For those seeking role models in long-term ERP solution ownership - companies that know how to live with and enhance their software over time to support evolving business needs - York, Maine-based Stonewall Kitchen would be a great place to start.
The specialty food manufacturer has been using Microsoft Dynamics NAV since 1999, when the product was still Navision. They maintain dedicated staff internally, along with a long term partner relationship, to extend and continually adapt their solution. Over time, they have invested in enhancements, integrations, and upgrades that have supported the growth of the business from two guys at a farmer's market to an enterprise with worldwide distribution and over 400 employees.
Below is an interview with Andrea Hall, Stonewall Kitchen's information systems director which gives an insight to the company's fourteen years with Dynamics NAV, their new Dynamics CRM deployment, and their evolving multi-channel strategy.
How has Stonewall Kitchen's business evolved over the years?
AH: At the heart of our business, we manufacture specialty foods. Jonathan [King] and Jim [Stott] started the business in 1991 as a hobby. They were making jams, jellies, sauces, and giving them as gifts. Their families were saying 'you've got to do something with this.' They really developed a following as they introduced their gourmet items around New England. And to this day people will still call us saying "I remember them from the farmer's market." That's where specialty markets started finding them and they started selling wholesale and it's really grown from there.
In 1995 we went to the NASFT Fancy Food Show and exhibited and won awards. At that point our wholesale business really started taking off. And we decided over the years to also sell to consumers, so in 1999 we opened a store at our own facility, and it's grown to where we now have eleven of our own stores, mostly in the New England area, where you can go in and taste everything we make. We just opened our most recent stores this past fall.
Our wholesale business has grown significantly in the US and we're now in about 30 countries and there's a lot of potential growth there. We also send about 3 million catalogs out a year as well as running our online store, so we truly are multi-channel. And it is wrapped around our perspective as a family company with a family feel. We work with some really great partners for different things but at the end of the day we believe that no one does as good a job for you as you. So we do most of our own distribution, marketing, photography, R&D, etc. And we in-source IT. So IT is intermingled with the business; we know what they're doing and can offer suggestions, we're not just order-takers.
What is your history with Microsoft Dynamics?
We implemented Navision in 1999 before it was owned by Microsoft and ultimately had selected it for its price point and flexibility. At the time we needed manufacturing and wholesale. We didn't have these other channels at the time. It is remarkable that while adding these other divisions and channels over time, NAV has kept up with us. So we use NAV and we love it.
We weren't sure what would happen to NAV when Microsoft purchased it, but we couldn't be happier to be under this umbrella that includes Office, Windows, and the rest of the products and the R&D behind it is great. So is having an event like Convergence.
We have one and a half in-house NAV developers at Stonewall Kitchen, so almost a day doesn't go by when we aren't doing something with NAV.
What are some other strategic projects or initiatives where you think NAV has helped your company outperform or excel?
Some examples of what we've been able to accomplish in our business thanks to NAV include many unique, business differentiating modifications for sales orders, promotions and shipping cost calculations across our sales channels. We've created many custom forms that put KPIs at users fingertips, and we've created our own shop floor data capture within NAV. There are lots of modules for NAV that we can choose from. We use tools like ChargeLogic for payment processing. It's priceless that it's completely within NAV and PCI certified. We've also been able to grow with NAV, for example, we used E-Ship [from Lanham Associates] for shipping when we had smaller order volume, but now that we have grown we're able to integrate NAV with a best of breed WMS.
You also have a Dynamics CRM solution in the works. Can you tell us about it?
We are also launching Dynamics CRM this month (April 2013), which we are super excited about. And we are using [Microsoft's] NAV Connector, which we learned about by coming to Convergence. It seemed like such a logical choice for us since it worked with what we already had. And it turns out we were actually at the forefront of using the new version.
Our partner for the CRM implementation at that time (we now work with Columbus for both NAV and CRM) was so used to using third party integration tools that we had to stand our ground about using the Connector. But it made the integration shorter and less expensive because 80% of it is right there. So we were a big fan of that. It had a few bugs because it was new, and I had heard really bad things about the earlier versions of the Connector. But we pushed hard and we actually got connected with the guys who built the Connector and worked with them. They valued that we were saying 'we're trying it and this is what we found,' so it really worked out well for us.
How big of a CRM implementation are you rolling out?
We're starting with 25 users for our wholesale sales team, but I already have two or three other departments who have heard about it and want to be next, ranging from our purchasers who want to manage their vendor relationships to our marketing department who wants to manage their press relationships. We are excited for the additional value of CRM at Stonewall Kitchen as well as working with Columbus to make it a reality.
How big of a Dynamics NAV implementation of have you deployed?
We're licensed for 62 users. We're on NAV 2009 R2 with the Classic client. We would have upgraded by now but in addition to CRM we're also implementing a new warehouse management system, Solochain. They are super collaborative in how they work with us as a NAV customer. They've really educated us on processes and best practices, and I know we've been able to tell them about our business processes and ways they can improve their product.
Are you planning for an upgrade to the role-tailored client?
The role-tailored client and NAV 2013 will blow people's minds [at Stonewall Kitchen]. We've had that M.O. for the last ten years, where we would upgrade the executables to get those benefits but not go through the code upgrade as often.
We're starting to plan for the adoption changes [of the role-tailored client]. In the past we would say "There's an upgrade. We need some help testing but nothing should be different." Now we're saying that everything should be different. So we're really trying to assess not just doing the upgrade and working with the users to make sure the screens are effective for them, but the training to make sure we're making the most of all the tools that are in it. We plan to upgrade early next year.