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Mr Chan says Seager’s productivity and decision-making have been boosted by the implementation of its new IT system. Photo: Sam Yeo

In the final part of a six-week series featuring SMEs that have taken steps to build their capabilities or venture into new markets with Spring Singapore’s support, Aaron Tan speaks to Seager Inc.

The Straits Times
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September 9, 2015

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DATA is the lifeblood of any business, yet workers at travel and lifestyle product distributor Seager used to rely on their intuition to decide how much of a product to replenish when stocks ran low.

That was because the company’s backend IT system could not provide sales and inventory data in real-time, according to Mr Lionel Chan, head of IT department at Seager, which owns a slew of concept stores in Singapore such as The Wallet Shop and The Planet Traveller.

It also markets travel-related products under a number of key brands at airport shops, travel gear retailers and department stores across South-east Asia.

“The sales and merchandising team could not wait up to a month for the data to be compiled and analysed, so they usually made reordering decisions based on gut feel,” he says.

This resulted in either excess or insufficient inventory, which is anathema to any distributor or retailer striving to keep up with consumer demands while keeping inventory costs in check.

To make matters worse, the lack of real-time inventory data affected customer service and led to losses in potential sales.

“Our retail staff couldn’t assure customers if there was stock in the warehouse, and that could mean a loss in sales since customers can always shop elsewhere,” Mr Chan says.

Nipping it in the bud A few years ago, Seager decided to nip the problem in the bud, by rewriting the software that powers its backend IT system from scratch.

The project received support from Spring Singapore’s Capability Development Grant.

While it took Seager and its technology vendor six months to translate its business processes into software code, plus six more months to develop the rest of the system including its user interface, the effort was worth it.

“Since we now have real-time sales and inventory data, we’ve been able to make more accurate sales forecasts and buying decisions on the fly,” Mr Chan says. “With over 16,000 products, we took a while to do this in the past, but now we simply click on a button to replenish a product.”

Besides speeding up business decision- making, the new system has boosted employee productivity, as Seager’s sales and merchandising team can access the data it needs from home, thanks to the system’s enhanced security measures, he says.

“It’s also much easier to set up new stores and retail counters from the backend – we just need to install the system on the laptop and we’re good to go,” he says.

Seager also took the opportunity to generate its own product barcodes as part of the new system.

While the company’s suppliers have printed barcodes on product packaging, they typically stick to the same barcode for a product that may come in different colours. “As we order things in various colours, we needed to have our own barcodes to track our sales on a more granular level,” he says.

Working like a charm

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So far, the new system has worked like a charm with no major hiccups Mr Chan says, as the company made sure it engaged its staff during the implementation of the system.

“We took in many ideas from the staff,” says Mr Chan. “This is to ensure a smooth transition from the old system. Re-training and close attention to staff feedback were part and parcel of the system implementation.”

Since tasks related to sales forecasting, merchandising and logistics are more manageable than before, Mr Chan says the staff involved in those areas have been given more strategic roles.

“For example, instead of spending time on churning out data, merchandisers are expected to figure out which brands of products are better suited for one store rather than another,” Mr Chan says.

Mr Chan advises companies that are looking to embrace technology to include staff who are proponents of work improvements and have
good working knowledge of work processes in their IT implementation teams.

“They should also work with a financially stable IT vendor that has relevant industry experience to see through the entire implementation successfully,” he says.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.

Capability Development Grant

The Capability Development Grant (CDG) is aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) defray qualifying costs of their capability upgrading projects to improve productivity and develop business capabilities for process improvement, product development and overseas expansion.

To encourage more SMEs to build business capabilities, the application process for grant support of $30,000 or less has been simplified. SMEs can look forward to simpler application
forms and reduced documentation requirements for such projects.

For more information and guidance on the CDG, visit www.spring.gov.sg/cdg or call 6898-1800 to make a free appointment with an SME Centre business adviser.

Singapore Retail Industry Conference

The 24th annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference will be held at Suntec City Convention Centre on Sept 22.

Co-organised by the Singapore Productivity Centre and the Singapore Retailers Association, the conference is Singapore’s key retail event for the latest retail trends and global best practices.

With the theme of Re-Evolve Retail, this year’s conference promises to inspire companies to achieve greater growth through international and local sharing, focusing on how retail  businesses around the world have transformed to meet today’s challenges.

Visit www.sgpc.sg/index.php/sric2015 for more information.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.

 


This article was first published on Sep 9, 2015.
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