Empire Builders: A Conversation With Visual Edge’s Michael Brigner and Mark Gibson

Patricia Amesby Patricia Ames

Power in numbers has always been a successful survival strategy for human beings. Our ancestors figured out that they could secure food, water, shelter and other essential resources, plus reproduce and protect their offspring much more efficiently together than they could apart. At the same time, the humans who developed and used new tools that helped them adapt to their environment thrived. Not only did this enable some of our ancestors to outcompete rivals and survive the harsh environments of the ancient world, but they also emerged from it as the masters of the modern world.

In a similar fashion, copier dealers and office solutions providers are up against an adverse environment where those who work in groups and adopt new technology will yield more success than those who don’t.

Recently, I ventured to Netwise Resources’s brand-new facilities in Indianapolis, where I saw the power-in-numbers strategy in action. There, I met with Visual Edge’s Michael Brigner, senior vice president of merger and acquisitions, and Mark Gibson, president of Netwise. Brigner and Gibson discussed mergers and acquisitions, and how they play into Visual Edge’s strategy to emerge from today’s ultracompetitive marketplace as winners.

Mergers and acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are a big part of Visual Edge’s overall strategy. Visual Edge keeps an eye out for companies that supply innovative solutions and technologies, and that bring value to their existing portfolio of operating and satellite companies. “We knew that, if we come together, then we can build something better by bringing parts and putting it into one unit,” said Brigner.

Last summer, Visual Edge finalized their acquisition of Netwise — which it plans to use in a staff support role for its managed IT business — and has been on a shopping spree ever since. Before the end of March 2018, Visual Edge acquired Zymphony Technology, JANCO, FastForward, Brady Business, CopyRight, Counsel, Midwest Office Automations and United Business Machines. There are now a total of 27 companies across the national landscape that have joined Visual Edge.

And we should expect this company’s buying streak to continue. “Ninety percent of our growth will come through acquisitions over the next three years,” said Brigner. “If we find a business partner who is interested in our strategy and we feel that there is a mutual opportunity, we can move forward with as many of those folks as I run into. We have sufficient funding today to continue to identify and acquire as many high quality companies as we can.”

Inside Visual Edge’s strategy to take over the world

Visual Edge has a unique structure and strategy, which has delivered exceptional results. According to Brigner, the company’s revenue streams have grown from $20 million in the summer of 2014 to $230 million in early 2018.

“Our secret sauce is giving office equipment dealers the ability to take a large amount of risk off the table, secure their legacy that they spent their whole life building,” said Brigner. But once the company began to grow, he explained, Visual Edge saw itself as more of a servant to their operating companies than they did a holding company. “We need to provide strategies for growth for our model to grow beyond just plain revenues, and identify if folks need help to be better at what they do.”

Visual Edge helps their operating companies branch out and grow their business. “We create the opportunity for them to see additional technology strategies and we support and help them get started down those paths,” said Brigner. “We also rely on leaders in the holding company to provide opportune strategies to all of our operating company presidents, who can then decide what to take on and utilize to grow wider and deeper in their customer base.”

Gibson said that, ultimately, Visual Edge wants to help copier dealers become managed service providers in their local communities. “MSP is the literal end for the copier route,” he said. And while the copier route may be reaching a saturation point, these companies have something incredibly valuable. “We know with these companies — these copier dealerships, those MFP reps — you know they own those customers and that’s the lifeblood,” said Gibson.

A cynic might say that Visual Edge is the business equivalent of some Bond villain who is trying to take over the world. But really, the company is using one of nature’s many tried and true survival strategies. Visual Edge will continue to scour the country for more successful companies to join their ranks, and support and help those companies adopt new technologies and strategies so they can secure their existing businesses while growing new revenue streams.

Patricia Ames is president and senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 15 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community.