What do you see when you think about oil fields in rural Arkansas? Perhaps sprawling refineries, miles-long pipelines, or gigantic rotating pumps tirelessly heaving oil from the earth.
Not David Spradlin of Liberty Supply in Magnolia, Arkansas. He thinks about the little things—the pipes, valves, fittings, pumps, and the other small yet critical components that his company has supplied to refineries, manufacturing facilities, and processing plants for the last 28 years.
“Think of any plant you’ve ever seen. There are thousands of items that plant uses, and I sell most of them,” says Spradlin, who had already been in the business a decade before helping to start Liberty Supply.
While Liberty Supply’s components are “small” next to the colossal machines they are fitted to, one pipe or valve might be as wide as your desk, or as small as your fingernail.
“We have 30,000 SKU’s of inventory. But we have millions of parts for the items that we sell,” Spradlin continues.
Liberty Supply sells strictly business-to-business, but it isn’t a wholesaler. The company operates more like a small auto parts store that works with each customer individually to fit their specific needs. Only, in this case, the customers are multimillion-dollar industrial operations.
“Let’s say we sell a special pump, and the guy needs an impeller for it. I can buy him an impeller, and then tell him what serial number his pump is, what model number it is, or when it was bought. And with that information, well, that’s how you keep your customers. Knowledge.”
Software for the little things
“Information is money for me. The more I know, the more I can tell a customer about his business, the more he wants to come see me.”
He manages Liberty Supply’s financials and inventory, which means processing about 1200 invoices every month for 800 customer accounts. In this industry, no two customers or operations are alike, and Spradlin has to be familiar with each and every one.
Spradlin has been letting Cougar Mountain tell him about his business—each invoice, account payable, and valve—since the 1980s. He bought the software out of Computer Shopper magazine for $99, back when his company had three employees and one computer.
“We were writing tickets by hand, we were using a calculator where you had to pull a handle, and I said, ‘Guys, this has to end.’”
As the company grew, so did his software. When Spradlin ran into new and unique challenges, Cougar Mountain’s development team was always ready to help tackle the problem. In the years before advanced search engines, he needed to look up specific data in specific ways. When the company added warehouses, he needed to track inventory between multiple sites. Cougar Mountain Software’s programmers worked with Spradlin to fulfill these needs in the same way Spradlin helps his own customers fill theirs.
“That’s the good thing about Cougar Mountain. When I have an idea that I want to be incorporated or I would like to see in Denali, they don’t hesitate. They say, ‘This is what we need to do, this is what it will cost, and this is how we can get it done.’ And they get it done.”
Spradlin upgraded to Denali shortly after it was released. Importing his customizations was a smooth process, and Cougar Mountain’s support staff is still always on hand to help with any question or need.
This reliability is most of the reason he has never considered changing software companies in 28 years, but equally important is how much it all costs. Gone are the days of the $99 Computer Shopper package, but Spradlin says his relationship with Cougar Mountain has saved his company thousands, if not tens of thousands, next to other accounting software.
“I’m a tightwad; I am frugal. We don’t buy new computers often. We have a fleet of trucks, we take care of them, we get our money’s worth,” he says. “So I have one piece of advice: If you find a better value than Cougar Mountain, you better buy it.”
Hands on Distribution
Spradlin calls his job “hands-on distribution.”
“Really, I do what Amazon.com does; I just do it more personal.”
Most of his clients in rural Arkansas are just a short truck ride from a warehouse, and the company has spent the last 28 years forging face-to-face relationships.
“If you need something, you know we will get it to you today; and by today, I mean on your desk in a half an hour.”
That’s why Spradlin isn’t worried that Internet super companies will render his brick-and-mortar business obsolete. He knows it’s the connection between people, not just pipes and fittings that keeps the oil pumps alive.