Schoolblazer is a perfect example of a successful direct commerce business that is providing a viable alternative to a traditional retail service.
But this is not the usual story of a web based business that competes on price with high street retailers. It required some highly innovative thinking which brought together online expertise, new supply chains, consumer insights and a scalable infrastructure to meet the demands of a highly seasonal business. The result is now a £multi-million turnover business per annum from a standing start in 2004.
As the name suggests Schoolblazer supplies school wear but it focuses exclusively on providing this service to contracted independent schools throughout the UK.
As many parents will know school uniforms are still obligatory for most pupils –especially in the independent sector. These uniforms have mainly been supplied by local independent outfitters during a mad rush in July and August before the new school year gets underway. Not only do parents have to drag their reluctant offspring to a shop that’s definitely not ‘cool’ but parents are then faced with the task of sewing name tapes into various items of school clothing. And its not just uniforms, most schools also require pupils to have seasonal sportswear in the school colors.
Just in the independent school sector the total market value is estimated at approximately £200m most of which is realized during this peak trading period in mid-summer.
Schoolblazer recognized that this was a sector ready for a new approach to help both parents and schools. As Robin Horsell, MD, Schoolblazer, comments “We wanted to offer a credible alternative that provided parents with the convenience of an online store, better products and the provision of name taping as part of the service. This type of service also enhances the reputation of the school as they are seen to be embracing online as part of their ethos”.
However, Schoolblazer also needed a different approach to the existing supply chain used by independent retailers. By choosing to source from top brand manufacturers in the Far East rather than UK wholesalers they have been able to offer high quality machine washable garments which ‘raise the bar without raising the price’.
They also needed to solve how to create a flexible infrastructure that could apply high levels of resource and capacity in mid-summer to fulfil 80% of their annual orders. Again, some innovative thinking brought about a symbiotic relationship with a fashion re-processing house that structures their workload to provide a complete outsourcing service for Schoolblazer’s name taping, pick/packing and distribution requirements.
As far as systems are concerned Schoolblazer selected MNP’s OMS software to handle their order management facilities right from their initial set up in 2003.As Robin acknowledges, “MNP has been with us throughout our journey and our relationship with them has been one of the major factors that has underpinned our strong growth”.
“Right from the outset they realized that we were not a typical online ‘pick and pack’ direct commerce operation. We name tape most orders and have an elongated ‘work in progress’ procedure. That’s where MNP has been very flexible in adapting their software to accommodate this. Lots of order management companies would have put hurdles up in telling us why they couldn’t do something rather than why they could”.
“Their software has also been very scalable with a very high return on investment. In our first year we took less than 200 orders. Six years later we can be processing up to 1,000 orders a day with very little additional investment in licences and support”.
“Like any other business we periodically review our suppliers. As far as MNP is concerned we did not fully understand the value of our relationship until we had experience of working with other IT providers. An online business is completely dependent on its website and systems and it brought home the importance of working with reliable and trustworthy partners”.
Schoolblazer is now forecasting additional sales growth of £1m per year and this in turn has required investment in a new 35,000 sq. ft. warehouse which will future proof their operational needs for the next few years. At the same time they are installing MNP’s WMSActive warehouse management solution to achieve further optimised productivity utilizing work flow automation and system generated task driven activities.
“With a customer base of 150+ schools and 25,000 SKUs, our constant drive is to optimize our stock levels to guarantee availability without affecting our cashflow. I think WMS will professionalize our operations even further” says Robin.
As Robin concludes, “It’s great that we have not even come close to stretching MNP’s capacity to provide us with the right solutions for our business”.
Live with MNP since 2003
User of OrderActive and WMSActive
Processing over 1000 orders a day through the MNP systems
Counting of stock automated using the RF system for ad hoc and cycle counts and smart PI features such as automatically forcing a count when there has been a short-pick
Reduced headcount and time saved with automated picking using hand-held terminals with MNP’s WMS
Integrated into Royal Mail, Netdespatch and DPD
The ability to prioritise purchase order receipts based on back orders and greater control over item replenishment in the warehouse using MNP’s WMS
Multiple orders on the same task automatically packed and dispatched using WMS
MNP has been with us throughout our journey and our relationship with them has been one of the major factors that has underpinned our strong growth.
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