Ah, the summertime. Feet up, sandy beaches, sunglasses on and a cold beer or ice-cream in your hand – time for our Independent Plumbers Merchants to sit back and relax, with not a care in the world.
After all, it will only be three or four months before the trade comes piling back in, all after boilers, radiators and spares, and unlike all the years before they’ll be patient, standing at the counter while you and your staff struggle with your manual order processing and pricing systems.
They will be understanding, of course, when you are short of 15mm copper, pipe slices and waste traps because your stock system just wasn’t man enough to cope.
Ball Cocks? Yes, you’re probably short of them as well.
But relax, safe in the knowledge that you’ll soon be back, making calls to chase suppliers, spending your evenings doing paperwork, chasing debts, sending out statements and answering those late “have you got this specific thing-a-ma-jig in stock for my job at 8am tomorrow?” queries.
Enjoy your time off - you’ve earned it! You’ll have earned it again in a few weeks, after the temperatures drop and the evenings draw in.
Failing to prepare…
You could, of course, prepare, and use the next few months to install a tried and tested, easy-to-use and affordable ERP system (that’s business system to most of us) to automate the very tasks that take up so much precious time when it gets busy again.
By the time the autumn comes around you could have installed completely (or the foundations at least) a system that will not only speed up operations, but also save on human error, improve customer service and help generate more business.
If the software is user-friendly enough - and designed specifically for a merchant - then it will have all the tools you need to rapidly place sales orders with the correct pricing and terms, produce invoices, statements and remittances (and the inevitable payment-chasing letters) automatically with zero fuss and minimal manual work.
As a result of taking sales orders, the same system can accurately work out what you will need from suppliers, create a suggested order and purchase order (priced correctly), email it to the supplier, and even chase for late deliveries if needed – whether you’re dealing direct with the supplier or via your buying group.
With a little more thought and time, the same software could help with the marketing, sending out promotional emails to your contacts and making sure that your internal sales team are speaking with customers on a regular basis. With the analysis produced, automatically, you’ll be able to identify drifting customers and those that only buy certain ranges from you – enabling you or your team to pick up the phone and have a friendly discussion about expanding their product horizons.
Push a little further and you might even be able to setup a rudimentary website (to be enhanced and expanded as time permits) with a customer portal so that they can answer their own account queries 24/7.
This is not pie-in-the sky-thinking - it is achievable, especially for those migrating from a manual system or a pure accounting solution that doesn’t effectively handle the trade sales, pricing and buying.
The reality is, the best time to start installing an ERP system is when you are quiet, when you and your colleagues have time to think and prepare, because you won’t stand a chance when the trade counter becomes busy. Before you know it, you’ll be back on the beach putting off the decision for another year.
It’s a fallacy to think that business systems are difficult and expensive to install. Well okay, we can admit that some are, but not if it’s designed specifically for your size and type of business. If your new system requires an IT Manager to run it, then maybe consider something more practical to install – and in the process save yourself a lot of expense and heartache.
Is it worth it? Does it work? You probably know a competitor that has moaned about their computer system (or more likely supplier) but we doubt, very much, if you will ever find a merchant that has bought a system and was disappointed enough to revert to a manual or accounts-only setup.
Now put down the beer, or ice-cream, pick up your smartphone and google “computer systems for Plumbers Merchants”. Or save yourself a step and treat yourself to a free 30-day demo of Merchanter – the perfect solution for Plumbers Merchants.