Advanced Valve & Instrument, or AVI, is a compact, Statesboro-based employer with a long reach, supplying highly specialized equipment – automated valve assemblies – to industries in the Southeast and across North America.
The Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce in December saluted AVI as Business of the Year.
“Today we recognize an industry that could be located anywhere in the United States but chooses to be Bulloch-based, bringing outside dollars into the community and representing the way Bulloch does business to the world,” said Chamber 2020 First Vice Chair Mandy Fortune.
Valve systems that AVI markets are used to control the flow of just about anything that can travel through a pipe: slurries such as pulp stock, liquids from crude oil and acids to potable water, gases including compressed air and natural gas. A typical assembly includes a positioner, often computer-controlled; an actuator, which can be pneumatic, hydraulic or all-electrical; and the valve itself.
For most of AVI’s 25 years in operation its customer base has been concentrated in the southeastern United States, where the pulp and paper, chemical, kaolin mining and sugar refining industries all need valves. Significant regional customers include BASF, Rayonier, International Paper and Savannah Sugar.
But, as Fortune noted, Advanced Valve & Instrument has sold or shipped to companies in 42 of the 50 states and four provinces in Canada. Sales to Nigeria and the Turks and Caicos Islands were also mentioned, as were customers such as Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear, Alyaska Pipeline and Starbucks.
Their chosen home
AVI’s founding couple Bryce Bunting, the company president and CEO, and Mandy Bunting, the CFO, maintain a family-like corporate culture and bring aboard part-time employees, often college students, offering some a chance to become full-time. In fact, three employees who started out that way– all Georgia Southern graduates like the Buntings – have become part owners in AVI.
He, originally from Danville, Illinois, and she, originally from Douglas, Georgia, met as students at Georgia Southern. Each attained a Bachelor of Business Administration, he in marketing, she in economics.
“We met in a very romantic accounting class,” Mandy Bunting said with a laugh.
While at Georgia Southern, Bryce Bunting went to work at ITT Grinnell, which was then a major Bulloch County manufacturer. He worked there in the summer of 1983, was hired full-time in 1985 while still a student, and continued after graduating in 1988.
From 1989-1994, he worked for Grinnell’s sales branch in Atlanta. The Buntings started their married life in Atlanta and had their one child, Josh, who is now 27.
“We both realized then we were traveling all the time, and we needed to find something where we weren’t missing out on our son’s life, and Bryce, dealing with distribution for the Grinnell product line says, ‘I see a gap in the Savannah area in the Southeast Georgia market for a specialty niche valve company, and I think I can do that,’” Mandy Bunting recalled.
So they took a leap.
“We walked away from both our jobs and came down here, and the only reason we didn’t start it in Statesboro was when you were talking with a lot of the manufacturers ... they were like, ‘Statesboro, where is that?’” she said.
Those suppliers were interested in reaching what they knew as the Savannah area, so Bryce Bunting started the company in Savannah in 1994. But the Buntings made Statesboro their home.
Having established customers and relationships with suppliers, they relocated AVI to Statesboro in 1999. Their first location here was on Page Place Road, at first in a large mini-warehouse, then in a building they built beside it.
Big moves in 2019
In the first half of 2019, Advanced Valve & Instrument marked its 25th year by becoming the North American marketing arm for two European product lines and by moving into an all-new, larger facility. The Buntings had Hawk Construction build the new 12,500-square-foot building at 106 Raybon Anderson Road, near Ogeechee Technical College.
When AVI moved in, it doubled its office space and tripled its warehouse space. That also includes what Bryce Bunting calls the “valve actuation center,” in other words the assembly and testing area.
The shop includes a two-ton capacity overhead crane to move some of the larger assemblies. AVI regularly stocks valves from a fraction of an inch up to 12-inch flow diameter, but it handles some much larger valves to fill specific orders. For example, the company recently supplied some valves to Savannah Sugar with inside flow diameters of 30 and 36 inches.
AVI currently stocks about $1.5 million, retail value, in inventory, Bryce Bunting estimated.
The company made the move just as its reach is “getting larger, because we started a little over a year ago with two product lines that really carry us all over North America,” he said.
Both are European-manufactured lines of ball valves. One is the NAF brand, made in Sweden for Flowserve, one of the world’s largest valve manufacturers.
“Pretty much all of the sales efforts for North America get directed to us,” Bunting said.
The other is A+R Armaturen, a family-owned German company producing valves often used in oil and gas refining and high-temperature applications.
Bringing up leaders
For all of this, AVI has just 10 employees. When the Buntings sat down at a table with the three employees who have become part owners in the company, they noted that all five owners are Georgia Southern University alumni.
Chief Operating Officer Kyle Simonelli, who joined the company in 2005, started working part-time while a GS student, sweeping the warehouse, making deliveries and assembling valves. When he graduated about a year later, the Buntings offered him a full-time job.
With the company since 2010, Inside Sales Manager John Simpson was hired part-time for one week at first. When the assigned work ran out in three days, he cleaned up the warehouse, scrubbed the bathrooms, kept finding more things to do and impressed the founders. He already had the full-time job offer waiting when he graduated.
Simonelli’s degree is in sports management. Simpson’s major was interdisciplinary studies. The Buntings were more interested in their commitment and ability to learn on the job.
“These are products and customers and sales that aren’t the type of thing that you typically hear about, and so having someone that has come in and worked from the ground up and knows everything about what the products are, how to assemble them, how to test them is the education path to being able to sell them,” Mandy Bunting said.
Matthew Page started full-time with AVI when he graduated in 2012, after working there part-time for a couple of years. His business card also says inside sales, but Bryce Bunting referred to him as logistics manager. Page, who majored in logistics and intermodal transportation, said he is now learning while “putting it into real-world practice,” importing valves from Sweden and Germany.
“We’re turning it over to the next generation, slowly but surely,” Bunting said. “These guys are the ones that, in my opinion, have accelerated the growth of our company and they’re kind of the future.”
Officially, AVI is 2019 Business of the Year, but the chamber won’t name another until near the end of 2020.