The world’s supply chains have never been more interdependent as they are today. And as a global pandemic continues to redefine modern commerce, one thing is certain—to have stronger suppliers, we need stronger relationships with suppliers. I spoke with Byron Carroll, President and Founder of Carroll Communications, Inc—a US-based, veteran-owned small business. By incorporating a data-based, objective assessment, his company has grown three-fold against a commercial environment like no other. That success has also brought myriad benefits to both downstream clients and upstream suppliers—for a more resilient chain and partnership ecosystem, overall. Carroll Communications—awarded a new Department of VA contract in Texas (for the Installation of new Access Control/Physical Security Card Readers)—has been using The FHR Exchange™ and their own Financial Health Rating to advance those partnerships across the globe. In fact, they’ve seen record growth and recognition since joining—launching a Spanish-language website for expanded demand in Central and South America, while also winning the Department of Defense’s FY 2020 Nunn-Perry Award for DMCA (recognizing excellence in the DOD Mentor Protégé Program).
Read our full conversation below.
To get started, tell us what Carroll Communications is all about.
We are a value-added reseller, primarily serving the United States federal government. Along with IT and communications, telecommunications, services and equipment, we take various components and turn them into solutions while using market research. We also do installations, and thread different companies’ capabilities together. In 2020, our main customer was the Department of Defense, followed by the Department of Veterans Affairs—then system integrators, as well as large prime contracting companies. And we’re quickly becoming an international company as well.
That’s great. And how many countries do you operate or do business in today?
Around eight different countries—the United States being the primary.
How has the last year been for you and for the trajectory of your company overall?Sure, so 2020 was definitely a challenging year, with a lot of indecision. And a lot of, just, the unknown. So we diverted our energy—by using our international network—to help our customers and several of our suppliers meet the unknown needs of the moment.
We also became a major supplier to the Veterans Health Administration (a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs)—the largest hospital system in the world. And actually, we had 3x growth in 2020, in addition to doubling our staff. All in the year of COVID.
So, we were able to grow and expand. And I would attest that to the fact that our feet weren’t stuck in concrete. We were able to move fast—adjusting to the challenges of the day.
And we definitely had several things working to our advantage—
One, we’re already a remote workforce. We do have our headquarters based here in southeastern North Carolina, and our corporate facility is here as well, but our teammates are around the country.
And as a smaller company, having not as many in-person events gave us a level playing field when it came to travel budgets. Since everybody is expected to be doing Zoom meetings, we didn’t have to really compete with the big guys (who have a much bigger budget for travel and for trade shows and things of that nature) because they weren’t happening.
I imagine that in order to be nimble and innovative in this environment, along with a distributed team—you really have to have a strong set of core values?
It’s in our DNA to be a solid partner: doing exactly what we say we’re going to do, being credible and a proven entity. And that’s one of the ways we’ve been able to integrate RapidRatings’ FHR Exchange, because we can say those great words, but it’s really awesome when you’ve got third-party individuals coming in and assessing that, so you can back up those words. And sure, Carroll Communications is a company that is extremely healthy, that is solvent. And our financial strength and health is definitely bedrock-stone to that.
We’re also a company composed of around 80% of veterans; we’re a veteran-owned company. We’re service focused first—business second. And, combined with a solid foundation of financial health and credibility, those are the kind of things that make up Carroll Communications and make us who we are.
What defines partnership, beyond transactional value, to you and your company? So many different things. But at the end of the day, just being the kind of person that I would want to do business with myself—you attract who you are.
And so I look at the partners, as I do my teammates (our staff): they’re investing their livelihoods, and they’re taking chances and risks for me just like I’m doing for them. We’ve got a commingled relationship.
Our suppliers as well. If they’re not supplying us great quality products for us, then when we’re really not going to be very strong.
Ultimately, our customers are trusting us. And all of this intermingled trust in partnership—to be able to achieve great things—is based on us doing what we say we’re going to do. And not just once or twice, but as an extended relationship for, you know, days to months and months to years of being a trustworthy company and group of individuals.
Not all companies have a Financial Health Rating that is as strong as yours, especially after the last year. How would you frame the assessment to your own upstream suppliers?
There are 3 years of history with RapidRatings. We don’t hide this at all because people deserve transparency when it comes to the nature of our business; and it’s something we’re able to offer. So, we put our FHR right on our website. We even put it into our proposals whenever we’re sending them out.
We actually look forward to getting our rating, because it’s just another opportunity to excel as Carroll Communications and a chance for us to get better and better.
And then we are also going into The FHR Exchange and looking at our suppliers, before we partner with them to see how they were assessed, and what’s their strength. It’s our starting point for any conversation. So, if they’re not as strong, what’s the impact? Is it going to be on the product quality? Is it going to be speed-to-market? Am I going to be waiting on my orders to get delivered? Where are they actually hurting?
These are the types of questions we need to ask—to build those honest, long-term relationships that benefit everyone.
Would you ever leverage your FHR with financial institutions or insurers? Oh, absolutely, we use it as part of our general documentation. I actually use our assessment before I send over financials, as a first step. Because it’s a third-party assessment, it kind of pulls in and alleviates some of the air out of the balloon for you know whether or not our financial stability is going to be worthy of them. Eventually, they’ll want to see our financials, of course, and while we’re generating those financials and getting those documents ready, we send over our RapidRatings report to them just to say “hey, we are going to be credit worthy”. So, it’s not only their opinion, but it’s their opinion and RapidRatings coming together to help them make their assessment. And so, we use it as a first strike. For our suppliers, too, and then we also ask them for their RapidRatings report at the same time.
We love to hear it. And you know, you’ve been so generous with your time today, is there anything that we didn’t cover that you’d like to add?
You know, presidents or leaders of small businesses may be feeling a little nervous about submitting their financials to a third-party company, like RapidRatings.
I can tell you: you don’t need to be nervous turning in your financials to them, they’re going to treat you with respect, they’re going to come back around and not only give you a score and give you a benchmark to work from and to improve, but also give you some tools to be able to use their network to protect your business, protect your company’s reputation, grow from that—while learning how their analytics and how their software comes up with a rating—so that you can be a stronger, healthier company.
I did delay for a while and I did have a lot of nervousness before submitting my information. It was unwarranted; I didn’t need it. I was extremely happy when I got the rating back. I actually wasted time not submitting our financials.
And then I can also just add some free advice for some of the large enterprise companies that are thinking about whether or not to partner with RapidRatings when it comes to helping their supply chain: do it. It makes a stronger supply chain. There’s so many places where you can mitigate risk by using RapidRatings and they’ve got several products that aren’t just simply monitoring of your key suppliers once or twice a year but throughout. So, I highly endorse RapidRatings. I highly endorse their team, that they have individuals, that are professionals. And they’re the best of the best. And this is a revolutionary product; you are pioneers in this industry.
How do you use your rating? So we do a lot with ours.
We really use it as a first strike to set ourselves up for success with a new customer. Because our customers are primarily helping us supply the US federal government, the supply chains we contribute to are not only mission critical—but there are literal lives on the line. We have to be able to meaningfully and securely work across our supply chains to deliver the essential things that our men and women in uniform need. And deadlines are extremely real; they’re not soft. So delivering on time, while protecting our supply chains is something that our partners—and ourselves—take extremely seriously.
And as a supplier, supplying large primes that are supporting the federal government, we want to make sure that we’re extremely solid, that we are financially healthy, because there’s always going to be hiccups. Fortunately, we are in a good financial position to mitigate those hiccups whenever they happen.
But how do we demonstrate that?
How do we demonstrate to primes and the end-customer that we are strong?
Many companies didn’t make it out of 2020. And those that did, might be in a difficult position still. We need to understand that, both as a supplier to primes and contractor. That way we can help foresee issues and work with our own suppliers—and everyone else contributing to the chain. The FHR Exchange gives us an unbiased view into the financial strength of our suppliers and how well they’re doing overall. And that gives us a lot of confidence in producing the products that we produce, making the deadlines that we need to make and protecting our reputation, as well as our other partners’ reputations.
This current environment is all about being predictable.
And it sounds like you’re in a really healthy, upticking spiral—getting new business, making the business that you have stickier, and then getting recognition—all feeding back into a grand loop. Tell me a little bit about some of the recognition and accolades Carroll’s received.
I am very fortunate to lead and be part of the team here. They’re the ones who I really have to thank for many of the wonderful things that have happened this past year.
Very recently, we were recognized by General Dynamics Mission Systems as their “Supplier and Services of The Year”. That’s a huge accolade from a top-notch company in the world, and one with extremely high standards. And to be able to get that recognition—I’m very proud our team achieved that and I’m super humbled because there are a lot of great competitors vying for that title.
We were also recognized by Corning Optical, a North Carolina-based manufacturing company that makes fiber optic cabling. They added us to their “Top 10” partners listing in 2020, which gives us a lot of leverage with current and new partnerships.
And on another note: the American Red Cross. They recognized us as an “Outstanding Service Provider & Partner in 2020”. While many companies had to close facilities, we were able to hold a number of blood drives in this community and really tried to promote them.
So, we had a lot of really good things happen and understanding and communicating our financial health has helped make a lot of this recognition, in one way or another, possible—including renewal of our Department of Defense Protégé of General Dynamics Mission Systems status.
To that end, what would you say about your partnership with RapidRatings?
It’s really awesome.
Our relationship with RapidRatings started in 2019, when one of our bedrock partners—General Dynamics Mission Systems—asked us to do a RapidRatings assessment. And as a younger division of this company, our financials were young as well.
You know, we were definitely sheepish about doing it. My background is in sales and business development versus financial and accounting arenas. And so naturally, I was wary of an assessment that analyzed our financials in an advanced way.
But after being urged by General Dynamics Mission Systems, well, I’m really glad we did it. It turned out to be a very, very good thing for us as company. I couldn’t be more proud of our financial health rating and what we can do with it across the board—not only with General Dynamics Mission Systems, but also other partnerships, other customers, suppliers, to my employees, and the teammates, here at Carroll. We really get some mileage out of it.
And it has set a benchmark for my company; a marker in the sand to help us improve. You really can’t manage anything that you’re not measuring. And so RapidRatings gave us the ability to measure our financial health and say, “Hey, we’re going to get better from here.” And we have done that.
We went through our third RapidRatings assessment just last month. And each year, we’ve gotten better.
Internally, too, while it’s really easy for outward-facing executives to get a lot of touchdowns and to get a lot of opportunities to show how good they’re doing—the folks on the inside, here, work just as hard. The RapidRatings assessment gives them a good (and well-earned) milestone.
Shifting gears a little bit and looking ahead to the next year, what are you most looking forward to?
We definitely hope to exceed our revenue growth in 2021, as we head into federal buying season right now. The federal government spends the majority of their money over the summer. And so a lot of everything we do is getting teed up to be successful—right now.
We’ve also been working extremely hard to expand internationally. Recently, we went live with two new websites, one in Arabic and one in Spanish.
Meanwhile, we’re always looking to grow our team. We’re in constant “recruiting mode”—looking for the best-of-the-best to come in and join our team.
And I guess most of all, we’re looking forward to being able to serve our men and women in uniform in a better and stronger way. We’re extremely passionate about that—getting those folks (who deserve the best) the best tools, while continuing to be an ethical, professional supplier to our federal government.
To learn more about how we assess financial data through predictive analytics for public enterprises, private companies, vendors, and other third parties, request a free FHR report or learn more about The FHR Exchange, click here.