Tuesday 25th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Solus rises to meet peak seasonal challenges

Solus Garden & Leisure Group brought in a system from Strategix to help it deal with the challenges of seasonal peak demands. The supplier of garden and leisure products, which supplies to some 2,000 retail outlets from six national depots, felt that its previous system was restricting its growth opportunities.

As a result, it implemented the OneOffice business suite from Strategix, which has led to a boost in sales and customer service, and reduced operating costs.

Solus managing director Nick Davies says: “Due to a number of factors, not least the good weather, the very first spring period that OneOffice was used was our busiest on record, with in excess of 25,000 order lines processed on our busiest days.

“That’s up 25 per cent up on our previous busiest year and is a real testament to the OneOffice implementation that we could deal with this growth in demand without the need to increase our operational resources.”

Each year several hundred new products are launched to add to the existing portfolio of 12,000 lines, through the acquisition of established brands, and the development of its own range of specialist brands. 

The previous system has been in place for nearly two decades and had become outdated; requiring constant in-house customisation to meet business challenges.

Significant inefficiencies within the warehouse management system meant that Solus needed to provide extra resource to deal with the increasing workload and found that it also needed back-up systems and procedures to deal with the location of bulk stock, optimisation of picks and other warehouse functions.

The ability to fulfil orders first time suffered and overall service levels were impaired, with customers sometimes learning of shortages on the day of delivery.

Jamie Nicklin, commercial manager at Solus says: “We felt that we needed greater support from our business system in managing our physical inventories across multiple sites to enhance our customer service levels and achieve our goals.

“In addition, the lack of functionality in a number of key areas such as forecasting and planned replenishment, and the delivery of quality business intelligence to our staff, was severely hampering the management team in growing the business.”

Another consequence was that information was often disjointed in silos, so business intelligence was limited and gaining access to key data was difficult.

Nicklin says: “Accurate sales information is of critical importance to any business, but we have a very seasonal business and leading into business peaks, we need a real focus to ensure we have full transparency on product sales and margins – this is particularly important for our own label range where promotional activities need to be very carefully timed to sell out stocks while protecting margins. 

“We really struggled to interrogate the old system for accurate, up to date information on sales and stock levels. The first part of every planning meeting was taken up by working out who had the correct numbers.”

Solus wanted to provide an integrated, real-time view of operations across all six of its business divisions, with core functionality provided to manage the whole sales cycle and order management, either through the sales office or via electronic import. 

Sophisticated facilities to manage forecasting and replenishment, warehouse management and finance were also to be deployed within the system.

“OneOffice has best practices within it that are an ideal fit for volume importers and distributors like ourselves.  So rather than re-model the product to fit our stressed business processes, it was clear that we would accomplish greater efficiencies by remodelling our business processes to meet OneOffice, making customisations only where really justified,” says Nicklin.

Now, orders taken by any sales location are automatically routed to specialised warehouses for optimised materials handling. Within each warehouse location, since there is now real-time view of stock in every individual bin, picks can be automatically directed to bulk or pick face based on the quantity required and internal replenishment can also be automated throughout the day. 

As a result, the right goods are picked first time and order fulfilment has improved. Warehouse staff productivity has also improved and during peak periods, less overtime and fewer contract staff are required, resulting in substantial cost savings.

Nick Davies says: “We, but more importantly our customers, are delighted that we have such real-time visibility of our stock position and with our enhanced ability to react quickly to changing conditions based upon timely information from the system.

“If a spell of hot weather drives up sales of barbeques and patio furniture, then we can help our clients restock faster and with greater reliability than before, getting our products quickly into their garden centres to meet exceptional demand while it exists.”

The OneOffice analysis tools are vital for decision making and extensive use has been made of Dashboard technology, which provides staff with KPIs.  Together with specialist reports published through Crystal Reporting, OneOffice provides staff with an up to the minute, consolidated, single view of the business.

Solus trades extensively with its larger customers and suppliers via EDI and now processes a significant volume of low-touch orders through OneOffice. However, Nick Davies also wanted to extend online order placement to his small and medium sized customers, who unlike the larger nationals could not easily deploy EDI solutions from their POS systems.  The ambition was that the online ordering and self-service would be made available to all Solus customers as soon as the OneOffice system was implemented.

“We’d been live on the new system for the first season and so had time to turn our attention to totally transforming our website, which we’d delayed while we changed our ERP. We wanted to provide a top quality service to our customers so that they could order over the web, and at any time when it suited them,” he says. 

As a result, OneOffice Connect, the internet trading component of OneOffice, is being rolled out to provide customers with online ordering, pricing and account enquiries.

OneOffice Connect provides in-built tools which enable Solus to maintain their own content including some 16 sites, each one representing a major brand from Solus, with the corporate site supporting the company’s integrated on-line trading platform.

“Busy buyers at our customers can browse and purchase goods or quickly key a pre-prepared order – whatever is best for them and whenever it’s convenient for them.  They’ll receive an order acknowledgement immediately by email and so they’ll know that the stock is allocated to them. They can check the status of orders and also review their account and pull down copy invoices. So while we are extending this improved service to our customers, from our perspective, this will help us reduce costs associated with keying customer orders and fielding customer enquiries, and also help increase sales through automatically suggesting related products and promotions,” says Davies.