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Solus Garden and Leisure Group implements OneOffice business suite from Strategix

Solus Garden & Leisure Group, the UK’s major supplier of leading brands to garden and leisure retailers, has implemented the OneOffice business suite from Strategix in order to secure its strong trading position and provide a platform for further profitable growth.

As a result, OneOffice has enabled the business to drive and deliver significantly increased sales whilst simultaneously reducing operating costs and enhancing customer service and satisfaction.

Outgrown existing business system
The Solus Group supplies some 2,000 retail outlets and has a turnover exceeding £90 million. Each year several hundred new products are launched to add to the portfolio of some 12,000 lines, through the acquisition of established brands, and the continuous development of its own extensive range of specialist brands, building its portfolio of market-leading garden, leisure and home décor brands. As a result it has grown to occupy a leading position in every sector it services which includes gardening tools and accessories, water gardening and aquatics, lawn care and garden furniture. The business has six national depots providing 24 hour logistics across the UK.

However, Solus recognised that its existing business system was now restricting its growth opportunities. Having first been introduced in 1991, it had become outdated and required constant in-house customisation to meet the challenges that faced the business. Significant inefficiencies within the warehouse management system meant that Solus needed to provide extra resource to deal with the increasing workload and found that it also needed backup systems and procedures to deal with the location of bulk stock, optimisation of picks and many other warehouse functions. Despite best endeavours, their ability to fulfil orders first time suffered and overall service levels were impaired, with customers sometimes learning of shortages on the day of delivery.

Jamie Nicklin, Commercial Manager at Solus recalls, "Operating in a very busy and complex multi-warehouse environment, it is crucial that our business platform can support our operations efficiently. We need to plan our customer deliveries to meet expectations and it is important that we deliver on-time, every time. We felt that we really needed greater support from our business system in managing our physical inventories across multiple sites in order to enhance our customer service levels and achieve our goals." He went on, "In addition, the lack of functionality in a number of key areas such as forecasting and planned replenishment, and the delivery of quality business intelligence to our staff, was severely hampering the management team in growing the business."

Another consequence had been that information was often disjointed in silos, so business intelligence was very limited and gaining access to key data in a timely manner was difficult and frequently required even further IT intervention, as Jamie Nicklin explains, "Accurate sales information is of critical importance to any business, but we have a very seasonal business and leading into business peaks, we need a real focus to ensure we have full transparency on product sales and margins – this is particularly important for our own label range where promotional activities need to be very carefully timed in order to sell out stocks while protecting margins. We really struggled to interrogate the old system for accurate up to date information on sales and stock levels. The first part of every planning meeting was taken up by working out who had the correct numbers."

Searching for a solution
Solus enlisted the help of CCL, a consultancy firm that specialises in assisting clients to identify and implement business solutions to meet their goals and objectives.
Following a meticulous selection process, Solus selected OneOffice as its future IT partner. The goal was to provide a fully integrated, real time view of operations across all six of the
Solus business divisions, with core functionality provided to manage the entire sales cycle and order management, either through the sales office or via electronic import. Sophisticated facilities to manage forecasting and replenishment, warehouse management and finance were also to be deployed within the solution, as was a comprehensive business intelligence platform to enable the business to monitor all aspects of its operations.

Simon Yealland, Chief Executive of Solus Group, explained the rationale of the selection, "Strategix proved to be the most closely aligned to our own business, not just because of their excellent track record working with other importers and distributors with similar business models and challenges to our own, but in particular because of the cultural fit in terms of its private status, general outlook and most importantly, their people. What impressed us was the determination of the Strategix team to get under the skin of our business with a view to meeting our objectives for the new system. They put much more effort into listening and understanding than their competitors."

Implementing OneOffice
The project was initiated with a series of workshops involving stakeholders from Solus and led by the Strategix implementation team. The thoroughness of this approach enabled the key process owners within the Solus team to quickly discover the far-reaching capabilities of OneOffice.
Jamie Nicklin explained the underlying principle adopted during the implementation, "OneOffice has best practices within it that are an ideal fit for volume importers and distributors like ourselves. So rather than re-model the product to fit our stressed business processes, it was clear that we would accomplish greater efficiencies by remodelling our business processes to meet OneOffice, making customisations only where really justified."
Critical to the success of the project was to complete all necessary stages prior to the peak trading season. This gave the project team the opportunity to ensure that Solus staff had time to adjust to the shifts in working practices and to also ensure that the system was fully tested and prepared for the busy spring trading period.

Realising the benefits
OneOffice has completely transformed the sales and warehouse operations. Orders taken by any sales location are now automatically routed to specialised warehouses for optimised materials handling. Within each warehouse location, since there is now real-time view of stock in every individual bin, picks can be automatically directed to bulk or pick face based upon the quantity required and internal replenishment can also be automated throughout the day.
As a consequence, the right goods are picked first time and shipped with greater efficiency to customers, who are now experiencing more reliable order fulfilment, Solus warehouse staff productivity has considerably improved and during peak periods, less overtime and fewer contract staff are required, resulting in substantial cost savings.

Nick Davies, Managing Director, expands upon the capabilities of OneOffice in this area, "We, but more importantly our customers, are delighted that we have such real-time visibility of our stock position and with our enhanced ability to react quickly to changing conditions based upon timely information from the system. If a spell of hot weather drives up sales of barbeques and patio furniture, then we can help our clients restock faster and with greater reliability than before, getting our products quickly into their Garden Centres to meet exceptional demand while it exists."

The OneOffice analysis tools are vital for decision making and extensive use has been made of Dashboard technology, which provides staff with KPIs, directly pertinent to their role in the business. Together with specialist reports published through Crystal Reporting, OneOffice provides staff with an up to the minute, consolidated, single view of the business.

Trading online
Solus trades extensively with its larger customers and suppliers via EDI and now processes a significant volume of low-touch orders through OneOffice. However, Nick Davies also wanted to extend on-line order placement to his small and medium sized customers, who unlike the larger nationals could not easily deploy EDI solutions from their POS systems. The ambition was that the on-line ordering and self-service would be made available to all Solus customers as soon as the OneOffice system was implemented.
Nick explains, "We’d been live on the new system for the first season and so had time to turn our attention to totally transforming our website, which we’d delayed while we changed our ERP. We wanted to provide a top quality service to our customers so that they could order over the web, and at any time when it suited them.

As a result, OneOffice Connect, the integral Internet trading component of OneOffice, is now being rolled out to provide our customers with sophisticated on-line ordering, pricing and account enquiries. OneOffice Connect provides in-built tools which enable Solus to maintain their own content including some 16 sites, each one representing a major brand from Solus, with the corporate site supporting the company’s integrated on-line trading platform.

Nick Davies highlights the benefits to the customer, "Busy buyers at our customers can browse and purchase goods or quickly key a pre-prepared order – whatever is best for them and whenever it’s convenient for them. They’ll receive an order acknowledgement immediately by email and so they’ll know that the stock is allocated to them. They can check the status of orders and also review their account and pull down copy invoices. So while we are extending this improved service to our customers, from our perspective, this will help us reduce costs associated with keying customer orders and fielding customer enquiries, and also help increase sales through automatically suggesting related products and promotions."

A real success story
Overall OneOffice has exceeded Solus’ expectations in terms of functionality and performance. Nick Davies again, "Due to a number of factors, not least the good weather, the very first spring period that OneOffice was used was our busiest on record, with in excess of 25,000 order lines processed on our busiest days. That’s up 25 percent up on our previous busiest year and is a real testament to the OneOffice implementation that we could deal with this growth in demand without the need to increase our operational resources."

"The Strategix team, its OneOffice product and the Solus implementation team delivered when it really mattered. OneOffice has greatly improved the efficiency of our business throughout our entire operations and I would have no hesitation in recommending Strategix and OneOffice to other importers and distributors who are seeking to drive savings and improve their customer service."

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