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DIY App Building

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A common complaint from startups or smaller companies looking to expand is that it can be hard to get the framework and backbone in place to support the increased workload. Quadrupling a product inventory can not only require additional staff but the background technology to handle it all.

Backyard and patio retailer Outdoor Living was founded in 2009 with the goal of providing the best value in outdoor living space furnishings that meet high standards for design and quality. Vice president of business development Rony Daniel says it didn’t take long for the company to outgrow its method of managing customer data.

“We started [with Excel] as a startup and were just doing what we could,” he says. “Honestly, it was a mess and we weren’t keeping up at all.”

Every time something went wrong, Outdoor Living needed to bring in a programmer to help fix the problem; the scalability of the system meant it would need more people just to keep up with the increased volume of paperwork. The company needed a user-friendly system that it could efficiently grow with.

After researching solutions — and finding that many would take months to implement and cost thousands of dollars — Outdoor Living began working with TrackVia, a software company that provides a system for “average, non-technical” business people to design and build their own customizable applications to do the work they want.

TrackVia has thousands of active users around the world who have built more than 7,000 applications, ranging from simple tools to sophisticated enterprise-grade applications. Co-founder and COO Chris Basham says the design, implementation and ease of use puts the power in clients’ hands so they can build the exact database they need.

“Our mission is simply to help [non-technical] people build the databases they want and solve their problems with their own hands,” he says.
Delivered in the cloud, TrackVia offers application program interfaces (APIs), connectors, security and reliability. The multi-layered and pervasive security stack spans all operations, including TrackVia’s physical and Tier 4 data centers. It also offers “five-nines” — 99.999 percent — reliability with redundant, geographically dispersed Tier 4 data centers so TrackVia can simultaneously serve thousands of customers at the same time.

“We’ve got everyone from small companies to publicly traded retailers with well-known brands that are running a significant line of business with TrackVia,” Basham says.

Increasing SKU count
It’s not uncommon for smaller retailers to manage their databases with creative use of programs like Excel and Access. Basham says it may get the job done for a while, but a system like that can prove to be unreliable, inefficient and ineffective for dealing with very large amounts of data.

TrackVia’s platform helps users gain more insight into their data. The solutions centralize data online and offer an action-oriented workflow. This means the user can set up automatic triggers or alerts around key pieces of data like dates or milestones, saving time and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Daniel says the biggest benefit that TrackVia has provided Outdoor Living is the ability to easily grow its SKU count. Before the organization started using the solution, it offered 20,000 products; after less than a year of use, it was able to increase that selection to 100,000. Most importantly, it was able to do it with the same amount of manpower to handle the backend database and paperwork.

“We are still growing that and we have more distributors,” Daniel says. “When you have these massive amounts of data, you really need something to deal with it. The only other option would be to hire a full-time programmer, and there’s a lot of cost involved with that.”

The ability to customize the way data is organized and presented means retailers can individualize how each user accesses the data. Retailers can assign specific permissions for groups or users on everything from views and dashboards to tables and individual records.

“Users who are more advanced may be given more options,” Daniel says. “You can tailor it to exactly what you need.”

Customizable apps
While many solutions let companies create their own apps and interfaces, they usually require the assistance of an in-house or vendor-provided programmer. TrackVia eliminates that need by offering the power of a database with the simplicity of a spreadsheet that anyone can use. Customers don’t need to hire programmers or wait weeks or months for the turnaround; they can design their own app and have it ready to deploy in only seven days. Most of the work is done with point-and-click and drop-and-drag actions.

“It’s very easy to use and you really don’t need a lot of tech knowledge,” Daniel says. “You don’t need to know SQL. You just” build what you want.

Interfaces with intuitive design and visual menus means operation for most applications is self-explanatory. Retailers can use TrackVia to create accurate order forms. By linking the Order Management application with the Lightweight CRM application, users can get powerful insight into what customers like to buy the most.

Outdoor Living’s first application was used to manage customer service tickets and tie them to website and sales information. It was up and running in only four days and has been critical to its operations. It can also use the data for targeted marketing campaigns like product recommendations.

“It’s a simple way of doing it,” Daniel says. “All of our UPC codes are in the system and it’s all tied with our distributors, tickets and customers. We can recommend [to the customer] and then we can see all of our distributors and where we should order it from.”

TrackVia also offers a number of pre-built application templates for common uses, including CRM, product management, order management and product design. Daniel says it has grown to be a critical tool for Outdoor Living.

“We would eventually like to use more of their APIs, and that is something we’ll see with more complex integrations,” he says. “It has really helped us expand our business and go into retail locations as well.”