The theoretical benefits of modern IT systems are often discussed, but how does this really impact on all areas of a merchant’s operation from your customers as well as your own teams? PBM speaks with professional tradesman Ryan Caws who outlines the essential requirements he looks for in the merchants he buys from in his local area, whilst we also hear from BBS Plumbing & Heating Supplies which has just rolled out a new software system for its five branches.
Southampton-based Caws Carpentry and Building was established in 2002 by Ryan Caws, who can now look back on over 30 years of experience in the building and carpentry trades. The company specialises in bathroom installations, extensions, loft conversions, refurbishment and much more besides, meaning that it is “constantly busy” with new customers being placed on a waiting list due to its reputation for the quality of its work.
With many employed, self-employed, and subcontracted tradesmen relying on Ryan to earn a living, the start of the Covid-19 pandemic brought the worry of not only how to protect his staff from coronavirus, but also how to pay them a wage they could survive on.
Ryan explained: “The start of the pandemic was extremely hard — we had to abide by the new rules of who was and wasn’t allowed to work, try to keep my staff in work so they could earn a living, keep them socially distanced, and keep the guys out of customers houses unless physically impossible. It was a nightmare, and we’re still seeing the effects of it today.”
Sourcing materials also became a headache, with shortages nationwide and social distancing causing problems for collections. However, many innovative merchants completely changed the way they conducted business, which Ryan says was a “game changer”.
He said: “I deal with a huge number of merchants in the south (a combination of nationals and small local organisations) and this past year has really made my priorities change. I cannot have my guys driving around, back and forth between merchants looking for bags of cement anymore. They must limit their human interaction and save costs wherever possible.
“I need to be able to go online, see that what I need is in stock, and place an order for collection there and then. Being able to get texts from merchants when my order is ready and knowing that my staff won’t have to handle unnecessary paperwork and can instead receive delivery notes by email — these things are so important to us now.”
Ryan continued: “I tend to lean towards (merchant) suppliers that I can access online nowadays — I just don’t have time to be calling around asking for copy invoices or making payments. I’m often working late into the evening, when the merchants have closed, and so being able to access my account online to look up prices, place orders, arrange collections etc is essential so that we can get a running start the next day.”
The increased need for remote order entry (e-commerce) and mobile solutions has obviously been exponential over the last year. Customer special prices, stock availability, credit limits and historic sales had to be live and drawn real-time from a back-office system, removing any reliance on paper and reducing manpower — something that has been essential during the furlough and redundancy period — while also providing an efficient and slick service that business owners like Ryan desperately needed in hard times.
If, hopefully soon, we return to a world without social distancing measures, then the innovators within the merchant industry will already be ahead of the game with slicker, more efficient operations which benefit themselves and their customers.
As Ryan notes: “I still very much value a good deal and a friendly, fast service — but if I can get that from a supplier that helps me protect my team and my business, then all the better.”
Providing increased levels of customer service and improving productivity for all aspects of the business was said to be behind BBS Plumbing & Heating Supplies’ decision to place a 60-user order for Intact iQ from Blue Rock Systems. The Bristol-based PHG member was originally founded in 1933 as a general building & agricultural merchant, adapting its business model over the years to become one of the leading plumbing and heating suppliers in the South West of England.
Now boasting five branches, its expansion had “put pressure on the current aging software setup” and so the requirement for a modern and flexible system became apparent. Lee Hooper, the merchant’s Managing Director, said: “We had been aware of Blue Rock Systems and Intact iQ through the industry for many years before we actually met them initially in 2019. From that first meeting we were thoroughly impressed with Intact iQ system and could see how it would modernise our business.
“That said, our decision to move forward was delayed on a several occasions due to our continued expansion. We have grown to the point where everything we do currently is very manually intensive and is really very inefficient (but) we have seen how the Intact iQ system will help us become more productive across all our departments.”
Intact iQ will allow BBS to control its own workflow alerting to clients and staff alike, along with the ability to design its own screens and many other functions the company simply could not have through its current system. All together, BBS believes it will now be able to provide increased levels of customer service whilst driving efficiency and productivity from within the business to ultimately help the bottom line.
Lee added: “The availability of data, and the proactive nature of this alerting us, is going to revolutionise how we run the business. We expect to make big gains quite quickly in how we will be able to run moving forward.”
For more information on Blue Rock Systems and its solutions for merchants, https://bluerocksystems.co.uk/