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North American Retailers Use Technology to Foster Growth

Although the retail industry is often seen as driven, if not dominated, by its big-box leaders, a recently conducted Epicor survey by MORAR Consulting found that despite the challenge of larger competitors, small and mid-sized retailers have growth squarely on their agendas. The survey shows that two-thirds of this segment is expecting to advance their business by taking advantage of key growth factors while mitigating risk.

Six case studies showcase how successful small and medium-sized players are using technology to thrive in the midst of big-box competition. We'll feature the first three in this post, and the final three in a subsequent one.

Every decision we make in the business is somehow tied to information from the Epicor Eagle® system. It's helping us become more competitive by allowing us to get good information immediately.

Jessica Bettencourt

Case #1: Klem's

  • Success Factor: Excellent planning
  • Risk Factor: Senior executives may not be prepared for the challenges of managing a larger, more diverse business

Spencer, Massachusetts-based Klem's was founded in 1947 as a tractor repair shop. That year, John Klem met Henry Ford and purchased a Ford Tractor dealership. In 1979, the business passed down a generation to Mike Klem. He expanded the store to include Agway, and in 1989 added a Greenhouse and Ace Hardware. In 1996, with the closure of The Fair department store, the business again expanded to include housewares, crafts, educational toys, and sporting goods. In 2004, the company completed a 20,000-square-foot expansion. This latest enlargement included updating the aquarium system, the air conditioning system for the entire building, and adding more space for merchandise and displays. In 2011, Mike Klem's daughter Jessica Bettencourt was appointed president of the business. 

Diversity of products is at the heart of Klem's ability to compete with big-box retailers. However, its ability to manage and grow this diverse business stems from technology-driven insights and efficiencies. In fact, Bettencourt cites Epicor's capabilities-including point of sale (POS), inventory, and gift card management-as contributing to savings by handling credit receipts electronically, easily identifying obsolete or duplicate SKUs, and saving hours of time through automation (including automation of loyalty promotions).

Above all, Epicor helps Klem's make smarter planning decisions. For example, departmental analysis used to take days; now decision-makers can get the necessary data in 10 minutes. Moreover, Klem's can quickly decide whether to go forward with a new category or not, or increase margins on the products that are selling well. "Every decision we make in the business is somehow tied to information from the Epicor Eagle® system," notes Bettencourt. “It's helping us become more competitive by allowing us to get good information immediately.”

Case #2: Mar-Span Home Hardware Building Center 

  • Success Factor: Assuring that personnel have the right skills and tools
  • Risk Factor: The pressure business growth may put on operations may damage quality and customer satisfaction

Drayton, Ontario-based Mar-Span Home Hardware Building Center has been providing quality products and service since the mid-1990s. They offer a full range of building materials, including insulation, drywall, roofing, windows, and doors.

A long-time user of Epicor business management software, Mar-Span has not looked back since deciding to upgrade to the Epicor Eagle N Series system. The company grew sales by 40 percent over three years without missing a beat, thanks in big part to IT that simplifies training and helps staff be more productive. According to Dennis Diefenbacher, accounting and IT manager at Mar-Span, the software has helped the store to grow efficiently and profitably-especially by addressing challenges in financial and inventory planning, and getting new hires up and running faster. Says Diefenbacher, "At month end, Eagle basically does everything by itself, and I just click on the reports."

What's more, purchasing and inventory management personnel also have easier jobs. Staff uses RF barcode readers to receive inventory into the system (instead of entering it manually). As important, they no longer have to walk up and down rows to identify required stock; they simply run reports from the system at the end of each day.

The company's powerful growth has created a need for more staff, a challenge the Epicor system helps ease by facilitating training. "They're usually up and running the first day," notes Diefenbacher. "Young people expect software to work in a certain way, and the Eagle N Series does just that. We use Epicor Training on Demand to get them started, but they're self-taught once they know the basics."

Case #3: East Grand Forks Hardware Hank

  • Success Factor: Leveraging technology for optimizing service levels 
  • Risk Factor: Diminished visibility across the enterprise.

One of the key reasons this Minnesota-based hardware store has been able to open a second location is that it uses smart technology, including mobile, to help staff maintain high levels of service. Surrounded by competition in the hardware market, the East Grand Forks Hardware Hank stands out by giving the same exceptional service, whether a customer needs a $2 item or a $200 machine.

Behind the scenes, Epicor Eagle software supports the company's growth plans. "With this new, powerful tool, I end up exploring all the new data views and possibilities," shares Brandon Buckalew, operations manager for the business. According to Buckalew, other Hardware Hank store owners have been stunned by the functionality of Epicor Eagle.

East Grand Forks Hardware Hank attends twice-yearly buying shows. Traditionally it submits purchase orders (POs) before the show, allowing more time at market to learn about new products and promotions. Now, instead of having to carry a pile of POs along, Buckalew can just use his smartphone at the show to check orders (or stock on hand). 

The business also uses Epicor Eagle mobile functionality for price checking and changes, inventory counts, and receiving. They no longer have to run between desktops and store aisles, checkout counters, the back room, and the dock. RF guns are used to do cycle counting, filling orders, bin tagging, label printing, and moving stock to new floor locations.

To ensure that personnel can make the most of the system, East Grand Forks Hardware Hank also uses Epicor Training on Demand that provides online videos for self-paced learning. This lets the business use lots of part-time college employees without worrying about high staff turnover affecting efficiency or service quality.

The bottom line according to Buckalew: "We find ourselves at an advantage by using new technology."

More to Come 

Our next post will feature the final three cases of these growing smaller and mid-sized retailers: a nursery in Missouri, a landscape company with offices across Western Canada, and an independent pharmacy that continues to flourish in Pennsylvania amidst national chain competition.

Be sure to come back for the rest of the story! In the meantime, visit our hub page for more information.

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