In 2006, Doug Berry sat down with his two daughters, Suzy Cravens and Pam Berry, and shared some unhappy news. His health was failing, and he was ready to turn over control of the company he founded, Advance Components, to his family. Advance has been a top U.S. distributor of specialty fastening products since 1972.
“He sat us down and said, ‘I think you both should work for the company. Now…who wants to be president?’” says Pam Berry, the younger daughter. Since then, she has worked as VP of marketing at Advance, and her sister, Suzy is CEO.
“I had an established career in a totally different industry,” says Cravens. “I didn’t know the first thing about fasteners.” At the time, she worked at the corporate office for Michaels Arts and Crafts, and Berry was working as a staff photographer at The Boston Globe.
“We were both quite artsy and, though proud of our dad, we were never interested in joining his company,” admits Cravens. “It was always his thing. Plus, he started it when we were very young, and I don’t think he ever considered hiring us either — at least not until he did!”
“Suzy and I didn’t even live in the same state at the time but, somehow, it felt like the right thing to do,” adds Berry. She convinced her young family to move from Boston to Austin to be closer to the company. Advance Components is located about 20 miles outside of Dallas, in Carrollton, Texas. “Austin is the closest I could get them to Dallas,” she laughs.
Doug Berry passed away in 2006 and the sisters’ transition in running the company began later that year and early in 2007. It was anything but easy. The longtime Advance employees were, understandably, concerned about their jobs and the future of the company.
“We had to overcome a lot of hurdles in the office at first, including apprehension from the employees because they were well aware of the fact that we knew next to nothing about fasteners,” says Cravens. “Plus, walking into my dad’s workplace was like a time warp. It may have been 2006, but it looked like 1996.”
The technology was outdated, and the team had long-ago outgrown the space and were overcrowded.
“There was a lot to change but, fortunately, our dad left us a solid company that enabled us to make some important, tangible changes,” adds Berry. One of those changes was the purchase of a much-needed, larger office and warehouse facility. “We went from 13,000 to about 64,000 square feet in 2009 and designed a spacious, welcoming place for our team.”
Despite their initial fears after the sisters took over, most Advance employees were extremely grateful that the company wasn’t sold to an outsider and welcomed the changes that were made. Case-in-point: Terri House, who became an advisor to Cravens.
“When I first started with Advance, Terri had worked here for several years already and she became an important mentor to me,” shares Cravens. “She’s now retired, but she had so much wisdom for us. She always said, ‘I’d wake up at night thinking about fasteners because they’re so interesting and fun.’ I didn’t believe her at first, but she was right!”
Some employees who began working for Doug Berry still work for Advance Components, including Michael Baughman, VP of Operations, who began in the warehouse back in the early 80s.
“Occasionally, during college, I would go in and work for dad in the warehouse to earn a few extra dollars. I’d work with Michael,” says Cravens. “He had long hair and played in a punk rock band. He still plays music with his brother Mark, who works in sales at Advance. Now, every Friday night, they jam at our facility. It’s really cool.”
Today, Advance Components distributes products for many industries including aerospace, automotive, power and military sectors, as well as medical, electronics, appliance, farming, food service, and construction. It’s also considered an essential supplier during the current COVID-19 pandemic (listen to an interview about how the company is managing and supporting critical sectors with Gary Cravens, Advance’s president and Suzy’s husband,here).
Advance Components also maintains the highest standards with ISO 9001:2015 certification for quality management and continues to improve distribution practices.
“We just completed an expansion in our bagging area,” says Berry. “We now have four state-of-the-art bagging and sorting stations and are able to provide customers with customized solutions for all bagging requirements, including custom picking, kitting, bagging, barcoding, labeling, and shipping services.”
“We are a small giant,” adds Cravens. “We may have a small staff, but our reach is global.”
The sisters have also made some significant cultural changes at the company. Advance Components is a proud diversity partner as a certified Women-Owned Business and a member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Those are not easy certifications to achieve. For example, to receive the Women-Owned designation, the organization must annually prove that the business is at least 51 percent owned, operated, controlled, and managed by a woman or women.
“You’d think they’d know us by now, but every year I get grilled with questions to prove our validity,” says Cravens. “It’s for a good reason though.” Women entrepreneurs face several challenges, such as getting fair access to business support and capital. For instance, only about four percent of the total dollar value of all small business loans goes to women business owners.
When the sisters attended their first Fastener Expo in Las Vegas more than a decade ago, they were surprised how few women were at the event.
“It was a bit of a culture shock and reminded me of my early years as a photographer because there weren’t very many female photojournalists at that time either,” says Berry.
This didn’t sit well, so she began seeking out women who worked in the fastener industry. She found one: Mary Lou Aderman, who’s now retired, but was president of The Aderman Group, which served to support manufacturer distribution. Together, Berry and Aderman decided to offer support for other females in the industry.
“At first, I created a LinkedIn group in hopes of simply connecting with other women in the fastener industry,” explains Berry. “That’s where Mary Lou found me and said she always wanted to do the same thing. So, soon afterward, we decided to incorporate as an organization because of how much it was clearly needed in the fastener industry.”
Women in the Fastener Industry or WIFI is the result, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education, mentorship, and encouragement of women in the fastener industry. Along with educating members through workshops and webinars, WIFI also offers annual scholarships to help improve members’ skills and connections.
“It’s been quite a journey,” says Cravens. “I never imagined working as a career at our dad’s company. And we’ve faced challenges. I mean, we took over at the end of 2006 and then in 2008, the big recession hit and that was another shock. But we learned from it. We’ve learned to plan ahead, and we’ve learned success as sisters and women in this industry.”
“We promised each other we’d never let business come between our relationship or our family. We agreed to sell the company before we’d let that happen,” says Berry. “But it’s never come to that. And we’re proud of the team at Advance Components and of what we’ve accomplished so far.”