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Syscom partners School Trends
Feature: 3/10/2004



Supplier provides the perfect fit for school wear

School Trends is a fast-growing and ambitious SME. Already claiming to be the UK’s leading nationwide direct-to-school supplier of personalised school wear in the primary sector, the company has now set its sights on the secondary school market.

Obviously IT plays an important role in this venture. But as this case study demonstrates, there is extra value to be gained from working with a software house that has the tools and experience to provide the very best fit between the software and the exact needs of the business.

Sheffield-based School Trends was set up some 15 years ago by Richard Jones, an ex PE teacher, and one of his pupils Peter Beeby. From small beginnings in a front room, the company has now expanded into new headquarters and achieved number one supplier status to 5,000 primary schools and a turnover of £8.5 million.

Having achieved a 27 percent market share in primary schools, School Trends now wants to break into the lucrative secondary school market. At the moment there are numerous small companies each supplying a dozen or so local schools and School Trends aims to become the prime supplier to all schools nationwide.

With each school having an individual logo – either screen printed or embroidered on schoolwear
items – the range of products available is vast. Just-in-time manufacturing and a swift two-day turn round of supply has helped to put School Trends at the forefront.

Expansion plans
To achieve this quality of service, School Trends needed to ensure that its IT systems were able to cope with expansion plans. Unfortunately, the company felt restricted by the incumbent software supplier’s lack of understanding of its growth plans and future needs.

As a result, two years ago School Trends started to evaluate the software solutions market and was recommended to look at Progress Software application partner Syscom which has a clothing industry-specific business management solution.

Syscom not only provided a close match for School Trends’ requirements now, but also had people with the understanding and flair to push the company forward.

Steve Fells, IT manager for School Trends, explains: “As much as software functionality we were looking for the right people to work with who would not be nonplussed by our plans, which included the introduction of e-commerce”.

The contract for SyscomERP was signed in November 2002. School Trends went live first with the accounting modules in May 2003 and the purchase ordering and manufacturing side followed in October 2003.

Integrated solution
SyscomERP is designed specifically for the textile and apparel industry and offers a fully integrated business solution including finance, distribution, MRP (materials requirements planning) and MES (manufacturing execution system).

The extensive application is written using Progress OpenEdge – described as one of the most complete application development, database and management platforms available today. The OpenEdge platform equips Syscom with everything it needs for quickly developing today’s business applications, especially when reaching out to customers with e-commerce.

Independent studies by the Aberdeen group also reveal that the Progress database achieves
a far lower cost of ownership in comparison to other systems.

Most importantly it provided the flexibility that was needed for Syscom to quickly write bespoke modules to fit School Trends’ unique needs.

Steve Fells says: “Syscom understands the garment industry – the need for a system that can cope with style, colour, size and different embroidery functions. The company was very comfortable with our suggestions, not at all phased by our requirements and proactive with suggestions”.

As Syscom’s senior project manager Ian Favell, who worked on the project, comments: “Progress
OpenEdge is such a comprehensive and flexible platform for building applications that I think our
confidence in meeting clients’ exact requirements shines through”.

The SyscomERP system runs on a Windows 2000 Exchange Server with 40 users at its West Midlands headquarters in Kingswinford.

Admin-free buying
The secondary school market is a completely different selling environment to primary schools – the scale is much larger for one thing. To be successful, School Trends was keen not to add to the workload of the school secretary and wanted to offer schools a virtually administration-free method of buying schoolwear.

A unique point-of-sale display unit called a Cage – stocked with garments in a range of sizes in the school’s colours and with the required logo – is shipped by School Trends to the school as a stockholding facility.

The stock levels are maintained on the SyscomERP system at head office. Syscom developed a website and e-commerce database application for School Trends in Progress WebSpeed which
provides access to the database via the Internet for the checking of stock levels and placement of orders.

The school secretary sends out letters produced in the School Trends’ system to parents, together with an order form. These can be accessed from the website and are personalised for the school. Orders are fulfilled from the stock held in the Cage.

The stock is managed remotely by School Trends and the schools are not charged until the goods are sold. The secretary enters all sales made by the school on a daily or weekly basis via the Internet.

SyscomERP automatically creates an order to replenish the stocks to an agreed minimum, automatically compensating for peak periods. The order, when placed and seen at School Trends, creates an exception report which pops up on screen showing dates when the school is closed and not able to take a delivery.

Positive feedback
An invoice is only issued by School Trends when items are sold and removed from the Cage. At any time the customer school can view its stock on the website, review transactions or check on its own profits from the sales it has made.

The initial trial of the Cage supply and replenishment system has been very successful and the feedback from the schools that participated is very positive.

Steve Fells again: “The system has reduced paperwork and cut errors both for School Trends and the participating schools. We can now replenish stocks to the customer when they want, at the right sizes and right colourways with minimum effort by the schools.

“Everyone who sees the system seems to want it and we expect to introduce the Cage system at some 50 secondary schools this year”, he concludes.
Author: John Gibbon
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