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Advance Components is a family-owned and -operated, certified woman-owned, master stocking distributor of specialty fasteners in Carrollton, Texas. The company primarily serves the North American industrial market and has a global footprint with customers worldwide.
Advance sets itself apart from other distributors with one laser-focused mission — selling to other distributors rather than to original equipment manufacturers. Representing primarily domestic manufacturers and products, it couples the products with a highly knowledgeable customer service and sales team.
“We are committed to providing the broadest and deepest inventory offering of ready-to-ship parts in the market from the manufacturers we represent,” says Gary Cravens, president of Advance Components.
Advance is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“We believe the key reason for our success is the clarity of our value proposition for our manufacturer partners,” he explains. “Advance’s goal is to provide manufacturers a channel partner which improves their operational efficiencies and profitability while allowing them to focus on their core competency — which is to manufacture their products.”
Advance helps manufacturers by taking on low volume and high service demand customers. Consolidating many small orders into larger purchase orders (PO) allows manufacturers to optimize their production times. “We’ve also found that bagging, packaging and pick/pack operations greatly improve with scale; many manufacturers simply don’t have the volume to be competitive in the area,” Cravens notes.
Automating a Pricing System
To better serve its customers and promote growth with key accounts, Advance Components recently implemented artificial intelligence (AI) into its sale strategy. “We began working with Intuilize and its AI platform last year,” Cravens explains. “It’s definitely proven helpful in optimizing our pricing.”
Advance deployed the AI platform back when executive management saw an opportunity for growth. Intuilize helps the master distributor take advantage of cutting-edge technology that automates many work-related tasks, including data set analysis or price recommendations based on customers’ preferences (high demand among consumers looking at certain products online versus others within the same category).
Advance wanted a system that would strengthen its purchasing and sales practices. Cravens believed this software, with its blend of rich features, was just what the company needed to provide even better service for customers.
The distributor’s current pricing system was in line for an upgrade; one person managing the pricing structure wasn’t sustainable for the sales team or the company. The sales staff were faced with millions of potential pricing combinations when putting together quotes, resulting in customers receiving mixed experiences and inconsistent pricing.
“When we decided to make the switch to another pricing system, I looked at who our contacts were using and evaluated several systems,” Cravens says. “Through industry associations, acquaintances also introduced us to other options. When we ultimately decided to work with Intuilize, we got our first real-life experience with how it operates. That’s when we saw the results of our own data, which made us confident that we had chosen the perfect fit for us.”
Before implementation, Cravens surveyed his sales team to identify priorities and what they thought was the most important data for an AI platform to provide. “The No. 1 factor everyone came back with was that they needed a system that would be both easy and compatible with our existing enterprise resource planning system,” he says.
He adds that he was looking for “the best of both worlds” in an AI platform: powerful features but intuitive and easy for anyone on Advance’s team to use.
Faster Turnaround, Increased Efficiency
“We’re excited about this new system because not only does this make our life easier by taking some heavy lifting off our people, specifically toward price optimization,” Craven explains. “More importantly, we’ve been able to create a competitive advantage that will be hard to replicate for any competitor in our industry.”
In the beginning, he naturally was cautious about the cost of any new AI system, but when he discovered that Intuilize was very affordable with implementation costs in the thousands. With a guarantee of more than three times the return on investment, he was assured that this was the right system for his company.
“While working with Intuilize, we found that their knowledge about distribution made it easy for everyone in our company to understand and use AI; we didn’t have the hassle of learning another language or spending time figuring out how things worked,” Cravens notes.
For more than 50 years, Advance Components has been dedicated to helping thousands of distributors succeed in delivering high-quality products and services that end-users need. The company’s mission is simple: operate under honest business practices, provide great customer service and stock lots of inventory so customers have what they need when they require it most.
Advance’s commitment to efficiency is driven by Cravens’ straightforward approach. He has already begun transitioning the company toward automation and making it easier for customers to receive an order confirmation by automating the sales order entry.
“We’ve moved toward the elimination of manual order entry for any customer PO sent by email or electronic data interchange,” he says. “Soon, we’ll no longer have to review every order because we’ll know that if the price in the customer PO is different than what was quoted, it’s an error and nothing will ship until we correct it. We’ll be able to automatically validate all customer-placed orders against prices suggested by the Intuilize AI platform without human intervention.”
This means faster turnaround times as well as increased efficiency because the sales team knows where everything stands at all times, Cravens adds.
With the use of an AI platform, Advance Components has kept up with shifting buyer behavior and continues delivering on ever-evolving customer expectations.
Nelson Valderrama is CEO of Intuilize, a software-as-a-service platform that specializes in helping mid-sized distributors transform data into profits. With more than 25 years of experience in the distribution industry, he helps distributors uncover the hidden profit in the data they already have. Throughout his career, Valderrama has worked and consulted for companies such as GE and private equity firms. He can be reached at email@example.com.