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Technology drives letterbox sales

The humble letterbox has continued to remain central to Roger and Janine Donaldson’s Waimate-based business, despite most of their work being done online.

Almost all the procurement, sales, invoicing, freight and customer communication for their letterbox manufacturing business Alpine Products 2005 Ltd is done via the internet.

Each month the company distributes hundreds of plywood letterboxes from the old Waimate Motor Garage building to major hardware chains throughout New Zealand. They are one of the biggest manufacturers of wooden letterboxes in the country, while also producing kitset sawhorses, bird feeders and pre-school furniture.

Roger laughs at the irony of a letterbox manufacturer exploiting the digital world when they are supplying an age-old product that’s remained relatively unchanged for decades. He says while it may seem ironic, he wouldn’t be in business without a good internet connection.

“If you were to ask me how important a good broadband connection is to us, I’d have to say it’s absolutely crucial - we couldn’t do what we do without it.

“It’s not something that’s nice to have - you need to be connected because that is how business works these days. It’s that important.”

The business needs to supply large amounts of product on time to meet the needs of their retail clients, which leaves no time to waste chasing paper trails.

When the Donaldsons purchased the company in 2005 they inherited a paper-based invoicing system, with a phone system for remote orders. Knowing that this would never work for the large retailers who make up the bulk of their customers, they quickly adopted electronic ordering, stock tracking and payment methods.

Roger, a joiner and cabinet maker by trade, says the business has evolved as technology has advanced in order to keep pace with its clients.

“You need to be integrated with your clients – it’s vital for retaining customers and growing the business. It’s part of the relationship and you need to move with the times because if you don’t it could cost the people you work with time and money. It’s a no brainer.”

Today, orders arrive by email and are transferred to invoices using a cloud-based business management and accounting programme. Job sheets are generated in the cloud and, after the product is made, dispatch documents are prepared with transport automatically ordered via the internet.

The online system helps meet buyer expectations while cutting costs and freeing up more time to concentrate on maximising business potential.

Roger says the cloud-based finance tool also tracks the work of North Island-based sales representatives, ensuring they’re paid correctly while generating new sales information.

“It’s simple, but an online accounting programme makes a huge difference. Paying commissions, generating statements, all that sort of thing would once have taken me all afternoon to do. Now, I can do it in 15 or 20 minutes when I’m having a coffee. Because it’s all in the cloud, I can even do it from home if I want.”

Roger uses online tools to order raw products which gives him more time to nurture the personal relationships he has with businesses that have supported him. It also ensures that a business based in a rural centre can make the most of online business tools that help it compete with - and beat - companies in much bigger centres.

The company’s office is almost completely paperless. In fact, Roger can name only one business that still sends him paper invoices.

“Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m going to say it’s great to get mail - but the way things have moved on, I’m going to have to let them know it’s just much easier and quicker to get it done online, for everyone.”

Caption: Sales of Roger Donaldson’s letterboxes are boosted by digital connectivity.

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