Cory Anderson, regional sales manager at the distribution business his grandfather co-founded in 1969, is helping the business go digital in multiple ways to live up to its long-time customer-focused slogan: “We try to make it easy.”
“For every decision we make, we ask: ‘Is this easier for our dealers to do business with us?’” he says.
M&A Supply Co. Inc., based in Brentwood, Tennessee, and still owned and operated by the Anderson family, is an independent wholesale distributor of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, parts and supplies to about 1,500 HVAC dealers throughout its home state, Alabama and Arkansas. It sells through a network of 16 physical branches and what Anderson describes as a basic e-commerce site.
A small distributor’s advantages
As other distributors have sold out to larger ones, “that’s an advantage for us, because we’re still independent and can make decisions quickly,” Anderson says. And though it doesn’t have the resources of larger distribution companies, it has decided to deploy technology—such as mobile text-ordering—that has let it develop customer-facing services at its own pace and within its budget. Those decisions have led to several new digital features that expedite how M&A’s customers can find and order what they need, regardless of where they are at the time, he says.
The family-owned company doesn’t release revenue figures or its percentage of digital sales, but its digital strategy is helping it to improve customer service, expedite orders and expand its customer base, Anderson says.
About a year ago, M&A went about devising a better way to process customer orders, build sales and interact with customers and prospects. It took a fresh and hard look at how its customers—dealers and installers of HVAC systems—preferred to place orders. “Our dealers are owner-operators in the field, not at their desks much,” Anderson says. “Wherever they are, they need to easily get any type of product information they need and place an order.”
The distributor realized it needed to offer a mobile-ordering option to complement its e-commerce site at MASupplyCompany.com and its branch network, but the most suitable mobile strategy wasn’t immediately clear. M&A’s e-commerce site, built on a technology platform from Epicor Software Corp., integrates with M&A’s Epicor Prophet 21 enterprise resource planning system for managing such things as inventory and financial records. Although the Epicor technology works well and has the flexibility to work with a mobile site or app, Anderson says, M&A was wary about deploying a mobile option that could be more complicated than it or its customers needed. “We found it tricky” to find what would fit, he adds.
M&A took about six months to explore its options, then decided to work with Moblico, a mobile technology and services firm it discovered through its HVAC distribution network. Now, with a suite of products including a mobile app and a text-to-landline service, M&A is speeding up how customers can place orders—including texting images of products to check availability and enhance order accuracy—from wherever they happen to be. “They can upload a photo of a product tag and send it on to us in a 30-second process,” Anderson says.
Mobile app and text-to-landline
M&A launched the Moblico mobile app in January 2018, and since then some 1,100 of M&A’s 1,500 active customers have started using the app to place orders. “It’s been great,” Anderson says. “The app has all the product information they need within one to three clicks, an order function, and tiles showing our branch locations, promotions, training events and dealer meetings.” The app also lets customers upload and send photos of products and product tags to sales reps to place orders, and check invoices.
The app also lets customers send orders and other messages via text messages to the landlines of their local M&A branch, where a team of on-site sales reps will view their texts on an online dashboard, address their questions and fulfill their orders for delivery or in-branch pickup. “We’re getting back to customers within five minutes, and trying to get within three minutes,” Anderson says, adding: “When customers place an order by 10 a.m., it ships the same day.”
For now, the mobile app operates without a shopping cart, requiring sales reps to enter customer orders into the Epicor software. “A mobile app cart and automatic ordering—that’s our next stage,” Anderson says.
The text-to-landline service also lets customers text orders from their mobile phones without using the app.
Growing with digital ads
The annual cost of deploying the Moblico mobile app ranges from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars or more; the text-to-landline service runs about $100 per month per branch, according to Moblico CEO Pierre Barbeau.
M&A is also starting to use a digital advertising service Moblico offers to reach targeted customers with ads placed on content sites they’re likely to visit, Anderson says. “We’re targeting dealers where we need to add customers, and recruiting dealers for all of our products.”
But M&A intends to remain a regional distributor operating in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. “95% of our customers come into our branches. We’ll stay within our branch network,” Anderson says.
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