Industry:Outdoor & Sporting Goods
"Having one piece of software as your source of truth is pretty amazing. Thanks to DEAR, if you’re looking for the right information, you always know where to find it – and that’s saved us a whole pile of time"
Extreme sports company finds rapid growth with DEAR & Waypoint + Shopify, Shipstation & QuickBooks Online.
Paddle sports goods company AQ Outdoors found themselves up an unfortunate creek — then DEAR and Waypoint made things “infinitely easier.”
The excitement of adrenaline-powered extreme sports may seem a far cry from the carefully-managed world of inventory management, but for Canadian sports supplies business AQ Outdoors, you can’t have one without the other.
AQ Outdoors is a specialty paddle sports store that started in Calgary, Alberta. It’s run by Simon Coward, who – in an ironic contrast with his surname – is all about the extreme sporting life.
“I’m originally from Australia, but by hook or crook I wound up in Canada,” Simon says. “I travelled as a raft guide and kayak instructor for seven or eight years, and eventually got a job working for AQ Outdoors, which we purchased in 2000.”
AQ Outdoors sells canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, as well as snowsports equipment, specializing in “splitboards” – a piece of equipment that works like a cross between a ski and a snowboard that’s rapidly growing in popularity. The business stays true to Simon’s adventure-guide roots by offering courses in water and winter sports. These days they’re a true multi-channel business, with a comprehensive online offering backing up the bricks-and-mortar operation to reach their enthusiastic customers.
After running the business for a decade, Simon and his wife Nikki were ready to expand. They bought a second location in Edmonton, fit out the store, and got ready to start selling. But this was 2019, and everyone knows what happened next.
“It was an interesting time,” Simon says, with remarkable understatement. “2019 was already a really bad year in outdoor retail. Everyone had a pretty rough time, and we were starting a new business while still paying off debt in the other business. When Covid hit, it was pretty touch and go for a couple of months.”
Before the pandemic, Simon and his team were already ahead of the cloud software adoption curve. They were using Vend for Point of Sale in stores, and it was talking to Shopify via an API. But when the pandemic hit, its effects on foot traffic and supply chains compounded the problems inherent to running stores in multiple locations. After ten years of relatively smooth sailing, AQ Outdoors found itself floundering. They needed an inventory solution that could keep stock numbers straight across multiple locations and channels, and that talked natively with vital software services like Shopify. They needed DEAR to break free of the limitations of their old Vend software.
“We were already doing reasonable volume online, but then COVID kind of happened, and it accelerated things by five years – in six months,” Simon says. It turns out that COVID had an unexpected effect on the outdoor products business: as initial lockdowns ended, sales went up. Being cooped up had made people realise how important it was to get outside, and at the same time, outdoor activities became pretty much all a lot of people could do.
With their existing system, AQ Outdoors had found a “whole bunch of limitations” with how inventory management and purchase orders were working. So, they went searching for a better inventory management system. They looked through a lot of different options, sitting through many sales pitches.
“In the end, for the price and the features and functionality we needed, DEAR just seemed to fit best,” Simon says.
But it wasn’t going to be an easy run straight away. Simon and his team implemented DEAR themselves, and while there were a host of quick wins, like dramatically improved inventory visibility, POS was a sticking point. They’d moved from Vend to another POS system, and it wasn’t playing nice. “The way it processed certain transactions, like returns and exchanges, especially on pre-ordered products that we hadn’t physically got in stock yet – the API just wasn’t great. It didn’t fit,” Simon says.
To help them make everything run smoothly from inventory right through to sales and shipping, the way they knew it could be, Simon looked homeward to Australia and found Waypoint, a talented consulting team focused on helping businesses run more efficiently.
Navigating a new Point of Sale system with Waypoint
Waypoint is a software implementation and cloud integration company that specializes in DEAR and its many integrations. “We’re a DEAR partner, a Cin7 partner, a Xero and Shopify partner,” says Dan Fairbairn, Waypoint founder. “The problems we’re solving for clients, most commonly, include someone coming to us and saying something like ‘I’m using paper or spreadsheets, or the smell of an oily rag. We need a system setup and we don’t know where to start.’”
Other common reasons for reaching out, Dan says, is customers who are looking to move from a legacy, server-based system to modern cloud-based inventory management.
AQ Outdoors’ needs were somewhere in between. They were happy with DEAR, but knew that – short of hiring permanent internal IT staffers – getting a software partner was the most cost-effective way to make their investment pay even more dividends. The Waypoint team have implemented systems for over 150 DEAR customers, so AQ Outdoors knew they had more than enough experience to solve their POS issues.
Waypoint had a series of virtual sit-downs with Simon and his team to understand the business’ needs in-depth before going any further. “We’re evaluating two things at the beginning,” says Matthew Grant, Waypoint’s business director. “One is always the suitability for our services, and making sure that the client knows what at least some of their problems are.”
There’s an intro call, to understand the broad picture, any stand-out pain points, and explain next steps. Then, when the scope is all agreed, Waypoint and their new client get to work. For AQ Outdoors, it wasn’t long before their new solution – using DEAR’s native Point of Sale functionality – was ready to go.
How has using Waypoint worked out for them? “Dude, they’re so gold,” Simon says. Waypoint’s implementation of DEAR’s native POS “has saved us so many hours, so quickly.” In fact, Simon reckons that if he could do it all over again, he’d engage a DEAR Partner right at the start.
“It would have saved us using the other POS system at all, and we wouldn’t have dealt with a year of inventory control issues because of it,” Simon says. When AQ Outdoors first implemented DEAR, they’d looked at the DEAR Point of Sale system and thought it wouldn’t do what they needed – but after working with Waypoint, they realised it was perfect for all their needs. Plus, the expertise Waypoint offered came at a great price point and quickly paid for itself. “I definitely would have engaged an agency earlier, because the expense is surprisingly low. It’d have saved a ton of headaches over that year, for sure.”
Riding out a rapid transition
It’s now been over a month since Waypoint helped AQ Outdoors implement DEAR’s Point of Sale system, and Simon says it’s solved 99 percent of the issues they’d been having. “It’s awesome,” he says. “The DEAR POS is gloriously simple to use. The process we’ve built around how it integrates with DEAR inventory, how we do our special orders – everything is infinitely easier, and infinitely less prone to errors than our systems in the past.”
And there have been other wins, too, for the burgeoning multi-channel business. They now sell products across their two stores, with DEAR’s POS, and four different ecommerce websites powered by Shopify. “They’re all pulling real-time inventory from DEAR, and that’s huge for us,” Simon says. Details from in-store and ecommerce transactions flow straight from DEAR to QuickBooks Online, ensuring the books stay up to date, and compliance is quick and easy.
“DEAR is now our single home and source of truth, whether it’s financial, whether it’s inventory,” Simon says. “Having one piece of software as your source of truth is pretty amazing. If you’re looking for the right information, you always know where to find it – and that’s saved us a whole pile of time.”
The need for fast and accurate shipping has become even more stark, thanks to COVID, and that’s where DEAR’s integration with ShipStation has been particularly potent for AQ Outdoors. “We use ShipStation and DEAR integrates seamlessly with that,” Simon says. “Things get scanned three or four times before they go into a box, and so we’re making fewer mistakes, and spending less money, while our staff can do their jobs more effectively because the process is so much more streamlined.”
One of the tricky things about the adventure equipment industry, both pre-and-post COVID, is that the supply chain is especially tight. A lot of products get pre-sold before actually arriving in a given seller’s inventory. Sellers need to keep a very close eye on operations, and be quick with purchase orders, to avoid disappointing customers. On this front, DEAR has made a huge difference.
“This year is the first year we’ve ever had all our purchase orders for the coming season entered,” Simon says. “And with the availability functionality in DEAR, if a customer wants something, our shop staff can simply go look at the availability and the purchase order number, and advise the customer if it’s ready to sell or not. They can make those decisions right on the shop floor, which is fantastic. There’s no need to go to an operations manager and double check to see what’s available.”
It’s a huge leap from where they were pre-DEAR, when they tracked all pre-orders on a spreadsheet. Both the time to complete tasks and human error have been vastly reduced. Automations and filters catch any issues that do slip through and flag them for attention from the operations manager. “Today, all the information is live, and all staff have access to it, and that’s been fantastic. In the last six weeks, there has been more progress in operating our business in the last nine or ten years combined. It’s pretty sick,” Simon grins.
“Already in this first month, since the day we launched DEAR POS in conjunction with DEAR inventory, we’ve had zero errors. Zero.”
All about the (customer) experience
As the owner of a family business, and a father with small children, Simon knows all about tight budgets, and the temptation for small businesses to economize by using cheap or free software like spreadsheets. But he reckons DEAR’s price point is perfect for similar small businesses, and that the return on investment is fantastic. “Waypoint have saved us so many hours, it’s ridiculous. And when it comes to DEAR, it’s at least half the price of what we’d be paying for some other systems,” Simon says.
But he adds, when you look at the return on investment, it’s all about enabling scale. AQ Outdoors has had 100 percent online growth per year, for two years in a row. They’re doing “fairly significant” online numbers, from about 15 percent of their overall revenue to about 40 percent. Their top line revenue has also increased 25 percent overall. “So, everything’s scaling fairly quickly. We couldn’t do what we’re doing right now without a system like DEAR – and DEAR has proven really, really good.”
He’s keen to showcase a recent example. With winter on the way, splitboarding equipment is in high demand, and AQ Outdoors had just received a shipment. “So on our Shopify website, we have a ‘Notify me when it comes back into stock’ app, right?” Simon says. “So we had 11 boxes of snowboard bindings and stuff show up, we scanned them in, and authorized the purchase order. It went up to both websites and we did 20 or 30 sales in the space of 45 minutes. The sale pulled inventory from both the stores, both the websites, and there were no inventory errors.“
He shakes his head. ”If we’d have done that even two months ago, we would’ve been doing returns. The benefits of having a system like DEAR, that manages your inventory really well, and having good processes – you can’t really put a dollar value on it.“
For similar businesses considering DEAR, Simon says the most important thing is to know the problems you’re trying to solve, and figure out what the right setup looks like. He also recommends engaging a specialist service like Waypoint early in the process.
“DEAR is a fully featured inventory software that’s simple to use – and with the right partnerships, it’s easy to make work for your particular use case,” Simon says. “Overall, the time that it saves you more than pays for the price. It simplifies work processes, it automates things that otherwise can’t be automated, it reduces errors, and it’s simple for staff to use.”
Ultimately, Simon says, the biggest winner of all has been the customers. Just like adventure sports, retailing adventure products is all about the experience. “Even though all this stuff is happening on the backend, ultimately our customer experience is far superior to what it was before DEAR. And that’s the best way I can sum it up.”
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