Joe Day, owner of Day Hardware in Akron, Ind., has recently begun to check invoices online rather than waiting for a hard copy to arrive in the mail.
“I don’t have to wait now if I want to price something,” Day said. He has also been filing product return claims online, with a promise of reimbursement within 24 hours. He enthused, “It is much faster.”
More and more Do it Best members like Day are taking advantage of the online invoice function, said Larry Pensinger, director of e-business for the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based co-op.
“We monitor the usage of online invoices, and we are seeing a really nice steady growth. Between 80 and 90 percent of our members are using some piece of it now, even if only for research,” Pensinger said.
The co-op has been upgrading and fine-tuning its Web-based applications to improve various aspects of its business operations. “We think technology can be a true competitive advantage for our retailers,” he said. “That means having access to great information in a timely fashion in forms that are usable for the retailer.”
A major initiative in this direction came last year with the relaunch of member portal
In addition to convenience, seeing invoices immediately enables retailers more time to take advantage of early payment discounts, if they so choose. Payments can now also be made online. Although, observed Pen-singer, “the majority of its retailers are still paying by check.”
Previously, invoices were sent by mail and occasionally faxed. Now in a transition period, some members still receive mailed copies, but all invoices are available online. Eventually it will fully transition to a paperless system, but a final date has not been set.
Headquarters is realizing savings through online claims processing, too. Staff used to process paper claims in the accounting department have been reduced. Those resources have been reallocated elsewhere, said Pensinger.
Pensinger pointed to the Sneak Peak Planner as another online feature that helps retailers save money by taking advantage of limited-time-offer vendor deals.
On Oct. 12, at the co-op’s fall market in Indianapolis, Do it Best plans to hold a Sneak Peak event letting vendors offer special deals for a two-hour period. With Sneak Peak Planner, retailers can now preview what the special deals will be. They fill out paperwork online and arrive at the event prepared, with documents in hand for they want to buy.
Mike Connolly, owner of Connolly’s Do it Best, which operates three stores in Indiana, is a big fan of the program.
“Now you can get the specials online and decide ahead of time,” said Connolly. “You used to have to go and stop at every booth and write out the order there. What used to take two hours, now takes as long as it takes you to walk across the floor. You just hand over the forms.”
Pensinger said the deals are “super good” and available for a short period. To take advantage of them, members have to be there. At past events, members have lined up an hour ahead of time to ensure they got in early and had sufficient time to vet the offers.
With Sneak Peak Planner, full descriptions of the vendor specials can be seen three weeks prior to the event. “They can calculate their savings, print reports and come prepared,” said Pensinger. “They will know the vendor booth sequence and can organize their paperwork accordingly.
Do it Best has also been working on its Product Information Management system, or PIM.
With some 65,000 items in its inventory and 300 items rotating in and out each month, along with changes to existing products, “We have a huge challenge to really manage that information,” said Pensinger.
There are a couple of things the co-op is doing. It is drawing on vendor partners to help update their own product information to get new information posted faster. And it is devising product search software that lets retailers quickly find what they want.
Karl Cramer, sales associate at Best Hardware in Apache Junction, Ariz., is looking forward to those improvements. “We do have some complaints working with the software. You put in ‘wire fence,’ and you get a lot of results that don’t have anything to do with what you are looking for. It does take a little patience.”
Pensinger said the new software set to debut later this year will streamline the process by taking a tiered approach that drills down into product category subsets.
Meanwhile, its primary catalog continues to be a CD-ROM reissued every two months. Now, because product information is also posted online, “we have the ability to update it every day. It has made us much more efficient.” Inventory data has also improved. Retailers now know what is available and from what warehouse, so special orders are easier to place.
Set to debut in a few weeks as well is a new e-mail management tool. Essentially it will let members to pick and choose what they want to receive from various categories. For instance, if someone doesn’t need or want information on lumber, they can opt not to receive those messages.
“It is really spam when it is of no interest to you,” said Pensinger.
Ultimately, Do it Best is working toward one smooth, streamlined system. “We want to have everything integrated,” Pensinger said
Members are already taking advantage of what has been made available online.
Connolly of Connolly’s Do it Best said he and his team are virtually on mydoitbest.com daily. “We use it constantly. We use it for everything from registering for the markets, to buying merchandise online for our customers, to tracking what products are available in other warehouses. Everything becomes quicker.”
When it comes to the Web site improvements, Connolly can’t say enough.
“The online invoicing eliminates the worry about missing something—you can always look it up online,” he remarked. “From a corporate standpoint, it [the Web program] is a Godsend.”