Two distributors recount their technology upgrades. What will work for you?
Software and computer infrastructure improvements are two ways that material handling distributors are solving problems with their operational efficiency. In today’s environment, seemingly everything, including accounting, invoicing, receivables, contact management, order entry, shipping and follow-up information, is handled by or stored in some kind of software package. Getting all these different systems working in sync with each other provides a lot of opportunities for improvement. Read below what two material handling distributors are doing.
National Lift Truck Turns to Intranet
At National Lift Truck (Franklin Park, IL), several computer upgrades are in the works. “We’re looking at installing a new computer system, so we can be more competitive and take better care of our customers’ needs,” says Jim Dietz, general manager. “It will be a help to have a system where we can come in and look at what’s going on in real time instead of creating a report. Now, customers will be able to patch into our system and look at the report themselves.” Selecting the proper system has been a yearlong process, and the company has yet to choose the way it wants to go. Dietz says he expects to be ready to go this spring and, whichever it selects, the new system is the first step to improving efficiency.
National Lift Truck also hired an outside company to come in and build a new Web site, which will be ready to go along with the new internal company intranet. Employees will be able to view an internal Web page with links to the company policy manual, insurance coverages, and other human resources issues. “We’re trying to make it easier for employees to have a place to go to instead of calling in and trying to reach our HR person.” The initial part of the intranet is currently on a server right now, waiting to be uploaded into the selected new computer system, though Dietz admits it will be a work-in-progress. “We will be constantly updating that with equipment literature from our manufacturers, and all kinds of things that will make it easier for our employees to find out answers to their questions.”
Not only will these measures help the company’s internal efficiency, but Dietz expects them to help the bottom line as well. “There are certain parts of our business where we have extra employees, and now we can figure out where in the company they will be needed and useful.” He believes the intranet, in particular, will show its savings by keeping the company from hiring extra help in HR. “Also, by expediting the employees’ ability to get information on their own time, we increase productivity during the day and simultaneously keep away from potential lawsuits because we’ve given them the proper information.”
Software Is a Gold Mine for Action Lift
As is the case with many things, the old way of handling sales contacts is gone. Well, not quite gone, but it has certainly changed. The internal information transfer about sales calls and customer contacts is one of the most critical aspects of distributor operations. At Action Lift (Wilkes-Barre, PA), salespeople kept their own notes, and when a question arose about a particular account, someone would need to contact the individual salesperson or wait until a sales meeting.
During the latter half of 2006, Sales Manager Joe Mikiewicz turned to a new software product to combine sales contacts into one easy-to-use platform. “We use the Gold Mine product that was just distributed through Minitrac. What that’s done is helped all our departments see who’s calling on who. It gets everybody on the same page with a customer,” he says. “I can go in and look at salespeople’s notes to see who’s doing what at a particular account, track their calls, how far along we are, if we have trucks quoted, or if our customer service people have met with the customer for any reason. It has been a helpful tool for us.”
The biggest advantage is having information available in real time. “Everything is at our fingertips now,” he says. “We hired a couple of new salespeople, so this is just a way to make sure everyone is out there doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Mikiewicz says the process involved with the new software is, as with any new procedure, a bit of an adjustment. Training on the new system has been done by the supplier via a set of weekly Web seminars. “Our administrative people learn the tricks, and come back and teach the rest of us what to do to create and view the reports that we want to see,” he says. “Getting people trained to take the time and enter the notes into the computer when they make a call takes a bit of a learning curve. But from the use we’ve been seeing so far, it has been pretty handy.” As employees continue to get comfortable with the system, Mikiewicz and his material handling distributorship, Action Lift can start to reap the benefits from their software investment.