Chris Benner, vertical product manager for retail at Oracle NetSuite, provides an overview on the world of enterprise resource planning platforms. NetSuite, a Nationwide vendor partner, provides retailers with the tools they need to efficiently run their businesses and provide a seamless experience for their customers.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and real excited today. We get to sit down with a pretty cool partner for Nationwide Marketing Group and that’s Oracle NetSuite. And today we’ve got Mr. Chris Benner, the vertical product manager for retail. Chris, appreciate you taking the time. I know you’re calling in from Texas. We chatted a little bit before we hopped on here. We got some local ties. Don’t we? [crosstalk 00:00:24]
Chris Benner: We do. We do. Yeah. Thanks for having me, Rob. Happy to be here. Yes. I grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. But it’s good to chat with a Philly guy.
Rob Stott: Yeah, just the stone’s throw. You mentioned the Williamsport, anyone that knows that town that might ring a bell because of that Little League World Series.
Chris Benner: Little League World Series.
Rob Stott: So we can talk Little League, we can talk Phillies, all the baseball [crosstalk 00:00:44].
Chris Benner: That’s right. That’s right. That’s our claim to fame.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, I appreciate it. And nice to catch up with a fellow [PAER 00:00:53]. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role there at NetSuite.
Chris Benner: Yeah, sure Rob. Yeah. So my name is Chris Benner like he said. I am a product manager at NetSuite. So I focus on the retail industry and really my focus is to work internally to nail down our strategy and roadmap for retail across the board. So I work with external folks. So I work with analysts, I work with partners and customers who communicate our strategy and roadmap when it comes to retail. So I’ve been with NetSuite for about six and a half years, spent a few years demonstrating the product, and developing some training materials for people around the world. But we’re a global company and we support retailers around the world and that’s really my focus.
I’ve been in the retail space for almost 30 years. I spent 10 years prior to NetSuite at Oracle working in their retail practice. And then prior to that, I spent 11 years down here in Texas working for a couple retailers. So I worked for the Bombay Company and in Pier 1. And I was a store manager for the Bombay Company where we had over 500 stores across the US and Canada. So got a lot of experience implementing software, supporting software. And so, been around for a while, but love being at NetSuite and having these conversations. So happy to be on here with you Rob.
Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, a lot of great experience there. The last two years, have you experienced anything like this time in retail? Because that’s all I feel like we’ve been talking about is what these last two years have been like and can you think of any other period of time like what we’ve been going through?
Chris Benner: I really can’t. The only thing that comes close to me is back around 2000, we were talking about Y2K, but completely different experience. And these past couple years have been… It’s been, in a strange way, kind of amazing for the retail world, the way I look at it. I mean, it’s really been an acceleration of things that we’ve been talking about in retail for years, it’s funny too. When we talk about concepts like BOPIS or Buy Online, Pickup In-Store, I’ve been talking about that for years and we’ve had some adoption in the retail space on companies like BestBuy. We’ve had some companies doing it and this thing happens a couple years ago and it just thrust this change on retailers of all different sizes.
And when you hear news shows like The Today Show talking about concepts like BOPIS, you know something strange is going on. But I just think that the acceleration of change that we’ve seen has been really interesting because retailers, like I said, of all sizes, they’ve been forced to keep up with consumer habits and that’s always been a thing in retail. But when you’ve got operations shutting down and you’ve got to supply products and services to customers and you got to do things like pick up at the curb and offer services online that maybe you before, it really highlights the fact that, and this is another thing I’ve always talked about is, retailers just really, they’ve got to be flexible and be ready for whatever’s coming next?
Of course, hopefully, we don’t experience anything like this again, but the way technology changes and the way consumers adopt these changes, it just shows you that every size of retailer needs to be ready to keep up with those consumer expectations. And it can be hard sometimes, but I guess some of the things we’ll talk about today is how retailers can invest in technology and processes to keep up with those consumer demands, right? for whatever’s next.
Rob Stott: Absolutely. And to your point, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about some of the things that you guys are doing and what you make available in this space. And we’ll get more into that in a little bit. But I know you guys have a lot of these. A lot of the things we talk about internally on the back end side for our retailers you got those enterprise resource planning systems and the point of sale systems, a lot of options out there. What is it that sets NetSuite apart in that space?
Chris Benner: Yeah. Yeah. Lots of options out there for retailers, for companies of all different types. So NetSuite is a big company, I think what really sets NetSuite apart is the fact that we’ve got over 27,000 customers around the world using NetSuite to run their business in the Cloud, through a browser or on your phone, wherever you are. So in the past couple years, people working from home NetSuite was positioned perfectly to support this, whether it’s a retail company or wholesale distribution, whatever it is, or a services’ company, so many people have been working from home and continue to work from home. And we’ve spoken to so many retailers around the world that either appreciate the fact that they can access their business from home over the internet with NetSuite.
But the fact that we’ve got those thousands of customers around the world and what we do it’s really an end to end process, no matter what type of retailer you are, you can run your business from end to end, starting at the ground level with core financials, your general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, up to CRM data or customer data, item-related data, inventory, everything through the supply chain, when you’re cutting purchase orders, receiving those goods, selling your goods. We’ve got warehouse management, eCommerce, in-store POS, even human resources. So everything a retailer needs to run their operations contained in a single unified platform, that’s an important aspect of NetSuite as well. It’s really running all of those things I mentioned in a single database. So you don’t have inventory sitting in different modules.
You don’t have customer data over here and order data over here and location data, it’s all in one place. So when you want to look at your customer data, you want to look at your orders or your inventory position, it’s all in one place. So you’ve got one copy of your item data your supply chain data, it’s all in one place. And it all ties back to those core financials. So we started out as a financial platform. We’ve been doing this for about 23 years. So we were really the first Cloud-based company offering financials in the Cloud. So we get the benefit of over 20 years of learning and improving along with this. And now that we’re offering eCommerce and all of these other solutions that help retailers, it’s really nice to have all of this data in one place, because me being an old school retail guy it’s just never been the case for retailers of all sizes that they’ve had their entire operations in one place.
It’s been pretty historical thing for retailers to customize solutions and piece it together and have inventory in different places and pricing and promotions and customer data and transactional data, all of this data in different modules. And it’s been a really difficult thing for retailers to try to make sense of all of that data when you’re struggling to synchronize it and make sense of it. And that’s one thing that this unified platform really brings clarity to all of this data and the ultimate goal here is to provide the best customer service and that customer experience. And when you’re struggling or fighting with data on the back end makes it difficult to present a unified brand image to your customers, no matter what you’re selling. So it’s really something that I’m proud of here at NetSuite.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And you think about kind of the challenges that retailers are facing right now, just on the apply an inventory side. I can’t even imagine trying to shuffle through all types of different platforms and just the idea of being able to look at it all in front of you, just from that perspective. I imagine is a benefit in and of itself today when you’ve got so many questions and things that are floating out there.
Chris Benner: Yep. Absolutely. Back when I was working in the industry, When I was at the Bombay Company, we used to, and it was a pretty big company, we used to struggle with that data and we talk about trying to run your business smarter and more strategically and it’s hard to do that when you’re struggling with the blocking and tackling. And we used it at the Bombay Company, we used to have to kind of reset our inventory position every week. So we had a weekly job that synchronized our data because once we started transacting, that data would get out of sync. And we weren’t so sure if the inventory numbers were correct here or there, and times have changed.
And it’s great. And it’s seen the evolution of retail and we’ve gotten to a point where we can confidently run a retail business and give you accurate visibility into your inventory, accurate visibility into your customer data. What are your customers buying when they buy this? What else are they buying? So it gives a clearer picture of how you’re operating as a retailer. And it really does help you work smarter and more strategically because you’re not spending most of your time-fighting fires and doing things manually that we used to do in retail.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And you mentioned too, for retailers of all different sizes, is there a certain type of retailer that NetSuite is best suited for or, I mean, can you guys [inaudible 00:11:24] build and pick and choose sort of the build that customized platform for a retailer, no matter their size?
Chris Benner: Yeah, we do a lot of analysis and product management organization. We do a lot of analysis of all those thousands of companies that are using our software and who’s using it, who’s using what, who’s using, eCommerce, who’s using HR? So we do a lot of analysis. But to answer your question, Rob, we’ve got retail customers across the board from mom and pop shops to the unicorn, billion-dollar unicorns out there, running NetSuite, everything in between. We’ve got chains that have hundreds of stores, we’ve got small retailers that maybe have one or two stores. We’ve got kind of pure e-tailers that just have an eCommerce presence and everything in between. So a lot of, a lot of retailers might start on eCommerce and have some success and then maybe open up a store or two.
So a lot of different types of retailers out there, and a lot of flexible business models that we can support as well. Whether it’s B2C, whether you’re selling directly to consumers, or if you’ve got a B2B model, maybe you’re providing products to the Walmarts or Targets of the world or others, maybe you’ve got some manufacturing components. We sell to a lot of retailers that maybe they do custom baseball hats, or custom shirts or custom golf clubs, or whatever it is. So that’s one of the strengths of NetSuite is, is the flexibility of the platform to support essentially any type of retailers. When we talk about the platform and setting up core financials. Every type of company has a general ledger and accounts payable and those core financials.
So we start from there and we build up. So whether you’re selling sporting goods or you’re selling furniture, or you’re selling beauty products or fashion, whatever it is, we build up from the core financials and that core customer data, we build up from that. And then NetSuite has the flexibility to give those different types of retailers, the ability to customize the solution for their needs. If you’re a fashion retailer, you operate your business differently then than a furniture retailer. And that’s okay. And me being with NetSuite for six and a half years, and I used to demonstrate the software, I have never touched a piece of code, right. So when I say customization, I don’t mean going in and developing code, of course, we can do scripting and things on top of the platform to provide some really robust solutions.
But we are a really strong solution for those power users out there, the ability to create your own configurable fields in the software, on the fly, without doing coding. It really gives us, what I like to call the secret sauce. So if I need to say furniture, or if I need to sell fashion items or sporting goods, I can really configure the way the system operates without touching code, just as a power user, I can create custom fields and say I’m selling this type of furniture and it’s got these attributes and this is how I want to sell it. So it’s really flexible in that. So essentially, any type of retailer, any size, we can make it work for just about anybody out there.
Rob Stott: And the benefit to that too, it sounds like, we at nationwide obviously like to talk about power in numbers and the size of the group, and being able to leverage the size of our membership and having that line of sight into everything they do, you get to see the nuances of all the different retailers. It almost seems like that same principle applies to you guys in that you’ve worked with so many different types of retailers to see how this platform can work for them. So it’s almost like for NetSuite, a power and numbers ability because you’ve seen the platform work in so many different ways and you’re able to say how you can get the suite of tools right for every retailer, no matter what they’re doing.
Chris Benner: Absolutely. Yeah. We’ve got different flavors of the platform. So if you want to only install core financials and you want to start there and see how that goes, you can do that. Or you can install everything. If, if you want to go with core financials and implement our warehouse management and we can get really robust. So when I talk about supply chain, there’s a lot of science built into this platform as far as forecasting your inventory and demand, and supply planning. And then of course in incorporate eCommerce. So all these different components, you get to pick and choose what works for your business. So if you’re a small business and you want to keep it simple that’s fine too. So we’ve got lots of different flavors, but the platform is there and we can start with core financials, but we can scale and grow to whatever you need as a retailer.
Rob Stott: So for the retailer out there that maybe they don’t choose to use an ERP or one of these platforms, or maybe they have one, but it’s been a while since they’ve looked at it, maybe it’s outdated. Why would now be the time to take another look at what they’re doing, or maybe if it’s something they should opt into? Do these platforms change a lot over time?
Chris Benner: Yeah. So, I mean with NetSuite. So we speak to a lot of companies around the world and so we see lots of legacy solutions out there. We see companies doing a lot of things in spreadsheets. I guess my advice would be for those companies that maybe they’re sitting on a legacy solution that’s outdated, or that they don’t even have an ERP, I guess it’s a question of where they are in their cycle. Are they planning for growth in the future? Do they want to just want stay where they are? They’re okay with where they are. I guess the thing that we need to look at as retailers, a couple of things.
The theme of the customer experience. So as a retailer, when you’ve got customers shopping on their phones or their iPads or whatever it is, or they’re on a train going to work and they’re shopping on their phones, you have to meet your customers where they are. So if you’re sitting on an old legacy system and you’re struggling with that blocking and tackling, it makes it hard to keep up with those customer expectations. When we know this mobile technology is going to keep improving. So, Rob, I don’t know about you. I don’t know about the people listening, but I use my why watch when I pay for things. So mobile wallet technology is a cool thing. So there’s artificial intelligence out there. So for retailers who might be sitting on old legacy systems, I think you need to look at customer expectations.
Who are your customers? Are they looking at social media? So a lot of retailers, most retailers I think, are out on Instagram and other social platforms projecting their brands. So I think using these social platforms, using the technology, whether it’s mobile wallets or whatever it is, I think retailers have got to be flexible and stay up to the technology that’s changing. And I think part of that for retailers is making sure your core data is solid because again if you don’t know your inventory numbers or you’re struggling with your customer data or just that core data if it’s messy and you’re struggling and you’re fighting fires with that, it just makes it more difficult to deliver that modern experience that consumers are expecting these days.
So there are going to be customers that want to shop on your website, but come to your store or come to your warehouse to pick up their items, or so the expectations continue to evolve. So, and if you’ve got multiple stores maybe you want to make fulfillment decisions based on where your customers are and where your inventory is. So if your company is scaling and growing and you might get to that point, you really have to invest in these core technologies to make sure that you’re satisfying your customers because the Amazons of the world are not going away.
And consumers are smart. So if they come to your retail operations and they can’t find what they want, or the experience, isn’t what they’re expecting, they’ll go elsewhere. So I think that’s something that we need to consider as well. And again, for me, it comes back to these foundational systems that support that customer experience, because having a modern, sexy customer experience, you got to start from the ground up so that you can support it and, and deliver it in a consistent way.
Rob Stott: I can hear, I mean, it makes perfect sense to me, and I’m sure it makes perfect sense to a lot of retailers. I can almost see some of our retailers thinking about how man, this is something I definitely need to do, but maybe there’s that little bit of feeling of overwhelmed, they’re overwhelmed because they maybe they don’t know where to start, or there’s just concerns over a tough learning curve or what are they going to do? Like how do they get to this point where they can upgrade? So, what is that process like for getting up and running with NetSuite?
Chris Benner: Yeah. I mean, it can be scary. I mean, when you talk about ERP, changing out your operational systems or even POS, or eCommerce, it can be a scary thing. I’ve heard it being equated to doing heart surgery in the ambulance while you’re on the way to the hospital. For NetSuite, I think there are some points of comfort for customers, even the smallest of retailers. So NetSuite’s been doing this for 23 years, so we’re good at it. We got over 27,000 customers around the world and we do a lot of implementations ourselves, but we’ve got partners as well. So you can pull in a partner if there’s a partner implementing a company that you worked with before, there’s a good chance that they could help you out with this.
But we leverage those 27,000 plus customers that we’ve got around the world. And we leverage that experience. So we’ve got processes and a methodology to implement our solution to make sure that it’s solid and it’s consistent. So we can implement software in a matter of weeks or months, depending on the situation where other solutions out there might take years and it might be more complicated, but we’ve got a documented methodology that leverages leading practices from all these other implementations we’ve done. So it’s a very defined process to make sure that we can be successful no matter what the size of the retailer is. And like I said before, you can kind of pick and choose the flavor of NetSuite. Do you want to start with just financials or do you want to do financials and customer data, and inventory, and supply chain, and add on other things? We have a stairway where we can build you up, but again, it’s a methodology where basically where we walk in and say what would you like to do?
And let’s take a look at your existing systems, take a look at your existing data. And let’s talk about how we’re going to get your data from your old systems into NetSuite. And we’ve got easy imports where we can… Obviously, you want to make sure that you’ve got clean data that you’re pulling in, but we can take a CSV file and import it into NetSuite. But we also have these defined processes where we say, let’s take a look at your purchase orders. So how do you cut a purchase order? This is how we do it in NetSuite. So how do you receive a shipment? So this is how we do it in NetSuite. So all these processes are predefined. We’ve got dashboards that are pre-built based on users in your business.
So if you’ve got folks in accounting or if you’ve got an inventory manager, warehouse manager, whatever it is, we’ve got dashboards that are pre-built for all of the users in your business. So we can come in and say, this is how the process is going to go. These are our pre-built dashboards for the way retailers run their business based on our experience. So it’s really a very consistent, defined methodology and process to simplify this process. That might be a little scary, but again, we’ve been doing this for over 20 years and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.
Rob Stott: And it’s, again, to that point where talk about having the experience of working with so many retailers, you can figure out what you think will work best for a potential new client. Same goes for that onboarding process. You’ve done this so many times that you… Might be daunting. And certainly, I’m sure there’s a lot of talking off the ledge of retailers as they onboard and what that’s like. But again, it comes down to you guys being comfortable knowing that you guys have done this so often that your experts at this point, is basically one way you could call it.
Chris Benner: Retailers of all different sizes. We know that when we walk into an implementation, maybe you want to do your financials, but maybe you want to keep your eCommerce provider. And that’s fine. We integrate with lots of other solutions. We even have essentially an app store out there. So SuiteApp.com. So if you would like to change out a module and look for other solutions out there, similar to what you do on your smartphone, you can go to our essentially app store and look at other solutions that have been built for the NetSuite platform. And you can go out and pick and choose different modules that have been built for our platform, plug them in. And so it’s a lot of flexibility there.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. What are some of, for someone that is a retailer that’s on your platform, do you guys see any of these underutilized aspect of either EOPS or ERPs or POS systems that you guys get excited about to talk about, but they just don’t get as much use as you’d expect?
Chris Benner: Yeah. Depending on the size of the retailer, I think and we roll out two major versions of our software every year. So those 27,000 customers around the world, they’re all running on the same version of NetSuite, which is a cool aspect of what we do. But I mentioned very briefly earlier concepts like demand planning and supply planning, when you talk to different types of retailers some of them will say that, that there’s an art and a science to being a retailer. So when I’m picking and choosing my assortment of what I’m going to sell, there’s some art to that. Once you get into those operations, dealing with getting the inventory in the right place, at right time, at the right price to satisfy customer demand, there’s a lot of science there.
And I think that’s probably one of the biggest underutilized things. So for retailers that might be used to doing things in spreadsheets and doing things manually, we are just like… I draw parallels to smartphones a lot, we can go to our smartphones and we can control things in our home. So I can go and turn on the heat in my or change the temperature in my house. We can flip a garage door, whatever. So there’s intelligence that consumers are used to on their phones. But the cool thing is a lot of that technology has made its way into these ERP and POS solutions and eCommerce. So we are doing things on the backend that incorporate things like machine learning and just intelligence into these dashboards.
So for machine learning and demand planning, and supply planning, some of these terms can be a little scary for small retailers, but the ease of use of NetSuite, we try to incorporate an ease of use when we’re doing these really scientific things to make it easy for you. So for machine learning, how can I make that work in my business? Well, in NetSuite machine learning, what it does is, is it looks at data in the background and it might just pop up an alert on your dashboard that says, oh, this shipment looks like it’s going to be late based on the vendor performance that I’ve analyzed. So it’s presenting in a friendly way, but there’s some machine learning and there’s intelligence built into this platform that might be a little intimidating for retailers to begin with.
But once you get in and start using it, it’s just like shopping and a browser. So running your business in a browser with NetSuite people are used to that because they go to Google, they go to Amazon, they do their shopping in a browser on their phone. So it’s a similar concept, but leveraging that technology to use this machine learning as you’re receiving goods through your supply chain, we can automate things that we’ve never been able to do before in retail. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is, is leveraging automation and things like machine learning, and then serving that up on a dashboard and using analytics in a way. So I talked a little earlier about providing clarity, providing analytics in a way that’s friendly. In an exception-based manner. So you can work smarter. I think those are some of the things that are maybe a little different for people that are not used to a modern Cloud-based ERP.
Rob Stott: It’s funny. Yeah. That it’s always the buzzword. That end up being the most intimidating, I think, to a business owner. Machine learning sounds like, oh man, I’m nowhere near being able to utilize something like that when really, you think, oh, you bring it to the… I don’t understand wifi protocols and all that, the backend stuff. But all I do is I hit a button on my phone and it works. And that’s what you expect.
Chris Benner: Yeah. And another thing that we just do out of the box, I call it market basket analysis, but when you’re selling products and this goes down to our POS solution as well, so people in the store can have visibility and do what people are buying and what else are right. So what we do out of the box, we essentially analyze every transaction. And then we say, so think of a good example when somebody’s buying golf balls, what else do they typically buy? So we’ll analyze all those transactions. So we can serve that up for you, either in the store or on the back end, and that can show you shopping trends. So when they buy these golf balls, 10% of the time, 20% of the time, they’re also buying a pair of shorts or something along those lines.
So you can see correlations of what people are buying, so that can help you make decisions with marketing and promotions. So buy these golf balls, we’ll give you a gift card or you get 10% off of this category of products, because we see a correlation there, and maybe we want to bump that out. So, that’s another kind of intelligence that’s built into the system that you don’t have to think about. It just happens. So as you start selling products, NetSuite just does that inherently. And we can serve that up and show you, and you can start doing things with it. So it’s a cool product.
Rob Stott: Sounds like those recommended add-ons or another example that comes to mind is specifically in some of our, maybe electronics dealer stores, TVs with the attachment rates of, whether it’s the phones or cables that go along with it, the HDMI cables, stuff like that. So that definitely is a neat opportunity there.
Chris Benner: Yep.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, Chris, II feel like we could dive a million ways deeper because you guys mean diving through the blog, the NetSuite and Oracle blogs. There’s a lot of retail trends that get discussed up there and things you guys do. So shameless plug for a nice resource for retailers to go check out. But I know we both have other work to do so we could sit on a podcast for hours, but I don’t want to tie you up too long.
Chris Benner: This is fine. Thanks, Rob.
Rob Stott: Yeah, I appreciate it. And we look forward to… I’m sure representation at primetime coming up here in a few months and seeing you guys in Phoenix, I think we’re in Phoenix in February, so run into you there, but I appreciate you taking the time and it was nice diving into the platform with you.
Chris Benner: Yeah. February is a good time to be in Phoenix. So yeah. A good conversation. Thanks. It’s nice to meet you and chat through this stuff with you.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Thank you.