A vital source

A vital sourceWhen a cruicial component is missing call in the specialists ….Fracom Components gets results. Mick Elliott reports
Keith France is a guy companies like to call when they are in a jam. His company Fracom Components is an independent distributor. It has access via its global component access database to over 300 different product lines and over ?1bn worth of stock.
When the production line looks like it might grind to a halt because vital components are on long lead times, that’s a tempting lifeline – and lots of companies use it.
But to label typical Fracom customers as harried purchasing and production managers is to do the company an injustice.
Much of its business is with regular customers who appreciate Fracom’s willingness to track down obsolete or hard to find products or slice away long lead times.
“We build long-term relationships with our customers and suppliers,” says Keith France. “We are not an in and out merchant.”
The company has invested time and money in attaining ISO 9000 approval. “It tells customers this is a company and its people are committed to quality and reliability and a professional service.”
France and his two sons founded Fracom six years ago after he left Surtech where he was also a founder.
France took a long look at the distribution market in the UK and after a dabble in the franchise end of the market he says, “the company evolved into being an international, independent distributor”.
He quickly recognised the need to operate purchasing offices close to the component supply. Fracom now operates out of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Florida and Munich.
France says this approach means he can offer 50 per cent cost savings on, for example, Japanese semiconductors and passive components. “In Japan we buy the product as a domestic customer. The supplier is not allowed to sell out of the territory so we buy it as Fracom Japan.”
In Hong Kong, Fracom buys as an OEM. The company has a successful computer and mobile communications offshoot called peripheral Corner which among other products supplies configured, customised laptop computers.
The company is rigorous in checking sources of supply.
The key which has unlocked these component treasure trove is as France concedes the investment in a database which enables Fracom to track data on global pricing and availability. “We have a database of contacts all over the world,” says France.
The company has homed in on RF and microwave products where the brands include Hewlett-Packard and NEC. “We can develop the business, and because these are technical products we do have design-in skills available for customers.”
Customers also gain. Fracom tracks customers requirements and will automatically e-mail them when a quantity of products they have purchased before becomes available. These customers range from OEMs through to the smallest companies.
Contract electronics manufacturers (CEM) are a growing part of Fracom’s business. “We have a good relationship with some of the bigger names, and they see us as a reliable and alternative source of supply,” explains France. “The unpredictable nature of their business means they sometimes have to source products quickly.”
France recalls a recent effort to track down some DSP parts for a CEM. “Rarer than hen’s teeth,” is France’s mordant comment.
Smaller companies too find Fracom a welcome supply source. France observes, “Some of our customers can’t buy from suppliers or distributors because they can’t guarantee a minimum order requirement. We will sell to them. It can be the sprat which catches the mackerel.”
Products can be delivered in 48 hours, sometimes 24 hours if the requirement is urgent, using the usual carriers like UPS. Encouragingly the export market is also beckoning. France estimates Fracom’s sales are now 30 per cent overseas.
The only blight on such success is that it attracts competition – “lots of one man bands springing up,” France comments.
He has no doubt Fracom will continue to grow, but two years ago he and his sons decided to look at another market sector.
Out of their plans sprung Peripheral Corner which is described as a mobile and wireless solutions house.
Simon France trawled trade shows and visited suppliers to build a franchise base which now encompasses products ranging from PCMCIA cards through memory modules, GSM data cards and PC components to laptop computers, mobile video conferencing facilities and wireless networking products.
“It has been a big investment,” France concedes.
Stock, technical training and product support are a must and France is already seeing the returns.
“Our own brand laptops have met with some success,” he says, “and we are excited by the Wave Access wireless networking system.”
Peripheral Corner has already installed systems linking a computer manufacturer’s warehouses and on an oil platform and is looking to penetrate the lucrative office markets in Central London.

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