The Henry Bear’s Park chain of neighborhood toy stores has catered to kids of all ages in Greater Boston for more than 45 years. Its carefully curated lineup of unique products ranges from pretend pianos for toddlers to embroidery kits for adults, each item chosen for its quality.
When Kas Sharma left his software job to buy the chain eight years ago, Henry Bear's had two stores. Now, the business comprises eight stores and a growing ecommerce site, working with about 500 vendors to stock some 5,000 SKUs.
Coming in, Sharma’s goal was to automate Henry Bear’s operations. But he didn’t know just how critical those efforts would be to the business’s resilience.
A Bear of a Time With Manual Tasks
Sharma’s first priority was to simplify a series of manual processes that took up time and precluded growth.
Purchasing: When Sharma joined the business, Henry Bear's was using Anthology, software created for bookstores to manage point of sale (POS)(opens in new tab) and inventory. As the number of stores grew, purchasing became more of a struggle — it often took two hours to write one purchase order. The process of figuring out which stores were low on which items, and how many of those items to order and when, was completely manual. The team would pull up a sales report and an inventory report, then go through each store location and inventory item line by line.
Then, they’d often run up against vendor requirements: Perhaps the vendor for toy trucks had a $2,500 order minimum, and a Henry Bear's store only needed $2,000 worth of inventory. The team would either go back into its line-by-line analysis or scrap the order altogether.
“More than the time, the problem was just the mental exhaustion for our buyers of doing this over and over, crunching numbers all day,” Sharma said. “I felt like a machine had to be able to do this better and faster than we could.”
Ecommerce fulfillment: When Henry Bear's launched its online store, orders were slow to roll in, partially due to the site’s outdated look. When the site did see orders, a lack of integration with the order management system made fulfillment a “massive mess.” Employees manually assigned each online order to the store that could fulfill it. If an online order had 10 SKUs, for example, they searched through each of Henry Bear’s stores for one that had all 10 in stock. Employees there would pick the items, ring them up on the PoS system to keep inventory counts correct, then pack and ship them. The salesperson entered shipping information into the ecommerce system — and then the customer received a shipping confirmation.The process was long and convoluted, to say the least.
“When we were getting one to three online orders a day, this process was fine,” Sharma said. “But we wanted to do more online sales. … And we knew that if even 20 orders came in, we wouldn’t be able to support them.”
Meanwhile, the ecommerce site’s inventory system only synced with the in-store systems once or twice a day. So, customers might place an order for in-store pickup but arrive to find the product unavailable.
Accounting: Henry Bear’s PoS was disconnected from Anthology, so the team manually added transactions into Anthology, introducing errors. The data needed to track critical financial KPIs(opens in new tab) was stored separately, too: To gauge sales performance, Sharma’s team dug into POS data, while profitability came from the accounting system. And if they uncovered errors, finding the source of the discrepancy took time and effort.
Meanwhile, Sharma often triple-checked numbers before making financial decisions. For example, while deciding how many labor hours to budget per store each month, he found it difficult to analyze the store’s sales versus costs with certainty.
“The accounting system would say one thing, but was it really correct?” he said. “I would check what the POS system said, then what the order management system said. You couldn’t trust our numbers easily.”
In his quest to solve Henry Bear’s inventory troubles, Sharma turned to a name he was familiar with from his former industry.
“As a tech person and someone who appreciates good technology, I feel like NetSuite is really well-designed and well-supported,” he said.
The demo sold his staff almost immediately.
“When the NetSuite team showed us that we could assign orders automatically based on available inventory, we were giving each other high fives,” Sharma said.
Automating Order Allocation and Replenishment
Henry Bear's implemented NetSuite ERP(opens in new tab) and Advanced Order Management(opens in new tab), along with SuiteCommerce(opens in new tab) and SuiteCommerce InStore(opens in new tab), in 2019.
Since Henry Bear's fulfills out of its stores, the system automatically assigns online orders to a store based on available inventory and the customer’s location. Thanks to this omnichannel fulfillment(opens in new tab), stock levels stay up to date, and customers automatically receive shipping confirmations.
Henry Bear's also started using NetSuite to automate replenishment. Using predefined reorder points and preferred stock levels, the system automatically detects when items are running low. It generates a purchase order — rounding up to the vendor’s minimum order quantity if needed — and sends it to the purchasing manager for execution.
This freed up Henry Bear’s buyers to, well, buy. They now have time to analyze which board games are selling best in each store, for example, and adjust the assortment accordingly.
“I see our buyers smiling a lot more now, because they’re focused on deciding which items to carry instead of spending 70% of their time doing math,” Sharma said. “And it makes the business stronger, because now we can buy better.”
Trustworthy Financial Data
Today, every transaction becomes an accounting entry instantly. Manual recreation and error-chasing are gone. The tightly integrated PoS and accounting systems allow for an accurate snapshot of all of Henry Bear’s financial data in one place.
Before bringing on NetSuite, Sharma was considering hiring an additional accounting team member. Automation eliminated the need.
“The time-savings and accuracy we now have on the accounting side is tremendous,” he said. “And I feel more confident making decisions based on financials now than I did in the past.”
For example, he and his general manager now use NetSuite financial data to definitively budget payroll for a given store the next month out.
Stores Prepared as Ecommerce Demand Surges
Shortly after Henry Bear’s NetSuite implementation, the unexpected happened. Stores were forced to shutter temporarily, turning the majority brick-and-mortar retailer into an ecommerce-slash-logistics company overnight.
The team was able to make all of its store inventory available on its sleek new SuiteCommerce website, just as online orders leapt from about three per day to about 400 per day in spring 2020. They continued using NetSuite to reorder from vendors quickly, move inventory between locations and easily assign online orders to stores.
While other toy stores scrambled to stand up websites or struggled with months-long shipping delays, Henry Bear's was able to keep pace.
“I can’t even fathom how we would’ve been able to do that without NetSuite,” Sharma said. “There would be no way we could have kept up with that kind of online demand.”
Disaster averted, business is back on the growth track. Online sales have leveled off. Stores have reopened, and the website brings in about as many sales as a store location. The Henry Bear's team continues using the processes it honed during 2020 to keep inventory moving smoothly.
Leadership is back to its original plan to open one to two stores per year, mostly in New England. It’s also opening a warehouse and working on marketing and advertising for the online store.
After a hectic couple of years in which many toy stores closed for good, Sharma is optimistic about Henry Bear’s future, a sentiment he said is rare in his industry at this point.
“NetSuite saved us from completely disappearing and has quickly put us back in the position to continue with the growth track that we were on prior to the pandemic,” he said. “We have a partner that's capable, competent and well-resourced.”
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