HOSTSEARCH: Jeff - thank you for agreeing to speak to us like this... most kind. Could we kick off with an overview of Host Depot, what you do and the products and services you offer?
JEFF PETTIT: Certainly John... Well first of all Host Depot is a web solution provider. We consider ourselves a complete one stop shop for customers needs. We provide many facets of hosting and online needs from the shared and dedicated hosting up and through to the collocation hosting. In addition, Host Depot offers email and collaboration solutions along with web design and software development to compliment our hosting solutions and services. In short all the services and solutions a growing SMB business needs to survive out in today's global economy.
HOSTSEARCH: How long have you been with Host Depot - from the start? Was there any particular inspiration behind the setting up of the company?
JEFF PETTIT: Host Depot has been in business since 1997 (the beginning of the web hosting era). They have seen the market shift and change as web hosting companies (and other dot com companies) were purchased, sold and ultimately went out of business (dot com bust in 2000) due to over extending themselves on future markets that never materialized. Contrary to the competition Host Depot stayed the course of listening to the customers' needs and growing with the customer base all the while focusing on the value for the customer. These core values of providing excellent service and a superior products were born in 1997 and they are still at the core of what makes Host Depot the company they are today and ultimately the vendor of choice for thousands of businesses today.
HOSTSEARCH: You offer a solid range of products and service - business solutions, domain names, ecommerce solutions, hosting, Internet access, web site design, website promotion... is there ANYTHING you don't do! How did you arrive at this suite of offerings?
JEFF PETTIT: I understand why you ask this question. Most web solution providers have a niche product or solution and that is what they concentrate on. Our approach is different because we listen to our customers' needs. Once they start doing business with us we find they start to say things like, I wish you guys provided ... so I could cancel my account with X company. After hearing that so many times you have to take notice of it. It is this reason why we focus our efforts on the SMB market as this market we know well. The SMB market has been shown to look for higher levels of service, support, reliability and value related services more than any other market. In addition, the SMB market is responsible for more than 99% of all business activity and 75% of all new jobs. The SMB market also generates 55% of the North American GDP. It is these reasons why we have a firm grasp on this market and will continue to put our efforts towards servicing this market. We have seen the results of our targeted efforts on the market in that when we know our customers we are able to provide them with the best solutions that they request and need.
HOSTSEARCH: You list 25 items in your Directory of Services. Isn't that a logistic nightmare that means staff burn the midnight oil on a daily basis!? How do you keep ahead of the curve on what to offer and what not to offer? Is it more luck than judgment, or the other way around?
JEFF PETTIT: John, in all actuality, it is not. The reason it is not is due to the fore thought of the Host Depot team. When we deploy a new solution we do so in a way that it can be automated and managed with as little human intervention as possible. For example, our shared hosting solution has instant activation. This means when a person completes the order form for a shared account the account is generated and emailed to the customer in real time. No human intervention is needed to setup these accounts. With that being said, we still maintain that working with an actual person, or at least the option of working with a person is something every customer wants. This is why we provide 24/7 customer service and support, just in case a customer would like to speak with a member of our team.
HOSTSEARCH: How far do you think you have come as a company? What are you in particular most proud of as far as your company is concerned?
JEFF PETTIT: I have to admit this will more than likely be a personal answer but I believe the sentiment is felt throughout the organization. As a company we have come far by being able to focus our efforts on the customer's needs. We all know that customers are the focus for any business. What makes Host Depot different is the management team's involvement with customers. Typically, hosting companies talk about a class or group of customers in their strategy meetings to acquire new customers. Those happen here as well, but also at Host Depot the management team will take on the interest of each customer if needed and we will meet about a single customer. If a customer has a need the management team will roll up their sleeves and help drive a solution for the customer making sure the existing customers receive the service they need. I really respect that mind set of this company as it fits the mold from which I was taught. An example of what we have done for customers is provide our customers with roll over bandwidth (much like a cell phone company does with the unused minutes). Also we provided a holiday promotion to our existing customers for a dedicated server offering. It is these types of loyalty offerings and solutions that will continue to be a part of Host Depot in servicing their customers.
HOSTSEARCH: I note from your press releases that you are particularly active in offering promotions. Talking to the newbies and wannabes amongst our visitors, just how important is promotional activity in the web hosting arena?
JEFF PETTIT: There are a couple of schools of thought here. One is to forget about existing customers and only hunt for new ones. Another is to perform loyalty activities and save programs for existing customers to maintain customers. I believe that both have to be done but with a balance and not at the expense of sacrificing existing clients. We need to protect our existing customer base and at the same time continue to grow. The market has become so commoditized these days. In the US alone there are over 24,000 hosting related companies. With so many hosting companies out there, traditional marketing tools and getting our name out there is necessary, so as not to be left behind. So promotions are important for new customers and to understand new trends out in the market. This ultimately also helps our existing customers as they see that Host Depot is keeping pace with the market which extends our value to our existing customers.
HOSTSEARCH: Your website asks and answers the question "Why Host Depot?" Beyond what appears on your website, what's the answer?
JEFF PETTIT: The 24,000 hosting companies mentioned earlier all have some form or another of technology. We have that technology as well. I have to admit we do look to push the limits of that technology as we work with our partners like Dell and Microsoft. But what goes beyond the technology answers of the website is this. Host Depot truly cares about the customer. We spend so much time and energy getting to know our customers, what their needs are, what the current and future trends are in their respective industries and how we can help them with that. It's a long-term relationship that we create and work hard to maintain in a consultative manner. In so many cases we become trusted advisors and an extension of a companies IT department. This is one of the reasons why our customer churn rate is lower than the average 3% you see throughout the industry.
HOSTSEARCH: Many of the web hosts we interview say the three golden rules for success in web hosting are "customer support, customer support and customer support"! But what happens when a customer's expectations of the support he or she should receive is beyond common sense? How do you manage these situations?
JEFF PETTIT: I would rephrase the golden rule to be service, service and service. By this I mean service starts with the sale of the solution and setting expectations before the sale. We do understand that people and technology do not always play well together. And there is no single gauge or barometer that will tell us the aptitude of a customer. For those people starting out we do consult (service) with them to understand their needs and guide them to a solution that will fit their needs at this time. If this is not done then you leave yourself open for a customer to have a bad experience and then you are banking on the support team to save the customer. That is not the role of the support team. They are there to lend technical support and to solve technical issues. With a bit of service up front we can avoid customer support on the back end and provide better service to our customers.
HOSTSEARCH: I have asked this before, but it is an interesting question - how do you maintain a high level of support yet turn a profit? Surely there is a mismatch - surely round the clock staff is a massive financial drain in such a competitive business environment? For some people outsourcing might be the answer - what about Host Depot?
JEFF PETTIT: Host Depot has not jumped on that outsourcing bandwagon. Host Depot does have technology partners which we work with to provide our solutions. We do maintain and control support costs using methods I have mentioned earlier. These methods are taking a more consultative sales approach (not over selling the customer), putting systems in place that require little to know human intervention and staying up on the latest technology trends to maximize operational efficiencies. These tactics allow Host Depot to be able to build, manage all of our core solutions here at Host Depot. All of our support, management, operations is managed out of our own data center. We are able to keep costs down by making sure the solutions that we deploy are dependable so we do not have to grow the support staff as we add servers or new products to the solution mix.
HOSTSEARCH: As far as I can see, web hosting is the lifeblood of the Internet while one or two web sites or companies - Google, YouTube, etc. - take all the glory, the glitz and the glamour! Will there ever be a hosting equivalent to these companies? Will it be Host Depot?
JEFF PETTIT: There will be new companies that come out and take the spotlight. You never know, the smallest idea can become an enormous success. We here at Host Depot don't mind being behind the scenes and helping our customers to be as successful as possible. Sure, making billions would be great, but if we help our customers achieve their goals, then we will achieve ours as well. We're linked to them, their success is our success.