The stylish, distinctive metal door handles and light fittings of home fashion brand Buster + Punch are popular with interior designers and design-conscious homeowners around the world. Yet despite its growing global reach, the ten-year-old company now runs all its operations from a single location in the UK, including back-office functions that were previously based in the US and Sweden. That's due to the efficiency of running in the cloud. Fraser Mackenzie, its Chief Technology Officer, says:
Every piece of technology we use is cloud-based. I always say to people, we could be on the moon. If you've got a Wi-Fi signal, you can do what you like.
Having started in the East London garage of founder and creative director Massimo Minale, ten years later the company has become a global operation with over 100 employees. Selling online and through distributors and retail partners, it operates trading subsidiaries for the US, Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and rest of the world, with the US the largest in terms of sales. The boom in home improvement during the pandemic lock-down also helped boost growth, and again having cloud-based operations meant there was no interruption to the business. He adds:
Everyone was at home doing up their houses ... Although we fiscally made plans for a downturn in business, actually, during COVID, it was very good for us. And because of NetSuite and all of the other cloud-based tools, everyone could work at home, it wasn't a problem.
Standardizing global operations
The first time diginomica spoke to the company was back in 2017, when it had just rolled out NetSuite as its core ERP system in a rapid 15-week implementation. That later made it possible to standardize back-office operations in its UK base in Peterborough. Mackenzie explains the rationale:
It's difficult to run the regional offices when you don't really have the critical mass to run those offices, and you don't want to duplicate your senior hires, because your cost base can't necessarily support that. So we decided to move a lot of those functions back into the UK, which means we can guarantee that the processes at the subsidiary level are consistent.
Whether it's Donald Trump buying a light bulb in Washington, or Tony Blair buying a light bulb in London, the process — other than the warehouse that ultimately ships that product would be different — the process from the website to NetSuite and from NetSuite to the warehouse is exactly the same ... Yes, we have US accountants and US lawyers who represent us and audit our books, et cetera. But you don't necessarily need those people in the business 24/7.
There are various specialist apps around the core Oracle NetSuite platform that help automate those standardized processes. Four e-commerce sites serve the global customer base, all running on Woo Commerce. The company uses NetStock for supply chain planning, Aurum for reconciliation, Avalara for sales tax, and PowerBI for dashboards used in sales and finance. It's useful to have these third-party apps available that can plug into the NetSuite API and access the underlying data, as Mackenzie explains:
“We've taken the good bits of NetSuite — and there are plenty of good bits. Where there's something that maybe doesn't give us all the functionality that we want, then we'll go and find the plug-in that solves that problem, but that is recommended by NetSuite — an approved partner and someone who can implement their offering very quickly. I'll use NetStock as an example, where I think we signed with them on a Monday, and by Wednesday, it was sucking out the inventory and presenting it in a very neat way. ”
These interconnected applications, plus integration with partner retailers, allows for highly automated end-to-end processes. He cites the example of US home fashion e-tailer Lumens, which is also a NetSuite customer and has an EDI connection to Buster + Punch. This means that, when a customer orders a product on the Lumens website, Buster + Punch then fulfils the order by dropship directly from its own warehouse and Lumens confirms the shipment to the customer. All the back-office transactions are automatically executed and recorded in the two companies' respective NetSuite systems.
Mackenzie and the company's CEO, Martin Preen, both have a background in investment banking, where the concept of straight-through processing — highly automated processes that complete transactions without needing to wait for human intervention — has long held sway. What's important alongside these highly automated processes is to monitor them for any irregularities. They have used Power BI to put in place the necessary checks at Buster + Punch. Mackenzie says:
Power BI looks at the audit records of every single transaction. It knows whether something is system-generated or human-generated. Then we track the level of transactions with no intervention at all, manually created transactions, and transactions that have been amended. We can do that by country, by customer type, by salesperson, by entity subsidiary.
Keep it simple
Setting up dashboards within NetSuite that internal teams can use to track their key metrics is also important. He recommends:
Build dashboards for your teams. Not everyone wants the same look and feel, [give them a] custom view. Everyone's going to want reminders, everyone's going to want to understand, how many cases have I got? Or how many sales have my customers generated? Each group is going to want their own version of NetSuite. So make sure that you accommodate people.
Keeping it simple for users is equally important. NetSuite comes with a broad range of features and functions, which can be distracting. He advises staying focused on those core processes:
Understand your end-to-end flow. Get that all working as efficiently as possible and don't use things because you think you need to use them, because you will get confused ...
Some of the things that you can do out the box, with saved searches ... All of that is built in. You should use all of those things that are simple to use and at your disposal.
Design your process. Don't use everything. Build dashboards, so that you make it easier for the person to understand what they're looking at, because the menus are bewildering. And get a good consultant in.
[Updated Nov 24th. The company's operations are based in Peterborough, not London as previously stated. Also clarified the operating subsidiaries].