- Get advice on what works for others
- Use off-the-shelf packages if you can
- Optimise and integrate with business processes so you and your staff aren't wasting time
- Get your data right so you can rely on it
The business – Carman’s Kitchen
When she was 18, Carolyn Creswell was supporting her university studies with a part-time job making muesli. Upon hearing that the business was for sale and she might lose her job, Carolyn offered the owners $1,000 for it. Carman’s was born.
Carman’s is now a household name and the top selling muesli brand on Australian supermarket shelves. The business has an annual turnover of $50 million, exports muesli, muesli bars, rounds, oats, porridge and clusters to 32 countries around the world, and supplies Coles and Woolworths nationwide.
At first, the business did not even have a computer. Over the years, Carolyn has learned that establishing successful I.T. systems takes significant investment of time and money, but pays dividends in business efficiency.
Evolve your I.T. systems with your business
Carolyn began with an off-the-shelf financial program, MYOB (Mind Your Own Business). 'It’s an extraordinary program because it encapsulates every aspect of your business, from payroll, to comments on customers, to all your invoicing and financial reporting,' she says.
Carolyn found that she needed to invest time and effort to get the most out of the program. 'Off-the-shelf programs are great, because everything is already set up. You just need to put in the hard yards in the early days, get the right accounts and structure for you and start building up the data.'
As Carman’s core function has evolved over the years, so too has its I.T. needs. The business now runs SAP Business One, an advanced financial system. 'It’s about knowing what’s important for your business,' says Carolyn, 'The core of our business now is inventory, and when you’re holding millions of dollars worth of stock and you have multiple suppliers and warehouses, you need really detailed information. SAP Business One had great functionality in this area and seemed best suited to the complexities of our business. It was also good value for money compared to other programs we looked at.'
The depth of information provided by SAP Business One means that, if a customer has a problem with a batch of muesli bars, they would only need to quote the use-by date. Within 15 minutes, Carman’s would know how much stock was made, and where and when it was sent. 'When something goes wrong, having really good information means that your business can react the way you want it to, rather than how you hoped it would,' says Carolyn.
Get value from your IT systems
Regardless of which IT system Carman’s has used, Carolyn is conscious a great system requires more than a good program. Her advice to other small business owners:
Get it right from the startIt's not just about setting up a good system. The data also has to be solid. 'When you set up your business and systems – set them up magnificently. Make sure your data is really accurate, and build the stepping stones, so that as your business grows you don’t have to go back and change the foundations.'
Get the right I.T. support
Make sure you have a support crew of capable people you can really trust. 'No one enjoys spending money on I.T. support, and it took me a long time to get my head around the ongoing costs, but it’s worth it.'
Upgrade your system regularly
Don't scrimp on keeping up-to-date. 'It’s worth upgrading and keeping the latest version; it’s only a couple of hundred dollars and it means your system can grow with you.'
Having the right I.T. systems in place means Carman's can find information about a batch of muesli bars within 15 minutes. This means excellent customer service when things go wrong.