Crenshaw Recovers from Fire, Continues Computerized Business Management

SALES are still strong at Crenshaw Corporation despite a fire that destroyed an office and caused a great deal of smoke damage on January 22 of this year. Now that the business is 95% to 98% recovered from the accident, Walford Crenshaw, president and CEO of Crenshaw Corporation, calls it the worst experience that he's ever been through. Crenshaw offers hints to either prevent a fire or minimize its impact.

The fire was started in an accounting office by a spark from a deteriorated cord on a ceramic disk space heater. In less than 10 minutes, it had created enough heat in the building to cause one of the windows of the office and showroom section of the building to explode from heat.

As the fire blazed through the window, it was spotted by an early morning delivery driver who called the fire department. Upon arrival, fire teams were able to control the fire quickly, preventing it from expanding beyond the accounting office. Although short lived, the fire had caused nearly $275,000 in smoke and burn damage to the building and its contents. The building required new roof trusses, new walls, and new wiring in some areas.

"It was all black, but almost everything was functioning," says Crenshaw. The company's main IBM terminal had been separated from the fire by only a thin wall and was covered withdebris and water but worked fine when it was turned on. The parts counter was operational by noon, and everything else was up by the next morning.

Phone calls were placed immediately to electricians, the telephone company, and the alarm company in an effort to expedite opening of the business. Electricians were at the building by 7:20 am on the morning of the fire, working to rewire the office area. "The fire marshal said that the only reason he didn't shut down the business was because of the response we took in getting electricians and service personnel in to repair damage to prevent possible injury," says Crenshaw. With business re-routed through the side entrance of the building and employees working from smoke-damaged offices, Crenshaw opened at 8 am the morning of the fire.

Office trailers were brought in about seven days after the fire to act as temporary office space while the damaged section of the building was being rebuilt. The sales department was set up in one trailer while clerical workers and staff were set up in another. Signs had to be made to direct customers to the right trailer or to the parts entrance, which was made the main entrance to the building.

Offices Rebuilt "I was working better than 18 hours a day for weeks just trying to keep things flowing with as little inconvenience to customers as possible," says Crenshaw. He likens the experience to starting a new business. "It was like a crash course in purchasing because we had to furnish a whole building with new office equipment," says Crenshaw. "Everything from the most basic office supplies and furnishings to PC's and bathroom tile had to be purchased. We take so many things for granted that it was easy to leave obvious items off the list of the hundreds of items that had to be replaced." Office personnel moved back into the rebuilt office area during the first week of May. Refurnishings included custom-built file cabinets that were flown in at the supplier's expense to meet the move-in deadline.

Since Crenshaw backs up its computer records daily, no electronic records were lost. "That morning I had all the fears in the world, except for the fear of lost computer data," says Crenshaw. "We take our data files home with us every night."

Most materials lost in the fire were paper records of accounts payable. "It's amazing how quickly manufacturers can fax you invoices when you tell them that your records burned," says Crenshaw. An accountant was brought in the morning of the fire to call manufacturers and reconstruct lost accounts payable files. Crenshaw didn't want to use the fire as an excuse for not paying bills on time.

Crenshaw warns others in the business to beware the fine print on their insurance policies. "For some unknown reason, a basic business interruption insurance policy often doesn't include extra expenses-a rider must be added," says Crenshaw. Extra expenses in the rebuilding process include the cost to move into another facility-for Crenshaw it was the trailers. Although Crenshaw Corporation incurred only $601 in expenses that weren't covered by insurance, they realized that not having another rider that covers upgrades due to local or federal building code changes could have been far more expensive. The move included expenses for electrical, plumbing, telephones, alarms, and computer wiring.

Current Projects Despite the effects of the fire, business at Crenshaw is still progressing. Crenshaw currently is working on a large order of GMC vans for a major fleet. The vans are to be used as air-conditioned mobile offices for field supervisory personnel. The vans are being fitted with desks and shelves as well as fax-copier-printer combinations, modems, and telephones. The vans will carry laptop computers also.

Another equipment item that has made Crenshaw popular with recreational vehicle owners is air-ride conversions. Crenshaw converts many motorhomes and RV trailers to air-ride suspension systems.

Aerodynamic service bodies and dump bodies also have been popular at Crenshaw lately. "Heil's Millennium 2000 line of dump bodies and Reading's Aerotech service bodies have both been well received," says Crenshaw.

Business Management Because Crenshaw Corporation sells heavy-duty truck parts as well as equipment and accessories for light trucks, the company needed a management system that could govern both sides of the business equally well. Crenshaw has looked at many software applications designed for the truck parts and equipment industries over the years, but continues to use the system he has developed in-house. Standard packages don't fit both sides of the business because they are usually good for the heavy-duty parts or truck equipment, but not both.

The company has used IBM machines since 1975, so it's no surprise that their current system reflects another step in the evolution of IBM's business management machines. Moving up every few years has helped Crenshaw keep abreast of changes. The company has advanced from the System 32, to the System 34, then to the 38 which was replaced two and a half years ago with an IBM AS-400 mini computer which operates like a mainframe.

Now in use for just over one year, the system's strong points include an efficient quoting procedure, detailed parts allocations, and product history. One of the system's best features is its ability to track a job all the way from the quote through the invoice stage. The system provides a sales order and a work order with shop instructions. Invoices are archived for future review. Crenshaw can search records by customer name, account number, body type (part number), description, end user, sales order number, or invoice number. For similar jobs, quotes can be switched between customers electronically.

"Through this data we can analyze profit," says Crenshaw. The data shows what the job was, which manufacturer's products were installed, and how much labor was involved. It breaks the labor figure by department to indicate how much time was spent in the manufacture, installation, and painting of the job and which mechanics worked on the job. This information allows order duplications to be completed more efficiently through educated labor decisions and price adjustments.

Allocations on the equipment side of the business also are handled more easily and efficiently. By looking at one screen, Crenshaw can tell if there is time to reallocate a particular item for a rush customer and still have the original job done at the promised time. "Balancing our inventory is always a challenge," says Crenshaw. The system incorporates quick analysis of which items are in stock and which ones must be ordered.

Electronic Catalogues Crenshaw also uses the "CFaSt" electronic catalogue. Many heavy-duty parts suppliers have digitized their catalogues and now Crenshaw receives monthly updates on CD-ROM. Updates include pictures and pricing.

"I believe this will be the cheapest way to receive and update this type of information in the future," says Crenshaw. "Books are never current." Through this database Crenshaw sales personnel can search for a product by manufacturer, part number, product category, key words, or specifications. They will be able to show the customer the part on the screen, quote, fax, print, and integrate parts to an invoice. Faxes from "CFaSt" are direct digital transmissions and therefore come out much clearer than conventional scanned faxes.

Crenshaw uses other PC-based information systems such as Euclid Industries' "Bullseye" cross-referencing system and "ESP," Euclid's program to look up parts by specifications. Other parts management software includes Midland-Grau's "Mcr," a parts interchange system and Muncie Power Products' "M-Power," a customer assistance software program.

Electronic Data Interchange is the next phase of progression into the electronic age for Crenshaw. Currently using MISG/Transnet, a form of EDI, Crenshaw can send purchase orders to manufacturers through an electronic mailbox that is accessed multiple times daily by manufacturers. Full-service EDI will give its users the ability to send purchase orders and receive an acknowledgment of theorder from a manufacturer. EDI also will handle invoices, advanced shipment notices, material releases, requests for quotes, receiving advice, and other services.

Crenshaw uses the AlliedSignal Truck Brake System Electronic Customer Communication. This dial-up service permits Crenshaw to check stock, place orders, and cross-reference parts numbers to Bendix.

"We will be forced to begin electronic money transfers to suppliers in the next year or two," says Crenshaw. It appears that the truck equipment industry is a few years behind the heavy-duty parts industry, which is a few years behind the automotive industry in terms of utilizing technology, according to Crenshaw.

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