Technology for Tile Distributors: Taking You Where You Want to Go
May 1st, 2004


By Doug Levin May-Jun 2004

Increasingly, tile dealers realize they must adopt technology to increase sales, improve customer service, and reduce operating costs. While some tile dealers have embraced technology in the form of market-specific software solutions, far more have implemented packages designed to handle only the financial side of their businesses.

As a tile dealer, you need much more than accounting software. To be successful in today’s ultra-competitive, margin-squeezed market, you also need strong inventory management functionality that tracks shades, lots, and slabs. You need the ability to monitor costs when importing product, and the power to effectively manage relationships with all of your business partners – vendors, homeowners, contractors, architects, and specifiers.

Bob Traxler, president of Arizona Tile, one of the country’s largest distributors of ceramic tile and natural stone, says his company’s success and profitability would have been impossible to attain without leading edge, industry-specific technology. “Technology has absolutely helped us grow in a number of ways,” Traxler says. “We wouldn’t have been able to accommodate the customers we have today – or the stock we carry – if we didn’t adopt a scalable solution with functionality that fits our needs.”

What You Need

An enterprise software solution – the system on which your business runs – is your main source of technology, and it should come from a company that understands your business. Your technology partner should know that you might handle just as many sales through your front counter or in a showroom as you do at your loading dock, and understand that inventory control is crucial. And, perhaps most importantly, your entire solution should be fully integrated so information flows seamlessly throughout your company.

For example, you might buy product by the carton or pallet and sell it by the piece or square foot. Your solution should convert pallets and cartons into square feet and pieces prior to price extensions to ensure you always maintain adequate profit margins. Additionally, because many of the products you sell are natural, color lots often vary greatly. Your solution should control color lots by shade to ensure pickers always pull single orders from the same color lots, improving customer service and inventory management while reducing the chance of returns.

Also, many contractors and end-users want to take a few pieces of tile to see what fits best in their kitchen, bathroom, or foyer. While you may charge nothing for these samples, you should track what leaves your showroom to better calculate inventory costs – and your software solution should make it easy for you to create sample invoices within order entry. In addition to better understanding inventory costs, you can use this capability to follow up on sales opportunities, track popularity trends, and pursue the pieces you want customers to return.

Because customers often call to request the same item they ordered one week, one month, or one year before – without the original invoice or knowledge of the item’s part number, your solution should allow you to search through complete sales histories by self-determined criteria. You should be able to narrow your sales history search by date range or keywords – i.e., “6 x 6 stone brown” – and, in a few simple steps, add that item to the customer’s current order. This saves time – and eliminates trips to the file cabinet to thumb through customer invoices.

What You See

David Hayes, IT director at the Massachusetts-based Maline Tile Company, says that fully integrated, technology specifically developed for tile distributors has changed the way his company does business. “You can’t manage millions of dollars worth of stock using a typewriter and inventory cards anymore,” he says.

Tile-specific functionality in Maline’s software solution has helped the company improve customer service and increase sales. “Our solution lets us check on everything – from stock availability and square footage information to specific pricing information – while we have customers on the phone, so we don’t have to call back and give them information an hour or two later.” As a result, sales representatives can make sales instantaneously – improving revenue.

Without the right technology, many tile distributors have floundered. But, with the right technology and tools, many distributors – like Arizona Tile and Maline Tile Company – have flourished. Says Hayes: “Because we use a flexible solution that includes functionality specific to our business, we’ve saved a huge amount of time, money, and aggravation.”

Doug Levin is widely recognized as an expert in technology for distributors. As Executive Vice President for Prophet 21, Levin is dedicated to helping companies of all sizes leverage new technologies and maintain a competitive advantage. Prophet 21 is a leader in providing tile distributors with innovative, adaptive enterprise technology solutions and services.

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