Welcome to the Epicor blog community, covering topics to inspire discussion where Epicor thought leaders, employees and partners alike can share insight across industries.
A recent article on searchautoparts.com details the dramatic increase of eCommerce sites in the automotive aftermarket:
E-commerce growth in the aftermarket is lapping brick-and-mortar growth. According to an April 2014 Hedges & Co. report, online sales of auto parts grew nearly 16 percent between 2012 and 2013, from $3.8 billion to $4.4 billion, and online sales (excluding auctions) are projected to pass the $5 billion mark in 2014. Brick-and-mortar stores actually showed a sales decrease of 1.5 percent in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
The move from brick and mortar to online commerce is one of the most important trends in this sector, changing the way that parts are sold across the complex aftermarket supply chain. Manufacturers and distributors no longer sell to a limited number of channel partners, but rather to a broad array of jobbers, distributors, retailers, vehicle owners, and maintenance personnel through proliferating online connections.
To help meet this demand, Epicor established the Epicor Parts Network, a broad portfolio of Web-based, business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce solutions for automotive parts distributors and vehicle service providers. Epicor Parts Network includes the Epicor Parts Network B2B eStore (formerly Internet AutoParts), Epicor Integrated Service Estimator (ISE) parts and labor estimating solution, and cloud-based Epicor Parts Network (formerly AConneX) parts trading solution. Together, these eCommerce tools connect approximately 26,000 auto parts distributor and jobber locations and more than 170,000 registered aftermarket service providers and dealership users.
“Distributors, jobbers, and service dealers continue to set new records each year for B2B eCommerce volume and value,” notes Scott Thompson, vice president, automotive eCommerce for Epicor. “This growth is playing a vital role in keeping the aftermarket’s traditional channel healthy through increased efficiency, bay productivity, and, ultimately, a superior consumer experience at the repair shop.”
To find out more about Epicor solutions for the automotive aftermarket, go to http://www.epicor.com/Industries/Retail/Pages/automotive-aftermarket-software.aspx.
Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team
There are many opinions on the subject of “proper” part numbering systems within the manufacturing world. Many companies will fall into what can be called an “accidental” part numbering scheme, and still others end up over-thinking their designs. This blog series will present you with guidelines for developing and using good part numbering techniques within a manufacturing company.
The first thing to note is that a part number is generally not a description of the part; there are separate fields for holding the actual description, as well as part class and product group. Having part numbers defined by whether a part is purchased or manufactured is not recommended, as this can change over time. Anything that can change should not be embedded into the part number.
Every part has a “Part Number,” which is also the primary index for the part table; this may also be called an “Item Number” or a “Stock Keeping Unit” (SKU). There should be only one part number set up for each item that is kept in stock. We assume that each part number represents a specific item, and there are no duplicate items.
Here are 4 different types of part numbers you should be aware of:
- Manufacturer Part Number: Since you may have multiple manufacturers for any one part number, it is possible to have multiple manufacturers and multiple manufacturer part numbers assigned to any one of your part numbers. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is able to store cross-references to multiple manufacturers’ part numbers.
- Supplier Part Number: A supplier part number is the number that your supplier/vendor labels your part. Your supplier may be a manufacturer, or they may be a distributor for another manufacturer. Since they may reference their part number differently than the manufacturer, you can create a three-way tie between your part, the manufacturer part, and the supplier part.
- Customer Part Number: The ERP system can also have a customer part number cross-reference. Since multiple customers can purchase the same part, there can be multiple customer part numbers that reference your part. Customer part numbers also have their own descriptions.
- Internal Part Cross-reference: This final part number option is to create an internal, secondary method of calling out a part number. The internal number can be used as a shortcut to a longer part number, or it can modify any serial numbering methodologies for the base part. It is also possible to have multiple internal cross-references.
In the next post of the Part Numbering Standards for Manufacturing blog series, we will be giving a summary of part numbering options. For more information on Epicor consulting services on this and other aspects of ERP, visit here
Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services
In the world of independent retailers, personalized and superior customer service is a major differentiator, and the key to outservicing the competition
. What exactly do I mean by outservicing the competition? By providing customers with the best shopping experience possible. And every retailer knows that in order to get customers coming back they need to have the right prices, products, and experiences available.
The article, ‘Competing with Big Box Stores’
, notes that “superb customer service is the biggest intangible asset to the independent business. People like to shop where they feel comfortable and where they feel the owner truly cares about their wants and needs.”* Successful retailers tend to downplay what they do best, providing personalized knowledgeable service to customers. Here are a few tips to help inspire outservicing through excellent service:
- Technology empowers retailers with tools to promote profitability, accurate inventory control and access required to make the right decisions for their business, lending to unrivaled customer service. Mobile technology is a way to entice the self-starting customer and promotes employee assistance right from the store aisles—providing store employees access to extensive product, pricing and inventory information, and better customer service.
- Customer knowledge enables retailers to serve customer needs before the customer even enters the store. Equipped with better information, employees can approach customers with more understanding of the products they need, available inventory, and the most competitive pricing possible.
- Rewarding with loyalty is the best way to establish repeat customers. Make your loyalty program better than the competition’s and top it off with excellent customer experience.
- Speed matters to the majority of consumers. An easy-to-use point of sale (POS) system, and accessible customer and product information will drive your business. These features help save time and hassle for customers, driving you to outperform competitors in the industry.
Developing creative ways to outservice your competition can be a challenge. However with the right resources, business partners, technology tools, and research of your competitors, you can better connect with customers—creating a more memorable experience which keeps them coming back for years to come.
*Source: About.com Retailing, “Competing with Big Box Stores: Tips for Retail Competition,” by Shari Waters.
Posted by Doug Smith, Senior Product Manager, Retail Distribution Solutions for Epicor
In previous blog posts, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.
Several other questions remain to be answered, i.e.: “How do we verify the consignment inventory quantities?” and “How do we finish the contract without ending up with extra inventory?”
Cycle Counting/Physical Inventory
Consignment inventory is still an asset of the company that currently owns it. It is therefore the distributor’s fiscal responsibility to periodically count that inventory to make sure it is still in its proper place. If you have used the procedures defined in the previous blog posts, then you can use the standard cycle counting or physical inventory module that is built into Epicor ERP v9 or v10.
Since Epicor supports counting by warehouse ID, you can simply initiate a physical inventory for your consignment warehouse. If you have multiple customers, you would have multiple warehouses, with each warehouse to be counted separately.
Of course, in order to do this inventory check, you still need access to the inventory itself, or you need a trustworthy customer that will return the physical inventory results. It is up to you to determine what you are going to do with any adjustments that are found.
- If during the count, you find more parts that were supposed to be there, that may mean:
- You have overbilled your customer for product they did not actually use, or
- You shipped more parts than you acknowledged in the electronic transfer order.
- If during the count, you find fewer parts than you were supposed to:
- Your customer has used more parts than they have told you about.
In either of the above two cases, you need to confirm that there is a clear declaration of who is responsible for any variances found during the physical inventory. If you followed all of the procedures, there should be no unverified variances in the shipment. This would then leave only one option for the variance: issue a credit or an invoice for the difference in inventory quantity.
Closing the Contract
As the contract is coming to an end, you want to ensure that you do not end up with large quantities of inventory sitting in your customer’s consignment warehouse. At some point, they will not want that inventory anymore, and you will need to take it back (unless you have a clause in your contract to protect you).
Our recommendation is to closely monitor those parts as the contract is winding down, to make sure you have reduced or eliminated the minimum on hand/safety stock levels that you have defined throughout the system. Also, verify that any forecasts that the customer has delivered represent real, sellable product.
Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services
A few posts back, Dawn wrote about writing technical documentation in a Scrum environment. She provided an excellent overview of what Scrum is and how to navigate it as a writer, so I won’t retread her ground here. Instead, I would like to address an aspect of Scrum development that seems unique to writers: serving on multiple teams at once.
Ideally, the way Scrum works is that everyone on a team is a 100% dedicated resource. While developers and QA analysts might have some other small tasks to do while working in Scrum, their primary focus is the team. However, a technical writer might be split between two or more teams, sometimes as many as four or five. When that happens, keep the following in mind.
1. Let it be Known
Your Scrum master has an expectation that all the people on his team are there to work on his team 90% or more of the time until the close of the last sprint. If you’re on multiple teams, you can’t do that. Let your Scrum master know this at the team kickoff. It’s important he knows this.
2. Pick Your Meetings
Scrum is a meeting-intensive development method. Scrum prioritizes its backlog into “must haves” and “nice to haves.” In a pinch, you can apply the same to meetings. Every team has the following meetings:
- Daily Standup – 15 minutes in which everyone says what they did yesterday and what they plan to do today.
- Story pointing – 2-4 hours in which the product owner explains the stories (features) that the team will be addressing, and after a brief discussion the team assesses its work effort. Occurs at the beginning of the sprint, and pops up again when non-assessed stories are considered later in the process.
- Sprint Planning – 1-2 hours in which the team determines which stories they will address in the coming sprint. Occurs every two weeks at the beginning of a sprint.
- Retrospective – 30 -60 minutes in which the team goes over what went right and what went wrong and how processes can be shored up to make the team better. Occurs every two weeks at the end of a sprint.
- Demo – 30-60 minutes in which the team presents the work it completed in the last sprint to stakeholders. There is often an internal demo first, followed by one for customers.
That’s quite a list, but it’s manageable, and a lot of these only happen bi-weekly, so it’s a little hiccup in the work schedule and then back to it. . . until you double it, or triple it, or more. At that point you will spend all of your time in meetings and none of your time actually writing anything. If you’re going to have any time to work, you may have to skip some meetings. But which ones?
Story pointing meetings are a must. Of all the meetings, this is close to the top of importance. Remember, Scrum uses no specs. Since everyone (except you) is only working on this team’s work and in constant contact with one another, there is little written material for these features. That’s what you’re there for. So, the best way to get a handle on what the features are and what they do is in the story-pointing meetings.
The other essential component as far as meetings go, is the standup. I’ll admit that I work through most of mine; when developers start talking about the particulars of code they’re not having a discussion I need to be a part of. However, by being present at the standups you establish yourself as a member of the team. This is vital for building your relationship with everyone else and putting the idea in everyone’s mind that yes, there is a writer here, and yes, we need to tell him when we change something. And things will change; that’s why it’s called agile.
As for the rest of the meetings, it’s always better to go if you can, but you’ve got documentation to produce, and that takes time too. You have a responsibility to your teams to complete the doc tasks for each story. Sometimes that means you can’t attend every meeting. This is part of the discussion to have with your Scrum master when you explain you’re not an exclusive asset.
3. Focus and Float
Did you know that every time you receive an email it costs you 3 seconds? That’s assuming you don’t open and read it. From the time you see the notification that you have new mail, it takes 3 seconds to reorient your brain back to the task at hand.
The moral of this story is that to be truly effective, you need to focus and shut other things out. No, I’m not telling you to kill your IM channel and close Outlook. But I am suggesting to you that doing one story for one team and then one story for another is slower than taking a chunk of related stories for one team and working on only them for the day, or even the week, and leaving the other teams’ tasks for another time.
Yes, this means that you’ll be going to most your standups and saying: “I have nothing to report today.” That’s fine. Do that.
Understand this might also mean that a sprint may close without your doc tasks complete. How the team handles this logistically depends on the Scrum master. Most of the ones I’ve worked with will pull those stories into the next sprint with a “doc only” tag on it, meaning everything else is done.
Scrum purists might be gnashing their teeth at this, but if you’re willing to give it this little bit of flexibility and break from the ideal of the process (because really, if this were implemented ideally, you wouldn’t be on more than one team), I can promise you this works. While all of my teams regularly carry doc only stories from sprint to sprint, I also always finish ahead of development before the final sprint.
4. Educate Your Scrum Master
When I first started writing for Scrum teams, the Scrum masters would create the same array for each story: a programming task, a QA task, and a doc task. However, not all stories require a doc task. Speak up in the sprint planning meetings and let everyone know what does and doesn’t have to receive documentation so that your workload is accurately reflected in your team’s tracking tool. If you have to miss a sprint planning meeting and you find a story with a doc task that isn’t needed, bring it up with your Scrum master and explain why. Eventually they’ll learn, or at least default to the behavior of asking you first.
Serving on multiple Scrum teams takes some juggling, but it’s certainly manageable. In fact, I’ve come to prefer serving on two at the same time. However, when doing this it’s important to understand that you’re not in the same position as the rest of your teammates, and so you need a different set of rules to be effective.
Posted by Cliff Horowitz, Prophet 21 Content Team Lead, Epicor University
In the previous blog post, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.
Below are the steps that must be done to implement a new consignment customer with a new consignment part, assuming that you already have a consignment plant (in v9) or site (in v10) set up in the system.
- New consignment agreement is placed by the customer
- Create a “Consignment Warehouse” for this new customer (one time for each customer).
- Define minimum stocking levels in the consignment plant/site; i.e., if your contract says you are to always have 100 on hand, then set 100 as the minimum on hand for the consignment plant/site.
- Define minimum stocking level at the manufacturer’s local plant. This would be any inventory that you want to keep on hand to fulfill any rush requirements. Typically, this is less than or equal to the minimum consignment level above.
- In the consignment plant/site, specify that this item is a “Transfer” item, and that the “Supply Plant/Site” is your main manufacturing plant. Also specify the transfer lead time (the number of days that the item will be in transit).
- Create the MRP forecast for this customer part in the consignment plant (i.e., you are forecasting that the inventory will be consumed from consignment, not from your local stores).
- Note: at this point, you do not have to have any firm Sales order entered… MRP Forecasting + minimum on-hand will drive the first fulfillment of consignment inventory.
Firm Job, and Make Product
- MRP will see that you are currently below the minimum in the consignment plant, and will generate suggested transfer order requirements from the manufacturer’s plant to consignment.
- MRP will then add these requirements to the minimum on hand specified in the manufacturer’s plant, and will generate “unfirm jobs” to fill these demands (even without a firm sales order).
Ship Transfer Order from the manufacturer’s plant
- This is a normal job in your local plant.
- When complete, the product is received to stock.
- Once in stock, it will show on the suggested transfer order shipments.
Receive Transfer Order into Consignment
- Transfer orders generate Transfer Order Packslips. These packslips show the address of the demand (the consignment plant). It is your paperwork that goes to the customer.
- Note that this is not a customer shipment…it is a transfer, because you are not transferring ownership, only moving inventory locations.
Consumption of Consignment Inventory
- This is done once you receive confirmation from the customer that they have received the shipment.
- This function actually takes the inventory out of “In transit” and puts it into the consignment plant.
Replenishing consignment locations (basically, Go to Step 2 above)
- In most cases, your customers give a report showing what items were consumed. When this happens, an order needs to be entered, shipped and invoiced.
- There are several ways that this can be done, but easiest is to create a new “counter sale” sales order. Counter sales allow for an order to be entered, “shipped” and immediately invoiced without all the extra processing.
- When you create the counter sales order, you tell the system that you are selling it from the “consignment warehouse” location. This then automatically reduces the quantity on hand in consignment.
- If there are a large number of parts consumed each day, then this could be automated with a Service Connect process to create and ship the orders. Alternately, an Excel spreadsheet could be copied and pasted into the counter sale section on the sales order.
- If the customer’s consumption above did not reduce inventory below the “minimum” on hand in the consignment plant, then nothing will happen.
- But, if it does reduce the on hand below minimum, then when MRP has its nightly run (see step 2 above), it will create another transfer order suggestion to move more inventory from your main stock to consignment.
While there are “urban legends” that Epicor ERP v9 and v10 cannot do consignment inventory because there is not a consignment module, this is not true, and as shown above, the actual steps are not difficult. In fact, once set up, the system will self-fulfill as the customer consumes the inventory. The manufacturer may need some help from an Epicor consultant in setting this up the first time, but once the model is complete, it can be easily replicated.
In the last part of this series, we will discuss how to verify the quantities and finish the contract for consignment inventory.
Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services
The 9th Annual 2014 Hot Companies and Best Products Awards program honored companies from all over the world in San Francisco on June 23, 2014 during the 9th annual awards dinner and presentations. Network Products Guide
, the industry’s leading technology research and advisory guide selected Epicor as a Silver winner
in the category of Cloud Computing/SaaS.
“We are proud to receive the Network Products Guide award for the fourth consecutive year,” said Mark Fair, vice president, customer services and support, retail distribution solutions for Epicor. “The Epicor Eagle Hosting solution was designed to help small to medium-sized retailers manage their IT infrastructure without the hassle of maintaining a server on premise.”
The annual Hot Companies and Best Products recognition program encompasses the world’s best in organizational performance, products and services, executives and management teams, successful deployments, product management and engineering, support and customer satisfaction, and public relations in every area of information technology.
Epicor Eagle Hosting is a comprehensive solution for new and existing Epicor customers that delivers the robust functionality of Epicor Eagle
software in a hosted environment—supporting the small to midsized retail growth strategy. The solution offers end-to-end architecture, and includes protection from viruses, spyware, and hackers via Epicor Watchdog ISS Internet security service and Kaspersky anti-virus engine with SonicWALL enforced anti-virus and anti-spyware software, support and maintenance, automatic updates and upgrades, as well as all proprietary information.
Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
The food industry has changed dramatically since the millennial turn. Consumers are more demanding, driving up expectations across a range of factors, including availability, price, quality, freshness, and service. Retailers are more demanding as well, expecting replenishment systems that allow them to meet volatile demand while keeping costs low. The regulatory environment has pushed tracking and traceability to the fore. Pressure on pricing is constant as well, fueled by increasing competition, and the business is ever more promotion-driven. Add to this shrinking product lifecycles and the proliferation of private labels.
In this daunting environment, small and mid-sized food manufacturers face a host of challenges, including:
- Developing new products. In markets with an unquenchable thirst for the new, there are ever-more products and SKUs. This had led to a growing number of suppliers. Often products that are here today are gone tomorrow.
- Customer retention. Quality is now a universal expectation, along with competitive pricing. Service demands are higher than ever before, with excellent service really being a component of quality. To meet retailers’ demands, controlling costs while meeting schedules is critical.
- Improved process efficiency. To compete, food manufacturers have had to drive up productivity and efficiency. Supply chain integration is key to achieve this goal, along with implementation of Lean manufacturing methods. The need to improve and manage yield is constant.
- Schedule compliance. With shortened time-to-delivery, shelf life management issues, and increasingly schedule variability, schedule compliance is a significant challenge.
- Regulatory compliance. Compliance demands are an increasing concern as government regulations (e.g., safety, environmental) become increasingly strict and complex.
- Market volatility. Having the ability to respond to uncertain market demand is vital, particularly as materials and energy costs rise.
From a planning and scheduling perspective, these challenges pose a litany of operational requirements to food manufacturers. Manufacturers must:
- Execute dynamic scheduling for normal and special demand variation.
- Support product (and especially new product) SOPs, recipes, operator instruction, and compliance.
- Ensure schedule changes are made to accommodate contract variation.
- Be capable of seasonal planning within forecasts.
- Have necessary visibility to ensure efficient operation while assuring compliance.
- Have forecasts and schedules that enable change for special and promotional products.
While this is a formidable list, successful food manufacturers are meeting these demands with a number of effective strategies:
- Simplify forecasting, planning, and transactions.
- Implement dynamic daily scheduling and planning systems for faster and more effective responsiveness to change.
- Enable paperless production and control with built-in compliance to minimize risk.
- Build in real-time visibility across the enterprise for alerts and analysis.
- Establish closed-loop control between the back office and production floor.
Enabling technologies have provided the necessary functionality to support these strategies, including dynamic planning and scheduling tools, what-if analytics, real-time visibility, agility for seasonality, capacity, and maintenance management, and automation of process control. Among the benefits being realized by adopting these strategies and the tools to implement them: better decision making, stronger internal and external connections, more reliable delivery on shorter production and supply schedules, greater business efficiency, and significant cost savings.
Posted by Tom Muth Senior Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor
According to technology research firm Gartner, "Four independent forces—social, mobile, cloud and information—have converged as a result of human behavior, creating a technology-immersed environment. The Nexus of Forces (NOF) is transforming the way people and businesses relate to technology. It also leads to upheaval and change, which bring opportunities for business strategists to transform business processes and industries based on a renewed consumer focus.”
Business transformation is about developing new capabilities and when necessary, moving away from business models that are no longer competitive is the goal. The capability to transform when needed—or when better business outcomes can be achieved—is essential for survival in today’s dynamic and rapidly evolving economy. To enable this, organizations must align strategy decisions and business systems to help drive execution and support sustained long-term, continuous transformation.
So, how can NOF impact your business? View this Gartner report that presents key findings, such as:
- Demand for IT solutions that support NOF scenarios is increasing.
- The NOF is being embraced both strategically and tactically by most industries, whether they have "customers" or not.
- However, the most progressive NOF solutions are those that involve customer engagement.
Gartner, “The Nexus of Forces Works Its Way Into the Enterprise,” Chris Howard, Daryl C. Plummer September 8, 2013
Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
In a post on thinkeatsave.org, waste reduction has been identified as the number one trend in food and beverage for 2014:
For some time now manufacturers' sustainability efforts have been zeroed in on, with a more recent shift in focus being to reduce food lost or waste, wherever possible. Food loss during production and food waste at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain will be heavily scrutinized. Ingredients derived from the waste stream will also hold enormous potential.
Campbell’s Culinary TrendScape also cites food waste awareness as a top trend for the year.
These pronouncements come in the wake of the food industry’s first-ever analysis of food waste data collected directly from food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers. Released in June of last year, the study was conducted by consulting firm BSR and commissioned by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-sector industry initiative led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Among the study’s findings, which are expected to accelerate industry food waste reduction efforts:
The food waste profiles of the food manufacturing sector and the grocery retail/wholesale sector differ significantly, which reflects their different operating environments. Extrapolated to the entire United States, in 2011:
The manufacturing sector generated a larger volume of food waste (44.3 billion pounds), but the large majority (94.6 percent) was diverted from landfills to higher uses, such as donation and recycling.
The retail and wholesale sectors generated less food waste (3.8 billion pounds), but they diverted a smaller proportion (55.6 percent) to higher uses.
Despite significant differences in the total amount of food waste the sectors generate, they donated and disposed of similar amounts:
In total, 4.1 billion pounds of food waste was disposed in 2011 in landfills or incinerators. This represents only 8.5 percent of the 48.1 billion pounds of food waste generated collectively across the food manufacturing, retail, and wholesale sectors.
Based on the survey results, companies have opportunities to continue to reduce the amount of food waste they generate within the supply chain, as well as to identify options for directing it toward higher uses, as outlined in the EPA’s Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy.
Food manufacturers have an opportunity to continue to reduce the amount of food waste they generate and to move up the food waste hierarchy to increase the percentage they donate.
Food retailers and wholesalers have an opportunity to divert more waste from landfills to higher uses, while continuing to focus on reducing the amount of food waste they generate.
To support this effort, an article on Food Drink Europe lists six ways food manufacturers can help consumers drive down waste:
Extend shelf life through packaging and processing innovation.
Provide clear date labels.
Provide clear storage, freezing, defrosting and preparation instructions.
Make dispensing food easier.
Provide a variety of portion sizes.
Inform consumers about packaging and labeling innovations that help prevent food spoilage.
The BSR report notes eight “farm to fork” actions taking place in the private sector (of which manufacturers are a key component) that are facilitating waste reduction efforts:
Enabling technologies that can affect and reduce waste through the supply chain inlcude dynamic planning and scheduling tools, what-if analytics, real-time visibility, agility for seasonality, capacity, and maintenance management, and automation of process control. Among the benefits being realized by adopting these strategies and the tools to implement them: better decision making, ,insight into waste before occurance, stronger internal and external connections, more reliable delivery on shorter production and supply schedules, greater business efficiency, and significant cost savings.
Posted by Tom Muth Senior Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor