Editor's Note: David McClellan, of Western Heritage Furniture, featured in the May 2015 Woodworking Network, discusses developing the firm’s enterprise software from scratch and the impact it has had on the firm:
I haven’t been in the furniture business my whole career; I’ve been building business software. And coming out to Jerome, AZ, to work with my family…immediately I realized we could save a lot of headache and a lot of the issues that we have with all of these paper processes by using technology to solve all of these problems.
So, what I built 100 percent from scratch is a system that handles not only the front end of collecting information for the sale, which creates all of the documents for an order and stores all of the product information, but it also allows us to track the production side to where every one of our employees has a tablet device that they can carry around and keep at their workstation and track what they are doing.
Just by identifying what task they are working on, we collect all of the build time for anything we are fabricating and from anywhere in the planet I can pull up our schedule and see what’s going on in our shop. I can see who is working on what and where we are for any given piece.
This order management system takes us from conception and quoting all the way through scheduling all of our shipments. It allows us to reduce our overhead significantly. Immediately we were able to realize efficiencies through using the software. Our whole back office is three people: a salesperson, a manager and an administrator.
Nowadays we continually build upon it to solve problems. If they need a button to do XYZ we can respond immediately and by the next week it is part of the system.
For example, at one point we needed to be able to create an invoice that lists all of the products on the order and their prices and discounts. Before, we would have to hand write these things using Microsoft Excel. That involved a lot of redundant data entry, and it introduced human error. Now, the same information you put in when you originally created the order is used to create the invoicing.
One of the big things we just added was tracking inventory for raw materials as well as all of our tools. We do all of our purchasing through this same system. As products leave our shop, it automatically reduces our raw materials. So our wood, lacquer, metal bases, nails, the amount of glue used...it automatically gets taken out and reduced from inventory. Then, with each one of those different items, we are alerted by the same system when we need to reorder. And not only does it alert us it also prints out a purchase order that we fax to our vendor.
We describe every product in the system with the materials needed to produce it. Doing that up-front work of putting all the materials in for each item allows the software to reduce from inventory correctly, and at the end of the day it reduces the amount of physical labor required to identify what we need to purchase. That is why we are able to have a 12-person team where only three of us are in the back office. The rest of us are carpenters and are busy building furniture. We don’t have to have extra roles for people to do inventory or for people to do purchasing. Using this system eliminates a lot of that redundancy.
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