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How Southwest Traders is using an online ordering platform to boost productivity and customer satisfaction

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels July 4, 2024
Summary:
The foodservice distributor is working with Cut+Dry to create a one-stop shop for customer orders and experiences.

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Foodservice distributor Southwest Traders had a problem - its growth ambitions were being held back by a bespoke ordering system that was clunky and difficult to manage. In the words of Brad Smith, VP of Procurement:

The challenge was our sales reps had to navigate our business on behalf of the customer. If the customer wanted to know where their order was, our sales reps had to get that question answered by calling transportation. If payment issues happened, the sales rep had to drop everything and go to the credit department.

The company needed a new, all-in-one and easy-to-use platform that was fast, efficient and accurate for the company’s sales representatives and customers – and, after a thorough procurement process, the company chose Cut+Dry’s technology platform:

It makes business frictionless. Now there’s a self-service and mobile-enabled model that frees up the reps from all the research questions they had to answer. The information is immediately available online

The Cut+Dry platform gives food distributors like Southwest Traders a digital shopping experience they can share with restaurants, allowing them to place orders on their phones. Smith says the platform is helping to boost sales and marketing capabilities:

It's a digital catalog that allows customers to see everything we offer. Every SKU we stock is available to purchase through the platform with all the information, such as ingredients, pictures, and allergens. The customer can pay for their invoices and they can track the status of their orders.

Embracing the platform

Southwest Traders started its search for a technology provider during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The vetting process covered existing and emerging technology players. The firm looked at five companies and asked for live demos of their products, before going live with the Cut+Dry platform at the start of 2021. The impact has been considerable, according to Smith:

Since 2021, we've seen double-digit growth. A key metric in our business is income per case. We've been able to grow sales without adding a single person. The same number of sales representatives can do a larger book of business and it's more profitable. Our sales expense per case is plummeting down, which is phenomenal.

Southwest Traders sales reps are now seen as being more like consultants than order-takers. They can spend their time on one-to-one conversations with customers, instead of being bogged down by administrative tasks. Smith says the technology also helps the company’s marketing team:

We can go to our vendors that we buy products from and say, ‘OK, who wants to be front and centre on the platform? Who wants to do promotions on the platform?’ That's an additional revenue stream.

From a customer perspective, the e-commerce catalog allows clients to browse products and place orders. They can use keyword-searching technology to discover new products and increase their product mix. As many as 90% of customers now fulfil orders online – and Smith says that’s a big break from the past:

We previously had our own-built online platform. We were never able to get it over 50%. We sputtered out at about 39%.

Southwest Traders CIO Ambrose Earle says the high adoption rates have been helped by the user interface having the same look and feel on a PC, tablet or phone. The company continues to help customers and staff make the most of the system and to push transformation:

We're just trying to continue to take cost out like every other business, but not in huge chunks. It's an industry that changes. It’s a little challenging…The main thing is we’ve got to be easy to do business with as a company.

Transforming the business

Earle says the key to long-term digital transformation success will be his company’s ability to continue making the most of Cut+Dry’s platform and to embrace the cloud and a host of other technologies to ensure customer service levels are high and staff are productive and safe. He explains:

When we think about digital transformation, a lot of that work’s in operational execution – so, improving our warehouse management system that our associates use to identify and select the correct cases and providing technology for drivers. We've made a lot of investment around safety and compliance.

Work continues to find opportunities to automate manual tasks on both the business and customer side, with Smith citing to a case in point:

We're going to start transmitting inventory levels, so the system will know when we only have, for example, five cases of strawberries left. If we don’t have strawberries, the system will ask customers if they want something else. That process will enhance the speed and real-time customer feedback on alternative items and substitutions.

The company is also keen to explore Cut+Dry’s real-time analytics and to think about how emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, might help improve customer service. Smith refers to the example of targeted marketing:

This is something they're working on. The system scans Google Maps and says, ‘Here's all the restaurants. We've looked at their menus online. Here are the items you stock that you could sell to them.’ So, it's all about making our sales reps more efficient.

 

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