification, access, privilege, and payment functions?

Mr. Zander: In many cases this is due to the fact that a number of departments on campus have already purchased some form of a card system but weren’t aware that itmet only their needs and not those of other departments on campus. This results in different card systems from different vendors with limited, if any, integration between the systems and explains the cold feet from some administrators who feel they were burned in the past by empty promises.

CR80News: What is next on the horizon for product line changes and additions?

Mr. Zander: The next two years will bring a number of enhancements as improved software and hardware technology becomes available to the industry. Every vendor has access to the technology–the real question is who is making the best use of it and who can deliver it most cost efficiently to the client. True to General Meters’ form since 1979–all software upgrades are provided to our clients at no cost under warranty.

CR80News: Describe your vision for the future of General Meters in this market?

Mr. Zander: General Meters will continue to thrive as we have learned to maintain focus on our chosen market—higher education. We have and continue to commit significant resources to our products remain solid and meet the changing needs of the campus environment. Companies will continue to come and go in this market. A few of us will remain year after year meeting our client’s needs and building sustainable business. My advice is always the same: keep it honest, be true to yourself and to your industry. After all, we may be working together someday.

Jeff Zander can be reached at (818) 784-6665 or via email at [email protected] Jeff has offered a no obligation customized cost proposal (virtual shopping list) to institution readers of CR80 News – simply call or email Jeff to begin the process.

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