Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Off The Top - September 2021

 

What a wild ride it’s been for all of us at Comstar in 2021, and we’ve still got 3 months left in the year! 

When we published our last newsletter back in March, Comstar had just begun to think about bringing people back into the office and out on the road as we looked forward to some sense of normalcy in our everyday work lives. Fast forward six months later, I’m happy to report we’re back to near full capacity in the office and finally catching up in-person with customers and prospects alike.

Yet it seems like the tides continue to shift as the country struggles to adapt to the virus. We’re seeing it in the rising number of COVID cases, and we’re experiencing it in disruptions to the global supply chain. As you’ll read in this edition of our newsletter, China recently announced a shutdown one of the world’s busiest container ports due to a virus outbreak. If that wasn’t enough, “container prices have soared, with the benchmark cost of shipping a container up more than 220% over the past year.” Because of these issues, it makes more sense than ever for our customers to have a plan B of pre-approved material in case of any more significant interruptions to production or the supply chain.

However, the most exciting news for us was in August, when we announced that Comstar Supply was sold to USTC Corp., which is backed by Washington, D.C.-headquartered global investment firm Carlyle Group. USTC, a leading value-added distributor of telecommunications materials, supply chain solutions, and technical expertise, also recently purchased Walker & Associates, and combined, we will be a growing force in the broadband distribution space.

USTC matches the employee focus and principles we support, which is to value the people who do the work as well as the work they do. This shared creed, on top of creating new and exciting opportunities for our employees, were crucial initiatives for this partnership. In addition, we’re also keeping our brand and leadership team, and will still have the autonomy to shape our growth decisions.

So, what does this mean for our customers? Greater scale and increased buying power with the combined companies. Access to seven distribution centers domestically. New products and capabilities including material, product design, and value-added distribution of passive and active equipment and tooling. And a combined company that creates the largest Prysmian fiber distribution partner in the world.

For me, this opportunity is all about hyper growth. It was critical for us to gain a partner who was willing to invest in the business and support our growing customer base. As you all know, Comstar is backed by a special group of employees, but there was a ceiling for us given our company structure and limited capital resources. The partnership with USTC catapults the combined companies into a leadership role as a domestic distribution powerhouse that will continue to outperform competitors by placing a focus on customer service and support.

A maxim of mine that we’ve preached to our team is that change is inevitable. The foundation for us to react to market conditions, withstand weather-related storms, literally, and adjust to the changing needs of our customers, have steeled us in our ability to embrace opportunities. We were built to succeed in this industry, and we will continue to thrive in it. This opportunity with USTC allows us to scale the business while maintaining the company we have all come to know and love.

Nearly 30 years ago, my father founded this company to support the OSP broadband industry through honestly, integrity, and hard work.  I believe he would be extremely proud that we were able to grow it to the point of adding such strong international and domestic partners in USTC Corp., and the Carlyle Group.

As always, I appreciate your faith and trust in us, and look forward to fulfilling your OSP material needs.

Thank you for your unwavering support.

Warmest regards,

 

Chad R. Punchard
President
Comstar Supply, Inc.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Meet Comstar's Ralph Del Conte


As Vice President of Sales Operations, Ralph has worn many hats throughout his career. Today, he’s our customer’s most important ally for fiber cable as the industry navigates the most disruption to manufacturing and the supply chain that he’s experienced in his 17 years working for the company. Let’s learn more about Ralph, his career, his family, and being a part of the sea of red in downtown Philadelphia during the Fall of 2008.

 Question: How did you get into telecom or outside plant distribution?

Ralph: I got into telecom back in 1999 when I started out strand mapping for Blair Park Services. I got a ton of experience during my five years there in many different areas of the telecom world. Not only did I learn strand mapping, but was able to learn make ready, AutoCad drafting of pole lines, and a telecom technician where I had a chance to learn some old school method of fiber termination called fiber tipping.

Q: When did you join Comstar?

Ralph: I worked for a customer of Comstar’s and met Chad back in 2002 when he was the salesmen calling on our account. Chad and I talked about Comstar and his business every time he was calling on us at our facility. Everything he told me was interesting, and really intrigued me.  I left there and came to work for Comstar in 2004. We were a much smaller company back and at that time we had to learn to wear many hats. I was lucky enough to learn how things work operationally from the ground up, giving me a ton of experience in many different areas at Comstar.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the best thing about working at Comstar?

Ralph: Hands down the best thing about Comstar are the people. I know there are many companies that call themselves a family environment, but it does truly feel that way here. The people at Comstar get along with each other and care about each other. You can just see it and feel it when you’re with them and in the building.  It’s truly a different experience than anywhere else I have worked.

Q: You’re our point person on fiber cable at the company, tell me about your experience in the market and what is your take on fiber as we start to move into 2022?

Ralph: Where to begin. I have managed Comstar’s fiber allocation for over 10 years. Over that span I have seen some tough times with some major disruption. For instance, the tsunami in Japan back in 2011 wiping out the 1/3 of the worlds glass production, to the glass shortage in 2013-2015, and none of that compares to the disruption we are seeing today.

Right now, fiber demand is higher than ever before. Add to that the raw materials and transportation shortages and you have one of craziest times our industry has ever seen with longer lead times on fiber than ever before. Most manufacturers have gone strictly allocation based at this point.

We are seeing manufacturer’s adding capacity to plants, and all its doing is keeping their market share the same. The demand is growing much more than the capacity being added. The future for fiber will be tight for a few years to come.

Due to the extended fiber lead times, we are seeing customers looking further ahead with forecasts than they have ever done before. This is a must for them to continue building without disruption.

Q: You’re a big sports fan. Do you have story or a memory of your favorite Philly sports moment?

Ralph: Yes, I am a big sports fan and love my Philly teams. As a Philly sports fan, we have had some tough years while I was growing up. There was a long 26-year period with no titles at all. The two moments that stand out the most would have to be the 2008 Phillies World Series title and the 2017 Eagles Superbowl title.  While the Eagles would rank #1 on my Philly teams list, t
he Phillies title was is the one that I will never forget. It was the 1st title I was able to live through and remember. The parade was the greatest thing ever. There were people everywhere. It was like a sea of red in the city that day. Something I will never forget seeing and being a part of that day. 

Q: You have a framed picture of Brian Dawkins, former Eagles safety, in your office. Was he your favorite Eagle and why? 

Yes, Brian Dawkins is without a doubt my favorite Eagle of all time. He was a hard-hitting safety that wore his heart on his sleeve. You knew, and could see, he was always giving it everything he had out on the field. Philly sports fans love the guys that give it all they got. You do that in Philly, and you will have the respect of the fans.

Q: I also know that family is extremely important to you. 

I‘ve been married for just over 8 years to my wife Danielle and we have a 6-year-old daughter named Peyton. Both mean everything to me and are my world. I come from a big Italian family that spends a lot of time together. From vacations and holidays with cousins to just simply spending time together, those memories are special and it's how I grew up. My parents taught us at a young age that family was extremely important. I do my best to instill that same mentality with my daughter, her cousins, and extended family. I hope my daughter will grow up with those same values and have that same special time with family that I was able to have growing up.

September Product Spotlight

 

Amphenol Broadband Solutions
Industry leading CWDM and DWDM filters from Amphenol Broadband Solutions have cost and time saving features that you didn’t know you needed. The Advanced Optical Modules (AOM) are designed to fit in your favorite outside plant closures with a high density of available channels. 

The test ports at 
the end of the module are unique to the industry which allow for faster characterization of DWDM links. Contact a Comstar sales representative today for more information on how to create higher densities in your existing access networks.

 

CORNING BPEO closureS
The BPEO closure line from Corning has several new options for FTTx, optimized for use with microduct cables. Corning now offers kits to include many of the standard parts to accommodate reduced diameter, high-density designs and service drop cables. There are more options on the way to make the BPEO an even better solution for fiber access networks in the near future, so stay tuned for more advancements.

 

EXFO’s iOLM
EXFO’s iOLM fiber test solution turned 10 years old this summer, and perhaps its best gift came in August with the version 8.35 release. This release includes a new Optimode called Fast Medium Range (FMR), which characterizes two wavelengths in point-to-point testing in less than 30 seconds for 20km. Additionally, EXFO recently added characterization capability for unbalanced splitters so if you are deploying and maintaining a distributed tap network, this upgrade is for you. This is a free update to existing iOLM licensed versions, so make sure you run your updates to take advantage of the valuable time savings of FMR.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

As The Supply Chain Wheel Turns

We actually had to check the date of this article to see if we were reading something from last year. Unfortunately, it was dated August 2021.

The simple message – the global supply chain is going to get worse before it gets better. Manufacturers and shipping agents point to a year of disruption, lack of containers, port congestions, and a shortage of vessels in the right positions, creating a situation where cargo demand far exceeds available capacity.

What does this mean in terms of US manufacturing? Shipping delays, increased pricing, lower stock levels, and what was hoped to be a short-term crunch now looks like it will have a material impact well into 2022.

The good news is that over the last 18 months at Comstar, we’ve learned some valuable lessons shared among manufacturers, distributors, and contractors/service providers. We’ve already detailed why it’s critical to have a pre-approved plan B for service delivery materials. It’s a conversation we’re having with customers every day. Sure, there’s some pain to get there - testing specs, additional training, etc. - but the ability to pivot no matter the supply chain disruption is worth it.

The second lesson we learned is to increase communication with our customers during times of disruption. Even if the answers don’t come easy, the best way to prepare for production delays or price instability is to have conversations early and often. We’re not always in the business of delivering good news, but we are in the business of keeping you informed of market conditions so that we can help make the best decision to keep you building networks. The value of working with a distributor is its ability to bob and weave along with your needs, not in spite of them.

All good things come in 3s, and really the third lesson is more a byproduct of communication – and that’s simply the concept of stock. Conversations we’re having as we begin the move into 2022 is that service providers realize the importance of having product on the ground.

Inevitably, numerous factors will continue to put pressure on supply chain and manufacturing. At Comstar Supply, we’ll apply the lessons we’ve learned over the last 18 months to help ensure minimal disruption and exposure for our customers.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

DÉJÀ VU… ALL OVER AGAIN

In the film Groundhog Day, the plot is about a reluctant weatherman sent to report on a weather-forecasting groundhog. His frustration with having to cover the story is evident, and when awakening the following morning, he discovers that the day happens over and over again.

This plot is appropriate in following the trade and supply chain industry over the last 18 months. Case in point - China recently announced a shutdown one of the world’s busiest container ports due to a Covid outbreak. If this disruption wasn’t enough, “container prices also have soared, with the benchmark cost of shipping a container up more than 220% over the past year to this week.”

Any shipping delays threaten the flow of everything from toilet paper to technology-related components, similar to last year as the pandemic took hold. Unlike 2020, however, we’re all better prepared to minimize the exposure to any long-term impact on our respective businesses.

For Comstar Supply, that means we’ve taken stronger stock positions in key products, strengthened existing supplier agreements, and partnered with additional manufacturers to ensure access to critical network components for our customers.

On the service provider side, we’ve seen a priority being placed on pre-buying well ahead of need, detailed 18-month forecasting, and a greater acceptance of making, and approving, a plan B.

Bill Murray’s character in the film, Phil Connors, states in the movie, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” At Comstar, our efforts over the last 18 months did matter. Our ability to be flexible and nimble in the face of supply chain disruptions was to focus on our core competencies: our capabilities, collaboration, and customer service. Each of these differentiators helps define our internal focus, yet when executed together, ensure game-changing outcomes for our customers.

Capabilities
A distributor can’t necessarily be everything to everyone. Understanding that, and focusing on core competencies, is what has made Comstar Supply successful in the telecom distribution arena for the last 25+ years.

We manage thousands of relationships with suppliers and manufacturers to offer a comprehensive portfolio of products for the outside plant space. This allows us to take a strong stock position in a number of items, especially in terms of fiber cable.

Collaboration
Comstar Supply helps customers meet their business objectives by playing a critical role in the planning and delivery of their outside plant material. We build relationships that are beneficial through mutual sharing of information. Things like forecasting 12-18 months out, key product bill of materials, pre-approving a series of plan B product alternatives, and key communication about the broadband and supply chain industries that are material impacting.

These types of conversations enable a continuous value exchange and are often the most critical step of engagement with our customers. Whether it’s allocating fiber connectivity during turbulent production times or stocking critical hardware that can be drop-shipped on a moment’s notice, these kinds of strategic conversations ensure adequate product and timely delivery of material.

Customer Service
Comstar Supply was built with a goal of providing the broadband industry with a customer experience unlike any other, while supplying the necessary materials to successfully complete projects in a timely and cost-effective manner. To do this, we place a focus on the needs of our customers. We foster strong relationships throughout each organization to ensure our ability to maximize value.

At one point in the movie, Bill Murray's character says, “Somebody asked me today, "Phil, if you could be anywhere in the world, where would you like to be?" For Comstar Supply, that answer, no matter the disruption, is right here beside all of our customers. One of our internal motto’s is simply: “We were built for this.” So, whether it’s a delivery for a job to a corporate headquarters or a drop shipment to a specific location, a $1 order or $1 million purchase, a short-term need or a long-term plan—we make sure we are ready and available for our customers at their every moment of need.

 

 

Monday, August 9, 2021

USTC Corp Acquires Comstar Supply

 

USTC’s rapid organic growth and recent acquisitions create
market leader in broadband distribution solutions

USTC Corp, Inc., a leading value-added distributor of telecommunications materials, supply chain solutions, and technical expertise announced today that it has acquired Comstar Supply, Inc., a national distributor of outside plant material and equipment for the broadband industry. With this transaction, USTC Corp now operates seven distribution locations in the U.S., with plans to significantly grow its service territory and customer base.  The financial terms of the transaction are not disclosed.

Founded in 2017 by Cédric Varasteh and backed by Washington, D.C. headquartered global investment firm Carlyle (NASDAQ: CG), USTC Corp is a leading one stop shop for all materials, product design, and value-added distribution of passive and active equipment and tooling from more than 1,000 global suppliers for telecommunications, Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial (HFC), Fiber To The Home (FTTH), Fiber To The x (FTTx), wireless, and data center technologies, as well as supply chain management solutions. USTC Corp is a trusted partner for all technical and logistics expertise with extensive engineering and Broadband Fiber Networks capabilities, and an experienced team of nearly 400 employees.

Comstar Supply was founded in 1994 with the goal of providing the broadband industry with the necessary outside plant materials and tools. Through its distribution centers in Philadelphia, PA and Raleigh, NC, the Company serves a diverse customer base including contractors, broadband and electric utilities, wireline and wireless internet providers, cooperatives, and other CATV companies.

This acquisition as well as the recent acquisition of Walker and Associates allows USTC Corp to continue expanding its customer base and footprint with seven locations for the combined entities across New Jersey (including USTC Corp’s headquarters in Edison), North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Nevada. USTC Corp is perfectly positioned to serve customers quicker across the country with greater flexibility and reliability needed to support network deployments, upgrades, and maintenance, while enhancing their supplier relationships. 

For Comstar, the transaction provides an expanded portfolio of products and technologies beyond its existing outside plant inventory, and a comprehensive array of value-added solutions including planning, product design, kitting and home delivery, logistics services, as well as engineering capabilities.

Cédric Varasteh, Founder and CEO of USTC Corp, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome the Comstar Supply team to the USTC family. Together we can help solve our customers’ toughest problems with our combined world-class distribution capabilities, technical and engineering expertise, and best-in-class supply chain and logistics solutions needed to quickly support network deployments, upgrades, and maintenance, and further expand our one stop shop offerings across our enhanced footprint. Our capabilities, end-to-end solutions, and comprehensive product catalog, along with our seven distribution locations across the U.S. enable us to offer the flexibility and reliability needed to support our customers on a regional and national scale with the added benefit of global purchasing power.”

Chad Punchard, President of Comstar Supply, added: “Over 25 years ago, my father set out to build a company with a set of morals and ethics that continue to guide and shape who we are today, and I’m proud that USTC’s values and culture align beautifully with ours.  Both organizations are guided by the same relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction, and with our extensive customized solutions, together we’re uniquely positioned as a true and trusted distribution partner to serve our diverse customer base across the country.” 

Vladimir Lasocki, Managing Director at Carlyle, and Cyril Bourdarot, Director at Carlyle and Chairman of USTC Corp’s parent group, said: “The capex trend in telecom is structurally growing due to the increased need for broadband and our increasingly connected economy. Our growth strategy with Cédric has been focused on positioning USTC Corp as the ideal partner for all investment needs, be they maintenance, upgrade or network roll-out for all technologies (FTTH, HFC, mobile – particularly 5G, datacenter, etc.). We are delighted with the significant progress made in the U.S. with the Comstar and Walker and Associates transactions which are both great additions to USTC Corp. This is building a business of real scale and importance in the region while delivering a complete offering that customers need and are valuing.”

ENDS

Advisors on the transaction:

·        M&A Advisor (Buy side): Bank Street Group LLC

·        M&A Advisor (Sell side): Savran Benson LLP

·        Legal Advisor (Buy side): DLA Piper

·        Legal Advisor (Sell side): Blank Rome

 

About USTC Corp

USTC Corp is a leading one stop shop for all materials, technical expertise, supply chain management solutions, and the value-added distribution of passive and active equipment and tooling from over 1,000 global suppliers for telecommunications, HFC, FTTH, FTTx, wireless, and data center technologies. Founded in 2017 by CEO and Chairman of the Board, Cédric Varasteh, and headquartered in Edison, NJ with expanded operations in Dallas, Texas, USTC Corp recently acquired Walker and Associates, adding additional locations in Winston Salem, North Carolina and Reno, Nevada. With flexible delivery models, a plug-and-play approach, and modular set of value-added services, USTC Corp believes that customers deserve customization.  Their experienced team of nearly 400 employees across 5 facilities in the U.S. are working hard every day dedicated to customer satisfaction and reliability.  To learn more, visit www.ustc-corp.com and follow USTC Corp on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/USTCcorp.

About Comstar Supply

Comstar Supply, Inc., was founded in 1994 with the goal of providing the broadband industry with the necessary outside plant material and tools. Through its distribution centers in Philadelphia, PA, and Raleigh, NC, the company serves a diverse customer base including contractors, broadband and electric utilities, wireline and wireless internet providers, electric cooperatives, and other CATV companies. Further information about the company can be found online at www.comstarsupply.com and follow Comstar Supply on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/comstar-supply-inc-/.

About Carlyle

Carlyle (NASDAQ: CG) is a global investment firm with deep industry expertise that deploys private capital across three business segments: Global Private Equity, Global Credit and Investment Solutions. With $276 billion of assets under management as of June 30, 2021, Carlyle’s purpose is to invest wisely and create value on behalf of its investors, portfolio companies and the communities in which we live and invest. Carlyle employs nearly 1,800 people in 27 offices across five continents. Further information is available at carlyle.com. Follow Carlyle on Twitter @OneCarlyle

 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

WHAT’S YOUR “PLAN B?”

The phrase “tip of the iceberg” seems to be the most fitting way to describe the last 18 months and impact it’s had on the global supply chain. We’ve seen the effect of COVID-19 on worldwide supplies of everything from toilet paper to coffee. We’ve experienced the residual aftermath on the broadband industry from weather-related storms in the Southwest impacting the resin and plastics industry. We’ve read the headlines of clogged shipping lanes halting billions of dollars of goods. And now we’re in the midst of a shipping container shortage that may have a trickle-down effect on business for the next 12-18 months.

In the wake of these disturbances to the supply chain and manufacturing industry, the role of distribution is more important to the broadband industry than ever before. Today, service providers and network contractors alike are becoming more sophisticated in seeing the value of buying more from fewer suppliers. Aggregating their spend and managing fewer relationships is beginning to outweigh any cost benefits associated with buying direct.

At Comstar Supply, we don’t believe our customers should have to adapt their operations to the disruption and evolution of the supply chain. It’s the job of a distributor to manage stock, coordinate logistics, and ensure product availability, providing a turn-key, all-in-one solution that takes the guesswork out of the hands of multiple vendors.

Take a step back and imagine the list of material required to construct and deliver a fiber-optic network. Now imagine the number of manufacturers needed to fulfill that list. If our customers had to directly manage and coordinate with each of these manufacturers, the end result would be customers would have to invest in internal resources that are not mission-critical to their overall business goals.

That’s where Comstar Supply comes in. We have nearly 30 years of experience deciphering and managing through disruption of the supply chain. We manage hundreds of relationships with to ensure the required OSP materials is delivered where and when it’s needed for our customers.

Of course, with every partnership the most critical aspect of the relationship is communication. A distributor should be sharing news on any impacts on product due to supply chain issues, while end users should be sharing construction plans for the next 6-18 months. This will not only allow both the customer and distributor to ensure complete ownership over the bill of material, but it also allows for time to build a “Plan B” – meaning an approved, alternate plan that allows for the greatest amount of flexibility in case of emergency. As the supply chain moves past the tip of the iceberg, it’s important for customer to have a pre-approved Plan B in place that can be initiated at a moment’s notice to help keep plans continually moving forward.

Although the last 18 months have proven difficult, the next 18 months may prove to be even more so as we continue to experience residual fallout from COVID. Building a true distributor partnership will become mission critical for the broadband industry as it continues to ride the wave of investment and construction of fiber networks during this turbulent time.