Case History: How Software Helped One Distributor
September 1st, 2005

by Doug Levin
September-October 2005

Life would be much easier for tile distributors if everything came in pieces that measured 12-inches x 12-inches. “Then figuring the amount of material we need to sell someone who has a 500-square-foot space to cover would be simple,” says Mike Nichols, operations manager at Southeastern Tile Connection.

But tile is just as different as the people selling it. Pieces range in size from millimeters to feet and beyond, and calculating exactly how much tile a customer needs to complete a project can often require an algebraic genius.

Luckily, software developed specifically for tile distributors can help. The right technology solution can help any employee—even a novice in training at your front counter—estimate the proper quantity of tile your customers need at the beginning of their projects, boosting satisfaction, cutting returns, and improving profitability.

How It Works

Whether your customers install backsplashes in refinished bathrooms, lay tile in foyers in new construction, or cover the floors of commercial kitchens, they all share one thing in common: they want to buy the right amount of material the first time they call or walk into your showroom. No one wants pallets of surplus tile after something is finished—and customers certainly don’t want to risk buying from different lots that may vary in shade and texture. Before he started working with a distribution-centric solution, Nichols admits that he—and others at his company—misjudged how much tile a customer needed for a project about 5 to 10 percent of the time because they did the math manually—often with a pencil and paper. “There were a lot of steps involved in figuring it out, and sometimes we forgot one of them,” he says. He also admits that many of Southeastern Tile’s customer service and sales representatives weren’t exactly math geniuses. “We made mistakes,” he says.

Now, his solution helps him avoid the possibility of miscalculations by performing the math for him and converting one unit to another, no matter the size or quantity of the product. For example, technology designed specifically for tile distributors calculates how many 3-inch x 6-inch pieces are in a box, how many boxes are in a pallet, and so on. This way, he and his sales and service representatives can easily determine how much tile a customer needs to finish his bathroom in a few keystrokes.

The Big Benefits

According to Nichols, automating the estimation process benefits customers and Southeastern Tile’s bottom line. It helps employees ensure each end-user gets the right amount of material, consistent in color and texture, the first time they call or walk into the showroom. This helps cut returns—which the company must often swallow because manufacturers rarely buy back stock. “This definitely improves our profitability,” Nichols says.

Nichols adds that the improved reliability has enhanced Southeastern Tile’s reputation, which helps ensure repeat customers. “And the customers who come back tell their friends about us,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.” Estimating the amount of tile a customer needs to complete a job can often be a job in and of itself. But, the right technology, developed to target the specific needs of tile distributors, can simplify and foolproof the process—improving your profitability and your reputation.

Doug Levin, executive vice president of Prophet 21, is a respected expert in technology for tile distributors. Prophet 21, the leading technology provider for the tile distribution industry, develops technology solutions and services to help distributors increase sales, improve customer service, and reduce operating costs. Founded in 1967, Prophet 21 continues to expand and enhance both its products and customer base. Prophet 21 has a long-range vision for distribution technology and the tile industry experts to make it happen.

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