Indonesian wood carver Photo 24015303 © Dimaberkut
Sauder Woodworking eschews the old ways in favour of modern supply chains.

At Sauder Woodworking in Ohio, EDI accounts for the lion’s share of its electronic interaction with customers and suppliers, but the producer of ready-to-assemble furniture products is shifting more and more traffic to the cloud.

In the main, the company sold its products through bricks-and-mortar stores like Walmart, Target, Ikea and Office Depot, but during the pandemic, online sales exploded.

Demand was driven by massive demand for office furniture as people had to work from home and, in response, Sauder introduced three new product lines.

Sauder’s online business is via major online retailers like Amazon and Wayfair, as well as the online channels of many of its clients in the retail sector, but the balance of volumes between physical outlets and online channels has fluctuated over the past 20 months, as shopping initially switched massively online.

But more recently, bricks and mortar sales have moved upwards again.

Sauder’s sales are focused on the North American market, so its shipments are domestic; on the other hand, it imports some products and parts, and this part of the supply chain has been challenging – a shared experience with nearly all North American companies that import these days.

Delays have been an issue, Jan Arvay, VP of information technologies, reported.

As Sauder ships its products to its customers, or to consumers on behalf of clients, it does not have to hunt for truck capacity. Most customers dictate which carriers are used, so it is just a matter of scheduling appointments with truckers, she said. But the rise of e-commerce had raised the bar in terms of speed requirements.

“We’re expected to ship same-day to consumers,” Ms Arvay said. “Sometimes we have to turn an order around in five hours.”

Shipments are made from two warehouses, at HQ in Ohio and in California, and a third-party facility in Georgia, added to manage two-day coverage of the US. Recently, Sauder opened a location in Indiana for some packaging activity, which was deemed to have gone well, so there may be more along these lines, Ms Arvay said.

Opening up more manufacturing locations was also a possibility, but it had been challenging to recruit labour, she added.

To support its budding e-commerce business, Sauder made several investments, including storage and retrieval and order processing systems. Another vital component is good visibility of the supply chain, said Ms Arvay.

“We rely on supply chain agility, end-to-end process visibility and real-time data insights, because providing a personalised customer experience  both drives us and gives us a competitive advantage,” she explained.

The company deals with over 170 trading partners, which involves more than 30 different document types to cover north of 200,000 transactions a month. For the most part, the flow of this data is through EDI links – more than 90% of Sauder’s customers do all their transactions this way. However, the company has come to use the cloud more.

“When we looked at all the systems we would need as we grow our e-commerce business, we found you have to have a solution that goes well beyond EDI,” Ms Arvay said. “Many customers want APIs now.”

Sauder could have written those APIs in-house, but decided to partner with Cleo, an ecosystem integration software company, and adopted its Cleo Integration Cloud, a cloud-based integration platform that brings end-to-end integration visibility across API, EDI and non-EDI integrations and offers a choice of self-service, managed services or a blended approach.

“We have one cloud-based platform that offers every type of transaction processing we need, whatever our customers are asking for. We don’t have to build custom solutions or find a different tool,” said Ms Arvay.

Next, she says, she will be taking a closer look at what automation may be needed for the import business, as investments in technology continue at Sauder.

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