As grocery wholesalers continue to battle the pressure from the recession, persistent industry consolidation and increased food and fuel prices, IT has come to the fore as a key weapon in their armoury.
Asim Sarwar, Managing Director of United Wholesale (Scotland), sums up the attitude of forward-looking operators: “As the next generation takes over businesses in our marketplace, more of our customers are becoming tech savvy. To retain our market lead, it’s imperative that we embrace new technology that makes it as easy for retailers to do business with us as possible.”
Some of the emerging IT investment trends in this industry are:
• Integration. Wholesale grocery operators are recognising that without integrating their back office, warehouse and point-of-sales systems, data can be lost, duplicated, or variable in different locations. All this undermines customer service, and, without full visibility of the entire organisation’s activities, executives are hampered in their efforts to strategically plan for the future.
• Centralisation. A centralised merchandise management system, when integrated with industry- specific tilling and RF mobile terminals, dramatically improves procedural efficiency, particularly in the rollout of new products, prices and promotions such as Trade & Save. They also allow customer-facing staff to query stock availability organisation-wide on the spot, in real- time. Furthermore, consolidated purchasing improves buying scales.
• Automated order processing. This boosts order accuracy and record keeping, while providing instant – and consistent – information about current prices and availability.
• Online retailing. Web-ordering capabilities provide quick, on-demand ordering facilities, which improves customer service and increases order size. They also drive customers regularly to a wholesale grocer’s web site, which provides the opportunity for direct marketing and well-
coordinated short-term promotions.
Many wholesale grocers have turned to STL, the fastest growing provider of modern IT solutions for the wholesale industry, for help in tackling issues with stock, order, promotions, service and cash control, including Dhamecha, United Wholesale (Scotland) and AG Parfett & Sons.
STL Helps Dhamecha Execute Customer Strategy
Dhamecha Group owns five huge cash & carries inside the M25, and services over 10,000 customers – independent grocery retailers, off licences, chemists, bars, clubs and restaurants, making it the largest member of the Today’s Buying Group.
Dhamecha has achieved success by adhering to the ‘Customer is King’ philosophy, and providing competitive pricing, excellent product availability and an absolute commitment to first-class service.
However its ageing legacy IT system was not neatly integrated. This created islands of spreadsheet based information that were only available to head office via overnight transfer, and cumbersome to analyse. The result was to undermine executives’ view of operations and therefore their confidence in making quick decisions.
The lack of central control also meant information about product sales, demand, availability and orders was not easily shared. This diluted the company’s ability to control stock, which it feared could potentially lead to stock-outs and dissatisfied customers.
Pradip Dhamecha, the company’s CEO, said, “We had developed a world-class customer-centric strategy, but we needed a comprehensive and modern system that would enable us to execute it effectively. Our ability to maintain our competitive edge depended on it.”
To combat these issues, Dhamecha decided to move its entire IT estate onto the modern STL Merchandise Management System (MMS). The solution encompasses tilling and management solutions for both head office and its five branches.
Dhamecha selected STL because its solutions are based on the latest development platform, and designed specifically for cash & carry operators. This means they are not only the most functionally rich systems in the industry, but the easiest to install, customise, use and manage. MMS simply required a PC network, Windows 2003 operated system server, basic back office PCs and higher specification PCs for the tills. With this in place, Dhamecha achieved immediate benefits.
The STL tills significantly improved checkout efficiency. Employees found them easy to learn and use. More importantly they provide centralised management. This enables Dhamecha to efficiently execute and control innovative deals such as Trade & Save that are designed to increase customer loyalty.
STL’s MMS solution has also enabled Dhamecha to centralise its core operations for greater control and efficiency. For example, by centralising its buying function it now has better stock control and purchasing scales. Further, STL’s powerful reporting tools enable executives to make drill-down queries on real-time data, which is resulting in better-informed decisions. Reaction times are sharper, enabling the company to keep key lines up to optimum volume in all branches at all times. The STL solution also allows staff – via the warehouse PCs – to interrogate all branches simultaneously for real-time stock availability, enabling swift fulfilment of demand spikes and more proactive customer service.
All this adds up to more effective delivery of Dhamecha’s customer-focused promise to provide competitive pricing, excellent product availability and first-class customer-service.
Mr Dhamecha said: “By shrewdly using STL’s IT solution to deliver our customer-centric strategy, we will exceed our customer’s expectations. This will result in loyalty, trust and credibility, which we believe will secure our long-term commercial success.’”
Perfect for Parfetts
Cash & carry operator AG Parfett & Sons recently went live with STL’s Sales Order Processing (SOP) software, and will shortly do so with STL MMS. Parfetts has already installed STL’s tilling solution.
Parfetts’ IT manager Simon Hardisty said: “We dipped our toe in the water with the tilling rollout, and were impressed with STL’s partnership approach and modern technology. STL also focuses exclusively on the wholesale industry, which means they understand our business better than anyone else. That counts for a lot.”
Parfetts is a major, family-run wholesale cash and carry business operating across the north west of England. It sells food, drink and tobacco goods to over 15,000 independent retailers and caterers from its six depots located in Aintree, Anfield, Halifax, Sheffield, Somercotes and Stockport.
STL’s solution is optimising Parfetts’ existing business, while providing executives with the intelligence and flexibility they need to effectively plan strategic expansion and take advantage of new opportunities.
STL SOP, coupled with STL’s e-commerce site ‘Order Wizard’, has enabled Parfetts to provide its customers with benefits such as instant visibility of prices and availability. In future Parfetts will use this to provide an online ordering service that automatically handles all pricing and discount options. This will help to secure customer loyalty and increase order size as well as provide direct marketing opportunities.
Parfetts’ Managing Director Steve Parfett said, “By helping us to gain more trading clout and strip out unnecessary costs in the ordering process, STL is already giving us some very real benefits we can pass onto our customers.”
Mr Parfett expects further benefits once MMS is fully installed: “The greater visibility of operations and the ability to query specific areas of performance will enable us to take stock of our own future, and confidently pursue new opportunities as they arise.”
New Thinking, New Solutions
STL is committed to continuous innovation. It recently launched a new mobile ordering system for sales representatives on the road. The STL Rep Ordering System combines STL SOP with an M3 Sky Rugged PDA to provide a real-time remote ordering system, phone, scanner and camera in one easy-to-use, affordable unit that facilitates fast, accurate orders and improves customer service.
For delivery tracking, STL has introduced a digital pen that works like a normal pen on a company’s standard forms, but which also automatically converts written strokes into digital data. This data can then be immediately transferred back to head office via Bluetooth or a docking station in the delivery van. This enables faster, more accurate service, real-time tracking of deliveries, and swift dispute resolution.
STL also successfully completed a pilot for a new scan-to-order solution at Forward Foods. Incorporating a key-fob sized barcode scanner, STL’s online Order Wizard and STL SOP, it enables easy, seamless ordering for shopkeepers direct from the store. Retailers simply point, click and scan the barcodes of products they want to re-order. They then slot the scanner into a PC via a USB port. This automatically brings up an easy-to-read order form from STL Order Wizard, already filled out with the product details they have just scanned. All they have to do then is adjust and confirm the quantity they want to purchase for each item entered, press ‘Enter’, and Order Wizard will seamlessly process the order.
United Wholesale Impressed with STL Innovation
United Wholesale (Scotland) was so impressed with this system it is now offering the key-fob scanners to its customers. UW(S) was also the first wholesaler in Scotland to purchase STL Order Wizard.
UW(S) is the premier Cash & Carry operator in Scotland, trading from two Glasgow based depots. Mr Sarwar said: “We are committed to supporting and growing the independent retail sector, through both price-driven promotional activity and technological innovation beneficial to retailers and their customers. STL will help us do just that.”
Once installed, STL Order Wizard will enable UW(S) to provide a current and comprehensive product catalogue cost-effectively online. It will enable its customers to quickly and easily place an order while reviewing up-to-date prices, promotions and availability – at a time that is convenient to them, whether UW(S) is open or not.
After the order has been completed, Order Wizard posts the information directly into UW(S)’s order processing system and informs the picking team that an order has arrived, cost-effectively automating the whole process. Based on the latest Microsoft platform, this solution is easy to use, and requires minimal training.
Mr Sarwar said: ”The STL solutions give UW(S) a distinct competitive edge. By replacing manual order placement, STL Order Wizard will save us lots of time, and also eliminate human errors. STL will help us monitor customer spend so that we can plan stocking more effectively. It will also enable us to cost-effectively roll out new, short-term promotions, so that we can react quickly to changes in market trends and customer demand. All this is good for both our customers and our profit line. Combined, these initiatives will take UW(S) into the next generation.”
STL Technology Solutions ltd tel: 0870 240 2140 www.stl-solutions.com