ASCENTI is a custom lighting fixture manufacturer whose core business is problem-solving. The company includes a small team led by owner John Fox, a professional lighting designer and engineer. While working on a specialized video wall for Louis Vuitton, John was tired of hearing from countless contractors that his vision wasn’t possible. So he decided to get the job done himself – and thus, the idea for ASCENTI was born.
The company’s services range from high-end, home lighting design / build / installation projects to partnerships with the hospitality industry for custom-curated lighting solutions. Like many companies, ASCENTI chose QuickBooks to begin their journey. But they found that they had outgrown it when they wanted to enhance their manufacturing options with more automation.
John realized that if he wanted to grow the company, he would need a comprehensive business management solution to help lighten the load. He didn’t wait for software problems to start stacking up; he started to proactively look for a solution that could grow with the company. In 2019, he found aACE, the software suite that has illuminated the way to scalability ever since.
Business Challenges & aACE Solutions
Creating Custom Items on the Fly
Nearly every product that ASCENTI makes is unique to the end-customer. That’s wonderful for their clientele, who expect one-of-a-kind lighting solutions designed to their exact specifications. But for the many business management solutions that are one-size-fits-all, the ASCENTI approach can present quite a challenge.
Marya Lipiec joined John’s team as the ASCENTI Operations Manager just as their aACE implementation was getting underway. At a former employer, she had seen firsthand how difficult it could be to work with an inflexible solution. She explains, “Dealing with Sage (MAS 90/200) was frustrating. There’s no way that I could do custom manufacturing, where constant change is the rule and not the exception, with software like that.”
A single ASCENTI order can have many line items, including options and add-ons. For instance, a particular style of lighted mirror can be customized in many different ways. Rather than create a new record for every custom mirror possibility, aACE allows them to create a single product record that includes every possible option. When a customer requests a quote, Marya selects the options that the customer desires, along with any other necessary parts. aACE enables her to create a quote for a custom fixture in minutes.
Turning Disparate Orders into Cohesive Projects
The scale and intricacy required for designing lighting fixtures means that a single ASCENTI project may take months or even years to complete, especially for commercial clients like GlaxoSmithKline, Hyatt, and Hilton. Before aACE, each aspect of a given deal had to be managed separately. This often involved several separate orders. It’s different with aACE. Marya says, “The Projects module meant meaningful change for us in managing multiple concurrent orders for the same job, regardless of different payees.”
As an example, she points to a customer who ordered lighting fixtures throughout his residence. The project began in 2019 and is still ongoing. “We have many orders in this Project,” she explains. “This customer started with landscaping items, then added samples ordered by the interior designer under a different company profile, another for all the custom products with a longer lead time, and finally one for standard items — all on separate, but linked, orders.”
“In aACE, it’s easy to survey all the records associated with a given project,” she says. “It’s a time-saver! I can get into the project and immediately find my answer, without having to remember all the purchasers involved, search the sales order numbers, or sort through the records that don’t pertain to that project.” It’s a simple folder concept, but powerful.
Managing Transactions from Start to Finish
Each ASCENTI product is designed specifically for the customer purchasing it. Because of this, the team often collaborates with the client on revisions until they get an end product that’s just right. Then they must procure the necessary parts, assemble the items, and get them to the customer – that’s a lot of information to track! aACE makes it easy.
We noted earlier how Marya uses aACE’s features for options and alternates to customize pre-engineered products, like a lighted mirror. But what happens when a customer wants a lighting apparatus designed from scratch, like a custom chandelier or video wall?
When Marya begins such an order in aACE, she creates a new item record, then adds the parts and labor she estimates will be needed into the bill of materials, easily obtained from the original quote body (but invisible to the customer).
Opening the order kicks off an approval process. “It goes to an engineer and they make a line drawing of the product,” Marya continues. “We send that drawing out to the architect or lighting designer, and they make requests for adjustments. Once the concept is approved, we start creating the component CAD files and begin adjusting the BOM (bill of materials) from ‘concept components’ to ‘reality’.”
The order then flows into the accounts payable portion of the solution and is linked to the various parts that need to be procured. “What’s nice is that the Purchase Orders portal shows data in the sales order record itself. On top of that, a project will also list all POs that apply across those multiple orders. John recently asked how to find out where something was purchased and whether it had arrived. Even knowing only the project name, we quickly surveyed the Procurement tab on the aACE Project module. Within a few seconds, we found the PO and vendor, saw that we’d finalized the PO, and it was actually already delivered.”
A Curated Solution Honed for a Custom Business
When Marya joined ASCENTI, she jumped right into the aACE implementation. She immediately noticed similarities between her new company’s ethos and that of aACE Software. “Our president reviewed other options prior to my coming on board,” she notes. “My very first day on the job, I attended a Zoom call regarding implementing the aACE test phase. Though aACE was his #1 choice, he hadn’t signed a contract yet. What I gleaned from that call was that aACE provided a tremendous flexibility that would allow us to tailor the system to our unique needs.”
She adds that she appreciated how the aACE Software team understood the value of tailoring ASCENTI’s aACE solution to fit their unique business: “That level of care was invaluable, both in the beginning and currently as we finally implement new modules into our procedures. In other words, we never felt like we were being ‘sold’ a product. aACE is a curated solution, just like we provide for our own customers. So our values aligned.”
One notable customization for ASCENTI expanded aACE’s out-of-the-box use of pictures. They customized the layout for quotes to place even greater emphasis on the visuals. Marya explains, “Our clients are designers, and thus, visually oriented. The ability to add a photo linked to a line item has upped our game in terms of transforming a standard, unexciting quote into a professional design package. With a rendering of the lighting fixture shown just below the line item, the customer can visualize the product. And when quoting multiple custom items, they can immediately delineate one from the other.”
Small Details Make a Big Difference
“There are numerous little details about aACE that I love,” says Marya. One example she gives are the Notes fields included behind pushpin icons throughout aACE modules. Information in these areas is hidden from customers. They allow ASCENTI’s staff to pass on vital information about estimates, commissions, and more. She explains, “When I’m creating a quote or BOM, I can put in notes under each component to explain how I determined the quantities, pricing notes, online component link references, etc.” This allows her to easily reference that information later if anyone has a question.
Marya also appreciates how easy it is to edit part numbers in aACE, noting that something so simple can add up to big costs with other business management solutions. “In a past job, I remember specifically our frustrations regarding a limitation of exactly fifteen characters to build a part number. We had to pay an outside developer to allow us just a few more characters. Modifying part numbers was a nightmare; deleting them was impossible.” This led to even more headaches and costs for that company. They ended up paying an outsider to fix glitches that should have been implemented from the start. She explains, “That company kept their ERP for too many years because they felt stuck after shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a clunky system.”
In aACE, the flexible functionality for part numbers allows Marya to even record reminders and instructions at point-of-use. This helps ensure she is writing the most effective orders. A simple abbreviation within a product name can specify when it should be used or avoided. This leaves less for Marya to try and memorize because the software helps keep track of details.
Taking Care of the Team
Marya notes that aACE makes it possible for them to see how the company is doing in general and to reward their sales team with precision. After the initial implementation, the aACE support team continued to work with ASCENTI personnel to get the most advantage from the system. They pointed out that a slight change to the method for tracking leads could populate the system with data needed to forecast potential business. This in turn enables the management to make better decisions.
For bringing those forecasts to reality, the sales team is often split between distinct roles. A specifying agent works with a designer to envision what is needed for the perfect lighting in a space. They prepare the initial requirements for an order. Then, an on-site agent works with distributors and other third-party representatives to coordinate delivery and installation. Due to this split effort, it’s only fair that each person gets part of the commission. To support this, the aACE team updated the software to handle up to four decimal places on commission percentages. This slight change makes it easier for Marya to make sure each person on the project gets compensated accurately.
In Their Own Words
Here’s what Marya had to say about their aACE implementation:
“I would recommend aACE to small and mid-size manufacturing companies — anyone looking for powerful inventory and sales order / quoting modules. It’s great for custom product fabricators and those who don’t often use or sell the same thing twice.
Even after four years, we have used only a miniscule amount of the features available. The fact that aACE works efficiently, yet allows us to grow and add features to our processes as we develop the time and personnel, is the main reason we love it.
aACE Software customer support is a 10, which is why I would never consider going anywhere else. Hands down, it is the number one support I have gotten from any company. No one is paying me to say that. Since I implemented aACE mostly on my own, I had more questions than probably 99% of their clients. They were patient with my pestering and always on top of every question. The support system works, the team is amazing, and they are always ‘on it’. The ever-evolving aACE knowledgebase is helpful, as are the webinars; I learn something new every time.”
Interested in learning more about what aACE can do for your SMB? Read our feature highlights to see how aACE can help you take your operations to the next level.