Scaling up: Independent Slate Supplies ramps up its operations


Independent Slate Supplies (ISS) has been supplying specialist slate products to builders’ merchants since the mid-1980s, but over the last few years it has seen tremendous growth, trebling its turnover within nine years. To keep pace with the escalating demands of the market and its own continued growth projections, it became obvious that investment was needed in a new software system to help the business scale up.

After assessing various systems available in the market, ISS opted for the cloud-based Merchanter ERP system from Ten-25 Software, celebrating 40 years of merchant business systems this year.


ISS had previously not required a full ERP solution, originally relying on a database to keep track of its specialist slate stock profile. After a short period using a bespoke, in-house system, the management team decided that they needed a system which would provide better, easier access to information and a greater level of control over stock management.


“We compared some of the leading systems in the market,” explained Co-Managing Director Patrick Phipps. “Eventually we chose the Ten-25 system. We liked the idea of working with a smaller supplier offering that personal service, and Merchanter had been recommended to us by a local timber merchant as well as a builders’ merchant so we were confident it would be a good solution for us. We really liked the simple design and layout, and the demo system was straightforward to use, so that’s what we opted for.”


Driven by supply more than demand


Thanks to great relationships built up over years of trading with slate suppliers from around the world, ISS has developed a great portfolio of stock. Local merchants quickly realised this was a supplier with a great selection of high-quality materials, and the company’s reputation grew, as supply fuelled demand.

Due to a combination of growing awareness, increased capacity and competitors disappearing from the market, ISS now has a national reach. But with that scale of operation comes intensified need for better stock control, logistics and commercial management.


“We didn’t have much visibility into the business,” said Patrick Phipps. “We were really flying blind, waiting for the monthly accounts to come through. We couldn’t accurately work out gross margin or spot where stock errors had occurred. We needed more insight, and more control day to day.”


Accessibility and control are key


As well as head office and stock control staff, ISS has a group of Business Development Managers working remotely. Often on the road visiting customers and prospects, it was difficult for information to be passed between them and the business. Having a system that offered remote accessibility and a clean, easy-to-use interface was vital.


“Having three depots with six separate stock locations, it’s vital we can have an overview of the stockholding and capacity across the whole business,” said Patrick. “Having a cloud system means the information from all sites can be uploaded and integrated instantly, so we always have a real time view of our stockholding, orders and logistics.”


Fast returns on investment


After just five months on the new system, ISS is already seeing positive commercial benefits. Describing a recent stockholding discrepancy, Patrick explained how instant alerting of a stock issue saved them £4500 in misplaced materials – just one example of the system already adding value to the business.


“From a control point of view it’s fantastic,” he said. “Even when I’m out of the business I can access information so easily, and see exactly what’s happening. It’s flagging the glaring issues, like purchase prices or selling prices being wrong, instantly, so we can correct the problems in real time rather than retrospectively a month or two after the event.”


Evolving capability for an evolving business


“We’ve been on the system just five months and really, we’re only just scratching the surface of what it can do,” said Patrick. “We’re learning every day. The basics are quick to master but there’s so much more capacity we’ll be able to tap into as we go.”


Implementation of a new system is never entirely easy, but ISS reports that the information coming out of the system is already proving to be incredibly useful. “I’m delighted to be seeing this level of information coming out of the system after only a few months,” said Patrick. “We can focus on which customers are profitable and which are costing us money, and really improve our stock control.


“We look forward to learning even more about what the system can do, and seeing new features added as it, and we, evolve,” he said.


Focus on what’s important

“Merchanter lets us see exactly what’s happening in the business. It’s fantastic – it helps us focus on the areas that really need focus and keeps us in control at all times. It’s absolutely integral to our business already.”

In a busy environment, split across multiple sites with sales staff on the road, integrating information isn’t always easy, and it’s hard to keep track of all the moving parts. Merchanter helps ISS to do just that, enabling more efficient processes to be introduced where they’re really needed.


“We can now monitor all sorts of different metrics easily, so we know exactly what’s going on,” said Patrick. “From a commercial perspective, we can focus on margin, including individual BDM margins, and we can monitor our stock really closely, so we can avoid accidental losses and mistakes as the issues are flagged fast. It’s a huge help already.”


A clean slate for future growth


With Merchanter in place, ISS is well positioned to continue its growth trajectory without needing to increase workforce or other overheads, keeping risk minimal. While the construction supplies market is currently enjoying an extremely buoyant period, the efficiencies of scale that a digital ERP system like Merchanter provides means that the business can cope with spikes of demand without overextending financial risk.


Having instant insight into what’s happening in all parts of the business means faster resolutions for customer queries, better availability and customer service, and ultimately, greater productivity and profitability.


“We are totally dependent on it,” said Patrick. “We use it every day and it’s making a big difference. The service from Ten-25 is responsive and we are looking forward to seeing how the system develops in the future, with new features and capability. The current trajectory of growth here at ISS looks set to continue, and Merchanter will play a big part in delivering that successfully.”


Ten-25 Managing Director Ian Oldrey said, “We are thrilled to welcome Independent Slate Supplies to the Merchanter system. It’s a really exciting time for them, and for us, as we are rapidly scaling up our own business to meet demand. Digital technology enables amazing advances in efficiency and we look forward to working alongside ISS and supporting them further as they continue to grow.”


If you would like to try Merchanter for yourself, free and with no obligation, just register here for online demo system access.