What do camping gear, nutrition bars, portable ultraviolet water purification systems and surfboards have in common?
- All are consumer products, consumed by outdoor enthusiasts
- All are sold by national retailers like REI, Bass Pro Shops and Eastern Mountain sports
- All are also sold online
- All are manufactured by companies that once ran QuickBooks but today use NetSuite to manage their businesses
These companies were among 33 exhibitors at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 show in Salt Lake City, Utah that run NetSuite cloud-based solutions. NetSuite of course capitalized on this event to highlight its recent wins in the outdoor industry. Featured prominently in NetSuite’s press release was the concept of omni-channel commerce. Omni-channel is all the rage amongst retailers, but if you don’t follow retail closely, you might be asking, “what’s that?” In short, omni-channel retailing “is a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels.” And what are these different channels? Stores you visit in person, catalogues you get in the mail, 800 numbers you call after seeing an advertisement on television, websites you visit from your computer or your mobile device.
Have you ever bought something online and wanted to expedite delivery by picking it up at a nearby store? Or maybe when it arrived it didn’t fit and you wanted to save the shipping cost and just bring it back to the store? How about when you go to the store to make a purchase and the item is out of stock? Maybe you’d like it shipped directly to you from a regional warehouse or directly from the manufacturer. As a consumer, these all sound like logical alternatives and perhaps you get annoyed when you can’t “mix and match” your channels. If you can’t, then it is probably because manufacturing, distribution and each of those retail outlets are all running separate systems that don’t (or can’t) “talk” to each other.
So if you think omni-channel commerce is just a retail issue, think again. It also impacts wholesale distribution and even manufacturing. While many struggle with this even today, others have made the leap to fully integrated solutions that support the omni-channel experience.
NEMO Equipment, for example, is a designer of innovative tents, sleeping bags and pads and other camping gear. Its products are sold both online through its own custom-built web storefront, as well as through about 300 retailers including REI and Eastern Mountain Sports in North America, and internationally in Europe and Asia. Up until recently (January 2013) it was trying to piece all this together with QuickBooks, but today uses NetSuite for financials, inventory and order management, CRM and PCI-compliant credit-card processing. Consolidated inventory management allows NEMO to also compartmentalize inventory, virtually segmenting direct-to-consumer, B2B and US military sales channels while cutting pick, pack and ship time in half.
Liberty Bottleworks is another example. The company prides itself in making the only metal bottle on the market that is entirely made in America. Therefore it can’t rely on off-shoring or other low-cost country means of reducing costs. It relies instead on operational efficiencies to create a strong bottom line. It uses NetSuite financials, manufacturing, inventory, order management, CRM and eCommerce, with a direct-to-consumer website powered by NetSuite SuiteCommerce to manage its business end-to-end while also expanding its retail network to about 1,400 including REI, Whole Foods and L.L. Bean. But its omni-channel commerce has a bit of a unique twist.
In addition to its B2C online sale of standard metal bottles and its distribution through regular retail outlets, Liberty Bottleworks also offers custom bottles. Want your logo and company name on a bottle? No problem. Liberty Bottleworks can do that for you. In fact it does just that for corporate customers like Coca-Cola, the Seattle Seahawks and even NetSuite itself. While the company expected this to be about 10% of sales, this part of the business has recently exploded, which has added a level of complexity that would be unmanageable without an integrated solution to support it. NetSuite supports Liberty Bottleworks in managing up to one million components (who would have thought?), including recycled materials.
These are just a couple examples of companies manufacturing consumer products that face a level of complexity added to a business that once might have been relatively simple. As consumers expect and demand more choice, merchants, distributors and manufacturers require an added level of seamless integration that is impossible to achieve with spreadsheets and desktop-bound solutions. In order to manage the relationships between consumers, retailers, distributors and manufacturers, you need seamless integration of financials, ERP, CRM and eCommerce. Yes, it’s a tall order, but consumers demand it. And with the right solutions, the opportunity for companies like Liberty Bottleworks and NEMO Equipment is as big as the great outdoors.