L&L Nursery Supply, one of the West Coast's top manufacturers and distributors of lawn and garden products, knew there had to be a way to enable sales reps to efficiently input orders from the field.
"We've been looking for this solution for at least 30 years." declares Rick James, VP of Technology at L&L. "Sales orders are generated while sales reps visit customers, but they don't get put into our system until the end of a sales person's day, [so] there can be a lag in the ordering process."
L&L sales reps typically had up to four hours of data entry tacked on to the end of their days after meeting with customers. Not only was this a poor use of the sales reps' time, but to customers it seemed like receiving orders was taking longer than necessary.
When the company had warehouses in both Northern and Southern California this wasn't such an important issue. But after a recent warehouse consolidation to one facility, "it's been increasingly difficult to guarantee next-day delivery, especially during busy seasons."
Mobility, 1970s Style
The company had a clear idea of what problems it was looking to solve. L&L had been looking for a solution since the 1970s, when it first experimented with a Telxon unit, and a speech-aided modem. (Telxon was acquired in 2000 by Symbol, which itself was purchased by Motorola in 2006.)
Back in the day, sales reps would key in orders into the bulky calculator-like Telxon device. When they got to a phone, they would call the host modem and hold the Telxon unit up to the phone and it would transmit the order. "As you can imagine, the system was cumbersome and notorious for losing orders, duplicating orders or freezing in the middle of the night," laments James.
More recently, the company tried again with mobile devices, but was disappointed with the memory, processing capacity and network reliability of the devices. Then, James says he saw an article about mobility solutions provider MSA Systems, which had helped a company with a similar problem. L&L contacted MSA and was soon on its way to fulfilling that 30-year-old mobility dream.
"The project probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground without [MSA] nudging us along," says James. "Their sales rep kept us updated and on track. We would never have been able to coordinate all the hardware and the communications, but MSA did all that for us; when they delivered the hardware everything was all set up, we just had to load the application and get it out to our reps."
Near the beginning of the solution-building process, MSA introduced L&L to Motorola's MC70 rugged mobile device. Larry Tabert, L&L System Administrator, says the MC70's "integrated barcode scanner made it an ideal fit for our needs. And the Motorola SDK helped us incorporate the scanner into our system."
L&L was also impressed with the MC70's processing power. Motorola calls the MC70 "the first" rugged enterprise digital assistant, touting its rugged design and "true anywhere anytime wireless WAN/LAN/PAN voice and data communications." James admits to being skeptical at first, but once MSA demonstrated a proof-of-concept trial, "it turned out to be a wonderful device. And, once we saw it was going to work, it was just a matter of developing the application."
James and his I.T. team had developed the company's back-end order system and planned on developing the mobile application as well.
Saving Time & Looking Cool
Following a short training period, the positive response of sales reps about how much time they were able to save in the field was almost immediate. Reps now enter orders while at a customer's location, either by scanning an item's barcode and entering a quantity, or by keying in item numbers.
After reps finish creating the order, they review it with the manager or the buyer. Reps then securely send the order to the backend host server, which processes it and sends a completed purchase order, including pricing, back to the customer via fax or e-mail. Turnaround time is three to four minutes. The order then also prints at the L&L warehouse, where workers can start picking the order and packing it onto a truck right away. Other side benefits of the solution included the usefulness of Google maps for reps in the field, and improved access to email.
From the beginning, the solution saved sales reps two to four hours of order inputting daily. With 30 sales people in the field, that's a time savings of 300 - 600 hours a week. James estimates that the solution paid for itself in less than three months.
"We achieved both of our original goals, and we achieved them quite dramatically, creating the order right there and then transmitting it immediately," he says. "That gives us the benefit of being able to start processing that order right away, instead of overnight. The sales guys, when they get home, can still get online and check the status of orders or do anything special that they want to. But the majority of their work is already done. They can go home and enjoy their evening."
And James doesn't underestimate the returns of a sales force morale boost. "Even though our sales reps are some of [our] highest-paid employees, they often feel like they are the ones left out in the cold," says James, "But when we put this solution in their hands, they walk into customers' locations looking like [they're part of] a high-tech outfit. That just really gives them a morale boost and a pride boost with benefits that keep rippling through the company."