All in One

May 15, 2005 9:30 PM  By

Electronics Line USA is a manufacturer/marketer of high-tech security surveillance equipment and related apparatus, with offices and distribution operations in Boulder, CO. Many of the items in the firm’s original product line came into existence out of military necessity.

Brothers and Israeli army veterans Dani and Gadi Krubiner went into business as security-equipment providers for the Israeli army and air force. One day it dawned on the pair that many of the products they had been building for the military had civilian applications. In the late 1970s the Krubiner brothers started to redesign part of their line to make it appealing to the nonmilitary marketplace. The small enterprise they founded is now a highly successful international player in the security and surveillance trade, with distribution centers in more than 60 locations worldwide.

“Today our customers mainly consist of professional alarm dealers, installers, and surveillance and CCTV [closed-circuit TV] providers throughout the world,” says Mike Davis, director of Electronics Line USA. “We connect with them via direct marketing, trade shows, and industry publications. It’s not a very large market. There are fewer than 15,000 dealers in the U.S. and fewer still in other countries. It is a hungry market, though, and one that keeps us very busy.”

Cyber patrol

Electronics Line ties its security solutions to the concept of loss prevention, Davis says. Many end users are retailers that rely on monitoring to stave off inhouse theft. In most cases the applications capture cash-register data from the printer output or server, and then forward the information to a database residing on a digital recorder.

“The cash register is a particularly sensitive area of a store, where the potential for employee theft is very high,” Davis says. “In one recent case a convenience-store employee was stealing lottery tickets, hoping to get rich in the process. She would rub the tickets off in the bathroom and pay herself with the money in the cash register.”

Video surveillance put an end to that scheme long before it got out of hand. Davis says that the register was fixed with a digital video recorder (DVR) triggered to send an alarm when a certain set of suspicious criteria was met. The system e-mailed an off-site prevention manager at just the right moment, and — bingo! — the thief was busted.

Linking loose ends

Managing a large manufacturing and distribution operation is no mean feat; all the wheels and cogs in the machine must work in near-perfect synchronization to maximize efficiency and profitability. Electronics Line faced challenges in this area at one point in its recent history. Manufacturing, inventory management, sales, finance, technology — each department needed access to the same data in real-time. That wasn’t happening, and in terms of operational efficiency and customer service it was throwing everything out of whack.

“Our time-to-market runs on a fairly short cycle,” Davis says. “We don’t want a lot of inventory waiting to be shipped or sold. If we receive something at 10 in the morning, we need to see it moving out the door by one o’clock. that afternoon. For that reason, sales must be integrated with inventory so that our reps in the field will have a real-time view of inventory status. For the reps and this company as a whole, real-time information is the grease on the wheels that keeps the locomotive moving down the track at top speed.”

Electronics Line tried several systems widely used in manufacturing environments at the time — Microsoft’s Great Plains, MAS 90, and a few others. None came close to providing the total integration the company was looking for, as all used third-party vendors to connect with various functions. The results were hit and miss. For Electronics Line, this record of inconsistency was unacceptable.

“Eventually we went with NetSuite, an integrated online business solutions provider in California,” says Davis. “The system has given us far more in way of payback than we anticipated. Not only have we grown more efficient operationally, we have become a lot more customer-friendly as well.”

San Mateo, CA-based NetSuite has indeed improved the quality of Electronics Line’s customer service. Integrating accounts receivable and sales makes it possible to smooth over small errors that might otherwise mushroom into monstrous problems. For instance, if a wrong product is shipped to a customer, the correct one can immediately be forwarded. Before NetSuite was installed, Electronics Line’s credit department would have read the second shipment as another sale. A credit hold would have followed and remained in effect even if the customer’s credit standing with the company happened to have been good. The cure would have turned out to be worse than the disease.

“NetSuite staves off such troubles thanks to its 360-degree visibility,” Davis says. “Now when a rare misshipment occurs, its rectification doesn’t rub salt into a customer’s wounds. NetSuite has helped this company remain focused on customer service.”

Another example is Electronics Line’s Web store. Originally the company had no plans to sell online. “We have found, however, that customers love logging on to their own accounts, sometimes to make purchases and sometimes not,” Davis says. “In most cases the objective is to track shipments, and NetSuite provides the tools they need to do that.”

NetSuite in action

Electronics Line’s fulfillment operation employs no automation apart from barcoding and the NetSuite system. According to Davis, however, the functions that the system provides more than match the company’s needs. Shipping offers but one example of this efficiency. The company is online with the two providers with whom it transacts all its shipping business — United Parcel Service and DHL. NetSuite automates all operations and offers customers a Web-based window into real-time data reflective of order shipping status.

Sales provides yet another example. In the old days, reps on the road maintained their own customer databases, none of which were linkable to company inventory data. The reps sold with no knowledge of stock available, which resulted in frequent backorders. NetSuite has changed all that. The system provides real-time information on inventory quantities on hand, pricing and technical updates pending or in progress, and up-to-the-minute data on customers, including their current credit status.

“The efficiencies provided by NetSuite have saved us at least $100,000 per year,” Davis says. “We can now do a great deal more than what we used to do with more in the way of personnel and procedures. That’s a huge benefit because in today’s tight fulfillment environment if you can’t operate lean and mean, you won’t operate at all.”


D. Douglas Graham is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.

ELECTRONICS LINE USA

Headquarters: Boulder, CO

Website: www.el-usa.com

Annual revenue: $18 million

Location of distribution centers: One in Boulder, CO; 61 others worldwide

Square footage, Boulder DC: 18,000 sq. ft.

Employees, Boulder DC: 29

SKUs Boulder DC: 400

Shipments per day, Boulder DC: 50

Picks per hour, Boulder DC: 60

Same-day pack/ship, Boulder DC: 90%

Technologies: Currently limited to barcode tracking and NetSuite, an online integrated business application that links all functions, from inventory management to sales and accounting

Top-selling product: Video recorders set up to record via CCTV camera in a digital format that can be viewed remotely

Major U.S. end users: Roundy’s, Circle K/SSP (convenience stores), ACE Hardware, Harvard University, Lowry Air Force Base