Avanti rides Conduit online

Avanti bicycles distributor Sheppard Industries says close to 50 of its dealers are placing online orders directly into its backend system using Conduit's eConnect platform, changing weekend retailing patterns.

Avanti bicycles distributor Sheppard Industries says close to 50 of its dealers are placing online orders directly into its backend system using Conduit’s eConnect platform, changing weekend retailing patterns.

The two-month-old initiative is the first time Renaissance Corporation subsidiary Conduit has implemented a site for clients outside the IT industry, and foreshadows a consumer electronics site to go live in January.

Conduit is also talking with food distributors and electrical goods companies.

Sheppard, the largest bike and accessories distributor in New Zealand with annual sales of more than $40 million, says e-commerce has allowed its dealers and retailers to view stock levels and place orders out of office hours and in weekends, traditionally their busiest periods.

“Now they can say to a customer it’s there, it’s the colour and configuration you want and we can order it now,” Sheppard financial controller Paul Schnell says.

‘That’s a much better situation for them compared with the old way following up a potential order with phone calls on Monday morning, only to find the customer may have changed their mind in the interim.”

Schnell says Sheppard has close to 50 of its key dealers using the hosted system, with 300 smaller dealers being progressively bought online. In Australia, where Sheppard is ranked as one of the top three distributors, 150 dealers will come online to a separate site in December.

Every 15 minutes updated stock level data is downloaded from Sheppard’s Quanta back end ERP system using a data extraction tool especially designed by Qanta staff, and loaded onto a server hosted by Conduit. Dealers can view the stock information, prices and delivery dates and place orders, which are then uploaded back into Sheppard’s system in 15 minute blocks as well. Sales representatives are now accessing the company’s systems from laptops in the field.

Schnell says while invoicing and account payments are still done traditionally, Sheppard plans to add services such as warranty claims and credit requirements in the near future.

He says when high speed “always-on” services such as ADSL become mainstream, replacing today’s dialling-in and speed problems, Sheppard's site will replace the majority of phone call inquiries and centralise the company’s communications.

Schnell says the Conduit hosted model was chosen after consultants Ernst & Young did a business analysis of Sheppard’s needs. Conduit’s hosted model was a much cheaper option than building a front end website on to their Quanta system because that would have required every dealer accessing the system to have a costly user licence, Schnell says.

There would also have been no control over how many users came on at one time. A hosted model also meant there was no interruptions if Sheppard’s server was down and it was important for Sheppard to outsource the IT project – it only has one part-time IT consultant.

Sheppard believes it is the first bicycle distributor in this part of the world to introduce e-commerce into its supply chain and says a benefit particular to its industry is the ability to accurately illustrate the thousands of bicycle parts online.

Conduit general manger Rob Old says Conduit has 25 clients with over 30 sites live. Old says Conduit has a policy of working with each client’s ERP vendor to build an integration tool and has developed its platform to be non-propriety.

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