Spark Technology Solutions, owned by Ken Buzzie and Rick Chadwell, was formed through a marriage of complimentary skill sets and a common desire to start a business capable of providing a vast array of IT and Audio/Visual technical services. The story of how Buzzie and Chadwell met and formed a business together goes back to 2004 while Buzzie was working in the Utilities Department for Pasco County.
"From 2004 to 2008, I was working full-time for Pasco County Utilities and doing residential computer repair on the side," Buzzie said. "Around 2008, there was an opening through the county for an IT job I wanted. They actually called me and asked me to apply. After the interview there was a lengthy approval process. Long story short, I was denied. That's what did it for me. I made the decision to quit to focus on my own business full-time. It was scary, but I stepped out on faith. With Pasco County, I had insurance, a pension, yearly raises and a lot of paid vacation days, but it wasn't what I wanted and I knew what I wanted."
Buzzie's business, Computers Etc., was focused on residential computer repair. He started out of his house, but eventually moved into a small office. While onsite at a client's office, he noticed they had a networking professional and a telecommunications professional come in to do some work. It dawned on Buzzie that he needed to be all three, so he started to move in that direction. He acquired the certificates and the knowledge to do networking and phone systems. Between 2008 and 2013 he moved a few more times and the business continued to grow at a rate of 50% year to year. In early 2013, Buzzie hired his first technician and noticed a trend from 'break/fix' to Managed Services.
Buzzie explained, "With the 'break/fix' model, you have customers that use you for repair and to fix items that break. You just sit there waiting for something to break and then you go fix it. There's no preventive maintenance or monitoring. Managed Services is completely different. We did a lot of research on Managed Services and how to create packages and how to grow that part of the business. We added preventive maintenance and the ability to remote in to take care of our client's systems. That's when we moved into larger companies."
In 2015, Buzzie and his team identified another trend that would shape the future direction of the company. Much of the technology and networking services were moving to Audio/Visual. Trying to stay ahead of the curve, Buzzie considered creating a separate company to meet the Audio/Visual needs of his customers. He instead reached out to Rick Chadwell, someone he met through a client and someone very familiar with the Audio/Visual world, to see about partnering up. Chadwell had just started Lighting City, his own Audio/Visual company, so instead of merging, they started subbing each other out for work. Chadwell brought with him a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in the Audio/Visual industry. This new relationship between Buzzie and Chadwell continued for several years until March of 2017, when they decided to bring everything together under the single umbrella of Spark Technology Solutions.
"Rick stopped Lighting City, but we kept Computers Etc. to meet the needs of our residential customers," Buzzie said. "Spark is now focused exclusively on business to business. With everything under one roof, we can move forward into the Audio/Visual industry where technology has been pretty stagnant. We now have the ability to install, manage and provide IT and Audio/Visual support, as well as managed solutions help desk services, project management, implementation design and phone systems. Being able to offer all of these services has allowed us to pick up much bigger jobs and to hire more employees."
One of those bigger jobs includes a contract with Cal-Maine Foods, a publicly traded producer of eggs with a regional office in the same building as Spark Technology Solutions. Buzzie and Chadwell provide Cal-Maine with network, cabling and video support. They acquired the job after Buzzie struck up a conversation with one of their employees in the elevator and learned that they needed someone to run networking cable. They did the job and were eventually asked to do more. Today, much of their business comes from word-of-mouth referrals and can be attributed to their excellent reputation for providing professional and reliable services.
Looking ahead, Buzzie and Chadwell, who recently moved into a new 2,600 square foot space, are very bullish on the future growth of Spark Technology Solutions. "Our goal is to be the company that people go to for their IT and/or Audio/Visual needs," Buzzie said. "We want to be known for providing the best quality and for focusing on the customer experience. In order to give our customers the best possible experience and to provide them with more services, we've invested in an R&D budget to launch new technologies. One of those new technologies is Bonded Cellular Wireless Network Infrastructure. It's important that we're on the forefront of this and other forms of new technology."
Buzzie's advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to start small, slowly move into it and to make sure it's really what you want. According to Buzzie, there's a big difference between starting your own business and being self-employed. That difference comes in the form of having to manage employees when your business grows beyond just you.