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05
March
2012

Smith & Associates ready to take on Europe

We talked to Marc Barnhill (CTO) and Matt Hartzell (COO) from Smith & Associates about 'a 28 year old with the spirit of a start-up'.
The independent distributor Smith & Associates was founded in Houston (Texas / USA) in 1984 by brothers Robert G. and Leland C. Ackerley. Now – some 28 years later and 350 employees worldwide – the company is still privately owned and yet has the 'vibrant feeling of a start-up company', according Marc Barnhill.

Alongside their international headquarter in Houston, the company also operates hubs in Hong Kong and Amsterdam. “We like to say we're always open - never closed. We are always on the search for components for our customers. Day and night, 24/7”, explains Hartzell. Add a few sales offices in various locations and the footprint is pretty complete. But not quite. The company is ready for a new expansion wave and Eastern Europe is high on that wish list.

( Media Not Available ) “We are actually looking at further expansion. With Smith going into the 28th year we still have all that energy and all the excitement of a start-up. We are very excited about our future.”
Marc Barnhill / CTO
“Europe obviously presents a huge growth opportunity. If you look at our global footprint, we have only two locations in Europe - the hub in Amsterdam and a sales office in Barcelona. Compared to North America or Asia this is very little. Obviously Eastern Europe and Germany are very interesting locations for us. Here we see future opportunities for growth”, says Hartzell.

However, for a distributor such as Smith & Associates, Asia is the more obvious growth area and the company recently opened 3 new offices in the region.

2011 was marked by the Japanese earthquake (in March) and the flooding in Thailand (autumn). But despite its tragedies – the year offered growth. Disruptions to the supply chain always do offer opportunities. Distribution is a guessing game and never an exact science. “If you look at the franchised distributors there is a lot of scheduling, planning and forecasting. And then life steps in. And we are those guys that get the call when life does step in”, Hartzell explains.

This is also the reason why the two managers describe Smith & Associates as a Fulfillment House. Over the years, the company has expanded from shortage fulfillment to end of life management.

( Media Not Available ) “There is not a single deal worth risking 28 years of good will.”
Matt Hartzell / COO
“Franchised distributors either have a component or they don't. It is a yes or no proposition. With us it is never that,” states Barnhill. “We will scavenge the earth. There are so many false and counterfeit products out there – a scary prospect for customers. Over the coming years, counterfeit testing services will become the differentiator in the market. We feel very confident about the product we ship and the testing we provide.”

The hubs in Houston and Hong Kong are already fully equipped test houses; with the hub in Amsterdam readying certification processes.

5 years ago, the company added testing service to its offerings when interest in these kind of services started to become more prominent. “Independent test houses take about two weeks to test and send results. We cannot wait that long. So we decided to fit a test lab ourselves and we are more than happy with it. Everything needed to be called 'state-of-the-art' is in our facility in Houston”, continues Mr Harzell.

Counterfeit products is an important subject. What happens when you find a false component?

“That component is separated from the rest and will not be returned. The product manufacturer as well as the ERAI will be notified.”

The company also has an internal grading system. Each vendor is checked on a multitude of requirements. A confirmed delivery of false components will grade them F, at which point Smith & Associates will no longer do business with them. “People often say 'When it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck – then it is a duck'. In our business this is not always the case. There are a lot of products in the market that are not legitimate. You can reduce risks and problems already with due diligence.”
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Images: © Smith & Associates
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