From XU Magazine, 
Issue 23

How a promise to always deliver great customer service boosts business confidence during a pandemic

Like so many businesses across the globe, Auckland based company Perla Supplies Ltd are facing unprecedented economic and social challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They have based their reputation on delivering quality products with exceptional customer service, which gives them confidence that they will weather the storm.
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Perla import and distribute consumable dental products to practices throughout New Zealand. They also supply some products to a range of other businesses including crafters, sculptors, electronic companies and the beauty industry. With most dental practices closed except for emergency treatment, they have found that where they could normally expect between 80 and 90 orders per day, now they will only receive 2 or 3.

But the husband and wife team behind Perla, Greg and Kate Bovaird, are still using their product knowledge and distribution expertise to help get essential personal protective equipment (PPE) where it’s most needed.  

Helping each other out

“The company that supplies our surgical gloves from Malaysia has a warehouse here in New Zealand,” explains Greg. “Having looked in their catalogue, I knew that they also do surgical gowns. That’s not something we normally stock, but I gave them a call and checked if they had any in their warehouse and they had 3 cartons of 100 each. I said we’ll just take them and put them on our website. And as soon as they arrived they were gone.”

Greg and Kate set up Perla in 2013 and started trading in 2014, shipping in dental supplies such as face masks, sterilising pouches and instruments from China to help practices save money and source great quality equipment easily. As a former practice manager herself, Kate knows only too well how frustrating it is for Perla’s customers to find they’re running out of something and struggle to get it delivered.  

She says: “We ring people and ask them if they want to put something on back order. The big companies don’t even tell them it’s on back order and they might be waiting 6 months for a product. I know that if they go to a company and want something they haven’t got, our customers will go somewhere else for it, and buy all the other things on their list too. We know we had to have stock levels we could maintain.”

Why stock control is crucial

Greg is responsible for managing Perla’s inventory with the help of TidyStock. It’s been part of their business from day one, as he explains: “We decided that we would set up with Xero as our accounting package, then knowing that we needed a front-end inventory management system, we thought TidyStock looks a nice, simple, easy product to work with and it’s been our front-end system ever since.”  

“TidyStock is integral. We couldn’t function without it. It’s on all day whether it’s processing orders, managing stock and inventory control, placing orders with our suppliers, running end of day reports.”

Customer service reputation

Greg also explains how TidyStock helps Perla ensure that they always deliver what they promise: “We run a daily sales report and check that off against courier reports to check we haven’t missed anything. Or you might get a customer ring up in a hurry and ask for something and you say ‘how many’ and they say ‘same as last time’, and you have to go and look it up. It’s the first window open on our desk in the morning and the last that we close down at night.”

Normally Kate would spend time on the road visiting different practices so it’s essential that she can keep in touch and place orders from anywhere. She says: “I don’t take a laptop away anymore, I can do it all on my phone - raise an order, whatever I need. For sales trips away we have all our practices sorted into regional areas, so when I’m visiting I can run a sales report on those practices and see what they’re buying and also what they’re not buying.”

Balancing stock and cashflow

Balancing the need to maintain good levels of stock and keep cashflow healthy has always been vital to the success of Perla’s business. As Greg explains: “When we started we didn’t have a lot of cash so we had to have something that enabled us to know how much stock we had on hand. It was a very fine line between not running out and not having a load of cash tied up in stock. Thanks to TidyStock effectively we never really run out of stock. At any given point in time, out of the 750 product lines we have there’ll never be more than 1 or 2 out of stock at any given time.”  

Although orders have diminished due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Greg is positive that this is a challenge that Perla can overcome: “From a liquidity point of view the business is really strong, cashflow is really strong and that’s why we’ll survive this month or two months of lockdown. We’ll come out of this at the other end no problems at all.”

The future

He acknowledges that having a transparent and flexible stock control system has not only been instrumental in their success to date, but will also help Perla to adapt to new conditions once the business impacts of the pandemic crisis are over. “Our business is going to be totally different after this, our stock levels are going to have to be much higher. And we know we’re going to have to find alternate suppliers. When China shut down, the world shut down too.”  

Greg says: “We run our business pretty lean and TidyStock has been essential to that - making sure that we haven’t over invested in the business but also making sure we’ve got that reputation for always delivering. It’s a huge part of the success of our business.”

Why leave it there?

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