For more than half a century, Jergens Industrial Supply has worked to stand out as a distributor keyed into ways that help its customers operate more efficiently with supplies like metal-cutting tools and facilities maintenance and repair equipment, the company says. “We are a partner in productivity,” it says on its website, JIS.com.
Now it’s out to increase the ease and speed of how its customers can place orders. The company has developed a Wi-Fi-enabled system, JIS Express, that lets customers simply press a button to activate an internet-connected device and send an order on its way.
Not a virtual button on a website, but a good old physical button where the needed supplies are typically stored. The buttons, which Jergens Industrial Supply introduced a few months ago in an Internet of Things, or IoT system, and deployed at several customer locations, are designed to both increase sales and make it easier for customers to stay in stock with the items they need to run their business. “We’re trying to make it easier for customers not to run out of things,” says Matt Schron, general manager of Jergens Industrial Supply, also known as JIS, a division of industrial supplies manufacturer Jergens Inc.
The button system complements other methods JIS uses to make it easier for customers to access its products. In some cases, it can ease customers into faster orders in ways that are less costly than other JIS methods. One of the ways it provides larger customers quick access to its products, for example, is by installing internet-connected vending machines at customer locations, where buyers can retrieve items like drill bits and work gloves. Internet sensors in the vending machines record the transaction, update inventory and financial records, and trigger reorders.
The vending machines typically cost JIS thousands of dollars to install, and for smaller customers buying, say, $50,000 or less a year in JIS products, it’s not a good investment for JIS to make. But to keep these smaller customers happy at a lower cost to JIS, the distributor can install the button system, which it designed and built with software developer MindHarbor, for far less cost, Schron says.
Here’s how it works: JIS will install the software and as many buttons as a client needs at a location, connecting them via Wi-Fi to send orders to the JIS order management application in its Epicor Prophet21 ERP system. JIS programs each button for an individual SKU, and JIS works with each client to determine how many SKUs are ordered per button-push. JIS and the client also determine how many button-pushes are batched before forwarding an order.
If a client wants to maintain a minimum number of between five and 10 units of a particular commonly used cutting tool, for example, it could set up a button that would order five more units whenever an employee noticed there were only five remaining in a warehouse bin.
“One of the first questions we received was, ‘What if someone pushes a button multiple times?’ Schron says. “So we’ll program the button to only process one order per every 24 hours.”
Once orders are forwarded—either individually or in batches—the JIS system emails a list of pending order activity to a client’s purchasing manager. “The manager then can confirm or delete the orders, or change the order quantity, then hit a confirmation link that sends that order file to our ERP system,” Schron says.
JIS rolled out its button-based ordering system last spring with a few customers, and has been considering ways to improve the system, he adds. One option it’s considering is sending order records to clients’ ERP systems as well as its own, which would help clients manage their own inventory and financial records.
And then there’s the possibility of developing a voice-activated system that would make pressing a button unnecessary. “We’re looking at voice-enabled,” Schron says. “So a customer could just say, ‘Hey Alexa, order me four more drill bits.’”
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