The company’s range includes bergens and helicopter covers for the military sector,‘bump caps’ (baseball type caps with a hard inner shell) for production line operatives in the PPE sector, and patient lifting slings used in the medial sector which are exported all over the world.

The company was established in 1948 by an enterprising ex-army captain who, on his demob after WW2, bought up redundant barrage balloons and started making products out of the fabric. Trevor Payne is now the managing director. He said, “We’ve been through many iterations. 35 years ago we formed a joint venture with a factory in China where we made our own products that were sold primarily into the ‘DIY sheds’.When our competitors started dealing directly with China we moved into custom textile manufacturing. Now we’ve gone full circle and are in the process of developing our own ranges again. Eight years ago we purchased our own factory in China and we’re fairly unique in having outright ownership of our facility there. And, it means we have absolute, full control of our supply chain.”

Fine Group employs 45 people at its HQ in Wembley where short run and urgent orders are manufactured and the design team is based. In China there are 275 employees who focus on the larger orders with longer lead times. “Some of our team have been with us for 25 years plus,” said Trevor. “ We have built up immense product knowledge over the years and we’re great problem solvers.”

The search for a new system

When Trevor joined the company, it was already using an earlier ERP solution provided by Lakeview Computers (now acquired by and integrated into Kerridge Commercial Systems). “I soon realised the software was unable to keep pace with our business so we started to look at alternative systems,” he remembered. “Our key requirement was for a system designed to deliver not only what we needed as a contract manufacturer but also to manage our entire supply chain and logistics. Rather than making our own products that are kept in stock, we receive bespoke orders that need to be individually costed for production and delivery.Our old software had a quotation facility but, in order to produce a costing, we had to work with a whole variety of different spreadsheets running alongside the ERP system.It was a very fragmented process and often took several days to get to the point where we could even begin looking at costs.”

Fine Group looked at other ERP suppliers but chose to upgrade to a new ERP solution from KCS for two reasons.“Firstly I knew from experience that the company’s strength is not only in its standard software but also in the bespoke work they can do. They also had a huge accumulated knowledge of what we do as a business. Once we had decided to go with the new solution we set about working with them to spec out exactly how we wanted their costing module to work for us.”

The new ERP solution, K8 LV, which is designed for all types of manufacturing operations, is a modular based solution and users can purchase modules that are key to their businesses. However the core functionality is integrated and includes supply chain management, financial accounting, warehouse management, planning and scheduling, stock control and business intelligence.And, as Trevor had already discovered, it allows users to configure all aspects of the software to meet their own needs.

Implementation and benefits

According to Trevor, the upgrade experience was smooth, with only a few anticipated teething problems, and he found the KCS staff were very focused on delivering the implementation well.He said, “Even the standard modules started saving us so much time straight away. We now have integrated financial accounting and you can jump around the system keeping all the windows open. The standard report writing function is much improved and very intuitive. It comes with a whole ream of standard reports that can easily be modified to suit your own individual needs.I can now write a report in minutes rather than hours, because all the data I need is in the system and I no longer have to pull several spreadsheets together.

We used to have to produce a costing, then a quotation, both manually, and attach these documents to the customer’s account. Then, when the order came in, we had to enter it manually again. The standard sales order module now lets us convert the quote to a sales order, so no retyping.It’s very streamlined and easy to use.

The overseas consignment module, which we call ‘landed costs’, lets us manage our stock on the water as it comes over from China.One container may contain 50 purchase orders worth of goods, that relate to 20 sales orders, and this module allows us to track each as it leaves China, arrives at Felixstowe and is delivered to the factory or the customer. It’s easy to set up a new consignment as you basically just enter the purchase order you are loading and it does the rest for you - as well as closing off the purchase order automatically. We didn’t have this visibility before and sometimes human error meant things got missed.”

The costing module

The costing module is what Trevor describes as ‘the jewel in the crown’ and was modified by KCS for Fine Group.“Every part number on our system now has its own bill of materials,” he explained. “And we can set up a quote in just a couple of clicks. Before, we had to open up a spreadsheet template and populate it by cutting and pasting all the data necessary for it to force out a cost. It would take me a couple of days to get a quote out of the system like this. With all the costs stored in the system, including labour and materials, it now takes minutes. I just have to add in exchange rates and amend the margin if necessary.It’s a massive time saver and, in terms of the return on our investment, it’s repaid the cost of the system upgrade many times over.”

Trevor said that having a fully integrated system makes it a seamless process from when you enter a new lead in the CRM module to when you send out an invoice. “Leads are qualified and converted to customers, who are then sent quotes produced in the costing module. The costing becomes an order, which becomes a purchase order (closed off by the overseas consignment), and finally an invoice.”

Fine Group is already building a ‘shopping list’ for more cost saving developments, which include further automation in the costing module and functionality to support the import of data from the system used in China.

“I’m extremely happy with the software,” said Trevor. “It’s enabled us to streamline our business and has also saved me some headcount. This is because when people have left we’ve either not had to replace them or we can replace them with people in different roles that make us better at what we do – which can only benefit our customers in the long term. And, in terms of the support we received from Lakeview and now from KCS, I can’t fault it.”