March 7, 2014, 3:00 PM

An e-retailer of many parts solves an inventory management problem

Gearhead.com offers 1.5 million SKUs, replacement parts for many brands of motorcycles, snowmobiles and recreational vehicles. And it often orders parts only when customers order them. Here’s how it’s automating that complex process.

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Gearhead.com LLC offers 1.5 million SKUs. But it only stocks best sellers, and orders other items when customers place orders on its e-commerce site. Managing that just-in-time inventory ordering process for such a large catalog has been a time-consuming process, says Brandon Briggs, chief technology officer.

But that’s about to change, Briggs says.

The web-only retailer of replacement parts for motorcycles, snowmobiles and recreational vehicles will soon deploy software from SalesWarp that will keep track of every SKU it offers and automate the process of ordering an item when required, Briggs says. That SalesWarp software will replace an inventory management product from Fishbowl that Gearhead has modified to meet its needs.

“Fishbowl was a cheap alternative to get going,” Briggs says. “Now it’s time for something that can actually handle the entire load.”

The problem is that the Fishbowl software can’t store 1.5 million SKUs, so Gearhead has only put into its database the most commonly ordered products. If a customer orders something else, the web retailer’s staff does a manual search to see if it’s in stock, and then orders it if it’s not. “It takes us hour to go through that,” Briggs says.

Once all the product information is loaded into SalesWarp, the software will do that in seconds, and issue an automated purchase order to the supplier if the item needs to be purchased. “There’s no lag time,” Briggs says. “If a customer places an order late in the day we can place an order with the vendor the same day.”

The process will also be expedited on the receiving end via the SalesWarp software, he says. The software will route items as they are received so that they can be quickly shipped to the customers who ordered them. “Within minutes of the time we get those parts received they can be back out the door on a UPS truck,” Briggs says.

Deploying more powerful software is important to Gearhead, which is connected to an Idaho motorcycle and recreational vehicle dealership, because its online sales are doubling each year, Briggs says. While he would not disclose sales, he says they are above $1 million annually.

As he searched for software that could accommodate his needs he found that there wasn’t much available that could handle a catalog of 1.5 million SKUs. He considered software from SAP AG that is used by some of the world’s largest manufacturers, but selected SalesWarp when he realized it would be half or less the cost of SAP, he says. Plus, the programming languages SalesWarp is built with are similar to those Gearhead is accustomed to from working with its Magento e-commerce platform. Magento is part of eBay Inc.

Briggs expects the SalesWarp system will be live this month, after 10-12 weeks of development. He would not disclose the price of the SalesWarp software.

The on-premise software Gearhead is using starts at a licensing fee of tens of thousands of dollars that can go into the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, says David Potts, CEO of SalesWarp, a unit of Baltimore-based 6th Street Inc. Clients get access to a large part of the source code so that they can modify that software, he says.

For smaller retailers that don’t need to customize the software, a new multi-user version that SalesWarp will host will soon be available. That product, called Spark, will start at a fee in the hundreds of dollars plus a percentage of sales on the order of 2-3%, Potts says. He says SalesWarp, which has been selling packaged software since about 2010, has 25 clients.

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