Building high performance surfboards to catch the global wave - Firewire's cloud ERP journey with Acumatica

By Jon Reed January 29, 2019
Excerpt:
The Acumatica Summit put me in front a slew of customers. First up? A surfboard company that must compete in a modern world of manufacturing sustainability, global customers and online commerce.
Acumatica's Jon Roskill with Franklin Shiraki

The 2019 Acumatica Summit is 1,600 attendees strong, up from 900 in 2018. There's more customers than ever to pester talk to, so I sit down with - a surfboard manufacturer.

I've been called many things, but not a surfing expert. Though I consider the original Point Break one of the greatest movies ever made, that's pretty much the extent of my surfing know-how.

So at the Acumatica Summit, my first question for Firewire Surfboards Financial Controller Franklin Shiraki is: what does it take to build "high performance" surfboards? Turns out that's a tricky question. Shiraki explains:

We kind of teeter the line of being as environmentally conscious as possible, while also producing a high performing product. There's obviously give and take.

Something else I didn't know:

Traditional surfboards are some of the most toxic things on the planet. They were built from petroleum-based products.

Consumer sensibility is changing:

It's not even so much the Millennial generation, but it's that new mindset over the last ten, fifteen years where a lot more people are becoming environmentally conscious.

Shiraki thinks so far, Firewire has done a pretty good job of bridging that gap. From a high performance angle, Firewire has the credibility from surfing legend Kelly Slater - his group is now the majority owner of Firewire.

You have the greatest competitive surfer of all time as the main face of the brand. You can't be putting out a board that doesn't perform.

One of their biggest environmental goals? Sustainable manufacturing.

Our manufacturing facility is focused on minimizing waste. I think we've shrunk our waste production by about 90 percent in the last few years.

Within a couple years, Firewire's goal is a "zero waste" manufacturing process. Currently, Firewire is a B2B operation, via a manufacturing facility in Thailand, and distribution centers in the U.S., Australia, the UK and Portugal. Exclusive distributor agreements in South Africa, Japan, and Indonesia expand the reach.

But growth brings its problems - the kinds of problems Shiraki relishes. Four years ago, he left a career in corporate and tax accounting to join Firewire. So why the change?

I wanted to get out for a long time. A friend of mine who was actually an old co-worker, he had a side venture where he built surfboard packaging out of recycled cardboard. He had a relationship with our CFO. So when they were looking to hire, he referred me in.

Outgrowing ERP systems - the search begins

When Shiraki joined Firewire, they were running Greentree, an ERP solution based out of New Zealand and Australia. But they were outgrowing the product:

When they put it in ten years ago, the bang for the buck, you couldn't beat it. It was fine from a processing standpoint, but the ability to customize, to add things like dashboards and what not - basically they were almost non-existent. The UI was fairly dated.

Shiraki's team initiated an ERP evaluation in 2016. They found out about Acumatica from their implementation partner and VAR Crestwood Associates. Acumatica's CEO also played a key role: "Jon Roskill was also highly influential in getting us on board. He reached out to us directly."

How does the decision look now?

We were extremely happy that we made the decision from the value standpoint. I think we got the best deal out there, with a product that's extremely customizable.

Shiraki says they knew Acumatica might not have every possible feature out of the box. But the chance to grow with Acumatica was appealing:

We'd rather get into a product early on in its lifecycle, and kind of grow along with it. Versus get onto a legacy product and fall off as they try to keep up with changes of technology.

Beyond go-live - self-sufficiency, ISVs, and e-commerce possibilities

Firewire went live on Acumatica on January 1, 2018 - "the first of many," says Shiraki. Over the last 13 months, they've gone live in 6 divisions, with the last one going live January 1, 2019.

The go-live isn't done until it Shiraki's criteria - user self-sufficiency, where he doesn't have to be be part of the users' day-to-day on the system. He says they are getting close. The last go-live was the trickiest: their Portuguese distributor, which must contend with complex government requirements for electronic document submission.

At this year's Acumatica Summit, Shiraki is kicking tires on some ISV partner offerings. That ties back to Acumatica's "highly customizable" appeal. So why does that matter?

Just looking down the line with growth in mind. Building an e-commerce site, finding new ways to integrate efficiencies in our manufacturing, and also in our distribution as well.

Adding ISV products to the platform helps:

From the first Summit we went to in 2017, just seeing what was out there in terms of ISVs, and just seeing how open Acumatica is in encouraging all these partners to develop products that can be used to enhance their platform. It was really something that stood out to us, and made us excited.

We've now been to our third summit, and we're seeing how many ISVs are up there. We're continually seeing new, innovative things.

Up to now, Firewire has used the core Acumatica finance modules, as well as manufacturing and distribution. Firewire started with Advanced Manufacturing Software (JAMS) from ISV partner JAAS Systems, which has since become Acumatica's official manufacturing solution.

But change is in the air. Firewire is considering rolling out e-commerce, and the setup is ready. They've used a series of plug-ins to create an integration that will pull products directly from Acumatica all the way through to the web page itself.

So why isn't e-commerce live yet? Because moving into B2C is a big decision for Firewire. Shiraki:

At some point, I think surfboards will become a product that is more commonly purchased via online platforms, but as of right now, it's one of those things you want to feel in your hand. You want to rub it, you want to be able to look at it - to make sure that it's everything that you wanted.

The wrap - dashboarding and BI ahead

Firewire puts a lot of investment into their distributor relationships. But when the time is right, I expect they'll find a way to balance their e-commerce play and roll it out. The technical and integration capabilities are there, so now it comes down to strategy and timing.

Now that they have their systems live, Shiraki is looking ahead to dashboarding and BI on their platform, perhaps with Microsoft Power BI. But even now, he already sees the benefit of visibility across Acumatica:

We were previously on multiple platforms, so it made it more or less impossible for us to do. But it's nice now, when we have questions about what's going on within the manufacturing side of things, we can just pop over and have a peek.

That global view makes a difference:

It's the ability to see how any of our individual entities are doing at any given point. Especially given the fact that we operate around the globe, around multiple time zones. No more having to send an email, wait 24 hours, and get an email response.

Reporting has changed dramatically:

Now we can just open up each system and run every report that we need. We know how to operate their system as well. If there are any questions, we can get back to them very quickly.

There's work ahead, but Shiraki likes the fit so far:

We're always integrating new ideas, new methods of manufacturing. So it's easy to pair up with an ERP system that shares a similar ethos. That just kind of makes sense.

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