Lehigh Valley Business Journal features Laughing Rock in latest issue.

 In Articles, Company News, Interviews, News

Cross training and adaptability help telecom firm grow

By STEVE REINBRECHT, February 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM – Lehigh Valley Business Journal

Technicians at a small Berks County information technology company anticipate a lot of new projects this year – including work on a virtual “mining rig” to churn through the internet in search of Bitcoins and other cybercurrencies.

Working on its less esoteric projects – telecommunications, information technology, cloud services and website design – Laughing Rock Technology LLC, based in South Heidelberg Township, has seen 20 percent sales growth [in dollars, not Bitcoin] in eight of the last 10 years, said its president, Craig Stonaha, 39.

One reason the company has succeeded is its crossed-trained talent pool of engineers and specialists, Stonaha said.

A big trend in telecommunications is getting rid of equipment and software – moving operations into the “cloud” by leasing storage space hosted on someone else’s powerful servers.

The number of such hosted phone systems has “grown wildly,” Stonaha said. Before 2017, most of Laughing Rock’s telecommunications sales were on-premise systems installed at customer locations.

In 2017, hosted-systems sales increased by more than 600 percent and eclipsed the on-premise system sales, he said. The company serves nine counties and, in terms of telecommunications, provides voice-over internet protocol systems, cell phone integration, legacy-phone system work and cabling.

WORKING WITH THE CLIENT

John Newton, vice president of sales and marketing for Greth Homes, said Laughing Rock stood out among the five companies that gave estimates to install an IT system at the construction company’s new building north of Reading.

The plan was to install state-of-the-art phones, new servers and Wi-Fi for about 25 computers in the new building, which opened in December 2015.

“What Laughing Rock did is they listened to what we needed and listened to what we wanted to do,” and adjusted the plans accordingly, Newton said.

For example, the other four bidders insisted that Greth lease equipment, but the company wanted to buy its own, and Laughing Rock agreed.

SERVERS ON-SITE

Beside telecommunications, companies are moving other computing operations to the cloud –storage for data, files and email; and security and software applications. Laughing Rock has such servers at its South Heidelberg site.

A big part of Stonaha’s business is getting small and mid-sizes companies onto the cloud. The “sweet spot,” when it makes financial sense for a business to switch to cloud-based computing, is about 10 employees. The idea is to have nothing in the office but phones and terminals.

Laughing Rock discussed moving all of Greth Home’s operations and storage to the cloud, but Newtown said together they decided it didn’t meet Greth’s needs.

RUNS 300-PLUS WEBSITES

Stonaha acknowledged his office is a bit remote – off Fritztown Road outside Sinking Spring – but said floor space is more important than access.

His staff can serve clients online around the world. The company has about 15 servers on-site, he said, and runs more than 300 websites, most of which it built.

Laughing Rock has about 15 employees, including office staff, coders and support. Stonaha regularly uses about 15 specialized contractors. Employees are chosen as much for personality as skill, Stonaha said.

“We’ve been really lucky,” Stonaha said. “We have virtually no turnover here.”

SEO-DRIVEN LEADS

Stonaha has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in computer engineering. He started Laughing Rock in 2005, naming it as a pun on his name – “stone aha.”

His customers are generally small to mid-sized companies, typically with 50-200 computers.

He said he relies on aggressive search engine optimization to generate sales leads.

“Our website and Google drive a lot of business to us,” Stonaha said.

VOICE RECOGNITION IMPACT

Along with the cybercurrency mining rig, Stonaha’s technicians are exploring how the rise of voice-recognition searches on devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa will affect online searches.

Stonaha collects all sorts of data about his sales and finances and uses them to adjust operations.

Such an analysis led to changes in 2016 – a year of poor growth – to his best year yet in 2017.

PAYMENT CARD COMPLIANCE

Another big issue in 2018 will be helping customers maintain payment-card industry compliance, needed for any business that stores employee financial information or uses credit-card payments.

Meanwhile, Stonaha isn’t counting on successful Bitcoin mining to lead to early retirement.

“I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near ready for retirement, although I’m certain my golf game would appreciate the extra free time,” he said.

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