Podcast: Una's Advisory Approach to Procurement on ProcureTech

By Katherine McCleery | May 21, 2020

With cost-savings and procurement optimization at the top of many business’ priorities right now, it was a great time for Una CEO Anthony Clervi to speak with James Meads, host of the ProcureTech Podcast, about how group purchasing can fit into an overall sourcing strategy.

They dive into what sets Una apart from the crowd of predictable GPOs, why we lead with core values in our partnerships and Una’s advisory approach to managing non-strategic, indirect spend with a thoughtful group purchasing program.

Sound like your cup of tea? James Meads sure hope so!

Click the image below or listen here. For the full transcript scroll down past the listening highlights.

Listening Guide

  • [00:01:45] Anthony’s background and start in procurement
  • [00:04:15] Why Una’s consultative approach is different from the competition
  • [00:10:30] How group purchasing can compliment a procurement plan
  • [00:15:00] How does a GPO make money with free membership?
  • [00:20:00] The future of Una
  • [00:22:00] The role of data within procurement


James Meads: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ProcureTech Podcast, bringing insights and inspiration into how digital technology is shaping our profession. I’m your host, James Meads, tea drinker ex-pat, definitely not your typical consultant.

[00:00:26] Welcome to another episode of the ProcureTech Podcast. One of the things that we’re going to explore in today’s episode kind of harks back to a point that I saw, I posted, I saw on LinkedIn from, I think it was Mathias Goodsman from digital procurement world. And he was saying that digital transformation doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or complex, and just like we went through with TAMU from procurement flow in series one, episode two a few weeks back, some of the solutions out there don’t require an army of consultants or a huge investment to really move the needle. And sometimes the most simple solutions are often the most effective in terms of reducing the time that procurement professionals spend on administrative tasks that don’t really add any value. So with that said, I would like to welcome to the podcast, Anthony Clervi from Una.

Anthony, welcome to the show.

Anthony Clervi: [00:01:22] Thanks James. Really glad to be here.

James Meads: [00:01:24] Awesome. So Anthony, I think most people, myself included, tend to fall into the procurement space. I mean, nobody goes through school or uni and says, I want to be a buyer. So maybe, first of all, if you can give us your story on how you fell into what we do, and then we can dig into a little bit more about what you know is and, and, and who it serves.

Anthony Clervi: [00:01:47] Yes. Well, I can, I can definitely relate. I didn’t, uh, I didn’t grow up or, well, I haven’t grown up yet, but, uh, I didn’t go to school and say, “great, I want to be in the procurement or group purchasing or GPO space”. I actually joined a team of investors just roughly about under a decade ago, just about eight years ago, and they were doing some projects just in the United States, for fraternities and sororities and the Greek space, and really in the food business. And Una formed from there. And it was really kind of an evolution of an opportunity for myself where prior to the GPO and procurement space.

[00:02:31] I was still kind of in this aligned, you know, bringing a buyer and a seller together. I’d worked in the home services space, a company called Home Advisor. And so I was helping build that network and, and did some consulting prior to that. And so I joined the investors and as a co founder.  I realized like, okay, there’s a real opportunity here because, in the short of it group purchasing as genesis from healthcare, primarily in the States, and there’s an extraordinary opportunity, not only in the private space, but public as well. And so about eight years ago, we got together. There was some…you know, a lot of failures, but, you know, I was a young kid, I wasn’t married at the time, no kids and thought, “let’s jump in and see if we can really create a brand”.

[00:03:18] And, and as you mentioned, find the companies that don’t have an army or don’t have these huge, huge budgets.

James Meads: [00:03:27] So Una is a group purchasing organization, but as you mentioned, it didn’t start out being branded as that, and it’s not the typical sort of stereotypical startup story. I know at least you alluded to it in the States as well, that group purchasing over there kind of had its origins in health care.

[00:03:46] In the UK, certainly my experience is similar that it’s, it was historically more common in the public sector and in the NGO space. I know that universities, for example, have had buying consortiums for quite a long time, which sort of does the pooling together of buying power and negotiating.

[00:04:05] And I mean, the, the concept itself is, is nothing extraordinary. It’s nothing particularly unique. So maybe other than having a really well designed and great looking website, I have to say, what distinguishes Una from being sort of just another “me too” product. Maybe you can walk through some of the nuances of Una that distinguishes it from some of the other GPOs that are out there.

Anthony Clervi: [00:04:34] Happy to do that. So I think some of the things that stand out to me is, again, I’ll give credit to our marketing team for our great brand. They’ll love to hear that. (He’s right). But we have identified a cause, and we call it the “sourcing hero“, and we want to empower sourcing heroes and go after and bring value to the small, medium size and semi-large businesses.

[00:05:01] Typically, a company that’s has about a thousand to 5,000 employees. We do have some organizations that we serve are 5,000 to 10,000 employees, but it’s usually that one person procurement team or one to five folks who, I think you mentioned it prior to and when we jumped on the podcast. Or even at the beginning here, if you don’t have an army, if you don’t have a budget, what makes Una different?

[00:05:27] And so, yes, we are a group purchasing organization, but we want to understand and we want to advise, we want to ask the right questions before we just try to sell you meat like a butcher. And so we’ll have these conversations and we have a very consultative approach. We don’t just have product on the shelf that we’re trying to push down your throat.

[00:05:49] And we have a team of folks that understand the procurement process at a high level and very detailed. We look at our model in two different ways. So our end users who are members or future members. And then we also look at our supplier partners as our members or customers as well.

[00:06:07] And so we kind of, if you notice on the Una logo, kind of this triangular focus, you have Una, which is trying to bring this solution and advisor approach as the GPO or group purchasing organization. Then you have the member and the supplier. And so this unity or this oneness is, although it sounds silly in theory, is very real. And what we tend to find, is that a lot of the folks that are coming to us or whether it be in our current membership or future membership, don’t have a strategic plan or don’t have the time or the resources. Or they don’t know how to vet out suppliers. They don’t know. They can’t go through the RFPs.

[00:06:49] They can’t deliver the savings that they need to or track that savings. And so a lot of the time we’re going over a lot of their pain points and trying to understand, again, it gets back to that consultative approach. So I think the biggest thing that makes us different is our consultative approach and also how we look at our supplier partners with our members.

[00:07:10] And there’s this real unity, and a lot of the times, a lot of our conversations, maybe we’re directing them elsewhere. If it’s not a good fit for us, or maybe there’s some categories that don’t make sense, and so I really look at that, as a core value driven company that we are looking out for the best interest of our member, and that’s a daily thing. So I think those are some of the things that stand out for me of what Una is and how we want to approach the GPO space. 

[00:07:46] We believe utilizing a GPO is part and can be a part of your overall procurement strategy.

James Meads: [00:07:52] And you raised a good point there that if you taking a more consultative approach, you can’t be everything to everyone. And there’s a phrase, it doesn’t really work in British English, but the riches are in the niches and we say niche, so it doesn’t really work.

[00:08:08] But, but I mean, you’re right, that I guess every company will need to buy something like, like office supplies and sort of some degree, personal protective equipment. But there are other things, you know, not everyone’s going to need to buy forklift trucks, spare parts, for example. So who would you concentrate on as your typical client?

[00:08:30] I mean, I know you, you’ve, you’ve said in terms of the company size, but do you, do you niche down in terms of industry as well?

Anthony Clervi: [00:08:37] To your point, we’re more of a more focused horizontal, GPO, or group purchasing advisor. We’re focusing on all different types of businesses within the business.

[00:08:50] You know, we call it kind of the private GPO space, and then we are servicing the healthcare GPO space, specifically within like non-acute. So anything that’s not a hospital. And we have kind of a 60/40 breakdown. More of our focus is on the business side, but at the end of the day. We’re not, I would argue, I would offer up that like forklifts and some of these direct spend items, steel or these major commodities.

[00:09:15] That’s not, that’s not exactly Una’s forte or an area we would advise and hand that off to some of the partners that we know I could fulfill that. But to your point, a lot of this, a universal or indirect spend or tail spend that’s unplanned. And most of the professionals and “sourcing heroes”, as we call them, look at that as a non-strategic because they’re not able to maybe move the needle or maybe not getting C-suite buy in on managing that.

[00:09:45] We believe that’s a great onboarding and an on-ramp for us to come in, have a conversation, and I should have mentioned this too. What makes us a little bit different, and I’ll share just the education. It surprises me and our team still to this day. And that’s why I love talking to professionals like yourself who’ve been in the space for a couple of decades, of just getting the information out there and educating folks in the business space and elsewhere about the power and concept of a group purchasing organization. What the goals are, how can you can achieve value and compliment what you’re already doing. And we really believed that we can get the message out in a clear voice that we want to advise and there is real opportunity, but that we want to educate.

[00:10:36] And that’s a lot of what we do. We spend a lot of time educating. Because there’s still a lot of unknowns for folks, most of the questions we get, James, “it’s too good to be true or why haven’t I had heard of this before?”

James Meads: [00:10:49] And they still don’t get it. It could be a win-win benefit. Yeah.

Anthony Clervi: [00:10:53] Believe it or not, I know I’m with you and I get it. Maybe that’s just our society or you know, too much capitalism. But trying to speak to the truth over here.

James Meads: [00:11:03] So, so it sounds like then you’re certainly making a pretty distinct line between what you do and what a typical MRO integrator or distributor would do that would typically then concentrate more on technical spare parts and, and technical solutions that they can offer their clients in terms of operationally, performance improvement. So is it fair to say then what Una offers is more off the shelf products that may typically be available through punch-out catalogs if companies are far enough down that line to implement those sort of integrated solutions?

Anthony Clervi: [00:11:40] Yes. So that’ll come up again. You mentioned office supplies. I think it’s on a category by category basis. You know, most of the opportunities that we’re running into, maybe they can’t wait for an RFP or don’t want to go through it if they’re not on the public side. Yeah. There’s typically a short sales cycle.

[00:11:59] There’s a lot of the quicker wins, if you will, on this non-strategic indirect spend. It tends to be very reactive. And so the quicker wins, where we already have the contract in place that that can allow for some negotiation and some autonomy, but it’s ready to go.

[00:12:22] And so we’re trying to identify how can we implement and work with that member and work with that supplier to really over overcome any preconceived notions. Obviously educate both the supplier and the member and as you know, the punch out process or again, we, we can kind of mix and match and blend with however a member or future members going about their business.

[00:12:48] And sometimes though, we’ll share our thoughts and say, well, have you thought about doing it like this? And what if we, what if we didn’t go that route? And so that again, gets back to that more consultative advisory, educational approach to really, again, we want to just emphasize it more and more empowering that sourcing hero to make the best decisions so they can go on and do the more strategic things that they’ve been hired to do or the team has been a hired to do.

James Meads: [00:13:17] And you raise a very good point there with doing the strategic things that they’re hired to do, because if you’ve got a, if you’ve got a spend of a hundred thousand dollars or Euro on one category, then the chances are you’re probably not going to go through the classic sort of 80 Kearney seven step sourcing process on something, on something of that level.

[00:13:36] Whereas if you can go to a, an organization that will guarantee you X percent saving on that. You’ll say, yeah, I’ll take it. You know, for the work, it will save you, for all of the spadework to go out there and do a fully fledged RFP and maybe get, even if you’ve got 15% that’s like what, 15 grand.

[00:13:56] It’s, it’s an answer versus benefit.

 Anthony Clervi: [00:13:59] And what’s our number one asset? It’s of course time. 

James Meads: [00:14:03] People. Yeah.

Anthony Clervi: [00:14:04] Right. Time and people.

James Meads: [00:14:07] So do you also offer warehousing and fulfillment and invoicing on behalf of the client, or is it, is it, or is it simply just a pooling of resources and spend to get the best possible discount.

Anthony Clervi: [00:14:19] So we’re pulling resources and spend. I think that’s a great way to say it. And we have negotiated contracts ready to go within our kind of robust portfolio and when those kinds of warehousing and the deeper questions of how, how do we reach certain sites and how are we packaging and LTL and, and you get into all that.

[00:14:38] That’s when we really bring in, and ideally we’ve already had that deeper conversation with the supplier and they’re fulfilling and helping us with that, and a lot of those service agreements and setups and approaches are already in our contracts. And so that’s again, part of the transparency message that we have and how we want to make sure that we’re setting right expectations from the beginning with the member, and of course, our supplier partner who has to execute and deliver and fulfill.

James Meads: [00:15:06] So with any type of business model similar to this, there are typically three ways that you can make money from it. You either would charge your  members a fee, you would get some type of kickback or rebate from, or cash back at the end of the year from the supply base as a thank you for giving them access to your members, or you would earn money through consulting and training or some kind of upsell or even maybe a mixture of all three.

[00:15:37] So without giving away any trade secrets, how does Una make money?

[00:15:43] Anthony Clervi: [00:15:43] Again, I think you nailed it. I think you hit all three fairly accurately in the traditional sense. What we have built in the structure that we abide by and we feel like it brings the most value to the member and the supplier, because we don’t charge our members. So to your point, usually the member or the conversation, with the customer is, okay, so if you don’t charge us, how do you make money? As you mentioned, James, and we have built in a structure that’s appropriate with all of our suppliers, and we use the language called “admin fees”.

[00:16:20] And so we have admin fees built in there. That are appropriate, competitive enough. So where again, if you get too greedy, you’re not going to be able to bring that value to the end user who’s actually buying and purchasing on the contract or the product or service. So it is through those negotiated admin fees with our supplier partners, who we, again, believe are a part of what we call our “Unaverse”.

[00:16:49] You know, kind of somewhere to the end of her kind of fun there. Yup. There’s a little fun there. You gotta you know, we got to figure out a way to make supply chain and the procurement conversations fun. But I know you know that for your, from your experience, and so in the short. In the short, it’s through our suppliers.

[00:17:07] And so we bring value to them and we’ve, we, we are focused on targets, classes of trade and areas in the market that they’re not already accessing or not already reaching. And so not only are we trying to serve our members and the sourcing heroes, we’re trying to serve our suppliers and help them reach avenues and categories and areas they haven’t reached before, so that there’s a mutual benefit. You mentioned that, you know, win-win-win, and if we’re not thinking that way on a daily basis, it’s just not going to lead to that longterm value. And again, I would just emphasize core values, not only with ourselves, our team internally, but then with our members and ideally with the suppliers to get what we do.

[00:17:50] And how we do it – at the end of the day, we don’t charge the member. Our focus is to bring them value and savings, and if we do our job there, the rest will fall into place.

James Meads: [00:18:03] So it’s free at the point of entry for the buyers as the members and they don’t have to pay the transaction cost per order or per percentage of spend.

[00:18:14] It’s all, it’s all taken out on the supplier side in terms – it’s kind of an introductory fee to get to get them access to your, to your client base, isn’t it? 

[00:18:27] Anthony Clervi: [00:18:27] That’s the best way to describe it.

[00:18:29] James Meads: [00:18:29] And do you also offer services on top? If you had a client that maybe as you explained, a lot of them are more in the sort of transactional, operational procurement space, but maybe don’t have a department big enough to tackle the strategic stuff.

[00:18:43] Do you have some sort of consulting arm on top of that?

Anthony Clervi: [00:18:46] So we do have, it’s kind of few and far between, these consulting conversations have come up. We do some alliance partners. I’ve taken on him a few projects myself that is much more on a case by case basis. We tend to use the hand off those conversations.

[00:19:02] But I was in a conversation a couple of weeks ago with the gentleman in Australia who was looking at some advisory. Approaches on building a GPO within the HVAC contractor business. And then we were just on a call this week with some gentlemen in an electrical co-op in the US VirginIslands and Puerto Rico, and looking at, uh, consulting opportunities.

[00:19:24] So there’s, it’s amazing of the different conversations that come our way and we try to be, again, we want to make sure we’re not, we can’t be everything to everyone, but if we are going to take on some consulting and a lot of that’s going to be on my back. Um, and making sure that I’m, I can deliver the value, uh, just with my name and the space and what una is doing and trying to figure out, okay, if we’re going to bring and allocate resources there, we want to make sure that doesn’t take away from our core business.

James Meads: [00:19:51] Yeah. And it’s like everything, isn’t it? If you’re saying yes to something, then you’re saying no to something else by nature of, there’s only certain number of hours and a number of…

Anthony Clervi: [00:20:02] opportunity costs. Right, James.

 James Meads: [00:20:05] economic…

Anthony Clervi: [00:20:06] make sure you understand, right? Make sure you understand what your cost is and potential gains.

 James Meads: [00:20:13] So what are your plans for the future, Anthony? Are there any plans to expand internationally or into different sectors with, with your model and with the brand?

[00:20:22] Anthony Clervi: [00:20:22] Yes, we love, look, there are sourcing heroes all across the globe. Right now we’re servicing the United States and Canada. And then we’ve done a few things internationally where we’ve had consultative conversations.

[00:20:33] But I think they’re just obviously with your background and focus and niche on technology. I think there’s an extraordinary technology. We are working on a few things right now that I can’t get into that I think can be very exciting from a technology standpoint or just basic reporting or, well, a lot of what we find is our sourcing heroes are continuing to look for how can we, how can we understand the data.

[00:20:58] And how can we manage the data? It’s one thing to get the savings up front, but what about managing the savings, the savings on the backend, and we’re looking at ways right now and striving toward ways that we can help folks really identify and manage that. And so I think there’s an extraordinary opportunity and data management, a management of savings, and more transparency.

[00:21:18] I think we can go beyond what we’re doing in the States, even though I think there’s still a tremendous opportunity here.  And look, we’re, we’re a lean, mean shop and we’ve been, you know, we’re almost, you know, overnight success in eight years, as they say, and it’s taken us a long time to kind of position ourselves.

[00:21:37] And how Una wants to go to market and making sure that we’re, we’re getting buy in from our suppliers and from our members. So we’re continuing to ask questions to our members, just like you’re asking them, what are your pain points? What other pain points are you dealing with? And is there other things beyond data and other resources that you would like?

[00:21:57] And so that’s how we’re kind of curating information and trying to make the best decision for. For our “Unaverse”, if you will.

[00:22:04] James Meads: [00:22:04] And data is kind of a common theme among pretty much everybody that I’ve interviewed so far for this podcast, because behind every digital transformation, you know, be it a very, very complex enterprise level system or a scrappy startup that does one particular. Small portion of the whole sort of source to contract process, good data and the ability, the ability to be able to extract that data and manipulate it and put it in front of the CFO to say that. What procurement is doing is added value, it’s really front and center to any objective of digital transformation.

[00:22:43] Well, that and that, and reducing the amount of administrative time that procurement professionals spend on busy work. I mean, I think they’re the two over-arching components every time. 

Anthony Clervi: [00:22:56] So what do you find? You know, you’re talking to other experts in this space and there’s a lot of, what are they doing to help manage the data and how are they engaging?

[00:23:05] You know, we’ve done some blogs on trying to get C-suite to discuss the power of C-suite being bought in for a healthy procurement strategy and embracing procurement not looking at it as reactive or a “I have to” rather than “this can be strategic”. Are you seeing ways that they’re embracing compliance or data or sifting through that?

James Meads: [00:23:31] It a great question. And, Susan Walsh, who I interviewed a couple of weeks ago, made a really good point that it won’t necessarily have an immediate visible payback, but just as CFOs and CEOs see investing in capital equipment and machinery as an investment, they should see investing in good data processes and clean data as an investment that will pay back dividends over time.

[00:23:57] That’s, and that really resonated with me because you’re never going to be able to convince the CFO that there will be hard savings directly apportionable to doing a data cleansing. They will come. But it’s very difficult to directly link and correlate those two

Anthony Clervi: [00:24:12] It’s a long term play.

James Meads: [00:24:14] Exactly.

[00:24:15] Yeah. So, and Anthony, if anyone would like to get in touch with you to discuss how you’ve done it or maybe who wants to collaborate with you in terms of getting into other sectors, what’s the best way that they can get in touch with you?

Anthony Clervi: [00:24:29] Absolutely. James, thanks. So you can check us out at una.com, that’s una.com and there’s plenty of avenues to onboard and contact us.

[00:24:38] We’d love to speak with you. I’ve got a personal brand that I’m building, an AnthonyClervi.com. I’m on LinkedIn — last name, C L E R V I, I’m sure we can push that out on the podcast. And look, we, we’d love to hear from you. It’s Una, una.com and fill out a form or give us a call. We have a phone number there, so we’d love to connect with you or collaborate, or if there’s other conversations where, you know, again, I think there’s such an opportunity to reach the sourcing hero and collaborate with others that have questions about the space. I can’t emphasize enough the education opportunity of talking about where we fit in the overall procurement strategy.

James Meads: [00:25:21] And are linked to all of those in the show notes. Anthony, so thanks for that. Every time you say sourcing hero, I’ve gotta be honest, I keep having a vision pop into my head of someone dressed in spandex, sat in a corporate office.

Anthony Clervi: [00:25:32] Absolutely. Well, we love that. Holding a calculator or doing something fun or feeling empowered or floating, you know, floating into the CFOs or C-suites office, or even the CPO feeling like the sourcing hero, or having sourcing hero teams.

[00:25:48] We, we think there’s a real theme there that we want to have reverberate,  not only just in the States, but hopefully across the globe. So there’s a real opportunity to get and make sure that the sourcing heroes is not just on the map, but front and center. And although it may not have the existential short term gains, there’s some longterm opportunities if you’re, you’re making good decisions. 

James Meads: [00:26:12] That picture of the sourcing hero, my friends, is what I will leave you with as a thought in your head to end this episode. Anthony, thanks very much again for coming on the show. Lovely to speak to you and really excited to see what the future has got in store for you.

Anthony Clervi: [00:26:26] Likewise, James. Appreciate you, good luck to you.

James Meads: [00:26:28] Cheers. Thanks again to Anthony for coming on the show. Group procurement really is an interesting way to be able to drive some quick and easy savings. If you are either a small organization with a relatively low head count in procurement, or if you’ve got categories that are troublesome to manage but don’t really warrant going through a full scale sourcing process because of the level of spend and an anticipated gain at the end of it. So while this may not be a technical sort of IT type of solution, per se, it’s most definitely part of a digital transformation in that you’re taking that work away from your own organization and giving it to another organization that has all of the IT systems in place to manage all of the vendors, all of the invoices, all of the deliveries, without you needing to take that responsibility for what is essentially tail spend or nonstrategic non-critical spend. So I hope that’s given you some food for thought on how to proceed, and if you’re in the States and what Anthony’s offering sounds interesting, then definitely reach out to him. Thanks again for listening. Catch you again next week on the procure tech podcast.

[00:27:43] Until then, if you like us, then please, go ahead and give us a review or subscribe to us on either Apple podcasts or Spotify would really appreciate that. It helps us meet and reach more people and yeah. Keep doing what you’re doing out there during these tough times and catch you again soon. Bye. Bye. Thanks again for listening to this episode of the ProcureTech Podcast.

[00:28:08] If you like the show, then please subscribe or even better, why not write us a quick review on Apple podcasts? It would not only really make my day, but it would also help our mission. To enable procurement and finance leaders to become more data driven through the power of digital trends.

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