Lesco Shaves Strokes Off Its Supply Chain Game

If you enjoy a day on the golf course, it’s probably thanks to Lesco, the country’s leading manufacturer and retailer of turf care products, equipment and accessories for the golf industry.

With annual sales last year of $350 million, the growing Rocky River, Ohio-based company maintains six manufacturing plants, 16 distribution centers, more than 230 retail outlets and 80 "stores on wheels" – trucks equipped to serve as mobile retail shops.

In 1995, Lesco began a major IT restructuring project, with a RISC-powered AS/400 Model 610 as the centerpiece. The goal was an intranet, using the Web to tie together the manufacturing, distribution and retail arms of the business in real time.

"We wanted to accomplish three things," explains Wayne Murawski, Lesco’s VP and CIO. "First, we wanted to put in a technical infrastructure that would support our current business more efficiently and at the same time prepare us for future growth. Second, we wanted to use that infrastructure to communicate more effectively between our locations. And third, we wanted to change our culture. Our people didn’t know how to use information to make decisions on how to promote the business or run it more efficiently."

Previously, batched transaction records could take up to two days to confirm, and resolving customer requests for information would require multiple phone calls. "If I needed to know about inventory in a store, I used to have to call one of several places," Murawski says. "People had to cover the phones, respond or call back."

The project was carefully planned. Murawski formed a team with representatives from all of Lesco’s business areas. "While this was an IS project, it was really about the organization’s ability to change, so we put together a team of senior managers, only one of whom was an information systems professional," he says. "For two years the team’s focus was the planning and execution of the new system. They reported to me and I reported to the chairman of the board."

The task was to break the project down into segments that could be accomplished with existing staff, and to keep it on schedule. "We ensured we always stayed on target, even if we had to scale some requirements back slightly to hit the target date," Murawski says. "We never missed a date."

Lesco’s strategy was to select "best-of-class" software packages for each business sector and integrate them, rather than purchase a single, integrated product. In Murawski’s opinion, this approach would allow a gradual, more manageable transition.

So far, Lesco has automated the manufacturing process with PowerShop from MSI International (Independence, Ohio) and automated the distribution process with Censys from Cantoc Business Systems (Richmond Hill, Ontario). The two have been integrated with each other and with Lesco’s financial applications from Infinium Software Inc. (Hyannis, Mass.).

The final step, integrating the retail operations with the other systems, is currently underway. "In order for the retail stores to be part of this real-time initiative, we have to tie them into the other stuff," Murawski says. "Some functions will remain PC-based in the stores, but there were processes we had to hook back to the AS/400."

To do that, Murawski chose Jacada, from Atlanta-based CST Inc. Jacada provides enterprisewide, Java-based graphical client access to information on the AS/400. "It allows the browser at the client site to reach through the local server across the Internet to the AS/400, and execute programming there, but the screen presentation is filtered. It’s not a green screen," Murawski says.

When the project is completed, each retail point of sale system, including the "stores on wheels," will be connected to the central AS/400. Already the result has been improved access to agronomic information, pricing information and inventory visibility, all of which leads to improved customer service. "The ability to know where product is is a big issue," Murawski says. "The phone calls to inventory controls are no longer necessary."

Looking ahead, Lesco will eventually extend some transactions, like ordering, directly to customers via Lesco’s Web site. Currently, Lesco uses its Web site for more standard information purposes. "We deliver information about the products, and bulletins about agronomic conditions, and we do troubleshooting by identifying turf problems and offering advice on how to solve them," Murawski says.

"What I’m trying to do is to package this in a format that is easily digestible and get it out to the stores," he adds. "But we can use the same technology we have developed for our business functions to reach out to our customers too."