Perfect Pricing: An app helps maximize freight rate

By |  July 22, 2014

An industry-customized app is helping Bluegrass Materials win more jobs and maximize its freight rate.

Pen and paper. That’s how Pat Malaney did business with customers for the overwhelming majority of his 28 years selling aggregates. “I’m old school,” says Malaney, a sales manager at Bluegrass Materials in Atlanta. “I would always carry around my notebook and write things down. If I had a phone call from a customer looking for a sales quote, I’d have to write everything down and call him back.”

Within a day or two of a conversation with a customer, Malaney would have to make a trip into the office, read through his notes and spend a few minutes analyzing the route from the customer’s site to the quarry so he could issue a competitive quote.

The time Malaney spent calculating sales quotes in the office was time he preferred to spend in the field selling aggregates. Fortunately for Malaney, as well as every other salesperson at Bluegrass, the company adopted a newer, more advanced way to issue quotes on the fly.

The system Bluegrass adopted is actually an app developed by a Georgia-based company called Catavolt. The app is specifically designed for the aggregates industry and it gives salespeople the ability to quickly deliver quotes, as well as gain geographic market intelligence and competitive data to which they previously did not have instant access.

“Now, I pull off to the side of the road, pull up a projects map and ask the customer for cross streets or an address,” Malaney says. “The app automatically pulls it up for me. I can see, for example, that from that point to my quarry it’s 12 miles – and my competitor is 35 miles away. Well, I have a haul advantage. And the aggregate business is driven by how far your stone can or can’t go.”

Seeking a solution

Malaney, who’s been with Bluegrass since it acquired four Atlanta-area quarries last year from Lafarge, developed the concept for an aggregate-specific app at Lafarge with former colleague Cameron Garrett, who’s now a director of sales and pricing at Summit Materials.

“We were talking about a large project sometime in early 2012,” Malaney says. “We were sitting at a computer using Google Maps and trying to figure out freight rates and our competitors’ locations. We both said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an iPad and we could somehow build and track jobs via pushpin’ – something that could figure out all the miles for us.”

Jason Teter, another former colleague who is now with Vulcan Materials, encouraged Malaney and Garrett to pursue the idea. Garrett found a partner in Catavolt midway through 2012 after considering about five other companies, Malaney says.

“Catavolt was able to show us some ideas as we were talking to them about what we wanted to do,” Malaney says. “They said give us 48 hours, and within 48 hours we had a rough system.”

According to George Mashini, Catavolt’s CEO, his goal is to help companies quickly go from a concept like the one Malaney and Garrett had to a mobile application, without writing code or forcing them to adapt to existing software.

“From what we understand about the material-delivery business: If we enable the folks who are out [in the field] to have the right information about their specific territory at that point in time, they can do a much better job against competition,” Mashini says.

“For too long, companies were tailoring how they did business to software,” he continues. “That doesn’t make sense to me – that you would go to a vendor, see how they thought of the world and try to adapt to their software. That’s why we made this platform – so we can mold to their needs.”

Smarter salespeople

The app is especially useful in the Atlanta market, Malaney says, because he estimates more than 35 quarries are located there. So it’s highly competitive.

“You really need to find where your niches are,” he says. “The app lets me maximize my price because I have a good idea of what [a competitor’s] haul advantage or disadvantage is. [The competitor] can deliver the rock there for one price and I can be in at [slightly less].”

The app also helps Malaney and others better realize when they should not pursue certain opportunities.

“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense for me to go when my competitor is right near a customer,” he says. “I’ll take the phone call and give a price, but I shouldn’t have the customer go all the way from where I’m at.”

The app is also useful for Bluegrass in that it shows salespeople where they’re losing jobs.

“If I’m looking for a job that’s right down the street from a high school that I’m close to, I can see that I should be getting those jobs,” Malaney says. “In that case, obviously either my freight rate isn’t correct or I’m pricing incorrectly.”

So the next time Malaney makes a bid to the same potential customer, he expects to win it after making the necessary adjustments.

“Maybe the next time I bid, depending on whether I won it or lost it, I can raise [the price] or lower it 10 or 15 cents per ton. Then I may be able to pick that job up.”

Based on the way Bluegrass is using the app, all jobs, regardless of whether they were won or lost, will remain in the Catavolt system for three years. Bluegrass can identify deeper trends that way, Malaney says, and the company will erase three-year-old jobs won or lost once three years from that moment have passed.

“Our boss, owner Ted Baker, iPad and he can pull up any one of our markets, look at one of our quotes, what we’re quoting, what the trends are and how many tons we’ve won,” Malaney says.

Those using the app can quickly identify broader building trends, Mashini adds.

“One thing about the industry I’m seeing is that the economy is rebounding,” he says. “Construction is rebounding, and we’re finally getting out of a downturn. So they’re getting to see what’s working and seeing quarter-over-quarter growth.”

Malaney adds that the app is intuitive enough that little training is needed to use it.

“Remember, I’m old school,” Malaney says. “This iPad, this program – you would be foolish not to use it.”

The app offers other benefits, as well.

“It gives you several tools to have conversations with your customers,” Malaney says. “I can share information with my customers. If they typically work on the east side of Atlanta and there’s a job going on and they didn’t call me for a quote on that specific job, I can say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you working on this project?’”

Time best spent elsewhere

Time savings is the greatest benefit of the technology, according to Malaney. He estimates that between him and others who previously entered job data into a system, a day’s worth of work is saved each week.

“On a busy day you can have 10 or 15 quotes, and if I don’t know where all of those locations are and I’m out making sales calls, then I have to find a place to get my laptop, pull up Google Maps and try to figure it out,” Malaney says. “With this program, it’s a matter of entering your passcode, pushing a button and within three minutes I can find exactly where a job is and how many miles from a quarry it is. I can figure out my freight rate.”

The app is also capable of finalizing orders, he adds, although Bluegrass is currently negotiating that setup with Catavolt.

“We have the system all the way as it goes to a quote,” Malaney says. “We’re now negotiating with Catavolt for them to set us up like we had it previously at Lafarge. An order can be uploaded in Catavolt to our [main] system in 15 minutes, and the hauler can go pick the material up.”
If that enhancement is added, even more time should be saved.

“If you’re a true salesman you want to be traveling to another customer, sitting with a customer, on a boat, at lunch or wherever you prefer to be,” Malaney says. “We’re born to talk and gab. Your customers are going to end up being friends the more time you spend with them.”

Malaney estimates that a salesperson’s top 10 customers represent about 80 percent of a salesperson’s business, and a salesperson’s best relationships are obviously most likely to be with their biggest customers. So the less time handling tedious tasks at the office means more time in front of other customers.

“Everyone below your top 10 customers are your bread-and-butter customers,” he says. “They typically don’t get the chance to meet me. Now, I have the chance to go see those smaller customers.”

To further enhance his relationship with small to midsize customers, Malaney has another concept in mind for Catavolt.

“One thing I’m going to present to Catavolt: We already have a lot of our customers in the system,” he says. “But I want to be able to go to another screen, say if I’m already down in south Atlanta and I’d like to call on some customers. I want to go to another screen that shows me all of my customers by my pin versus jobs by pin.”

That way, Malaney and others can get more value from each trip.

“The GPS on the app follows me wherever I go, so I could go see a bunch of smaller customers, whereas in the past, I would have to go somewhere to open my laptop, find their address and Google Map it,” he says.


Early adopters

Catavolt’s first aggregates customer was Lafarge, but Bluegrass Materials, Lehigh Hanson, Summit Materials and Vulcan Materials are now using the Catavolt platform in one form or another.

“We were lucky some of the first few adopters were some of the largest industry companies,” says George Mashini, Catavolt CEO. “People saw an action working. Maybe they even thought they lost some deals, or they weren’t as good in front of the customer, whereas a competitor is giving a quote right then and there.

“It takes forward-looking individuals inside those companies to have the will and drive to want to reshape their business,” he adds.

Take note

The Catavolt app delivers metrics such as tons quoted; jobs won and lost; and pending jobs.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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