Originally created 02/28/04

Broad Street merger



Though it lacks the limelight and luster of a Wall Street acquisition, a recent Broad Street merger of three local companies suggests there might be some life left in a fast-forgotten high-tech sector.

PowerServe International, a once-soaring software maker that did well to survive the tech bust, bought graphic designer Mental Soup LLC and Web site developer Double-Dot.com at the start of the year, folding the two into the Broad Street company.

The purchases give PowerServe an edgier look. The additions bring an expertise of visual imagery, such as Web page and logo designs, to the company. PowerServe's previous strengths have been in creating back-office programs to help businesses manage Web sites and offer online products and services.

The combined entity, says PowerServe partner Jeff Partl, represents a perfect meeting of business models.

"Now we can take one of our clients and build them up from business cards and PowerPoint presentations all the way up to Web sites and e-mail. We're now a one-stop shop," said Mr. Partl, explaining that the move was more about finding a good fit than a strategy to grow through acquisitions - something he says isn't a priority.

That said, the acquisitions mean PowerServe has grown by nearly three times to 350 clients, including Meybohm Relators, Taylor Auto Group and the city of Statesboro.

Even with the purchases, PowerServe is a slimmed-down version of its former self, which before the stock market slump boasted an Atlanta office and a staff of 20 people. The company now employs nine.

The reshuffle after the tech bust saw just two executives make it through to today's PowerServe: Mr. Partl and his business partner Mike Leaptrott. A silent backer in Australia is still in the picture, too.

Mr. Partl declined to disclose a dollar figure for the purchases, but the terms of the acquisitions, he says, come to 10 percent cash down payments for each of the businesses and agreements to pay the rest over a time frame based on PowerServe's future performance.

Neither former Double-Dot.com owner Paul Francis nor former Mental Soup owner Don Harris was given an ownership stake in PowerServe.

The two have known each other for about five years, since their start-ups shared space at Augusta Technical College's small business incubator.

"This is a huge costs savings for my clients," said Mr. Francis, who moved along with four employees from their old office on Davis Road. "Typically they'd have to go to an outside source for work I couldn't offer. Now I can."

One of the 150 accounts Mr. Francis brought to PowerServe illustrates this point.

On its own, his Double-Dot.com could design and manage the Partridge Inn's hotel Web site but couldn't handle the bookings.

That cost the hotel extra.

Mr. Harris, who ran Mental Soup out of his home in Evans, sees some of the same benefits for his roughly 50 customers, such as Davidson Retirement Properties on Davis Road, which can offer a Web site with features now missing, such as online discussion boards.

He and Mr. Francis also will have access to roughly $1 million in intellectual property PowerServe has built up to help customize Web sites and allow anyone from secretaries to CEOs to easily tinker with them to match sought-after specifications - sort of like software programs for dummies.

The push, Mr. Partl says, is to start cross-selling these new services to existing customers and to make it as "seamless a transition" as possible.

Though Mental Soup and Double-Dot.com are no longer, he didn't rule out the idea of using their brand names for future product lines.

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.