Allen-Bradley Distributors Offer National Accounts Solution to Large Industrials

July 26, 2002
A group of electrical distributors that sell 95 percent of all Allen-Bradley products in the United States have formed the Vanguard National Alliance

A group of electrical distributors that sell 95 percent of all Allen-Bradley products in the United States have formed the Vanguard National Alliance Inc. (VNA), a cooperative effort aimed at providing multi-site industrial companies with a package of Rockwell Automation products and solutions, as well as related products from other manufacturers.

The VNA distributors hope to ink national account contracts with large industrials by providing automation products, technical support, repair, logistics, procurement, MRO inventory management and other critical plant services. VNA will serve as the single point of contact for national accounts, coordinating sales activities, contract development (including pricing, proposal and negotiations) and contract implementation to insure consistency and utilization of best practices.

VNA is financed by its distributor members, said David Pratt, VNA's acting managing director. Pratt was the president of PM Systems, Boston, a provider of business software for electrical distributors, for 17 years.

Although Allen-Bradley/Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee, supports the initiative, Pratt said the company has no financial stake in it.

“We talk to Rockwell about target customers and long-term sort of strategies as we go forward. I would say we're working in a collaborative spirit with them, because we are addressing the same channel, and we're talking with their field people as far as coordinating some activity together. But there is no financial relationship whatsoever.”

David Stormo, vice president for channel sales for Rockwell Automation, said, “We welcome and endorse this initiative as Allen-Bradley's answer to the demands of large national customers who seek the best total cost solution for their MRO needs in multiple plant locations.”

VNA was formed by many of the same electrical distributors behind The Vanguard Distribution Group, a two-year-old group of 18 independent Allen-Bradley/Rockwell Automation distributors who pool their resources to develop online marketing and management resources, such as a template-based Web site, e-mail newsletters, product data and business management tools. They also enjoy the benefits of sharing best practices, point-of-sale data and networking.

The Vanguard Distribution Group members who helped form VNA said they kept the Vanguard name because they felt that they had built some brand equity in it, and that customers would recognize it. Jim Schmitt, president, Van Meter Industrial Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a member of the Vanguard Distribution Group said the driving force behind the formation of VNA was feedback from customers who wanted a national account solution.

“Customers were looking for a way for the Allen-Bradley channel to be tied together on a national basis,” he said. “Keep in mind that there's another solution out there. If all they want is just the Rockwell products, then they would probably go with a solution.

“This (VNA) would be for customers who have a heavy focus on Rockwell Automation products, but also would like to put the rest of the electrical bucket under that contract.”

Pratt said Allen-Bradley/Rockwell products would be about 30 percent to 50 percent of the product mix. Ballasts, lamps, fuses, wire and cable and other electrical products would also be part of the package.

Pratt said that while members of The Vanguard Distribution Group belong to the VNA, the groups are different and have different missions. Members of Vanguard Distribution Group are mid-sized independent electrical distributors, while VNA includes not only distributors of this size, but large national and regional chains such as WESCO Inc., Pittsburgh; Rexel Inc., Dallas; and Consolidated Electrical Distributors Inc., Westlake Village, Calif.

On the surface, it might seem like VNA is similar to, a now defunct e-commerce integrated supply and national accounts initiative owned by Rockwell International.

But Pratt said other than their focus on national accounts and the emphasis on Allen-Bradley products he sees little similarity. One big difference, he said, is that SourceAlliance was a manufacturer-funded effort.

VNA also differs from SupplyForce, another distributor backed effort in the national account arena. VNA focuses on electrical and automation products. Supply Force, which was launched by the Affiliated Distributors buying/marketing group in 1999, focuses on these areas too, but covers industrial and plumbing too.

“I think the SupplyForce model is good and it provides customers and distributors with very wide manufacturer representation,” said Pratt. “And we don't offer the same products as SupplyForce. We are competitive I'm sure to the marketplace, but we are very different in the marketplace as well. SupplyForce has a large niche across many manufacturer segments.”