When lax inventory controls and a shoddy electronic communications system caused the maker of a popular medicinal skin cream to chafe, it turned to a systems integrator for back-end integration and a new ERP system.
Blue Stuff Inc., maker of the medicinal Emu oil-based skin cream of the same name, is a relatively young company that until recently was relying on an outdated MAS 90 Enterprise Resource Planning system from Best Software Inc. for such things as inventory control and business-to-business transaction processing. Not only did the system process only batch information from its suppliers, but it also provided no real input to Blue Stuffs third-party call center.
While the system worked well in the beginning, it became incredibly taxed once sales began to soar, thanks in part to endorsements from Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Dunn and two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA all-star Ruthie Bolton.
“[The founder] started the company via an infomercial with the success that no one could imagine,” said Eric Grow, controller at Blue Stuff, in Oklahoma City, Okla. “[The company] was using an old FoxPro-based system for their sales orders. It was a beautiful system, but it was by no means designed to handle the volume it handles now. We used MAS 90 for accounting and were making [manual] general entries. The mail order system would require batching,” and the third-party call center took quite a lot of time to batch orders, process credit cards and come back with information to an outside fulfillment center.
The answer was obvious. Blue Stuff needed to move away from batch processing and integrate its back-end systems with its third-party fulfillment and call centers. At the same time, it needed to have a means of electronically communicating with national retailers that sell Blue Stuff creams. To do it, the company turned to systems integrator and Microsoft Corp. Business Solutions partner ePartners Inc., in Irving, Texas.
Although Blue Stuff considered local companies, it felt more comfortable branching out to ePartners, Grow said.
“Most resellers will outsource integration,” said Grow. “And most of the people we looked at in our part of the country would have brought in a third-party [integrator], whereas ePartners had a staff large enough that they brought in their own people. That was a big reason [we went with them]. We could actually talk to the people that would do the implementation.”
Implementing Great Plains
ePartners implemented Microsofts Great Plains ERP suite to tighten costs and control inventory. At the same time, the company customized a third-party call center, Concord EFS credit card processing, and a third-party fulfillment center—helping Blue Stuff to rein in its B2B activities.
“On the B2B side with ePartners, the customizations we did was to bring in our third-party call center and migrate all order information from their format to our format, so not only [do we have] a customer history, but we can record the sale and have all that history, right from our system,” said Grow. “From there we can send it out in third-party format; they can send it back and say, Here are the orders that are [pending].”
From the Great Plains suite, ePartners brought in inventory, accounts receivable and sales order processing on the accounting side. Because Blue Stuff uses an outside fulfillment and distribution center, ePartners created a customized view of fulfillment that accounts for inventory within Great Plains.
“Part of the difficulty [of the implementation] was the allocation of the fulfillment process,” said Grow. “Traditionally, most companies have their own inventory and account for that themselves. We have to do that with a third party.”
Part of that process includes credit card acceptance, which includes going from Blue Stuffs systems to the fulfillment center to ensure that the inventory is available and then coming back to fulfill the order and allocate it in inventory—a complex process.
What was different for ePartners from this implementation and others was the amount of integration work, according to Dan Duffy, CEO of ePartners.
“The amount of integration that was done was more than you would typically see,” said Duffy. “[Blue Stuff] said we dont want to step back [from our systems], but we definitely need to fix this. One of the first things we did was step back and look at how we could fix the core financials, sales order processing and link that into the call center. It was a critical component.”
Therein lay the biggest opportunity—as well as the biggest challenge—for ePartners, which had to make sure it did the integration of the systems and didnt lose data.
“The database needed to be rebuilt, so everything we did we put in a more robust system,” said Duffy. “One of the problems they had was visibility into what products were selling and in what periods, what advertising campaigns worked well, and what drove sales. They werent able to get data out, and when they did, it was stale.”
ZIFFPAGE TITLEMoving to a Central
The biggest boon for Blue Stuff turned out to be going to one central database with all its data. One database meant the company didnt have to wait for information.
“We wouldnt have to wait for 15 days from months end to close to get account data,” said Grow. “Now we run our reports daily. We run reconciliation daily. We have information we can use on a timely basis. I can look at my inventory—where I am at that day—rather than having to wait a week, in some cases, for a lag in inventory. These are all key elements in business. Were very, very close to knowing where we are on a daily basis.”
With the implementation of Great Plains software, Blue Stuff is now able to break information down by vertical-market category, which helps the company identify what products to target for marketing and which items provide a good return on investment. The implementation also reduces redundant data entry and enables Blue Stuff to gather information in real time versus a month later.
The new system also helps Blue Stuff accommodate national retailers requirements for trading documents using EDI (electronic data interchange).
“A majority of them have different requirements; EDI is a very broad term,” said Grow. “We customize through each national retailer. … They may send in one format and want a layout in a completely different way. So you have to have their specifications of exactly how they want [data], or theyre not going to accept the orders.”
While Blue Stuff accomplished much of the integration work with national retailers internally, ePartners helped provide a good understanding of Microsofts SQL Server database.
“It wouldnt have been possible if they hadnt helped us with SQL, and the learning process of integrating [a third party],” said Grow. “Now, with the national retailers coming in with their orders, it gives us a good feel of comparing where we are and gauging the required inventory we need, and we can trend from there.”
What ePartners brought to the table was the ability for Blue Stuff to present its information to third parties using XML, which in turn provides a comprehensive view of the sales order process and decreased order processing time.
Since the implementation, Blue Stuff has decreased its order processing time by 25 percent, which, according to Duffy, is huge, considering that when a company is dependent on efficient sales order processing, the efficiency of that process is the difference between making and not making money.
“Its one of the best ways of telling a customer they are being taken care of,” said Duffy.
Blue Stuff is equally excited about the work it has accomplished with ePartners.
“Weve really done kind of a special little thing here,” said Grow. “All the things weve had to handle with ePartners, its state of the art for a company thats only 4 years old.”