“IT infrastructure crucial for optimising workflow”
Plant wholesaler Willaert is a trendsetter in digitalisation in its own niche market
Anyone who can make an entire sector jump on a particular train by continuously improving their own business processes can rightly call themselves a pioneer. It’s a feather in its cap that Willaert nv can certainly take pride in. Fifteen years ago, the family business with branches in Roeselare and Oudsbergen joined forces with Initeam in order to modernise its IT infrastructure in a systematic manner. “From the conviction that to stand still is to go backwards, we continue to invest in this. We are looking forward to streamlining our logistics processes further together with Initeam,” says manager Rudy Vannevel.
Willaert nv is a family business of the purest kind. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The business was founded by the parents of Els Willaert, who now runs the business together with her husband Rudy Vannevel.
“The company was initially a vegetable nursery,” says Rudy Vannevel. “Because the founders took more pleasure in growing outdoor plants and trees, they switched to that activity pretty quickly and they rapidly emerged as a major supplier to garden centres. Over the years, the importance of our own tree nursery declined and we began to focus more and more on our role as a wholesaler. For many years now, we have maintained excellent contacts with large tree nurseries who are our main suppliers, but really we strive in all areas to form sustainable long-term relationships with reliable partners who grow along with us consistently.”
Until about fifteen years ago, the IT infrastructure was Willaert’s weak point. “This is a fairly traditional sector that for many years has worked with written purchase orders. It was only after the high season that all of these were collected together so that the invoices could be written out. We therefore realised that digitalisation was absolutely necessary in order to increase efficiency. After a while, the first IT partners we started working with turned out not to meet our expectations: the software did not work properly and the service left much to be desired. We also did not appreciate the fact that our suggestions to make the software better were also used to help other customers of the IT company. Fortunately, we were able to close that chapter when we decided to work with Soft Naert, the current Initeam.”
Initeam initially provided a high-performance accountancy and invoicing package, which was soon joined by a suitable solution for processing empties. These first steps paved the way for more intensive collaboration. “We realised that we needed a tailored ERP package so that we could address our buying and selling processes, logistics and inventory management in an effective manner. This is in fact a very specific niche market with separate needs. That quickly led to major improvements.”
With the introduction of a web application for suppliers, seamlessly linked to the ERP package, everything started to run even more smoothly. “Thanks to this approach, we can communicate proactively with our suppliers,” says IT manager Dimitri Casier. “We now have a full view of their supply at all times, because they can update their stock on our web application in real time. This means that we quickly know which orders or partial orders we can order from whom. This new approach saves a great deal of work and time. It also means that we can serve our customers more quickly.”
The ERP package from Initeam functions more or less as the digital jack-of-all-trades that steers the Willaert business processes with a firm hand. “The system feeds and communicates with IT components from other providers, such as the ‘track & trace’ system and the webshop. We were also pioneers in this: the first digital shop dates from 13 years ago and underwent a complete metamorphosis 6 years ago; as a result of which the interfaces of the ERP package and those of webshop builder Corazon are now completely harmonised. In this way, we have an accurate picture of the available supply and the prices at all times. Nothing is worse than receiving an order for products that are no longer available. We have noticed that many Belgian gardeners are already very familiar with the system: at least one in three of them order via the webshop. Thanks to the handy quotation module that customers can fill in themselves, the chance of mistakes is virtually non-existent and we can provide them with an accurate proposal very quickly. We have given many of our partners in the sector the push in the back they needed to start getting automated themselves,” Dimitri Casier continues.
New warehouse organisation
Willaert is active in a highly peak-sensitive sector. In order to absorb these fluctuations even better, the company is now preparing a new approach for its logistical processes in close consultation with Initeam. “The intention is to implement a new warehouse management system and link it to the current ERP package. We cherish an ambition to identify all incoming goods and to store them in a fixed place in our warehouse, so that we can simplify the work of our order pickers even more. At the moment, order pickers who are less familiar with outdoor plants often have to search for the correct items for an order. If we can automate that, we can also hire less specialised profiles in the peak season who can work very efficiently thanks to the clearer warehouse organisation, with fewer forklift movements.”
Exclusive customised work
It should be obvious that the link between Willaert and Initeam will remain strong in the future. “We appreciate the one-to-one relationship, which results in sophisticated and exclusive customised work. Initeam thinks along proactively with us to find the appropriate IT solutions for the path that we want to take. They also support us with regard to hardware. Initeam is ideally cut out for this role of total IT partner,” concludes Rudy Vannevel.
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