The 61-year old has no formal training in sales, computers or web design, but he managed to grow two firms that do business across the country in computer sales and web design.
Bennett started his professional career in newspapers, where he had to teach himself how to set type and figure out all kinds of machines.
“I had to learn a little bit of everything, and I had to teach myself,” he said. “I guess I’ve always had an affinity for it.”
He worked in various editing positions for 27 years before venturing out of the news world and into computers when he began marketing for Augusta Computer Warehouse in 1990. Bennett started his own company, ComputerOne, in 1994 and bought Augusta Computer Warehouse in 1997.
As a favor to a friend, he took over operations of Sylvan Computers in 2003, an Augusta company that was dabbling in Web site hosting and design. They slowly started offering dialup services through Georgia Business Net as the world started moving more online.
Bennett says the beginning of Southfire, his web company, was almost an accident. He recommended a web designer for Peach County, one of his biggest customers at the time. The designer took months to produce any kind of site for the customer, and they eventually asked Bennett if there was anything he could do.
“In 30 days we developed, wrote and put together an awesome Web site,” he said. “We figured it out.”
Peach County was impressed, and a study group at the University of Georgia said “Peach County’s new Web site rocks.” Calls started pouring in from other cities and counties across Georgia wanting Southfire to manage their online presence.
Today, Bennett and his six-person team of programmers and designers have developed a product called CicoSitePro for cities and counties, and serve more than 15 of them across Georgia.
“I’ve never had a salesman and I’ve never had to ask for business,” he said.
Kevin O’Neal is internet marketing manager for Classic Dealer Group, who has had seven Web sites through Southfire since early 2010.
O’Neal said Southfire has designed custom add-ons such as fuel mileage calculators and they have doubled their online response since using Southfire.
Bennett said his secret to receiving praise is simple: honesty, reasonable prices, exceptional customer service and accessibility. When a new customer signs a contract, he gives them his cell phone number, home number and direct line to his office. It’s not unusual for his phone to be busy at 11 p.m.
“I welcome their calls,” he said. “I can sleep when I’m dead.”
Southfire charges a monthly fee for their Web sites, and that includes any updates, new pages or changes that may come up. If the customer wants to do it themselves, Southfire gives them full access to their own site but doesn’t force anything on them.
“You call us and we do it,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he wants to polish his mobile web offerings and grow his car dealership and city/county models.