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Star Lumber & Supply Improves Customer Service by Integrating SMS Texting with Power Systems


Tracking Star Lumber & Supply’s deliveries became much easier once the company implemented Fax*Star’s SMS solution, according to the company’s IT director, Dave Gregory. Photography by Jeremy Charles

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Customer:Star Lumber & Supply
Headquarters: Wichita, Kan.
Business: Retailer and distributor of building and renovation products
Challenge: Lack of transparency in product delivery
Solution:Worked with Fax*Star to create a two-way text-messaging system for its IBM i environment
Hardware: Power Systems server running IBM i
Software:Lumbercore ERP, Information Builders’ WebFOCUS, Fax*Star iSeries/400 Solution and Fax*Star SMS

Walk down any busy street and you’re likely to see more than a few people thumbing away on their cellphones—texting friends, family or coworkers. Texting has become so ubiquitous that phones have become synonymous with short message service (SMS) systems.

It’s not surprising then, that innovative companies are deploying texting as part of everyday business, going so far as to integrate SMS into their back-end systems. One organization doing just that is Star Lumber & Supply, based in Wichita, Kan. Recognizing the company needed a more expedient way to give its salespeople up-to-the-minute information about customers’ deliveries, it supplanted its former paper-based dispatching system with one that relies on a Fax*Star texting solution.

Not only does this improve internal processes, says Dave Gregory, Star’s director of information technology, but also customer service. “Our salespeople have told me that we’re becoming more reliable with our delivery promises, and our customers are further saying that we’re becoming more accurate when it comes to arriving at their sites when we say we’re going to be there,” he explains. “This has truly changed many aspects of how we do business.”

 

Educated Guesstimates

Star has been family-owned and operated since 1939. Currently, 18 family members work for the company, including many of founder Earl Goebel’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As Gregory notes, “It takes an amazing family to work so well together.”

Perhaps it’s the familial harmony that’s made the company so successful. From a single storefront in its early days, the company now has outlets in Kansas and Oklahoma and also three company divisions: Star Lumber & Supply, Star Flooring & Decorating and Perfection Structural.

The first offers building products such as lumber, plywood, electrical and plumbing goods, rebar, nails, tools, siding and decking. The second specializes in flooring materials, including hardwood, carpet and tile. The third focuses primarily on open-web trusses used in the construction of peaked building roofs.

Star’s customer base covers the gamut from professional contractors working on housing developments and commercial sites to do-it-yourself homebuilders and renovators. Building on its long-standing community ties (it has its own local, charitable trust), the company’s sales staff works closely with its customers, whether large contractors or around-the-house handymen.

Because of the size of some of its products, Star runs its own fleet of delivery trucks. Drivers will pick up a list of deliverables, put the items on trucks and then begin making their rounds, stopping at several sites each day to drop off loads. The salespeople, of course, keep on top of this and try to provide customers with estimated truck-arrival times—important for this particular industry.

“If you’re a contractor, you don’t want your crew sitting around doing nothing,” Gregory says. “You need to know with an amount of certainty that the supplies you need for a particular job are going to arrive when you expect them. If not, you might move on to another site that’s ready to be worked on,” he says. “Everything we deliver is pretty time-sensitive, and we need to be aware of that.”

In the past, deliveries were tracked by drivers, who carried around paper forms and recorded when they arrived to and departed from a site, noting the departing and returning mileage. But this wasn’t the most accurate or elegant of solutions. “If a salesperson wanted to know where a delivery was, he or she would have to call a dispatcher to research the route and give them an estimated time of arrival. But that didn’t take into account a number of factors, such as a driver changing the sequence of deliveries or if there were problems with a truck,” Gregory says. “They really didn’t know.”

Drivers would turn in their paperwork at the end of the day when they returned to the yard—which was largely too little too late. By that time, the information was outdated, and the people who needed it didn’t have access to it until after the fact. And, as Gregory quips, sometimes the paperwork wouldn’t show up at all. “It might blow out the window of a truck,” he says.

If and when the paperwork arrived, departure and arrival times would be entered into the company’s heavily modified version of the Lumbercore application, which is hosted on Star’s Power Systems* server running IBM i. But this was a time-consuming process that only delayed the relay of information to the proper people.

 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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