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- What could you do with an extra month a year?
Time moves fast, right? Time is precious. Time is finite. Time is impossible to reclaim once you’ve spent it. And for most of us, there’s just not enough of it. So what if we told you that you could gain back a month or more of time, simply by changing your software system. And what if we told you that was a month EVERY YEAR. And what if we told you that was just in one area of your business, and that the potential time savings across the whole operation could be much, much more? What could you do with that time? Time is precious A clichéd expression, perhaps, but in business, it’s actually true. Time equates to cold, hard cash at the end of the day. The faster a process can get done, the less time it takes, the lower the cost of each process or transaction to the business, and the more time is freed up to process more, or focus on other things. A customer recently told us that the automations in the invoicing system of Merchanter was saving them three days a month in admin time. 3 days a month! 36 days a year. That’s over a month, just in the invoicing department. "Due to the multiple ways in which Merchanter can deal with customer price terms, we are saving at least three working days per month on invoicing and invoice issues, which makes a huge difference." Mike Tregunna, Build Supplies When you look at all the time-saving features included in other areas, you start to see how having a better software system at the heart of your business can really add up to major time-savings. If you could build perpetual inventory methods into your daily stock management processes, how much time could you save a year in stocktaking? If you had alerts to flag up potential stock issues before they became a problem, how much time could you save reacting to issues and managing customer expectations? If you could make changes to document branding and layout quickly and easily in-house, how much time and money could save outsourcing or asking your IT supplier? If every PO, sales order, milling instruction or quote took a few seconds less – how much time would your workforce save in a year? How many more transactions could they process? How much more profitable could you be? It’s easy to see how the savings add up, and a system that saves you that much time (as well as reducing waste, streamlining efficiency and boosting profits) will pay for itself very quickly. When we say time is precious: we mean it. Compound value adds up to more It’s important as well to think about what you could do with that time. We’re not talking about laying off staff or paying them less; but freeing up large amounts of time does enable you to focus more on the areas of the business which drive profit. "The searchability and visibility throughout the whole system makes every task quicker, easier and that bit less painful." Mike Tregunna, Build Supplies Ltd So, you could be spending longer analysing product sales trends to inform your buying decisions. You could be redeploying admin staff into sales or customer success teams. You could be using the savings in transport and logistics to invest in new, greener technologies or additional resources for your business. You could be leaving on time more often. You could be on holiday without having to dial in every day. You could be growing your business. It’s not just the day-to-day time savings that are tangibly reducing overheads and improving quality of life for your workforce. It’s also the added value of using that time in a more efficient, productive and profitable way, to drive more sales and revenue and help your business grow in a stable and sustainable way. If you’d like to find out how much time you could save across your business, why not try our free online demo system for 30 days.
- When the challenges are big, is it time to think small?
Have you ever trained for a marathon? If so, you’ll know that you don’t just wake up one day and run 26 miles. You do it step by step, run by run, building up in tiny increments until you’re able to go the distance. From learning a language to climbing a mountain to developing healthy eating habits, big things are usually only achieved in little, consistent steps. Making business decisions can be similar. Big changes and major overhauls of systems and longstanding processes can feel too time-consuming or overwhelming to be possible right now, but there is huge power in small changes. If it feels like the pressure is really piling up on all sides, sometimes it can really help to think small. Here are just a few examples where thinking small might be exactly the way to win big. Local vs national While it may be tempting to take on the world when it comes to new customers, focusing on your local market is often the best place to focus. Firstly, a local market is likely to be more loyal, more frequent in its purchasing and more likely to make other local recommendations. Secondly, your cost to serve will be lower, with more efficiencies for logistics and even marketing being available to you, and your environmental impact for longer-distance delivery will be reduced. Local business searches (e.g. builders merchant near me etc) have exploded in recent years, serving as a very measurable reminder that local really is big business. Small supplier vs market leader There will always be pros and cons, but depending on the size and scale of your business, choosing a smaller supplier may well be a better fit for your business. If yours is a small or medium sized business, you may find you can get more focus and prioritisation from smaller suppliers, and even if your business is bigger, you may find the personal touch more rewarding to work with. That’s not to say that bigger suppliers don’t have their advantages of course, but don’t discount the little guys just because they’re small – sometimes the extra effort and responsive, personal service can be a big benefit. Process efficiency over total business overhaul While saving a few seconds here or there may not feel like a big win, if the time saved relates to something that happens often in your business, it will add up to significant efficiency. If you could halve the time it takes to raise a PO or sales order, check stock levels, check a customer’s purchase history, spot a replenishment issue, plan a more efficient delivery route or track down stock in the yard – how much time would you save every week? Small process chances can save huge amounts of time, just like small improvements to stock control, credit and quote management and customer service can drive significantly better profit and productivity. Having the information you need, integrated across the business and up to the minute accurate, will make every process quicker and easier, leaving your staff more productive and your customers happier. If you’re not sure where you could save time or make efficiency improvements in your business, why not book a Business Process Review and get that external viewpoint to help focus your efforts? Your software can help you It should come as no surprise to know that your ERP software (or order and stock management software) can help you when it comes to driving efficiency improvements across your business. Whether you want to make improvements to your quote management, stock control system, stocktaking processes, transport planning, logistics, invoicing or document automation, or any other area of your merchant operations, we are here to help. We’ve spent 40 years helping merchants by building effective software tools to drive operational efficiency – and we’d love to help you too. Try Merchanter Free
- Plumbers Merchants – Are you winter ready?
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.
- Case Study - Henlow Building Supplies
"We have been delighted with it so far. It makes it easy for every member of the team to handle any customer enquiry, with no need to dig through lots of records.” With over 35 year’s trading experience, Henlow Building Supplies is no stranger to listening to its customers. With an increasing number requesting some sort of loyalty discount as repeat customers over the last year, the directors began a manual system of loyalty card. Without any promotion or advertising, over 100 customers have signed up for the scheme. However, it relied on each member of the sales team having a very good memory, and made for a cumbersome process, manually inputting each agreed discount. It also made human error a very real possibility. As existing clients of ours, the directors gave us a call to talk it through. The UniTrade system was instantly able to accommodate their requests, and Henlow has now been able to issue cards and key fobs to its regular customers to grant them automatic – and fully tailored – discounts. Every customer is different, and buys different quantities of different materials. Therefore Henlow is now able to offer a range of discounts to each customers based on their purchasing habits: a carpenter, for example, might qualify for a certain discount on general building supplies, but a higher discount for timber and tools. A painter and decorator will have different needs to a bathroom fitter, and so on. Each card is linked to the system, so with a simple scan or swipe, the full buying history is available to any member of the sales team, and the bespoke discount will be applied. No hassle, no manual input – and no human error. Director Chris Curson is very pleased with the time-saving system so far. He says, “We are hoping to roll it out officially in February, but have been delighted with it so far. It makes it easy for every member of the team to handle any customer enquiry, with no need to dig through lots of records.” The loyalty card is not the only new measure that Henlow has implemented recently. Within the last couple of months it has also started using the market-leading Paxar handheld scanning and printing device. Stock-taking and repricing shop-floor or warehouse products is always time consuming, as we all know. The new handheld device links to the UniTrade system, so it automatically updates the whole system with whatever has been scanned from the shop floor, warehouse or stock yard. Labels for repricing can be printed off on the spot, saving a lot of time and duplication of effort. Thanks to its integration with the main system, it enables a real-time, accurate overview of all stock to be instantly accessible. Chris says, “We are moving towards a rolling stock-take system which will save us all a huge amount of time. It’s early days but so far we are very hopeful it is going to be a fantastic tool which will save time and effort, and avoid errors in copying the information across.” The device also has a purchasing function, enabling the user to instantly create purchase orders for scanned products, which again can save a lot of time and hassle. Chris has also been very complimentary about our input throughout these projects. He says, “We started working with Ten-25 because we thought they offered excellent value for money, and have been really pleased with the service. The system is very flexible and has grown with us, and we have a good relationship with the people there. They are always responsive and we know they really listen to what we have to say. So, thank you Chris! We are delighted to be able to help our clients to provide a superior service to their own customers, and to make their lives that little bit easier.
- Case Study - Robbins Timber
"We’ve never had any issues with the software from Ten-25. It’s great that it has continued to evolve over the years to meet our needs, and the time is right for the next natural progression" Robbins Timber is known as a specialist in marine timber, with the company’s roots in Bristol Docks going back to 1750. It has developed its own range of Robbins Elite Marine Plywood, and offers the widest range of timber and sheet material in the country. It also operates in general timber, and has full milling and planning facilities for a comprehensive, and often fully bespoke, service. However, being so adaptable creates a lot more back-office work, so one particularly appealing aspect of the upgraded system is the new CRM functionality. With comprehensive customer notes seamlessly stored alongside trading history, accounts and ad hoc certification and attachments, the new CRM module will make it easy for any member of staff to deal instantly with a customer query, no matter how complex or unusual their previous ordering. As a trusted supplier, Robbins depends on its existing customers for repeat business, and the CRM system should make that relationship stronger. As Richard Bagnall says, “Anything we can do to make it easier for people to work both with us and for us is a plus. We want to be the very best for our customers; so being able to see what they need on a repeat basis will help that, and give them faster and even more intuitive service.” Another element which will make a big difference is the Trading Analysis feature. Giving faster, easier and more flexible insight into the data already held within the system should prove a major benefit, providing user-friendly access to the information from whichever perspective is required. “The new Trading Analysis software is streamlined and simple to use, and will be familiar to new users. It is designed intuitively, so you can cut the data any way you want,” says Richard. “You can also look at several sets of data simultaneously – in previous systems you’d have to exit one thing before opening another. This way it’s all visible immediately, which makes it very slick and easy to use.” Stock management is always critical for any timber merchant, and again, the upgraded functionality of UniTrade360 will help Robbins to manage its supplies even more efficiently. We are also looking at developing a range of enhanced stock management features to help our customers still further, ranging from mobile apps to handheld devices. Every aspect of the system is always fully integrated, meaning all trading information is held centrally on either Cloud or system-based servers, regularly backed-up, and supported with an unbeatable promise of helpdesk service. Every business has unique demands, and with as many specialist, niche market customers as Robbins, it’s vital to have the right system in place to not only meet customer requirements, but to surpass them, and plan more accurately for the future. UniTrade360 helps the day to day running of operations, with the sophistication and strategic insight to also expedite the year on year growth of the business.
- Competitive vs Profitable: how merchants can use ERP software for a competitive advantage
Following months, if not years, of market instability and volatile pricing, merchants are under pressure to optimise their pricing and margin management to remain profitable despite needing to remain competitive. It’s a delicate balance, but there are a number of tools at your disposal designed to help with achieving it. Merchant margins are often very slim, and when supplier pricing changes rapidly, it easily become non-existent. As a one-off or conscious choice, that might be OK, but if it’s longer term or across multiple product lines, it’s going to start to eat away at your overall profitability. "The flexibility and control in terms of pricing; the simplicity; and options available to control our stocks; Merchanter is a gamechanger to our company.” Mike Tregunna, Build Supplies Ltd. Obviously there are numerous ways a great ERP system can proactively help you to manage margin, pricing and reduce waste across the business, from stock optimisation to logistics, order processing to customer service. But thinking specifically about pricing and margin protection, here are some of the ways that a merchant ERP system can help you to remain profitable yet competitive in a fluctuating market. How to optimise pricing and margin management using sector-specific software Improved pricing accuracy and consistency One of the most significant advantages of using an ERP system for pricing and margin management is the ability to ensure pricing accuracy and consistency across multiple locations and channels. With a well-designed, sector-specific ERP system, timber and builders merchants can set and manage pricing rules centrally, ensuring that all products are priced consistently across all sales channels. A system like Merchanter lets you track supplier and market pricing so you can sense-check your own prices and ensure consistency from suppliers, to avoid under- or over-selling products. You can also set up process rules, limits and alerts to keep margin consistent while flagging up significant changes. This improves pricing accuracy, eliminates pricing errors and discrepancies, and ensures that customers receive the same pricing regardless of where they purchase products. With instant access to customer records and visibility of historic transactions, it’s much simpler to apply a consistent approach with customers regardless of who is handling each specific transaction. Better cost management ERP systems can really help merchants manage costs more effectively. By providing real-time visibility into inventory levels, supply chain performance, and other key metrics, an ERP system can help businesses optimise their purchasing and inventory management processes. It can reduce waste, both physically in terms of more accurate stock ordering, allocation and logistics, and in terms of time and resource. The overall impact of enhanced cost management across the business cannot be overstated and having clearer visibility of overheads and costs will also help you to set pricing and margins at a more realistic level. Improved – and protected - margins By optimizing pricing and cost management, ERP systems can also help timber and builders merchants improve their margins. And with built-in controls that let you set and control margins at the optimum levels, either by customer, product line or product type, you have all the tools at your fingertips to manage and safeguard your margins. Better analytics and reporting Being able to see in an instant what’s going on in your business, and having your focus drawn to the gaps and issues quickly, lets you make faster, smarter decisions about how to manage your operations. Greater insights let you set pricing at the optimum levels, while easy-to-use tools let you experiment to see what works best across the business. It can also flag up supplier issues and customers whose service requirements outweigh the value of their business to help you make informed decisions about who you choose to work with. With real-time insights into sales performance, inventory levels, and other key metrics, an ERP system can help businesses identify gaps, trends, opportunities, and areas for improvement. This can help merchants make more informed pricing and margin management decisions that improve profitability and drive growth. Enhanced customer service Consistency, reliability, fairness and accessibility of information all lead to a better overall customer experience. When you have the information you need at your fingertips, your team can answer questions faster, look up past quotes and orders, and ensure well-informed and reliable logistics communication. Retaining customers is usually more profitable than having to acquire new ones so again, keeping existing customers happier, and finding opportunities to upsell where possible, makes for a profitable and efficient business model. An industry-specific ERP system like Merchanter can help merchants of all kinds to create efficiencies across all areas of the business. At the heart of any merchant business’ sustainability will always be profitability, so make sure you have the tools you need to make informed, commercially astute decisions across the business. If you would like to try Merchanter for free, just register here to be sent login details for the online demo system and find out just how easy it could be to build even better business.
- How can industry-specific ERP software help merchants to improve supply chain management?
Supply chain management is an integral part of any business, but for timber and builders merchants – and any other merchant business for that matter - it is crucial. Efficient and effective management of a complex and often volatile supply chain is essential, to ensure timely delivery of goods, optimal inventory levels, and effective collaboration with suppliers and customers. Supply chain is the backbone of the industry and to keep things running smoothly, you need the right tools. Increasingly, cloud-based, industry-specific Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is being adopted by timber and builders’ merchants as the best way to improve supply chain management. ERP software typically integrates the core aspects of a business, including inventory management, order processing, sales management, business intelligence, accounting, customer management and so on. It's important to note that these days, systems don’t necessarily have to incorporate all areas of a business themselves, as long as they are highly interoperable – i.e. as long as they can integrate effectively with specialist third party platforms, like eCommerce or finance platforms. By using ERP software tailored specifically to the timber and builders merchant industry, companies can improve their supply chain management in several ways. These include: Stock Management One of the most critical aspects of supply chain management is inventory management. Industry-specific ERP software can help timber and builders’ merchants to manage their inventory effectively by providing real-time stock visibility across multiple locations. The system can also automate replenishment orders, track inventory levels, and ensure that the right products are in stock when they are needed. Using an industry-specific stock management system for this ensures a level of accuracy and detail that “off-the-shelf” business management simply can’t match. It enables merchants to accurately track weights, lengths and volumes, not just unit products, and account for the timeline and logistics complexities that merchanting requires. Order Processing Efficient order processing is critical to ensuring that deliveries are made on time for customers, keeping communication reliable and information readily available. Industry-specific ERP software can streamline the order processing system, from order entry to fulfilment, allowing companies to process orders more quickly and accurately. This software can also provide customers with accurate delivery times, ensuring that they receive their products on time, and in the metrics or currencies that they work in themselves. An industry-specific system also allows for additional processes, finishes or milling instructions to be added to orders, streamlining internal processes and ensuring that everyone is fully informed about how stock needs to be handled and processed on its way to the end customer. Supplier & Customer Management Collaboration with suppliers is essential for timber and builders’ merchants. Industry-specific ERP software can improve supplier management by automating the procurement process, tracking supplier performance, and providing real-time visibility into supplier lead times and inventory levels. By doing so, companies can optimise their supply chain and reduce lead times. Advanced industry-specific software like Merchanter can also provide invaluable insights into supplier reliability, enable merchants to track and compare pricing changes and much, much more. Software like Merchanter also lets you keep accurate notes on customers so you can check past pricing, see order histories and accurately assess a customer's long-term value to the business. Ultimately it lets you offer better customer service - and one of the best ways to do that is through improved supply chain management. Logistics Management Effective logistics management is essential to ensure that goods are delivered on time and in the right condition, as efficiently as possible. Industry-specific ERP software can help timber and builders merchants to optimise their logistics by providing real-time visibility into shipments, automating shipment tracking, and streamlining the logistics process. This software can also help to optimise the delivery schedule, reducing the time and cost of transportation. Reporting and Analytics Having actionable insight into what’s happening in your business is essential. Industry-specific ERP software can provide businesses with comprehensive reporting and analytics capabilities, providing real-time visibility into stock levels, order fulfilment rates, supplier performance, customer management and logistics costs. Effective reporting and analysis lets merchants make faster decisions backed up by solid data, saving time and money at every step. Convenience Having a cloud-based ERP system means that your workforce has the information they need at their fingertips, whether they’re with a customer, in the yard or working from a home office. That level of accessibility keeps everyone informed about what’s happening in the business, giving the right people the right level of control and visibility where it’s needed, and speeding up day to day processes and operations. Ultimately, that all leads to better internal and external communication, better customer service and more efficient and profitable business management. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how industry specific ERP software can help timber and builders’ merchants to optimise their supply chain. Instant, reliable access to up-to-date information around stock levels, order fulfilment, supplier and customer management, accounts and analytics is critical for maintaining services levels and commercial success. By implementing ERP software tailored specifically to their industry, timber and builders merchants can improve their operational efficiency, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
- Boost local sales with NearSt and Merchanter
Technology is opening up many new opportunities for merchants. New routes to market are being offered by construction supply marketplaces such as Plane & Simple, which recently won a UK Development Award. Whether you are going down the eCommerce route or not, online awareness is still a vital part of modern sales, and it pays to be able to take advantage of as many options as possible. That’s exactly why we are delighted to announce that we have been working hard on an integration with local marketing experts NearSt – and it’s now ready to roll out to customers with the next system update of Merchanter. What is NearSt? NearSt works on a very simple principle: it lets people search local outlets for specific products which are in stock near them. Predominantly using Google and Facebook search algorithms, it integrates with a seller’s stock list to let potential customers know which items are currently in stock in local branches, avoiding wasted trips and boosting footfall. It’s convenient for customers and can significantly increase footfall and sales to your branches with minimal investment, so it really is a win-win for merchants. If you’d like to find out more about NearSt, we wrote a blog on it a while back so you can read that here, or check out their website here. Why are we integrating with NearSt? Merchanter is a cloud-based trading system and, as modern system architecture is designed to do, it integrates well with third party platforms. We already integrate with leading financial platforms like Sage, Xero and QuickBooks, and with eCommerce solutions like Shopify, eBay and WooCommerce. It’s a natural extension to be able to link up with other helpful third parties to give our customers every advantage available to them in such a competitive landscape. More and more, integration is considered the best model for modern software. Rather than needing one massive, cumbersome system trying to do everything in your business, you have an agile, co-operative system acting as a kind of hub at the operational heart of the business, allowing you to link up with the best solutions to suit your particular needs. We are continuing to investigate other potential integrations all the time, but if there is a specific platform you’d like your system to hook up with, please do let us know so we can assess the viability. What else is new? As a cloud system, we are constantly honing and improving Merchanter for our customers. As well as the inevitable bug-fixes required by every software platform in the world, we are always adding functionality and value to the system. Sometimes these are all-new features, and other times they are refinements or improvements to existing functions. In this month’s roll-out, for example, we have added: The ability to allocate lots to mill lines The option to export end-of-day cashing up reports as excel files, making them much simpler to work with The capacity to auto-code customers and suppliers And a whole load more. We have some other pretty juicy updates lined up for the next few months, including some brilliant advanced customer pricing features and our brilliant new notification centre. All of these are in testing and we’ll be letting you know more in the coming weeks so watch this space.
- 5 ways to find the perfect match
The key to long-term happiness with your Merchant ERP system No, we’re not talking about finding a date – we’re talking about a relationship that could be much more long term: your ERP system! Are you currently using a financial platform like Sage, Xero or Quickbooks to run your business operations and finding it’s not quite enough for your needs? Are you still using manual systems and separate Excel documents or even paper filing systems to run your business? Are you using an ERP system but getting frustrated at its complexity, lack of responsiveness or inability to roll with change? We hear you. Looking for the perfect match when it comes to an order and stock management system can be a time consuming and tricky business. Choosing a new ERP system is expensive, and it can cause a lot of disruption to your business and staff. So it really pays to be sure about getting the right fit when you’re selecting. So without further ado, here are our 5 top tops for how to find the best ERP system for you. Do some stalking: Ask around – get recommendations from industry colleagues and trusted friends, read case studies etc. It really, really pays to do your homework. And if you've been off the market for a long time, you might be surprised at how much things have changed since you last looked around. Don’t commit until you’ve sampled the goods: Try the demo (assuming they have one) and really get to know how the system works before you decide to take things further. After all, it's not always love at first sight so it really does pay to know what you're getting into before you get too attached. Make sure they’re ready for a long-term commitment: Given the rate at which tech advances, it’s important to know you’re opting for a system that will still be capable of meeting your needs in 5-10 years’ time – it needs to be future-fit, not just ready for the here and now. That means it needs to be able to integrate with other platforms and services, be updated and maintained remotely, and have the capacity to grow alongside your business Choose a partner who really listens: Yes, the software itself is important but you’re going to have to work closely with the providers of whatever system you choose so make sure you get on with the suppliers. You need to really hear each other, and be able to have honest, constructive, healthy communication to help the relationship, and your business, flourish. Put your own needs first and really know what you want: It’s SO important that you properly understand your needs as a business before you select a system that’s right for it. Audit your processes*, analyse how your business works and then make sure you’re choosing a system that can fit with that and grow with you – not one that you have to accommodate at every turn. It should be adding value, not creating a load of extra work, We think you'll know when you find the right match. Choose something that feels simple to use but that has scope to grow, something that's intuitive and just gets how you do things. It's no easy task finding a system that can help you run your business even more effectively but when you get the right match, the sparks will really fly. If you’re thinking of looking around at new options, please consider trying our online demo system. You get a full 30 days to try the system out, using your own data, so you can get a really good flavour of what it can do. Register here if you’re interested. And don’t worry, if the time’s not right, no hard feelings. *If you’d like a hand, you might be interested to know that every new customer gets a full Business Process Review before every implementation to make sure each system is optimised and configured for every unique business.
- Ask ChatGPT: the benefits of cloud ERP for merchants
As may be self-evident, here at Ten-25 we’re pretty keen on technology. We’ve been watching (and using) the rapid advances of AI in both personal and professional contexts for some time. So we had to give ChatGPT a whirl (along with the rest of the world, it seems). We typed in a simple question: What are the benefits of cloud ERP systems for builders’ merchants? And this is what it came back with: “Cloud ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) can provide several benefits for builders merchants, including: Scalability: Cloud ERP can be easily scaled up or down to meet changing business needs, allowing builders merchants to add or remove users and functionality as needed. Accessibility: Cloud ERP can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, enabling remote work and collaboration among employees, suppliers, and customers. Cost-effective: Cloud ERP eliminates the need for expensive hardware and IT infrastructure, and can be paid for on a subscription basis, which can be more cost-effective than traditional on-premises ERP systems. Automatic updates: Cloud ERP systems are updated automatically, ensuring that builders merchants always have the latest features and security patches. Data security: Cloud ERP providers typically have stringent security measures in place to protect data, which can provide peace of mind for builders merchants. Integration: Cloud ERP systems can easily integrate with other business applications, such as e-commerce platforms, accounting software, and CRM systems, which can improve efficiency and provide better visibility across the entire business. Business Continuity: Cloud-based ERP systems offer a high level of availability and accessibility, which can help minimize business disruptions and ensure continuity of operations in case of an emergency. "Overall, Cloud ERP can provide builders merchants with a cost-effective, scalable, and accessible solution that can improve efficiency, security, and collaboration across the entire business.” (ChatGPT) Our verdict? It does the job, and is good for a concise and accurate summary. We feel it lacks a bit of character - a bit like synthetic foods, it gets the job done but it doesn't have a lot of flavour. We only asked it a very simple, one step question and we are well aware that it is capable of muc more complex answers and multi-step reasoning. So much so in fact, that it has already been banned from multiple educational institutions as it would be too easy for essays and assignments to just be handed over to the AI. There are also AI-detection platforms springing up to catch people trying to pass off AI-generated copy as their own, so watch out for that - we suspect search algorithms will be evolving to do exactly that too, to detect the inevitable slew of AI-generated websites and content. But the real question is, where is the potential for merchants? How could AI help merchants? While it’s quite fun to play with AI and generate instant content (the quality of which is still being assessed – but there’s no denying, there’s some use there) we think there is far more potential value that merchants will be able to get from AI-powered technology in the future. The important thing to remember is that AI should really be used as a tool to help people - not as a replacement for them. AI could definitely play a role in providing information and assistance to customers, such as when calculating the amount of a given material needed for certain jobs. For example, if you’re planning to tile your bathroom, you could simply ask it how many tiles you’d need for a certain area; or you could ask it what accessories and products you’d need, and so on. Admittedly there are already tools for that but this could be a quicker, simpler way to do it, and it could provide additional details as well to help. Online this could be a really easy way to provide help for customers needing more information before purchasing, but even in-branch it could be used via an app, digital kiosks or handheld devices to provide enhanced information. Potentially, it could prove very useful for intelligent, automated training materials and tutorials, or could help smaller businesses to create content for websites and blogs etc. Then there are things like driverless vehicles or drones for deliveries (less helpful when delivering a few tonnes of aggregates mind you!) and much, much more. We are only scratching the surface of the possibilities - you only have to read a handful of ChatGPT related posts on LinkedIn to realise what these platforms are capable of already. But it’s worth noting that: Anyone else typing in the same prompts could get identical content, so you can’t rely on it for originality (presumably this is accounted for, for the most part, but who knows) It still needs fact-checking and verifying before you post it It’s only as good as the questions you ask it, so you would still need the creativity and imagination of real people to use the tools in the best ways It’s still early days for AI, relatively speaking, so its full capability isn’t yet known Currently a lot of AI platforms are still in testing phases so can’t be relied upon at industrial scales It can lack personality and customised perspective Many people are still very skeptical about artificial intelligence so gauge the response of customers before jumping in with both feet! Like any other information source, it is potentially open to being manipulated or influenced by hefty marketing budgets, political affiliations or other aspects which could compromise its impartiality. In infancy it seems very interesting... time will tell. People still like the human touch, and good service is critical. AI shouldn’t replace people – but it can help them While the copy produced by AI platforms like ChatGPT is, on the face of it, impressive, we don’t believe it is yet at a point where it can replace humans. But it could help smaller teams to speed up content production or provide customers with quick information out of hours or online. In fact, the potential of AI for scaling up processes and access to information is enormous - and it will be a really interesting thing to watch as it develops. Content creation is just the tip of the iceberg. There are probably thousands of possible applications for AI that we haven't covered yet and it's certainly in a period of rapid development. Especially when taken into consideration alongside other technologies like augmented and virutal reality (AR and VR), machine learning and the ongoing trend of the internet of things (IoT) there's a huge amount of creative potential there to be explored. It’s always worth asking whether, just because we can do something, we should – and we don't plan on replacing anyone with a robot any time soon. But we will definitely be investigating the possibilities, and seeing where AI can help us boost efficiency and productivity in every area of the business.
- How do you know what you don't know?
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem, isn’t it? How do you know what information you’re missing, if you don’t know what information you need in the first place? We speak to merchants every day who are currently using financial platforms or manual (think Excel spreadsheets) processes to manage their stock and sales. And it’s working just fine. But what we often hear, once they’ve seen what a newer, cloud-based ERP system is capable of, is how much better it could be with the right tools. The right tools for the job Merchanting, much like retailing, relies on certain critical functions, but it's a lot more complex, in a number of ways. Firstly, merchants often deal with the trading of measured materials rather than simply unit-based items. So being able to handle stock using different metrics and variables like length, weight or volume can often be a lot more useful – and accurate – than dealing with single unit barcodes or similar. Secondly, where a retail transaction tends to be instantaneous, merchanting often needs to incorporate a more complex timeline. Sometimes that’s because of material availability, sometimes it’s because the customer doesn’t need the stock right away, sometimes it’s because a chosen material needs particular milling or finishing processes applied before delivery – and so on. But merchants need to be able to account for the timeline of a product or multi-product delivery, as well as the intricacies of the treatments required along the way. Basic stock-and-sell software can’t handle the complexities of merchanting in the way that industry-specific software can. Having the right software for your sector can save time, boost profits and actively improve both staff and customer experience. Measuring the things that pay to be measured If you’ve been using the same system for a long time, you may be unaware of what other systems are able to do. For Merchanter, we have developed a whole host of unique KPIs and metrics to help merchants measure, monitor and optimise the processes within their business operations. Take stock turn for example. Being able to see, at a glance, how regularly and profitably a particular stock line is purchased can build up an enormously valuable picture of the efficiency and profitability of your sales and replenishment tactics, giving you instant insights which you can apply in your stock profile and purchasing decisions. If stock takes are still causing you to have to close branches and lose out on trade, but are a necessary evil to keep on top of stock, then you might be glad to know that software like merchanter can help you. With metrics like Stock Confidence to highlight the areas that stock checks are most needed, you can save yourself huge amounts of time, stay on top of stock figures more accurately and instantly spot where the issues are without having to close. "Merchanter currently has over 120 KPIs built in as standard, with opportunities for further customisation." Price tracking is another one proving incredibly valuable for customers right now. Being able to monitor the rapidly fluctuating prices in the market, and set margin and credit controls within the system, means that your buyers and sales teams will always be trading profitably, without being bogged down in daily red tape. You can empower your team to work independently and make faster decisions safe in the knowledge your bottom line is fully protected. Customer insights can pay for themselves too. Most merchants know who their top customers are – but not so many know their fifth, or tenth, or fiftieth. While some customers may appear to be great for business, having the figures at hand to how how profitable the relationship really is can be invaluable, as some customers could actually be costing you money, while others could be upsold to or optimised in other ways. Merchanter currently has over 120 KPIs built in as standard, with opportunities for customisation if you need something different. We won’t list them all here, but just imagine what might be possible if you could shine a light into every area of your business and have that information at your fingertips more easily. The key point really is, information is power. And when you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t make those critical decisions which elevate your business to the next level. Integrating with best-in-class solutions Traditionally, merchants have relied on monolithic, cumbersome trading systems which (technically) perform every task in the business. While at first glance that might sound handy, the unfortunate effect is actually that these systems are usually very slow to adapt to new requirements and are incredibly complex to learn and use. If the last few years have taught the world anything, it’s the importance of responsiveness. Being flexible is vital, and without a modern, cloud-system underpinning your operations, it’s rather like trying to turn an ocean-liner as opposed to a speedboat. Modern systems sit as an agile hub at the centre of your business, linking up with best-in-class solutions to help augment your service and operational processes. These might be financial platforms like Sage, Xero or Quickbooks; eCommerce platforms like Shopify or WooCommerce; online selling services like NearSt or SnapIt, marketplaces like Plane & Simple or stock extension platforms like VirtualStock. Whatever the technology you’re looking to take advantage of, you need a back office system that’s able to integrate to keep you at the cutting edge of merchanting possibility and customer expectation. Reach YOUR goals with the right software Whether or not you’re looking to expand your business – and we know not everyone is – we’re yet to meet a merchant who wouldn’t want to improve efficiency and profitability. The right system, giving you the right information, can transform your operations, your profits, your service proposition and even your work-life balance. A hundred small process improvements can add up to huge improvements overall. Find out what YOU don’t know (yet!) If you’re curious about what you might be missing in your business, why not try out the online demo system for 30 days? We don’t do the “hard sell” so you’re free to play around with it as much as you like to see how it could work for you. Or if you prefer, you could book a discovery call or guided demo to get a detailed view of what the system is capable of.
- 5 trends for 2023 that merchants need to know about
The secrets of your success: 5 trends to give merchants a competitive advantage in 2023 The world has been in upheaval for the last few years and that makes the business landscape pretty challenging for most businesses. Merchanting is no exception; rising operational costs, volatile material pricing in the market, availability issues, sustainability and even recruitment all providing their own unique issues, merchants have a lot to deal with. But among the challenges there are lots of opportunities, and that’s what we’re here to talk about. We’ve put together a list of 5 top trends for merchants to be aware of in 2023 to help them thrive. 5 top trends for merchants in 2023 1. Sustainability A vital topic for every organisation, and every individual, this one is growing in both importance and urgency for merchants. Firstly, there is an intensifying focus on the need for more sustainable materials and methods in the construction industry as a whole. Reaching the net zero carbon neutrality goal is essential to keep in line with government targets but it’s also becoming increasingly important to customers (both trade and domestic) That means responsible and ethical sourcing, more recycling, more efficient materials, as well as plumbing and heating systems – the list goes on. It’s a complex and rapidly evolving subject but one in which we all have the most deeply invested interests. Secondly, with the rising costs of operations and utilities, merchants must focus on their own sustainability. Keeping overheads low, processes efficient and systems choices future-fit are all vital components. After all, sustaining the business is your number one aim, and without being able to be competitive in all areas will make that more of a challenge. 2. Agility Another broad category but also an essential one. In a commercial landscape where everything upon everything is constantly changing, merchants need the right tools to allow them to respond quickly to changing conditions. It’s vital that the back office system is able to keep up with these changes and give the flexibility and freedom for merchants to react fast, as well as the visibility to guide them in where to focus first. Choose a system that puts the information you need right in front of you, that makes it easier to spot the gaps and issues as well as the opportunities, and which helps you to make every process throughout your entire operation more efficient. Let the tech do the heavy lifting to free up your people to focus where they can make the biggest difference. For example, with routes to market diversifying at a dizzying rate, it’s important that merchants have the flexibility to take advantage of new technologies. That means opting for a highly interoperable cloud system which can link up with whatever best-in-class solutions you choose to deploy. So when you have the chance to tap into local buyers with services like NearSt, you're in a position to jump on it. It also means being able to monitor changes in the market, like pricing, and rapidly respond, while using automated safety nets like margin and credit controls to remain profitable despite pricing fluctuations. When selecting your ERP system make sure you discuss capabilities like this to ensure your system is working as hard for you as it possibly can. 3. Humanity No, we’re not going all Planet of the Apes on you. But it’s so important to remember that at the core of every successful business is its people. Technology is a vital and hugely powerful tool, but the way it is used it equally as important – to improve service, communication and connection. Even consumer giants like Samsung have singled out "humanity" as a core focus for the future so it would probably pay to pay attention. Convenience is mighty powerful but there is still, or perhaps even a greater, need for great service. What that means, however, is shifting. Customers now have easier access to product information, price comparison and sourcing data than ever before, yet service will continue to set one merchant apart from another. Reliability, availability, fair pricing, considerate behaviour and effort will always be vital components of customer loyalty, and with online reviews more prevalent than ever, great customer service will still sit near the top of most merchant priority lists – because it’s at the top of their customers’. New generations entering the “consumer” world are demonstrating that human values are not simply a set of CSR-friendly statements written on a website and forgotten about. The customers of tomorrow care about the ethics of the companies they buy from, and they expect to see valued lived, not merely spoken. That goes for sustainability just as much as it does for how businesses treat their people – while it may not be true for everyone, this is a movement to be ignored at your peril. Customers aren’t the only people merchants need to be thinking about. Looking after their own people is just as vital. It’s been amazing to see how many merchants have been stepping up to help their staff in recent years, with the cost of living crisis particularly pertinent, but throughout the Covid crisis and beyond. Employees who feel valued, rewarded, heard and seen will always give more back than those who feel sidelined or undervalued. In a world increasingly dominated by technology, by quick fixes and questionable facts, we believe that humanity – or human-ness – will be a key characteristic of the most successful businesses of the future. 4. Diversity In all its glorious breadth, diversity is something to be embraced by merchants. On the one hand, this encompasses the human interpretation, creating inclusive and equitable workplaces which cater for every person, no matter their age, ethnicity, religion, class, background, gender, sexuality or physical ability. It means pre-empting the differing needs of a diverse workforce and customer base, taking into account neurodiverse communities, and providing information and routes to market which do not exclude any sector or demographic. This is not easy and it’s worth investing in expert guidance and help to ensure your premises, website and all other areas of your business are as safe, inviting and accessible as possible to all. It also means embracing diverse thoughts and ideas, giving everyone a voice and an opportunity to use it. Diversity also represents the diversifying options available to merchants; not just in terms of the stock profile or sectors you operate in, but also the routes to market, the options available in all areas of your business. Habit can be dangerous so if the go-to answer is "Because we've always done it that way" then it's probably time to hold up that mirror and start reflecting. 5. Technology It would be totally remiss of us not to talk about technology, especially as it’s what underpins our entire offering. And while it can be vilified at times, when used right, technology has enormous power to do good for organisations, people and the environment. AI doesn't have to be the evil superpower taking our jobs - it can also be the brilliant sidekick helping us to do them even better. Merchanting has something of a reputation for being old-fashioned in its adoption of technology. Clipboards and paper trails, trade desk conversations and word of mouth all have their place, the pandemic massively accelerated the need for, and adoption of, digital transformation. To be competitive and fully embrace the range of opportunities available to them, merchants need to be future-ready. That doesn’t just mean having a snazzy website (though that can help!) It means choosing a future-fit, Cloud-based ERP system to keep all your business processes efficient and well-integrated. A system capable of evolution and agility, which can link up with emerging technologies and platforms to give you best-in-class options across every part of your business from finance to CRM to eCommerce to marketplace or social selling to analytics. It means choosing a system that can run on a mobile or tablet as easily as a desk-bound PC, a system that enables your people to work from where they are and keep the information up to date and synced. There are so many new and emerging options for merchants it can be hard to keep up. From the “endless aisle” concepts of platforms like VirtualStock to the local market selling tools like NearSt, it will pay for merchants to keep a finger on the pulse of new tech. Of course, technology is about more than online too, and there are loads of new ways for merchants to enhance the in-branch experience too. Product-browsing kiosks, mobile and handheld technology, integrated in-branch/online purchasing, 3D design modelling and sustainability calculation - it’s a very exciting space to be. With an increasing reliance on digital platforms, the world of business is rushing forward into the future and merchants who are not prepared for the changes ahead will have a lot more challenges on their hands than those who proactively embrace the opportunities that technology has to offer. A last note before you go If you’re not 100% happy with your current system, are considering a digital system for the first time or would like to supplement the stock and trading capacities in your financials platform, Merchanter might be a great fit for your business. To have an informal chat, or to register for our free online demo system, just fill out the contact form here and we’ll be in touch to help.