The Folio Society turns over a new leaf with NetSuite

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright July 4, 2023
When The Folio Society replaced a landscape of ageing, disconnected systems with NetSuite, the impact was immediate, bringing unexpected transparency across the business.

Hitchhiker's Guide special edition - The Folio Society
Hitchhiker's Guide special edition (© The Folio Society)

Far from killing off the traditional hardback book, the digital age has seen an upsurge of interest in special editions such as those produced by The Folio Society, which for the past 75 years has designed and published high-quality illustrated editions of the world's favorite reads. Mark Mainstone, Technology & Business Services Director, says:

People are finding that for special reads, they are really wanting to go out there and get these beautiful editions and show them off on their bookshelf.

Having started out producing special editions of classic titles, more recently The Folio Society has seen growth in other categories such as science fiction, children's books and non-fiction. Producing any of its books involves co-ordinating the work of 30-40 suppliers, ranging from the illustrators commissioned to provide the images, to copywriters, printers and suppliers of the special materials that ensure the finished product has the right look and feel. Mainstone says:

That is in itself quite a feat and takes quite a long time to produce in order to get to its final state ... It is a work of art. We see it as a labour of love.

The business sells direct to its customers, who pay anything from £40 to £1,000 ($50-$1,270) or more for each book, depending on the finish and other factors. Limited editions tend to command the highest prices, such as a leather-bound limited edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy which completely sold out last year in less than a day.

One version of the truth

Like many publishing businesses, The Folio Society had relied on a collection of disparate and ageing IT systems to run its business, including green-screen systems, none of which were connected to each other. It implemented Oracle NetSuite to replace this IT landscape with a core system that would bring all its data together in one place. The impact was immediate, as Mainstone recounts:

Within days, we had a far better picture of the business than we'd had in the whole, at that time, 71 years of operating. We didn't have to wait for people to write reports or extract information out and manipulate it in Excel. It was just all there.

Integration is crucial to making this all work. Customers interact with the company globally through five e-commerce stores running on Adobe Commerce, and a call center solution that handles telephone orders. Both integrate with NetSuite, which then integrates to a third-party warehouse provider. Book production is managed in a legacy system which is in the process of being replaced, from which purchase orders are replicated into NetSuite. The core productivity and teamwork system is Office 365, which has helped the transition to a fully hybrid working operation in the wake of the pandemic. Integrating all of these systems together has provided consistent information for the first time. Mainstone explains:

It's so key to have, in my opinion, one version of the truth and dedicating one system in your landscape above all else that knows, near enough, everything that's going on. You integrate into that system — you might integrate out, but you just have that one version in that one system.

Then finally you stop talking apples and pears. You find that when you're in board meetings, you're not having people with conflicting information because they've got it off one system about what inventory might be, and they've got it from another system about how much that inventory is worth.

On implementing NetSuite, the time taken to finalize monthly accounts shrank from three weeks to one, while the time taken for an online order to reach the warehouse went from several hours to less than 15 minutes. There's better information available to customers, who can see more product details than before and can log into the website to track their order progress as soon as it's placed. Conversely, the company now has a single view of the customer, with a complete order history and all of their interactions contained in a single dataset. Mainstone adds:

There's so many analytics, so much rich information, for us to find out where should we be focusing improvements on, or where something is doing really well and you don't have to worry about it, because someone thinks it's going wrong and there isn't. It just help us with KPIs. It helps us to really see what our business looks like straight away.

Transparency across the business

The business became employee-owned in December 2021, making the 40+ employees "masters of our own destiny," as Mainstone puts it. There is still a traditional corporate structure, with a board of directors, a chairman, a CEO and departmental heads running each function. But ensuring that everyone has access to information across the business is particularly important. He comments:

NetSuite, with an organization like ours, just brings us all together, because we are all involved in processes to bring all those different functions together and understand the impacts of doing something in one area, as opposed to the impact it has on another area of the company.

The original plan was to implement NetSuite for 25 users, mainly in finance and operations, plus one or two in each functional department. But it soon became evident that there was a more value in giving everyone access to the system. He elaborates:

The business didn't appreciate how much it was going to change their lives, in terms of being able to have that transparency. We didn't plan for that. But having taken away so many other disparate systems that weren't talking to each other and so bringing it together, you suddenly got this full picture of what was going on in your business ...

Information is power. The more transparent your information — the right information, of course — the more transparent you are, the more you are empowering other people to make decisions and to understand the implications of what they're doing. To understand that actually, we need to look at inventory, or we need to look at this, or we need to look at that. People can get a much better understanding of the business as a whole.

Growing engagement

The result has been greater engagement across the business and noticeable shift in the management culture. He explains:

I think empowering people to actually have that fuller picture means they're more motivated. But it also means that they hopefully can ask the right questions and make the right decisions in their roles, rather than relying on us to do that for them. Now, yes, we do have the traditional structure like a lot of other businesses, but information shared across that structure, and being able to see that information is very powerful and very culturally revolutionary.

The business also has a better understanding of its customers, many of who are repeat purchasers, either collecting titles from a specific genre or series, such as Marvel, DC, Game of Thrones or James Bond, or returning because they value the distinctive quality of the product. That ongoing engagement, either directly or via social media and other outreach activities, is important for planning future offerings. Mainstone says:

We know our customers, we know where they're from, because we have to dispatch to them. But we know about them, and we learn about them, and we talk to them as well, as much as we can, and get them involved ...

We need to understand what our customers want and make sure that we're constantly with them, but also coming up with something they didn't think of.

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