ROCHESTER HILLS — Fred Ferber didn’t intend to get into the software business.
But then again, he never really intended to get into the warehousing, logistics or home health care equipment businesses either.
His real passion was electronics. He started out as a TV repairman. But he’s also always been a guy who knew opportunity when he saw it.
So now, Ferber Warehousing is now trying to sell its proprietary inventory and business management software, called Conveyorware, developed in-house over 25 years, to a major entity that can market, package and sell it to third parties, presumably as a “software as a service” cloud offering.
“We just want to keep a license on the software and continue to operate our warehousing facility,” said Ferber business manager Dianne Heath, gesturing around the massive, 500,000-square-foot warehouse, distribution and fulfillment center Ferber operates on Rochester Road just north of the city of Rochester.
In a way, a software business makes sense for Ferber, whose original passion was electronics. He started Ferber Television on Linwood Streeet in Detroit in 1952, and moved it to Six Mile and St. Mary’s in 1956.
In 1960, a salesman he knew took him to an electronics industry show in Chicago — the predecessor of today’s Consumer Electronics Show.
At this show, Ferber said, “I found out that a cartridge for a record player that I was buying for $6 and selling for $9, at this show I could buy 100 at a time at $1 apiece. And transistor radios, I could buy for a negligible amount. So I started to peddle, buying from these suppliers and going in my car to other television repairmen.”
In 1970, Ferber started manufacturing LED and LCD watches under the company Microelectronics Systems Corp. He would later add calculators, and then games, including an early competitor of Pong called Ricochet.
Other big sellers Ferber manufactured in the late 1970s under the name Surveyor Electronics Inc. were a 36-name automatic dialer that attached to a telephone, a line of CB radios, and even an early home computer with all of 16 kilobytes of RAM. Like the fabled Commodore 64, it used cassette tapes as a hard drive.
“Along the way, we started working on inventory management and logistics management,” Ferber said. “We were doing our own warranty and repair work.”
Added Heath: “The more questions clients asked, the more we added features.”
Ferber sold the electronics businesses in 1987, when he started Homedics and took over the 1942-vintage former National Twist Drill & Tool Co. building. Over the years, the building has housed a variety of startup companies — Homedics eventually moved out and is now in Commerce Township. Ferber gradually grew a warehousing and fulfillment business within the cavernous space in Rochester Hills.
Ferber Warehousing now has about 100 customers, 70 percent automotive. The warehouse is stocked with everything from anonymous automotive castings to backpacks to medical equipment to tables for mitre saws. Ferber’s customers send electronic notices of sales to the warehouse, and the warehouse packs and ships it out.
It takes technology to keep track of all that merchandise, and ship it accurately to customers as orders come in online. Conveyorware keeps track of literally hundreds of variables for each part in the system. “It combines business management and inventory management and accounting,” Heath said. The software is free for warehouse cusotmers.
In short, Conveyorware is a point-of-sale software system, with inventory management and accounting, all in one, all tied together automatically. It automatically consolidates sales in stores and online. It also automatically handles shipping and can be tied in to any mobile device, like smartphones and tablets. It’s built on DB2 database software with IBM RPG400 and Java.