Fully integrated systems for builders merchants deliver best results

Fully integrated systems have become the norm for many builders’ merchants, especially with applications such as CRM, warehouse and electronic trading coming on stream. Integrated functionality has also made it possible to manage complex branch, location and company structures more successfully when using the builders’ merchants software. In short with or without some sort of interface, stand-alone alternatives for accounts, stock control and marketing, do not address merchants’ needs particularly successfully.

Bespoke applications have also become increasingly less appealing and practical. More and more merchants have appreciated the value of transactional data being recorded once at the point of entry, then flowing automatically through to the accounting functions and other system modules. No re-keying, the risk of errors much reduced and improved operational efficiency being the obvious benefits.

MKM, the UK’s largest independent builders’ merchant, needed a fully integrated and scalable system that would help the business develop. Implementing K8 in 2008, they found that one of the major benefits was that they could have all the requisite functionality without bespoke modifications.

Why are integrated systems so significant?

There are good reasons why integrated systems are so significant in today’s competitive, technology-driven marketplace. To begin with, it’s worth removing a few misconceptions. Firstly, choosing a fully integrated trading, warehousing and financial system from a single supplier doesn’t mean that you won’t have flexibility and choice. Integrated systems, such as K8, are highly configurable for applications to be fine-tuned to suit business preferences. Secondly, you don’t have to be a large, multi-site national chain of builder’s merchants to justify an integrated system; smaller businesses can find that integrated modules also deliver very worthwhile time and efficiency savings. Kent-based merchants DBM recently chose an integrated solution. Branch Manager, Lukha Singh said, “Our business has grown and existing systems lack the integrated functionality that we need. K8 will reduce paperwork and streamline our processes significantly. Not having to manually cross-check orders will save a lot of time and real time information will speed up counter operations.” Finally, when you factor in support services and development roadmaps, fully integrated systems generally represent a much more secure, easily maintained, long term investment.

For builders’ merchants, looking to grow, having all information and data in one place, and accessible to everyone, has moved from the ‘nice to have’ to the almost essential camp. Customers don’t want to be kept waiting for their enquiry to be dealt with. In this want-it now era, customers and suppliers increasingly expect to help themselves and access the information they need. Fully integrated systems can also contribute to having a more competitive level playing field between larger, multi-site operations and the ‘owner-driver’ merchants. Although there may not be a need to use all the available functionality, K8, for example, is a system that users can grow into without major re-investment.

Newton Abbot-based Supa Roofing and Power Tools are implementing K8. Finance Director, Dennis Waterman, said,” After using a bespoke, Sage-based package for over 20 years, we reached the point where our requirements had changed. A more advanced, functionally-rich system was required to take the business forward and provide our staff with the builders' merchant software they need to do their job more efficiently.”

Keeping the finger on the pulse is the key for builders' merchants

If a fully integrated system is a ‘must have’ for day to day business operations, its contribution as a management tool is just as significant. Running a builder’s merchant of any shape and size, having complete control of every area and keeping the finger on the pulse is key. Edward Broderick, MKM IT manager said about K8, “We have provided users with fast access to designated functions, pdfs, reports and drill-down facilities. The dashboard displays include clear presentations and traffic light-style indicators.” Driven by the system’s integrated processes, information is primed ready for effective decision-making. For merchants with just a handful of users, similar facilities can help manage the basics. Everything is clearly visible or just a click away. Ealing Boards &Timber will soon be moving from predominantly manual systems to K8. They said that the system’s stock control, sales order processing, purchasing and financial applications will provide much greater control and visibility of business operations.

The case for integrated systems has some other factors in its favour. For one thing, a single system platform means one primary IT partner with which to foster a long term relationship and have a free flow exchange of ideas, wants and wishes. Business processes frequently impact on several areas of operation and hence it’s likely to be much easier and more successful to work with an IT partner that has a wider, multi-discipline pool of experience to call upon.

Evolutionary and forward thinking development

No one would dispute that an IT investment, whether it’s for a 5, 50 or 500 user system is a long term commitment – a journey that will be full of uncertainties. Future-proofing is a key and desirable objective, especially as technology continues to advance at a rapid rate - cloud, web-enabled functions, external data feeds and more will become increasingly prevalent. All of which means, that by choosing a fully integrated system, with an evolutionary, forward-thinking development programme, builders’ merchants will be able to stack their IT cards in their favour. And with the right provider, it makes for a proven and powerful combination.

Primarily, for Kerridge Commercial Systems and its K8 solution, the goal is to help builder’s merchants be more successful and profitable in the long term. In summing up, developing and nurturing business partner relationships is an integral part of delivering ever more capable builders’ merchant software.