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The Challenge

How did an authentic family-owned business—that was started in a small barn in rural Pennsylvania—become a leading provider of architectural door hardware products to dealers throughout North America? A steadfast emphasis on excellent service, employee autonomy, and deliberate investment in technology. Today, the company has distribution from four centers— St. Charles, MO, Carson City, NV, Mansfield, MA, and headquarters in Honesdale, PA—spanning the U.S.

Joseph Hampton, Director of Information Technology at Top Notch Distributors disclosed, “Today, we offer over 100 market-leading brands of residential, commercial, and electronic access control systems. We’ve grown organically, through acquisition, and through fulfillment. Our leadership understands that technology is one of the big factors in our success.”

We have been able to grow more profitably with Epicor Prophet 21.

In 2015, Top Notch had an IBM AS400-based ERP system. Hampton admitted, “We tried to do our best with it, even added in wireless scanners that helped for a bit, but we knew we could not grow. We needed a new enterprise software foundation to take us forward. We used to just look at the next year and realized we needed to think bigger, and more strategically. Technology was the answer to scale.”

Automation Through Business Rules

At the end of a year-long evaluation process, Top Notch selected Epicor. “There were a number of important reasons we choose Epicor Prophet 21,” noted Hampton. “First, it is a built-for-distribution solution, not a manufacturing product where only 20% of the functionality is leverageable. Epicor also offers the extensibility and flexibility to customize to fit our needs, and the company invests in a responsive, collaborative partnership.”

Using business rules to drive automation is one such feature. With five warehouses across the country, products may be spread across multiple sites or only stored at one. Before Prophet 21, order entry required a sales rep to manually search for product. Hampton explained, “We created an ‘alternate warehouse’ rule so that when the rep enters the order, an algorithm automatically searches to source the product at the warehouse closest to the customer, or backorder and send it to the nearest warehouse.” The system automatically does all the legwork, and makes the decisions, freeing sales reps to spend more time with customers. And with 100 – 150 orders per day per rep, the minutes add up. 

 With Epicor, it’s never a ‘no’. If the solution doesn’t support a request, the Epicor team will integrate with one that does. Epicor doesn’t solve all our problems but having it on our team allows us to find the right solution. And not only does Epicor design specifically for distributors, but the company actively solicits our feedback and input in product development.

Another indispensable rule is auto approval. “60% of orders are electronic, via EDI or our webstore. Instead of a sales rep needing to validate every order, the system automatically approves orders where all criteria are met. Approximately 70% of our orders are auto-approved, saving a substantial amount of time,” Hampton shared.

Integrating Robotics

The warehouse is where things really get interesting. Top Notch has a sophisticated 24/7 warehouse operation, equipped with a 6 River Systems robotic cart. Hampton described, “Epicor Prophet 21 API’s integrate with the robots, sharing purchase data so the carts can pick orders.”

He added, “Inventory accuracy dramatically improved with Epicor Prophet 21, from 91% to 99.5%, we are confident that what the system shows is actually there. No more going to pick a product that’s missing, or there isn’t enough of.”

The move has driven an increase in the number of units a warehouse employee can process from per hour, from 8 to 15 units of warehouse transactions that includes picking, receiving, replenishment, etc.  Hampton called this out, “a 67% bump in productivity.” Specifically to picking, they have seen nearly 25 lines to 70 lines increase per hour. In addition, same day shipping has moved from 93% to 99.91%, and order accuracy from 95.6% to 99.6%.

Safety has improved, too. Greater visibility enabled Top Notch to identify high-volume, high-picks (products located high in the warehouse and requiring a ladder to reach them) and re-configure which products are stored where in each location. Now, 90% of picks are within reach and those that are high are low-volume and/or not urgent.

Nearly 70% of the Top Notch workforce is in the warehouse so keeping those employees satisfied is vital. New insights from Epicor have enabled the company to speed on-boarding and expand cross-training. Hampton elaborated, “Roles in the warehouse have evolved. Before, an employee would come in and pick for 8 hours or work in receiving for 8 hours. With better visibility into our processes, we’re able to switch things up, move staff to match tasks, and require fewer employees to do more work.”

Scale Over Growth

There is a distinct and crucial difference between growth (increasing top-line revenues at any cost) and scalability (increasing revenues while minimizing costs, improving bottom-line or profit margin). “We have been able to grow more profitably with Epicor Prophet 21,” Hampton said of the cumulative effect of automation and visibility. 

He cites fulfillment as a significant area of growth enabled by Epicor: “We use API integration with manufacturing vendors who require our distribution capabilities. It’s a seamless way to expand our footprint.”

In addition to a healthy organic growth rate, Top Notch has grown through acquisition. Hampton acknowledged, “Epicor Prophet 21 enables fast, easy acquisition integration to get the new company up and running quickly.”

A Problem-Solving Partnership

Epicor Prophet 21 has amplified the Top Notch commitment to continuous improvement. Hampton revealed, “We’ve created a process improvement team to identify areas for Prophet 21 to drive new efficiencies. Seeing what we have already accomplished prompts us to ask what more we can do. It’s driving a culture of process improvement.”

As an example, Hampton is working with Epicor partner Conexiom to capture email orders into Prophet 21. He divulged, “With Epicor, it’s never a ‘no’. If the solution doesn’t support a request, the Epicor team will integrate with one that does. Epicor doesn’t solve all our problems but having it on our team allows us to find the right solution. Not only does Epicor design specifically for distributors, but the company actively solicits our feedback and input in product development.”

He recapped, “The real value with Epicor is in the partnership, something I didn’t fully understand until I experienced it. Now, I can’t imagine having this degree of collaboration with any other company.”

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Company Facts

  • Location: Honesdale, Pennsylvania (HQ)
  • Specialist Industry: Fastener Distribution
  • Website: www.topnotchinc.com

Challenges

  • Outdated ERP system slowed growth
  • Manual processes stifled productivity
  • Lack of accurate inventory management

Benefits

  • Inventory accuracy improved from 91% to 99.5%
  • Automation improves process speed, accuracy
  • Picking lines increase from 25 to 70 lines per hour
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