iConn Technologies isn’t your average manufacturer.
As an electronics manufacturing service (EMS), the California-based business provides complex assembly, subassembly and design services to Fortune 500 companies. However, iConn has also dubbed itself a “virtual manufacturer,” as it doesn’t manufacture items itself but rather manages a broad network of manufacturing partners. For example, iConn might design and procure individual components, then pair a project with one of its preselected and audited assembly houses to deliver top-level assemblies for a customer. iConn relieves the customer of liaising with multiple manufacturing facilities while maintaining permanent boots on the ground – without doing any manufacturing itself.
iConn specializes in assemblies for exercise equipment, alternative energy and collision mitigation, often supporting one of its 40 customers across multiple sectors. It works with 14 manufacturers at over 30 facilities, most of them spread throughout Asia. This broad reach allowed iConn to grow 80% while the pandemic hampered many companies’ supply chains. Top- and bottom-line growth has since continued, and the company has seen 17% additional growth year-to-date.
iConn’s unique value proposition hinges on its innovative use of NetSuite ERP, said CEO Turker Hidirlar. And now, his team is launching another business that makes use of the system in an equally game-changing way.
A ‘Virtual Manufacturer’ Built on ERP
About 15 years ago, Hidirlar left a traditional manufacturing company with his partners to start their own business. To him, the industry’s future involved managing other manufacturers, not manufacturing in-house.
Hidirlar’s former company was “stuck in the old world of manufacturing” and ran an SAP ERP system, he said. So, the team chose to launch iConn on NetSuite ERP(opens in new tab).
“We needed to offload the weight of manufacturing and become more agile,” he said of iConn’s founding. “And NetSuite enables you to do so, if you know how to use it correctly for this business model.”
iConn uses NetSuite’s Advanced Partner Center role(opens in new tab) to liaise with its manufacturing partners and third-party logistics (3PL) providers. These teams use NetSuite to record warehouse activities like inventory planning, product labeling and consolidating products across warehouse locations. As a result, just seven iConn employees can manage the 45 warehouses that iConn works with.
Additionally, iConn uses NetSuite’s Customer Center role(opens in new tab) to give customers access to real-time information like inventory en route and on site, outstanding invoices and case numbers for return merchandise authorizations (RMAs). In the Customer Center, iConn can present different data and at varying levels of detail. Each stakeholder sees only the updates relevant to them, whether it’s the customer’s top executive, its accounting team or its own customer.
This inventive use of NetSuite, which gives iConn’s partners and customers a real-time look into its operations around the world, allowed iConn to “appear like a $100 million company” just months after its launch, Hidirlar said. This paved the way for over a decade of growth.
Expansion Gives Rise to a B2B Ecommerce Startup
Fast-forward to 2020, when iConn signed a deal with Amazon to manufacture pandemic essentials like personal protective equipment (PPE) and sell them on the site. With no prior ecommerce experience, iConn racked up 126,000 transactions in a year, prompting it to explore NetSuite functionality like inventory reporting for the first time.
During this Amazon foray, Hidirlar spotted a business opportunity: He could narrow the gap between manufacturers and their customers in a wholesale marketplace where “finance, products and services come together.” He worked with a top credit bureau to devise a workflow which, using NetSuite, immediately assesses a business’s creditworthiness when it signs up to shop, eliminating the typical credit application process.
The B2B marketplace called GoBizUSA(opens in new tab) is stocked with health supplements and home, garden and fitness products. It will officially launch in the second half of 2022. Hidirlar’s team used SuiteCommerce Advanced(opens in new tab) to build the ecommerce site and link it to NetSuite’s back-end functionalities like materials requirements planning (MRP)(opens in new tab) and CRM(opens in new tab).
This makes for impressively automated workflows. GoBiz orders are processed without the business’s intervention: An order triggers a ShipStation integration(opens in new tab), and one of GoBiz’s many manufacturing partners fulfills and ships the order. If GoBiz customers want to return products, they won’t have to call customer service – and GoBiz won’t have to take on the RMA. Instead, customers will report their issue using the Customer Center role. The system will identify the item and transaction number, then push it to the manufacturer’s Partner Center for the manufacturer to handle the return.
The communication that follows would require major development on a different business system, Hidirlar said, but in NetSuite, the logical connections required are built in. To him, building an innovative business means making smart use of NetSuite’s capabilities.
“There are endless manufacturing-driven logistics solutions built into NetSuite that we’re now digitalizing through a platform,” he said. “The answers to complex B2B problems are built into NetSuite – we just have to make them available to the customer.”
A Vision for B2B Ecommerce
While iConn and GoBiz remain separate entities, Hidirlar envisions them working in tandem after GoBiz gains traction. He plans for GoBiz to feature tens of thousands of products and use the workflows honed at iConn to offer custom manufacturing and private labeling services. Meanwhile, he’ll keep finding new ways to use NetSuite to serve thousands of future customers.
“The tools within NetSuite are so unique,” he said. “There’s no reason NetSuite can’t become the go-to ecommerce platform for B2B – and way more.”
Watch a demo of NetSuite’s ecommerce solution(opens in new tab) for both B2C and B2B.