Over 125 years in business, PARRS, is no stranger to innovation. A far cry from its days manufacturing sack barrows and wheel carts, the family-owned enterprise now distributes 20,000 catalogues, a quarter of a million brochures, and has an online product portfolio spanning 24 individual product categories. Selling more than 2,000 industrial and commercial products from handling and lifting, health and safety, matting and storage, to cycle and seasonal products, PARRS is one of the largest suppliers of handling equipment in the UK. Four years ago, however, PARRS growth ambitions were stifled as it battled with a hugely inefficient multi-channel order management system. Ten years old, the out-dated back-office system came with huge annual costs. Samantha Donlon at PARRS 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.”
On top of large running costs, the system wasn’t providing the company with the functionality it needed. With 80% of products sold directly through an extensive network of UK and European distributors, and 20% through its 12,000 square foot warehouse in Redditch, PARRS deals with a huge set of multi-client requirements and requires an economies of scale business model. Yet the system wasn’t able to handle simple tasks like quantity break pricing on products and producing customer specific reports. Instead, PARRS had to rely on using spreadsheets to carry out returns offline and a fax machine to send over purchase orders. The accounts department was little better; manually invoicing and still using a card machine to process orders, much time was being wasted carrying out processes manually that could soon be automated by a good management system.
PARRS knew it needed to change, especially if it was to continue growing its multi-channel business; and so Richard Scholes, Managing Director put the project out to tender. But it was 2009, the depths of the recession, a competitor had just gone into administration and budgets were tight. It wasn’t until 2011, when the industry was more settled, that PARRS was finally in a position to invest. So two years on, the tendering process started again. Impressed by the company the first time round, Columbus was in the running alongside three other suppliers.
After a lengthy selection process with all four potential suppliers the decision was made. PARRS chose ColumbusMCR, a comprehensive order management system built on Microsoft Dynamics AX, to manage everything from telephone sales, customer service, order management, direct marketing, together with the core Dynamics AX accounts and purchasing functionality. “Whilst we were impressed with the size and scale of one of the larger organisations, it was Columbus' approach that lead us to go with them,” explains 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 got 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 went in to PARRS to discuss with the team what they were doing at the moment and what they needed help with. This was followed by a ‘gap fit’ analysis. “It was a very good fit for us, more than 85%” says Donlon. “Then we got to the nitty gritty of modifications we needed to fill in the gaps.”
With the system carefully matched to the requirements, PARRS was ready for the workshops to implement the system. “Even though we weren’t 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 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. We had to be very organised and I had to make sure I knew exactly what was going on at all times.”
Importing customer account information, product information and suppliers was the first task. In between on-site consultancy meetings with Columbus, rigorous testing of the huge volume of data on the new system was carried out, ensuring no stone was left unturned. The biggest challenge? Getting everyone to come round to the new ways of working, says Scholes. “When we went live with our previous system a lot of modifications had been made for the accounts department. People got in to 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.”
Despite the challenges, the new system went live on time and on budget, with the whole team behind it. The benefits were immediate.
The company went from processing credit card payments manually, to an integrated system allowing customer service to take credit card payments over the phone and instantly see if a payment had been processed and authorised. With the comprehensive search functionality within the ColumbusMCR solution, finding customer information has become quick and efficient. Profit from mail order and catalogue business comes from repeat buyers and multi-buyers; thus exemplary service is required for customer retention. The customer-specific pricing in the new system means PARRS can now easily manage its key customers’ preferential rates.
With over 2,000 live products to manage orders for, a key requirement for PARRS was automating correspondence. With ColumbusMCR, automatic emails are now generated through a batch routine in the background, dramatically optimising efficiency for PARRS, by sending out programmed emails for invoicing, statements, order confirmation and purchase orders.
When it comes to reporting, Columbus' SQL-server based facilities in Dynamics AX, allows PARRS to compile accurate reports in terms of which customer ordered which product, enabling the company to offer customer-specific promotions. Online returns are now logged using the system, so all the information on a customer is in one place. Donlon sums it up: “the great thing about ColumbusMCR 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 the button.”
“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 Columbus Retail solution,” says Scholes.
For PARRS, finding a company that wasn’t just there for the installation, but offered on-going support and continued to move forwards with the organisation was a fundamental part of the decision process. “We needed to make sure we were dealing with a company that would still work closely us with after go-live,” says Scholes. “Columbus gave the impression they would do that, and to be fair that’s exactly what they have done - definitely.”
With the ColumbusMCR system in place, PARRS now has the comprehensive functionality it requires to optimise its marketing strategy, process payments, manage orders, automate correspondence and enable one-step returns, all w hilst making significant cost savings and time efficiencies.