Cold store: Why retail chain Snow+Rock built its own ERP system

By Graeme Burton
12 May 2014 View Comments
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When Shiva Kumar first walked into the head office of retail group Snow+Rock, it had a challenge that will be familiar to many growing businesses: it needed a new suite of enterprise software on which to run the organisation, but big-name packaged software didn't quite have the flexibility to work in quite the way that the company wanted.

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Kumar's solution? To build what the company needed, from the ground up, instead, based entirely on Microsoft .NET.

"Snow+Rock was previously using a system running on a very old HP1000 minicomputer and they were looking at replacing that with the latest technology. However, it had failed to implement three off-the-shelf systems because it thought they were not fitting in with the business operations," says Kumar.

"So they found me, brought me in and gave me one-and-a-half years to build a system that was 100 per cent integrated with the business, which fits around existing business processes and also improves efficiency where it can. And it has been evolving since then," says Kumar.

That rollout was executed more than eight years ago and has accommodated multiple developments since then. It has also been rolled out in acquired businesses, including Runners' Need, a retail chain dedicated to enthusiastic runners, and Cycle Surgery, a chain of bicycle shops that also provide maintenance and repair services.

Together, the trio of businesses are not small. The system put together by Kumar and his IT team at Snow+Rock now supports a group with an annual turnover of £70m.

The company is no ordinary business. It was founded by ski enthusiast Mike Browne in 1982. Undaunted by a crippling skiing accident, he represented Britain in sailing in the 2000 Paralympic Games.

In recent years, Browne has handed over the day-to-day running of the business to Dion Taylor, and it has also become more sharply focused, for example, by acquiring the cycle and running businesses in order to smooth out the peaks and troughs in revenues that are inevitable in a winter sports retailer that focuses on skiing, snow-boarding and climbing equipment.

The software implemented by Kumar is "pure enterprise resource planning", he says: "Warehouse and distribution, buying, purchasing, retailing, inter-store transferring, and stock control."

Accounting and finance, and human resources, sensibly enough, is handled by packaged software. "Everything else, apart from the website, is 100 per cent in-house," he adds.

There were a number of reasons for going it alone, he says. "About 10 years ago, the software systems were very rigid and very defining. If you bring a software system into your business, you have to follow the way that it works. So business has to mould itself to work with that system," says Kumar - or change itself accordingly.

Lhotse - named after the fourth highest mountain in the world, but one of the most difficult to ascend - was the result.

Lhotse was rolled out in Snow+Rock in 2005-06, replacing the HP1000-based system, and separate implementations rolled out to Runners' Need and Cycle Surgery when they were acquired in 2010 and 2008 respectively. "For me, the most important factor for a business system rollout is the transition from old to new. If the transition is not planned as meticulously as possible it is going to be painful and you will have people in the business not liking you," says Kumar.

They weren't necessarily carbon copies either. Some changes had to be made to accommodate the way that Cycle Surgery operates, "but we didn't have to do much for Runners' Need because it was run along the same lines as Cycle Surgery's operational processes," says Kumar.

He continues: "They were separate implementations because although the businesses still operate under one retail umbrella, we are still three separate businesses, although there's only one common board [running the whole company]."

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