Pakboats: Enabling Constant Collaboration
P@W: What is Pakboats, and where are you located?
Alv Elvestad: We are a very geographically dispersed enterprise. We started Pakboats in 1984 to import and sell an existing line of folding canoes from Norway. The canoes were used mostly for recreational purposes in Europe, but our customers in North America turned out to be more interested in expedition use. That required us to develop some workarounds, and over time I started thinking about how I would design a folding canoe for this market from scratch. Our first PakCanoe came on the market in 1995, and we have since added folding kayaks and accessories to our lineup. For the first few years, we did our manufacturing in-house at our headquarters in Enfield, New Hampshire, but since 2004 we’ve been doing it in China.
P@W: How do you use collaboration in your business?
AE: We collaborate constantly, both internally and externally and on many different matters. Because our operations are so spread out, we rely heavily on technology to enable our collaboration. There are just two of us working full-time here in Enfield, but we have a flexible part-time staff of remote workers that scales up and down as needed. Of course, we have someone onsite overseeing the work at our manufacturing facility in China, and we have resellers and distributors around the world--in Scandinavia, the U.K., Germany, Japan, China, and Canada. Being able to collaborate is probably most important for us in the areas of product development and design. There are occasional face-to-face meetings, but most product development communication takes place by email--partly because that gives us a written record, which is very important.
P@W: What kinds of collaboration tools do you use?
AE: A majority of our collaboration happens by email, but we also use Skype a lot. Our largest customer is our German distributor who covers the central European countries, and we stay in close contact with them. Outside of an annual trade show in Nuremberg, almost all our contact happens by Skype or email. Communication with our man at the factory in China would be too slow if we just used email, so we end up spending quite a few hours on Skype to stay on top of issues that come up.
P@W: How important is reliable communications technology to the success of your business?
AE: Since almost none of our business is local, we would not have a business without reliable communications. We are too small to have our own IT staff, so we contracted with an outside vendor to maintain our internal computer network remotely a few years ago. The vendor strongly suggested we switch to Comcast Business, and I think they were right. Our current service with Comcast is much more stable, and it is certainly much faster than what we had before. And the customer service we get is outstanding. We only need to call them when something goes wrong, and we hardly ever have to call--which is very good! We did have a service interruption due to a storm a couple of months ago, but it was taken care of quickly, and we felt very happy with the response.
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