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Discovering greener pastures with NetSuite
“NetSuite has been fantastic. It’s completely changed the way that we get information out, and has made it easy for us to keep growing.”Lance Bellew, CFO Wholesale Seeds
The Wholesale Seeds story is one of phenomenal growth.
Started just 11 years ago by owner, director and agronomist James Smith, the business originally set out to do precisely what the name suggests: sell seeds in the wholesale trade. The company commissioned farmers to grow specific varieties to on-sell to local and international retailers.
Within a few years, Wholesale Seeds was turning over several million in annual sales with just three staff. However, it was a slow cycle, says Lance Bellew, current CFO. “It could take us two years to organise with a farmer to drill the required paddocks of seed on their land, wait for the crop to grow and be harvested, and process the seeds for resale.”
The company shifted to a business-to-business model about four years ago to speed up the sales cycle. They added more field staff, who visited farmers to recommend crop varieties which would support livestock, provide advice on how to effectively grow the crop, then take direct orders for seed, agrichemical and soil nutrients.
The outcome? Wholesale Seeds now orders in and on-sells product on a month by month basis.
“Buying products in and selling them on resulted in phenomenal growth over the last four or five years,” says Bellew. “Our sales doubled from a couple of million, year on year on year – and there’s no sign of slowing down.”
Today, Wholesale Seeds has 25 staff, a head office and four regional warehouses to go with its multi-million-dollar turnover.
While a great ‘problem’ to have, Wholesale Seed’s software applications just couldn’t keep up with the company’s impressive growth spurt.
Wholesale Seeds was using an out-of-the-box accounting software on a shared drive with a data file on it. Remote access to the system was through one PC which presented difficulties if several people tried to connect at once. Working from the field or home wasn’t easy.
The company used Excel extensively to produce accounts payable, accounts receivable and profit and loss reporting. They contracted an external third party to massage the background data extracted from the financial software into a usable state.
When Bellew joined the company in 2017, the first thing he asked was “Where is the cost of goods sold line on our income statement?” The puzzled looks he received in response raised alarm bells for Bellew, and he discovered that the company was doing annual stock takes to determine cost of goods sold, and estimating margin on a monthly basis. “We were turning over a large amount of stock, which presented the business with significant risk factors.”
“Once we closed off our AR and AP at the end of the month,” says Bellew, “we’d send the files to our contractors so they could tweak the data file. From there, we’d manipulate the reports into an easy-to-read, tidy, clean-looking sheet of accounts for our management team and the bank. It literally took days to get through the whole process.”
To add to the stress, Bellew would take 2-3 calls a day from the Board chasing the AR, AP and P&L numbers.
“It got to crisis point when we tried to pull reports out of our existing system,” says Bellew, “but it couldn’t handle eight significant figures. Anything over 10 million would confuse it and result in randomly placed decimal points and commas. You couldn’t make head nor tail of the reports.
“On top of that, the system also ran a periodic inventory system and kept giving us inaccurate stock levels. We had no true idea of what we had until it came to stock taking.”
Bellew decided enough was enough, and started searching for a better financial application.
He initially considered Xero but was concerned with the amount of development needed to integrate it with their other business systems. “Achieving what we wanted with Xero would be a piecemeal approach. I thought we should take a look at the next level up and consider a fully integrated ERP system.”
Bellew’s non-negotiable functions for an ERP included a multisite financial and stock management capability. And it had to be cloud-based.
“We had no doubt that our ERP had to be in the cloud. I’d always been concerned that something could go wrong on site, backups would fail, and we’d lose all access. We also needed reliable remote access from on the road.”
Bellew’s initial research presented NetSuite as a strong contender, and a meeting with the team from Cropmark confirmed they were on the right track. Cropmark conducted an exhaustive search for a new system before choosing NetSuite and told Bellew that it was “bloody good”.
Bellew asked Fusion5 to do a rapid implementation to fit between periods of peak sales activity. Despite the tight implementation deadline, Bellew says that Fusion5 delivered to scope, on time and to budget.
“Fusion5 are great to work with,” says Bellew. “Prior to Wholesale Seeds, I worked in the tech sector, and in the pre-sale process there’s a tendency to overpromise to get the sale across the line. Then it gets to the point where you are dealing with consultants who can’t deliver what was expected. There’s been none of that with Fusion5. Their presales consultant was very knowledgeable. Everything he said stacked up, so it was a very easy implementation.
“When it came to go-live, I was honestly expecting some major dramas and issues, but we didn’t have that. NetSuite worked as per the documents!”
Bellew says that utilising NetSuite means the business can continue to grow without adding administrators to the existing headcount. “We’re looking at working smarter, rather than working harder, by leveraging NetSuite to help our business run as efficiently and smoothly as possible.”
When it comes to the 20th of the month and end of month, it’s stress-free all the way. “Instead of taking days of intensive work to produce AP, AR and P&L reports for the management team and bank, it now takes just seconds,” says Bellew. “And there’s no need for third-party contractors to sort out spreadsheets. I can just jump on NetSuite from home or on the road and access the information I need. It’s nice and easy and always there.”
For the first time, Wholesale Seeds has complete visibility of their financials and stock levels. “We can see everything in real-time rather than six weeks later,” says Bellew. “So, if there’s a problem, there are no excuses. We have the time and information we need to be proactive and make it right.”
The new stock visibility has already proven its worth. A thorough rationalisation of supplies uncovered a large quantity of a product originally thought to be out of stock, which Wholesale Seeds was immediately able to supply to a customer in need.
It’s fair to say that Bellew is a happy CFO, and Wholesale Seeds is flourishing. “NetSuite has been fantastic. It’s completely changed the way that we get information out, and has made it easy for us to keep growing.”
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