Established 30 years ago in Christchurch by Lionel Hunter as a way for people to buy factory-direct, Hunter Furniture has expanded throughout New Zealand. Now also encompassing La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries and focusing on retail sales, the business has established a nationwide reputation for quality and service.
A vital part of Hunter Furniture’s growth strategy was the move from relying on cumbersome paper and spreadsheet based sales and reporting, to an advanced and customised business management system, using MYOB EXO – effectively allowing them to transition to a 21st century business model.
Hunter Furniture Chief Financial Officer Gilbert McKinnon says EXO gave the business the fundamental tools it needed to expand from a family company to a national retailer. The flexible system enabled Hunter Furniture to have access to reliable accounting processes and reporting, as well as the potential to create their own systems.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Managing Director Matt Roberts identified that the next step for the retailer was to find a point-of-sale system that would not only give them an edge on their competitors and further their technological transition, but also reinforce their focus on customer service.
At the time, Hunter Furniture was operating from a traditional desk-bound computer sales system. However, Matt wanted something that was mobile, flexible and able to simplify the sales process. With the advance in smart devices and application software, Matt had a vision of his staff sitting alongside Hunter Furniture’s customers on the showroom furniture they were interested in, taking them through every stage of the sales process using only a tablet.
Gilbert said the idea was to provide intuitive, customisable, mobile screens that were not only easy for staff to use but were also stylish, slick and efficient – fitting with the Hunter Furniture brand.
“We are an upmarket furniture retailer and wanted our customers experience to match that every step of the way, which quite frankly, it didn’t.”
A multi-faceted partnership was developed by Focus and Hunter Furniture with the help of a Christchurch-based app and web development company, in order to create the application.
With a sales prototype app already in existence, the web development company worked alongside Focus Senior Consultant Alex Ball to develop it into a customised point-of-sale app.
Throughout the development process, Alex liaised with the Hunter Furniture team at every stage, ensuring the app met their evolving requirements. Built from the ground up, the app gathers the same information as a traditional point-of-sale transaction – it can take payments, record sales and integrate with the business system to provide reports.
However, not only did it need to work effectively and look good it also needed to suit the retail staff who Hunter Furniture hires based on their personality, customer service and furniture knowledge – not their computer skills.
“It probably took a year to develop the app and make sure it worked but we have ended up with something that I think is quite unique,” Gilbert says.
“It has really transformed the sales experience for our customers. They get to scroll through a visual catalogue of products and styles, sizes, colours and the sales staff can then make the order, all on the touch screen. The customer can sign the tablet and the transaction is done much quicker and much more efficiently.”
Alex Ball says a technological move with this level of complexity, particularly one that involved establishing a completely new application, requires careful planning to meet the needs of the business.
One of the biggest challenges in designing a sales app for a business that offers a vast array of customisations – from fabrics to suites – was ensuring the application could reflect the current position of the stock, without creating thousands upon thousands of stock codes.
“One of our early investigations was to find if there was a way to work around creating an overwhelming number of stock codes for every possible permutation of Hunter Furniture’s products,” Alex says.
“So we had to come up with a way of effectively and dynamically creating the different customisations of various suite and fabric options.”
Gilbert too recognises the challenges associated with such a venture but credits Focus and Alex for their hard work.
“To my mind we couldn’t have had anyone better than Alex working on it, he’s done an outstanding job,” he says.
Following on from developing the app as a point of sale system, the next step was to integrate with Hunter Furniture’s key suppliers.
This integration not only provides information about current stock to salespeople on the floor at Hunter Furniture’s stores around the country, it also enables them to see what stock has been ordered by key suppliers, and when it will arrive in New Zealand, Alex says.
“The supplier works in tandem with a shipping agent so all estimated arrival times and stock availability is updated automatically. That then allows customers and staff sitting in the show room to know exactly what is available – the information is effectively right at their fingertips.”
That direct connection with the supplier also allows the salesperson to complete the sale by automatically ordering the product.
“If something is purchased it immediately reserves it so that no one else can grab it and that automatically flows into their system.”
Not only this, but customers are able to meet with a sales consultant in-store and have a quote drawn up, then complete the transaction online – from the comfort of their own home.
Customers are set up with an online account and provided with a quote number, a feature that sets Hunter Furniture’s sales app apart from other, traditional online shopping outlets, Alex says.
According to both Alex and Gilbert feedback on the app has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We get consistently good feedback, Hunter Furniture is saying that it has been a very worthwhile investment,” Alex says.
Customers too are impressed, says Gilbert. “Feedback has been really, really positive.”
The effect on the sales process is another advantage. According to Gilbert the app has significantly sped up the procedure.
The next piece of the puzzle is to launch Hunter Furniture’s e-commerce site. Designed to integrate with the app and EXO as well as supplier information, the site will allow customers to buy at their leisure.
Traditional retailers can expect anywhere between five to 10 per cent of their sales to be made online, but it’s not all about quantity, it’s about flexibility, says Gilbert.
“Most people want to come and sit and feel and touch and look at a high value lounge suite but it is going to give our customers the ability to choose where they do their transactions. You can come in and visit showrooms and then go home and buy online at your leisure.”
The investment in technology is supporting the company’s growth throughout the country, with new Hunter Furniture stores set to open up throughout New Zealand. Gilbert says there will a total of 16 stores nationwide – four in the South Island and 12 in the North Island.
“We would love to think in a few years’ time we will have 20 to 25 branches throughout New Zealand and continue to do what we do but better and slicker.”
Gilbert and Alex both agree the partnership between Hunter Furniture and Focus has been a strong one and one that is set to continue.
“We’ve got a very strong relationship and we see that continuing and whatever strategic direction we take in the future, we see Focus very much being a part of that,” Gilbert says.
With the technology rolled out around the country and store openings on the horizon, Hunter Furniture can now look at how they plan to develop in the future.
“I think our sales staff and customers would be surprised if they knew the complex calculations and updates that happen in the background every time they push a button, it’s pretty amazing.”
Chief Financial Officer
“We’ve got a very strong relationship and we see that continuing, and whatever strategic direction we take in the future, we see Focus very much being a part of that.”