The Armstrong Richardson Group of Companies runs a number of businesses spanning agricultural supplies and pet foods, including wholesale, traditional retail and online-only B2C activities. The original business, Armstrong Richardson & Co, based in North Yorkshire, has been trading since 1925, first as a supplier of agricultural inputs, before broadening its portfolio to include wholesale and retail of pet, equestrian and country products. Today through its various operations Armstrong Richardson ranks as one of the largest suppliers of equestrian and pet products in the country. The business as a whole turns over £35 million annually, and employs around 160 staff.
Obstacles to online opportunity
Over the years, online sales have become more important to the group as a percentage of business, and to sales growth. Armstrong Richardson already had web sites which could take orders nationwide, but for the wholesale business and online-only B2C offshoot (which shares the same database), there was no integration between order-taking and order input into back-office systems. Rather, online orders would come through by email, and account management teams would have to manually enter the details into the business’s Sage 1000 accounting and inventory management system. This was very time-consuming, undermining some of the benefits of e-commerce, and could introduce errors as staff keyed in the order details.
Potential add-on opportunities were being missed too. “Account managers would simply have their heads down keying in the orders,” explains Mark Jones, Joint Managing Director at Armstrong Richardson. “Between online orders and phone-based business – essentially taking down product codes and quantities – they didn’t have much chance to analyse what was being ordered, and whether there was scope for upselling or cross-selling.”
The existing web platform, Magento, underpinning these two online activities was also becoming increasingly costly to manage. “Costs were going up and up, and without the back-office integration, it was becoming unsustainable,” Mark says.
ODSNet offers end-to-end order integration and a rapid ROI
The group’s Sage supplier, Datel, introduced Armstrong Richardson to On Demand Solutions (ODS), which provides an affordable, complete e-commerce platform that integrates seamlessly with popular back-office systems including Sage 1000. By migrating its web sites to ODS’s e-commerce platform, ODSNet™, the two operations are able to manage orders electronically from both the consumer and trade web sites right through to the company’s ERP system for fulfillment.
A year on from rolling out the new ODSNet-based web site, Armstrong Richardson estimates that despite the continued growth in business, it is now able to handle more orders with fewer staff. Mark hastens to add that the time saved – the equivalent of at least two account managers – has been redeployed to value-added account management activities, such as analysing orders for additional sales opportunities. There are no plans for redundancies, especially not with the growth plans for the business.
“The aim is to be taking and processing 50 per cent of wholesale orders via the web site, and we’re currently at about 42 per cent,” Mark says.
“It isn’t about spending less time on the phone, as it’s still important to have the personal touch, but what ODS has done is free up our account managers’ time to use those calls more strategically, to look over orders and see what might be missing,” he explains. “It’s more about managing customers now and not orders.”
Automation enables more attentive service
For customers, the main benefit is that orders will be placed exactly as entered, now that account managers aren’t having to rekey product details and quantities with potential scope for mistakes to creep in. They are also benefiting from a more attentive personal service, as account managers are freed up to act as more than order takers.
As a more affordable e-commerce platform than Magento, and with the increased value provided by the built-in Sage integration, Armstrong Richardson expects to make tangible savings over time. “The ongoing running costs will be cheaper, and by a reasonable percentage,” Mark says. It is also beneficial to the business to have a single point of contact to deal with: Datel is now Armstrong Richardson’s first port of call for anything relating to the wholesale web site as well as the back-office Sage system. “Before, we were dealing with two different suppliers,” he notes.
The end result is a more streamlined business, which should drive more sales and growth, manageably and efficiently, Mark concludes.
“The aim is for more customers to place orders online, where we can capture the data more accurately, improving customer service and allowing us to handle more sales. The Datel/ODS combination has resolved the integration complexity we faced, so now it’s onwards and upwards!”