CASE STUDY: Furnished for success

Fuelled by ambitious growth plans and a determination to increase turnover three-fold in the next two years, supplier of home and interior design products OKA, is furnished for success with Elucid multi-channel software from Sanderson.

Established in 1999 as a mail order business with a 12-page catalogue, OKA has gone from strength to strength. The company offers a stylish range of products for the home from sofas, dining furniture and beds, to linen, rugs, lighting and much more. The furniture range in particular has set OKA on the path to retail success. In the early days, the range comprised small items made of rattan, but its offer has since extended in terms of size and materials to include everything from a small rattan side table up to a large solid wood armoire. Today, OKAs turnover is nearly 15 million and it employs over 140 people. The business is run from two main sites, in London and Oxford, with the warehouse and call centre located at the Oxford facility. The organisation boasts 11 shops across the UK, alongside its mail order and online operation. Most of these shops are in the south east including four in central London but OKA has also branched out as far as Edinburgh. The shop concept came from the mail order business, explains Andy Hickin, OKAs operations director. As we started to expand our offer to  include items such as bedroom furniture and dining tables, we realised that customers often want to see and touch the product. 

OKAs customers can take advantage of the whole look: Our design capability is really the hidden service, says Hickin. We show our entire range in inspirational room sets which help our customers to visualise a style that they can achieve in their own home. If a customer looks at a picture in our catalogue, on the website or at a layout in the shop, they can buy every item shown to enable them to replicate that look from the main furniture items, down to the napkins, the curtains, the lamps, the cutlery, and so on.

The introduction of shops and an online business, combined with the diverse product lines, has led to OKAs significant growth. Today, OKA is a slick operation, well positioned to exploit the burgeoning interest in home furnishings and interior design. At the start of 2004, however, things were rather different. The business was growing fast, but its internal systems were not keeping pace. We were using an off-the-shelf accounts package, along with half a dozen spreadsheets, recalls Hickin. It was very tough trying to do something as simple as monitor our stock position. Every process involved manual intervention. Until then we had managed to cope, but by that point we had three showrooms and our turnover had grown to 4 million. We knew we had to fix this: we couldnt move forward running a business on spreadsheets. Hickin began the search for a solution. I looked at several systems, but although it was only four years ago, true multi-channel capability was hard to find. There were systems that were strong on retail, others that were strong on mail order, but few offered the whole package. 

After evaluation, he narrowed it down to two options. the Sanderson multi-channel system, Elucid, came out on top. Elucid offered the best all-round fit and Hickin had no doubt it would become the leading multi-channel system. Elucid was very strong on mail order and their people were also prepared to pull out all the stops to develop the additional retail functionality we were after. I was confident it had the greatest potential.

In autumn 2004, the implementation began. It was a much smoother process than Hickin anticipated. There were very few technical glitches and the Elucid team really guided us throughout the process, from September that year through to January 2005 when we went live. They were totally supportive. The hardest aspect of system implementations is often the cultural barriers: You have to convince people that they will benefit from a new system. Theyve been used to running on a handful of spreadsheets and it may be very long-winded but they know how to do it. All of a sudden, you need them to work differently. Yet within a month of going live, he reports, not a single person within the business would have turned back the clock. 

OKAs overriding objectives for moving to Elucid were to bring consistency and visibility to the organisation. We wanted everyone to have the same view of stock. If I stood in a London shop, I wanted to see what stock was being held in every other shop and in the warehouse. And I wanted to be able to place an order in the shop in the same way that I place an order at the call centre. The same customer history had to be available on screen, whether in the call centre or in the shops. For OKA, one set of data and one view of that data was essential. We didnt want to look in four or five places to find out a key piece of information, he adds. Now that Elucid is up and running, the benefits are clear. OKA has new-found visibility across the business, for stock management and for customer data. We can see every customers history throughout the organisation, whether they bought via the web, from a shop or by mail order its all there. Equally, the stock visibility is end to end: just by simply keying in a product code, you can see the full audit trail, from the products delivery and onwards throughout the organisation. The ease and speed with which this data is presented brings new opportunities for OKA. We dont even use Elucids full capability in terms of marketing, admits Hickin, but what we do use is already a huge leap forwards for us. Further analysis of buying patterns and campaign trends is possible even square inch analysis of product photos. 

This improved visibility means that OKAs senior management team now has business-critical data available at the press of a button. We have increased turnover substantially in recent years, but its not only about selling more, its about selling more of the right products, says Hickin. OKA needs to know which goods are moving slowly and which are flying off the shelves: The only way we could do that before was by sight within the warehouse. Thats not a simple exercise in a 95,000 sq ft warehouse, but with lead times of as much as five months on some furniture items, product analysis is a vital enabler. Better visibility means we stock more of the right stuff. Now, the merchandisers can carry out a full analysis so that if a particular product isnt selling well, we can promote it elsewhere.

Its amazing, the difference in our operation now that we are supported by a truly integrated multi-channel software package. Not only is the information available at our fingertips, but we can be confident that the data is reliable. 

Hickin is convinced that OKAs growth would not have been possible without the implementation of Elucid: Certainly we wouldnt have been able to grow at the fast pace we have, he says. We probably would have ground to a halt. Obviously, at the time we chose Elucid, wed reached a critical point: we had to bring in new software and we had to make sure that system wouldnt be defunct in 12 months. Unlike one or two of the other suppliers, we were wholly confident in the Elucid system from the outset. Three years on, Elucid is still the only proven multi-channel solution available. OKAs success looks set to continue apace. We are looking to add a third more shops and double our turnover in the next few years, confirms Hickin. And Elucid will continue to support our expansion for many years to come. Three years after the implementation, I have nothing but praise for the Sanderson team: they continue to be a vital and strategic partner to our business.

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