Forging Partnerships

I was fortunate this month in that I was able to sell Eric Sfiligoj on the cover story idea featuring Jimmy Sanders, Inc. Sure, I am the boss — but Eric does have the latitude to tell me I’m full of baloney if he thinks my suggestions are bad. It’s one of the best benefits of having a seasoned, senior staff — they don’t really fear me, so I get pretty straight feedback.

Anyway, I got to do the story, and it’s a very cool story indeed. Sanders has been quietly creating one of the most progressive retail establishments in the country, let alone the Mid-South — with an emphasis on QUIET. So their willingness to share a bit about their business — specifically, its adoption of cutting-edge technology — got me pumped to do the story.

There are many lessons to be learned, most of which you’ll find in the story itself. The biggest key factor of all has been the establishment of a mission that is bought into from the top down, so that everyone knows what is expected and has a clear understanding of their roles. During the last decade in particular, when identifying and integrating technology became a significant focus, Jimmy Sanders has benefitted from clarity of vision.

Another, more subtle factor that I found particularly beneficial to the company has been a willingness to work very closely with suppliers in formulating solutions to problems, and in adopting new practices and technologies.

Jeff Dearborn, Sanders’ main technology guy, knew that implementing wireless communication would be the next big thing technology-wise for the retailer. He could see the positive impact that being able to send and receive files electronically from machinery to office and back at a moment’s notice would have during the busy season, when growers change input strategies — even crop decisions — with tender trucks en route. Being able to collect data and monitor machine movement would provide even more benefits.

Enter GVM, a long time equipment partner, which had been working on a solution called GVM Telematics to provide just such a service, and which was looking for good partners to get it out in the field.

“To Sanders, we were a trusted supplier they were already using,” says Aaron Hunt, who manages the GVM Telematics business. “They did not have to go out and find a new vendor. It ends up being good for both sides.”

Kudos to GVM in this endeavor — they built the Telematics system to work with any color of machine. And while the Raven VIPER is the controller being used, Hunt says that it will add Internet-capable controllers to the mix once they are released to the market.

The bottom line is, there are many opportunities to grow and improve the way we do business, but only so many hours in the day and only so much manpower we can dedicate to ferreting out and implementing new ideas.

This is particularly true with technology, which continues to evolve more and more rapidly. It’s difficult (and expensive) for businesses to keep up while working alone. Sanders’ Dearborn highlights the importance of having a good foundation of people and a clear mission, but having solid business partners among manufacturers is another important way retailers can make progress on technology.

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