Able Distributors’ president Michael Bleier describes the heating, cooling and ventilation market as mature and saturated. “There’s not a lot of blue in the ocean,” says Bleier, who has worked for his family-owned business for 22 years.
Able Distributors is a heating, cooling and venting supplier that serves Chicago’s professional contractor community. The company carries approximately 50 product lines and has established a reputation as a supplier that puts contractors first, Bleier says.
For Bleier, the question becomes: what can he do to position his mid-sized, Chicago-based company for success in the future as the landscape of the marketplace begins to change?
His solution: install an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that will transform Able Distributors into a fully transparent company with complete connectivity between suppliers and customers. “We used to buy, sell and store equipment,” Bleier says. “That was our only job.”
It’s no longer that simple. Companies that continue to follow that model without an eye on the future are not likely to succeed, he says. Marketing, sales and meeting clients’ needs are a much bigger part of his business today than a decade ago, Bleier says. As a result, Able Distributors needs an ERP system to meet those requirements and continue to grow.
Able Distributors is no stranger to growth. The company added a second location in Chicago’s northern suburbs in 1987 and establishing new, larger headquarters in Chicago four years later. The company expanded again in both 1993 and 1994 and opened another Chicago location in 2013.
“There never has been a better time to figure out how to shape your value to your customer,” says Bleier, who runs the company founded by his father, Andrew Bleier. The elder Bleier began his career working for the Merchant Marines based out of Haifa, Israel, earning a degree as a chief engineer. A decade later, he immigrated to the United States and eventually settled down in Chicago where he worked as a HVAC contractor for 15 years.
The elder Bleier ultimately decided to move into the wholesale side of the industry. He purchased Able Distributors and decided he would always focus on the needs of the contractor, having spent several years working as one, his son recalls.
Bleier’s decision to replace the company’s 20-year-old ERP system was first considered about three years ago when he was investigating customer relationship management (CRM) software. At the time, the company’s sales representatives possessed most of the client information; very little data was stored in a centralized location.
“There were no records, no documents,” Bleier recalls. The efficiencies that CRM software could deliver led Bleier to consider the benefits of software designed to manage inventory, accounting and business intelligence, for example. But he did not want to employ a piecemeal approach. Implementing an enterprise system was a better alternative, he says.
But adopting the system has not been without challenges. “It’s a lot more involved that I thought it was going to be,” Bleier says. “This wasn’t even in the cards five years ago.” Choosing the right system at the appropriate price was the initial challenge Bleier faced, but implementation presents another significant hurdle, he says.
Bleier expects to roll out the ERP system in less than one year, but is mindful of the pitfalls of launching the system before the company is ready for adoption. “It can easily send a company spiraling out of control,” he says. To avoid any missteps, Bleier wants to appropriately test the system and train staff before a launch. “Change is hard. There’s so much pain involved in change,” he says.
Eventually, Bleier expects some older competitors to depart the market while a few new companies will join the industry. He wants his organization prepared for that day. “I’m building this for five years from now,” he says. “My competition, from what I can see, is not doing this.”
Bleier adds that Able Distributors continues to follow his father’s philosophy of putting contractors first, and installing a new ERP system is just part of the plan, he says. The company also is taking steps to present a “fresh, crisp, clean façade” to its clients via a redesigned website and a remodeled sales counter workspace and showroom, he says.