Business Transformation Must Include Manufacturers

NEOCON 2021 was my first experience at The Mart and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love the emphasis on design and product. The manufacturers put loads of effort into presenting their products in the most compelling way. At NEOCON you’re surrounded by cutting edge design. On the face of it, you’d assume that commercial furniture is a 21st Century business. But we know it’s not. If ever the internal workings of an industry were more at odds with its products and branding…

It reminds me of a custom car I once saw: it had the sleek, shiny body of a German sportscar, but inside there was just a recumbent bicycle. Awesome on the outside. Kind of weak on the inside.

I’m working hard on the “insides” of our industry. And it’s not just me. I was so encouraged to meet several energetic consultants at NEOCON who are committed to moving the industry forward in design, process and people.

There’s a lot of pressure on dealers to deliver the next generation of customer experience – to streamline operations, to make it easier to do business in commercial furniture. Dealers are on the front lines of business transformation. For the purposes of this column, let’s just define Business Transformation as “making it easier to do business.” Digital Transformation is simply using technology to achieve that goal.

What I realized at NEOCON is there’s an unspoken limit to how easy a dealer can make it for customers and employees. You may have nailed your CRM, dialed in your business system, automated basic functions, deployed killer dashboards and so on, but you will eventually hit a wall. That wall is the manufacturers you work with.

For example, how come only the “major” manufacturers have web services to automate order management and integrate directly with dealer business systems?

There’s a simple truth of business transformation that I’d like to say directly to manufacturers: “EASY” is competitive advantage! If you make it easy for dealers to specify and sell your products, then you will sell more.

We spend so much time hammering dealers on process, business systems and integrations. Manufacturers need to look at the same things. Business Transformation is not just the dealer’s responsibility.

Manufacturers: How can you make it easier for your dealers? Is it time to modernize your ERP? Deploy an order management web service? Digitize your catalog? Launch a product configurator?

Let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits of modernizing manufacturer technology…

Dealer and Customer Experience: This is what we’ve already been talking about. A modern technology platform will optimize manufacturer relationships with dealers and, ultimately, customers. This could be a major growth driver.

Access to data: Data has become currency in modern business. Manufacturers need quality data to make key strategic decisions. Streamlining and integrating operations and order flow with the dealers selling your products will open new data channels.

Supply Chain Management: Just like some manufacturers can integrate with dealer business systems, many manufacturer suppliers can also transact business digitally through vendor/supplier platforms and integrations. This increases cycle time while reducing errors.

Visibility and Decision Support: Modern systems can integrate data from disparate systems to give management unprecedented visibility into what is happening in every area of the business, in real time.

Automation: Starting with order fulfillment and extending through to other critical processes, a modern technology platform and business system can automate repetitious tasks, improving quality and margins.

Cost Reduction: The net result of business transformation is revitalized processes, automation, and data visibility. There are so many “soft” benefits to transformation, but there are also quantifiable results: improving processes and efficiency reduces costs and boosts margins. I think that dealers and manufacturers agree: delivering for the customer is the ultimate goal. I propose we attack the transformation of the commercial furniture industry from both sides. Let’s have dealers AND manufacturers commit to digital transformation. Let’s work together to make it easy to do business in this industry!

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