Technology continues to advance at a phenomenal pace and is transforming and streamlining traditional systems and processes. In this issue, we take a look at the latest technology offerings available to the IDC and how dealers are utilizing them to best advantage.
ECI: “We use it for everything”
Having used ECI’s digital design, manufacturing and services (DDMS) software since 2003, Mark Porter, president of Porter’s Office Products, Rexburg, Idaho, reports that the company avails of as many of its features as possible. “We use it for our office, janitorial and breakroom products,” he says. “We are a Steelcase dealer, so we use the furniture module for scheduling and installation. We use it for everything.”
The company appreciates the time and labor savings it creates. “DDMS increases efficiencies,” explains Porter. “It offers real-time customized pricing and stock availability, and orders are sent automatically to our closest designated warehouse. Previously, we had to manually input every order, which took countless hours. With DDMS, a staff member only has to look at an order if the closest warehouse doesn’t have an item; 98 percent of orders are fully automated. All our products are in the system, and so is manufacturers’ information, like maximum and minimum order sizes. So if we have an order that is $900 and we need $1,000 to get free freight, we can decide to add a few items. Or if we need three of an item, but it only comes in packages of six, the system will tell us.”
Another DDMS feature Porter likes is JumpTrack: “We may pull half an order and the other half comes from our wholesaler. We put a barcode on our half and the wholesaler puts the same barcode on its half. The driver uses an app to scan the barcodes, and the app then chooses the best delivery route and tells the driver how many packages go with each order. The driver scans each package as it is delivered and the customer signs through the app when they receive their order. Customers can also track their orders to see when they will be delivered.”
Porter says his company also uses punchouts, allowing DDMS to integrate with customers’ proprietary e-procurement systems for a seamless shopping experience from their desktops. “Punchouts create even greater efficiencies,” he says. “There’s no dual order entry; no multiple logins or passwords. The customer’s frequently ordered items are right there with their pricing.”
From the supplier side, “Punchouts are absolutely worth it,” he continues. “They reduce pricing errors and lock customers into us because if they buy from someone else, they have to put the order in twice, get approval and a PO [purchase order], which is all done automatically before the order comes to us. Before punchouts, large customers would fax orders to us every night; we had to key in 30 to 70 orders every day, so the punchouts save us a lot of work.”
While DDMS is user friendly and flexible, it can also prove “a bit of a double-edged sword” at times, as Porter explains: “The platform offers great flexibility to customize, which means it also can get a little complex.” Enter tech support. ECI’s Premium Support package costs a little more, but Porter believes it is well worth it: “We have a dedicated, high-level support person who knows our system really well, and who we can call or email anytime.
“DDMS is a good system for us and has helped facilitate our growth,” Porter concludes. “It has allowed us to scale our business without adding human resources, and that’s been huge for us.”
EvolutionX: “It’s made the website much more user friendly for customers”
Clive Katz, chief financial officer of Office Central, Toronto, Canada, doesn’t hesitate to identify the advantages that ES Tech Group’s EvolutionX software has afforded his company.
“We have EvolutionX integrated with our DDMS software, so when customers place online orders, they flow directly into our ERP [enterprise resource planning] software,” Katz says. “The benefit of this is no one has to key in the orders manually. It gives live pricing, so we can control our contract pricing to our customers all in one platform. It also allows us to control customer functionality, such as orders from customers whose accounts are on hold and live inventory from our warehouse and our wholesalers. And customers can access their entire history from order to invoice.”
And what about paying those invoices? “Right now, customers can pay with a credit card or through PayPal/Braintree,” he says. “But this month, we expect to integrate EvolutionX with our DDMS system so customers will be able to view outstanding invoices and pay them online.”
Katz is equally enthusiastic about some of EvolutionX’s other front-end features. “It’s made our website much more user friendly for customers,” he elaborates. “It allows us to customize third-party offerings without limitations. The software also offers rich marketing features. Before, we had no integration with any marketing software. EvolutionX integrates well with systems such as HubSpot, which is a big plus. Now we can send customer-focused email blasts and track customer activity.”
Katz also values the website’s configuration capabilities: “The different options are built in the page configuration. So, for example, if a customer wants to buy red paint and finds it on the site, the other paint colors will come up on the page without the customer having to find the different item numbers or go searching again. Another example is if we are selling a USB or hard drive with one terabyte of storage, the three and five terabyte options will also come up on the page, and customers can click on the different options. It is much more user friendly and allows us to compete with Staples and Michaels.”
EvolutionX has also helped the company move into the B2C online arena. “EvolutionX allows us to sell retail in Canada,” Katz continues. “It gives us full exposure to SEO [search engine optimization] marketing and Google searches. This has been huge for us. It has allowed us to add thousands of items without having to input them into our DDMS system manually.”
Again, Katz provides some illustrative examples: “We recently partnered with an industrial supply group. We were able to add their e-content and control the pricing; and when the customer orders, it now goes directly through our DDMS system. We did the same thing with a first aid supplier: we were able to load all their content. This capability has opened new revenue streams for us; we are not limited to office product suppliers.”
Katz credits EvolutionX for catapulting Office Central into some of its newest, most promising categories, including industrial and warehouse, facility maintenance, material handling, and arts, crafts and hobbies. In addition to DDMS, the company has used EvolutionX’s punchout capabilities to integrate with other ERP systems, which is working well.
EvolutionX’s technical assistance and customer support also gets rave reviews. “The support has been absolutely amazing,” he says. “A great feature is the internal chat. It’s a chat with a live person, and you get a response within 10 minutes. It’s fantastic.”
Fortune Web Marketing: “Very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful”
Four years ago, Craig Cassanelli, president of Greeno Supply, West Springfield, Massachusetts, realized the company website needed an overhaul.
“We knew we should be doing more with our website,” he recalls. “We were happy with the content, but we needed to optimize it to make it more noticeable to Google so that we could get more leads.”
That’s when he turned to Fortune Web, a single-source online marketing company headquartered in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
“Fortune Web started by auditing our website, noting how we could improve the design and what we needed to do to get more leads,” Cassanelli explains. “Just because you create a website doesn’t mean it automatically gets recognized by Google. You have to map it, submit that map to Google and avoid doing other things that lower it in Google’s search rankings. Fortune Web knows these things and understands SEO. Also, Google continues to change its rules and algorithms, and Fortune Web keeps track of this and revises the site to keep it optimized.”
Greeno Supply’s return on investment has been substantial—and verifiable. “I write blogs for the site and give them to Fortune to optimize with keywords, focusing on the products with the highest profit,” Cassanelli says. “There’s a form to fill out, and I get these. I also can tell when questions are coming based on the blog. I wrote a blog recently on industrial strapping and I got a question asking if I could price a strapping deal for 17 locations around the country.”
Despite Fortune Web’s success with the website, Cassanelli admits he initially resisted hiring the company to help with his email marketing: “I thought I could handle the email marketing myself and was using canned email blasts from vendors tied to office products, which is not our strength or our focus. It is the weakest of our five categories.”
Ironically, he says, the COVID-19 pandemic brought this misalignment to light.
“A large group of colleges thanked us for the great service during the pandemic,” Cassanelli says. “They told us they got our email blasts and would love to give us more business by buying their office paper and water from us. It was like a slap in the face. It was great news that our email was working, getting us more customers; but the bad news was we were pushing a category we are not targeting and not very good at servicing. I realized we had a disjointed email marketing plan. You need to send the right messaging to the right people to get the right business. So I contacted Fortune Web.”
On the technical side, Greeno Supply’s e-commerce has been boosted by Logicblock’s platform, which the company has been using since 2014. “Customers can order direct and pay with a credit card, or we can bill them later,” says Cassanelli. “The system is easy to use and understand, and I’d be apprehensive about changing.”
For all Fortune Web’s online wizardry, Cassanelli believes one of its greatest assets is its people: “They are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.”
Any advice for other dealers? “Look at your business figures and push the items that are most profitable and in the categories where your company can deliver,” he suggests. “And I recommend using Fortune Web.”
GOPD: “Way ahead of its time for its monthly price point”
Tom Vanhoozer, business sales consultant for Indoff Business Products, St Louis, Missouri, has been in the office products industry for 30 years and has used GOPD software for nearly 20 of those.
“In 2003, I owned an independent dealership,” he says. “I made up my mind to do 100 percent of my business with existing customers online. It was faster, simpler and easier, and I didn’t want to deal with 50 phone calls over a $39 order.” He chose GOPD to make his hands-off dream a reality. And when he merged his dealership with Indoff 13 years ago, Vanhoozer brought GOPD with him.
“The software Indoff was using didn’t have all the bells and whistles GOPD has,” he explains.
When one considers Indoff has six divisions and more than 400 sales consultants, those extra bells and whistles are important. So too are cost and technical performance.
“From a financial standpoint, GOPD is way ahead of its time for its monthly price point,” enthuses Vanhoozer. “Technically, the platform started out ahead and has continued to evolve. It does what a lot of other e-commerce sites can’t. For example, GOPD allows us to customize our vendors and offerings. We can show SP Richards and Essendant products. But we also can show products from wholesalers outside the office products industry for our other categories, such as True Value and Quantum Storage. GOPD gives us a leg-up; it expands the products independent dealers can offer.”
Other customization features Vanhoozer appreciates include the ability to put customers’ logos on their online shopping carts, which “makes them feel comfortable, like they are our partners.” He also likes the ability to customize website pages to automatically provide customers with products tailored to their needs. In addition, it helps with Indoff’s marketing by ensuring the homepage is frequently and automatically updated with current specials and rebates. GOPD also integrates with most proprietary e-procurement platforms via punchouts, which Indoff’s three large multi-location accounts use.
Save a Sale is another unusual GOPD feature. “It sounds a bit like stalking, but we call it ‘course correction,’” Vanhoozer says. “If a customer can’t find an item and is searching around on the site, it texts the rep. When I get a message, I’ll text or call the customer and say, ‘What you are looking for is here,’ and they say thanks and put it in their cart.”
This feature, along with GOPD’s clear website images and product descriptions, has helped reduce Indoff’s returns from eight percent to an impressive three percent.
One of Vanhoozer’s favorite GOPD administration functions is its help with matrix pricing. “Wholesalers don’t update the matrix pricing regularly because they don’t have the manpower,” he explains. “But dealers can’t wait three days to get a price, so they have to go in and update it themselves. Currently, manufacturers are changing their prices daily and weekly. The days of monthly updates are over. GOPD does the price increases automatically and globally for us, daily and weekly.”
Vanhoozer says he especially values GOPD’s responsiveness and readiness to enhance its software with new features—for example, the dashboard now allows sales partners to see what category items customers are buying in real time. His bottom line? “We use GOPD because we need a platform that can pivot to our future needs.”
Logicblock: “Helped us do it all more easily”
When Adrian Fernandez of Best Office, Miami, Florida, started out in the family business, he never thought he’d be involved in developing its website.
“When I joined after college, I didn’t touch the website,” he says. “I got really good at sales; I got really good at acquiring clients using my mouth and closing sales.” However, as a top sales rep, he realized the company had to move from the old DOS-based e-commerce system. “We had so many orders, but we had to input them all individually,” he recalls. “So you would stop selling at 3:00 pm and would still be doing paperwork at 6:00 pm. Time is money; more time means more time to grow the business.”
But which system to choose? “We looked at a few different companies and tried one that didn’t work out,” Fernandez says. “Then, three years ago, we tried Logicblock.”
The results have been profound. “Previously, we’d export everything from Excel and upload all the pricing and the orders,” he explains. “Logicblock has helped us do it all more easily. If the client uses POs, we can set them up in the system. We can have the client’s list of favorites show up. It uploads all the pricing automatically. And besides solid pricing, it allows us to do floating pricing. So when there is a price increase of three percent, the customer’s price is automatically adjusted.”
The platform has also increased sales: “The sales reps used to take catalogs with them on sales calls. With Logicblock, all we need is an iPad. I preload it with useful content and customized pricing. Logicblock helps us close the sale.”
According to Fernandez, the system’s user friendliness gave him the courage to refresh the company’s e-commerce site. “I didn’t think I had the technology background to do this,” he admits. “But if you are not tech savvy, Logicblock makes you tech savvy. Logicblock opened my horizons. It makes it so easy that someone without any experience or a technology background can go in and use it and grow.”
While the standard Logicblock package has many key features, Fernandez says the upgrade to the professional eQuip was well worth the additional cost: “You can see all the SKUs [stock-keeping units] you order and compare two or three distributors’ price plans. And we can process a book of orders in a matter of minutes instead of three hours.”
eQuip has also helped expand Best Office’s business: “We can now drop-ship directly from distributors to any Miami company’s satellite destination. We have not sold to the national market yet, but now we know we can with Logicblock.
“We’re not using Logicblock’s e-commerce resources 100 percent yet,” he continues. “We are just setting up the marketing. But we already know it will integrate easily with our Google store and our SEO ads. I can tell from all the bells and whistles it has, it is going to be fantastic.”
Overall, Fernandez is particularly appreciative of Logicblock’s support and attitude: “Logicblock is constantly making sure it provides the best service. Its people hold your hand through each project. The company also has a support website where you can find articles if you have an issue. It likes being creative and is constantly making enhancements. It is an amazing company run by amazing people who always want to grow. We’ve never been happier or more confident in our business than we are now using Logicblock.”
Prima Software: “So easy to understand and use”
When Jonathan Schatz joined Office Source, Fenton, Missouri, as IT director in October 2020, he was looking for a new software platform with different functionality. “I checked out a few systems, including a demo of Prima from Steve [McLaughlin],” he explains. “The software was new to the United States, but I felt it had most of the functions we needed. I knew the platform was constantly being enhanced and the cost was reasonable compared to other systems. Cost, functionality and the ability to be enhanced are all big deals.
“One area where we needed more flexibility was for machine leasing,” he continues. “We needed the service module to be enhanced to enable us to set up service calls and we wanted to get it done quickly. I talked to Steve and found out he was the owner. He was very hands-on and that was impressive. With our previous software company, you had to wait to get someone to call you back. Prima asked what we needed and got it done.”
The platform is “extremely customizable on the front end,” observes Schatz: “You can create customer-specific content and a nice feature is the ability to rank how you want customers to see items. We can customize pricing for individual customers. The admin control panel makes the website completely controllable.”
Schatz similarly appreciates the flexibility of Prima’s search: “Some searches are controlled and push the items from a certain vendor higher in the search results. We have the option to use all three searches: SP Richards’, Essendant’s and Prima’s. It gives us more control.”
And there are other features which set the platform apart for Schatz: “Before, to pay online, customers had to use their credit card for each order. Now, they have the option to place an order on their account. We can send a statement electronically, and they can log in and pay it. We can also set up email blasts based on different criteria, such as customers that haven’t ordered in a while, and automatically send out a ‘We haven’t heard from you’ email. We can send quotes as pdfs to our website, and the customers can log in and click ‘order’ if they are good with the pricing. Another significant feature for us is pricing files. It used to take us hours to update all the pricing files manually. Now, a message pops up on the screen saying the pricing files are ready and it automatically updates them globally overnight.”
According to Schatz, Prima has been user friendly from the start: “I’ve done about 20 conversions, so I was skeptical and nervous; the last one I did had me working 80 hours a week for six months with no sleep. This one was the easiest yet. Prima gave us templates to fill out with customer data and drop into a folder, which was automatically inputted into the Prima system.”
And once it’s up and running? “Prima offers virtual and onsite training; we chose in-house, but the software is so easy to understand and use, we didn’t need any additional training,” Schatz says. “If there is a question, you call, and someone answers the phone and helps you. They are very responsive and helpful. We couldn’t be happier with the service. They listen to you and act.”
SSI: “Cut our costs in half”
For independent dealer Rogards, headquartered in Champaign, Illinois, the reason for switching to SSI’s e-commerce software platform was twofold.
“The biggest driver was that our previous software was getting too expensive and we were looking to lower our costs,” says Tonya Horn, president and chief executive officer. “We also wanted a platform that provided more customer support, faster. The lead time for assistance with our previous supplier had gotten out of hand. We wanted someone that could provide help in hours or a day.”
After looking at “two to three systems seriously,” Horn says, “SSI was the one that made me most comfortable, because the SSI team knew our previous system. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I was not confident enough in my knowledge of that system to ensure a smooth transition. I felt we needed someone to hold our hand and help connect the dots. SSI really helped bridge the knowledge gap. The software also had the functionality we needed and it met our needs regarding cost savings: it cut our costs in half.”
And the timing could not have been better. “We switched to SSI in January 2020,” Horn says. “It was a great time to save money, although we didn’t fully realize it until two months later; because of the pandemic, it was even more important than we had imagined.”
While the company encountered a few hiccups along the way, it received all the support it needed. “No conversion to a new software provider is all roses and rainbows,” Horn admits. “But SSI had a person come on site a couple of times to help, and someone was there to walk us through when we went live. Their support people also were on call for us 24/7. We appreciated their dedication to helping us through. They are very responsive. It might not always be what we want to hear, but we always get an answer.”
Horn also appreciates SSI’s support in integrating the platform with some customers’ proprietary e-procurement systems using punchouts: “There is an extra charge, but we don’t have someone dedicated to technology on staff. So a person from SSI worked with the customers on our behalf.”
According to Horn, Rogards’ site is open, so anyone can visit, check pricing, order and pay with a credit card as a guest. “It has the functionality consumers have come to expect,” she says. “But it also has the functionality for business needs, such as for getting POs and approval, which sets us apart as a B2B site versus B2C.”
Regarding specific features, Horn believes that reporting and finding things through SSI are now easier, although the system is not all that different from others on the market. “The important thing is the technology is not going backward and it costs less,” she says.
Yet Horn believes there is one key differentiator: “What sets SSI apart is that the company is interested in creating and putting money into enhancing its software. A limited number of providers are putting money and labor into these areas. So it is helpful to work with a software company willing to do this that is focused on our industry.”
Thalerus: “The best system for us and the best value”
When Strive Workplace Solutions of Portland, Oregon wanted to bring its six brands under the Strive umbrella, it decided to consolidate its e-commerce systems with a single software provider. After watching demonstrations and test driving different platforms, Thalerus emerged as the winner.
“For what we were looking for, the value and the cost, Thalerus checked most of our boxes,” says president Jeff Lurcook.
While this was the first time in 15 years that Lurcook wasn’t directly involved in implementing a new technology, he says the conversion “was relatively painless. I’ve done a lot of them in my 15 years in technology and it was definitely easier than the last two.”
He believes this was in no small part thanks to the support on offer: “Anyone who was going to be using the system received quite a bit of training. We had weekly sessions on a demonstration site so we could go in and process orders, create POs and practice all the processes in a live environment.”
While Thalerus is the admin platform, VIBENet is the brand name for the e-commerce side of things. “VIBENet is graphical and intuitive, making it easier to navigate,” says Lurcook. “Also, it gives us more control of the real estate. Our previous software controlled the header and footer; but in the new platform, we have total control. We can customize the look and feel—the headers, footers, side columns and colors.”
And the content can be customized too. “We rely heavily on Thalerus and our wholesalers to supply content, since we don’t have a full-time content person and we don’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel,” Lurcook explains. “But we can go in and change it if we want.”
And on the customer side? “I haven’t heard of any customers having trouble navigating the site; it’s intuitive,” he reports.
Lurcook also appreciates the company’s desire to improve: “Thalerus is always making enhancements and working to keep it current and relevant. The team is also very responsive when we request enhancements.”
And this includes a willingness to integrate with new systems. “We have one company using a punchout with a system called Coupa that Thalerus had never integrated with before,” Lurcook recalls. “It required some fine-tuning, but the integration went as well as the customer expected.”
This ability to meet customer expectations was a decisive factor in Strive’s choice of Thalerus. “An intuitive website and features such as the ability to pay online help us compete with Staples and Amazon,” explains Lurcook. “With 80 percent or more of our volume coming through e-commerce, the site has to be fast and intuitive. In the past, as a business, we could say, ‘This is how we do business.’ Now, we have to do business the way the customer wants, or the customer will move on to someone who will. Today’s customers want sites that are fast, relevant, intuitive and reliable, like they are used to on Amazon.”
Customers also want to order on their own schedules. “Some companies take down their site when they have to do an enhancement or a monthly or year-end report,” Lurcook says. “But our large customers order 24/7. If the site is down, they can’t order. Thalerus never shuts down the site—it’s available 24/7.”
Overall, Lurcook confirms, Thalerus has proven to be “the best system for us and the best value.”
Lisa Veeck is associate editor of INDEPENDENT DEALER magazine and the owner of Clean Communications, a full-service content-generating firm specializing in the office products, cleaning and maintenance, and healthcare fields. She can be reached at lisa@idealercentral or on 773-484-7412.