Workwear and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the healthcare and manufacturing industries, amongst others, has never been so in demand with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in a huge increase in UK PPE production to ensure access to an uninterrupted supply.
With demand for all types of PPE, including gowns and FFP3-rated facemasks growing, 70% will be met by UK manufacturers from December 2020. This is an astonishing increase from just 1% of PPE being produced in the UK before the pandemic.
Meeting this rapid rise in demand is a massive challenge, but many workwear and PPE manufacturers have embraced selling through multiple sales channels via a combination of traditional (sales reps and trade counter) and online sources. A survey by OGL Computer among distributors and wholesalers found that interest in e-commerce is growing significantly across all sectors, including workwear and PPE, and this has only been accelerated by COVID-19.
Since February 2020, over 3.5 billion PPE items have been distributed to the frontline, including GPs, social care providers, community pharmacists, dentists and hospices. Amid unparalleled demand, the average number of items of PPE distributed increased considerably. The normal supply chain for PPE was designed to accommodate delivery to 226 NHS Trusts, but essential supplies are now being sent to 58,000 different settings.
The ease that a multi-channel sales strategy provides is recognised by many businesses and 82% of SMEs revealed that selling products online easily is very important to them. But multi-channel selling can be a more complex proposition than businesses realise.
Managing stock in times of high demand
With more suppliers turning to online sales channels to keep up with the unprecedented demand, e-commerce teams, like our own, have been busy supporting distributors and wholesalers by integrating online sales channels, including Amazon and eBay, and updating websites to help them fulfil orders and also attract new business.
Implementing an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution, which provides full control over all business systems giving suppliers visibility over stock so they can deliver the quality of service customers require, is recommended here. Thanks to an ERP solution collating and managing all of the necessary functions involved, from centralising business information and automating manual processes to controlling stock movement, suppliers can seamlessly enable, and more importantly manage, the adoption of additional digital channels relatively easily, and without any significant overhead.
ERP systems give businesses greater control of stock, as 82% of SMEs interviewed by OGL Computer stated, and many of those (76%) were already experiencing the benefits that having an ERP solution integrating disparate systems brings.
Andway Healthcare, which provides the care home industry with medical items and equipment, implemented an ERP solution that enabled it to confidently keep up with stock flows to ensure it continued delivering the fast turnaround customers expected. By making stock decisions based on the information provided by the ERP solution, Andway Healthcare had 100% visibility over stock location, usage and cost, ensuring profit margins were controlled and its warehouse was managed effectively so no customer orders were unfulfilled.
An ERP solution can also help to maintain consistency across multiple sales channels, which is often the single biggest operational challenge for any business. Using it, the whole team can stay on top of pricing and stock control levels to avoid input errors, ensure orders are processed and deliveries are made on time, which is essential in the provision of workwear and PPE.
Collating business information using an ERP solution means that pricing is consistently the same across every sales channel (online, telephone and via a trade counter). By managing customer specific, retail and trade pricing automatically on an entire catalogue of products - across every channel – ERP solutions effectively ensure that your customers receive the same level of service, no matter which channel they use.
Thanks to the increasing choice customers have and the limited time requirement of providing workwear and PPE supplies, business purchases are becoming more considered. Customers will research where they can get what they need, in the time they need it, but this also means there is less loyalty over brands as customers can easily source alternative suppliers to purchase from, if their usual supplier lets them down.
Through capturing data about a customers’ businesses and profiling their buying habits, using a CRM system, suppliers can increase sales by targeting specific customer groups with more targeted messaging, focusing on key pain points or paying particular attention to specific buying habits of customers.
However, by using an ERP system with an integrated CRM module, businesses can go one step further by accessing the data and tools, and extracting, reporting and analysing all of the customer information to enhance the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, for improved success.
Frank Blakeley, a family-run one-stop shop for tools, equipment, workwear and more, implemented an ERP solution with fully integrated CRM from OGL Computer that centralised all customer information. Where the company had previously manually processed sales orders, the ERP and CRM solution now enables the company to process orders quicker and more accurately. The CRM integration also enables up-to-date information regarding accounts and payment due dates, so Frank Blakeley is always in control of its finances, invoices, credits, statements and overdue payments.
Reducing the admin burden
Using an ERP solution can save suppliers time spent on administration tasks such as logging into different systems to check for information, such as a customer’s specific order history or current stock levels of a particular workwear or PPE item. Our research found that 57% of SMEs cited reducing administration time as their main reason for turning to a single ERP system, followed by improving accuracy of information (40%) and removing duplication of work across different departments (37%) to increase efficiency.
Miller Medical Supplies, which has a catalogue of 5,000 medical products and handles 700+ customer orders every week, implemented an ERP solution that significantly reduced the admin burden. The ERP solution reduced the time spent on identifying and chasing overdue customers into just a few clicks of a button, by producing a report which listed the customers that were overdue and by how long then automatically contacting them with a reminder – a task that would normally have taken one member of staff a full day to work through.
Although businesses inevitably have their own, often different, priorities when considering multi-channel sales strategies, using an ERP system to manage both digital and physical sales channels, including an eCommerce website, is the most effective way to ensure order processing times are reduced, allowing for quicker delivery times, which is essential in the current climate.
Head of Software Development