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Conference Call Discussing Earnings for Fiscal 2015 Fourth Quarter and Year End

Safe Harbor Statement

This transcript of an earnings call contains certain statements that are, or may be deemed to be, “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or “Exchange Act,” and are made in reliance upon the protections provided by such acts for forward-looking statements. Such statements are not based on historical fact, but are based upon numerous assumptions about future conditions that may not occur. Forward-looking statements are generally identifiable by use of forward-looking words such as “may,” “should,” “intend,” “estimate,” “will,” “potential,” “could,” “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “project,” and similar expressions. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements made by us or on our behalf. Forward-looking statements are made based upon information that is currently available or management’s current expectations and beliefs concerning future developments and their potential effects upon us, speak only as of the date hereof, and are subject to certain risks and uncertainties. We do not undertake any obligation to publicly update or correct any forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances that subsequently occur, or of which we hereafter become aware. Actual events, transactions and results may materially differ from the anticipated events, transactions or results described in such statements. Our ability to consummate such transactions and achieve such events or results is subject to certain risks and uncertainties. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the matters set forth below:

  • we offer a comprehensive set of solutions— integrating information technology (IT) product sales, third-party software assurance and maintenance, advanced professional and managed services, proprietary software, and financing, and may encounter some of the challenges, risks, difficulties and uncertainties frequently faced by similar companies, such as:
    • managing a diverse product set of solutions in highly competitive markets with a small number of key vendors;
    • increasing the total number of customers utilizing bundled solutions by up-selling within our customer base and gaining new customers;
    • adapting to meet changes in markets and competitive developments
    • maintaining and increasing advanced professional services by retaining highly skilled personnel and vendor certifications;
    • increasing the total number of customers who utilize our managed services and professional services and continuing to enhance our managed services offerings to remain competitive in the marketplace;
    • maintain our proprietary software and update our technology infrastructure to remain competitive in the marketplace; and
    • Reliance on third parties to perform some of our service obligations.
  • our dependence on key personnel, and our ability to hire and retain sufficient qualified personnel;
  • our ability to implement comprehensive plans for the integration of sales forces, cost containment, asset rationalization, systems integration and other key strategies;
  • a possible decrease in the capital spending budgets of our customers or a decrease in purchases from us;
  • our ability to protect our intellectual property rights and successfully defend any challenges to the validity of our patents, and, when appropriate, license required technology;
  • the creditworthiness of our customers and our ability to reserve adequately for credit losses;
  • the possibility of goodwill impairment charges in the future;
  • uncertainty and volatility in the global economy and financial markets;
  • changes in the IT industry and/or rapid changes in product offerings, including the proliferation of the cloud, infrastructure as a service and software as a service, and our dependency on continued innovations in hardware, software and services offerings by our vendors and our ability to partner with them;
  •  future growth rates in our core businesses;
  • failure to comply with public sector contracts or applicable laws;
  • our ability to secure our and our customers’ electronic and other confidential information, and remain secure during a cyber-security attack;
  • our ability to raise capital, maintain or increase as needed our line of credit or floor planning facilities, or obtain non-recourse financing for our transactions or the effect of those changes on our common stock or its holders;
  • our ability to realize our investment in leased equipment;
  • our ability to successfully integrate acquired businesses;
  • reduction of vendor incentives provided to us;
  • significant adverse changes in, reductions in, or losses of relationships with larger customers or vendors; and
  • significant changes in accounting standards including changes to the financial reporting of leases which could impact the demand for our leasing services, or misclassification of products and services we sell resulting in the misapplication of revenue recognition policies.

We cannot be certain that our business strategy will be successful or that we will successfully address these and other challenges, risks and uncertainties. For a further list and description of various risks, relevant factors and uncertainties that could cause future results or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements, see the Item 1A, “Risk Factors” and Item 7, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” sections in the Form 10-K for the year ended March 31, 2015, as well as other reports that we file with the SEC.

This document may also contain non-GAAP financial information. Management uses this information in its internal analysis of results and believes that this information may be informative to investors in gauging the quality of our financial performance, identifying trends in our results and providing meaningful period-to-period comparisons. For

a reconciliation of non-GAAP measures presented in this document, see our earnings press release issued May 28, 2015.

May 28, 2015

Prepared Remarks


Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the ePlus, Inc. Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year Ended 2015 Earnings Conference Call.

As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded.

I would now like to introduce your host for today's conference, Mr. Kley Parkhurst, Senior Vice President. Sir, you may begin.

Kley Parkhurst, SVP

Thank you Abigail, and thank you everyone for joining us today. With me today are Phil Norton, Chairman, President and CEO of ePlus; Mark Marron, Chief Operating Officer and President of ePlus Technology, Elaine Marion, Chief Financial Officer, and Erica Stoecker, our General Counsel.

I want to take a moment to remind you that the statements we make this afternoon that are not historical facts may be deemed to be forward-looking statements and are based on management's current plans, estimates, and projections. Actual and anticipated future results may vary materially due to certain risks and uncertainties detailed in the earnings release we issued this afternoon and our periodic filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission including our form 10-K for the year ended March 31, 2014 and our 10-K for the year ended March 31, 2015, when filed. The Company undertakes no responsibility to update any of these forward-looking statements in light of new information or future events. In addition, during the call we may make reference to non-GAAP financial measures and we have posted a GAAP financial reconciliation on our website at www.eplus.com.

I’d now like to turn the call over to Phil Norton. Phil?

Phillip G. Norton, Chairman, CEO and President

Thank you Kley and good afternoon everyone.

We are pleased with our fiscal year and fourth quarter results. For the year, we reported fully diluted earnings per share of $6.19, a 42% improvement over $4.37 the prior year. On a non-GAAP basis, fully diluted EPS was $5.59, a 28% increase over the prior year. For the quarter, we recorded diluted EPS of $1.22 as compared to $1.03 last year. Elaine will go into greater detail on these in just a moment.

For the quarter, non-GAAP gross sales of products and services increased 4.9%. We feel this is a strong metric given the revenue headwinds being experienced in the industry. Historically, we have been very adept at anticipating technology market transitions, and shifting our focus and investments to be well positioned to capture new opportunities generated by change. Over the past several quarters, we have focused on increasing services, and changing the customer engagement model to a total lifecycle model, led by an assessment-based, consultative approach, through managed services and staffing. We believe this shift is taking place across the industry, and is a key factor to success in today’s IT marketplace.

In the new IT paradigm, with converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, cloud, and software defined architectures, we are focused on working both with traditional Tier 1 IT vendors such as Cisco, NetApp, HP, and EMC, and as importantly, with emerging technology vendors. It is noteworthy that we were Cisco’s Partner of the Year for the Americas, and also NetApp Flexpod Partner of the Year, HP Storage Growth Partner of the year, and EMC Breakout Partner of the year. We are focusing on being the partner of choice for these vendors as well as for emerging vendors in this space. Our diverse and highly respected consulting and engineering teams have deep experience across a broad range of the requisite technologies, which gives us an advantage over many of our competitors.

During the quarter, operating income increased 8%, and gross margin on sales of products and services improved 120 basis points to 20.0%, among the highest of our peer group. The increase in revenue combined with improved margins during the quarter demonstrates that ePlus continues to be well positioned with the most important vendors and solutions in the industry.

To maintain our competitive advantage, we continue to make ongoing investments in engineering and services capabilities. For example, in today’s security market, with an ever-increasing number of threats and changing threat vectors, security remains a top priority for customers of all sizes and industries. We have continued to develop specialized teams on both the engineering and sales side, and we have divided our approach into two primary areas: Secure Perimeter and Secure Data, with consultative and professional services teams that are leading experts in each. As a Master Certified Security partner, we remain one of Cisco’s leading security partners, and we are also working with many other vendors such as Palo Alto and FireEye. As you may know, the average enterprise has many different security products installed, and to ensure the customer is fully protected, it takes both the ability to handle a broad range of products and solutions, as well as deep expertise in each, to secure the environment. We believe we are one of the best positioned integrators in the country to fulfill this mission

On the finance side of our business, we are beginning to see the results of optimizing the compensation structure and processes to really create synergies between our two operating segments which results in incremental sales, cross-selling opportunities, and both helps win new customers as well as deeper penetration with existing customers. The other positive trend is that consumption based computing – or paying for IT when utilized – is becoming more and more desirable for customers, as it mirrors some of the benefits of the public cloud without the financial and security risks, and we are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. We believe in the middle market and enterprise customers we serve, we have an advantage over our competitors. In fiscal 2015, our financing segment produced 11% growth in operating income, representing a 28% operating margin.

We believe it is noteworthy that the financial accomplishments of fiscal 2015 were achieved while we were continuing to build out our capabilities, through headcount additions, geographic expansion and the completion of an acquisition. We had 936 employees in our technology segment at the end of fiscal 2015, up 6.5% year-on-year. Almost 90% of this new headcount is customer facing.

In terms of expanding our national reach, we opened new offices in New England and in upstate New York. And, our acquisition of Evolve last August significantly expanded our presence in California and in the western states, gave us a stronger foothold in the SLED market in that geography, and expanded our solutions expertise in data center, security and networking. We also believe the Evolve team will be able to leverage the size, scale, capabilities and relationships with key vendors that ePlus has, to grow their business.

We are well-positioned to execute strategic acquisitions, with a strong balance sheet, and proven capabilities in execution and integration. Today’s opportunity to acquire larger regional players to expand our geographic footprint, add sales and engineering personnel, and gain customers, continues to be a key corporate objective and there are many opportunities in the market. We are also evaluating smaller niche players to supplement our emerging technology practice, and to bring our full suite to their customers.

I would now like to turn over the call to Mark Marron to tell you more about our most recent business activities and what we are seeing and hearing from clients and vendors.

Mark Marron, Chief Operating Officer

Thank you Phil and good afternoon everyone.

We believe ePlus’ financial success in the fourth quarter and for the year is a result of our ability to monetize a number of IT trends in the marketplace:

  • CIOs are being charged with achieving more with their existing IT budgets,
  • The complexity of IT challenges and the range of vendor options available continue to grow, and
  • IT departments are increasingly prioritizing the value and flexibility of bundled solutions.

ePlus is meeting these objectives with offerings that include managed services, staffing, integration services of multi-vendor solutions, and flexibility with standard and customized financing solutions to meet today’s IT needs across areas such as cloud, big data, security and a host of others.

Effectively, customers are looking to companies like ePlus to deliver business outcomes, not just a siloed IT solution. In this evolving environment, we have created a strategic direction to focus on business outcomes in a few ways. First, we have created teams that are responsible for evaluating emerging technologies and how these new technologies will fit within our existing focus areas. These teams are responsible for creating go to market and awareness programs around these solutions. Second, we have continued to refine and build out our PBSO plan that helps our customers in the Plan Build Support and Optimize phases. PBSO is a major value to our customers in that it helps CIOs identify what options are available to them in a number of ways.

  • First, with comprehensive assessments and health checks that help them understand their current environments and what they need to consider as they select new solutions
  • Second, the ability to integrate multi-vendor complex solutions, and
  • Third, the ability to support and optimize these solutions through our professional services capabilities, managed services, staffing and overall lifecycle management services which includes financing options and the ability to track and manage these assets.

Our fourth quarter and fiscal year performance reflected the success of this strategy, specifically in the following areas:

  • Our focus on margin enhancement through expanding our service offerings and focusing on higher-margin solutions;
  • Our focus on the fastest-growing segments of the IT market including hyperconverged infrastructure, cloud security, storage, data analytics, and many more; and
  • Our drive to cover new markets and geographies to both increase what we sell existing customers, as well as expand our customer base

In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015, we had several wins that demonstrate how this strategy is driving ePlus’ market share gains.

One in particular I would like to highlight is a regional hospital in the south east. This hospital had recently been acquired, creating a host of new IT challenges. At the same time, several IT personnel had left but had not been replaced, due to the pending acquisition. ePlus worked with the hospital to design and implement a managed services solution that covers important aspects of IT infrastructure, including everything from networking, firewalls, servers and more. We are providing staff augmentation services, managed services, as well as Enhanced Maintenance Services, which includes first and second level maintenance calls for Cisco and NetApp. Our new EMS offerings allow us to provide an added level of support to both existing and new customers. Additionally, to match its budgetary requirements, the hospital wanted to pay over a number of years; as a result, we provided financing for the transaction. From the client’s perspective, they now have a trusted partner managing their IT needs, and they have a financing contract that was tailored to provide flexibility to meet their requirements. From our perspective, we have a $3 million win, we are an integral part of their IT support infrastructure, and can potentially expand our business with this customer after proving our value through the transition period of the acquisition.

Another example shows our strong position in the IT security market. This was for a major university in the north east, who has been a long-standing existing customer of ePlus Technology. This university was actively seeking to upgrade its security infrastructure, and it turned to ePlus to provide the product, integration, and services around the selection, design, and implementation of the solution. The result was a $4m plus deal for ePlus, and we’ve already added one six-figure deal in the first quarter of our new fiscal year. This customer has a multimillion dollar security budget, and we believe that as a trusted security consultant, we are well-positioned to capture additional security related business moving forward.

Phil mentioned our acquisition of Evolve, and how that expanded our presence and contracts on the west coast. SLED is our largest market by revenue. I also want to highlight that we had a positive year in fiscal 2015, both in terms of revenue and contract awards. In February, we announced that we had won several new PEPPM awards in Pennsylvania and California, drawing on our core focus areas such as network infrastructure, data center and security. We remain optimistic that we will see continued growth in this important segment, which today represents about 20% of our business.

In terms of our evaluating both Tier 1 and emerging vendors, we have continued to invest in people, processes, and training in order to gain the requisite vendor certifications to deliver the most demanded solutions by our customers. To meet these demands, we are continuing to invest in customer facing headcount. In FY15 our headcount increased by 6.5%, and the majority of the new adds were customer facing engineering or sales resources. As Phil mentioned earlier about some of the awards we have won, we believe this is validation of our efforts to work with existing and emerging vendors. Just to reiterate what Phil said, some of the awards include:

  • Cisco Partner of the Year in the US
  • EMC Breakthrough Partner of the Year
  • HP Top Storage Growth Partner of the Year
  • NetApp Flexpod Partner of the Year

Also, as part of our plans to continue to evaluate emerging technologies and vendors, we achieved a few certifications this year. Notably, the certification of Application Centric Infrastructure Authorized Technology Provider from Cisco. This allows us to sell, deploy and support Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure products and solutions at a time of increased focus on opportunities for converged and hyper converged infrastructure. Secondly, we recently announced that we had been named a Platinum ProPartner by Veeam Software, the highest level in the Veeam ProPartner Program in the United States. This designation allows us to provide Veeam products focused on data center solutions.

We believe certifications like these keep ePlus well positioned with ACI and other new technologies and vendors for the future.

The common themes running through all of these examples is that ePlus has a market-leading level of expertise, and that we can provide the full range of products and services that CIOs look for in the current IT environment with the flexibility and support they are looking for from a partner. Based on these factors, we believe that we continue to gain market share.

I’ll now turn the call over to Elaine, who will provide a closer look at our numbers for the fourth quarter and the full year.

Elaine D. Marion, Chief Financial Officer

Thank you Mark.

As Phil mentioned earlier, results for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015 showed positive year-on-year comparisons, driven largely by margin expansion.

Net sales grew 2.8% in the quarter, while consolidated gross margin for the quarter was 22.0%, up 100 basis points from the year-ago quarter. One of the main factors in this margin expansion was an increasing proportion of revenue from the sale of third-party maintenance contracts, which are reported on a net basis. In addition, we continue to optimize our product mix to prioritize higher margin sales, including those associated with advanced technology solutions and services.

This consolidated gross margin expansion more than offset an increase in operating expenses. Starting this quarter, we are reporting adjusted EBITDA, a metric we use to evaluate the operating performance of our business. We define Adjusted EBITDA as net earnings calculated in accordance with GAAP, plus adjustments for interest expense, depreciation and amortization, provision for income taxes, and other income. Certain operating expenses from our financing segment are excluded from Adjusted EBITDA. We consider the interest on debt from the financing segment, as well as depreciation of assets under lease, to be operating expenses. Adjusted EBITDA grew 10.5% in the fourth quarter to reach $16.3 million. Net earnings were $8.9 million, or $1.22 per diluted share, up from $8.2 million, or $1.03 per diluted share, in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014. Diluted shares outstanding were 7.3 million, from 7.9 million a year earlier.

Turning now to the results for our two segments, starting with technology.

Technology net sales grew 2.8% to $258.9 million in the fourth quarter, up from $251.9 million a year earlier, while non-GAAP gross sales of products and services grew at 4.9%. Non-GAAP gross sales of products and services include revenues from third party maintenance contracts prior to the reclassification to net sales. As you know, we have a team focused on these margin-rich maintenance contract renewals to assist our customers with the complexities of this difficult renewal process. Gross margin on the sale of products and services was 20.0%, compared with 18.8% in the fourth quarter of 2014. As with the consolidated gross margin figure, this expansion is largely due to the sales of third party maintenance contracts, which are recorded on a net basis and higher margins from our product sales. Operating expenses increased to $40.2 million from $36.7 million a year earlier primarily from higher variable compensation related to an increase in gross profit as well as additional personnel. G&A expenses also rose to $6.1 million, which included non-cash expenses from our acquisition of Evolve Technology in August 2014.

Technology segment earnings were $12.9 million, up slightly from $12.8 million a year earlier.

In the financing segment, we saw positive year-on-year comparisons. Net sales grew 4.5% to $8.4 million, with higher transactional gains compared to the year-ago period. Direct lease costs fell slightly to $2.7 million, leading to double digit growth in gross profit. G&A expenses also fell, reflecting lower reserves for credit losses in the current quarter.

Together, these factors led to strong growth in segment earnings, which totaled $2.2 million, compared with $1.2 million a year earlier.

Moving now to full year results:

Our fiscal year 2015 performance is in line with the long-term strategy that Phil and Mark touched on: growth higher than that of the overall IT market, led by our focus on integrating complex IT solutions, which combine products, professional services and managed services.

Consolidated net sales rose 8.1% to $1.14 billion led by our technology segment, which accounted for approximately 97% of net sales. This growth in technology revenue more than offset a slight decrease in financing revenues. Consolidated gross margin for the full year was 21.4%, a 90 basis point increase from fiscal 2014. The main factor in this expansion was the increased proportion of sales coming from third party maintenance, though we did also see a shift in product mix towards higher-margin products.

Operating income rose 17.7%, more than double our net sales growth, to $70.7 million. Operating margin increased 50 basis points to 6.2% while net earnings were $45.8 million, inclusive of non-operating income from a gain on retirement of a liability and the Company’s claim in a class action lawsuit. Excluding these two items, non-GAAP net earnings were $41.4 million, or $5.59 per diluted share, compared with $35.3 million, or $4.37 per diluted share, a year earlier. Diluted shares outstanding were 7.4 million, compared with 8.0 million a year earlier.

Turning to the annual results for the two segments.

Technology segment net sales rose 8.5%, while non-GAAP gross sales of product and services grew 12.5% to $1.44 billion. Again, these include revenues from the sale of third party maintenance contracts prior to the reclassification to net sales. By sector, we remain well diversified in terms of net sales, with Technology, Telecom Media & Entertainment and SLED each accounting for 18% or more of our total net sales, while financial services and healthcare were both 10%. This diversification is an important part of our strategy, and we see opportunities for growth in each sector.

Gross margin on the sale of product and services was 19.4% for the full year as compared to 18.3% in the prior year. The 110 basis point expansion is due primarily to an increase in the proportion of sales of third party maintenance, and a shift in product mix to higher margin products.

Operating expenses were up for the year, reaching $159.8 million, from $142.2 million in fiscal 2014. Approximately 48% of the increase in salaries and benefits related to higher variable compensation as gross profits increased. The remaining increase was due to additional personnel, as headcount in the technology segment rose to 936 employees at year-end from 879 at the end of the prior year. The other factor in operating expenses was the acquisition of Evolve, which resulted in higher amortization of intangible assets.

Segment earnings rose 18.8% for the full year, reaching $61.0 million, up from $51.3 million in fiscal 2014.

Turning to the financing business.

Revenue was modestly lower in the year, reflecting lower transactional gains. Direct lease costs and operating expenses both fell, leading to growth of 11.0% in operating income. In the second and third quarters of fiscal 2015, we booked two non-operating items in the financing business that I mentioned earlier: a gain on a retirement of a liability, and a payment received relating to the Company’s claim in a class action lawsuit. Inclusive of $7.6 million of non-operating income from these two items, segment earnings were $17.4 million. Adjusted EBITDA for the year was $75.0 million, up from $62.9 million in fiscal 2014.

Moving to the balance sheet, at March 31, 2015, we had cash and cash equivalents of $76.2 million, compared with $80.2 million at March 31, 2014. Total stockholders’ equity was $279.3 million, compared with $266.4 million a year earlier. During the year, we repurchased 700,113 shares of our common stock for a total purchase price of $35.7 million under share repurchase plans which includes 400,000 shares repurchased as part of the secondary offering conducted in May 2014. In addition, we used cash of $8.1 million for the acquisition of Evolve.

To sum up, results for the full year highlight the demand for the type of complex multi-vendor solutions we offer, and our ability to expand gross margins and operating margins.

I’ll now turn the call back to Phil for closing comments.

Phillip G. Norton, Chairman, CEO and President

Thanks Elaine.

To sum up, we are pleased with our fiscal 2015 results, and we believe we are well-positioned for continued growth. We have chalked up a solid track record of anticipating emerging market trends and today, our increased scale gives us even greater ability to be at the forefront of change,----whether it be the strong demand for security, where we have significant expertise or the migration to more software solutions, which benefits our services business over time. Also in fiscal 2016, we expect to be able to leverage the investments we have made in engineering capabilities and headcount as we continue to develop our professional and managed services business.

We recently completed a rebranding process, which calls out the concept of More—in the context of working smarter and doing more to satisfy more sophisticated consumers and to be more efficient. The genesis of this theme came from both our own organization and a cross section of our top 40 clients, in recognition of how much ePlus has evolved over the years and where we are going.

As we move forward in this new fiscal year, we will continue to focus our effort on gaining more traction with our existing clients, where we still have significant opportunity to grow both products and services, as well as expanding our customer base through targeted sales efforts across our diversified verticals. We believe we are well positioned in those areas that are most in demand, namely security, cloud infrastructure, data center, and services combined with our increased scale, to enable us to continue to gain share and report sales performance that comfortably exceeds the growth rate of the overall IT market. And, our company is fully committed to maintain industry-leading gross margins and investing in people, emerging technologies and consulting services through organic efforts as well as acquisitions.

Finally, with more than 2,900 customers and a comprehensive suite of offerings that address today’s most advanced technologies, we are very well positioned to capture additional up-sell and cross-sell opportunities within our customer base. For example, we can provide security to our customers that integrate within the solutions they are already buying from us.

On that note, Operator, we would like to open the call to questions.



Our first question comes from the line of Matt Sheerin with Stifel. Your line is open.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Yes. Hello everyone. First question, just regarding the revenue in the quarter. It looks like you saw a fairly significant deceleration of growth on a year-over-year basis, on a sequential basis your tax segment was down 13% or so, which is the biggest decline in five years. So, just trying to figure out what you saw in the quarter which led to that slowdown. I know you had a very strong December quarter and the comps year on year are tougher. I know one of your suppliers has announced some difficulties. I know the education market is in a pause. But what are some of the reasons that you're seeing there?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Hey, Matt, it's Mark here. So, a couple of things that are probably going on in the market. As you see with a lot of our competitors as well as some of our key vendors, they're all in the mid-single digits to flat to down from a revenue growth standpoint. I think there's a few things also going on at the storage space with some of the legacy storage vendors that's in play.

Now with that said, we think we're very well-positioned both with the legacy and emerging vendors in the storage space and with some of the what I'd call customer-facing headcount that we added, we feel very good and positive about what the future holds.

I think the biggest thing, when you look at the year-over-year growth, our tax sales last year were up approximately at the gross level like 12.5% year over year. So it's a tough multiple to match when you have that kind of growth in the previous year. Not making excuses, we got a few things with weather that probably affected some of the services numbers, nothing dramatic, so I'm clear. But those would be the bigger pieces.

I think overall we feel pretty good about the headcount that we added, the areas that we're focused on, and some of the relationships we're building with some of these emerging technology vendors.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Do you think then, Mark, that we should start to see reacceleration of growth as we get into the back half of the year?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

You know, here's the easiest thing, Matt, we believe that we'll continue to take market share from our competitors as we move forward. We think we'll continue to grow our services revenues at a bigger clip than our product revenues. As you noticed, I think as Elaine highlighted, our gross margin was up 120 basis points for the quarter, and that's really focused on more of the, you know, more value-add, higher complex solutions that a lot of customers are looking for. We've expanded our service offerings in terms of - or managed service offerings by offering video, Flexpod managed services, wireless managed services. We're investing in headcount to continue to pull down both the professional services and the staffing that our customers are looking for. So we feel pretty good both from a - where the market is and what we see in our forecast currently.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. And I know you don't break out the revenue from services or as a percentage of your sales, but could you give us an idea of the growth rate you're seeing in that services revenue, not counting the warranty -- the maintenance contracts, could you give us an idea of the growth rates there?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. So I guess the biggest thing to talk about, so, Elaine or Phil had mentioned that we had 6.5% headcount growth year over year. I would say 85% to 90% of that is what I would call customer-facing, meaning sales account executives and services, systems engineers, both pre, post sales and solution-oriented architecture and consultants. And that's where we're going to continue to, as we move forward, to invest.

As I mentioned, without overkilling it, Matt, the offerings that, you know, we built up an on-demand services and staffing capabilities and we're going to continue to build that out. We built out our national presales capabilities so we're able to provide more value to our customers in key areas that they're looking for. And the offerings, you know, the services offerings that I talked about, by adding video, we also extended. So when Elaine talks about the net gross sales through third-party contracts, that's by design at ePlus. We've actually expanded what we call our renewals team, and they're responsible for customer satisfaction and providing the information and the tools from an asset management standpoint that our customers need to manage their assets as they move forward.

So we believe that we're well-positioned for renewals. We believe we're well-positioned from a support standpoint. And we believe we're well-positioned to add on the optimized -- what I call optimized services, that managed services, staffing, and what we call enhanced maintenance services, which is where we provide level one and level two support for Cisco and NetApp customers.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. So I'm just trying to get an answer to questions in terms of the growth rate of that business of services, or it sounds like you're not ready to talk about that yet.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. Matt, at this time we're not ready. What I can tell you, our services growth rate as a percentage will exceed our product growth rate, that I can tell you. And I think the part that I'm trying to give you as much as I can here is that most of the headcount we're adding is in the services space, and I'm trying to highlight some of the offerings that we're building out that are services related. So we think we'll continue to see, you know, our transaction and annuity services continue to grow. And hopefully that'll continue. Based on what we've proved in the past, our gross margin percentages will continue to trend in the right direction.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus


Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, if you look at it, our tech gross margin was up 120 basis points for the quarter and I think was 110 basis points for the year.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Yup, got it. And just lastly, could you tell us what your top customer was as a percentage of sales, Cisco?

Elaine Marion - CFO

Customer or top vendor you mean?

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

I'm sorry, vendor.

Elaine Marion - CFO

It was Cisco. I think they came in at 48% for the year.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. And any 10% customers?

Elaine Marion - CFO

We had none this year.

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

You had none. Okay. Okay, I know last year Verizon was a double-digit customer. Is that one reason why maybe the growth rates look slower, because of the lumpiness of that customer?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

No, I don't think so, Matt. Because if you look at it on a consolidated, we're up 8% revenue year over year. So if you think about the IT industry as a whole, I think it's Gartner IDC, says it 3% to 4% is what the IT spend is expected. So from a revenue standpoint, we're more than double the industry average. And then when you look at our operating income, that's up at 17.7% --

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

No, I certainly understand that. I'm just getting -- you've had that one customer was plus 10% last year, now it's below 10%, which means that customer was flat or was down.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. Hey, Matt, I believe they were approximately flat, but it wasn't a big difference I believe, and I'm going on memory here, I don't have it in front of me. They were just barely over the 10%, Mark, last year. So I don't remember the exact percentage. So we can get that to you --

Matt Sheerin - Stifel Nicolaus

That's fine. That ballpark is fine. Okay. That's fair enough. Thanks a lot.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

No problem. Thanks, Matt.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Prabhakar Gowrisankaran with Canaccord. Your line is open.

Prabhakar Gowrisankaran - Canaccord Genuity

Hi. Thanks for taking my questions. Just following up on the previous quarters. Just, can you provide more color in terms of the macro trends? Is there a bigger slowdown in the storage? And if you can compare to networking and converged infrastructure? It sounded like you had some -- a lot of growth in converged infrastructure, but it looks like there was more of a slowdown in storage.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. Hi, Prab, it's Mark. In terms of -- here, I'll give you two quick things. Why we feel we're pretty well-positioned, the reason we mentioned the awards, the Cisco Partner of the Year, the EMC Breakthrough Partner, the HP Storage Growth Partner, the NetApp Flexpod Partner of the Year, we feel, compared to our competitors, with the resources, the scale and the capabilities we have, we're very well-positioned. As the market to this, you know, from converged to hyper-converged market, if you will, and all the different types of cloud offerings that are out there.

If you look at the market as a whole, I think there's probably four things that you're looking at from a macro level that everybody is trying to figure out. It's all about the customer experience, it's about the employee experience. It's about big data analytics and how do you use that from a business risk as well as a business opportunity. And it's about security and compliance.

And then if you think about some of the bigger macro things going on, you know, with movement from you traditional disk and hard drive to flash and object storage, you've got a lot of that going on. So I think customers are trying to evaluate what's the right solution for them both in a converged and hyper-converged infrastructure.

And then at the true macro [ph], if you start thinking about, you know, the digital transformation that's going on and the internet of things and all the things that that means, I think it just really opens up more opportunities for somebody like ePlus because the internet of things is really just, you know, centers on everyday devices, and then making that data and utilizing that data to provide some value to the customer. So those are the things at macro level.

The other thing is everybody is trying to figure out how to harness big data. And obviously they're worried about cybersecurity, both at the Board level and at the CIO level. So that's kind of the bigger-picture things going on.

Prabhakar Gowrisankaran - Canaccord Genuity

Okay. And the other question I had was just piggybacking on your -- how are you positioned on these emerging flash and hyper-converged infrastructures? It looks like you're -- some of these newer guys has similar offerings to Vblock and Flexpod offerings. So, how are you positioned with some of these emerging vendors?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Well, I think we're very well-positioned, Prab, because if you think about it, it kind of plays into our strengths. So if you think about the converged players with Flexpod and Vblock and all of that, hyper-converged, really all it is is kind of a preconfigured rack of storage and compute, if you will. So this integrated stack. So it kind of fits within our strengths in terms of the space that we play in. It also plays into the six or seven integration centers that we have across the U.S. So I think it's actually a good play for us.

Now obviously with our size and scale, a lot of the newer players in that space are looking for ePlus to help them to go market. So what I had mentioned earlier, we feel we're pretty well-positioned with both the legacy as well as the emerging vendors in that space.

Prabhakar Gowrisankaran - Canaccord Genuity

And the last question I had was just in terms of -- it looks like you have kind of a lead in terms of security and other advanced technologies. If you could provide any qualitative color on growth that you're seeing there. Is it early innings, or are you seeing a lot of growth from security and managed services?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

We -- hey, Prab, we don't break out any of our, you know, what I'd call focus areas or architectures. I can't tell you just, as you know, by looking at the market with all the different breaches and everything going on in the market, all the talk about breadth [ph] intelligence both across public and private sectors, if you will, in terms of trying to take that information and use it to protect against the bad guys, if you will. You know, there is obviously a growing market. And I can tell you that it's a market we're focused on. We're adding headcount and resources in that space, and we would expect those numbers to continue to grow for us in the security space going forward.

Prabhakar Gowrisankaran - Canaccord Genuity

Thanks for taking my questions, and good luck.

Prabhakar Gowrisankaran - Canaccord Genuity

Thanks, Prab.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Bhavan Suri with William Blair. Your line is open.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

Hey guys. Hey guys, can you hear me okay?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yes, Bhavan, we can hear you.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

Thanks. Just to turn to first question, sort of -- you haven't had that sort of growth, when I look at the revenue growth, for a while now, and obviously there are some storage guys building some pressure [ph] and things like that. Was there any deal slippage? Was there stuff that might have come in that got pushed out? Was there just sort of a buying pattern that you might have seen in a specific vertical that was different? Do you feel it's more on your side in terms of the sales execution side, Mark? How should we think about that? Because overall your growth was fine, but sort of that quarterly number was just a little lighter than we've seen in the past.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. Hey, Bhavan. So, one, you have the year-over-year multiple.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair


Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

I think what you're seeing also, as you know, like in the e-rate [ph] space for example, with a lot of the schools that are out there, over the last few years you've had zero dollars as it relates to e-rate [ph]. That's now opened up. We actually feel like we're very well-positioned based on the schools that selected us with e-rate. So we've got, you know, which is all public. We've got a significant share of that business. So we would expect our select business, which is our strongest business overall, to continue to grow.

I think you've got some of the legacy storage vendors, that might hit some tailwinds. I mean I think you've seen with NetApp and HP and EMC with their, you know, with some of the things that they announced, that you probably got some customers out there that are evaluating whether to look at some of the new flash and hyper-converged players out there. But once again, in terms of our forecast and our optimism, we still feel pretty good about where we're positioned both with the legacy and the emerging vendors.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair


Elaine Marion - CFO

Bhavan, I think also to add to that, our fourth quarter is generally a softer quarter for us. There's no --

Bhavan Suri - William Blair


Elaine Marion - CFO

-- what we call events that occur in the quarter, like a manufacture year end or a budget yearend that occurs. We do have a very good comparable year last year in that quarter that took us in with -- as a comp, we knew that kind of going into this quarter. Mark mentioned also weather which I think did have a small effect on some of our services revenue that did occur.

So, the combination of things. But also to look at the gross sales portion, I mean we could go up 4.9% in terms of gross sales, and we did have a larger portion this quarter of maintenance sales than we normally have in this quarter. So I think it was 23% we reclassified as net sales, which is a larger percentage. Normally that percentage is in that 18% to 19% range. So when you're looking at that reclassification, that is a larger percentage than normal for us in this particular quarter. It's just unusual.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

Yeah. I mean it's a one quarter but it was interesting. I was just looking back and obviously your Q4 is past the December quarter, so, certainly seasonality and budgets doesn't play into your hands. Okay.

Can we talk a little bit about, you know, and I know there'd been plenty of questions about services and everything else, but when you look at sort of visibility at a high level given sort of you got recurring, you got some of the contractual stuff, you've got managed services, how is your visibility as we look out to fiscal 2016, especially given services are becoming a bigger part of the business?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

So you're asking, do we have the visibility or are you asking for the exact numbers and percentages here, Bhavan?

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

What's the relative percentage in terms of visibility? If you look at your internal plans and you look at what your, you know, again you're not giving guidance, but as you look at your internal plans for fiscal 2016, what sort of visibility you have into that number today? And again, we don't need another plan, just a sense of how visible things are. Because obviously there's parts of the business like customers will come in and buy trunks of hardware or, you know, super-pause [ph] or whatever they're going to do, but some that's not visible.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Yeah. No, Bhavan, we actually have very good visibility into our services numbers going forward, and that includes everything from what we call backlog. That includes the what I call the managed services or annuity business, as well as the pipeline for what I call our transactional professional services. So that's kind of your installation implementation of a solution, if you will, was kind of the transactional, your annuities, your managed services, and some of the other offerings in that space. And then you have what you call backlog, meaning services that you've already booked but you have to fulfill.

So we have very good visibility into all three of those. We track them religiously and feel very good about where we are and where we think we're going in that space. That's why we're continuing, you know, I try to give you as much as I can here, since we don't break out services. We continue to invest in headcount in the services space and we continue to invest in our services offerings. So from that end, that should give you an indicator of what we, as we move up the stack, if you will, of our gross margin percentages and the value that we provide to our customer, they're looking for that assessment leg [ph], consultative sale, to kind of help them in the environments that they're looking for, in the areas that are hot in the market today.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

Yeah. No that's helpful.

And just keeping in line with that gross margin, you've shown nice improvement here, but how should we think about the metric long term, A, as services, managed services, the whole consultative approach, all of it becomes a bigger part of the business? Is there any sort of even medium to long-term targets you guys could share on the gross margin line of where you think things might happen? Again not putting necessarily a fixed timeframe to it, but a sense of where those might go.

Well, here's the hard thing, without the forward-looking piece there, Bhavan, is the easy thing is, if you look at it, I think we have a track record. So historically if you look at the numbers and look at the track record for margin expansion, and we believe we're well-positioned in this space going forward.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

You're not going to give me anything, all right.

All right, let's talk about getting a little more fundamental for a second. When you look at some of the emerging areas, are there areas that customers are asking for, whether it's in software-defined networking or software-defined storage, that either require additional investment or you might try and develop that, you know, buy someone - develop that expertise via acquisition?

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Well, acquisition is always part of our strategy. So, part of our, you know, one of our corporate objectives is to continue to build out our national footprint, and that's both organically, which you heard with the 6.5% headcount that we added, as well as acquisition which you heard with Evolve that gives us a greater SLED presence in the West Coast, gives us contracts that we can now leverage. And now the Evolve team is able to leverage the size and scale of ePlus.

The good news is a lot of the areas that are coming up, the hyper-converged and some of the storage plays that out there, meaning your flash and object storage and things like that, is we've already got the technical talent in that space. So there's not a major reinvestment in terms of headcount.

I think the biggest thing that most companies struggle with, including ePlus, is getting the right number of headcount to attract as many customers as you can. But the good news is, as it relates to a lot of the new technologies coming onboard, we've already built out our emerging technologies team. I mentioned we built out our national presales team that kind of supports some of those activities. And we continue to invest in what I call presales and post-sales engineers to be proficient in those areas. So a lot of them fit. The hyper-converged is really just a play on converged infrastructure, right? So we own no big investment there.

In fact, our biggest thing, Bhavan, is, you know, based on what we've accomplished, a lot of the emerging vendors are obviously looking for us to take their technology or solutions to market, and you can only be so many things to so many people. So that's why we've created the emerging technologies and solutions go-to market themes to help us step through and look at the technologies that sit within the core focus areas that we sell and how it's complementary to what we're doing, and to keep training [ph] to a minimum where we can.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

Yeah. It's always a challenge with new ones which one to invest in and which one not to.

And then one last one from me, just of the new sort of wins or even expansions at existing customers in terms of projects or deals, how many would you say were involved bundled, so, sort of, you know, managed services in the financing or financing, you know, because obviously the sales guys are incented through gross margin dollars, it'd just be interesting to know how many of those sort of involve multiple products or multiple bundles of the various offerings.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Well, here's the thing. The two that I highlighted were both bundles of services into our product, so, multiple security vendors in the education institution that I talked about, that was the large $4 million plus that they have a large security budget that we think we'll continue to go back to the well on, if you will. And the other was a combination of managed services, our enhanced maintenance support staffing website. If you think about that, Bhavan, where we believe that's a good news is, we built up our services capabilities to go back to our, you know, approximately 3,000 customers to provide these add-on services. So that's where we've sold the products. We're now trying to go back and say, hey, you're doing the maintenance renewal, we could provide level one support and services around NetApp and Cisco to start, we have managed service capabilities across your networking, security storage, server, kind of compute plays. And then we have the ability to provide staffing or bodies to help you, as you roll out these technologies. So it's a good way to go back to customers.

The security stuff, what's really interesting is, obviously, it's top of mind with every, you know, management team at every company, it's top of mind at every Board with cybersecurity. So it's easy to get a meeting if you have the capabilities to talk about your security capabilities and how you can help that customer ensure that the data is protected. And if you think about the cloud which I think you know, Bhavan, is you got more and more people moving towards the SaaS or cloud offerings, and you got to worry about encrypting that data as it's leaving the network to go out to the cloud and vice versa, so there's security opportunities within things we've already sold to our existing customer base.

Bhavan Suri - William Blair

That's helpful, Mark. Thanks guys. Thanks for taking my questions.

Mark Marron - COO and President of ePlus Technology

Thanks, Bhavan. See you soon.


Thank you. I would now like to turn the call back over to management for any further remarks.

Kley Parkhurst - SVP

Thank you, Abigail, and thank you all for participating in today's call. We look forward to seeing you at upcoming conferences and updating you for our first quarter results. Thank you.


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This does conclude the program. You may all disconnect. Everyone have a great day.

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