Customers can submit order offers with Robinson Laser's newest software
July 2011 - Last year, Robinson Laser, East Chicago, Ind., streamlined its business as a steel service center for laser parts with the launch of its RPS PriceCheck program. The proprietary software lets customers get 24-hour market-based quotes on single parts, small packages or nested production products as well as submit quotes for jobs. Robinson took its program to the next level by rolling out PriceSelect this past May, which enables customers to negotiate a price directly while ordering their laser cut steel parts—effectively giving customers complete control over selecting the best purchase price they want and maximizing Robinson’s resources.
“Sell the last seat on the airplane,” says Paul Labriola, president and CEO of Robinson Laser. “That kind of utilization of time, material and equipment. It’s complete saturation of all three in real time.”
PriceSelect joins Robinson’s existing suite of tools: RPS Catalog, which provides live market price information, and RPS Quote’s availability confirmation. Based on the program’s real-time assessment of market prices, quantities, desired delivery date and all aspects of an order, PriceSelect either will accept or decline a customer’s submitted price. “It’s his parts, quantity, deliver date, and now with PriceSelect, it’s the price he wants to pay,” Labriola says. “If we decline, the customer can immediately enter another price and begin the whole process over—what we’re talking about is seconds. If we take the order, it’s scheduled and goes into the system automatically.”
The excitement behind the idea, Labriola says, is that it allows Robinson to create a perfect transaction. “It’s the price the customer wants to pay and the price that I can accept. And off we go to the next opportunity,” he says.
Although PriceSelect went live on May 1, development had been underway since Robinson unveiled RPS PriceCheck in July 2010. PriceCheck was a huge step in equally optimizing its production and the transparency it imparted on customers’ orders by letting them have access to Robinson’s databases. The proprietary endeavor was developed and is maintained in-house. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. The only reason we didn’t roll PriceSelect out on day one is because we had to make sure the market would accept the notion of PriceCheck,” Labriola says. “And that requires a change in what people do.”
Robinson put out PriceSelect on the marketplace without much fanfare, save for a mid-May press release, says Labriola, noting he contacted a few customers to encourage them to try out the program after some final tweaks were made before finally going live. “And we found that people who came to the site simply went into it without all the verbage.” <p>
Layered in with PriceSelect’s automation is sophisticated pricing flexibility. For example, if a customer has five line items each with different quantities, the system automatically will apportion an offer for all parts of the order. “That [suggestion] came from one of my customers because for their accounting they needed to know price per part,” Labriola says. “You hit update, and you can see how it’s developed against all of the parts."
As user interface simplicity goes, PriceSelect asks customers clearly if they’re sure they want to place an order before it goes through. After they select method of payment, everything required for production instantaneously begins moving—materials, scheduling of the laser cutters, and shipping arrangements. Logistical coordination with UPS and FedEx is managed automatically by RPS for packages and truckloads, respectively.
Internally, the process is generally hands-off unless a problem comes up. Labriola describes it as comprehensively automated. “No one is spoken to unless initialized by the customer. The order goes out, gets produced, packaged, appropriate conveyance is called, loaded, shipped to you, the invoice is there, and you track it in real time,” he says. Customers can see which parts of an order are produced already, which are being packaged and what’s in line behind it. “There’s nothing about it you can’t see.”
Evaluating whether customers would accept the change was a risk consideration; however, the program has picked up traction and, so far, been profitable for both Robinson and its customers, according to Labriola. Going forward, “it’ll increase my sales,” he says, “and we believe the same for our customers.” MM