Seven months after the purchase and merger that turned Activant into Epicor, the leaders of the nation's dominant LBM software supplier stressed today that Epicor remains committed to construction supply and to all its legacy system users.
"We are not going anywhere other than to continue to invest and build out lumber," Steve Bieszczat, senior vice president of marketing, told ProSales in an interview today. "We hear it from the outside and from the competition that we're not going to stay. But that is just not true."
Fears about Activant's future arose in part because Epicor officials have been quiet about company plans since the private equity firm Apax Partners bought both Activant and another software company named Epicor and then merged them last May under the Epicor name. (Story).
The combined operation has roughly $800 million in annual revenue and 4,000 employees worldwide. More important to construction supply, Bieszczat estimates that Epicor's Activant systems are used by 60% of the nation's pro-oriented dealers.
Many of those Activant systems were acquired from other firms, and some of them still in daily use by dealers are 25 years old--ancient by most software standards. Many software companies stop supporting such systems after a few new versions are released, but Epicor has continued to support them-and will continue to do so, Bieszczat stressed.
"We're going to stay with our 'choice' strategy," he said. "The systems that are being actively developed are Eagle, Catalyst (Falcon) and ECS Pro. We will continue to support CSD, Version 2, 4GL and Dimensions. We're not even thinking of shutting them. And we even keep developers on for those systems … to fix them if something goes wrong."
Bieszczat answered questions about increases in the fees that Epicor has charged in recent years for those old programs by arguing that many of the companies that originally made those systems never priced them properly. "In order to continue to support and develop them, we have to put them on viable financial footing," he said. "That means, at some point, [users] have to have price increases … to pay for support staff." But even if Epicor does increase prices, Bieszczat adds, "we all are doing the right thing because those people would have to spend a boatload of money all at once" if dealers had to buy a whole new system.
"Whenever you increase the price, people are never happy about it," said Cary Anderson, the LBM group's operations chief.
Epicor's lumber operations are housed in its retail distribution group, an area that also takes in the company's software for home centers, auto supply firms, sporting goods stories, pharmacies, and similar small businesses. Bieszczat serves as senior vice president for marketing for that group and also is involved with the company's retail solutions group, which provides services to giant retailers like Ann Taylor and J.C. Penney.
Lumber-related product development, customer support, and pro services are headed by Anderson, a decades-long veteran of that segment, while former ProBuild executive Bob Chamberlain leads the sales effort. Epicor and Bieszczat are based in Livermore, Calif., but most of the lumber operations are in Denver with an office in South Carolina.
Bieszczat said the merger will speed Activant's entry into two hot development areas: mobile communications and cloud computing. (See ""clouds on the horizon"" from ProSales' September issue.) Both figure into what the three Epicor officials said was a marked trend by dealers to limit technology investments in these hard times to those systems that can improve productivity and/or reduce headcount. Epicor's response has been to work on products that improve document management, dispatch and delivery chores, accounts payable paperwork, and warehouse management.
"With the cutbacks in personnel, it's very important for [dealers] to provide information to customers without having their staff doing things," Anderson said. "It's important for a customer to go online and get a statement, or if a truck leaves the yard it sends a message to the customer. All those kinds of things you can set up now."
"Just about every lumber dealer I know has cut back staff," Chamberlain noted. "One of that things that's changing is people are trying to gain efficiencies. How can I leverage certain pieces of technology.? How much more productivity can I get to accommodate growth? "
Chamberlain also predicted that once the industry recovers, demand will shoot up for improved e-commerce and EDI (electronic data interchange) communications between dealers and vendors. The goal then will be to "take friction out of the transaction," he said.