By Robert W. Scott
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Integrating the Web with accounting systems can radically change a company's operations.
With nearly 50,000 inventory items, you can understand why DTC Stage & Studio Supply wanted to find a way to publish its catalog without the cost and time-consuming process of sending out a paper volume.
"We were to the point we were printing this huge catalog," says Dan Madura, director of sales. Although the company was printing a catalog every six months, it could list only 2,500 of its SKUs in the 160-page publication. To say the least, "it was an incomplete situation," he notes.
Founded in 1983, San Francisco-based DTC has three divisions: the sales department, rental department, and its sound stage division. The company serves the motion picture industry, film and video companies, and theaters with sales and rental of equipment. The company has about $5 million in annual revenue, including just over $1 million from Madura’s sales department.
"Television stations are big clients of ours," notes Madura. DTC also claims some high-profile customers such as the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet.
Madura, who was involved in the switch over from a Unix accounting system to MAS 90 in 1999, says the company was rapidly seeing the need to be involved in e-commerce, particularly the ability to move its catalog to the Web.
So four months ago, it completed the switch to Best Software’s MAS 200 and its e-Business Manager module, a move that cost about $5,000 for software and $2,500 for an additional server. As a result, the company is saving about $5,000 to $7,000 a year from getting out of the catalog business-- "that’s just the paper," he notes.
Now, instead of trying to keep a catalog current, the company has 30,000 inventory items that are Web-enabled. The system has also made DTC a player on the national stage. "We are getting a lot of customers, not only in the San Francisco Bay area but from the Pacific Northwest. We have customers all the way to New York," he says.
AccuVar, a Concord, Calif.-based Best reseller that handled the MAS 90 installation, also installed the e-commerce module. "The biggest challenge was just the number of inventory items," says Joanne Wasak, AccuVar’s president. That challenge was met via Visual Integrator, an add-on tool from Best Software, which pulls the inventory items into both the accounting software and into the e-business module. The site was AccuVar’s first e-Business installation.
Madura highly values the integration of the eBusiness Manager with MAS 200’s Sales Order and Inventory Management Modules. Customers place orders via a shopping cart and DTC receives a notification that orders are pending. "We retrieve them, it dumps them in the sales order system, and it’s processed like any other order," he notes.
With so many inventory items, another important feature is the ability to maintain the system. "When we raise prices in MAS 200, it automatically hits the Web site," says Madura. That’s important because of the continual change in items and prices from the 75 different vendors with whom DTC does business. "It’s a very low maintenance thing for a small to medium-sized business," he says about the system.
Web-based sales are now about 25 percent of the company’s total. It has been able to increase revenue without adding to the staff, which includes four people in the store and about 30 involved with rentals and stages.
"I have a terminal I don’t have to staff," says Madura. "Twice a day, we download the orders, process the orders, and out they go."
There are many success stories like DTC’s on the Web. In this issue, Accounting Technology outlines how users of several major accounting systems have brought their online businesses together with their back office accounting systems, and have found maybe not happiness, a bit more success in their operations.
A Healthy Site
The e-commerce needs at Premier Research Labs are a lot less exotic than the company’s mission. The company, based in Round Rock, Texas, specializes in bringing together raw materials that are brought into the United States in special containers that block irradiation. These materials, screened to avoid any "non-nutrative ingredients" such as pesticide residue, are used in manufacturing nutritional supplements.
Accpac’s eTransact helps the company offer more than 300 products to both health-conscious consumers and health-care professionals, says Clive Buirski, vice president of marketing for Premier. For the last year, the company has been using eTransact to integrate the Web site and host its Accpac Advantage accounting system.
"That’s the beauty of the eTransact package," says Buirski. He notes the integration "avoids having to rekey the order." Using eTransact to host the site at www.prlabs.com lets the company serve all of its customers. The company can display different pricing schedules tailored to consumers and retailers.
"Each of these product tiers may or may not have the same product availability, may have custom lists of product," notes Buirski. "Some might be limited to the Premier line. Some might have their own private-labeled versions of our products."
Buirski says the system, operating for a year, has enormous advantages over those in which orders have to be manually entered. "This eliminates a lot of time consumption and it eliminates errors," he says. "It enables you to modify an order if you need to because of an inventory adjustment that might be necessary."
The migration to eTransact was a natural one. The company used Accpac’s DOS-based system just before Buirski arrived two years ago. Moreover, Buirski has worked with Accpac accounting systems since 1991, when he worked in the apparel industry.
For installation, Buirski selected Houston-based Advanced Applications "because of their ability to implement a number of applications and tie them together." While Buirski uses the VAR for other integration work, when it comes to eTransact, "I don’t need them that much."
There is a reason for that efficiency, says Scott McMillian, president of Advanced Applications. "The truth of the matter is we did something reasonably clever. We built the site in advance to sell them on it," he says. That meant the system was up and running in almost no time.
Buirski views the system as a bargain. There was a $2,900 one-time fee along with a subscription of $350 month. "It’s a fantastic deal," says Buirski of the $2,900 fee paid for the Order Entry integration.
A Compound System
Lauren International has a product line that virtually begs for a simple way to get information to end-users.
The company, through subsidiaries like Lauren Manufacturing based in New Philadelphia, Ohio, manufactures products that use extruded polymers, which are used in gaskets and insulated glass. The company makes a variety of rubber compounds, using basic ingredients such as Buna, Neoprene, and Silicone.
Its more than 1,000 customers previously faced a lot more difficulty in describing what they wanted, or providing a drawing that shows the tolerances and dimensions of the product that they wish to have manufactured. Now they accomplish that through the Web site at www.lauren.com. It also simplifies life for the company’s sales reps.
The Web "is a huge communication advantage," says Ted Gentsch, director of information services for Lauren, a company with about $80 million in annual revenue and nearly 600 employees.
Gentsch’s department made the change in operations by implementing eViews, the eCommerce interface that hit the market with version 7.0 of Macola’s Progression software.
The company has used the Macola Progression software for about four years, although it was not fully deployed in manufacturing until last year. The 75-user system was installed by top Macola VAR, Algorithm of Mansfield, Ohio. Lauren began using eViews in a controlled release of Version 7.0 in the last two years.
The interface "allows a customer to view their own orders, status, and invoices," says Gentsch. Moreover, sales personnel can also view the same information.
Gentsch’s company went well beyond the Macola system, developing its own portal, the Virtual Office, which utilizes eViews so employees can view orders. Leads generated from the site are turned over to sales reps who can prepare quotes via a decision-tree process. The Lauren-developed Configurator, an automated quoting system, can build the quote, providing an automated CAD profile drawing, which Gentsch says is made possible by Progression’s SQL back end. For the sales reps who must deal with complex issues, "rather than being on the telephone constantly, they can go into the Virtual Office," says Gentsch. "They can prepare their own quotes and receive their own leads."
Gentsch says the company was able to have eViews running in 30 to 60 minutes.
He says no vendor can anticipate the needs of all users, so that showed the value of Macola’s use of Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications.
"The VBA layer allows you to fill in gaps with user-defined fields," he says.
Baubles, Bangles, and Web Orders