‘Please reach out to the below vendors for uniforms, text books, note books, stationery, bags and shoes’ or ‘Visit the school premise on the below dates for order placement of all school essentials for the new academic year’.
These are familiar announcements to an average parent of a school-going child. Parents standing in long queues at the kiosk to collect uniforms and books; teachers and school administrators running round the clock managing the dispatch of school essential merchandise. Heavens break loose with the onset of a new academic year with the battle continuing for years on both sides of the counter. Unfortunately, in the age of ‘everything online’, School Commerce is still catching up with modern times.
As parents, we had been under the same grind for years, until recently, when we thought of designing a solution for it. Ecommerce had disrupted the biggest of industries and the idea was to bring in its convenience to the segment that needed it the most. From managing the herculean task of logistics and supply chain management to reduce the hassle of procuring school merchandise from multiple vendors, Edvantagepoint (EP) aimed at helping schools and parents alike.
EP worked closely with the school management and their preferred vendors to offer parents an ecommerce module for the purchase of school merchandise such as uniforms, books, bags, shoes, and stationery. Here’s a glimpse of how we did it all to realize a business of 1 million in the first year of business.
It all started with analyzing the sector and listing various challenges schools faced prior to the commencement of a new academic year. The process witnessed the onboarding of school-authorized vendors and cataloging of their entire merchandise. We made an ardent attempt at visualizing the on-ground situation and hiccups to ensure we were well-prepared. The team closely monitored the student count and coordinated with the schools & vendors to ensure the inventory was in place prior to the dispatch dates. We also ensured that parents were communicated the schedule and the inhouse team was well armed to take charge of adverse situations.
We took on the season with Deeksha Center for Learning in mid-March. A huge and credible business in place and a lean team to address the same. A challenging phase awaited us. It was a high team spirit and supreme commitment of each individual that helped us realize the business and execute it with finesse.
Our Battle with Challenges faced :
- Vendor Relationship Management
Managing multiple vendors to procure school merchandise, running the internal process of quality & size check and setting up kiosks at the campus for product distribution was a Herculean task. However, the initial challenge was to build brand goodwill with schools and their preferred vendors. While we had been functional in the education space for over two years, ground expertise in fulfilling such a huge volume was missing. Schools were skeptical in signing up since this involved planning and management across fronts from inventory and accounts to warehousing and distribution. Nonetheless, Deeksha invested its faith in us and we managed to stand tall on their belief.
For any ecommerce setup, warehousing is a prime necessity. We lacked the same and started piling up stock in our office. An exceed in the order numbers made warehousing difficult, given the limited space for both storage and packaging. We moved with the inventory to a nearby garage, which went on to function as our temporary warehouse for the season. The team operated from there, tracking and packaging products late into the night. Addressing 200-300 orders each day and making them ready for delivery was anything but easy.
- Logistics & Delivery
The most difficult part was here. From lack of resources and a well functional logistics partner to the madness of product hunting, due for delivery the next day, we lost account of the challenges that came our way. The most difficult part was to ensure the timely delivery of products irrespective of the hiccups at our end. The rough climate and long travels to deliver packages, at times weighing 15kg, besides searching for products that went out of stock was toiling both on the body and mind.
- The Menace of Return & Exchange
Uniforms are a tricky thing to deal in and we realised it midway into the business. The team was flooded with exchange/return requests, given size issues or misfit. This was a new cycle of work with us processing the exchange requests that involved collecting the existing package and delivering the desired product. We often received complaints on customers receiving part orders with the package missing a few products. It was beyond our bandwidth to confirm the actual dispatch.
- Lack of CRM Systems
An early stage startup, most of our records were maintained over excels. Little did we realise that managing this quantum of work would need professional software to track and manage data. The teams were juggling with multiple excel sheets with each bearing part information. This often resulted in loss of crucial data besides being a pain for individuals to refer to specific information. Manual processes impacted the operations cycle with no access to the actual count of orders dispatched, return/exchange requests placed and other relevant information.
The Smart Solutions :
While challenges were many the will to overcome them was as strong. We stepped out of our comfort zone and did whatever it took for the business to take off.
- Required merchandise was purchased upfront from vendors to ease the tension pangs and build brand credibility.
- Once procured, the logistics and delivery was taken care internally. Teams were split based on the regions being serviced followed by self-pick and delivery of orders.
- Interns were hired to help in product delivery in school campuses.
- Size and quality check was done before packaging to reduce exchange/return requests.
- Customer support team was active round the clock to address parent queries and concerns. They were patient in dealing with parents who missed on-time delivery.
- Tech enhancements were made to manage the large order volume and automate certain processes
Edvantagepoint aims to make Education ‘Accessible’ & ‘Convenient’ for parents of school-going children while bringing the school ecosystem at pace with technology and automation. We partnered with over 200+ reputed K-12 and pre-schools in addition to 5+ educational vendors in South India. The platform comes with a world-class design and is intuitive and easy-to-use, ensuring parents enjoy a hassle-free experience and price transparency.
Few essential steps:
- Be the go-to platform for all things education, from school essentials such as uniforms and books to value-added services such as career counseling, ERP tool to automate the schooling lifecycle, academic recruitment needs, hobby tutoring, additional learning aids and more.
- Partner with leading brands in the ecosystem and enable a digital platform to allow convenience to parents
- Enhance our tech expertise, bringing the whole system online. This would eliminate offline order intakes, reducing financial pilferage and data loss
- Have a well functional warehouse to accommodate high volume orders and facilitate brand packaging
- Setup EP experience centers in close vicinity to school campuses, enabling in-person trial for kids before order placement
- Partner with credible logistics partner to ensure timely delivery of products
- Setup CRM extensions to automate manual tasks, reducing human errors and ensuring quick turnarounds
- Strengthen the team, bringing in field experts to efficiently manage the process