Founded in 2009 in Bensenville, Illinois, Lakeside CNC Group is an industrial automation company. Specializing in the famous FANUC brand, they repair a wide range of FANUC CNC products, including, but not limited to, the servo motors, servo amplifiers, and other CNC components. The customer base comprises manufacturers from the United States and all across the globe. With the help of the United Parts of Chicago, In 2018 they have selected Zoho One as an umbrella platform for all the business operations.
The implementation was very complex, with many non-standard data exchange and operational triggers in Zoho Flow, along with heavily-modified Zoho CRM. At this moment (03/26/2020) it has 10 Flows in Zoho Flow, many of them with custom functions, two custom modules in Zoho CRM, heavily modified both Zoho Books and Zoho Desk. In addition to that, Lakeside CNC Group is using Zoho Cliq, Zoho Social, Zoho SalesIQ, Zoho Inventory, and Zoho Docs (Writer and Sheet).
Reduced turnaround time, increased productivity — but it was not that easy as it reads. It was a tough job.
For years, Lakeside CNC Group had maintained repair, sales, and customer information manually. Internal communication and, especially, repair order data management were challenging. It was a pretty much standard set of the basic IT tools back then: an Intuit Quickbooks for accounting and Microsoft Excel for the rest. Also, all the internal communications were email-based (Microsoft Outlook 2010).
There were many inevitable problems. Emails were piling up, and some of them were lost in action, leaving the customer’s requests unanswered. The technicians were using the phones and emails to notify their supervisors of the repair statuses. Eventually, the number of orders was increased, and the automation time has come: the combination of spreadsheets wasn’t a solution anymore.
The first attempt was the SIMMS software by KCSI, Inc. A client-server, Windows-based application has a decent number of required features. But it was not flexible enough. Its workflows were mainly hard-coded, so the process implementation became a serious problem. Another headache was the user interface. After two years, the SIMMS was retired, and the quest for a better platform had begun.
Louis Castellano, CEO and owner of Lakeside CNC Group, had spoken:
“Lakeside CNC Group began as a small CNC repair shop with two employees, including myself. Strictly specializing on a FANUC CNC components, we quickly grew up to be a big repair lab, packed with a set of custom workload simulators operated by the factory-training CNC technicians and engineers. Strategically located in the village of Bensenville, Illinois, we can conveniently serve the local customers and maintain the adequate shipping speed and rates for all the 48 contiguous states.
Our business is pretty much a niche one. A pure B2B segment with very, very conservative customers. No promo actions like “buy one, get one free”. No Facebook challenges, no Instagram influencers. The CNC industry is a small world, we know each and every competitor and they know us.
Our processes are very special, too. Most of the implementation specialists were struggling even to understand them. In our industry, we have many prices for a single unit (depends on the type of the transaction you want: a repair, a purchase, or an exchange), and we have to maintain a large catalog of the inventory that is available for sale or repair. With all that, it was near to impossible to find a solution that will work right “out of the box”.
Honestly, I was very skeptical about Zoho at the very beginning. I was disappointed by the SIMMS software, and I did not expect that Zoho would be SO different. Now I can’t imagine running my business without it.
Back in the days, I was the only person in the company who could make a price decision or approve the repair. Now the micromanagement is gone. Who won’t be happy about that?”
In CNC repair, inventory management is completely different. The stock is a very flexible matter, and the CNC units are relatively expensive by nature. They can be repaired, sold, exchanged, destroyed, disassembled. They are serialized and barcoded. Moreover, the CNC repair business has to maintain the FANUC units catalog for their own reference and for the convenience of the online customers, no matter if these units are in stock or not. And it is a good business practice to display that catalog online, too.
Before Zoho, Lakeside CNC Group was using Intuit Quickbooks for preparing the estimates. If the customer accepted the estimate, they had to send an email back to Lakeside or call the receptionist. It was a time-consuming process with plenty of space for human mistakes and delays. The payments were collected mainly in the form of a check or a money order, slowing the cash flow.
CNC repair is a complex process. There are many stages and factors to consider in each repair, and it is better for all the parties when all the details are being documented correctly. The most challenging point was the lack of such documentation, along with the inability to search across the past repairs by any criteria. The generation of the Service Analysis Reports also was a manual process, consuming a lot of expensive time.
All the quotes, invoices, bills, and approvals were handled by the phone or email. It was a true bottleneck for the whole company. The customer approves the quote, they call or email the reception, the receptionist informs the shift supervisor and, finally, the supervisor orders the technicians to start the repair. That was definitely not the way that customers wanted in the digital age. That was the reason why some orders were fulfilled later than the customers were expecting.
When it became clear that the current business platform needed to be replaced, Lakeside CNC Group had performed a series of in-house tests of the most prominent systems, including, but not limited to, the following products: Salesforce, SugarCRM, Hubspot, and Zoho. The selection criteria were simple:
Each of the aforementioned systems was deployed using the trial period option, and the basic business processes were implemented to see how the system can handle them. By the end of the testing period, there were only two candidates: Zoho One and Salesforce. Eventually, Zoho One won two nominations: pricing and user interface.
The implementation has been performed by Dmitry Skylark of United Parts of Chicago, a Zoho Authorized Partner. Louis Castellano, the owner of Lakeside CNC Group:
“It was a tough job. Like I said before, our processes are completely different from the ones that the implementation coordinator might expect in the more common businesses, such as retail or customer electronic repair. Dmitry did a good job with implementation.
He even managed to change our corporate mindset, and we had re-shaped many of the ways we were interacting with the customers before. You know, it is easy to deal with the solution from the books, but when it comes to the real-life business, you have to deal with the people more than with the software. So Dmitry did both of the parts.”
The implementation phase took about 2 months, but the routine support with adding the new features and integrations is an endless process. Zoho and its related processes (daily support, analytics, business process evaluation, integrated marketing) became the inalienable part of Lakeside CNC Group’s business, and that part has been subcontracted to United Parts of Chicago since the very beginning.
The results are clearly noticeable. With the new billing system, customers are able to pay their invoices immediately through the integration between Zoho Books and Chase WePay. They receive automated payment reminders. All these measures had stabilized the cash flow almost immediately.
Another big deal was the internal communication: with Zoho Cliq, the piles of internal emails were gone, and the communications became more transparent. Zoho Cliq also integrated with the key apps like Zoho Books, Zoho CRM, and the sentinel bots are notifying the management about the mission-critical events.
The repair process, one of the key business processes for Lakeside CNC Group, has been completely redesigned. The order queue was streamlined, and now the management is able to see the whole picture of the daily workload in a couple of clicks. A self-service Zoho Desk Portal provides the repair order statuses and other related information directly to the customer without manual input from Lakeside’s employees: that saves a lot of time.
The Next Big Thing is an integration between Zoho Inventory and WooCommerce. A large online-catalog (1500 items and counting) is being managed directly from Zoho Books, providing seamless inventory management for both the front-end and back-end parts.
At this moment, Lakeside CNC Group is actively using the following Zoho applications: Zoho CRM, Zoho Books, Zoho Inventory, Zoho Cliq, Zoho Flow, Zoho SalesIQ, Zoho Analytics, Zoho Desk, Zoho Sheets, Zoho Writer, Zoho Docs, Zoho Social, and Zoho Forms. In addition to that, Zoho has been integrated with the company’s WordPress-based website to maintain the website catalog and customer requests.