Catching Up With Tomorrow

By Andy Carlo

In the age of apps and mobile devices, with countless functions and pieces of information at the world’s fingertips, customers are continuing to request more accessibility from dealers. It’s also a new age for dealers who can no longer allow technology to pass them by. Rather, some dealers are embracing the change while taking advantage of real-time delivery software, social media, and more digital interaction with customers. Simultaneously, they are remaining as informed about technology updates as their customers.

            The Lumber Co-operator spoke with several NRLA dealers to discuss what types of technology changes they have made to their businesses and what might be on their wish list of future upgrades.


What types of technology upgrades have you made in the past three years to improve how you do business?

Rob Bicknell: Many of the technology upgrades we made came before the last three-year window. We made very big changes to our computer software a number of years ago. We added wireless pricing guns, electronic statements, invoices, and online statements, and invoice reprinting for our customers.

            We have begun to discuss our next big technology changes. Currently, we are upgrading our XP computers and are about to upgrade to a larger, more secure server. We have added security cameras and DVR software to monitor our store. After attending the NYLE Spring Leadership Conference, we are also beginning to discuss backing up to a cloud system and how to make our data and backups
more secure from the outside world.


Bill Finnegan: We have made numerous upgrades to our technology, including buying a real-time delivery software package. We now have the capability of knowing the
location of every delivery vehicle, to “exclude” prohibited roads or routes, and toobtain immediate photographs of the delivery and a signature of receipt. The software also allows us to receive purchase reports that might indicate if something is missing from the purchase – maybe the contractor purchased framing materials but not the nails. The software can alert us to the fact. It gives us a proactive way to receive information.

            We also purchased a new phone system connecting all three of our locations on one system, allowing for a more efficient handling of phone calls.


John Howell: We’ve put effort into upgrading our infrastructure. We now have dedicated fiber links to our remote locations (Wellfleet and Nantucket, Mass.), which has dramatically improved the speed and reliability of their communications. We’ve replaced our physical servers with virtual servers and have upgraded all of our workstations to Windows 7. Most of these upgrades are required to stay current with Microsoft products and our point of sale system.

            Shepley has made a commitment to a few third-party applications. Delivery tracking, through DQ Technologies software, is a priority in helping us improve our OTIF (on-time-in-full) numbers. We are also finding great benefit in document imaging. This has improved our efficiencies, eliminated massive amounts of paper storage, and increased our compliance with the protection of personal information.

We just introduced BizPlay to share real-time company information on television displays around the company for both our employees and customers.


Bryan Jaeger: We added GPS tracking to our fleet of trucks just over a year ago. We are now better able to monitor delivery efficiency and route quicker pickups if necessary.

We changed our entire software system to Bistrack from Epicor. The new system offers a better user interface for our customers and also integrates more widely with quoting software from many vendors. We will also be able to use shipping dispatch features in conjunction with the GPS truck tracking we had already deployed.


With the rise of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, how has your technology strategy changed?

Rob Bicknell: In some of our different retail locations we are using iPads as showroom sales techniques. Many manufacturers are developing apps that are very useful on the sales floor. The days of presenting someone with paper literature are becoming a thing of the past. Much of our staff is becoming familiar with Houzz as many of our customers are coming into the store with their Houzz account on their smartphone or tablet to show us pictures of what they are looking for.


Bill Finnegan: We have provided smartphones and tablets to our outside sales force as well as the software for them to enter orders while checking pricing and product availability at all times. We are also adding value-added applications to them on an ongoing basis based on customer requests and opportunities. These applications allow us to immediately, while we are with the customer, demonstrate a product, provide technical data, and provide sizing or selection assistance.


John Howell: We find more of our customers using text and email to communicate with the sales teams. This has increased a need for our own staff to have mobile devices. We implemented software that allows our customers to text orders directly to our inside sales team’s computers. Our website and our web-based customer interface have been updated to be “mobile friendly.” We have implemented a cloud-based storage program so quotes, plans, and product information can be easily accessed on the road. We have a few people using Bluetooth printers so they can provide hard copy right from their vehicle.

            We are testing software that will allow our sales team to access data on mobile devices. We will be implementing mobile signature capture and delivery pictures by the end of the year. The delivery pictures and signed invoice may be accessed directly from a sales order by clicking on an icon.


Bryan Jaeger: Our new software system can be operated on a tablet, and we will be introducing more tablets to our outside sales department as our vendors have enhanced the apps and sales tools available on these devices. I have taken advantage of working from remote locations more frequently over the past year, but we are still a ‘people business’ when it comes to sales.


How has your philosophy toward social media changed in the past three to five years?

Rob Bicknell: Social media has become a big priority for us as far as getting our name and our advertisements out to the right people. We have four different Facebook pages for our four different stores. Every week or so we are running “boosted” ads to let people know about events, sales, or certain items we are selling. To give an example, we ran a test this spring for our pool and spa store. I boosted an above- ground-pool sale on Facebook with our business page. It cost us $150 and ran for one month. There was no other advertising for the sale in or out of the store. By the end of the one-month sale, we had sold 12 above-ground-pools totaling more than $36,000 in sales. That’s a pretty good investment of $150. Social media has also been a very good educator for us, as well. Being able to tell our customers about information, products, or changes has been a powerful tool. We feel we are just beginning to gather a following on social media and are anxious to see where it leads.


Bill Finnegan: Yes, five years ago we had no strategy at all. Today we have a monthly schedule of activities, contests, and prizes. We continue to increase our exposure and are working on developing an in-depth follow-up campaign for this segment of our customers and potential customers.


John Howell: We believe that our absence from social media would be obvious. It is not evident that we are gaining market share through our presence, but we are connecting with people in more of a personal manner, rather than company advertising. We use Facebook both internally and externally. Our HR department manages an “employee only” page that posts company-related information. Our company page posts PR events, customer outings, and community interactions.

            We realize the importance of our website. We see the most traffic from people looking for information on our sales teams, our customer account access portal, and our calendar of events. We have a monthly newsletter that is distributed in print as well as electronically. The electronic copy pulls information from blogs on our website.

            We see potential in Houzz as a means to promote the projects of our customers and highlight various product categories. We have launched a profile and continue to enhance our gallery.


Bryan Jaeger: We started to become more involved with making a presence in the social media world a few years ago and are staying the course. This form of exposure is fine for retail and homeowner exposure but not yet well received by the professional builder and remodeler.


What long-term tech solutions do you hope to meet down the road? What have your customers suggested?

Rob Bicknell: We would eventually like to have new computers and upgraded software at all of our stores. Better security of our data and our backup information is also a goal. As many people know, this is quite an expensive investment— but truly one that is important to implement. I also would like to see us begin using some sort of app or technology that would allow us to communicate better with our customers in regards to deliveries. Maybe text alerts as to when the driver is leaving, estimated time of delivery, alerts to back-ordered products, among other messages. It is becoming apparent that many of our customers don’t need to talk to us on the phone as much anymore, so having the technology and training in hand to alert them by whatever means they prefer would be an added benefit.


Bill Finnegan: The long-term solution we are hoping to meet, and have heard the most from our customers, is to provide the customer with tools that allow for a more efficient way of transacting business together. From product selection, pricing, job usage, employee training, deliveries and accounts receivable – a system that allows the customer to have real-time information in the format that they are looking for. We want our system to be flexible enough to accommodate our customers’ unique needs and requests.


John Howell: We see the use of mobile devices growing and are looking for solutions to leverage their use for both our sales teams and customers. We are also working with our vendors to communicate directly with their ERP systems to decrease errors and improve efficiencies. Our customers have requested that we accept payments online, which we are working on with our developer.


Bryan Jaeger: The major software change we made this year will offer more opportunities going forward, but we are still catching up with what it can do today. 

Click here for the complete story as it was published in the Lumber Co-operator.