The new stock answer to retail inventory management

 |   Ashlea Lynch

Person using laptop

Inventory solutions company Cin7 was founded by Danny Ing to provide Azure-based software support for small to medium Kiwi businesses wanting to sell their products through large retailers like Walmart and Amazon. A few short years later, Danny and his team are fast capturing the global retail market, getting stock to where it’s needed faster, more efficiently and at less cost – anywhere in the world

For many retailers, ensuring both online and physical stores are stocked with the products required to meet customer needs can be challenging. Consumer demand changes at such a rapid pace, suppliers can struggle to keep up. Recall shelves emptied of toilet paper and flour in early 2020, or the great Hatchimals hunt of 2019. Auckland-based inventory management specialist Cin7 recognised various problems were impacting retailers the world over. Whether the time spent stock-taking in warehouses wasn’t being managed by staff efficiently or items were sitting on shelves, taking up valuable space in one part of the country, but flying off shelves in other areas, Founder and CEO Danny Ing and his team realised there had to be a better way. They embarked on a mission to automate and connect the whole inventory supply chain, saving time, space and money, while providing consumers with better, faster access to food and fashion, flooring and furniture.

The Madonna story

Ing caught the IT bug early – thanks to his struggles with English. Originally from Vietnam, he arrived in New Zealand as a refugee at the age of six. With his spelling and grammar needing much improvement, Ing turned to spell check, and was impressed by how a computer program could transform his mangled words into flawless English. Although he studied marketing and accounting at university, that early passion for technology stuck with him.

Searching for a career that inspired him, he recalled what a lecturer had once said to him: “Do what you’d do for free – and if you make money out of it, that’s success.” Ing began to teach himself web design which led to the creation of his first company, Datum Connect, at the young age of 27. Seeing the potential of online shopping, he began developing custom e-commerce sites, but after a few years he was looking for his next challenge.

“It’s the Madonna story. You’ve got to reinvent yourself every four or five years on the internet, as more and more businesses move into the same space. With my former business, I was just one crab in the crab bucket. So I found myself a new bucket.”

When one of his customers enquired about an inventory management add-on, the idea for Cin7 (it stands for “Connected Inventory”) was born. From the start, Ing’s focus was world domination, integrating with warehouses and resellers around the world, from Briscoes, Woolworths and Rebel Sport to Nordstrom, Walmart and Amazon.

“We generated a lot of our business at the beginning from Australia and New Zealand, but we’ve always been geared towards operating in the US. The demand over there is much greater, but it also gives smaller retailers the opportunity to get their products listed with larger wholesale stores, whether it’s through native point of sale or their e-commerce sites,” says Ing.

Cin7 and Azure: the logical choice

The first step was tackling the “business logic”, learning how inventory flows for all different kinds of products. Chocolate and frozen chickens don’t have the same sales cycle or storage requirements as carpet or Gucci bags. Likewise, some of Cin7’s customers have bricks and mortar retail stores, a quarter are online retailers and still others are wholesalers, each with different needs.

The next savvy move was to partner with Microsoft and build Cin7’s software on Azure, giving it the ability to match the needs of its customers, no matter how fast things change.

“Azure is quite elastic. Black Friday and Boxing Day require a lot more resources, so with Azure we’re able to spin up much gruntier databases that we couldn’t do with other platforms,” Ing explains. “Plus it’s designed to integrate easily with other technologies. We don’t have time to work with incompatible technology, and with Azure that ‘harmonious’ ability to work with all other technologies is one of the things we can count on.”

It’s also a valuable selling point. as the world’s retailers recognise and trust Azure as a secure platform. In the world of e-commerce, reliability and security are a big deal, and as Ing says, “Azure needs no explanation”.

Cutting-edge appliance maker Anova is one example, having transformed its sales overnight with Cin7’s help. Specialising in a vast array of smart gadgets to help everyday people cook restaurant-quality meals from home, Anova was having difficulty marketing its range of products and meeting the logistical challenge of online ordering. The company turned to Cin7 to integrate its 12 e-commerce websites with key B2B channels including Amazon Vendor Central, Target and Best Buy, so it could sell through their sites.

“Via our software, not only were they able to market the benefits of their entire catalogue more effectively, but with the growing number of vendors emerging it also gave them a larger platform to sell on, which ultimately saved a lot of time and money,” Ing says.

With support from Microsoft to gain Azure qualifications and develop their product, the Cin7 team hit Microsoft Gold Cloud Platform Partner status for outstanding Azure innovation in just a few years.

Ryan Tarak, Partner Development Manager at Microsoft New Zealand, has had a ringside seat throughout their skyrocketing growth.

“The combination of Cin7’s understanding of customers’ supply chain issues and their willingness to innovate with Azure and other products has created a truly unbeatable product. Local retailers can now access the world’s biggest markets, and because the platform is so flexible, the world’s biggest markets are using it too. It just goes to show how New Zealand tech companies’ success isn’t limited by borders.”

During the Covid-19 outbreak, Cin7’s technology enabled product suppliers to quickly redirect products from locations where shops and warehouses were locked down to markets that were doing better, such as Australia. It also enabled warehouse pickers to work safely, identifying safe zones for individual workers and organising stock to align so they could keep products going out the door.

An inventory of the future

So successful has Cin7 been that it attracted a $100 million investment from a US venture capital firm in late 2019. Not content to rest on its laurels, the business is kicking its innovations up another gear. It’s already engineering dashboards customised to each user’s role, making it easier for employees to find exactly the info they need, whether they’re doing the accounts or fulfilling orders.

But the new world is all about automation and business intelligence. Cin7’s goal is to automate 80 per cent of manual tasks, such as emails about payment terms, and see its platform no longer be merely an interface for data entry, but one that suggests intelligent solutions. Within a few years, employees could log on and receive instant suggestions to move stock from one area to another where it’s selling better, saving delivery time (and maximising sales).

That also means using other Microsoft tools such as Power BI to turn user data into insights, or enabling retail customers to securely access their own data online via Microsoft Access.

“The goal is to tell customers what they didn’t know they didn’t know. At a glance they’ll be able to see each item’s stock days, or time spent on the shelf, vs the amount of profit it makes. Or they’ll receive a recommendation not to use X supplier because its product sits too long and makes little profit, or which supplier can ship the item quickest,” Ing explains.

Tarak looks forward to seeing how else AI might be used.

“With real-time data and insights, there’s even more scope to speed up the supply chain, making it easier for suppliers and retailers to make quick decisions and benefit from more sustainable businesses.”

As for Danny, nothing would satisfy him more than to see technology become New Zealand’s number one export.

“We’re not far off now. With more and more New Zealand tech companies achieving scale, I think we can do it.”