ISL featured as the Cover Story in Industrial Supply Magazine

Jul 12, 2013

Special Sources of Sourcing and Supply

These young entrepreneurs make waves by focusing on supporting the unique needs of the federal government, military and maritime communities

By Rich Vurva (July/August 2013 Print and Digital Editions)

Transitioning from a comfortable job in a major corporation to launching a startup company is never an easy step. It’s especially tricky when you make the move while the country is still clawing out of a recession.

But that’s exactly what Chris Faison did in 2010, when he decided the time was right to leave his job as a district manager with a national industrial supply distributor to start his own company. Faison began working in the industrial supply industry in 1997 and held a variety of sales leadership roles. By the time he turned 37, he was supervising 12 branches and managing about 60 employees, but was growing restless and frustrated with the slow pace at which big corporations sometimes operate.

As a native of Virginia Beach, Va., which is home to four military bases, Faison always had a keen interest in the military and its influence in the area of Virginia known as Hampton Roads. He had a particular fascination with the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles program. At the time, MRAP was one of the largest programs in the Department of Defense, and OEMs were so busy building new vehicles, there were challenges keeping up with the demand for hardware and other fleet supplies to sustain the vehicles in Afghanistan and other overseas locations.

“I recognized some of the challenges these programs faced and couldn’t stand the thought of being on the sidelines, knowing I could make a difference. I saw my calling and acted on it,” says Faison.

The timing seemed right to leave the corporate world and begin a new adventure. With financial support from local investors, including close friend Chris Richards, Faison formed Incredible Supply & Logistics.

“I made the decision to act on my gut feeling that I had to step up and do something about this, so I started educating myself on how to do business with the Defense Logistics Agency,” says Faison. The DLA is the largest logistics combat support agency for the Department of Defense.

He was soon joined by his 39-year-old cousin, Bob Faison, who had also worked in distribution, first as a salesman, then a store manager and eventually a district manager. Both knew how to run a distribution business, but this was their first experience at starting a company from scratch. The early days were exhilarating and – at times – daunting.

“Anytime you take a leap of faith, it’s always scary. But one thing Chris and I have always had in common is that we don’t like losing,” Bob Faison says. With young families to support and mortgage payments to make, failure was not an option.

Getting started
The early months were abuzz with activity. The duo needed to set up an office, form supplier relationships, and begin to navigate the maze of obstacles and red tape that companies face when conducting business with the federal government, including getting established as a certified small business.

They became expert at understanding acronyms, such as CAGE (Commercial And Government Entity code) – the five-character ID number used extensively within the federal government – DUNS, the nine-digit Dun & Bradstreet number required for doing business with Uncle Sam and, naturally, SAM, the System for Award Management database where companies register as a government vendor to qualify for business set aside for certified small businesses.

This learned expertise in doing business with the federal government has helped Incredible Supply establish relationships with suppliers.

“We are going after a niche business that very few people had market share in. We are very laser focused in that business so I think that helped our pitch,” says Chris Faison.  They also benefited from advice from their investment team, which had experience in the government sector, Bob Faison says. “Using their experience in developing government contracts and our experience in sales and the supplier side of the business, it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it made it possible,” he says.

Expanding their base
The pair also began introducing themselves to government contractors or “integrators,” such as ManTech International, VSE Corporation, Northrop Grumman and other companies that provide services to the military and other governmental units. Business to these companies started to grow and, by the end of their first full calendar year in 2011, sales were $2.5 million. Sales more than doubled to $6 million in 2012 and will likely double again in 2013.

“We’re trying to be very smart about our growth. When we land new contracts we’ve got to be very careful to make sure we can handle the business when it comes in,” says Bob Faison. “Right now, we don’t know what size company we want to be. We have high expectations for ourselves and for our business. I don’t know that we’re ever going to take our foot off the gas. We want to be an industry leader in our space.”

As the company grew, it began adding staff, including another longtime friend, Bayne Keenan, vice president of operations, and moved into a new location with an attached warehouse. Most shipments to customers are drop-shipped from suppliers or from master distributors such as ORS Nasco, so the company holds very little inventory, but still requires a staging area for shipments. Products generally sit in the warehouse for only a day or two.

“Other than for one contract for safety supplies, we very seldom sell the same product twice. That is why folks have found it refreshing doing business with us. They can send us a request for just about anything and we can go find it,” Chris Faison says.
Faison knew his company was making its mark when a customer started referring to them as the “Special Forces of Sourcing and Supply.” The reputation comes from being able to source supplies as varied as fasteners, abrasives and hand tools for maintenance departments, to turnout gear for firefighters in the Egyptian Navy, and electric cars for an overseas military base.

I can guarantee you that tomorrow a request will come across our desks for something we have never seen before. But we will go get it,” Keenan says.
With a proven track record, the company applied for and was granted status as a GSA Schedule Holder. The long-term contract with the General Services Administration makes it easier for federal employees to purchase products and services at pre-negotiated prices. The process took nearly a year to complete, but it opens the door to new business opportunities. Similarly, being part of GSA Advantage! – an online shopping mall for federal government agencies to purchase products and services available through GSA Schedule Contracts – and the DoD Emall, the Internet-based electronic mall for military and other authorized government customers, has expanded Incredible Supply’s reach to a global customer base.

A separate national stock number search engine built and maintained by Incredible Supply helps customers source products using the 13-digit NSN code that identifies them as “standardized material items of supply” by all NATO countries.  “Now that we have a track record with the government, we are getting more opportunities to bid on larger projects and build a pipeline of future business,” says Richards, one of the investors in the business.

“There are plenty of industrial suppliers and there are plenty of government-focused small businesses, but we’re proving that we’re the best at both. We’re shipping product all over the world, supporting naval shipyards all across the country, and working with some of the largest defense contractors in our industry,” Chris Faison says.  Framed flags representing every branch of the military hang in the warehouse and photos of military vehicles adorn the office walls. The company also proudly displays a “recognition of service” certificate from the Department of Defense for its support of the MRAP vehicle program in Kuwait. They remind the staff of the important role they play to support the government.

“We try to remind our people that everything we do helps support our government and our troops in some way, shape or form,” Chris Faison says. “That’s very fulfilling.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2013, Direct Business Media.


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