Advantage IQ, the Spokane company that manages utility bills and other site costs for companies with multiple locations, has added 70 employees and 30 major new customers in the last year as its business has surged.
The Avista Corp. subsidiary says it employs 500 people now and served 403 mostly Fortune 500 customers as of year-end.
The business has doubled in size over the last three years, says Stu Stiles, Advantage IQs president and CEO.
Last week, the Portland, Ore.-based company that operates nearly 2,000 KinderCare Learning Centers across the U.S. went live as an Advantage IQ customer, Stiles says. In the fourth quarter, the Spokane company landed the Dallas-based 7 Eleven Inc. chain, which has more than 7,500 convenience-store outlets in North America, and also picked up recently the Rosemead, Calif.-based Panda Express chain, which has hundreds of restaurants.
Asked whether he believes the company will continue to grow as it has, Stiles says, I think unequivocally, unconditionally, yes. Were planning to do it, and weve done it in the past.
Currently, the companys mostly Fortune 500 customers are turning to it increasingly as they seek ways to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and to determine their carbon footprints, or total emissions, Stiles says.
That business is exploding for us, he says. Were managing energy spend in excess of $1 billion a month. As a company, were sitting on top of $12 billion in (annual) energy data.
From the 630,000 bills it receives every month, Advantage IQ can break down figures on its customers energy use by division, by region, and by individual site, Stiles says. It also can provide best-practice analysis to help companies find ways to conserve energy and limit their emissions of greenhouse gases, he says.
We take all that information and package it up for our clients, he says.
Advantage IQ can help its customers monitor the energy their heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and lighting systems use and estimate how employing devices such as temperature controls can help them lower that consumption, Stiles says. It also can help customers plan their energy budgets, set up data-reporting systems to determine when their energy use triggers steps to curb demand, and analyze how business travel figures into a companys carbon footprint, he says.
Many companies know that the job of totaling their carbon emissions starts with gathering data available in their energy bills, and many Advantage IQ customers want baseline information on their emissions so they can monitor the success of their attempts to lower them, Stiles says.
Advantage IQ, which is located at the Rock Pointe East office building at 1313 N. Atlantic, has used data from its customers bills to boost the consulting side of its business before. For example, after concentrating earlier on handling utility-bill and other site-related charges, it began offering telecommunications invoice bill-related consulting after acquiring TelAssess Inc., of Denver, which had that expertise.
We were asked by clients, can you help us with our telecommunications bills? Stiles says. We now process bills that are for local dial tone, long distance, data, and wireless. Telecomm continues to grow very rapidly for us.
The company also pays its customers bills for them after going over their billings to make sure theyre in order. Its automated edit system goes over the huge volume of bills and consolidates those that look routine for viewing by clients designated personnel. When the system sees something unusual in a bill, it kicks that bill out for a closer look by Advantage IQs client-service teams.
The Spokane companys customers transfer to it the funds needed to cover their bills, and Advantage IQ often holds that money in accounts overnight, which generates some financial return for the Spokane company.
Weve built this engine to handle thousands of bills and billions of dollars, and the company continues to weigh new ways to employ that capability, Stiles says. We say, Lets leverage this where it makes sense.
The company has gone through a recent round of strategic planning to look at new ways to employ its bill-review and payment services and to take a look at ways to control its own costs, Stiles says.
Because of the speed at which interest has grown nationally in combating global warming, and because major changes occur so rapidly in todays world, five years from now, were going to be doing things that we dont even know of today, Stiles says.
Last year, the company handled $12.5 billion in billings for its clients, and its own revenues rose to $47.3 million from $39.6 million in 2006. Advantage IQs net income, meanwhile, grew to $6.7 million last year from $6.3 million in 2006, even though the company made major investments in 2007 in technology to increase its capabilities. In 2005, its net income was $3.9 million.
Advantage IQ contributed 12 cents a share to Avistas 2007 earnings of 72 cents a share. At the end of the year, its parent revised its guidance for 2008 downward, to 10 cents to 12 cents a share from 13 cents to 15 cents previously, on how much it expected Advantage IQ to contribute to its earnings. Stiles doesnt comment on Avista Corp.s guidance on Advantage IQs earnings, but says he was pleased that the subsidiary increased its net income in 2007 even though it invested substantial amounts in new technology.
Of the new clients the company has landed, Stiles says, Weve had some big wins recently.
Avista Corp., in its recently filed 10(k) annual report, says that at the end of 2007, Advantage IQ was handling billings for 199,000 sites, down slightly from a year earlier because it had lost a sizable customer.
The teams of Advantage IQ employees who handle bill analysis and payment for the companys clients work so closely with those concerns that they become part of those organizations, Stiles says. He says that Advantage IQ could not have succeeded here if it hadnt been able to recruit and hire capable employees.
Every new employee goes through three weeks of training before he or she begins working on billings, and the company offers its employees incentive programs, Stiles says. Those programs enable employees to receive bonuses when they help the company reach goals such as attaining certain earnings levels and customer-retention rates and meeting certain efficiency measures, he says.
We were able to pay out checks to all of our employees at the companys annual all-employee meeting here last month, he says. While he declines to say how much in bonuses was paid out, he says the amount was meaningful.
One of the biggest challenges the company faces in trying to add business is to convince somebody to outsource those accounts payable functions, Stiles says. That takes time; therein lies opportunity.
Stiles declines to project how rapidly the companys employment ranks will grow in the future. It will depend on our business-development efforts as well as the success of the companys clients, he says. He adds, though, that he doesnt think the companys work force is at a plateau.
While the company took some additional space in Rockpointe East last year to accommodate its rapid growth, it doesnt plan to construct a building or move to another location, Stiles says.
We try to stay about a year ahead in space planning, he says. Theres clearly additional space available in Rockpointe.
Advantage IQ does give consideration at times to the idea of opening a foreign office, but its nothing imminent or that were considering today, Stiles says. Its something we continue to talk about and think about as an organization. Thats partly because much of its clients expansion occurs overseas, he says.
In addition to the telecommunications staff members at its Denver office, the company has engineering and utility consulting personnel at an office in Atlanta and sales directors in offices in New York City; Austin, Texas; and Charlotte, N.C., Stiles says. He says that for now, that network is sufficient to cover the companys needs.
Contact Richard Ripley at (509) 344-1261 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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