Sept. 26, 2014 – The Company: Athletica Sport Systems (Sport Systems Unlimited Corp.) specializes in engineering, manufacturing and installing dasher boards and associated products for ice hockey and indoor soccer. The Waterloo, Ont.-based company brings world-class sport solutions under the well-known Crystaplex, Border Patrol and GamePlex brands to customers worldwide, including universities, municipalities and private owners, and is the preferred rink equipment supplier of the NHL. In addition, Athletica has a vastly growing Arena Services division, which accounts for a significant piece of the company’s business, particularly in the winter months during the off season. Athletica’s core manufacturing facility is located in Waterloo, with a sales and distribution facility in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Challenge: Athletica grew (fast) from entrepreneurial roots, and tried to augment with spreadsheets and homegrown databases. While this was seemingly manageable back when Athletica was a $5-million company; today, the company has annual sales exceeding $19 million and requires a sophisticated enterprise system to satisfy the needs of a larger organization.
“We were using homegrown systems that weren’t connected, and multiple spreadsheets of data that weren’t integrated,” says Bonnie Love, operations manager, Athletica.
Athletica’s business demands fluctuate significantly during hockey’s on and off seasons. The summer is a rush to manufacture custom hockey dasher board systems and other arena products made to the unique specifications of its customers — all with short turnaround times and all delivered within the same week. In the winter, Athletica largely handles maintenance, product replacements and customer service requests. Due to the project-based nature of their business and the seasonality of the sports industry, forecasting and production planning was difficult.
“We needed a comprehensive system to give us better control, help us manage cash flow, provide insight into true project costs and inventory accuracy, and to better organize production scheduling,” says Love.
Athletica was previously challenged with overpaying for materials, erroneous inventory and expedite fees, among other complications as a result of information inaccuracy.
The Strategy: After a thorough investigation of software solutions, Athletica narrowed the search down to two platforms. The depth of the product, extensive engineer-to-order capabilities, user friendliness, and a strong implementation process carried out by Six S Partners were the key differentiators that led Athletica to select Epicor.
Athletica worked with Six S Partners, a Platinum member of the Epicor Inspired Partner Network, to select, implement and train on the next-generation Epicor enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Epicor ERP provides a robust financial management suite and engineer-to-order manufacturing solutions, among other enterprise applications, to help Athletica better manage their costs, control inventory and optimize business assets, while also improving efficiency across their multi-site operations.
The Results: Within the first 16 months of implementing Epicor, Athletica calculated a $225,000 ROI. Inventory accuracy contributed significantly to this success, along with downsizing administrative positions. Athletica also received a $164,000 new technology grant from the government for their proven efficiency and competitive pricing strategy, which has enabled Athletica to earn more business and keep its manufacturing operations in Canada.
Price is a competitive advantage in every industry.
“Cost is our main driver. In order to compete, we have to understand where we can and can’t cut costs, while also making sure we are selling our customers on the quality of our products. We didn’t have this visibility before Epicor,” explains Love. “Epicor is a very important tool that helps us properly price our products and services. We now have a better understanding of if we are selling at the right value, or if we’re over or under pricing our products. We made a lot of assumptions before and didn’t have insight into cost savings or price increases for materials. If you don’t fundamentally know the costs of your materials, then you don’t have a competitive advantage.”
Among the features that Athletica implemented is Epicor Project Management. Embedded within the robust capabilities of Epicor, Project Management utilizes the detailed estimation, planning, scheduling, costing and supply chain logistics of Epicor for complete control and analysis of any project
Athletica also uses Epicor Product Configurator, which has greatly improved order and quote entries. Moving away from islands of spreadsheet models, Product Configurator standardizes processes, which can be utilized by multiple people across the organization so everyone is working smarter and hassle-free.
“If a customer needs to build a rink for $200,000, for example, Epicor Product Configurator automatically pulls in the right costs and material prices, allowing us to estimate correctly and quickly,” says Love.
A single, integrated system with information shared in real time across the enterprise has also improved customer responsiveness.
“We can look up inventory to determine: Do we have it? Can we offer it to the customer? If not, what’s available to promise? We never had this visibility before. We had to call the customer back and do a whole exercise to get the proper information. Our services division is much more efficient,” says Love.
Athletica consults with Six S Partners frequently to help with their ERP support and training needs.
“A lot of our success is because of Six S Partners. They are very good partners to work with. They are very attentive and address our issues immediately. Their professionalism and the way they handled our project helped us through the entire implementation process. They continue to be a fantastic support for us,” says Love.
John Preiditsch, president and founder of Six S Partners, comments on how a strong commitment from Athletica’s senior management team had a significant impact on the success of the project: “Commitment meant that our organizations (Athletica and Six S Partners) had the proper support we needed to make decisions and move forward in a way that best suited Athletica. This is a strategic customer for us, as Athletica continues to use more features of the Epicor system to leverage best practices and grow their business.”
“We’ve adopted some really good best practices, mostly getting our policies and procedures more refined and benchmarking against other companies in our industry,” says Love.
When asked to give an example of a best practice essential to their success, Love replies: “All of them!” For Athletica, one of the biggest achievements is having a single system to “close the loop” on their accounting transactions and records such as purchase order and invoices.
Athletica appreciates the value of Epicor Signature Methodology to ensure implementation success.
“The Signature Methodology puts a clear project structure in place – you move through milestones without even realizing it. Our project managers did a good job of reminding us about deadlines and next steps to keep us focused and to keep the project on track,” says Love.
This article is an expanded version of a case study that ran in the September issue’s Automation Software Case Study Guide.