How Quality Material Handling thrived as an essential business in the pandemic - an Acumatica story
- Some interviews leave a lasting impression. Such was the case with my Acumatica Summit interview with the Pinto family, who run Quality Material Handling. It's a story of adversity, leadership, and getting your ERP software squared up with your growth ambitions.
We forgot something about on-the-ground events: they fly by in a frenetic burst. Alas, for traveling scribes like myself, that means a story or two gets lost.
After my first on-the-ground event of the year, Acumatica Summit 2021, I promptly went on vacation. But a terrific customer use case lingered in my mind: the story of Quality Material Handling.
After Acumatica's recent R2 Virtual Release Launch, I seized my chance. I got back in touch with Quality Material Handling co-founder and COO Julia Pinto Cisneros. I asked her: is any of Acumatica's R2 functionality a direct hit with her team's needs? She wrote:
We're looking forward to the new capabilities that Acumatica announced in its recent R2 product update. Acumatica's paperless directed picking feature will help our team increase warehouse efficiency and optimize stocking levels to better serve our customers. We're also excited to see how the advances in core business process functions will enable us to personalize the Acumatica platform even further, to cater to our company's unique needs.
An essential business gets hit by the pandemic - what next?
You can probably tell, by the picture of Julia Pinto (pictured center), that she is not exactly the warehousing COO I expected to meet. But as soon as Pinto started talking, it all made sense. She was clearly born to do this, and her parents, Brenda and Hector Pinto, are the type of parents that seem to know that perfect combination. Nurture - and then step out of the way, and let your daughter shine.
Based in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Quality Material Handling (QMH) is a full-service warehouse solutions provider. They bill themselves as "your wholesale shelving distributor, designing, building and installing warehouse solutions of all sizes." This has pandemic implications: Quality Material Handling is designated as an essential business. When COVID hit, it was all hands on deck. As Julia Pinto told me:
I think we shut down for one day, when the governor issued a stay-at-home order. We didn't understand what that meant, or what was going on. So we just shut down that day, March 19. I remember it was a Friday. We actually had jobs and deliveries scheduled that day, for essential businesses. One of them was a meat market. He told us, 'I'm still open; I need you to come.'
We somehow made it happen that day. Over the weekend, we figured out the game plan moving forward, and then we're back in business on Monday. We had everyone still returning to work, because a lot of our work is labor work or production or order fulfillment, so it's kind of hard to do that from home.
Another curveball: when COVID hit, QMH was in the middle of their Acumatica cloud ERP implementation. They managed to go live by early July, a bit behind schedule - but under the circumstances, pretty darn good. Why Acumatica? It's the classic cloud ERP story: their legacy system was holding them back. As Pinto told me:
Before we switched over to Acumatica, our old system was very rigid, and not very flexible. The customizations were very costly and very difficult. It didn't improve your software significantly by doing the customization. Another major issue we had was licensing. We only had a certain amount of users. We were growing as a company, and we had a lot of people who were not using the software at all, because they didn't have a license, or we'd have them get out so someone else could log in.
Acumatica's unlimited user licensing solved that:
We were looking for something that was going to help facilitate our growth and help support us - and allow us to make better business decisions.
On hiring and leadership - 'age doesn't necessarily matter'
So how did Pinto find herself the COO of an essential business during a pandemic? Judging from her LinkedIn profile, she headed straight into the business from college. But as Pinto told me, it wasn't quite that simple:
We're a family business. I kind of worked here when I was little, but I would have fired myself if I was working for me back then. I didn't really take my job seriously, and we suffered an embezzlement. I was in college, and I was just doing reception, and a little bit of invoicing. The next thing you know, we discovered somebody had embezzled upwards of $250,000, so it was a big hit for us.
After that kind of hit, businesses tend to fold. But the Pintos rallied:
It just became all hands on deck. I went from answering phones and invoicing to, very quickly, somehow overseeing all the operations.
Pinto must manage people who are quite a bit older than her. Does that present a problem? Pinto says no. You hire good people, and it works out:
I kind of look for that in the interview process. I look for people who are willing to accept the fact that age doesn't necessarily matter. I do know my stuff, and I do have the experience that's required.
I can spot out in an interview if somebody underestimates me, especially being a female in our industry. It's a primarily male-dominated industry... Fortunately, I've been able to find people that are willing to work with me, and we can learn from each other.
Cloud ERP benefits - examples of note
When it comes to cloud ERP benefits, sometimes the small tweaks make a big difference. Where has Acumatica made a difference? Pinto gave this example:
I know it sounds simple, but I wanted to be able to control what people were purchasing - or at least be able to see it. We used to have a lot of problems with this. You could make a purchase order, print the purchase order and send it. It could be totally wrong; it could be overpriced... Our margins are slim, so efficiency is essential. We would issue purchase orders, let's say for something that we're making 15 to 20% on, and it's a $100 item that we're buying, and we're driving an hour and a half to go pick it up, and then bring it back. We didn't make money on that.
So, the simple thing that I implemented [in Acumatica] was: purchase approvals, which allows us to be able to prevent those from happening, or at least group those purchases or those pickups, so that was really huge.
Other benefits of note?
From an operational perspective, Acumatica has enabled me to better manage the team's orders. The KPIs and the dashboards are critical for us to see, at a quick glance, why hasn't this shipped yet, when it was supposed to? Or why haven't you contacted this customer, or why are all these orders on hold?
We can look at things that aren't positive and address those, as opposed to trying to go through every single order and say, 'What's the status with this; what's the status with that?' That's what we used to do before.
The wrap - what's next with Acumatica for QMH?
At the Acumatica Summit, the Quality Material Handling team fanned out. What did they learn?
Brenda Pinto said that automation was a big interest. Better use of Acumatica's mobile app was another highlight. "There's a lot of automation possibilities in Acumatica," added Hector Pinto. Adding new user fields, having data at the tip of your fingers - both are of value to the QMH team. No surprise: they also liked the Apple watch approval demo.
Pinto brought up their core challenge: handling growth, while dealing with the talent shortages virtually all warehousing and manufacturing operations face today.
We're using this week to find out what else we can add to the system - to just get the most out of it right now. We're in a position where we're growing, and we're trying to hire people, but it's difficult.
Thus the automation imperative:
We're trying to see, 'Okay, well what can we do to maximize the software.' How can we automate; how can we utilize it better?
Pinto's ambitions include manufacturing expansion; she took a close look at Acumatica's Manufacturing edition.
We are looking into growing that aspect of our business, to not just be a small little shop that makes ramps, but a large factory that produces ramps across the nation.
Something is working - Quality Material Handling grew by 41% in 2020. And, in 2021, their growth was up 59% compared to the year prior. Julia Pinto says:
Acumatica is definitely something that's going to help facilitate that I don't know how we could have sold the same amount [with our old system]. I don't know how we would have managed it. I would have pulled my hair out right now.
Yes, I told Hector and Brenda Pinto, it looks like the business is in pretty good hands. Hector Pinto responded:
I feel really comfortable that she'll take it to a whole different level. We're very proud of her.