March 18, 2014, 1:56 AM

How Herschel straightens its product data to back its growth

The manufacturer of backpacks, tablet cases and wallets is hiking up its sales worldwide in both consumer and B2B markets. A system for managing accurate product data frees its staff to focus on innovative products and merchandising, online manager Mya Gupta says.

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Herschel Supply Company has grown steadily since launching four years ago as a manufacturer and wholesaler of backpacks, wallets and other types of carrying cases, director of operations Lan Nguyen says. To keep growing, it needs accurate product data on its e-commerce sites, and achieves that by integrating its customer-facing sites with its back-end inventory and accounting systems, he adds.

Herschel, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, designs its own products, has them manufactured in China and wholesales them to retailers in some 40 countries. In North America, it sells its products through some 5,000 stores, including Nordstrom Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc., as well as through HerschelSupply.com, which breaks into separate retail e-commerce sites for the United States and Canada. Nordstrom is No. 28 and Urban Outfitters No. 48 in the Internet Retailer Top 500, which ranks companies by their web sales.

To fulfill orders in North America, it uses the warehouse facilities of logistics provider NRI Distribution in Vancouver, BC, and Los Angeles. For other countries, it arranges with its overseas manufacturers to drop-ship products to a network of wholesalers. In addition, Herschel uses the web application OfficeOps, which lets sales reps assist business clients in placing orders online into Herschel’s order management software.

Herschel operates its e-commerce sites on an e-commerce platform from Shopify, which makes its e-commerce technology available through a software-as-service model. Under SaaS, companies typically pay a monthly subscription fee—in Shopify’s case, ranging from $29 to $179 per month, based on the volume of data storage, data reports and other features—to operate their sites on the vendor’s infrastructure.

For its back-end business operations software, including accounting and inventory management, Herschel runs Microsoft Corp.’s DynamicsGP enterprise resourcing planning software.

To effectively operate its e-commerce sites, it’s crucial to have a strong data connection between the DynamicsGP back end and the Shopify customer-facing front end, Nguyen says. For that, Herschel turns to nChannel, which provides data integration software that instantly updates data between DynamicsGP and Shopify, he says. So when Herschel enters information into DynamicsGP on, say, blue tote bags, that same information will instantly appear on its e-commerce sites.

Without nChannel, for example, it would take several manual data entries to ensure that Herschel’s web sites had accurate and updated descriptions of products and that its accounting and inventory applications were updated with sales data, Nguyen says. NChannel also provides an Internet connection between Herschel’s online payment gateway and its Shopify sites, to automatically update its accounts as purchase transactions are completed.

“Without nChannel, we’d have to build an API connection between the front and back end,” says Mya Gupta, Herschel’s online manager. An API, or application programming interface, is a set of software instructions designed to push and pull data between software systems.

But Herschel, with a small if growing staff of fewer than 50 employees, would rather focus its resources on merchandising and marketing to build sales in North America and other international markets, Nguyen says. A privately held company, Herschel doesn’t report sales figures, but both its retail and B2B sales “are growing dramatically”—a trend that would be difficult to maintain if its applications didn’t communicate easily, he says. “This really helps us in leaps and bounds from a manpower perspective,” he says.

For example, he adds, Herschel can concentrate more on developing innovative carrying bags with new features and designs, including new versions of rubber, canvass and leather bags with prints and designs for back-to-school, hiking or urban fare.

“Innovation is a big thing,” Nguyen says. “We’re always looking for how we can innovate new backpack improvements with forward-thinking design. And we have to make sure those products show up right on our sites through nChannel.”

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