Founded in 1971, L&S Engineers are one of the country’s leading suppliers of spare parts and consumables to the plant hire and construction industries. Based in Brownhills, just outside of Walsall, L&S employs over 40 staff in various departments including sales, purchasing and warehouse management. L&S sources products from around 400 suppliers and produces a product catalogue each year which allows their customers to consolidate suppliers to reduce complexity and cost. Orders are received through telephone, fax, email, via their website and over the trade counter, with around 3,000 orders being processed in an average week. L&S stock and manage around 15,000 product lines, with more than 100,000 spare parts available in total which can be ordered in directly from manufacturers for immediate back-to-back shipping.
L&S have been using OrderWise for just over two and a half years, having implemented their initial solution back in early 2014. To find out more about how they have been able to benefit from scaling their OrderWise solution to effectively manage all of their daily operations, we visited the team at L&S and spoke to Ian Shay, General Manager.
Prior to using OrderWise, L&S used multiple systems to assist them with their day-to-day processes. This included a bespoke Windows based order management system and three different accounts packages.
They had no digitised stock control, meaning a lot of processes were completed manually and order fulfilment relied on a paper-based exercise for picking, packing and shipping. Responsibility for purchasing stock was assigned to members of staff who would visit bins with clipboards to see which items were running low and then place orders by phone, fax or email.
Although these processes were working well for L&S it was becoming increasingly clear that a full stock control system would be needed if they were to continue growing at their current rate.
“It was becoming more of a challenge to order stock, to know where that stock was coming from and to keep track of that stock once it was in the building. If the customer wanted to know whether we had an item available, we were literally leaving our desks and looking in the bin.”
With the decision made to implement a new system, L&S started the search for a software partner that would be able to support the company and their expansion plans. They needed a solution that could bring all of their current processes together while offering functionality to grow into as the business got bigger.
“We were looking for a solution that could handle the complexity of our business with the ability to undertake custom development if required. We also needed to be sure the company we chose had active ongoing development plans for the product and would be around in the future.”
Ability to integrate with their website and other sales channels was also an essential requirement for L&S. They were looking to automate order processing and despatch updates and keep stock levels and prices up to date on their website in real time.
Ian also explained how being able to efficiently pass and receive delivery information to and from their delivery partners was a key requirement.
“Before OrderWise we would have queues of people waiting at PC terminals during peak periods, ready to hand-type delivery addresses into our online consignment systems. We’re a high volume, low transaction value business, so we knew the more we could automate this process, the greater our throughput and profitability.”
During the search for possible solutions, L&S came across OrderWise after it was recommended to them by another local company who were already a user. The product was evaluated extensively and the decision was made to go ahead and implement OrderWise.
Once L&S had decided to go ahead with OrderWise, work began on getting the system set up in preparation for going live. Data from their existing systems was exported and prepared ready for import into OrderWise and settings were applied to mirror the processes already familiar to L&S. Increasingly though, it became apparent that rather than trying to fit OrderWise to work with the existing L&S processes, this was a good opportunity to review their procedures and find more efficient ways of handling their daily operations.
“During the process of selecting and implementing the system we realised it was a chance to look at all of our processes from scratch. So although one of the drivers in the early days was to find a system that could accommodate our existing processes, we ended up re-evaluating pretty much all of our work flows by the time we went live. Over the first year, we refined our methods further to benefit from OrderWise’s capabilities rather than the other way around. That’s something I would advise any business looking at OrderWise as a potential solution – keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to change your processes.”
That said, Ian admitted that there were challenges in the early days. Changing from multiple disconnected systems with limited quality data to a fully integrated data-driven solution made for an intense first six months. However with OrderWise on hand to help when needed, the problems eventually levelled out. In the end, they were challenges worth facing as the benefits that L&S have received far outweigh the initial costs.
“If you’re a non stock controlled, mostly manual business, realistically it’s going to be painful for you at the start. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t do it, because the rewards down the road are there to see. From an OrderWise point of view, I feel they couldn’t have done any more for us. They were on site to assist with the implementation and close support was available until we simply didn’t need it anymore.”
L&S went live with their initial OrderWise solution midway through 2014. Over the last two and a half years, the business has grown substantially and they have moved into a brand new purpose-built warehouse. During this time, L&S have worked closely with our Client Services Team to add new functionality to their OrderWise solution as they needed it, including the introduction of Mobile WMS Devices. However the big question is, how has OrderWise enhanced the daily operations of L&S?
The Warehouse Management Solution
Prior to using OrderWise, L&S didn’t have a digital stock management system, meaning the business relied on staff judgment to decide what needed to be ordered, as well as knowledge of what stock they had and which orders needed fulfilling. Now that their business is run on OrderWise, Ian said that their processes are now more automated.
“We now run a fully stock controlled company, so we have the benefit of knowing how much stock we’ve got, what’s coming in and have a clear picture of which customer orders are currently outstanding. We run purchasing reports to determine what we need to order and can be much more proactive chasing outstanding items. All the information we need is at our fingertips.”
Stock availability has improved substantially meaning more customer orders are delivered on time and in full. However, the company supplies a lot of special order products and so there are always a large number of customer orders waiting for stock to arrive.
“Managing special order items used to be one of the biggest challenges. Now it all just works seamlessly – product arrives, it’s located in temporary bins and is picked seconds later. No one has to think about it. “
L&S decided to move to a fully barcoded operation in conjunction with the move to their new premises in December 2015. They invested in Mobile WMS Devices with Pick Rules and labelled nearly 20,000 new bins with barcodes. Pickers now have picks sent to their devices and use tote trolleys to pick up to 24 orders at a time via the most efficient walk route. Pick accuracy has improved with a massive 50% reduction in mispicks and return rates are now well below 1%.
“It made sense for us to go fully barcoded while we had a blank canvas. We revisited all of our processes and designed the layout to suit the mobile warehouse system.”
This year L&S have also purchased the Stock Replenishments module, which allows them to buy popular items in bigger quantities and then replenish picking bins from their own bulk stores using the Mobile WMS Devices.
“There are potential savings to be made with bulk purchasing, as well as reducing the frequency for which goods have to be purchased, booked in and put away.”
The ability to measure all aspects of the operation using custom reports has allowed L&S to improve productivity and accuracy in their warehouse and elsewhere by targeting ongoing marginal improvements to metrics such as dispatch on time rates and order defect rates. Having these structured processes in place has provided L&S with significant capacity for growth in the future.
The OrderWise Solution
As well as better stock control and warehouse processes, L&S were also looking for a solution that would allow them to automate the processing of their website orders. Through OrderWise’s robust eCommerce and Courier Integration, Ian explains that full automation has been achieved.
“The website is now fully integrated with OrderWise. A customer orders online and the order is being picked 10 minutes later. Nobody touches it in between that. It’s simply imported as a standard OrderWise order and the despatch tracking information is updated on the website minutes later. The potential is limitless.”
With OrderWise able to offer so many enhancements to the way in which L&S operate on a daily basis, it is no surprise that the company has grown so strongly in the past few years. We asked Ian what was the single biggest improvement OrderWise had brought to the company.
“There isn’t a single thing, it’s a combination of many things. The integration between all areas of the business, the amount of information at your fingertips, the automation, the reduction in errors, the productivity gains. We couldn’t do what we’re doing now without OrderWise.”
However, it’s not just all about the software. A key part of the OrderWise solution is the ongoing support that’s available from our team of trained specialists whenever there’s an issue or a question that needs answering. Although Ian admitted that the team at L&S don’t need to use the OrderWise support services as much as in the early days, he had nothing but high praise for the care and assistance they have received over the years.
“The support is very good, it’s a proper software company. OrderWise are there when you need them. We’re on the basic support package but they’re always back to me within an hour or two. If I flag an email as ‘urgent’, if there’s a customer order waiting for example, they’re back to me within half an hour.”
What’s next for L&S Engineers?
So with L&S able to implement accurate, streamlined processes into their operations and grow their business substantially by keeping both their staff and customers happy, the question is what’s next and how does OrderWise fit in to their plans?
“Well there’s always room for improvement. No company can sit back and relax so we’re constantly re-evaluating our operations. We’re looking for new products, new markets to sell into and are continuing to build strong relationships with customers and suppliers. We see our business growing in size and complexity moving forwards and because of this we feel OrderWise will still be relevant many years down the road, particularly because OrderWise itself is still evolving. So yeah, the future looks pretty exciting.”
For more information on L&S Engineers, you can visit their website: www.lsengineers.co.uk/