Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Managing Canada’s New Food Importing Regulations with Food Traceability Software

Even though Canada is recognized for having one of the best food safety systems in the world, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) still receives an average of 2,000 reports from consumers concerning food safety issues every year. Significant improvements to food distribution supply chains, food production and the speed and volume of food manufacturing and transportation every year continue to provide government entities with food safety challenges. Add to this changing consumer preferences, food-based allergen concerns and healthy eating trends and you’re left with a complex and ever-changing food distribution network. To address the concerns of businesses and consumers alike, the CFIA and other regulatory entities have long since implemented standards for managing and tracking food production and distribution across Canada and the world. The latest in food safety regulations, known as The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) will come into force on January 15, 2019.

What is SFCR?

Similar to existing food regulations in Canada, the SFCR works to further protect Canadian consumers by putting a greater emphasis on proactively preventing risks to food safety and making it easier to quickly remove unsafe food from the supply chain. These regulations specifically target food imports and exports in Canada.

The ultimate goal of any food regulation is to give Canadian consumers peace of mind that the food on grocery shelves is safe to eat – whether those products are produced in Canada or abroad. With SFCR Canadian consumers can expect:

Safer food on all grocery shelves
More strict regulations targeting unsafe food practises with a focus on proactive prevention
Tougher penalties for activities and businesses that violate these regulations
Greater control over imports into Canada
More efficient and faster processes for managing recalls and removing unsafe food from the supply chain

For Canadian businesses in the food industry, these regulations will continue to strengthen Canada’s reputation for food safety and increase opportunities for exporting Canadian products worldwide.

The 3 Key Elements of SFCR

The SFCR applies to all businesses that import or prepare food for export across provincial and territorial borders and will help Canada’s food safety regulations become in line with international standards. The SFCR recognizes 3 key elements:

(1) Licensing

New licensing regulations require all food import companies to have a license from the CFIA. Licensing requirements apply to any business that conducts the following activities1:

Import food or food products
Manufacture, process, treat, preserve, grade, package, or label food for export or to be sent across provincial or territorial borders
Export food (where an export certificate is requested)
Slaughter food animals from which meat products are derived for export or to be sent across provincial or territorial borders
Store and handle a meat product in its imported condition for inspection by the CFIA

The CFIA is making it easy for businesses to apply for a license online and will be phasing this requirement over a 12-30 month period depending on the food commodity, type of activity and business size.

(2) Preventive Controls

As a business that imports food products, it is imperative that you have preventive controls in place to ensure the food you import and sell is safe. This involves working closely with your foreign manufacturing and supply partners to understand and control the risks associated with importing their food products. More specifically, preventive controls require that all food import companies:

Know the food that is imported in terms of biological, chemical and physical make-up and any associated hazards that pose a risk of contamination to the food.
Be able to describe and clearly identify any potential risks and have a plan in place to control these risks.
Know the foreign supply partners with which you do business – are your suppliers using safe methods for preparing, storing and transporting product? This includes making sure foreign suppliers are aware of allergens in Canada and are properly documenting and tracking their existence. Food import businesses need to be able to show that the foreign suppliers they work with are meeting the same food safety standards that are required by Canadian manufacturers.
Identify and outline a written plan that dictates processes for meeting regulations.

(3) Traceability

Traceability is already an important part of the food distribution supply chain and requires businesses to trace where product comes from and to whom it is sold. This includes keeping detailed records of the food supply chain for each individual product and helps make the recall process easier by ensuring food is removed from the supply chain in the most efficient way possible.

Food Traceability Software

Food traceability software such as Blue Link ERP helps food import and distribution businesses comply with government regulations by managing and tracking inventory along the entire supply chain. As part of an all-in-one inventory and accounting system, Blue Link’s food traceability functionality provides specific features for tracking lot numbers and expiry dates and includes lot reporting features to better maintain product records and quickly identify affected inventory in the event of a product recall.

Blue Link’s lot tracking functionality aids businesses in achieving CFIA compliance and enables your business to track product end-to-end from your foreign or domestic supplier to your warehouse and then ultimately to your customer. This functionality works in conjunction with Blue Link’s inventory and accounting tools so that all business processes – sales through to invoicing, purchasing, shipping and receiving – are managed from a single database.

Next Steps
To best prepare for the upcoming SFCR in January 2019, start by doing an analysis of existing systems and processes. Does your business meet the specifications for needing a license? Do you have existing preventive controls in place for managing inventory and are you tracking product along the entire supply chain? How does your business manage product recalls? Consider finding a software solution designed for food import and distribution with traceability functionality as a way to help automate and manage these new requirements.

For additional information on the new SFCR we’ve included some resources below:

1Licensing: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/the-cfia-chronicle/special-edition-2018-/licensing/eng/1528488744086/1528488744335
SFCR for Businesses: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/the-cfia-chronicle/special-edition-2018-/food-businesses/eng/1528486120649/1528486120899
A Quick Look at the New SFCR : http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/sfcr/videos/importing-food-to-canada/eng/1528315408961/1528315409226
The CFIA Chronicle: Special Edition about SFCR: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/the-cfia-chronicle/special-edition-2018-/eng/1528380073398/1528380073850

 

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Cautionary Tale for non-VAWD Pharmaceutical Wholesale Distributors – OptumRx Revokes Extensions

Many people do not know that the prescription drugs in their medicine cabinets have quite the tale to tell.  Its’ story ends with them, the consumer, a regular Joe going in to fill a prescription at a local pharmacy. The beginning of the tale? Well, that’s slightly more complicated. You know as a pharmaceutical wholesale distributor that the drug sitting snug in their cabinet has come a long way from the time it was made. For every single prescription drug a person takes, the product has passed through at least four different companies to end up at their local pharmacy – it starts at the manufacturer, the manufacturer then sells it to you, the pharmaceutical wholesale distributor(s) who then sells the product to either other distributors or a network of  pharmacies. The pharmacies then offer it to their clients. The requirement to track each drug throughout its journey along the supply chain is why the pharmaceutical distribution industry is one of the most complex and highly regulated systems to exist.

With every member of the supply chain, additional fees and markups get added to the cost of the drug, which is why the prescription drugs that end up in the consumer’s hands have such a high value. In fact, the costs of prescriptions drugs became so high in the 1960’s that health plans were not able to accommodate coverage and so companies called Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) rose to cover these prescriptions on behalf of the insurance companies, and in turn, the pharmacies that sell the drugs. OptumRx is one of the three major PBMs still in existence today. PBMs are responsible for negotiating drug prices to keep costs down for end consumers and to push the most effective drug out of the many options available on the market. While not everyone agrees with the existence of PBM’s (since they also make a nice profit from insurance companies through what’s called spread pricing), they are an important part of this convoluted cycle today to keep costs down for the end consumer.

So where do pharmaceutical wholesale distributors fall into this cautionary tale? Well, back in 2016, OptumRx introduced a compliance rule that restricts pharmacies within its network from accepting product from wholesale distributors, unless those wholesale distributors are Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributors (VAWD) certified. OptumRx first announced this requirement in August 2016 but at the same time granted an extension to distributors to achieve their VAWD accreditation. Although not every pharmacy requires its distributors to be VAWD certified, it establishes your wholesale distribution business as a trustworthy trading partner in the US pharmaceutical market and opens the door to do business with more pharmacy customers. 21-months after the extension was granted, OptumRX ended the extension for almost all distributors that sell to their network of pharmacies and are still not VAWD certified. As of July 5th, the company decided to provide many, if not all distributors another extension which will retroactively be effective from June 30th through August 31st. This new extension was likely due to the law firm Frier Levitt seeking to file a class-action suit against OptumRx for unfairly ending the original extension. Even with this new extension, however, distributors who will not be able to make the new VAWD deadline by August 31st are positioned to lose clients, the integrity of their products and millions of dollars in revenue as it restricts the pharmacies they can sell to and will end with many of them having to shut down their doors for good.
For those who are unfamiliar with the U.S. accreditation, VAWD, read this blog post to learn what is required of businesses to achieve the accreditation.
Whether you agree or disagree with OptumRx’s decision, as a pharmaceutical wholesale distributor, you need to have accurate data to capitalize and maintain your position in the growing market and adhere to quality control and industry regulations. It is not unlikely that we will start to see a trend where more and more pharmacies work solely with VAWD-accredited companies, and so it is important for distributors to achieve their VAWD accreditation to remain competitive in the market.

The VAWD accreditation process cannot be achieved overnight. In fact, the accreditation takes several months to complete, which makes it all the more important for candidates to be fully prepared for the rigorous reviews to avoid having to re-apply. The time it takes to complete the program is greatly impacted by a facility’s readiness. Once you have achieved the accreditation, it is valid for 3 years which means maintaining the integrity of your data is also an important factor.

Feeling overwhelmed? Yes, the accreditation process will not be easy but the key is to start! The longer you delay the process, the more you put your distribution company at risk. Why live with that unsettling feeling? The first step a pharmaceutical wholesale distributor can take is to  implement the right industry-specific pharmaceutical ERP software with advanced abilities for “maintaining inventories and records of all transactions regarding the receipt and distribution or other disposition of all drugs and devices” to  help meet the VAWD criteria faster and to maintain the accreditation for years to come.
“VAWD accreditation is considered to be the “gold-standard” for distribution companies across regulatory agencies and trading partners within the supply chain. It requires adherence to specific standards spanning purchasing, sales,  inventory control and more – the right pharmaceutical ERP is crucial in achieving VAWD accreditation.” – Sumeet Singh, President, Five Rivers RX
Automation is Key

Having the right industry-specific functionality in pharmaceutical ERP helps businesses to not only comply with VAWD requirements but also help to meet the requirements of DEA, FDA and the DSCSA efficiently and accurately. The key to making your life a bit easier when it comes to maintaining compliance is automating your processes. The below pharmaceutical specific ERP features help to do this.

Lot tracking (traceability) – Blue Link offers lot tracking functionality as part of an all-in-one inventory and accounting ERP solution. Lot tracking, or batch tracking, allows for product traceability to keep track of which customers received specific groups (or shipments) of items and when they were received. The supplier and date these items were purchased are also tracked allowing managers to track an individual group of products (or shipment) from the supplier to their own warehouse and ultimately to the customer. Lot tracking is a core component in achieving FDA / ISO / CFIA compliance for many businesses. This feature of Blue Link ERP also allows users to perform lot costing – tracking actual costs instead of FIFO or average.

Serialization – Blue Link is in the process of developing SNI Serialization features. Specific functionality will include:

Ability to identify a product as Lot Controlled, Serialized, or both Lot and Serialized (a requirement by the DSCSA)
Ability to relate the Unique Serial Number with its applicable Lot Number
Ability to scan GS1 Datamatrix barcodes that include the NDC Number, Serial Number, Lot Number, and Expiration Date and parse the number so it can be stored and retrieved as applicable.

Inventory Control – Robust inventory management features such as backorder fulfillment, warehouse transfers, EDI integration, multiple units of measure, inventory counts and more!

Contact Management (CRM) – Track customer/vendor information and communication with a single point of entry into the system, store unlimited contacts, log communication, automate emailing etc.

Suspicious Order Monitoring (SOM) – Ensures distributors are in compliance with DEA laws. You can view average single or monthly order total amount or quantity of product by NDC #.

Learn more about advanced pharmaceutical features. 
Download the below Case Study to learn how Blue Link customer IPD was able to achieve VAWD accreditation using the above pharmaceutical-specific features.

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Is Blue Link’s Distribution Software Right for You?

You’ve decided to replace your existing business management system. There are many reasons why a company decides its time to update existing systems – perhaps you’re using an introductory accounting solution like QuickBooks and are looking for additional features such as inventory management, or maybe you’re looking to sell through new sales channels such as eCommerce or Amazon and want to integrate solutions. Maybe you’re using a product that is no longer supported and running on outdated technology. Whatever the reason, it is important that you dedicate the time and resources to finding a solution and make it a priority – for risk of letting it fall by the wayside. Theoretically, the process of finding, implementing and training staff on a new solution will be the biggest project your business takes on in any given year. And it should be – the right distribution software is the backbone of your company and will help to run every department from sales to accounting to customer service to warehouse management to eCommerce. So how do you find the right solution? Its no wonder people become overwhelmed when they start the search process – a simple Google search of distribution software yields over 402 million results! To narrow down your search, start by speaking with people in your industry and network to learn what system they are using, try to find unbiased 3rd party websites that offer simple comparisons between vendors, and dedicate the time to sift through some of the Google results until you have a shortlist of about 6-8 vendors to evaluate. To help you narrow down your search, we’ve included a break-down of information about Blue Link, and whether or not our distribution software is the right fit for your business.

About Blue Link

Blue Link is an owner-managed company and Microsoft Certified Gold Partner and has been in business since 1992. Blue Link provides all-in-one inventory and accounting ERP software for small to medium size businesses and is best suited for those in the wholesale and distribution industry.

As an all-in-one solution, Blue Link ERP helps businesses reduce manual work and automate processes by providing tools for inventory management, accounting, order entry and processing, warehouse management, contact management and advanced reporting. In addition, Blue Link includes various optional components that can be turned on at any point in time, such as point of sale, lot tracking, landed cost tracking, barcode scanning, and eCommerce integration with sites such as Shopify and Amazon.

Blue Link is available to businesses in North America and the Caribbean and can be customized to meet the specific needs of clients.

Industries Served

With a focus on wholesale and distribution businesses, as well as businesses that sell through eCommerce and retail, Blue Link provides functionality for a variety of sub-industries and niche markets. These include:

Pharmaceutical
Medical
Apparel, Fashion and Sporting Equipment
Baby and Children’s Products
Building, Construction and Home Supplies
Electronics and Technology
Consumer Packaged Goods
Garden and Floral
Food and Beverage
Foodservice Equipment Supply
Industrial Products, Machinery and Equipment
Salon and Cosmetics
and more!

Right Fit

As a SMB, Blue Link understands the mindset of other SMBs  and as such Blue Link customers typically have between 5-200 employees and under 150 users. Blue Link customers choose the software and trust our team as their business partner because…

They are excited about the opportunity to grow their business and expand into new markets
They are frustrated with using multiple, standalone solutions that do not interact with one another
They are anxious to start selling through other channels such as EDI, eCommerce and Amazon and need an integrated solution to do so
They are worried about their existing legacy systems crashing and losing data and productivity with no access to support

Who Are We NOT a Good Fit For?

Blue Link is not a fit for every company, and through our experience over the last 26 years, we’ve found that there are a few situations where we are unlikely to contribute high value to an organization. It is our job as part of the sales process to identify these unique cases as soon as possible to make sure we don’t waste anyone’s time. We are likely not a good fit for your business if:

You don’t want an all-in-one solution

Blue Link ERP software is designed as an all-in-one solution to manage all aspects of a businesses’ operations. We do not offer individual components such as just inventory functionality or just accounting. The nature of the system is to eliminate the need for duplicate entry and for information to easily flow between departments. Blue Link replaces the need for introductory solutions and does not integrate with accounting software (such as QuickBooks).  Instead, Blue Link provides more advanced functionality to help you grow your business.

You’re a manufacturing company

Many distribution companies identify as also a manufacturing business, even if all manufacturing processes are outsourced to 3rd party vendors. Where this is the case, Blue Link is a great fit and we even have functionality for light manufacturing – in terms of managing simple BOM requirements and kitting and assembly processes. However, if your business manages manufacturing and processing in-house in addition to distribution, and requires functionality for scheduling production, MRP and tracking waste/yield, you’re better offer finding a true manufacturing system as opposed to distribution.

You’re looking for catch weight functionality

Although we work with companies in the food and beverage industry, if you deal with produce, meat, poultry and fish, that require specific weight of a specific batch of product which is close to the average or standard weight used for that product (also known as catch weight)- Blue Link is not the right fit.  Where Blue Link is a good fit, is for those businesses dealing with canned, frozen and dry packaged goods, in which the weights and sizes will be standard each time. For these types of food businesses, Blue Link offers specific functionality such as lot tracking and landed cost tracking.

Ready to start your software search? Download our free guide to get started, or feel free to contact us today!

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Take Control of Your Business With Executive Dashboards – Wholesale Distribution Software

An executive dashboard is a powerful tool for the modern wholesale distribution business owner. A well-designed dashboard can quickly provide powerful insight into business health including summaries of complicated data translated into digestible views. Dashboards offer a visual display of organizational KPIs, metrics, and data that owners and employees can analyze in mere seconds. Information can be drilled down for a more granular, investigative view, which will help owners make smart decisions to improve their businesses’ bottom line.
But the key to the success of dashboards for wholesale distributors, is having a fully-integrated wholesale distribution software in place to store all business data, including key metrics of the business in one central hub. This means users can easily pull data to create and automatically populate executive reports. It is also best to only display the most important information and to make the dashboard as clean and uncluttered as possible in order to reap benefits such as:

Increased operational visibility:  With the right dashboards, you will know exactly what’s happening in all aspects of your wholesale distribution business instantly when you log in to the system on any given day, including information like views of sales outstanding in A/R, available credit, and A/R aging summary. For the best results, find a wholesale distribution software vendor that allows you to create multiple custom dashboards so you can switch back and forth between them. For example, you can have an additional dashboard that covers sales information such as sales by source, top selling products, top vendors, top customers, inventory quantities etc. You also want the flexibility to determine how this information is displayed, whether it be various types of charts (pie charts, column charts etc.), table formats, or simple text.

Data drill downs: The convenience of having all business data stored in one wholesale distribution software is that it is easy to “drill down” or further investigate information behind the metrics in the dashboard. By clicking on the metric, you can see more information such as factors influencing the summary of finances (A/R, A/P  etc.), current account balances, month-to-date and year-to-date net profit or loss statements, key financial ratios such as liquidity, asset management and debt management…all crucial information to have at your fingertips as a wholesale distribution business owner.

Smart strategic planning:  As you may have guessed, the primary objective behind dashboards is that they allow business owners to make smart decisions. It’s not enough to create a business plan and hope things go according to your expectations – you need to verify and monitor that your business is performing according to that plan. Dashboards allow you to actually measure key indicators of business performance throughout every part of your organization and analyzing the data helps you decide which areas need improvement and which objectives need to be adjusted.

Employee access: It’s always good for management/employees to have an idea of what’s happening in the business across all departments such as sales and accounting. Look for a software vendor that allows you to create user and group permissions so that each user login can have specific reports/dashboards available to them. This way, you are only showing employees the information they need in order to make better decisions about their day-to-day tasks.

Save time. Lots of it. How many hours do you currently spend creating financial and operational reports? How often do you create them? With the right executive dashboard, you will always have real-time results from all the reports you need, saving countless hours a month. When information in your wholesale distribution software is updated, so will the information in the dashboards.

Here are a couple tips to keep in mind to improve reporting for your business…

First and foremost, choose the right wholesale distribution software vendor.

This is crucial for business owners looking to improve their reporting capabilities. Chances are that every wholesale distribution software vendor will demo dashboards during the sales process, however, it’s important to not be distracted by the bells and whistles. Consider the reporting tools that are used behind the scenes to create the actual dashboards…are they easy to use? For example, Blue Link currently supports a variety of reporting tools depending on the nature of the report required. One of the reporting tools that we offer is SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), which is extremely useful for creating dashboards of information across departments. This reporting tool allows Blue Link customers to generate any report/chart in any format using information stored within the Blue Link system. The idea is to simplify the process of populating dashboards and to avoid having to manually enter data which is prone to human error, incomplete/wrong data or outdated information.

The dashboards are only as good as the integrity of the data behind them. The benefit of having an all-in-one wholesale distribution software such as Blue Link is that data from all areas of the business is collected and stored within the system and can be pulled to create various reports. Since the system handles everything from inventory management, accounting, warehouse operations, sales orders, purchase orders, invoices, lot tracking, landed costs, commission processing and more, you are able to report on any aspect of your business  You don’t have to input data from multiple sources and disconnected systems.

Be selective when choosing metrics.

It’s not necessary to view everything under the sun when it comes to your business, as this can become overwhelming quite quickly. The first step is to decide which metrics are the most important to your wholesale distribution business. For example, an obvious one would be net income.  After choosing this key metric, the next step is to figure out the “underlying” factors such as sales and revenues which influence the net income.

Remember, you don’t have to display everything in one dashboard. You can create supporting dashboards such as a sales specific reports that display sales activity influencing the net income. Think about what factors influence sales numbers in your business. Should you keep track of the number of proposals sent out? Which products sell better than others, or what the costs of products are? This is the recipe for creating clear dashboards and understanding which areas need improvement and which steps to take to meet those specific objectives.
Take a look at the below video which demonstrates how Blue Link’s executive dashboard views work, including displaying information in various formats, how to drill down into data, customizing the dashboard and more.

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4 ERP Tools for Wholesale Retail Businesses

The line between wholesale, retail and eCommerce continues to blur as more and more businesses are taking an omnichannel approach to selling product. Wholesale and distribution businesses now sell both B2B and B2C through eCommerce, marketplaces such as Amazon, at tradeshows and through retail brick and mortar stores. The ability for customers to purchase product through multiple channels allows your business to reach new markets and increase sales. As with any wholesale company in the industry of buying and selling inventory, those who also sell through retail channels require systems in place for managing product, receiving, picking, packing and shipping, accounting, order entry and processing, warehouse management and more. ERP software for wholesale retail management provides standard back-end inventory and accounting tools in addition to specialized features for the retail industry such as point of sale, CRM, warehouse management, eCommerce integration and more.

Point of Sale

Point of Sale (POS) refers to a physical check-out counter location where customers can purchase goods and services. For wholesale retail businesses, POS systems allow customers to place orders, submit payment and accept inventory while in-store. Although typically found in traditional retail brick and mortar stores, for wholesale businesses, POS is frequently used for front counter operations within a warehouse, for cash and carry type businesses, in showrooms or while exhibiting at tradeshows. Specialized features allow customers to pay on account and pay using multiple payment types and currencies.

CRM

Built-in customer relationship management (CRM) tools allow businesses to track customers, vendors and prospects. Employees can easily bring up customer accounts or create new ones when dealing with customers in-store. This allows tracking of communication, loyalty points, customer service requests and product returns.

Warehouse Management

Warehouse management functionality helps employees easily manage inventory for wholesale and retail orders. Proper bin and shelf locations allow employees to quickly fulfill orders and helps customers find product in-store. Inventory transfer features automate the process of moving product from one physical location to another to better serve customers in different geographical areas. This also accommodates the ability for customers to place orders online and then pick-up in-store.

eCommerce Integration

Taking an omnichannel approach, wholesale retail businesses are also selling online through B2B portals, B2C websites powered by platforms such as Shopify, through marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon and through customer-specific portals. Whichever channels you work with, it is important that all information is synced and integrated in real-time across the business. This prevents inventory from being sold online that was just purchased from retail locations.

Sophisticated wholesale retail ERP software will also include other important tools for managing the business including landed cost tracking, secure credit card processing, mobile apps for sales reps and robust reporting. If your business decides to sell through new retail channels, make sure you dedicate the time to finding an industry-specific system. The distinction between POS software designed specifically for retail stores and POS ERP software designed for those that also sell wholesale is important, as although both may offer similar features, they are geared towards different markets.

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Preventing Out-Of-Stock Product Through Endless Aisle with ERP Software

Brick and click, e-Tailing, S-commerce…retail jargon is everywhere and just when you think you’ve mastered it all, a whole new group of head-scratching terms seems to pop up. As much as you may want to dismiss new lingo and focus on more important parts of your business, here’s why you should pay attention to them. A lot of insight and value is found in new jargon since they are a reflection of the changes and advancements of an ever-changing market.

Take ‘endless aisle’ for example. Also called extended aisle, it is a relatively new term that has quickly become a norm over the last couple of years not only in the retail space but with B2B Wholesale Distribution businesses as well, especially as businesses continue to develop omnichannel strategies. In it’s simplest form, endless aisle is used to describe the ability for customers to place orders for product either online or in-store, where that product is not physically present in the store and is not actually a part of that business’ stock of inventory. The idea is that the order is placed with one store and then fulfilled using inventory from one of that store’s suppliers.  This process is only possible through direct integration with external suppliers and using technology such as ERP software. As far as the end customer is concerned, they are purchasing product from the original store.

Let’s take a look at an example. A customer orders product either in-store or online for a pair of shoes from Store ABC. This customer then either pays online or in-store and the product is shipped directly to them. Behind the scenes, Store ABC lists shoes on its website and in catalogs and other advertising mediums, however, when it comes to inventory management and fulfilling orders, this is done by the actual shoe distributor.  When an order comes into Store ABC, this updates the company’s inventory and accounting software, which (through integration) updates the shoe distributor’s software that an order is ready to be picked, packed and shipped. When the shoe distributor receives a shipment of new shoes, once again through integration, this will update Store ABC that there is new product available.

This method of inventory management and fulfillment is actually very popular. Larger businesses such as Walmart will list items/SKUs on their website and advertise in-store, even if those products are not physically present at their stores or warehouses. When a customer orders an item that Walmart doesn’t physically house, the order automatically gets sent to the supplier/wholesale distributor. The wholesale distributor then drop ships to the customer meaning they will ship the product directly to the customer from their own inventory. The best part of this process is that the wholesale distributor is completely invisible to the customer so it appears that the business has an endless supply of products.

This also works with product catalogs. Store ABC can still advertise all of it’s wholesale distributors’ inventory in their online catalogs even if they don’t physically house those products themselves. Alternatively, Store ABC might have a computer/kiosk set up in-store that allows its customers to order directly from the supplier, but the products the customer sees are still branded as ABC.  The product will then be drop shipped directly to the customer from the supplier. Store ABC simply pays that supplier’s invoice for the agreed upon cost for those items and receives a profit in the amount of whatever margin was set for those items and based on the price the customer pays.

Benefits of Endless Aisle

Out-of-stock items (OOS) combined with overstocks and even returns cost businesses $1.75 trillion a year (and growing)!  $252.3 billion a year is the cost of mismanaged inventory in North America alone.  In fact, around 21% to 43% of shoppers will actually go to another store to buy the out-of-stock items so it’s no wonder that retailers are jumping on the endless aisle strategy. Some of the other benefits include:

Supports the Omnichannel Purchasing Experience – having all products available on all channels whether it’s in store, phone/email order or on your eCommerce store will avoid any disruptions to the flow of your customers’ omnichannel buying journey.

Eliminate Wait Times – rather than having the ‘endless aisle’ items that are not in the store’s location shipped to the store or put on backorder where the customer would have to wait for the product to arrive, the store can easily drop ship the items directly to the customer meaning customers won’t have to return to the store for pick-up and will not have to wait.

Avoid Overstocking- The endless aisle strategy prevents businesses from having too much stock which equals extra expense for businesses as it can lead to an excess in storage costs. Having too little stock equals lost income in the form of lost sales, while also damaging the customer’s confidence in your ability to supply the products you advertise. Extended aisles addresses both of these issues.

Increased Sales and New Customers –  Extended aisles allows you to have the freedom to offer a more diverse product catalog and you can leverage cross-selling tactics to offer recommended product.

Accommodating Endless Aisle Customers

Whether you’re the retailer/store placing orders with the supplier, or the supplier fulfilling these endless aisle orders/drop shipping, it’s crucial to implement the correct ERP software in place to automate processes.

As a retailer/eCommerce store:

It may seem that as a retailer in this situation you would not need a full wholesale software solution since you hold very little physical inventory. However, because you are dealing with multiple vendors, meaning your customer can order product from several vendors depending on the SKU, it is very important to keep track of what product is available, and what orders have been placed.

It’s best to find an ERP solution that will allow you to integrate with whatever software your wholesale distribution partners are using. ERP software allows for features such as  Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which enables retailers and suppliers (if they have EDI also) to seamlessly, accurately and instantly exchange information  such as purchase orders, invoices, advanced shipping information and more. It can even be used to transmit financial information and payment in electronic form (EFT).

When you submit an order to your wholesale business through EDI, your supplier will not need to key in the customers information manually – this will be done automatically reducing any errors on their side.

An ERP solution will also allow you to see what inventory is available for customers to purchase (even if it is an endless aisle strategy), and monitor the shipping of product to the customer that actually placed the order. With drop shipping, the wholesale distributor/supplier will do the actual shipping of the product to the end consumer, but it is your responsibility to send out order confirmations and shipment tracking information to your customers which can also be automated through the software.

As a supplier:

ERP software and EDI is a benefit for both the retailer and the supplier – as a supplier, you will automatically receive all the necessary information to fulfill the drop ship order for your customer’s customer.

Shipping- The retailer takes customer orders and shipment information, and transfers these via EDI. The ERP software is able to generate shipping labels with your customers logo/information on it and indicates the shipping information for that drop ship order. This is commonly found in the eCommerce arena, and specifically with Amazon. Although Amazon holds a lot of their own inventory they also generate drop shipping of product by other distributors and wholesalers.

Automating Picking and Packing – the ERP system generates a pick slip so that warehouse staff can begin picking items.  Functionality such as verification barcode scanning at the packing station or mobile barcode scanning during the pick process ensures that there are no human errors.  Once the item is packed, the system will generate and print any required paperwork and share information electronically between shipping carriers in order to generate a tracking number and cost information.

Invoicing and inventory updates –  Once the order is shipped and is dictated as such in the system, you can automatically post the invoice and email the invoice directly to your customer. The inventory count will also be updated to show your customers the latest product count available for the items you shipped.

Reorder management – is another big benefit with wholesale software and will help you to have the right amount of stock in place to fulfill your customers’ endless aisle orders. This functionality automatically assesses which SKUs or product you need to order and generates purchase orders for these items. A proper solution such as Blue Link’s wholesale software utilizes robust reporting capabilities to pull historical sales data based on product within a given timeframe. You can easily pull sales information from within Blue Link to view data for the number of units presently on hand for individual or multiple items, units on backorder, units on purchase order and average monthly units sold to better prepare for these endless aisle sales. You also have the ability to flag abnormal sales so it doesn’t impact the monthly average projection.

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Break-up with Spreadsheets for Accounting and Inventory Software

Small to medium size businesses are becoming more confident in their ability to compete against larger competitors thanks to new technology helping to level the playing field. Chatbots, machine learning, AI and voice command tools are providing opportunities for small businesses to reach more customers and improve processes without the need to hire highly qualified staff, and as technology continues to advance, these types of features are becoming available at a lower price tag. But, before small businesses can reap the benefits of more sophisticated technology, they must first look internally at their existing processes and systems to evaluate opportunities, and this means breaking up with their reliance on one of the most popular small business tools in the market today – spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets: Friend or Foe?

It’s no secret that businesses love spreadsheets – since 1985 when Microsoft released the first version of Excel, companies around the world have been relying on the tool to crunch numbers, analyze data and present business information. And, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s make one thing clear – Microsoft Excel is a great tool. Our staff uses it internally, many of our customers use it and as a Microsoft product it is simple to use, translates well across business departments and allows people within an organization to easily share and manipulate data. Therefore, this post is not making the case to stop using Excel, but rather it’s making the case to change the way your business uses Excel and to stop relying on it for certain tasks that are much better accomplished with more sophisticated technology such as accounting and inventory software.

As a company grows, it’s business needs will change. This is why many software solutions set limits on the number of users in terms of fit – not because the technology will fail past a certain number (although with introductory software this is often true), but because there are certain user and employee counts that require a fundamental change in business processes. The processes and structure of a 25 person company will be quite different from that of a 50 person company and a 150 person company – even if they all operate in the same industry.  As an organization grows and becomes more complex, relying on spreadsheets and basic accounting solutions will be inadequate. An increase in transactions, the addition of product lines and an expanding customer base make it difficult to manually track pertinent information via spreadsheet. With Excel, gathering, managing and manipulating data becomes unwieldy, time-consuming and prone to the smallest human error – which can lead to massive bottlenecks and significantly impact the decision-making process. Data entry errors and redundancies are hard to spot and hard to fix, and it prevents management from getting insight into company health in real-time. As a business begins to grow, its relationship with Excel turns from love to love/hate. Although spreadsheets were initially a great tool, they will slowly become a drain on resources and productivity.

A Better Way

Instead of using introductory software and spreadsheets, consider implementing all-in-one accounting and inventory software. Integrated solutions have come a long way from 20 years ago and many accounting and inventory packages focus on small-medium size businesses with affordable monthly subscription fees. The right software is built to last and grow with your business for years to come and optional components enable businesses to expand and add new features when the time is right. Robust accounting and inventory software does not integrate with existing systems and instead replaces introductory software as an all-in-one solution. Although this means companies can eliminate spreadsheets as a software tool for managing information, such as customer contact details and inventory, spreadsheets are still a powerful tool when used in conjunction with sophisticated accounting and inventory software. Instead of manually rekeying information between systems, users can live-link data from the system database with Excel.  This allows users to open existing reports in Excel and simply refresh the data to get real-time insight into business health. When used as a supplement to accounting and inventory software and not as a full data management system, Excel still provides many useful benefits. However, many accounting and inventory systems will also provide optional reporting tools that are more powerful and sophisticated than Excel to easily generate reports and share with the appropriate stakeholders. Examples include Crystal Reports, SQL Reports and Power BI.

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The Biggest Misconceptions About Cloud-Based ERP Software

Guest Post by Lisa C. Dunn

Cloud technology has certainly gained popularity over the last decade with more and more businesses moving away from traditional software models to the modern internet realm. However,  many myths and misperceptions continue to surround Cloud-Based ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software.

For many businesses, it seems daunting to hop on the cloud-based bandwagon at first – especially if the company has been turning a blind eye to this transformative technology over the last few years. However, it’s definitely worth investing time to learn about it as cloud-based ERP represents a significant opportunity to your business, including affordability, scalability, and flexibility to grow.

So, what exactly is “the cloud”?

Cloud software, which is sometimes referred to as hosted or SaaS (Software as a Service), essentially stores information off-premises and at the vendor’s data center and the information is accessed via the cloud (or internet). The software itself physically lives on the vendor’s hardware. Users are able to access software and applications from anywhere in the world where they have an internet connection through an RDP connection installed on their local machine, VPN connection or via a web browser.

To help lift the fog, we dispel some of the biggest myths about cloud-based ERP and also offer insight to help you better understand the power of this revolutionary solution.

Myth 1: It’s Not Secure

In the initial days of cloud solutions and offerings, security was a main concern. The cloud was viewed as vulnerable to cyber-attacks since it can be accessed from anywhere in the world. However, those days are behind us.

Today, cloud-based ERP software is designed from the ground up with highly effective, powerful security measures in place. There are many security certifications and data center audits that safeguard the data you store in your ERP software. Ultimately, any data you store in the cloud is heavily secured – even more so than most on-site stored data.

Many small/medium businesses are not equipped with the proper level of disaster prevention systems, nor do they have the same level of safety measures in place at their different locations. The benefit of going the cloud-hosted software route is that if a disaster were to occur such as a fire or flood, your system would still be accessible and all your data would be safe in the vendor’s secure data center.  Backup power generators, as well as state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression systems, are all imperative in data centers where servers are being managed. Depending on the vendor, there are several other security features such as levels of redundancy and automatic fail-over.

When it comes to data security, secure data centers will have multiple levels of security to enter the building such as biometric scanning, PIN code, access card and will also have 24/7 monitoring. Vendors also have provisions to encrypt data to protect sensitive business information from being accessed by outside parties.

Myth 2: It’s Harder to Use

Simply put- the majority of today’s cloud-based ERP software are more modern than their predecessors and have evolved to be extremely user-friendly.

Flexibility – Browser-based systems allow users to type in a URL and then enter login and password information to use software via a specific website. Connecting via RDP (remote desktop protocol) means users can access the system by logging in on various devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets, iPads etc. as long as there is an internet connection.  With either way of connecting, you and your team members can share real-time information to make smart business decisions no matter where they are located.

Scalable – Cloud-based ERP systems allow you to share data more efficiently across multiple locations, divisions and departments. Since everyone on your team is interacting with centralized data via a common interface, the chances of misinterpreting the data between functions decreases and the opportunity for collaborative efforts rises. This also makes adding business locations or warehouses and connecting to ERP easy and quick.

Integrations – Integrating additional functionality to cloud-based ERP software is a great way to further optimize the automation of business processes. Be sure to go with a vendor that is able to integrate with third-party software such as credit card payment systems, payroll software, electronic document management platforms and eCommerce platforms to reduce manual processes.

Myth 3: It’s Difficult to Implement

Because cloud-based ERP requires no additional hardware, you don’t have to waste precious time procuring and installing IT infrastructure. With a cloud-based ERP solution, IT departments can roll out the system with ease across multiple regions and divisions, eliminating the high price tag often associated with these types of on-premises solutions. In addition, cloud ERP deployments typically take anywhere from three to six months to implement – compared to the full year that it can commonly take to roll out an on-premises solution.  .

Myth 4: It Will Slow Us Down

Cloud-based ERP delivers better performance than on-site software solutions as its architecture is designed for maximum network performance, which translates to enhanced application availability.

It also offers optimized performance that can adapt to your company’s changing needs. For instance, if there is a spike in business, the technology automatically adjusts and provisions extra resources to handle the uptick in business.

Unlock the Benefits of Cloud-Based ERP

There’s no doubt that the conversation surrounding cloud-based ERP has changed substantially over the last several years.

Overcoming the myths and misconceptions regarding ERP systems and doing your homework in vendor selection can help your organization to land on solid ground to investing in the right solution for your needs.

Easier implementation, in conjunction with the enhanced capabilities of cloud applications and the ability to access the latest in functionality without expensive upgrades, all make a persuasive case for adoption.

Cloud-based ERP is evolving and growing by leaps and bounds. Considering its progression, it is clear that this software is vital to today’s business landscape, from small-to-medium enterprises to global multinational companies.

Lisa C. Dunn is a writer for TechnologyAdvice and a freelance writer, copywriter and ghostwriter who develops high-quality content for businesses and non-profit organizations. For over 20 years, she has worked with numerous PR and digital marketing agencies, and her work has been featured in well-known publications including Forbes, VentureBeat, Mashable, Huffington Post, Wired, B2C, USA Today, among others.

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Blue Link ERP Pricing

The cost of ERP software will depend on several factors and vary from one vendor to the next. However, across software tiers or categories, the price of competing solutions will be similar. This allows businesses to easily compare vendors in the same category on factors other than costs – such as functionality, industry fit, after-sale support and more – which will ultimately have a bigger impact on the benefits the system can provide a business. When it comes to software categories, most ERP solutions will fall into one of three different categories. The first category includes introductory software, which is not technically ERP software. These types of systems are great for small businesses and start-ups but only include features for one main area of the business (think accounting and QuickBooks). Introductory software is a standalone system that requires integration with other solutions for features such as inventory management, point of sale, purchase orders and contact management. The second category includes true ERP software (which stands for Enterprise Resource Planning), meaning the features available cover all operating areas of a business – from accounting, to inventory, to order entry and processing, to contact management, barcode scanning, eCommerce, warehouse management and more. ERP systems are for businesses that have outgrown existing introductory software and are looking to reduce manual work, increase automation and grow. Category three solutions are also true ERP systems, but, are for large multi-national corporations with global operations, a large employee and user base and a high volume of transactions. Within each category, the price of any given system will be comparable, so its important to realize that it doesn’t make sense to try to compare the cost of systems across categories, as the products provide different features and are for different business types.

Pricing Categories

Blue Link ERP falls within category two as outlined above and is for small-medium size businesses with between 5-150 employees. To get an idea of costs for the software, it is best to schedule a 10-15 minute initial discovery call with someone from our sales team. This will allow you to learn more about the costs of Blue Link, and it will also help determine if the software is even the right fit for your business – before you waste too much time on detailed discussions and product demos. There is no point in discussing pricing if the software is not going to be a good fit from a functionality and industry standpoint. Typical software costs will include license fees and implementation costs. License fees can be billed upfront, or on a monthly basis and implementation costs will vary significantly from one vendor to the next.

Pricing Factors

Once you know what category of software to shop for and you have determined that the system in question is a good fit for your business, it is time to get a rough idea of software costs. I say rough because without detailed discussions it is hard to get a specific idea of the cost since it will depend on several different factors. Initial discussions with software vendors to review project needs, scope, requirements and pricing at a high level will provide you with information to determine if there is a fit and if there are resources available for the project. Further discussions then provide businesses with the opportunity to dive deeper into the evaluation to learn more about specific requirements and functionality. Thus, although initial cost estimates will include a large range of numbers, they will at least help you determine if the vendor in question has a product within your budget. Although pricing structures will vary between vendors, for the most part, costs are based on the following:

Number of users
Specific functionality – for example, does your business need tools for eCommerce?
Implementation method – cloud-based or on-premises
Implementation Costs:

System set-up and configuration
 Training

Do users have experience using software?
Are users getting trained in multiple areas of the software?

Data migration

Are you migrating data from existing systems into the new software?
Is the data in different formats and coming from different sources?
Does the data need to be “cleaned” up? For example, removing duplicate or bad data

Maintenance costs – these costs cover software upgrades and keep the application in warranty

Comparing Vendors Costs

Although systems within the same category will have comparable costs, it is important to keep in mind slight differences that could have a significant impact. For example, some vendors charge fees for upgrading systems that have custom modifications – outside of standard maintenance fees. This means that even if maintenance costs cover upgrades, you will still have to pay a lump sum to have the custom reapplied. Another example is vendors who discount pricing for the first year. This can happen with large software vendors where sales reps have to meet quotas and so they discount the product to sell more. These prices then increase after the first year or “discount” period. Other examples include vendors who have minimum user requirements and customers have to buy users in groups as opposed to as individual licenses. Other vendors will package together users and functionality which allows them to give businesses a better price but makes calculating individual feature and user costs difficult.
Download our ERP Pricing Guide
Blue Link ERP Pricing

To learn more about if Blue Link is the right fit for your business, and to learn more about costs, schedule an initial discovery call with one of our sales team today. 10 minutes on the phone allows our team to:

Learn about your basic business processes
Assess software fit in terms of industry, processes and requirements
Gather information to provide accurate pricing
Determine if it makes sense to schedule more in-depth discussions

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How A Warehouse Management System Helped This Company Go From Processing 30 Orders a Day to 100

There are many reasons why a small business would want to implement a warehouse management system. Some examples include an increase in order volume, picking errors when dealing with similar products and manual processes, and wasted time managing inventory in a warehouse that is not organized by bin and shelf location. Whatever the reason may be, it’s important to consider an all-in-one, fully integrated WMS system, which offers not only robust functionality for managing inventory and warehouse space, but also has features such as accounting, order entry and processing, contact management, and eCommerce integration that work together to streamline operations. Blue Link’s warehouse management functionality improves speed and accuracy through automated workflows, and is the ideal solution for businesses with small warehouses, stock rooms and storage facilities.

Check out what optimized warehouse processes look like in this video featuring Blue Link customer, Peter Gerogacopoulos from Kroeger Inc., as he demonstrates how the company was able to go from processing 30 orders a day to 100 orders a day with Blue Link’s Warehouse Management System!

Learn how Blue Link’s WMS helped Kroeger:

Improve product visibility
Reduce manual work through integration with shipping carriers
Accommodate drop shipping
Integrate with tablets and barcode scanning devices including mobile handheld picking
Improve pick/pack/ship workflow management
Create and track serial numbers/lot selection
Create paperless warehouse processes

WMS – Kroeger Inc

What is Kroeger Inc.?

Kroeger Inc. is a distributor of hobby toy/collectible items. One of the most popular items is the Rubik’s Cube and all of the brands that represent the Rubik’s Cube. We have been in business for 48-years. I keep calling us a 48-year-old start-up because the purchase of the company happened about three years ago. My role is Head of Finance and Procurement. I handle all the finance as well as all the inventory movement and probably most of the IT that goes on in here.

Who are your customers?

We ship to everybody in Canada from Walmart and Toys R Us to Indigo and Mastermind. We also deal with a bunch of specialty accounts such as Toys Toys Toys in Brampton and some smaller accounts that are situated all across the country. We do drop ship for Walmart and for Toys R Us and we’re just bringing on Staples.

How did Kroeger manage inventory and order fulfilment before Blue Link?

We had an accounting system and it was able to track our financials, but we did not have an inventory management system and we did not have a warehouse management system, so, we had no means of understanding where our inventory was at any one time throughout any course of the business day so everything was picked by memory, and then checked again. The process was cumbersome to say the least. Picture piles of boxes like Jenga all over the place. When an order was picked, we would pile all the boxes…a second person would check if the pick matched the pick slip before it was shipped. There was no computer system and it was all manual intervention. It was all memorization in terms of where everything was. We’ve probably gone from 30 orders a day in the past, to probably 100 with being able to just one-by-one get the orders out.

How has inventory visibility improved after Blue Link?

We’ve gone from not being able to understand where inventory is to having complete visibility of our inventory every moment in time, whether it’s sitting on a cart, whether it’s in a bin, regardless of where it may be. Prior to Blue Link, we did not pass our inventory audit because of all the inconsistencies we had with respect to what the auditors chose as samples compared to what we were telling them what we had. It got so inundated with errors and it took such a long time, that we decided to drop the inventory audit altogether. This year, because of the WMS, our inventory audit took two and a half hours and it was passed, so right there you can tell and you can see what you get when you have an actual system in place that is able to track the information and track the inventory. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of anything else trying to do anything manually especially in the environment that we’ve got.

What types of customization have you done with Blue Link?

We’ve done some EDI custom work with respect to our drop ship program. We’ve done some Canada Post integration and a Purolator integration which has made our processes a lot more efficient with respect to shipping our product. We have completely revamped the picking process where we know all of our picks which is done through a pick review screen and we’ve gone paperless so we don’t have to print pick slips anymore. We don’t print pick slips and therefore we do not allocate against those picks. It’s all done through a pick review process which makes it a lot easier and efficient. Knowing what’s getting picked at any moment in time is far greater than having a basket with a bunch of pick slips printed in it and then losing track of what’s out there and what’s not out there.

We also customized the sort orders with respect to how customers get picked. We have three types of customers – we have mass customers, we have specialty customers and we have our drop ship customers.  Walmart and Toys R Us, each has its own specific way of how items get picked in the warehouse so we’re in the process of ensuring that one pick does not step on another pick’s process.  Blue Link has been open to allowing us to come to them and say we’ve got all these things that we’d love to do, are you guys willing to do them. You do pay a little bit, but you also get the benefits of the efficiencies that come and the costs pay for themselves in no time flat.

Interested in seeing how Blue Link WMS can improve your order fulfilment processes? Contact us for a free 10-15 minute consultation!

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