Mobile Computing VAR Finds Room To Grow
Taylored Technologies built on its experience with Kraft Foods to extend its mobile computing expertise to the underserved tier-two and tier-three markets.
If you think landing a $33.8 billion company as a customer is out of your reach, think again. Sometimes even the big guys find value in the full-service options a VAR can offer. And once you have a large end user under your belt, the experience can lead you to more prevalent but smaller-tiered customers.
Dave Ulrich, president of VAR Taylored Technologies Corp. (Chanhassen, MN), met Kraft Foods (Northfield, IL) in 1992. At that time, the food manufacturer only knew it needed a more efficient mobile computing and printing solution. While many tier-one players chose to work directly with technology vendors, Kraft approached Ulrich with an idea of what it wanted within a specific price range. Kraft wanted someone to design and implement its mobile data collection solution. "Some vendors could have written the code or provided the hardware, but no one could provide all the pieces to the solution," Ulrich said. Since the VAR worked with many different hardware vendors and had the experience of writing data collection software, it was able to meet Kraft's price point for the project. The opportunity also pointed the VAR toward more vertical markets such as convenience store distributors and the fastener hardware market that have similar mobile needs.
Once They're Mobile The Possibilities Are Endless
Since Kraft sells a wide range of products throughout the country, the food manufacturer employs sales reps that visit retail outlets daily. One job of the sales reps is to process unsalable or distressed merchandise. This merchandise includes products that stores had to pull from its shelves because they were damaged or expired, for example. Kraft's old data collection terminals required its reps to key information into the system, a process that took the reps hours and was prone to errors. "Kraft wanted to significantly decrease the time spent on processing unsalable items so sales reps could focus more time on revenue-generating tasks, such as making additional sales," Ulrich said.
Taylored Technologies recognized that Kraft needed to automate its processes by scanning the bar code on each item. It also needed to print a receipt, while still enabling the entire solution to fit into a briefcase and be mobile. Taylored Technologies built Kraft's solution around the BHT-6000 Handheld Barcode Terminal from DENSO ID Systems, now TD SCAN (Southfield, MI). For the project, Taylored Technologies looked outside its existing vendor base and found Extech Instruments Corp. (Waltham, MA) as the mobile printer provider. The VAR liked Extech's Series 2000i printers for their speed (1.5 to 2.5 lines per second) and compact size. Another important feature of the printer was its ability to accept communications from the scanner wirelessly via infrared data transmission.
Taylored Technologies developed the software for the Denso devices that enabled Kraft employees to quickly process transactions and increase productivity. Additionally, Kraft employees can now provide stores with suggested orders based on items that they are authorized to sell but are not on the shelves. The Denso scanner arms them with the information it needs to introduce the store to product extensions, and the Extech printer produces a receipt on the spot. At the end of the day, each sales rep syncs its transactions with Kraft's corporate databases via a modem and a laptop computer. Kraft and Taylored Technologies worked with systems integrator FastTech to integrate the mobile reps' PC laptops to Kraft's back end customer and product databases.
Tier-One Experience Leads To More Sales
Kraft experienced such success in its first three years with the system that it asked Taylored Technologies to upgrade the hardware and software in 1999. Since then, the experience led the VAR to similar installations, but with smaller companies. Although tier-one players like Kraft supply great initial and repeat business for a VAR like Taylored Technologies, Ulrich said there are significant opportunities in the smaller markets. "There are a dozen markets that need data collection solutions and many of them are tier-two and tier-three companies," Ulrich said. "We look to offer these companies technology that brings them up to speed, while still being cost-effective." Even if a convenience store distributor itself is smaller, it still sells its products to many stores. In some cases, a distributor might provide its customers with a data collection device so the stores can take their own orders or manage their own inventory. For a VAR, that distribution network could translate into thousands of device sales and the software development to support them.