Five ways buggy brand Maclaren is a digital business

"We're becoming a very digital business," according to James Ramsey, global head of technology at baby products brand Maclaren, who could soon start making a name for himself in retail and manufacturing circles for pushing the boundaries when it comes to running technology projects.

Ramsey, who is responsible the baby buggy business's technology strategy, says when most people say something cannot be done, his team is always keen to prove them wrong.

Essential Retail caught up with him at NetSuite's SuiteWorld conference in San Jose, California, and learned that the business implemented the cloud-based software company's ERP system in eight weeks, despite the vendor's initial doubts at achieving such a speedy roll-out.

There are a host of other ways the business is thinking digital first as it looks to boost sales and efficiency across its global operations. We've picked out five ways Ramsey and his department are digitising the organisation.

1. Cloud-based ERP and eCommerce refresh

In the words of Ramsey, late 2014 saw Maclaren opt to "dive into NetSuite and make it our ERP system of choice".

Members of the tech team had conducted core ERP implementations before so they knew what such a project entailed, but they were convinced it could be achieved more quickly than the average deployment. The contract for the project, which comprised putting customer, order and inventory management data alongside its B2C and B2B eCommerce on one single SuiteCommerce platform, was signed on 4 November 2014 and the deployment went live on 1 January 2015.

This week, Maclaren repeated the trick. Upgrading its eCommerce platform to SuiteCommerce Advanced was completed in another whirlwind eight-week period.

"NetSuite said they could do it in four months, but they did it in eight weeks. We got the approval on Friday last week, almost eight weeks since we signed the contract. We're just in final testing mode now, and then it'll be done."

Between the first five months of last year, in the early days of using the new central system, and the same period in 2016, Maclaren sales – whether via electronic data interchange (EDI), or Maclaren's B2C and B2B portals – reportedly grew by 40%.

"We want 90% of our orders coming in electronically so no-one has to touch them, rather than having huge sales teams that are sitting there doing data entry of sales orders all day long," Ramsey added.

"Let's just make it all electronic; do it online."

Maclaren is using Cybersource for credit card processing in the US and PayPal in the rest of the world, but the plan is to go with the former across all territories. Another partner on the ERP side is FedEx, which is used for its Cross Border tool that gives the buggy business a route into countries where it doesn't already sell products, such as nations in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

"Hopefully it allows us to get into areas where you typically need a physical presence to sell products," said Ramsey.

"With Cross Border they'll ship it into these countries for us."

2. Leveraging its Amazon partnership

Maclaren sells its products via Amazon marketplaces in various territories around the world, including the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, China and Japan, and in recent weeks the company has started to investigate how it can get more out of its partnership with the e-tail giant.

"We were in a meeting a few weeks ago and we said 'why aren't we using Amazon?'," Ramsey revealed.

The thinking here was, if Amazon already ships products for Maclaren when sales are made via a local Amazon marketplace, can its cutting-edge supply chain and distribution network be tapped into for other things?

"If they can ship that product why can't they ship our full product? We're working with Amazon to see if we can get that set up."

3. Outsourced warehouses

One reason Maclaren is looking to expand its Amazon partnership is due to technical issues experienced with some of its third-party logistics (3PL) providers.

Ramsey said: "Some 3PLs can ship product but they are not as technologically advanced as we need them to be – for example our 3PL in Amsterdam doesn't understand what EDI is. That is a big problem for us, so we're probably going to shift away and look at Amazon."

The company is keen to utilise Amazon's capability where it can, but continues to work with a range of 3PL businesses. At present, seven of the organisation's 12 warehouses have been outsourced – with Ramsey confident that this strategy keeps costs down and allows him to focus on core tech development.

"Our business as a whole has changed over the years – we used to have all our own warehouses and huge sales teams," he noted.

"We're becoming a very digital business. We outsourced manufacturing 20 years ago and now we're outsourcing the warehousing. It takes a lot of stress out of the business."

Shifting to third parties for warehousing has resulted in hundreds of job losses, but the organisation views itself as much more efficient now.

4. Skype not landline phone

Maclaren took the decision to remove landline phones from its everyday business processes and ensure staff used Skype as their first method of internal and international communication. Very few traditional phones are available for company staff, and this is viewed as one part of a wider digital evolution.

"There are a load of things we've done over the years – some of which we've been called crazy for," Ramsey commented.

"In the first year [that phones were removed from desks] we saved $72,000 just on US phone bills from people not calling international numbers because Skype calls are free. In the general scheme of things it's not a huge amount of money, but it is an employee's salary for a year."

5. Intelligent order management

Maclaren is looking to extend its partnership with NetSuite by considering how the software company's Intelligent Order Management tool – which was launched to market on Tuesday – might be able to help join up operations in its international territories.

The brand has warehouses in Germany, France, Spain and the UK, for example, but each regional Maclaren business is classed as a separate legal entity and not part of one group. Using technology to bring the separate entities closer together, particularly in Europe, could result in significant efficiencies, according to Ramsey.

"What happens now is we do our forecast, it all looks good and we end up with 500 to 1,000 products sitting in France that Germany could use but it doesn't belong to Germany so we can't give it to them," he explained.

"We end up doing inter-company transactions to move it from Germany to France and it's a lot of paperwork back and forth. NetSuite is looking to let us hold inventory above those subsidiaries so inventories are available to everyone."

No final decision has been made on this particular investment, but Ramsey even took to stage at SuiteWorld to publically support the IOM launch which brings further automation ability to fulfilment planning. The solution is also being marketed as a way for brands and retailers to achieve a transparent view of orders, effectively making it easier for organisations to identify the most cost effective delivery or shipping options.

Once again highlighting Maclaren's apparent need for speed when it comes to new projects, Ramsey said: "If it's available right now, we'd probably have it done in two weeks. We work towards impossible timelines – if someone says it's available, we do it."

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