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Is Your Business Unique ?

I recently shadowed a software training firm, Zerion Group on a week’s worth of customer consultations. Zerion is owned by Tony King and is based in the Orlando Florida area. I met Tony and his team during my career in electrical distribution when we converted from an antiquated Unix based ERP system, Array. I was on the implementation team for Array in 1993 and played a key role on the team in 2011 that converted to Epicor’s Solar Eclipse. It was a difficult time for all when we converted the software that managed our business. Hughes Supply was converting at the same time so we contracted with Zerion because Epicor’s resources were unavailable. I worked closely with one of their employees and was very impressed how he held our hand and smiled as we explained how our business was unique, unlike any other.

When we started ALTru Solution I spent a lot of time thinking about the chapters of my career that gave me real job satisfaction and allowed me the opportunity to help others. I have to chuckle to think I was ever a part of anything unique. I remembered how Zerion project managed a bunch of babbling idiots who were trying to please a private equity ownership group that demanded generally accepted principles in accounting. For us to get to the next level, we simply had to change software. I had a lot of fun despite the task at hand and wanted to do it again.

I contacted Tony, and away I went. I spent my week with Tony’s brother, Scott. Scott is very talented and definitely an expert in Eclipse. I was very impressed with his patience, professionalism, and knowledge in so many areas of RF Warehouse, Purchasing, Sales Order Entry, and Data Migration. Later in the week we hooked up with Tony and another Zerion team member. These guys are at the top of their game and fun to be around. This team is service driven and always check their egos at the door.

Our first stop was an old-school value-added reseller. The customer’s sales team is knowledgeable and seasoned and kept saying when we challenged them about best practices, “You don’t understand our business” or “This is how it’s always been done.” This reminded me of me in 2011.

Our second stop was a new age value added reseller with little inventory. Read that again. Little inventory. The owner is 2nd generation and the first in his family business to open a distribution center and even keep stock in a very small DC. His father was in the same business and never moved the office out of his family home. “I was born into this business because my bedroom had two desks where people started working at 6 AM each morning.” His core business is full with service contracts he shared during a top-notch business lunch, “I don’t care if we sell material at cost. This avoids the bidding process and keeps customers from constantly beating us down on an already thin profit margin.” His competition is the big catalog houses that take the e-commerce route, opting to spend millions on technology, invest millions of dollars of inventory, and promise next day delivery. This is the traditional high overhead, low EBITDA business model. He told me he could have gone that route but decided to sell full service and keep payroll EEs on site, servicing his customers from top to bottom and direct drop shipping the majority sales. We shared our mutual admiration for Jeff Bezos and the long tail distribution model that no one thought would work. Personally, I’m embarrassed to say that I was sitting around waiting for the next phone call or customer to walk through the door when Amazon was implementing a 100-year business vision that will continue to evolve for the rest of my lifetime. Our customer was very proud to share that he has a big deal negotiated that would involve thirty-five additional employees at one customer location. Huge revenue!

Each had the same issues with Eclipse. They needed training and re-education on the fundamentals and some advanced issues with Eclipse. “Master the fundamentals and everything you do will improve.” This is so true with best practices in business and is a huge part of what Zerion does each day. As I fly home from a very satisfying week I’m struck with the observation that too many think their business is unique. A business is simply applying the fundamentals of purchasing, selling, warehouse, accounting and marketing. Finding your unique selling proposition and thinking outside the box is the secret to success. Distributors who stock four walls with product, place their phone number in the yellow pages, then wait for customers to call or walk through the doors will die a slow and painful business death. Let ALTru Solution and Zerion provide solutions to distributor problems.

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