In the 1960s, Dan “Uncle Dan” Stephens started a business with $4,000 and a ranch dressing mix he had perfected in his basement, packaging his ideal blend of spices into sandwich bags.
Today, Uncle Dan’s eponymous, family-run business sells a selection of salad dressings, dips and seasonings through its ecommerce site, Amazon and major grocery stores like Kroger. It also works with food services companies and specialty food stores.
Based in Idaho, the small team aims to run Uncle Dan’s like a much bigger company, said president Chris Stephens. After consecutive years of 10-12% growth, they saw more on the horizon, but time-consuming tasks were bogging them down. So, Stephens sought a new business system to replace QuickBooks and Sage Intacct.
Inventory Management, Payroll and Time-Off Management Steal Time From Financial Analysis
Under the company’s old business systems, controller Tina Hammer wore multiple hats—and each came with its own inefficient processes.
For example, when working on Sage 50, she determined when to replenish product by visually surveying the warehouse. This required sifting through inventory like Uncle Dan’s Creamy Ranch dressing mix packets and Steak & Rib seasoning shakers by hand.
“I couldn’t rely on the system to tell me my products were getting low and that I needed to restock,” she said.
After determining which items needed to be ordered, Hammer manually calculated the effects of fluctuating supplier lead times and prices, no easy feat in recent years.
Then there was HR. To run payroll, Hammer and her operations colleague entered hours from employee time cards into uPunch timekeeping software. After comparing those totals to the timecards for accuracy, they entered the hours into QuickBooks by hand and processed payroll.
To request PTO, employees often simply walked up to Hammer’s desk, interrupting her work. Hammer kept track of who from the lean team would be out-of-office and when, to determine whether any overlapping PTO would cause issues.
These time-consuming to-dos prevented her from running financial and sales analyses that could help grow the business.
For example, Uncle Dan’s was losing shelf space at some grocery stores because Hammer’s team couldn’t easily glean insights like which stores had recent sales orders for which products, or whether a given product was selling well in a particular store. Calculating those answers would’ve required compiling sales data store-by-store for weeks at a time — which the team did not have time to do. As a result, they sometimes weren’t aware that product wasn’t selling well in a particular store until that store stopped ordering altogether.
Meanwhile, Stephens needed to break down Uncle Dan’s growing list of sales channels by cost and profit margin, so he could determine whether to invest more in, say, wholesale versus the specialty food store channel. But Hammer didn’t have the time nor systems to easily prepare that kind of breakdown.
So, “we just had to make gut decisions and say, ‘Yeah, we think this is where [we should invest] based on the data that we're looking at,’ with a question mark in there,” Stephens said. “There was always that question.”
Automating Tedious Inventory and HR Tasks
Stephens had been following NetSuite’s evolution since the solution’s launch. He determined it was time for Uncle Dan’s to implement the system — and soon after, the team was saving time in multiple areas.
First off, Hammer was relieved of walking through the warehouse to handle inventory replenishment. NetSuite Inventory Management(opens in new tab) uses past sales data and supplier lead times to determine reorder points and maintain preferred stock levels, automatically generating purchase orders for her to execute. Now that those processes are automated, Hammer is working with NetSuite’s Advanced Customer Support (ACS)(opens in new tab) team to tailor the system’s lot number tracking and standard costing functionalities for Uncle Dan’s specific assemblies workflow.
On the HR side, employees log their work hours in NetSuite, and Hammer verifies them. Besides saving time, the workflow reassures Hammer that employees are actually working the hours they’ve been assigned and paid for. The time clock system lacked this level of accountability: There was no way to prevent one employee from punching in on another’s behalf, and manually entering time card hours into the software carried the risk of typos.
Now, when it’s time to run payroll, NetSuite calculates gross pay for each employee, withholds the necessary taxes, deducts benefits, and schedules and issues payments. Hammer and her colleague save about six hours per pay period with this automation.
“SuitePeople Payroll(opens in new tab) has been a relief,” Hammer said. “I don't dread doing payroll now.”
Meanwhile, SuitePeople HR(opens in new tab) adds to the broader team’s camaraderie. Instead of interrupting Hammer, employees now request time off in NetSuite, viewing others’ schedules to help them plan. They use the system’s kudos feature to highlight each other’s wins, and Stephens uses it to send the warehouse crew encouraging notes.
That combination of cutting-edge technology and community spirit is critical to a lean team with goals to grow, Stephens said.
“This falls right in line with what Tina and I have always wanted to do with Uncle Dan’s: be a small, family-owned, friendly company to work for, but run ourselves like a legitimate corporation,” he said. “That's what SuitePeople does for us.”
Financial and Sales Analyses Reveal Opportunities
With her saved time, Hammer gathers insights for Stephens so that he can make more informed, strategic decisions.
“Cutting back the time I have to spend doing our payroll, for example … gives me time to do a quarterly report that I wasn't able to do before,” she said. “I’m now able to get Chris more information that will allow him to focus where he needs to in order to continue our growth.”
One of the first big realizations came from additional analysis that Hammer was able to perform after “making connections in the system” with the aid of ACS. She set up a NetSuite dashboard that shows which stores are stocking which products and when, a capability she didn’t have before. She noticed that a particular grocer was committed to selling a new Uncle Dan’s product but hadn’t ordered it recently. She flagged the problem to Chris, who handled it.
“If I had wanted to know that information before, I probably would have had to spend a month compiling information constantly on the store,” she said. “It would’ve been impossible.”
She also now has the time and technology to prepare that breakdown of sales channels for Stephens.
“It’s opened the world up for us to be able to look at how we're separating out products by channel, to find out where our profits come from and what we're putting money into that's not profitable,” Stephens said.
Stephens also values being able to use NetSuite to place orders during customer meetings. He submits orders on the spot; there isn’t any back-end work after the meeting for him or his team.
“When I can go into a buyer and just pull up my iPad and do an order right there, that's impressive,” he said. “That makes us seem like a bigger company than we are.”
Uncle Dan’s Prepares for Another 50 Years
Hammer is looking forward to saving even more time on payroll as she more fully automates the filing of quarterly tax returns and W-2s.
She’s preparing to hire, too, and will use NetSuite’s Learning Cloud Support(opens in new tab) to onboard new employees. Hammer has a list of specific on-demand courses from the large catalogue which new hires will complete as part of their training, eliminating the need for her to walk them through processes one by one — and saving even more time as Uncle Dan’s continues to grow.
See how YOU can run payroll more quickly and accurately with NetSuite’s payroll solution(opens in new tab).