Coping with peak demand

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Spalding-based Flower Plus is a £30M turnover, leading manufacturer of fresh flowers and associated products. Formed in 1986, Flower Plus now operates solely as a supplier for Marks and Spencer, handling 70% of the store business and all of M&S’ direct mail sales. In 2000, Flower Plus was acquired by Flamingo Holdings, a ‘seed to store’ produce marketing company.

Following the acquisition by Flamingo, the decision was taken to investigate the possibility of implementing a new enterprise IT system throughout Flower Plus to enable it to maintain and build upon its current levels of success. At that time, Flower Plus was operating without a centralised, core system. Disparate systems were used for different areas of the business including an accounts ledger system, a hand-written spreadsheet program that dealt with despatch and another hand-written database for the purchasing of raw materials.

Phil Callow, IT co-ordinator at Flower Plus comments: “There was no integration between any of our systems. None of the software we used was designed specifically to deal with fresh produce and most of it had been written quite a few years ago by the IT staff here at Flower Plus.”

He continues: “Due to the disparate nature of the systems there was much duplication of work throughout the business, something which we knew we had to change.”

As the biggest single supplier of fresh cut flowers to one supermarket, Flower Plus needed a system that could cope with its very specific business needs. For example, Flower Plus need to be flexible enough to respond quickly to the demands of same-day ordering, and all staff need to be prepared for the peaks and troughs that occur at different times of the year, with Mothering Sunday being the busiest period. As such, a specialist enterprise solution, from a company with expertise in the fresh produce sector, was required.

Callow explains: “We work nine months ahead with the planning and designing phase and we needed a solution that provided slicker reporting and real-time availability of management information in order to facilitate this planning and forecasting. We wanted a solution to take care of all of our manufacturing processes including supply chain, stock control, recipe management, accounting and purchasing.”

However, choosing the right system was not a simple decision. The whole decision process took just over two years.

A core selection team of three members of staff initially looked at 40 different options featuring a cross section of off the shelf ERP products and fresh produce specific ERP systems. This selection was whittled down to a shortlist of five different software vendors – IFS, Navision, Answer Solutions, MfgPro and iRenaissance from Ross Systems.

Quick response

At this stage of the selection process the Flower Plus staff who would be using the system daily all got involved. After numerous trials, presentations and demonstrations, the Flower Plus team chose the ERP solution from Ross Systems.

The Ross solution met all of Flower Plus’ business needs and more besides. One of the most important factors that contributed to Flower Plus’ decision to invest in iRenaissance was the system’s ease of use and the fact that the system runs on an SQL server, eliminating the need for costly upgrades and maintenance.

Callow says: “iRenaissance’s interface is less graphical than that of its competitors and therefore some see it as less aesthetically pleasing, but it means it’s a lot faster than the other systems we considered. It’s flexible and easy to modify without affecting the core modules – something which is incredibly important if the system is to cope with the growth of the business. The web interface meant that we needed no new hardware and it also allows for more home working which is a great benefit for all of our staff.”

During the different demonstrations by the short-listed companies, Ross constantly achieved the best scores from all those involved in the selection process. iRenaissance met Flower Plus’ needs much more closely than the other offerings and at a more competitive price.

The teams at Ross and Flower Plus got on very well from the initial demonstrations onwards, with the Ross team ensuring they completely understood the business needs of Flower Plus. This was highlighted by the smooth implementation of iRenaissance.

Callow continues: “We went live in November 2004 after a four-month implementation. Ross delivered exactly what we expected within the desired timeframe. Where necessary, the Ross team outlined specific areas of the implementation where we were not progressing to plan. All those involved from Ross were constantly vigilant during the implementation programme, ensuring we avoided unnecessary problems as the crucial go-live date approached.”

Since the implementation of the iRenaissance solution, Flower Plus’ business has gone from strength to strength. The new system allows Flower Plus to respond quickly to customer demands, giving staff the ability to access real time information about any aspect of the business, as and when needed. Everything is integrated and so all areas of the business are now linked via the system, preventing the duplication of work and the rekeying of information.

“We’re ready for any business situation now,” says Callow. “For example, we know to expect a 700% increase in business over the Christmas period and a 300% increase for St Valentine’s Day but we also know that the system is prepared for this, allowing us to plan and forecast more accurately than ever before. Ross’ extensive experience of working with fresh produce companies means that they appreciate the issues that other software providers don’t.

“Ross knows that fresh produce companies can be a very waste-heavy working environment and iRenaissance allows us to identify and categorise waste, highlighting areas which produce more waste than others – just one of the areas which is helping to increase efficiency throughout the business.”

Due to the success of iRenaissance at Flower Plus, the company is considering future investment with Ross. In order to become a fully integrated organisation, Flower Plus is currently looking into Ross’ solutions that cater for warehouse management, shop floor management and the data capture of raw materials, something that will become increasingly important as Flower Plus becomes RFID enabled at the end of this year.

Callow concludes: “Over the past couple of years our turnover has increased by £5M. The business is growing all the time and we now know that we have intelligent systems in place to maintain and build upon this growth in the future. Ross has helped us to unify our processes and unite all areas of the business, creating a more information-rich business environment for us and our customers.” n

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