From file "030_pss" entitled "PW06TECH.qxd" page 01
From file "030_pss" entitled "PW06TECH.qxd" page 01

Kirk Mills needed a way to get his head around his businesses. With an engineered wood shop, a steel company, a millworks firm, and an installed sales business running out of a single yard in Buckner, Ky., keeping products, shipments, and invoices straight had been spiraling out of control over the past three years as business opportunities across his sales niches boomed. “We have grown so much, and we're turning product so quickly, that we [didn't] even know what we [had],” says Mills, president of Newman Mills Engineered Wood Products, Sonne Steel, Bluegrass Moulding & Millwork, and Kentucky Building & Lumber Supply.

Mills had been using Microsoft's Small Business software across his companies, but it became increasingly difficult to keep tabs on specific loads, especially as revenues grew from $750,000 to $3.5 million over three years. A particular challenge was tracking product he had in his yard versus what was scheduled for delivery and what was due to arrive. “When you've got 14 trucks of engineered wood rolling in and out of your yard every month, you've got to know what's on them,” Mills says. Before, “it was just a paper trail.”

The “dashboard” capabilities of Progressive Solutions' bisTrack software allow managers to see their costs, sales, and profits on a single screen. Inventory management capabilities also are key components of the program, which was developed specifically with LBM suppliers in mind.

To get on top of the situation, at the end of 2005 Mills implemented Progressive Solutions' bisTrack software, a Windows-based business management suite that's tailored to track and analyze processes in the lumber and building materials industry. “It's been especially helpful in our millwork department, where we purchase by the board foot but need to convert our numbers into a customized, lineal-foot product,” Mills says. “It does that.”

The system sports a Great Plains general ledger and Crystal reporting capabilities that allow Mills to see what products he's got, what he needs to reorder, whether outstanding orders have been filled, and even his daily, weekly, and monthly margins and costs. “It's definitely given us a lot more control,” Mills says. “Now I can track my engineered wood by lineal foot or by total tally. ... Things aren't falling through the cracks anymore.”

That's the kind of customer testimonial Vancouver, B.C.–based Progressive can utilize as it attempts to garner more widespread use of its applications among LBM-minded pro dealers and distributors. Progressive made a big stride in that direction recently when it became an approved software vendor for Memphis, Tenn.–based buying group Orgill. While 6,000-member Orgill has traditionally operated as a hardlines distributor, the firm says the number of its members focused on lumber and building materials is growing and now represents close to 2,200 of its customers.

“People tend to forget that we're in the building materials business, but LBM is a sizable portion of Orgill's sales now and has been growing,” says Mike Ferrell, Orgill's vice president of lumber and building materials. “We [already] offer a variety of point-of-sale solutions to our customers, some of which have LBM components ... we added Progressive to our library of vendors to give our customers a choice in that area.” Other approved Orgill software vendors include Advantage Business Systems, Activant Solutions, Spruce Computer Systems, and DBMS.

Although the company only began focusing on the pro dealer market three years ago, Progressive started selling software to big saw mills in the Northwest in the late-1980s and built its name in the forest products industry with marquee players like Weyerhaeuser Co., which uses its flagship Lumber Track system and is still Progressive's largest customer. “With this newest product, we're going to the next step in the supply chain and targeting lumber and building material distributors who have a heavy component of contractor sales,” says Russ Maximuik, inside sales manager at Progressive.

The software is now deployed at 160 LBM supply companies worldwide, with 18 firms in North America running bisTrack at 35 sites. Progressive hopes to increase those numbers substantially with the Orgill vendor designation, though it doesn't have any Orgill users yet.

Mills particularly likes bisTrack's “dashboard” tool, which he can activate first thing every morning to show him all the tasks that need his attention that day, from work orders to payments and invoices to deliveries.

While the Windows-based platform has simplified training for his staff, Mills points out that the system is only as good as the data behind it. For instance, to provide vendor pricing, bisTrack needs access to that information or to have it entered into the system. The same is true for individual products and customers. “It's been a challenge to get everything into the system, because it's new,” says Mills. “So, if my sales guy wants to punch in an order, but his customer isn't in there yet, well, he's got to wait.”

That's a minor issue, though, compared to the insight it gives Mills into his business. “Today, you've got to have technology like this, because if you don't, you don't know your averages, you don't know your costs,” Mills says. “You just can't do that stuff in your head anymore.”

Joe Bousquin is a contributing editor for PROSALES.