On time and within budget are key selling points for any fabricator. But Amazon Steel Construction has taken steps to raise the customer expectations bar even higher. Founded in 2002, this family-owned and operated custom fabrication job shop, located in Milford, Del., serves manufacturers throughout the agriculture, construction, energy, marine and security industries with plasma and waterjet cutting, metalforming and welding services.
With today’s advanced cutting machines narrowing the quality gap, delivery and price are more and more often the keys to winning the bid. As a result, a growing number of job shops are finding their quoting process to be either a competitive advantage or a tremendous liability. Today, Amazon Steel is winning exponentially more jobs with increased margins, but they did almost fall into the latter category.
Quote process change
Jeff Clouser, Amazon Steel’s COO, joined the company in 2018, tasked with the daunting challenge of growing the business. With a sales and marketing background, his first steps were to upgrade the company’s image and sales process. After launching a new company website, Clouser turned his attention to the company’s estimating and quoting process.
From the day it opened its doors, Amazon Steel generated quotes much like any other comparable fabrication shop. With so many variables in play, estimating machine run-time and material usage and cost was long, inconsistent and manually intensive. The team had to rely heavily on experience, spreadsheets, a few assumptions and some best guesses. The new COO instantly realized that a reliable and consistent quoting process would be instrumental in reaching sales goals.
“While sales were good, we were not winning the volume of business that I thought we should have been,” Clouser explains. “In particular, we weren’t seeing a lot of repeat business from a number of customers. Investigating further, I discovered that the issues weren’t quality-related; but rather quotes that took too long to get out, prices that were too high or lead times that were too long. It was obvious that our quoting process was an issue and had to be addressed.”
Because he would be creating the quotes himself, and had no job shop estimating experience, Clouser decided that the process had to be automated as much as possible. He also knew that quoting speed and accuracy would be critical to winning new (and repeat) business.
Amazon Steel evaluated multiple estimating software systems, but found their answer in SecturaQuote from SecturaSoft. “SecturaQuote was hands-down the best fi,” Clouser says. “From the user interface to the software’s ability to automatically process plate and sheet and how it works with DXF, PDF, STEP and even image files. We just load the file, select the machine and hit go. The software automatically enters the variables, does all of the math and generates the quote.”
Impact on bottom line
In early 2019 Amazon Steel implemented SecturaQuote into its estimating process. And although he had no previous experience, Clouser was putting out winning bids almost instantly. By year’s end, sales were up 70 percent and margins had increased by 5 percent.
“I attribute part of this growth to a new product line launched by one of our contract manufacturing customers,” Clouser says. “But I have to say that at least half of that success is directly attributed to the new quoting software. The best part about all of this was that we were able to grow sales significantly without sacrificing profit.”
Industry veteran Brad Stropes, SecturaSoft’s own COO, knows how the right software can have a measurable and sustained impact on the bottom line.
“Fabricators have been so focused on fitting one more part on a sheet or getting their equipment to move 10 percent faster for so long but they experience only incremental gains,” Stropes says. “Sales and upfront speed are what matter. Simply put, if you can turn a quote around in minutes rather than days, throughput will be multiplied by days rather than minutes.
“When it comes to increasing margins, typical job shops are constantly competing against material prices, margins and hourly rates with other shops,” he continues. “This all becomes minimized when beating the competition by hours or even days. The value in delivering the estimate and the part much faster becomes extremely valuable. This increase in value boosts sales by as much as 200 to 300 percent. In addition, margins will increase with top-notch service, along with the customers you add.”
For many companies the thought of increasing throughput means added space, more machinery and bringing on more operators. SecturaSoft combines a simple tool with superior support to significantly increase throughput leveraging current resources.
“If a fabricator learned that a piece of equipment would increase business up to 300 percent, decrease delivery time by days and increase margins, they would be lining up to buy it,” Stropes says. “However, because most job shops were built by those running equipment, they can have a hard time understanding the value of software. They often settle for the lowest cost solution and hope to squeeze enough from it for minimum results.
“We want to change this thinking,” he says. “Forward-thinking shops, such as Amazon Steel, are taking steps along the direction other industries are going – to increase sales, throughput and margins with a digital tool that doesn’t require months or even years to obtain a true return on investment.”
Support and sales
Support after the sale is often little more than lip-service for many software vendors; but at SecturaSoft customer service and responsiveness is a priority. “The support staff is extremely responsive and helpful,” Clouser says. “Questions I had regarding software usage and tweaking the calculators was handled at the moment of the call. I’ve also found the on-line chat feature to be very effective.”
SecturaSoft developers also listen to customers. “I’ve dealt with a lot of software companies throughout my career,” Clouser adds. “And SecturaSoft is among the best. They listen to my feedback and, where it makes sense, incorporate those suggestions into new releases. It’s rare and extremely gratifying to see a company take a genuine interest in what its customers have to say.”
While no one knows what the rest of the year holds economically or politically, Amazon Steel is ready to face the challenges of 2020. First quarter sales exceeded last year’s numbers by more than 20 percent, and with the help of SecturaQuote, the company is poised for the coming year.
With new tools to decrease the time for RFQ return, this is just the beginning for Amazon and SecturaSoft. The software vendor’s goal is to prepare and arm fabricators for this digital revolution. “While we agree with this wave of Industry 4.0, the focus on shop floor equipment is missing the largest element of any shop which is sales,” Stropes says. “Without sales everything stops.”
SecturaSoft views 2020 as the year of digital connection – something already occurring through many industries. Banking, shopping and even the health industry is online and pushing to create speed of information between organizations and individuals.
“We want to help fabricators come online with web applications coming out this year,” Stropes concludes. “Our goal is to help job shops increase sales with their web presence and launch online internal quoting by leveraging our platform to push the business-to-business. We never see fabricators becoming an online commodity; they bring far too much value. However, we do want to increase the speed of business and the interaction between customers, vendors and suppliers by a huge margin in 2020.”