PARRS has been in the forefront of retail innovation for many years. A far cry from its days manufacturing sack barrows and wheel carts, the family-owned company today distributes 20,000 catalogs and a quarter of a million brochures. It has an online product portfolio spanning 24 product categories with more than 2,000 industrial and commercial products that include handling, lifting, health, safety, matting, storage, cycle, and seasonal offerings. PARRS is one of the largest suppliers of handling equipment in the U.K.
Modernizing technology and processes to support multi-channel business
Four years ago, PARRS faced a challenge to its growth goals when decade-old multi-channel order management system incurred large annual maintenance costs and had become inefficient. Product Manager Samantha Donlon explains, “The system had taken on a lot of modifications over the years, so not only were we spending a lot of money each year on releases and updates for all these modifications, some of the modifications we weren’t even using. We were getting frustrated because we weren’t able to move forward.”
In addition to being expensive to own and manage, the system did not deliver the capabilities PARRS needed. PARRS sells 80 percent of its products through and extensive network of distributors in the U.K. and in Europe, and 20 percent through its own 12,000-square foot warehouse. The company required a software solution that could scale to its volumes and support the requirements of its clients. The legacy system was unable to handle such tasks as quantity break pricing or producing customer-specific reports. PARRS had to use spreadsheets to manage returns offline and a fax machine to forward purchase orders. The finance department invoiced manually and used a card machine to process orders, spending much time on manual processes that were ripe for automation.
PARRS planned to change the way it used technology to run the business, also because it wanted to continue growing its multi-channel business. Richard Scholes, Managing Director, put the project out to bid. However, this was in 2009, in the depths of the recession. A competitor had just gone into bankruptcy and budgets were tight. It took until 2011 that the industry was more stable again and PARRS was ready to commit to a technology investment and restarted the bid process.
Fast implementation of highly standardized solution
Columbus, which had already competed for the business in 2009, was again in the running, against three competitors. PARRS performed a thorough evaluation of all vendors before deciding. The company selected Columbus to deploy To-Increase Multi-Channel Retail, a comprehensive order management system built on Microsoft Dynamics AX, to facilitate all of its sales operations, including telephone sales, customer service, order management, and direct marketing. Multi-Channel Retail is a main element in the To-Increase eCommerce retail suite. Dynamics AX would serve as the ERP system to support purchasing, financials, warehousing, and other operations. “While we were impressed with the size and scale of one of the larger organizations, it was Columbus’ approach that lead us to go with them,” says Donlon. “They talked to us like human beings and not in program language. Since I was going to be the project leader and I haven’t a technical background by any means, I needed somebody who could talk to me, be direct, but not bombard me with language that wouldn’t mean anything to me. Columbus came across as a customer service-driven company, and that’s why we went with them in the end.”
Kicking off in the summer of 2011, the project began with a requirements analysis. Columbus consultants visited with PARRS to discuss priorities and needs with the stakeholder team. A gap/fit analysis to assess the capabilities of the integrated solution came next. “It was a good fit for us, more than 85 percent,” notes Donlon. “Then we got to the nitty-gritty of modifications we needed to fill in the gaps.”
Once To-Increase Multi-Channel and Dynamics AX were mapped to PARRS’ requirements, the company’s project team was ready for deployment planning workshops. “Even though we were not using all the functions in AX, it was still quite a mammoth task and the deadline was tight,” explains Donlon. “We wanted the new system to be up and running by the beginning of February 2012 to coincide with the company year-end, so we could start afresh on a new system.”
The first major task was to import customer account, supplier, and product information. By diligent testing, Columbus helped to ensure the integrity and validity of the vast data stores that were migrated into the new infrastructure. A challenge in the implementation was to get every technology user to support the new ways of working. As Scholes explains, “When we went live with our previous system, a lot of modifications had been made for the finance department. People got into the zone of ‘this is how we do things now’ and less of ‘how can we improve it in the future?’ The most important thing with any new system is to get buy-in from everyone.”
Immediate process efficiencies
PARRS achieved an on-time and within-budget implementation of Multi-Channel Retail and Dynamics AX. Scholes summarizes, “How does the new system measure up against the old? There’s no comparison in my view. Everything has become a lot simpler and easier on the eye with the To-Increase retail solution.”
The project generated several benefits immediately:
- PARRS went from manual processing of credit cards to an automated system that allows customer service reps to take payments over the phone and instantly see if a payment is processed and authorized.
- Online returns are managed through Multi-Channel Retail, so return information is logged and available with all other customer-related data.
- The comprehensive search function in Multi-Channel Retail makes it easier to locate customer information quickly. A large share of PARRS’ profit comes from repeat and multi-buyers, and the company needs to provide exemplary service to retain these valuable customers. Customer-specific pricing capabilities in Multi-Channel Retail make it possible to easily manage the preferential rates of PARRS’ key customers.
More insightful reporting and streamlined communications
With more than 2,000 active products to manage, PARRS urgently wanted to automate correspondence with its vendors and customers. In To-Increase Multi-Channel Retail, employees can easily generate automatic emails through a batch routine that runs in the background. The ability to send automated emails to provide customers with invoices, statements, and order confirmations, and suppliers with purchase orders, positively impacted a number of business processes and helped to vastly improve efficiencies.
In reporting, PARRS takes advantage of the SQL-based capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics AX. Business managers can easily compile accurate reports to show what products customer segments ordered, and offer highly specific promotions. Donlon says, “The great things about To-Increase Multi-Channel Retail is how you can search for a customer, see when you’ve called them or left them a quotation. Rather than using spreadsheets to store the information, it’s all here in a shared area, so you can pull it together at the touch of a button.”
An important criterion in PARRS’ decision-making process was to find a technology partner that would be able to provide ongoing support after the initial deployment and help the enterprise move forward. “We needed to make sure we were dealing with a company that would still work closely with us after go-live,” says Scholes. “Columbus gave the impression they would do that, and to be fair, that’s exactly what they have done.”