Advanced ordering, expedited shipping
Dan’s acquisition of Flake marked a turning point for the firm. He sold the bicycle and material handling supplies businesses, then took a fresh look at ways to better serve locksmith needs throughout (at the time) a regional market area.
“We were like ‘the new kid’ in the eyes of many customers,” Dan recalls. “Most locksmiths regularly use two distributors and usually we were the third choice. They might decide to try us and call for a quote, particularly for a single item or small order. This put us at a disadvantage compared to discounts from their regular suppliers. Our sales representatives spent a lot of time giving quotes with very few orders to show for it. Obviously, we needed to come up with something better to offer locksmiths in order to get those orders and, in the process, earn their confidence and future business.”
He instituted new computer systems that not only expedited Flake’s order processing, invoicing and the like, but also used programs to help him analyze relative pricing for products along with shipping options and other relevant data.
The result was competitively priced low-volume orders, coupled with next-day delivery and (in most cases) free shipping. “We started gathering a lot of low-volume business,” Dan says. “Our margins were slim, but it gradually gave us volume that enabled us to offer better discounting, both within and beyond our initial sales-service area.”
Flake’s clerical and administrative staff includes two full-time IT programmers who exemplify the firm’s integration of technology and personnel focused on customer service.
“As we’ve grown, we continue to focus on IT and internet solutions,” Dan emphasizes. “We went to a single-server system, which also enabled us to devote programmer time to additional customer service issues. For example, if a locksmith wants things handled a certain way, our programmers input that info. This reminds our sales person anytime they deal with the customer, to make sure it’s done right from the start.”
Locksmith-specific service extends to the shipping area, too, along with additional automated advantages. “Our people can simply scan the bar code and shipping info pops up on-screen, which saves time while avoiding errors. We can also optimize shipping. When the freight comes up, it tells us the most cost-effective way to ship or if locksmith-specific info requires another method, we can easily send it that way.”
Finding the fastest and cheapest option is always a shipping priority, and when shipping charts change, Flake programmers are quick to input the latest info. This can make a huge difference, Dan asserts, comparing FedEx to UPS. “Not long ago, both took two days to ship to New Orleans from Houston. Then FedEx started shipping by ground in one day. Suddenly more locksmiths had a new way to get ‘next day’ delivery from us.”
Computer-assisted customer service gets even better with Flake’s move to 5235 Glenmont, a 46,000-square-foot facility close to the Southwest Freeway west of downtown near The Galleria.
”We’re buying new file servers that will give us more speed and better internal processing, as well as improved internet capability,” says Dan. “We invest in new equipment on a regular basis and constantly upgrade our computer system.”
The technology also frees up sales representatives to more fully and closely work with locksmith customers, answering questions or handling special requests beyond the scope of automated incoming-outgoing order handling.
“We’ve been working on making it easier for customers who call in to connect, too,” adds Jeff. “A completely new, upgraded phone system is designed with that in mind. Our sales staff is very important to us. Many of them are in their late 20’s or early 30’s, and while they are young they are experienced. A majority of them have been a part of our organization for over a decade.”