Operating for nearly 150 years, Conklin Metal Industries has a rich history. Established in 1874, their headquarters are located in Atlanta, Georgia. Conklin Metal has numerous locations and warehouse facilities dedicated to serving the HVAC sheet metal and duct fabrication industry.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Brennan Hall, Director of Duct Fab Supplies and Air Distribution Products, at Conklin Metal. Brennan has been with the company for approximately two years and has accumulated 15 years of experience in the industry. He sees himself as a vital link for the flow of information within the organization. In this role, he takes on the responsibility of making strategic decisions while collaborating with sales, accounting and data teams while also acting as a liaison between their different branches.
The Power of Buying Groups
For the past decade, Conklin Metal Industries has been an active member of Affiliated Distributors (AD). Brennan describes AD as a stand-out as a buying group that goes above and beyond in offering its members the chance to fully delve into every aspect of their business and determine their desired direction.
Brennan says, “Being an AD member presents us with a tremendous opportunity for growth and has brought about strategic changes for our company. It has influenced our decisions regarding vendor partnerships and how we can best support the buying group. We actively seek opportunities to align ourselves with AD and its vendor partners in ways that make sense for our overall operations. By doing so, we can reduce unnecessary overhead and improve our management capabilities. Rebates play a crucial role in this process, and we anticipate their significance growing even further as we continue to progress as a company”
Due to Conklin’s membership with AD, rebates have grown in importance for the company, resulting in both AD and non-AD programs, each with different levels of accessibility. Non-AD programs require significant amounts of email communication and a heavy lift when it comes to document management. AD programs, on the other hand, as managed through a dedicated portal. Users can log in and view all their existing programs. This portal also offers a comprehensive set of tools designed specifically to identify and manage these programs effectively.
Brennan comments on the process, “The product committees at AD excel in negotiating rebate programs on behalf of us which greatly simplifies the process. When it comes to the non-AD side, however, you're essentially on your own, having to personally advocate and fight for those opportunities."
The Need for Stronger Financial Processes
The first hurdle to solve for Conklin Metal revolved around the organization of their existing rebate programs. They needed to identify where these rebate programs resided, who had authority over them and ensure stakeholders understood their content. Additionally, Conklin needed to evaluate whether they were maximizing their potential benefits and leveraging them appropriately.
Understanding the specifics of these programs became crucial: their terms, conditions and the extent to which they were effectively utilizing them. Brennan says, “Our main objective was to establish a well-structured system that documents the details of our programs, their respective locations, and the process involved in managing them effectively.”
Profit and Loss Statements
Conklin's various locations and branches operate with separate profit and loss (P&L) statements, which posed a significant challenge when it came to accounting and allocating vendor purchases to specific branches. This task required considerable effort and resources behind the scenes.
Rebecca May, the CFO of Conklin, strongly emphasized the need for a solution that would streamline this process and reduce the amount of manual work involved. She recognized the importance of finding a more efficient way to handle these tasks to optimize productivity and resource allocation.
Conklin recognized the strategic disadvantages associated with spreadsheets, especially when it came to transferring data and comprehending the current status of their programs. Sifting through the details to uncover inaccuracies in those spreadsheets required significant effort.
Brennan recalled a moment when he had been working at Conklin for approximately three months, and his colleague Robbie called him, asking if they needed to make additional purchases to meet their requirements for a specific vendor.
He says, “I found myself clueless about where to find the relevant programs and their status. Eventually, I received a series of spreadsheets, and as I opened them one by one, I was completely lost. It felt like I was staring at a foreign language, and I had no idea what Robbie had done with them. He tried to explain, but it was clear that I couldn't grasp it easily. It's interesting how, when you create numerous Excel sheets, you understand them because you're the one who made them, but for someone else, it can be incredibly confusing.”
ERP Conversions and Data Accuracy
In addition to their extensive use of spreadsheets, Conklin had recently undergone an ERP conversion. Before that, they had employed various data analytical tools. While the ERP conversion presented abundant data resources, it also brought about numerous uncertainties. Questions arose regarding the accuracy of the data received, the appropriateness of the information extracted and the correctness of calculations performed. With so many components involved in handling their data, there were multiple factors to consider and manage.
Brennan says, “At Conklin, we were fortunate to have a data analyst named Randy Delp. When Randy and I began collaborating and delving into the intricacies of our work, things started falling into place. While I possessed a solid understanding of the business aspect, Randy brought his expertise in handling data.”
Together, Randy and Brennan bridged the gap between business knowledge and data analysis and embarked on a journey to identify the problems that needed solving and determine the appropriate solutions. They carefully examined the data sources, ensuring they were accurate and aligned with their objectives. They also assessed the connection between their ERP system and the corresponding database to ensure seamless integration. This collaborative effort led them to embark on various initiatives, such as streamlining their ERP system and addressing areas that required improvement, including rebate management processes.
However, it has been a lengthy journey, spanning over two years, dedicated to sorting through and analyzing the data, determining what is relevant and what is not and establishing the appropriate destinations for different data sets. It required careful consideration to determine the best course of action and effectively utilize the gathered information.
Conklin Activation Team Kickstarted the Enable Project
Before implementing Enable, Conklin had an activation team for support. The team worked closely with Randy and Brennan to handle the tasks related to their processes. According to Brennan, having the team on board right from the beginning was extremely beneficial. Their expertise allowed them to easily and confidently help Conklin with the transition to Enable.
Brennan emphasizes that dealing with a large amount of information and trying to make sense of it all can be overwhelming. However, the activation team brought a sense of stability and tranquility to the conversation. They assured Brennan and the others that they would be there every step of the way, offering support and guidance throughout the process.
There were numerous conference calls and extensive collaboration involved in reaching our current position. The process involved working closely with them, investing a significant amount of time. One noteworthy aspect was the organization component and the enhanced visibility it provided.
Brennan comments, "The initial support we received from them was absolutely invaluable. It was reassuring to have a team who had prior experience in similar projects, who had successfully collaborated with AD and other customers in the past. This was the crucial aspect for us: having dedicated personnel who were there to assist us, rather than being left to navigate the software on our own with a simple 'figure it out' approach."
Executive Dashboard and Progress Tracker
Brennan particularly enjoys using the Progress Tracker as it offers a comprehensive interface that displays both growth and gated programs. Additionally, the executive dashboard provides valuable insights.
Brennan tells us, “Exploring the executive dashboard and progress tracker within the tool, and witnessing the gradual population of data, made us realize the remarkable progress we were making. It was truly impressive to see all the pieces coming together.”
He continues, “The executive dashboard reveals items for which we are not receiving rebates from vendors. It highlights our major spend and identifies vendors or specific items that are not eligible for rebates. This feature proves beneficial in terms of managing our rebates and optimizing our vendor relationships.”
Having access to metrics, visibility, charts and graphs is incredibly valuable for Conklin. It eliminates the need for manual translation of information and consolidates everything into one convenient location.
Brennan comments, “Everyone on the team has the same view and examines the same set of data. This streamlining process enhances user-friendliness and enables a clear understanding of our current status. One particular benefit is the ability to separate the profit and loss statements, which significantly reduces the amount of time our CFO’s accounting team spends on manual processes.”
More Strategic Conversations with Vendors
Enable has significantly improved Conklin's strategic buying process in purchasing. Conklin now possess a comprehensive understanding of their current position and progress towards rebate goals and tiers. With Enable's forecasting capabilities, Conklin gains valuable insights into predicted purchasing patterns, enabling them to anticipate future scenarios and engage in proactive discussions with vendors.
This enhanced capability enables Conklin to actively monitor and observe the situation, ask relevant questions and explore opportunities for more meaningful programs or alternatives that align better with their strategic objectives. By integrating all these factors, Conklin can engage with vendors in a fundamentally different manner, surpassing previous interactions and leading to mutually beneficial outcomes.
For example, Brennan says, “If it's August and the tool indicates that we are on track to reach a specific milestone or goal, we can engage in conversations with our vendors based on that information. Conversely, if the tool suggests that we might not meet a target, it gives us an opportunity to reassess and make necessary adjustments. The tool's strategic impact in various aspects has proven to be incredibly valuable for us so far.”
Brennan continues, “I aim to foster meaningful conversations that offer diverse perspectives and bring tangible value, distinguishing Conklin as an appealing customer to engage with compared to other alternatives. I want our interactions to be eagerly anticipated because they provide valuable insights and input that may not be readily available elsewhere.”
From a vendor standpoint, this exchange of information contributes to Conklin’s ROI and its continuous growth. Additionally, there will be various other benefits that will follow in the next year, such as the reduction of man hours required for their accounting processes.
A Strong Recommendation to Encourage Utilization
When Conklin decided to approach Enable, one of the driving factors was Mo Barsema, Industry Principal at Enable, who has significant expertise and background in this field. Before the HR/IT summit in July, Conklin CFO Rebecca May met with Mo. Upon returning, Rebecca shared Mo’s valuable insights regarding a rebate management platform.
This discussion became a catalyst for Conklin to evaluate various initiatives and determine strategic priorities. It helped them identify key focus areas. The rebate platform emerged as a significant priority that required immediate attention and action. It became a crucial item on the company’s agenda that needed to be addressed and checked off.
Brennan praises Mo, “We were very aware that Mo had firsthand experience and a deep understanding of the rebate process. This knowledge and experience provided us with a sense of comfort and confidence, especially since she was already connected to AD and Enable. We knew that Mo was actively working to address the challenges faced by AD partners. We recognized that she was dedicated to solving the problems we encountered and assisting us in navigating this complex landscape.”
A Step-by-Step Onboarding Process
During the onboarding process, Brennan and the team had the opportunity to interact with the Enable team. Enable’s team guided Brennan and his team through a comprehensive onboarding experience, introducing different tools, features and benefits in small, digestible weekly sessions. This structured approach allowed Brennan and his team to gradually familiarize themselves with the platform, ensuring a thorough understanding of its capabilities over time.
Enable also implemented a project management tool that provided a schedule and timeline of events, allowing the Conklin team to have a clear roadmap. While individuals may progress at different paces, the tool served as a valuable checkpoint to assess progress and alignment. It allowed the Conklin team to ask important questions such as, "Are we on track?" and "Have we completed the necessary tasks?"
Brennan describes the process, stating, "Each session focused on a specific part of the platform, highlighting the associated features and benefits. Enable held our hand and walked us all the way through it. Because of this process, we got up to speed quickly. I really appreciated how Enable was always there to help us as much or as little as we wanted.”
Olivia and Brandon from the Conklin team were later brought in to actively engage in understanding the rebate programs and the essential data involved. Brennan says, “We questioned whether we were extracting the data correctly, accurately matching and aligning our programs, and correctly translating them. We even considered reaching out to a vendor to confirm the accuracy of the programs we assessed. It turned out that, in some cases, the programs were not what we had initially assumed. This discovery had both positive and negative implications. Overall, I believe the onboarding process took a few months to navigate, but it gained momentum as we progressed. It followed a gradual progression from crawling to walking, jogging, running, and even sprinting, if you will.”
Establishing a Project Baseline
Conklin aimed to establish a baseline, so when they initiated the onboarding process around September 2022 it was clear that there was insufficient time to upload, finalize and complete all 2022 rebate programs before the end of the year. Therefore, they began the process towards the end of the year, acknowledging that it would extend beyond that timeframe.
Brennan says, “Our goal was just laying a solid foundation by implementing the 2022 rebate programs. We were aware that once the calendar switched to 2023, we would receive the remittances, information and purchase details, allowing our vendors to inform us of our progress. This data would be obtained once we successfully integrated all our programs into Enable's software and worked through the process. The mass upload template proved to be a valuable tool in accomplishing this task.”
Brennan continues, “As we progress from 2023 to 2024, I anticipate even more efficient and accurate information at earlier stages of the process. This means that we will start seeing projections, run rates and forecasts for upcoming data much more quickly, enhancing our overall efficiency.”
Making Faster Business Decisions
Because of Enable, Conklin’s decision-making process has accelerated. They expect this faster pace to continue, and perhaps even pick up more speed.
Brennan notes, “We have already engaged in more strategic discussions with our vendors, presenting them with program details, forecasts, information and rates of change. This approach occasionally catches vendors off guard, leaving them surprised and unsure of how to respond. This progress signifies our commitment to improvement and will undoubtedly continue to enhance our performance.”
Continued Growth and Success Ahead for Conklin Metal
Conklin has experienced rapid growth as a company. This growth is accompanied by the addition of significant infrastructure, which plays a crucial role in consolidating operations and facilitating strategic thinking. The expansion of infrastructure provides a solid framework upon which they can build a strong foundation, allowing for further development and advancement.
“It applies to any business, especially family-owned or smaller enterprises: if you excel in your role, you tend to receive additional opportunities and responsibilities. The thrilling aspect is that we are currently experiencing growth and continuously improving our processes, becoming more efficient and productive than ever before. Witnessing this progress within the company and actively contributing to its success brings a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.”
Brennan Hall | Director of Duct Fab Supplies and Air Distribution Products
Conklin experiences improved efficiency in managing rebate programs, profit and loss statements, and vendor relationships.
Conklin engages in more meaningful and strategic conversations with vendors, leading to mutually beneficial outcomes.
Conklin attributes its rapid growth and success to the improved efficiency, streamlined processes, and strategic vendor relationships facilitated by Enable. The platform provides a solid foundation for further development and advancement.