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A Stitch in Time

United Notions & Fabrics quilts together a quality IT environment on a budget

United Notions & Fabrics quilts together a quality IT environment on a budget

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Customer: United Notions & Fabrics
Headquarters: Dallas
Business: Distributor of hardware and fabrics for the quilting industry
Challenge: Ensuring that its customers receive the best service possible, while also saving money and boosting efficiencies
Solution: Partnering with Remotis Technologies to stay on top of the latest technologies without breaking the bank
Hardware: An IBM System i 520
Software: IBM Lotus Domino, Lotus Notes Traveler, imaging software from ACOM Solutions and the Infor A+ suite of ERP solutions

Just because a company doesn’t have the resources of a Fortune 500 corporation doesn’t mean it can’t act like one. Like the quilters it serves, United Notions & Fabrics has created something useful on a budget. It’s deployed several solutions that set it apart from the competition, such as remote order entry and confirmation, detailed drill-down reports and automatic order updates on its website—all without a large IT budget or staff.

United Notions has accomplished this by bending the rules that typically bind smaller companies—and having a business partner that does the same. This visionary thinking has helped it tailor a collaborative development environment that could make executives at large multinationals shake their heads and ask, “How did they come up with that on such a tight budget?”

It isn’t a mystery how the company has done it; it’s simply a different way of approaching how IT partners can work together to build something a smaller company might never have been able to do on its own. In United Notions’ case, this different way of thinking has improved efficiencies across the board, prompting John Atkins, the company’s IT director, to say, “Our customers have always called us the nicest company in the business. Now they’re also calling us the coolest company in the business.”

And they do it all on what would be just a line item on a fat-cat corporation’s ledger sheet.

Support and Innovation

Dallas-based United Notions specializes in the quilting industry and consists of three business units. One, simply named United Notions, deals in what Atkins calls the hardware of the business: needles, thread, scissors, books, patterns and specialty tools totaling some 30,000 products.

Moda Fabrics focuses on fabrics, mostly imported. According to Atkins, that’s the majority of the company’s business, with around 8,000 types in stock. As with its United Notions line of hardware products, Moda Fabrics’ goods are sold primarily to the 5,000 independent quilting stores in the U.S. The company also has foreign distributors for its fabric products.

The Moda Home business arm designs and manufactures finished home accessories and gifts that are licensed and sold globally to Moda independent retailers.

Most of United Notions’ customers are small, independent stores, not big-box chains, so the company offers educational sessions not only in quilting, but also in how to start and successfully run a business.

“Most of these store owners and operators are quilters who’ve decided to open a business, getting a storefront lease in a strip mall or something,” Atkins says. “They’ll call us up and say, 'Fill it up,' but they may not know the ins and outs of actually running a store. So we’ll bring them in and educate them on store layout, merchandising, financials—the retail concepts they may not be familiar with.”

Chugging away in United Notions’ data center is an IBM System i* 520 running Infor’s A+ ERP suite of software, as well as a Lotus* Domino* server and a document-imaging system from ACOM Solutions that lets the company e-mail or fax rather than print and physically mail such items as purchase orders and invoices. This last solution has allowed the company to reduce the amount of paper it uses, with most of its purchase orders—between 200 and 250 a week—being electronically transmitted. “We probably print only a couple purchase orders a week,” Atkins says.

"Our customers have always called us the nicest company in the business. Now they’re calling us the coolest company in the business.” —John Atkins, IT director, United Notions & Fabric

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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