Family-run business Chairplan Ltd, based in Royston, Hertfordshire, manufactures a range of high quality chairs. Back in the early 2000s they purchased a stock control system which later became the manufacturing offering for a popular accounts system. However, they found out that they had been effectively beta testing it for the developers. Said Chris Roberts, Director: “We thought it was going to solve all of the problems that we had, which was running out of stock, traceability – the usual problems. We were in fact, unbeknown to us, guinea pigs. It was a horrendous situation. Truthfully, it got to a situation where we thought we would go bust, because during the time this was happening it delayed us getting invoices out. It completely overshadowed any idea we had of using a stock system. The vendors came on site and did what they considered was a repair, until it became obvious that they could not cope with the way we were ordering, and we couldn’t change either because that’s how we worked.”
Around 2005 the company subsequently reverted to a combination of Excel spreadsheets and a paper-based system, operating JIT (Just in Time). Chris recalls: “It seems like a very backward move but it was the only way forward for us. My husband John was continually counting; either stock for purchasing or stock to fulfil orders. It wasn’t accurate or cost-effective. Quite often he’d have to jump in the car and drive to however many suppliers to source parts. It was a silly situation but we couldn’t find a way out of it.”
Chris also noted an issue not often identified with production system failures, which was staff morale. “The young lady that used the old system was so frustrated that she would say she could have cooked breakfast in the time it took to book in a pair of chairs. The stress of using the system even forced her to take time off.” With stock outages a common issue and a lack of information supplied to the shopfloor, a rift was also created between office and factory staff.
Around 2012 the company took the decision to instigate a rebrand, aiming to create more up-market, contemporary products. They hired consultant Richard Battersby from Carter Wells Business Solutions, with part of his brief also being to restructure production. Richard recommended that they attend a 123insight Evaluation Workshop, but Chris wasn’t confident: “I was just very sceptical, as was John. We couldn’t really see that this was going to be for us. Richard suggested that we attend a local workshop at Hatfield University although both John and I were reluctant to go.” Chris was finally persuaded to attend in the Summer of 2012, and was pleasantly surprised: “I think past fears really got in the way. We went to the Evaluation Workshop and I actually really enjoyed it. It was interesting and relaxed. We got enough out of it for us to understand that we really ought to try and have a go at this.”
Chairplan subscribed in October 2012, with Chris and Sarah attending the no-obligation training the same month. Of the training Chris was concerned that Sarah would struggle, due to a lack of previous IT experience: “Sarah actually got on really well. She didn’t find it a problem in any shape or form. I think it was a very relaxed week for both of us, to be fair.”
Between October and December Sarah set about reshaping their existing data using 123insight’s data import toolkit. Chris also involving all of the factory staff in the implementation day. This had an extremely positive effect of including them in the process of creating new day-to-day procedures, as well as making them feel included in the process and building overall morale. Chris noted: “We thought it was best to include everyone, and the shopfloor staff thought the same. At least now they had a bit of a handle on what we were trying to do because they could relate to some of the questions being asked during the implementation day. I believe that they were quite excited. I think they thought at last we are moving forward rather than them just saying we were moving forward.”
Chairplan transferred their data over the Christmas period and went live on January 2nd 2013. Instantly staff noticed benefits. Said Sarah; “It was a total difference. We used to always have stock inaccuracies, but now we barely get anything. It’s all accounted for, labelled correctly and everyone knows where everything is.”
Paperwork reduced by 15%-20%, and the paperwork that was generated was of more use. Savings were made on stationery, as 123insight can print completely branded invoices and reports. Where staff would previously only receive a works order with a product code they now have a complete bill of materials detailing all required components. Stock reduced by 8%, with only the right products being held and stock-takes requiring much less time than before. Purchasing also saw a knock-on effect, as Chairplan were able to purchase more products in bulk due to better forward planning and understanding of ongoing demands. Sarah commented: “We buy foam weekly, and after looking at all of our top moving products we worked out it would be more cost effective to buy it in a block. We get a better price and it’s more environmentally friendly as there’s less waste for both the manufacturer and us.”
The company opted for 123insight’s AAI (Advanced Accounts Interface) to link to Sage 50, which Chris was very happy with: “I don’t have to input purchases in a batch control system any more – I just press the button, match it up and it’s done. I wasn’t sure how it’d work when we started, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. No problems whatsoever.”
Chairplan took advantage of 123insight’s support, and Sarah was very pleased with the assistance she received. “They’ve always been really helpful when we’ve had a query. They explain everything well and in detail and are happy to come back with further information if they can’t find the answer initially.” Although initially requiring further assistance after going live, they’ve since reduce the number of calls, with 9 logged in 2014 – well under the 123insight average of one call per customer per month.
The final proof that 123insight had worked well was in the numbers. By the end of 2014 the company’s turnover was up 30%, with profitability also up 10%. Said Chris: “Profitability used to cause me a worry because we were never sure what the outcome would be. Now it’s stable and looking good. We wouldn’t have considered going for a rebrand otherwise. It’s all going in the right direction.”
2015 saw Chairplan’s rebrand launch, and now that all of their stock and production issues have been resolved Chris is excited about the future. She concluded: “We’re planning to uplift our products into different markets. Our daughter is driving the range to be more contemporary. We’re now in a position to do this because we’re not spending our time chasing our tails. We’ve already gained credibility with foreign suppliers. I would say the return on investment with 123insight is immediate. It covers all the bases, and the factory staff are happy with it. 123insight is the only system we trust, and we trust it implicitly.”
Turnover up 30%,
Profitability up 10%
Stock decreased by 8%, and now only includes fast-moving items
Paperwork reduced 15-20%
Further savings through strategic purchasing
Shopfloor staff morale drastically improved
Seamless interface to Sage 50 with AAI.