Industry:Lighting & Decor
DEAR’s Shopify integration is saving tons of time, now we no longer need to manually upload each individual product up to the website.
Intalite moves from Sage to find success with DEAR + Xero, Shopify, and Shiptheory
Employees and customers are happier than ever, with jobs that provide more satisfaction and purpose
Luke Gaffey, IT Manager at Intalite UK, had just been thrown a curve-ball. Intalite had long been a sole distributor for a lighting manufacturer, but now that manufacturer was moving into distribution themselves. Intalite had to expand their product range to include other manufacturers, or risk going under.
“When you’re using one manufacturer it’s relatively easy because your data is aligned with that manufacturer,” Luke explains. “As soon as you start using different manufacturers, it’s a lot harder.”
Established in 1989, Intalite is today one of the fastest growing lighting distributors in the UK, for some of the biggest lighting brands. With a 20,000-strong product range, Intalite covers everything from individual lighting solutions to high-end residential and commercial projects.
When their manufacturer changed tack, Intalite found themselves struggling to incorporate multiple new product lines. Their inventory management approach had been built up over years: a mixture of pen-and-paper, spreadsheets, and accounting software (Sage Line 50, based on their own local server.)
“We didn’t have an ERP system at all, really — just an accounting program that we used pretty much to the limit of what it was able to do. And the vast majority of the actual business processes were all paperwork. So for every sales order we received, we then had an invoice pad, we wrote the invoice out and had a blind carbon copy to it,” Luke says.
With the added complexity of having to work with multiple manufacturers, their inventory systems created endless issues. Customers would get goods over their credit limit, because there was no way to check purchase orders being raised. Entirely manual picking and packing processes meant frequent (and expensive) mis-ships. Even copying and pasting out of the system was near impossible. Anywhere there was an inventory process, there was duplication of effort, multiple errors, and tedious manual labour at every step. “At one point, we had more people working in accounts than working in sales,” Luke says.
This sort of approach is far from uncommon at long-established companies, but it meant Intalite were operating at their limit. Just keeping up with the day-to-day was hard enough, let alone planning for the future.
And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and everything got a lot harder.
Making the switch
When the pandemic struck, Luke found himself working from home, having to remotely access multiple different machines to keep the business running. Combined with network difficulties, the inaccessibility of the on-premises Sage server, and rapidly escalating supply chain troubles, it was a recipe for disaster.
The business made the dramatic decision to cancel all drop-shipping and route all goods back to Intalite’s London location. Working alone, Luke was manually writing up and shipping hundreds of orders a day. It was the “final nail in the coffin,” Luke says.
Luckily, Intalite was already testing DEAR Systems. “We were looking at different ERP systems, and I had gradually settled on DEAR. Simply because I liked that it was SaaS (software as a service) and that there was a development roadmap published on the website.”
Intalite decided that the only thing to do was to switch their inventory management to DEAR, despite the markedly less-than-ideal conditions — staff hadn’t been trained, and the system hadn’t even been used in a live environment. “I think at that point it was either do or die. We had to switch, whether or not we were ready or not,” Luke says.
They might not have felt ready, but DEAR was more than up to the task. With a modern inventory software solution in place, many of the problems they’d been experiencing with their antiquated systems were soon a thing of the past. But, as it turns out, that was only the beginning.
Seeing the light
With DEAR implemented, the first benefit to show itself was inventory visibility, something that simply hadn’t been possible before. “That transparency is number one,” Luke says. “With our previous paper system, it’s very easy for a piece of paper to just go in the bin, and to forget about all the handwritten notes — everything’s gone.” But with DEAR, all of Intalite’s stock is logged in the system. If something does go wrong along the way, everything is recorded, so it’s easy to backtrack and problem-solve.
Another huge win was the ability to utilize DEAR’s integrations for everything from shipping to payment to accounting. An integration with Shiptheory instantly rescued Luke from the hundreds of hours of manual labour he’d been putting in just to get products shipped. “Having Stripe automatically reconcile against saved orders also saves tonnes of time,” Luke says. “Then we switched our accounting from Sage to Xero, and we used DEAR’s Xero integration — now we’ve got the advantage of automatic bank reconciliation, bank feeds, and things like that.”
What can Intalite do now that you couldn’t before DEAR?
“It’s just everything, really!” Luke laughs. “To be fair, it’s hard to pinpoint one particular feature.”
But it turns out there is one particular feature that’s already made a big difference, with the potential for much more: DEAR has enabled an entirely new sales channel for Intalite: ecommerce sales.
“Online was one of the things we’d always struggled at,” Luke says. In the days before DEAR, Intalite was a distributor, selling to wholesalers. “The manufacturer actually did most of the work, created the catalog, did everything. All we had to do was get the catalog into wholesaler hands, and that’s what we did for years and years.”
But then Intalite lost sole distribution rights, and had to diversify. Online sales were an obvious avenue for diversification, but it simply wasn’t possible with their blend of pen-and-paper, spreadsheets, and legacy accounting software. DEAR has changed the game, and suddenly online sales are an option for Intalite.
“We’re now getting there, with DEAR and its Shopify integration,” Luke says. “It’s saving tons of time now we no longer need to manually upload each individual product up to the website.”
However, the vast majority of Intalite’s customers are still wholesalers, who provide purchase orders via PDFs. “It used to be quite a demanding task, but it’s really easy now. I’ve set up automations for each of our suppliers. To be honest, it’s virtually impossible to miss a purchase order now.”
DEAR shines across the supply chain
DEAR has also enabled much smoother warehouse operations. Barcode scanning functionality means that picking and packing is markedly simplified, and potentially expensive mistakes are avoided. Luke points out that while many lighting products look the same, the internal wiring can vary from model to model. Under their previous setup, products had been grouped loosely together, and it was difficult to spot small but important differences. “Keeping products loosely together sometimes wasn’t great because you’re picking from two products that look exactly the same,” Luke says. “Now, having those products bar-coded and bin-numbered in DEAR, we can keep them apart from each other, but we also know exactly where they are — and scanning stops any errors in the picking stage.”
Intalite has also seen positive impacts on the bottom line. DEAR’s Software-as-a-Service model, where businesses pay a monthly subscription, is more flexible and costs less than what Intalite had been paying for Sage. “With Sage, you paid for your subscription in perpetuity. And that meant you weren’t going to upgrade each time new features were available, because those were locked behind those licenses, and it would cost thousands of pounds each time.”
The benefits of DEAR’s monthly subscription, Luke says, are that the business receives the benefit of software upgrades instantly, and that there’s an added layer of transparency and accountability.
“Obviously, with a monthly subscription model, the incentive is on DEAR to keep its customers happy by making its products and services relevant to their needs,” Luke says. “But, in turn, that means customers can keep moving forward with the market, as well.”
As well as having comprehensive native integrations, DEAR is customizable to a remarkable degree, thanks to its API. Intalite were sole distributors for a particular manufacturer who required purchase orders to be submitted in a particularly unusual format. “It was an incredibly manual process,” Luke says. “We had to manually type in the address, products, and quantities. We weren’t able to put prices in there, so we didn’t know how much we were being charged — but we had to comply because that manufacturer’s products were one of our biggest sellers.”
The problem seemed intractable until DEAR. Luke contracted a James Reed from Startnet Ltd who, thanks to DEAR’s API, was able to create a script that completely automated the entire job.
“We were able to automate that job, and save hours and hours and hours. It was someone’s full-time job at one point, just converting this particular manufacturer’s purchase orders.”
DEAR has saved time and effort across multiple aspects of the business, but no-one has lost jobs over increased efficiency. In fact, employees are happier than ever, with jobs that provide more job satisfaction and purpose. “The good news is no-one was let go, no-one’s job was ever at risk,” Luke says. “We had people working incredibly boring jobs — just sitting there typing up bits of paper into files, and emailing them. All who were doing those kinds of jobs have moved into sales. They’re much happier, they’re much more engaged with customers, and there are no monotonous manual tasks like that any more.”
Should you implement inventory management software? “Just do it.”
Despite the drawback of having to integrate DEAR just as COVID-19 began to wreak havoc on both lives and businesses, Luke says the project has been a complete success. “We had to jump into the frying pan, unfortunately.” But, he says, now that businesses may have the benefit of a slightly more settled environment in which to make decisions, they owe it to themselves to take the time to understand the benefits that DEAR can bring to their specific set of needs. “You need to really, fully look at what DEAR offers, because on face value, it’s difficult to understand just how much this program can enable for you.”
Luke cites DEAR’s ease of use as its single best feature, as it’s the reason that he was able to bring employees on board with the brand new system. “People do get used to how they do things, and it can be difficult to change people’s ways. Without that ease of use, I don’t think I’d have ever got it off the ground.”
For other product business who are using legacy processes and software in an increasingly competitive modern market, and who are considering implementing inventory management software Luke has a simple piece of advice:
“I’m trying to find a more elaborate way of saying ‘just do it,’” Luke says. “But it’s something that you’re going to have to do sooner or later, if you’re growing, because if you’re stuck on legacy business practices you’re going to fall behind the market. Delaying the inevitable is putting your future sales at risk. I would think the primary reason most people might not switch would be the price, but it is worthwhile.”
The cumulative effect of DEAR’s implementation on the business, Luke says, is nothing less than “hundreds of hours saved, easy. Hundreds of hours a week.”
“Not only has it streamlined our operations, but it’s giving us a window to move forward.”
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