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Torelli's Triumph: Getting 'Hands On' with Customers Means Going 'Hands Off' with Inventory

The success of a small business often comes down to trust: Can your customers really trust you to deliver? No one knows that better than CEO Todd Linscott of Torelli Bicycle Co., the subject of this season's InformationWeek SMB On Location Technology Makeover Series.

The success of a small business often comes down to trust: Can your customers really trust you to deliver? No one knows that better than CEO Todd Linscott of Torelli Bicycle Co., the subject of this season's InformationWeek SMB On Location Technology Makeover Series.Getting control and visibility over his business' inventory are critical to earning the trust of Torelli's customers, Linscott said, and that's precisely what the company gained from the makeover of its business systems via implementation of a new enterprise resource planning ERP) solution from SAP.

"One of the phrases the founder of Torelli always used - and that we still use within the bike industry today - is, `Can you touch it with your hands?' We wanted to eliminate the need to touch it with our hands [to confirm whether it's in stock, and with the new ERP platform]; we now know where it is at any given point in time," Linscott said.

To get a fuller understanding of exactly what this new "touchless" inventory capability means to customers, we accompanied Linscott on a recent visit to bike dealer Chris Kelly, owner of Topanga Creek Bicycles, and a top Torelli retail partner.

"Of course, that's the most important thing: Working with a vendor that can communicate to me about the inventory [it has] and what could be done immediately," Kelly said during a video interview at his rustic hilltop store in the scenic Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Los Angeles. "For instance, with Torelli, somebody might get a frame and want it to be a particular color, and then may change [his or her] mind and want a special sticker put on it. I need to talk to the vendor and find out how quickly something like that can happen, what the costs are, what the customer wants to know - and then communicate it back to the customer. So I'm sort of excited to hear that there's opportunity to get the information to flow faster and smoother."

Increasing and streamlining that flow of information - from Torelli, to its dealers, such as Topanga Creek, and then to the dealers' own customers - is exactly what Linscott hoped to achieve with his new ERP-powered business platform. "Consumers change their minds all the time, and once they've made a decision, we don't want to necessarily lock them in. We don't want to give them full flexibility, but down the road they may come back in and say, `Where is [my order] in the cycle? Can I still change it?' If we are able to accommodate them, we want to do that," Linscott said.

That kind of visibility is a long way from the incomplete, often haphazard inventory and accounting systems that most small and midsize businesses (SMBs) rely on. As a direct result of implementing an ERP system tailored to the needs of SMBs, Torelli can finally know what it has in stock - and where that stock is in the customization and shipping process - without the need to physically "touch" each item. That in turn lets Torelli reach out and touch its dealers in a way that helps them close more sales.

"If we're waiting weeks to get them general information, we'll lose the sale, and the customer will be frustrated," Kelly of Topanga Creek said, "Fewer steps between Torelli and us gives us quicker communication with the customer, and that essentially gets us the sale."

Thanks for joining us for Season One of InformationWeek SMB's On Location Technology Makeover Series, and witnessing the transformation taking place at Torelli. Stay tuned for our next action-packed technology makeover, coming soon to a blog near you!

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