A bright future
More than a year since its last appearance in Manufacturing Today, nexAir discusses growing consumer demand, and provides insight into its soon-to-be-launched ecommerce platform
It’s been a busy few years at nexAir. After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020, revenues at the gas and welding supplier initially began to fall, before the start of what turned out to be a significant upward trend. The Memphis-based company posted its record year in 2021, and is showing similar numbers in 2022.
“From a customer perspective, demand is strong,” confirms Bill Proctor, President of nexAir. “Every segment of the business is performing extremely well. Our gas segment continues to be healthy, as is our capital equipment business, which has benefited from the heavy emphasis on process improvement and automation among our customers, as they sought to tackle the challenges that they were facing.”
It’s a positive story. But what’s the secret to nexAir’s success? For Brian Yarmowich, Executive Vice President of Business Development at nexAir, it comes down to the hard work of the collective. “Everyone has been aligned,” he tells us. “Across each segment of our business, including sales, operations, marketing, financial services, and IT, we have doubled our efforts and refocused on giving the customer the best experience possible.
“It’s a growth tool,” he reiterates. “To have great sales, you need to have everybody pulling on the same rope, in the right direction. If the overall customer experience isn’t as good as it could be, then you’re going to struggle.”
“The overarching question is: how do we align our salesforce to focus on the business segments we want to target, that we think will have the most growth potential?” Brian concurs. “For instance, one of our largest business segments is metal fabrication. At nexAir, we have a group of certified weld engineers and inspectors who go out to customers, analyze their businesses, and identify ways that we can provide them with more throughput or cost reductions, and help them to become more profitable.”
To deliver this experience, nexAir is supported by its early embracing of key technology, a move that’s helping to drive efficiencies operations-wide. “We’ve implemented a series of mobile and handheld solutions,” explains Mike Enders, Executive Vice President of Operations at nexAir. “From a transaction side, we’ve become paperless within the last two years. Added to that, our nexTrack Roadnet technology delivers a seamless transaction for the customer, and allows us to capitalize on some real efficiencies when it comes to planning and routing our vehicles and drivers.
“With nexTrack, we achieve more with fewer assets,” he continues. “We have the ability to send emails and texts to our customers each day, telling them when the delivery is going to be made.
“Another great technology that really gives us a strong hold is barcoding,” Mike says. “Cylinder management is one of the challenges in our industry. Typically, if you make one mistake, it’ll sit there until someone notices it. With barcoding, we have checks and balances in place to give us confidence in our numbers, and to lessen the burden of worry levied upon the customer. We have a number of other technologies under development. It’s all come out of placing members of our IT teams in different departments within the company, and allowing them to see how technology can be applied in the day-to-day to streamline processes and drive efficiencies in an effective manner.”
“We also host demo days, during which select customers come in to view the latest technologies on offer from our key vendors,” Bill adds. “It’s not an open house – these are key current and prospective clients, viewing products for which we’ll be first-to-market. These ideas aren’t new for nexAir – our goal has always been to bring value to our customers. Given the current labor market, improving throughput via automation is vital, and we’ve been able to help our customers with some really neat pieces of equipment.”
Even for a strong performer such as nexAir, life post-Covid-19 is not without its challenges. “Inflationary pressures, supply chain disruptions – our experience has been no different from the rest of the industry,” Bill reflects. “Nevertheless, we’re planning our inventory systemically in terms of passing costs through. In the US, labor obviously remains problematic, but our HR team has done a really good job of mitigating that to some degree.”
Buoyed by this relative stability, Bill is bullish about nexAir’s prospects in the years ahead. “Particularly considering where we operate in the southeastern US, we’re seeing a lot of investment, with greenfield opportunities across the board,” he asserts. “Long term, we feel really good about our growth going forward.”
It’s a marker of this optimism that in September 2021, nexAir announced the launch of an all-new website. Intended to provide an enhanced user experience, it shows once again that nexAir’s focus is well and truly on the consumer. More than half a year later, the company is now lining up its next big reveal: a B2B ecommerce platform.
“Previously, the only way our customers could really interact with us was via social media,” explains Maria Ricci, Marketing Manager at nexAir. “Our former ecommerce site wasn’t user friendly. The idea behind the new platform was to create a fully immersive solution where customers could click through from social media, first to learn about our products, and secondly, to then make a purchase. It’s been the missing piece of our puzzle until now.”
“We understand that, a lot of times, people want to conduct business as they do in their personal lives,” Bill reflects. “For us, we felt that to achieve that we needed a more robust B2B solution. We have an omni-channel approach, whether it’s online, via phone, or in person, so however you want to do business with nexAir, the experience is seamless.”
For Brian, the focus for nexAir in the year ahead will be on bringing yet more solutions to its customers. “We have a team that is well trained, that has great leadership, and we’re excited about where we are going,” he comments. “Our sales team in particular is extremely focused on providing our customers with innovative products. Personal development is a part of that, and we’re looking to ensure we continue to deliver best practices.”
“From a personnel perspective, we’re in a great spot,” Mike echoes. “We have a lot of young talent within our company, and they’re very engaged. Our mission statement is to serve selflessly and assist eagerly to create customers for life, and – as I travel and spend time with people within our company, I can say with confidence that our whole workforce embodies that.
“It’s pretty powerful,” he admits. “As a result, we’re in a better place than ever when it comes to being able to leverage technology to meet our customers’ needs.”
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the team we have, and where we are today,” Bill concludes. “We can’t get the crystal ball out and see what’s going to happen in the economy, but our plan is to continue to focus on the things we can control. We know what some of our challenges are, and we’ve proven we can meet them, and we’ll continue to do so. For nexAir, and for our customers, the future is extremely bright.”
Services: Atmospheric gas and welding supply distribution