The company’s strategy has been highly acquisitive in order to diversify its range, secure additional production facilities and amalgamate competitors into its own business. Growth has been constant – even through the latest recession – finally revealing unacceptable inadequacies in the company’s manufacturing operations and financial visibility.
By 2010, it was clear that growth had overcome the business’ existing operating infrastructure - a combination of Pegasus Opera accounting and SharePoint software augmented with paper and spreadsheet-based systems. To establish the company on firm foundations for future growth, a fully automated, end-to-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solution was needed.
At that time, Arnold Wills’ IT operations and support was outsourced to a third party, and together they conducted a scoping exercise. As well as the overriding objective to fully automate its manufacturing and financial systems, three additional requirements were critical:
“As we continue to grow, it’s vital for us to understand the profitability of different product lines and the multiple brands we operate because the margin for error in the fashion industry is very small.”
Roger Neal, Project Manager
Manager of the automation project, Roger Neal, explains: “We had little visibility of the supply chain before and with many thousands of units in production at any one time, the number of paper-based sales orders, manufacturing orders and purchase orders plus tracking and reporting in spreadsheets was a nightmare.
"We call our production process the ‘critical path’ because each stage is a JIT operation. For example, the right belt strap and buckle need to arrive at the same time at the right facility for assembly and be packed as a single unit ready to be picked again at our factory in the UK, or shipped as part of a box direct to the customer.
“There’s labelling to contend with, EU waste packaging disposal regulations and the actual shipping itself, of course. We also source the same products from different suppliers so that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” Roger continues. “The devil really is in the detail and with the new system, we’ll have real-time visibility of all units in transit and in production.”
“When it comes to reporting, we haven’t been able to access basic financial information such as gross margin per product since our business was very much smaller and simpler,” Roger explains. “As we continue to grow, it’s vital for us to understand the profitability of different product lines and the multiple brands we operate because the margin for error in the fashion industry is very small.”
The scoping exercise resulted in the selection of Microsoft Dynamics NAV Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software combined with TRIMIT, a manufacturing solution with specific features and functionality for the fashion industry. Both products have proved themselves in high volume – low value, international operations and the combination gives Arnold Wills a robust and flexible platform with a Microsoft Office interface that is familiar to users.
The configurator within TRIMIT defines certain products as ‘masters’ with pre-defined optional parameters known as ‘Vardims’ – variants or dimensions. Each Vardim can be used to define variations, e.g. the length and colour of a belt, or to define a property of the product, e.g. the position of the customer’s badge.
Roger and his team adopted a phased approach to the implementation, transferring sales order and purchase order processing from Pegasus Opera first to go live the following year (2012). However, issues developed as the third party IT provider lost key personnel working on the Arnold Wills implementation and two years after the scoping exercise began, little tangible progress had been made.
The company decided to look for an alternative systems integrator and from the three Microsoft Dynamics NAV/TRIMIT specialists in the UK, it selected In2grate Business Solutions for its depth of experience in the NAV/TRIMIT platform, and the capability and significant size of its NAV/TRIMIT team. The fact that In2grate had previous experience of industry specific versions of TRIMIT was also a factor.
Benefits at a glance
“The In2grate team has been a complete and refreshing change since they came on board,” says Roger. They ensured a smooth transition from our previous provider which was critical because we had to upgrade NAV and TRIMIT to the latest version as well, and virtually do a re-write of the implementation to-date. We had a lot to sort out and the In2grate team have really applied themselves to our problems and got on with the implementation in a timely way.”
The system upgrade completed in July 2014 and user training is well underway. Arnold Wills appointed Andy Mossford as its in-house IT manager (Andy previously worked with the outsourced IT provider) and the company has been impressed with In2grate’s training and people skills too.
“It’s not always easy to bring people on board with new software systems and in our case, we’ve had to regain people’s confidence too,” explains Roger. “While we were in the first stages of implementation with our previous provider, people were still finding their own ways of doing things. In2grate has helped us bring in consistent ways of working and helped people understand why it’s so important. In2grate has also worked closely and seamlessly with Andy as well - it’s been a great team effort.”
The manufacturing and financial operations of the Arnold Wills Group have been revolutionised with the introduction of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV/TRIMIT combination with In2grate, presenting the company with a flexible and robust platform, functionality specific to its industry, and an ERP system capable of handling further growth, acquisitions and business development.
For example, a small part of the Arnold Wills business is an off-the-shelf wholesaler, Mag Mouch Sophos, the merger of two acquisitions in 2004. It operates differently from the rest of the Group using commissioned agents to sell to small independent retailers, trade only. Using Majento eCommerce software and the Connector plug-in to NAV/TRIMIT, Mag Mouch Sophos is in the process of introducing an online ordering system which will enable it to sell direct to consumers.
In2grate has also linked Jet Reports directly into the NAV/TRIMIT system, enabling Arnold Wills to carry out ‘what if?” reporting, modelling and analysis of its financial and supply chain data at a detailed level. This capability is hugely beneficial to the company’s short and long-term planning, budgeting and in managing its operational efficiency.
Project manager, Roger Neal concludes: “Finally we have a fluid, agile, manageable system that’s going to enable another 20 years plus of successful growth at Arnold Wills. The In2grate team has been a breath of fresh air and it’s been great for us to find a business partner with as much commitment to the success of the final solution and to the future of our business as we have. Highly recommended.”