We talk to independents about their choice of technology provider
“We knew we needed an e-commerce site that was easy to navigate.”
Panola Paper Co., Inc., Batesville, Mississippi, was looking for a new software platform to integrate its e-commerce website with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to capture a missing segment of customers.
“I believe we are a unique dealer in that we have seven full-time sales representatives on the road,” says Lisa Farrish, co-owner of Panola, which has annual sales of $12 million. “We sell within a 125-mile radius of our headquarters. We knew we needed an e-commerce site that was easy to navigate for those customers who prefer to order online in our increasingly tech-savvy world. Our first-call wholesaler is S.P. Richards and our longtime sales rep—who we now count as a friend—pushed us to keep up with the evolving times, which has proved to be a good thing. She told us that if we wanted to grow, we needed an e-commerce site. This advice has been very beneficial to our growth over the years.”
After a fair amount of research and time spent with various e-commerce platform providers at numerous trade shows, Panola found Dealer Commander. That was about 12 years ago; the two have been partners ever since.
According to Farrish, there are many reasons Panola has stayed with Dealer Commander. She likes how user friendly the site is—both on the back end for her staff and on the front end for the customers. She is also continually impressed by how accessible the owner, Sonny Arora, has been over the years.
“Sonny employs wonderful staff who are easy to reach, knowledgeable and professional,” she explains. “He responds quickly; and while there are seldom issues with the site, when they do arise they are fixed quickly—usually within 24 hours.” Yet what made Dealer Commander stand out to Panola was that the platform could handle something the other software platforms the company looked into could not.
“We were originally a janitorial supply company and brought in the office products category to become a one-stop shop for all of our customers’ needs,” Farrish recalls. “So while we purchase from S.P. Richards, we also purchase from numerous janitorial vendors and we wanted to be able to feature products from all those suppliers on the platform as a complete offering. We asked Dealer Commander if this was something they could do and, after frequent correspondence and Zoom meetings, Sonny and his team created it for us. We can add pictures, unique product numbers, banner ads and featured links to the site ourselves. We can even rewrite the product descriptions we get from our wholesalers to make them more searchable.”
According to Farrish, there are other Dealer Commander features Panola isn’t using yet, but is actively considering. These include paperless drivers, where orders and deliveries can all be handled through drivers’ phones or tablets, which can also digitally save signed copies of the proofs of delivery and file them electronically in case they need to be viewed at a later date. However, one new feature the company recently implemented through Dealer Commander is already paying off.
“We had Dealer Commander create a program for us to collect credit card fees from customers who pay with credit cards,” Farrish says. “We started looking at the fees we were paying and were shocked at how much we were being charged monthly. We were losing a lot of money. Dealer Commander staff wrote the program and it is working wonderfully.”
Farrish adds that Dealer Commander is very open to suggestions: “Sometimes the staff may ask, ‘Are you sure you want that?’ But if we give them sound reasoning, they will do what we ask. They are very easy to work with and we would recommend them highly.”
“Now I have the confidence to spend money.”
Rocklin, California-based Walker’s has used ECI software since the company opened in 1990. “We evolved together,” says president and co-owner Jarrod Anderson. “I know some think parts of it are cumbersome, but it’s the most capable and elaborate ERP.”
According to Anderson, Walker’s avails of several ECI offerings: “We use DDMS Plus for our back end, for everything from our inventory to order entry to payroll. It’s the foundation of ECI products. Building on this, we use Acsellerate for all our analytics and sales tracking. I know it’s capable of much more customer reporting than we use it for, but I like that it is user friendly. I use it to manage margins; and we set alerts to let us know when there’s a low-margin order or a customer hasn’t ordered in a certain number of days. We use it to set our sales goals. It gives us a quick, high-level snapshot of what is happening in sales. I look at it every day. We also use JumpTrack, ECI’s delivery software. All our drivers have routes, and all the orders for their routes are entered into their phones or tablets. It says the order has been picked up, confirms the delivery and shows the customer online that it has been delivered. I am using it now because we were short-staffed today, so I am making a delivery.”
Of all the ECI software programs, Anderson is most excited about one which is just about to go live. “Evolution X was a company ECI purchased that creates a very modern, user-friendly, e-commerce website that allows us flexibility,” he explains. “The program we were using was very clumsy. It was not up to where we needed to be in society or the world to go up against the Amazons and Staples of the world, which can spend a ton of money. The number of orders we handle through our website is crazy, but the site was not good. They talk about millennials; I would look at my daughter, who could be my customer in a few years, and I knew she would not like our website. It made me feel old! Our Evolution X website is not live yet, but we’ve been testing it and so far, everything is operating as advertised.”
One feature Anderson especially likes is the control over first in search: “When the customer puts paper towels in the search engine, the paper towels we stock come up first. Before, a list of paper towels would come up, including ones we don’t stock. Now I can steer customers toward our website because it’s easier to use. We do mostly B2B, but the new site will also allow us to sell B2C and be successful.”
According to Anderson, the site is so much better that he’s willing to put money into its success. “We hired a whole marketing department and are doing sales campaigns,” he enthuses. “I never spent money before on marketing because it would have driven people to our website, which was a roadblock to doing business. Now, it offers a smooth transaction, which we can push as its own sales machine. Now I have the confidence in the site to spend money.”
Fortune Web Marketing
“It was clear this person knew the industry and marketing.”
At an ISG show about 12 years ago, Gordon Thrall, executive vice president and chief revenue officer of Guernsey in Dulles, Virginia, heard a presentation by Jennifer Stine, president of Asbury Park, New Jersey-based Fortune Web Marketing. He was impressed.
“It was clear to me that this person knew the industry and marketing,” Thrall says. “I didn’t understand everything she talked about, but I knew she knew. She talked about things like SEO [search engine optimization] even back in the day.”
Thrall talked with Stine after her presentation and they agreed to meet for breakfast the next day. A short time later, he hired her as a consultant to support Guernsey’s in-house marketing team.
“Fortune Web had a hand in creating our website, including the visuals, and helping us maintain it,” recalls Thrall. “They also did all the behind-the-scenes work, like the SEO tactics to make sure our website could be found.”
Guernsey has used Fortune Web Marketing ever since. However, this year he turned over the entire website and all the marketing functions to Stine and her team.
“We have relied heavily on Fortune Web’s expertise for 12 years,” Thrall explains. “Before, when we had marketing people on staff, they would all have their strengths and weaknesses. So we would rely on their strengths and try to fill in where there were weaknesses. Fortune has specialists in all areas: SEO, graphics, blogging and social media. So, when we lost the last one of our marketing team about a year ago, we went all-in with Fortune and it’s been great. We’re not limited to one to two marketing areas our staff can do. Their specialists can help you get it all done.”
According to Thrall, the assistance on offer is another USP of the Fortune Web-Guernsey partnership: “Fortune Web is fantastic —incredible—in terms of responsiveness. If we have an issue or a customer does, they get back to us and it gets solved in minutes. It’s like having our own marketing department next door. Also, they listen well, but they are the marketing experts. If they think we are going off in a bad direction, they tell us. I appreciate that.”
So how would he quantify Fortune Web’s impact on Guernsey’s business? “We can’t measure how many sales close thanks to Fortune Web,” he acknowledges. “But the clearest example of what Fortune Web means to our business was when we had to change systems. We usually get one to two inbound leads a day, and I attribute that to Fortune Web and the site being found. The system change took us about a year to complete. We couldn’t use Fortune Web during that time and our inbound leads dried up. People weren’t picking up the Yellow Pages and we were not positioned to be found.”
Today, Guernsey’s leads are backup and the partnership is moving forward. “You can’t hold back from doing something new because it’s always been done the way you are doing it,” Thrall insists. “You can’t stay stuck in the past. Fortune Web understands that. Stine and her team know where the market is going and are always looking for new and innovative things. It is the perfect combination of industry experience and forward-thinking marketing knowledge.”
“GOPD has everything we need.”
Dynamic Graphics, LLC, South Charleston, West Virginia, started using GOPD software about three years ago, when the company’s previous supplier announced it would not be updating the platform the dealer had been using. “The system they wanted us to upgrade to was a lot more expensive,” says Dynamic Graphics owner Brenda Alexander. “We weighed this and other factors and decided the software wasn’t for us.”
So Alexander began looking around for a new provider and platform, and found GOPD.
“GOPD has everything we need,” she says. “We are extremely customer focused and we need to be competitive, so user-friendly software is key; it is the most important feature for us. We need something customers can navigate easily without a lot of headaches. Nobody wants to waste time on a system or site that is a pain, and this one is user friendly on the front and back ends. Most offices are not staffed like before COVID-19, so everyone—customers and our staff—needs smooth. They need ‘Click, click, done.’ GOPD is extremely user friendly for our customers and us.’”
According to Alexander, the customer-centric software focus includes the ability for customers or staff to set up favorites so customers can instantly see the products they order frequently and order them without having to search. It also means the site can be customized to focus on products that Dynamic Graphics wants to highlight.
“During COVID-19, everyone was looking for facemasks, disinfectant and hand sanitizer,” Alexander recalls. “We were able to feature these front and center on the site, so they were easy for our customers to find. And we could change the slideshow ourselves without waiting or paying someone each time.”
Alexander also likes that the system allows Dynamic Graphics to easily create unique customer price plans: “Instead of customer employees looking to buy products here or there for a lower price, we can create a competitive plan with special pricing on the things they buy most frequently. And if they have multiple locations, they all get the same competitive pricing.”
Alexander reports that switching to the new platform was surprisingly painless and GOPD has proved to be an exceptional choice: “The transition to the new software was smooth and easy; GOPD staff made it seamless, which is saying a lot. We had no complaints from customers when we switched, which was excellent. Usually, when you change software from a platform they are used to, people get frustrated and annoyed, and that is something we always want to avoid. GOPD’s service continues to be great. With our previous supplier, it would often take us days to get a problem resolved. GOPD is always there if we need something, which isn’t that often. For the price, with all it does and the support and service we get, GOPD can’t be beat.”
“Logicblock is more robust and user friendly than other online storefronts.”
Red Rhino Office Supplies, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, switched to the Logicblock software platform about two years ago, when it was looking for a more robust system to provide customers with a better experience. According to Red Rhino owner Frankie Mann, the dealer was not disappointed in its selection.
“We are totally satisfied with Logicblock,” enthuses Mann. “We really like the customer experience the site provides. It is more like a big-box website than a cookie-cutter one like many others. We can customize the site to feature healthcare or whatever products we want to focus on, which was not easy with our previous software. The site overall is a lot easier to navigate. Our customers love the new look and feel; it makes it easier for them to order. I especially like the instant vendor stock checks. We also like the ease and flexibility on the back end. It makes it a lot easier to process orders. And orders can go directly to the wholesaler to be filled and shipped to us; 99 percent of the time, we get the order from the wholesaler and deliver it next day to our customers.”
According to Logicblock, the company offers a fully integrated, completely customized e-commerce solution between wholesalers and dealers, including catalog, inventory, order management and content services.
“The transition to Logicblock was seamless,” Mann says. “Migrating the data to Logicblock, which hosts our site, was easy.” He also appreciated the training: “Logicblock is very user friendly and the online, on-demand training allowed us to learn when it was convenient for us. The Logicblock team is also very responsive. They have an email ticket system; we can mark things as urgent, high, medium or low priority. They always get back to us in a timely way.”
Would Mann recommend the platform to other independent office dealers? “Yes,” he replies without hesitation. “Logicblock is more robust and user friendly than other online storefronts.”
“I can’t remember the last time I had to leave a voicemail.”
Office Solutions and Services – OS2, Missoula, Montana, had an in-house server and wanted to switch to a cloud-based solution. The company wasn’t thrilled with the service from its software supplier at the time and some of the other systems it had looked at seemed excessively pricey.
“I noticed a few other dealers in the ISG group had switched to Prima and it was a little less spendy, so I contacted the company,” says Darla Nokleby, OS2’s chief operating officer. “Steve, the owner, conducted a web demo. He is very hands-on and seemed willing to customize the system to us rather than the other way around And, unlike our last provider, everything we wanted to be customized didn’t cost a lot more money.”
Since then, Nokleby has found a great deal to like about the software besides price. “With Prima, ordering is completely automated,” she explains. “It goes directly to S.P. Richards to fill the order, creates the purchase order with all the correct product numbers, and gets shipped to us to deliver. Prima also automatically downloads S.P. Richards’ price files. Before, S.P. and Essendant software could download them, but they would charge for the service; or I’d have to come into the office early to do it. At the end of each quarter, it would take half a work day to do and even longer at the year’s end. That’s significant savings, and it eliminates a lot of frustration.”
And there’s more. “We also use it for our contract furniture,” continues Nokleby. “It’s compatible with our design programs, so we can input our files easily. We can also use Prima to do punchouts if schools and universities want them. I love the new e-commerce website. We can automatically populate it with S.P. Richards’ enhanced content. It allows us to sell nonstock items, which has made a huge difference in our business. And I am very excited about its new reporting system.”
According to Nokleby, there was a learning curve after switching to Prima, but the training and attention they received smoothed out the wrinkles. “The company is hands-on and they were completely involved in ensuring we got the right training,” she says. “We got however many meetings and training sessions we needed. They also had two reps assigned to us who were very responsive. Once a site goes live, they keep you on the new customer side of the business to be sure you get any help you need. Now it is running smoothly, but we still have access to recorded training sessions and a 15-minute users’ forum once a month.”
Nokleby says the responsiveness was apparent from day one: “The first time I called, it was around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. Steve was in England. I had no idea what time it was there, but he answered the phone. And still, anytime you call, they answer the phone—I can’t remember the last time I had to leave a voicemail. Or you can email and they will get right back to you.”
“Everything we need is right there in one software.”
One Office Solution, Norfolk, Nebraska, wanted to change software systems. Its current provider had announced it would be upgrading its system; but that wasn’t the only issue.
“We didn’t like the upgrade option, but we also were unhappy with the ongoing cost increases and the supplier’s lack of willingness to provide customizable options and support,” says Steve McNally, One Office Solution vice president. “Everything was separate; the provider was nickel and diming us, charging us for everything. When we’d call, only one or two people on staff knew how to solve the problem, so someone would have to have them call us back. When they finally did, we had to pay for it.”
So in April 2020, One Office Solution contracted with SSI. As with any complete software switch, there were a few hiccups getting it up and running. But overall, McNally believes it was a wise choice.
“We do it all: commercial and retail, point of sale, furniture, so there are files to upload, IT and machine repair services,” he says. “We have 10 locations in five states. When we first converted, the SSI team had to scramble to make it work. But we use every SSI module, including point of sale, order entry, general ledger—even the serialized machine inventory program SSI offers in partnership with Job Track.”
And this broad range wasn’t the only reason the two companies had their work cut out in making the transition. “When switching to SSI, we were supposed to have six months of training and to be sure the bugs were worked out,” McNally explains. “But we were hacked by ransomware. We had a choice: we could restore everything with our old supplier and then switch it to SSI a short time later, or we could go live. There would be pain points no matter what, so we decided to go live with the SSI site. But we didn’t get to benefit from the six months of training and set it up the way it should have been.”
The other side of that was SSI was ready and willing to flip the switch. And best of all, this responsiveness isn’t reserved for emergencies only. “You can call them and they get it done, McNally says. “But I really like their email system. Instead of phone tag, you send an email. I usually hear back within 10 minutes; if there is a problem, it is usually fixed in a couple of hours. Also, it is included in the price if it’s an update or a general system improvement. Before, improvements or suggestions would be added to a list, and you never knew if it would ever get done.”
So what else does McNally like about SSI? “Everything is integrated into one program without having to go to QuickBooks, or this program or that program,” he continues. “Everything we need is right there in one software. Also, the different modules are all intuitive and easy to use. So when you have a new employee, the training is relatively easy. The reports are easy for our salespeople to access and are included in the monthly bill.”
McNally also appreciates the tailored front end, which One Office Solution can use to promote the products the company wants instead of relying solely on the wholesaler’s content.
Better pricing, a flexible e-commerce site, completely integrated user-friendly software and a responsive team are other reasons why McNally would recommend SSI. He has one word of advice, however: “I do recommend SSI, but I also recommend using that six-month training period. Spend the time laying out exactly what you want and need. Don’t jump in like we had to do if you can help it. It will make things a lot easier.”
“The company is constantly upgrading the software to make it better.”
Coastal Office Solutions, Victoria, Texas, switched to the Thalerus software platform in 2015, when its then-supplier stopped updating the software the company had been using. According to co-owner Shad Estes, Coastline had already paid that supplier to migrate to one of its other platforms. However, more than four months later, the provider hadn’t started the integration. Tired of waiting, Coastal requested a refund and turned to Thalerus instead.
“It was a good move for us,” says Estes. “Thalerus offers a more Windows-based system that is easy to use and to integrate with other programs. The software company’s online portal, VIBENet, is a robust system with a lot of features and options. We have a lot of accounts with several buyers in different locations and the need for multiple approvals. The platform makes it easy.”
Another option Thalerus offers is the ability to do punchouts. Punchouts link clients directly from their computers to a vendor’s website for direct, fast, easy ordering of products preapproved by the institution’s purchasing department. This also works well for accounts with multiple buyers and locations. “We just finished a punchout with a major university here in Texas and are starting on another one,” Estes says. “It makes it really easy for them to order and is great for bringing more business.”
Coastal operations manager Jennifer Mikolas adds: “We knew nothing about how to do a punchout, but Thalerus walked us through the process and made it easy.”
An additional front-end functionality Estes and Mikolas favor is the ability for clients to order based on their interests by clicking on icons for features such as recyclable or UPS shippable. They also like that customers can make custom lists of the products they buy most frequently to make ongoing ordering easier.
Estes is particularly pleased with the esthetics of the Coastal website: “Besides being functional, it’s a pretty website. One potential account said having a pretty website was important and asked me if ours is pretty. I answered yes. They looked at the site and said, ‘You’re right—it is a pretty website.’”
Mikolas works primarily on the back end. “I like the reporting options,” she says. “I like the ability to download and manipulate data and being able to easily upload from other programs I use, like Exel.”
Something else that has impressed both Estes and Mikolas is the Thalerus team’s attitude. “Thalerus is very customer-service oriented,” reports Estes. “The company listens to you and what you are looking to do, and is willing to make revisions and enhancements to make it happen. The company is constantly upgrading the software to make it better.”