J.A. Russell sparks up supply chain

Written By Jessa Maria
12 March, 2014

The electrical wholesaler has left the competition behind by integrating its supply chain with Flow Software’s B2B Gateway, promoting customer loyalty and improving customer service.

J. A. Russell, New Zealand’s largest electrical and data wholesaler, operates some 55 stores from Kaitaia in the North Island to Invercargill in the South, where it operates under the Radcliffe Electrical brand.

Family-owned, J. A. Russell offers electrical, lighting, data and technology products and services to a wide customer base – from one-man domestic electricians, to large industrial and commercial trade contractors right through to national organisations and construction projects.

As part of its efforts to enhance its national presence and improve customer service, J. A. Russell realised the need to update its technology offering and automate its supply chain.

“Ours is a relationship-based business,” says Adam Parker, information systems manager for J. A. Russell. “Superior customer service is a focus for all projects we look to implement, and while we wanted to use new technology we didn’t want to lose the personal contact we have with our customers. We needed a new B2B e-commerce website but it had to be tightly integrated to our bricks and mortar branches and the systems supporting those for a seamless experience for our customers. The opportunity was there for us to make considerable improvements, and to provide a service and environment that better reflects our brand.”

After reviewing the products and solutions in the market, J. A. Russell chose Flow Software to implement its B2B Gateway product providing multi-channel end-to-end business automation.

Through a single platform they are now able to engage both their suppliers and customers with automated EDI data exchange and interactive web-based portals.

“J. A. Russell had manually intensive processes and wanted to automate these but was hesitant of losing the personal touch with its customers. Our B2B Gateway offered the ability to automate mundane data processing through EDI but still be interactive for the supplier and customer” comments Flow CEO, Cameron Hart.

The project was delivered in two phases with phase one automating the supply chain by engaging J. A. Russell’s suppliers. The largest suppliers exchange data automatically via EDI and the smaller suppliers interact through a new B2B portal for processing purchase orders, invoices, and product updates.

Phase two took advantage of the enhanced flow of information from suppliers, with Flow Software deploying the B2B Gateway for EDI and online e-commerce with J. A. Russell’s customers.

Customers are now able to self-serve and get the information they need through product searching, real-time stock on hand, online ordering, and invoice/statement review.

“Customer service is important to J. A. Russell so our system had to simulate the experience customers were used to when visiting or phoning the local branch. Customers want answers fast, and if the answers they need are not accessible through the B2B Gateway they will revert to previous behaviours. Flow’s vision of end-to-end business automation matched J. A. Russell’s requirements and by tightly integrating J. A. Russell’s ERP system, and automating its supply chain, we could offer to its customers realtime information through multiple channels like websites, EDI, and web services” Hart explains.

J. A. Russell’s new customer web portal, known as the on2Site trade portal, allows customers full self-service in a method appropriate to them. This could mean interacting with the on2Site web portal to search for product information and stock levels, place orders online and access their purchase and customer history.

Online ordering means customers can place orders ahead of time, knowing the goods are available, and pick up supplies first thing in the morning on their way to jobs.

Being a company with a national presence and major corporate contracts to fulfil, J. A. Russell needed to meet EDI requirements which it had not previously been equipped to deliver. The solution has not only provided a B2B customer web portal but also means J. A. Russell has been able to meet all EDI requirements and increase customer service levels, generating customer loyalty through EDI engagement and investment on the supplier and customer end.

“Flow’s B2B Gateway is not your typical e-commerce website but a modular platform for communicating with your suppliers and customers through multiple channels,” says Hart. “A website is not something that should be done in isolation as it is only one way for your business to communicate with external parties.

J. A. Russell recognised the need to cater for differing customer requirements and saw how important it was for the multiple channels to work in harmony. For instance, as a customer’s volume grows they may switch from the web portal to EDI for ordering and invoicing but still want to get their statement through a website.”

J. A. Russell’s former processes involved manual input almost exclusively, requiring teams of people internally and on the supplier side.

Now, with many of the processes automated, J. A. Russell is in a position to grow its business without having to grow its staff numbers.

“This has been a massive step forward for us as a business, and there is always more to do,” predicts Parker. “We see this EDI and website project as a work-in-progress. We want to keep adding value and bringing new innovations and services to our customers, allowing them more efficiencies and productivity in their own businesses.”

J A Russell
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