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Speed as a competitive edge - how Fabuwood Cabinetry uses modern ERP as a data platform

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed February 19, 2019
You wouldn't think getting an edge in quality kitchen cabinetry is about speed. Or that ERP success is about becoming a customer-facing data platform. But as I learned from Acumatica customer of the year Fabuwood, both are achievable.

Stern (left) and Schwartz at Acumatica Summit '19

When it comes to a mission-critical project like cloud ERP, selecting the right implementation partner can be a huge asset. The wrong one can be a liability, which came up again in our recent services debate (fresh angst among independent industry analysts).

So at this year's Acumatica Summit, I seized the chance to sit down with Fabuwood Cabinetry Corporation and their Acumatica partner NexVue Information Systems.

I found Sendy Stern, Fabuwood's Senior Vice President Of Technology, in good spirits, fresh off the keynote stage, where he accepted Fabuwood's prize for Acumatica Customer of the Year 2019. Dan Schwartz, CEO NexVue, joined us also.

Speed as a competitive edge

Now, I'm not going to lie, crusty over-traveled blogger/analyst types like me are a bit jaded about industry awards. But I was curious: why did Stern think Fabuwood won this award? He answered:

I think it's how fast we adapted the Acumatica platform. I think it's the speed we adapted to it, the amount of integrations we did within that timeframe, and the amount of customizations that Dan and his team built. We did a lot of unique customizations for our business. Every business has some uniqueness. We were able to go-live with all those customizations. It was awesome.

Speed might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think quality kitchen cabinets, but au contraire - speed is the heart of the Fabuwood difference. As Sendy told me:

When you order a kitchen, any kitchen that has any customizations, you have to wait for it weeks or months. There is no reason for that at this day and age, when everything is instant. We want to take technology and state-of-the-art machinery, and be able to ship the kitchen within three days. There is really no reason that can't happen.

Wait - three days? Schwartz chimed in: "Sounds like you've built a kitchen before." As a matter of fact, yes I have, and it was white knuckles, with tenant leases already signed. Three days - this is achievable today? Stern:

If it's a custom color, then, of course it's a custom color. I'm talking about standard stock colors, as we call it. It should not take more than three days to ship a kitchen - and we're doing it now.

So how has Fabuwood pulled this off? Stern says modern tech and infrastructure are key:

We invested millions in machinery, equipment and technology for manufacturing. We just consolidated four buildings into one building that we built in Newark, New Jersey. It's a million square feet, state-of-the-art building. When we were working on the building, of course, we looked at every technology out there that makes sense for us. If you want to meet the three day lead time, you've got to invest in technology.

Modern ERP - integration and user experience rule the day

Modern ERP is now a central part of that investment. In September 2017, Stern initiated an ERP evaluation. And how did Acumatica rise to the top? Reason one: user adoption.

A key fact why we decided to go with Acumatica was ease of use. It had to be easy. When you're switching systems, you can't have users go to a more complicated system. It's got to be easier for them.

Next on the list: ease of integration. The ERP system has to support nine key integrations:

Dan and his team had a big part in helping set that up. Integrating with all of those other systems is a really important factor. When we were looking at a system, we had the IT team involved so they could have an input in the decision.

Stern advises companies undertaking these types of projects: make sure the tech team has bought in, not just the tech leadership.

It's really important to get the tech people involved so they should guide you, and give you the input. Is this a system that's going to be easy to implement? There's no point in going with a system that's going to take who knows how long.

External integrations can really bog down an ERP project. Not in this case:

Everybody told us about nine months. We did it in five months.

Schwartz says that from the beginning, Acumatica's platform appealed to Fabuwood's developers:

One of the turning points was they had the development team and took a room, and we got into the underpinnings of the Acumatica framework... A couple of developers, their faces kind of lit up when they figured out what we were doing with the Acumatica framework. I think that was one of the big moments.

ERP as a data platform - simplifying for users and suppliers

The go-live on July 3, 2018 went smoothly. Schwartz credits the rigorous go-live dress rehearsals, testing the 120 or so steps:

There's so many outside systems Fabuwood has for shop floor processing. There is no opportunity to roll back.

In Schwartz's experience, most companies have data spread out amongst numerous in-house systems. That doesn't fly at Fabuwood. Schwartz:

The mindset here is as much as we can, we push into Acumatica as the single point of entry, even if Acumatica doesn't use or need the data. They prefer to funnel everything through Acumatica, so when it relates to order management or inventory, Acumatica is now the central point of entry. Then it's using all of Acumatica's web services and APIs. Bi-directionally, they're just moving data back and forth.

That simplifies things for Fabuwood's users:

Even though it's multiple systems, it seems like there's one platform. The users don't know where the heavy lifting is really happening.

It's not just about back-end integration. It's exposing that integrated system to your externals. In Fabuwood's case, to their dealers. Stern adds:

Let's talk about the interface. That's really important. Fabuwood is known as the Google of the kitchen manufacturer industry. Why? Because of technology. We built an online ordering system for our dealers that nobody has out there. That's what really makes us a leader in the kitchen manufacturing business. We're one of the top ten, and we're really growing fast.

How fast? Fabuwood Cabinetry Corporation launched in 2009 with forty employees in a small warehouse. Now they're up to 800 employees, shipping all over the U.S. and Canada. Stern plans to keep doubling down on data -> platform -> UX:

That's the most important part, making it easy for the users to submit orders, check order status, submit payments. Everything should be easy for them.

I asked Stern: how is the feedback from the dealers?

We had a dealer week and they're like, "This is the best we've seen." Even the big players, I won't say names, but the big players, they don't have a system like Fabuwood does.

The key is connecting the dots from order entry to the the warehouse, back into the ERP platform:

Technology in the warehouse and the technology that's out there for our dealers, that's allowing us to grow at the speed we're growing.

The wrap - fusing tech and workplace culture

The biggest modern ERP benefits don't land in your lap. You to earn them. I'm betting Schwartz agrees with me. He says Fabuwood's approach is still rare:

NexVue's been doing this for 35 years. There's very few companies - just a small percentage of companies - where the executive management team truly makes technology at the core of their business strategy.

It's not about kicking tires on new tech. It's about using tech to change the industry. Schwartz:

Fabuwood is one of the companies where they've actually done it. They've taken technology and said, "How do we change the business model in the industry so that we're the leaders someday?"

Of course, it's not just putting tech at the center. It's about a different workplace culture. How Fabuwood does this is worth an entire article. But for the short version here, I see Fabuwood capitalizing on a core benefit of modern software. They are pushing to automate, minimizing administrivia wherever they can. That frees up employees for customer-facing roles, and the momentum builds.

Fabuwood has suggested I get a look at their facility first hand. I hope to do that during this year's travels.

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