#SMETowkay: Stocking Up For Growth

Struggling to keep up with customer orders and inventory levels hampered the initial growth of Alps Group. To resolve the issue, business partners Angela Sim and Lynn Yeo turned to technology to realize their company’s full potential.

“We were so frustrated,” recalls Angela. “We didn’t dare to take (on) more customers because we foresee more problems if we were to grow bigger.”

Alps Group, a supplier of bamboo-based tissues, initially used a manual record keeping system which often led to inadequate stock levels in some cases and excess inventory in others.

This all changed last year when the two business partners made a decision to automate the management of their orders and inventory.

With the support of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s SMEs Go Digital programme, which encourages local enterprises to adopt technologies, Alps Group bought the Order Management and Inventory System (OMI) from business solutions provider PracBiz.

This system eliminated inventory issues that they used to face due to manual data entry. For example, they would often find themselves in situations where they either ran out of stock or were sitting on excess goods. With OMI, a purchase order automatically leads the system to update their inventory, produce an invoice, and keep track of any outstanding payments. Freed from the hassle of managing their inventory and checking for new orders every single day, the entrepreneurs could leave it to OMI and concentrate on growing the business instead. As a result, not only has Alps Group expanded their distribution channels over the year, their range of sustainable disposable products sold under the brands Cloversoft and Dr Blanc has also increased from 11 to 15 today.

It turns out that Alps Group was not the only user of this solution. Their distributor, NTUC FairPrice also uses the same system, making doing business with them a breeze. When the supermarket chain issues purchase orders for their products, these are automatically sent to Alps Group’s system. This meant Angela and Lynn no longer have to manually log-in daily to FairPrice’s portal just to check if there are any new orders to fulfill.

Being part of a larger digital business ecosystem is particularly beneficial for labor-strapped SMEs such as the Alps Group. They can slash manpower requirements by automating as purchase orders, invoices and debit notes securely and efficiently. “Using a system helps us to keep track and manage new orders and prevents us from losing out on sales,” says Lynn.

Beyond helping Alps Group better connect with its distributors, OMI also generates analytics software that are useful for the business partners to manage their inventory and also their employees. They can now see what their top selling products are at FairPrice and can even do a month-to-month comparison. Armed with such data on sales progress and even sales projections, they can now more objectively measure the performance of their sales staff and give due recognition.

The experience with technology has been so beneficial that Alps Group is now investing in a new customer management system which can also automatically remind staff of upcoming appointments or customers whom they have not heard from for a while. This has been helpful for employees and allows them to be more efficient and productive at their jobs.

Reflecting on their company’s struggles before going digital, Angela regrets having “wasted so much time” trying to run a business manually because they simply did not know better. Both founders had previously worked in a bank where digital systems were already in place, so they never expected the biggest challenge of starting their own business to be crunching numbers. Swarmed with handling logistics and operations, the former colleagues would have gone on with their manual and ineffective way of doing things had it not been for a distributor who introduced them to business software solutions like OMI.

This is why Angela urges fellow startups is to invest early in technology and digital solutions as they are easier to implement when the business is still small.

“If new companies don’t adopt this then they will be missing out on sales,” she says.

Thinking of going digital? The SMEs Go Digital programme by IMDA matches companies to the appropriate tech solutions and offers financial subsidies too. Get started at www.imda.gov.sg/smesgodigital

If you liked this article, read more here or continue to watch this space as we feature more SMEs in the weeks to come! You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.