Ryan Meehan is the President of the Northeastern Division of D&T Distribution, Inc., the national provider of Pali Hawaii Sandals in the United States. In this guest post, he shares his experience of expanding the family business, and how he’s scaled up the wholesale distribution of Pali Hawaii Sandals’ popular classic brown “Jesus Sandal”:
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I hadn’t planned on helping my family expand its business for at least another decade, but in mid-July 2015 I found myself hastily writing out my 2-weeks notice to my boss. I was leaving my comfortable, well-paying corporate job for something decidedly more challenging: the prospect of starting my own business to scale up the wholesale distribution of a popular brand of Hawaiian sandals.
Pali Hawaii Sandals were already very popular in Hawaii, where they were first designed and brought to market by our business partners (a husband/wife team of engineers from Malaysia) in the early 1980s. In the late 90s my parents brought Pali Hawaii Sandals to Mainland USA and despite having no sales team or experience in distribution, warehousing or marketing, they penetrated every major American market and helped create a voracious appetite for Pali Hawaii’s classic brown “jandal” (short for “Jesus Sandal”).The growth of my parents’ business always impressed me, but when they offered me the opportunity to invest in the business and handle all new customers, I was left in a difficult position: How do you improve a business that’s already really successful?
My parents’ humane approach to customer service and tireless work ethic were two areas that required no upgrade. Their business systems were a combination of QuickBooks Desktop, lots of spreadsheets and the clunky shipping applications provided by UPS and FedEx.These systems served them well as they grew their business, and were indeed ahead of the times when many businesses were still operating primarily with pen and paper. But customer expectations in 2016 — immediacy, transparency and accuracy — demand a different type of system.
So instead of dealing with many disjointed business systems across a variety of platforms and spreadsheets, I chose to run my business exclusively in the cloud, and here’s why:
The process of adding a new customer to our database used to involve a phone call and the manual transcription of the customer’s data into Quickbooks. Today, new customers fill out a customer application form (hosted by Typeform) on our web site and I bulk import their data into TradeGecko. In 2016 I’ve added about 600 new customers — and utilizing this process has essentially allowed me to let my customers do my data-entry for me, which saved hundreds of man hours and reduced manual transcription errors. Most importantly, this means that next year, whether I add 600 new customers or 6 million new customers (!) the amount of time I spend on data-entry won’t change.
My warehouse is great — but it’s 45-90 minutes away, depending on the flow of NYC traffic any given weekday. My apartment is much better though, so whenever possible I opt to make the “commute” from my bed to my couch in the morning, where I can take care of all aspects of my business that don’t involve pushing boxes out of my warehouse. Using services like Xero for accounting, ShipStation for shipping and Stripe for payments means that I can run my business literally anywhere. Earlier this year, on a flight home from a trip to Spain, I sent customer invoices, received payments and printed shipping labels — from 30,000 feet in the air!
Using connected, cloud-based systems also creates inherently better customer experiences because they provide the sort of instant feedback and transparency customers accustomed to shopping online expect. You’ve placed an order through my TradeGecko B2B store? You’ll get an automated order confirmation immediately so you know I’ve received your order. I’ve just shipped your order out via UPS? You’ll receive an email with an itemized shipping record and interactive map from ShipStation so you’ll know precisely when your order should deliver. You haven’t paid the invoice I emailed to you yesterday? You’ll receive a gentle nudge in the form of an automated reminder from Xero. These automated notifications ensure that customers receive the information and notifications they need right when they need it – and it reduces the amount of time I spend on the phone fielding customer inquiries about logistics.
Year One of my business created quite a challenge in terms of knowing what and how much to order from my supplier, because I essentially had no historical data. As I enter in Year Two, I’m finding that I am able to make more strategic decisions, which means instead of ordering by “feel” I can order based on analytics. Following the data through TradeGecko’s “Intelligence” reports is helpful, but because of TradeGecko’s API, I can use services like Inventory Planner to do an even deeper dive into sell-through patterns of all my SKUs — and ensure that next year’s orders are smarter, more timely and more efficient.
As with most things, the most important thing in managing your business is really the simplest: have a strategy for collecting clean data. Getting this piece right from the very start is crucial — the data you import into TradeGecko will ultimately emanate out into all the other services you connect to it, so take the time to get it right! Eliminate manual data entry wherever possible to reduce errors and create a system that’s repeatable and easy to use to ensure you can execute your data strategy with integrity.
Ryan Meehan is President of the Northeastern Division of D&T Distribution, Inc, the national provider of Pali Hawaii Sandals in the United States. He has experience in sales, marketing and education, and also a passion for technology, media and the humanities.