Episode 1: Jim Harris from Inventiv Software

365WineTrade by Western Computer

 

Tony Castellano sits down with Jim Harris from Inventiv Software to talk about the latest trends and technology that are driving the wine and spirits industry. They address how eCommerce is propelling sales and how your ERP system should be your source of the truth. Grab a drink and join them as they share their passion for wine, technology, and helping wine & spirits distributors like you implement the latest software to power your business and crush your competition.

 

 

Full Transcript: 

Tony Castellano:

Welcome, everybody, to the 365WineTrade Technology Talks, powered by Western Computer. This is Tony Castellano. I'm the Vice President of Sales at Western Computer, and we want to thank you for joining us today. We have a special guest with us. We invited Jim Harris, Vice President of Sales from PocketAdvantage. The company's Inventiv, but the solution is PocketAdvantage. And Jim, we wanted to welcome you to the show today.

Jim Harris:

Thanks, Tony. It's great to be here.

Tony Castellano:

It's great to have you, Jim. And of course our 365WineTrade Technology Talks, it's just a little bit different take. There's lots of wine podcasts out there about making wine and regions, but we wanted to do was focus in on the technology that is really powering the wine and spirits distribution market within the United States. So thanks so much for joining us. So, Jim, how did you get into the business and working with Inventiv?

Jim Harris:

Yeah, so my journey started 22 years ago. I was finishing a MBA at Vanderbilt and I had met a guy there that was in the tobacco industry. He was a database person, and this was back in the late '90s and it was the dot-com craze. There was more information out there than ever, and we said, "Well, where can we apply that knowledge that he had gained for database management in tobacco?", and it turned out wine and spirits was a perfect example. They were years behind the curve in terms of the way they looked at data, so we started a company. We partnered with BDN, which later became VIP, and we wound up selling that company in 2006.

Jim Harris:

And then in 2007, I was looking for my next thing and met the folks at Inventiv. They're based in Tennessee where I live and had a great business model and still do of delivering software to wine and spirits distributors, in terms of order entry and now delivery and also reporting. So it was a great fit for me to go from the supplier side, which is where my original business started, to the middle tier, which is the wholesaler distributor tier.

Jim Harris:

And so it's been 22 years in the industry and Inventiv's been around 23 years, so just before I started. And we found a great little family niche business, where we can deliver great software, partner with a lot of great companies like Western Computers, and solve some really complicated problems. It's really fun to come in every day when you know that there's ways to solve these things, but it's going to take some effort and a team that can do it, and we've built that at Inventiv.

Tony Castellano:

Well, Jim, I had no idea you had such a love of technology fresh out of high school. I was very similar as I came to Western Computer, of course. We were just slapping 286 computers together and still toying around with Unix systems. I don't want to date myself, but it's great to see that you've gone through that transition of building a company from scratch, selling it, and now partnered with another company. So tell us more about Inventiv and how they help wine and distribution folks within the market.

Jim Harris:

It started with order entry and reporting, because the off the shelf tools 20 years ago, even 15 years ago, weren't that great. So we wanted to make sure we took the experience of the user, in this case the sales rep and the manager, into account, and really built some easy to use software that has a lot of features in the background but allows the rep to be really quick with placing orders and managers to be really fast with getting the reporting they need. And what we've decided to do is not be an ERP. We bolt on to about 70 different ERPs over the years that we've interfaced with, so we really wanted to be what we call outside the four walls. So not inside the warehouse or in the background printing invoices, we wanted to leverage those systems to do what's industry specific, which is all the state laws, the different pricing, a lot of the complexity that the sales reps and the managers deal with. So we focused on that, and it's been a really good business model for us.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, no doubt. So Jim, we've seen your application and [inaudible 00:03:47] very nice interface, easy to get the information, the sales reps seem to love it. How do you deal with that complex pricing by region, by sales, SLA? How do you guys deal with that? Do you have some type of engine within the application for that?

Jim Harris:

A lot of experience. We categorize the types of deals into four buckets, and then within that you've got customers and types of chains, those kinds of things that can be qualified for those. We did that 12 years ago, and it really, Tony, hasn't changed that much. We did a really good job in outlining. We had about 15 customers at the time really looking to add pricing into the app, and we can price offline within the order entry tool, which is unique. And since then we've added some small additions to it. Every year we're adding to it, but the core four categories have not changed at all, and we can fit everything into it. So that really gives us a real big leg up on working with new customers, because we've already figured out how to do their pricing, which is usually the hardest part.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, no doubt. And it's so complex with all the different compliance layers, of course, three-tier system, federally mandated. So with your tool, the sales reps are out there taking those orders. They're able to look at the stock. And nicely enough, we've created an integration via API now with 365WineTrade and PocketAdvantage. Tell us a little bit about that.

Jim Harris:

Yeah, we really like what the 365WineTrade package offers to the wholesaler, because we've worked a lot of different ERPs as I mentioned earlier, and we find that a lot of them are lacking, or they're really tough to get data in and out of. And we really like that Microsoft Business Central is the core of what 365WineTrade offers and gives us the ability to do the API integration, which is great, much better than just getting text files. Because when we get a text file, when we get an API, we get two-way communications, so we can say we got the file or there's an issue with it. So that is a really big advantage that 365WineTrade offers us on the order entry and delivery side so that we can get more real-time information. In the world today, everybody wants real-time. So if you're looking at the customers of a wholesaler, it's the restaurants and retailers, and they want real-time information. So having that access to the data where we can get the data back and forth without any special programming has been a really big step forward for us.

Tony Castellano:

Absolutely. And I would agree with you. There's a little bit of a technology facelift happening in the wine and spirits industry. We talk to folks daily, they're trying to piece together their five spreadsheets and email it, put it on a shared drive, and that's just not going to work anymore in today's day and age. It's a highly competitive market. You have people moving in, trying to own the data, open up channels, direct to consumer. So there's a lot of maturation that needs to happen with the technology, first, to makes it secure, and second, to make sure that you're feeding all these third party data stores like SevenFifty and BDN and VIP, like you said. So it seems to be a little bit of a revolution. Is that what you're seeing out there, Jim?

Jim Harris:

Yeah. There are just so much demands from the ERP in terms of sending data. You've got EDI coming in, you've got data going out to different vendors, and I don't see it slowing down. That access to the items and inventory and pricing and customer information isn't going away, so every wholesaler needs a more modern platform. Five years ago, the push to online started to happen, and then I look at the big companies like SAP and Oracle and Microsoft. They're investing billions in these platforms to make them easy to use and open, and that hasn't always been the case. So it's nice to see that that trend is really happening.

Jim Harris:

I think there's still a struggle for adoption because a lot of people have updated their ERP and then they sit on it for four or five, six, 10 years, and now they're really afraid to even touch it again. So the one nice thing about the 365WineTrade is that that ERP update will happen at least yearly, if not more, so you're not ever behind. You can focus on the next thing, like warehouse management or reporting or some other piece maybe you didn't get to in phase one but you can get to now. So I've seen a lot of benefits to that. And it's been coming for a while, but it's finally here, which is really, really, really exciting.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I would agree. They had talked about it, the cloud was coming, but now it just seems to be so matter of fact, just a everyday thing. And it's really the modernization of that technology backbone that you mentioned is really feeding the business. And data has really been the hottest question. We talk about ownership of data. Do you have a data mart? Do you have a data estate? Because typically, your data is going to outlast your business systems. So with 365WineTrade, we recognize that. So we paired it with tools like Power BI as your factory, as your data factory, as your data lake, so you can keep that data as a repository and have that historical trend line analysis. Your business application is not going to outlive your data sometimes, but you have your data separate from your business application, and then you can keep that secure.

Tony Castellano:

And really the key is you keep it encrypted, because if you don't encrypt it, somebody's going to, and there's probably going to be a pretty big price tag attached to it. Unfortunately, that's what we're seeing that's happening out in the marketplace, so having that more modern technology framework is going to protect you from those type of things and also give you a roadmap to some of the more technical things we'll need in the future.

Tony Castellano:

As you're talking to your customers, what's their hottest trend? As we get out of this COVID pandemic, we start to see on-premise sales come back. What are some things that are top of mind that people are talking about?

Jim Harris:

I think one of the big ones is whether to do their own e-commerce website or use a marketplace site like Provi or SevenFifty. And it used to be, and I think this is across the technology world, it used to be I could do this or that, and now it has to be this and that. So we really see that you need to be on Provi and SevenFifty on the marketplace standpoint, because if that's where your customers want to be, you need to accept those orders.

Tony Castellano:

But you also need to have your own website, and that website can have the ability to take orders, but also the ability to market to customers, click contact information, push email or text marketing. And then just as important, be able to show open AR, and if you're in a market that has bill and hold or co-ops and some of those nuanced things by state, be able to have customers see that so they don't have to call or email your office.

Jim Harris:

One of the things that we joke about at Inventiv is that if a rep or driver has to call or email the office, there's got to be a way to automate that, because that just ties up someone in the office as well as delays the day of the rep or the driver. So we're constantly looking for those opportunities, and e-commerce is one way to do that, because you're showing to the customer their sales history, their open AR, they can pay bills online in a lot of instances now. So I think that's the really big thing.

Tony Castellano:

The challenge is that from a tech standpoint, I think a lot of wholesalers are afraid of technology still. They've all wanted to have a good website, which they do. It's more of a showcase website as opposed to a functional one, so they're trying to figure that. So we've built some tools in to help with that. I know there's some tools out there that are also available, but the challenge then is where does the order go? If you've got orders coming in from multiple sources, we've built a platform within our order entry tool, PocketAdvantage, where we can accept orders from any platform, and so we can be the one place the rep receives all those electronic orders.

Jim Harris:

Because what we're finding out is customers order things that are out of stock. They ordered things at the wrong price. They'll order things they're not allowed to buy because their license or their county doesn't allow them to. So these are all examples of where the rep can really help guide the customer to the right products and prices. And so we still want to keep the customer rep relationship intact. We're just going to make it a little easier for that data to flow to the rep. And so that's been our big push in the last two years, especially with COVID, is e-commerce and then what the role of the rep is in that world of e-commerce.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I would agree with you, Jim. Let's take a break and hear a word from our sponsor.

Tony Castellano:

Welcome back to the 365WineTrade Technology Talks. We're talking to Jim Harris, Vice President of Sales at Inventiv. Yeah, Jim, I do see that the modernization and the technology, it's not going to replace that [inaudible 00:12:55] and really that customer service that the rep provides. Still a very person-to-person business that's an experience-based business. And I don't see technology replacing that, but it can enhance what that person is bringing as an experience to that buyer, and I really think that's a lot of what the wine and spirits distribution market is about.

Tony Castellano:

You mentioned product information. That seems to be a hot topic. Where do we get this data here or there? So from a product information standpoint, what do you see as some trend? Is there some consolidation, or people like some specific tools out there in the marketplace? What I've seen is on e-commerce platforms, sometimes they like to add all of their products right there in that e-commerce solution, or sometimes they like to bring it in the ERP system. What are you seeing? Is it kind of a minefield, people have data everywhere that they're trying to get all together?

Jim Harris:

Yeah, I think the ERP needs to be the system of record on content, because that's the one place that all that content gets added. Where it gets more interesting is to figure out categorization. What type of wine is it? Is it a Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet? What's the appellation or region or sub-region, those kinds of details, which matter to the customer.

Tony Castellano:

So having that knowledge is a challenge. That's why companies like SevenFifty exist, because they've done a good job with cataloging items. But wholesalers still have that intuitive knowledge because they deal directly with the suppliers to get that as well. So there's some things there, but yeah, I think wholesalers are trying to get on their website to be that one place for customers to interact with them, but managing content is a bear. It's just, it takes a big commitment, and you have to start and you have to keep it going.

Jim Harris:

So the ERP, I believe, is the best place to keep that content because there's a place for those different fields. And then you have to figure out what you want to do with images and bottle shots and logos and other types of content. So yeah, it's not ever going to get any easier. So there are sources out there, but you'd really, as a wholesaler, need to build a plan for who's going to maintain within your organization.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. And you brought up some very good points there with the SevenFifty. We've seen the files that they require, up to six files a day transacted at a certain time. 365WineTrade supports that. And it really does get very granular, talking about the vintage, code, the appellations, et cetera. So we've built some pre-built connectors for things like that. And as you said, we really agree the ERP should be your inventory master, and it should contain all of that specific item information, all that inventory master, and then it can just communicate easily with PocketAdvantage as it creates sales and sales orders and does those depletions and such. So very good holistic solution for the wine and distribution industry.

Tony Castellano:

So Jim, great to hear your background. So I'm curious, if you were going to head out to an on-premise location and have yourself a cocktail, would it be from a specific appellation? Or what's your favorite drink?

Jim Harris:

Well, I'm an occasion drinker, so if I'm out, especially in the summer, it's Tanqueray and tonic, because that gin and tonic has been in my life a long time. I really like that as a go-to. But I'm also a big wine drinker, so depending on what we're having. I'm more of a red drinker, but I do like the whites. I've been blessed over the years to drink some great wines with a lot of our wholesalers who sell a lot of the French wines and some of the nice Italian ones, as well as the Napa and California wines. So yeah, I love the business and I love the aspect of the celebration after the work's done.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, no doubt. Selling ERP, I'll be honest, gets a little boring, but you add the wine and spirits distribution industry, and it just has a great flavor. Met some great people over these 13 years that we've been working in the industry. So Jim, first and foremost, wanted to thank you for your partnership with Western Computer and your work on the 365WineTrade. Before we [inaudible 00:16:38] today, what is, just as you look into your crystal ball, what is something that we'll be talking about next year that's just kind of bubbling up that might be hot in the wine and spirits distribution industry?

Jim Harris:

We're actually working on a presentation together. We're going to be in a conference, both of us, in the next week. And we just did an analysis of 3 million invoices over the last three months and we found that over 12% of those invoices had at least one returned wine on it. And the amount of effort people are doing to manage that is staggering, because now the driver has to mark it, take out his calculator and hand-write a change to that printed paper invoice, and then someone in the office has to type it back into the ERP to give the customer credit for it and then often mail a credit back to the customer so the customer can take a credit on a future date. The amount of effort is staggering.

Jim Harris:

And so five years ago, we introduced PocketDelivery to solve that problem, because the driver can make a change right there at the delivery and print a clean invoice. Now the customer gets a clean invoice, so now there's no credit being mailed. And then the data gets approved by the checker back at the warehouse, and that data can go right into the ERP without anybody manually touching it.

Jim Harris:

So we can't get rid of all those credits that are issued because you have out-of-stocks and breakage and damaged and customer refused. There's lots of reasons, and those don't go away. But what we can do and really need to do for this industry is get out of the paper business and into making everything electronic. Can get an electronic signature, copy of the receipt, and then really automate that return process because it doesn't add any value. And it definitely helps your office staff knowing that they're always up to date on all the returns and the warehouse on getting things back in the right place so they can sell it on a future date. So I really think that's the big trend. Because Amazon's really trained everybody to get delivery information throughout the day about what's being delivered, and the accuracy of that. This industry has not been great with that. So I think there's a huge opportunity over the next year to improve upon that.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I would agree with you, almost that last mile tracking. And paired with the digital experience for the customer, but automation is the key, right? You can't run labor at the problem. At some point, you have to use technology to really streamline that process. Well, Jim, again, Vice President of Sales with Inventiv. We want to thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you on a future podcast. Best to you and the team.

Jim Harris:

Thanks, Tony. I really appreciate it.

Tony Castellano:

And for everyone joining us today, thank you for joining the 365WineTrade Technology Talks. Today, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jim Harris, Vice President of Sales from Inventiv, And we talked about the PocketAdvantage solution for mobile sales, delivery, for the wine and spirits distribution industry.

Tony Castellano:

I'm Tony Castellano, and if we can help you at any time with your wine and spirits and distribution wholesale or import business, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, and we'll see you around the vineyard.

 

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