ERP For Growing Arnold Wills Group
The £22 million turnover Arnold Wills Group is one of the most respected manufacturers in the UK fashion industry. The family owned business started in 1946 and supplies major high street retailers with a vast selection of men’s and ladies’ belts, handbags, purses, luggage, cufflinks and other mainly leather-based quality fashion accessories.
The company’s strategy has been highly acquisitive in order to diversify its range, secure additional production facilities and amalgamate competitors into its own business. Growth has been constant – even through the latest recession – finally revealing unacceptable inadequacies in the company’s manufacturing operations and financial visibility.
By 2010, it was clear that growth had overcome the business’ existing operating infrastructure - a combination of Pegasus Opera accounting and SharePoint software augmented with paper and spreadsheet-based systems. To establish the company on firm foundations for future growth, a fully automated, end-to-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solution was needed.
At that time, Arnold Wills’ IT operations and support was outsourced to a third party, and together they conducted a scoping exercise. As well as the overriding objective to fully automate its manufacturing and financial systems, three additional requirements were critical:
- The ability to track units in transit as well as in production, so that the company could monitor ‘critical paths’ of each of its thousands of products from order to delivery, end-to-end.
- More detailed and flexible access to financial information, to be able to report on gross margin per product, for example, and to be able to quickly and easily cost new items at different stages of the product design process.
- The ability to use ‘what if?’ reporting to further streamline the business and provide information for future planning and budgeting.
Manager of the automation project, Roger Neal, explains: “We had little visibility of the supply chain before and with many thousands of units in production at any one time, the number of paperbased sales orders, manufacturing orders and purchase orders plus tracking and reporting in spreadsheets was a nightmare.
“We call our production process the ‘critical path’ because each stage is a JIT operation. For example, the right belt strap and buckle need to arrive at the same time at the right facility for assembly and be packed as a single unit ready to be picked again at our factory in the UK, or shipped as part of a box direct to the customer.
“There’s labelling to contend with, EU waste packaging disposal regulations and the actual shipping itself, of course. We also source the same products from different suppliers so that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” Roger continues. “The devil really is in the detail and with the new system, we’ll have real-time visibility of all units in transit and in production.”
“When it comes to reporting, we haven’t been able to access basic financial information such as gross margin per product since our business was very much smaller and simpler,” Roger explains. “As we continue to grow, it’s vital for us to understand the profitability of different product lines and the multiple brands we operate because the margin for error in the fashion industry is very small.”
The scoping exercise resulted in the selection of Microsoft Dynamics NAV Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software combined with TRIMIT, a manufacturing solution with specific features and functionality for the fashion industry. Both products have proved themselves in high volume – low value, international operations and the combination gives Arnold Wills a robust and flexible platform with a Microsoft Office interface that is familiar to users.
The configurator within TRIMIT defines certain products as ‘masters’ with pre-defined optional parameters known as ‘Vardims’ – variants or dimensions. Each Vardim can be used to define variations, e.g. the length and colour of a belt, or to define a property of the product, e.g. the position of the customer’s badge.
The manufacturing and financial operations of the Arnold Wills Group have been revolutionized with the introduction of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV/TRIMIT combination with In2grate, presenting the company with a flexible and robust platform, functionality specific to its industry, and an ERP system capable of handling further growth, acquisitions and business development.
For example, a small part of the Arnold Wills business is an off-the-shelf wholesaler, Mag Mouch Sophos, the merger of two acquisitions in 2004. It operates differently from the rest of the Group using commissioned agents to sell to small independent retailers, trade only. Using Magento eCommerce software and the Connector plugin to NAV/TRIMIT, Mag Mouch Sophos is in the process of introducing an online ordering system which will enable it to sell direct to consumers.
In2grate has also linked Jet Reports directly into the NAV/TRIMIT system, enabling Arnold Wills to carry out ‘what if?” reporting, modelling and analysis of its financial and supply chain data at a detailed level. This capability is hugely beneficial to the company’s short and long-term planning, budgeting and in managing its operational efficiency.
Project manager, Roger Neal concludes: “Finally we have a fluid, agile, manageable system that’s going to enable another 20 years plus of successful growth at Arnold Wills. The In2grate team has been a breath of fresh air and it’s been great for us to find a business partner with as much commitment to the success of the final solution and to the future of our business as we have. Highly recommended."