Spotlight: Dealing with technology

Everybody is telling independents that they need to embrace technology to remain competitive. OPI caught up with three very different business supplies dealers to find out what technology platforms they rate and how they are using them to their advanta

Dealer: ACS (UK) / technology providers: Evolution Software, ECi

Since its creation in 2008, UK-based business supplies dealer ACS has continually evolved, to meet the needs of customers but also to future-proof its own business. OPI spoke to ACS E-commerce Manager Simon Walsh about technology and its use in achieving these aims.

OPI: Which software programs do you use and why?

Simon Walsh: Our strategy has always been to adopt solutions that create a seamless process, not only for customers but also for our in-house staff.

We use Horizon from ECi BlueSky as our main ERP, a system which we find to be both user-friendly and rich in features. Our online platform, meanwhile, is currently provided by Evolution Software. Throughout our time with them, we have been provided with unrivalled customer service levels which have helped our web store to go from strength to strength.

OPI: Do all the technologies integrate into your overall business? 

SW: We have chosen not to directly integrate all systems into one, but to give them their own unique identities within the business. However, we have had great success in linking the Evolution store to our internal ERP system which ensures all orders are processed automatically, from both standard online customers through to our PunchOut portfolio.

OPI: How much support do you get from your wholesaler in terms of technology? 

SW: We receive comprehensive price files and vendor offer support from our wholesaler which has helped to keep our online content up to date and promote a number of brands throughout our e-commerce channel.

Although we are self-sufficient in a number of areas, the wholesaler’s support with these elements is vitally important to ensure we remain current in our product offering.

OPI: How successful do you believe your e-commerce offering is?

SW: It’s providing great results and the level of business channelled through it is increasing month on month. We now transact one third of our overall business through this channel and expect this figure to continue to improve throughout the rest of 2017 and beyond.

 OPI: How important overall is e-commerce to your business?

SW: Our e-commerce channel will play a vital role in securing existing and generating future business. Requests for system integrations and PunchOut stores are becoming a daily occurrence and our current online offering is being relied upon in a much greater capacity.

We intend to continually invest in this area to ensure that our technology is both up to date and relevant to the changing nature of the office products industry.

Dealer: Legacy Office Solutions / technology providers: Innovative Business Associates, ECi

Legacy Office Solutions was formed in 2012 and is the combination of four different independent, family-owned OP businesses – Peck’s Office Plus, Skill-Graphics/Crest Office Products/Classic Legal Supply, Weiss Stationery and AGM Office Products. All four dealers are based in the New York metropolitan area and they came together when Peck’s Office Plus bought AGM and Weiss, and merged with Crest Office Products/Classic Legal/Skill Graphics.

Legacy is hugely loyal to its technology provider Innovative Business Associates (IBA) which Peck’s had previously been using for over 20 years. “We find IBA extremely user-friendly and customisable,” says Legacy Office Solutions VP Chris Rhyne (also previously with Peck’s).

IBA was instrumental in enabling the data conversions from other systems providers used by each standalone business before they became part of the group. “While each brand kept its identity with company logos changing on delivery receipts, packing slips, invoices and statements, being on the same back-end platform makes sense as there is one system for order entry, inventory control, payables, etc,” says Rhyne.

In an effort to ensure that its customers are provided with the best service, some technology aspects have changed over the years. For example, Legacy replaced its original “unwieldy” web store to Trade Web which could be easily integrated into its back-end system. This change has clearly helped push online sales which, according to Rhyne, are becoming an indispensable aspect of the business and now account for about 23% of total revenues.

ECi’s business intelligence solution Acsellerate enables the Legacy team to make effective use of the available usage reports and track sales and gross profit per customer and sales person, all of which helps to further grow this percentage. But, as Rhyne explains, he would prefer to have more control over the web content that is wholesaler-delivered, as well as over what appears in terms of ‘first in search’.

Acknowledging the increasing importance of new generations entering the workforce, Legacy is certainly aware of the pressing need to embrace mobile, social media and omnichannel paths to maintain its customer service. According to Rhyne, while mobile marketing technologies such as mobile-friendly templates have been implemented, Legacy’s m-commerce offering is still a work in progress. “Technology and e-commerce are a huge part of doing business these days and will become even more important in the future,” he says.

Dealer: Twist office products / technology provider: ECi

Chicago, US-based Twist Office Products has embraced technology in all its forms for many years, but as owner and President Wendy Pike tells OPI, it’s not all plain sailing.

OPI: Which software programs do you use and why? 

Wendy Pike: Twist currently uses ECi’s software programs – both DDMSPLUS for the back end and ECinteractive for e-commerce.

When we acquired Twin City Office Supply in Minneapolis, this was the system that they were on, so we went with the program almost by default. Our main priority at the time was to be on a system that our office manager knew and to integrate the two locations as quickly as possible.

OPI: How do both programs integrate into your overall business? 

WP: One of the challenges with ECi is that each program is completely separate in terms of support and development teams, so when there are issues between the programs we get bounced around both teams and it takes longer for problems to get resolved.

Another major challenge is on the marketing front as the wholesalers own a lot of the space within ECinteractive, so we cannot customise it as much as we would like – from banner ads to first in search, they own a lot of the main positions.

But, ECi enables us to provide more complex customisation for our customers such as multiple approvers, budget limits, item restrictions, etc.

OPI: Where on the e-commerce curve are you? 

WP: Our customers are always commenting how much they love our website. We work hard to put on interactive banners, coupons and other resources and change them every month. All of our ‘younger’ buyers utilise our website and all of its features.

We are working with our more ‘senior’ users to convert them from phone and fax to placing their orders online.

OPI: Are you using social media?

WP: We post on Facebook and Twitter every day to actively engage with our customers, and try to post on LinkedIn regularly. When we first started with Twitter, we got quite a few customers out of our interactions within different Twitter meet-ups, and they were national chains if you can believe it!

On Facebook, it has definitely been harder to reach through the clutter with its new algorithms, but we still see it as a great touchpoint to engage with our customers. We put links to our blog posts on all of our social media platforms and we know that this has drawn new customers to our website.

Some of our most successful sales reps use LinkedIn to prospect for new customers and showcase themselves as experts in the OP industry.

OPI: What technology or software would be beneficial to your business? 

WP: It would be great if we were able to have catalogue content and other marketing collateral adapted to multiple languages.