At a mere 3.7 pounds and just 10.6" by 7.2", the xTablet's light weight and easy-to-handle size seems to contradict its incredible functionality and power. Utilizing the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, this hand-held is fully capable of running Power Point presentations and full video with sound as well as the other necessary functions of a route accounting system.
Miller described the xTablet as more than a typical hand-held, "It's actually one tough desk top computer you can hold in your hand. And it's much easier to use in the field than a clamshell." When challenged about the unit's ruggedness, Miller nonchalantly picked the unit from its dock and literally threw it across the room. The screen didn't even flicker. Needless to say, we were impressed.
It's one thing to impress us and be certified by Anheuser-Busch, but what about the people who actually use it? So we talked to a couple of beer wholesalers in MobileDemand's home state of Iowa. "We use some pretty powerful software, so you need a pretty powerful computer to run it efficiently." stated Tod Wolter of Kirchhoff Distributing in Dubuque, Iowa, an Anheuser-Busch distributor.
"The xTablet was the only rugged tablet computer available to us that could do it." Mr. Wolter went on to say that the route accounting world does not present the ideal conditions for any computer, but that the ruggedized nature of the xTablet is a real plus considering the efficiency problems they'd experienced with their previous paper-based system. "The xTablet was clearly our choice due to its combined power and ruggednes" stated Wolter. "We evaluated several different computers for our installation and knew the non-rugged units simply would not survive the rough handling by beer sales and delivery drivers. We don't have time to contend with hardware problems on non-Rugged Tablet PCs."
Kirchhoff Distributing has used the xTablet in their pre-sales function for almost a year and just recently expanded their integration of the unit into their peddle-sales force (driver-sales) as well.
When asked how the MobileDemand unit has helped improve their business, Wolter replied, "Boy, where do I start? We've been able to do much more with the xTablet. MobileDemand was very accommodating as far as tailoring the hardware to meet our specific needs as a beer wholesaler. They even added a larger keypad on the side of the unit for our guys unfamiliar with the on-screen keyboard."
"Our salesmen have also been able to do their own cooler sets, which is a big advantage. They used to bring them in as scratches on paper and hand them off to someone else to input into our shelf set system.
What a headache that was. Not only did it waste a lot of time, sometimes the scratches were unintelligible and we had to track down the salesman for clarification. It all added up to more cost in terms of time lost." stated Wolter.
When pressed about the added efficiencies of the MobileDemand unit, he added, "Our old system was basically paper-based. The salesman would come in the afternoon, we'd process the order and the second shift would have to do the truck-builds for the next day's deliveries. Now the salesman takes the order in the morning, transmits it back to the distribution center via a wireless cell phone connection and we have the truck-build ready by noon!"
When asked about how he planned to use the xTablet in Kirchhoff's peddle-sales operations, Mr. Wolter stated, "This is where MobileDemand really stepped up to the plate for us. They designed a custom mount for beer trucks to hold both the xTablet and a wired ruggedized printer that feeds paper right from the box. It makes it much easier for the driver to check his shelf and back room inventory, take the order, print the invoice, make his delivery, and move on to the next customer. It'll be a real time saver and allow more stops per day."
Like Kirchhoff, another Anheuser-Busch distributor, Dale Lee Distributing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has migrated to MobileDemand's xTablet in their pre-sales operation.
Speaking with Randy Krug, Controller of Dale Lee Distributing and a member of the NBWA Beer Industry Electronic Commerce Committee (BIECC), we asked about the circumstances that led his operation to MobileDemand.
"Previously our pre-sales force was using windows-based PDA's. They were convenient to use, but had limited capabilities. And, because they weren't terribly rugged, the failure rate was higher." Krug said. "That spells potential for lost profits. So, when MobileDemand came in and demonstrated how moving to the xTablet would eliminate these problems while adding functionality, it was a no-brainer."
Randy stated that because the xTablet was a windows-based system the learning curve for his pre-sales force was practically non-existent. He also added that the dramatic increase in power, flexibility and functionality also made his decision much easier.
When asked about the differences between the old system and the xTablet, Randy replied, "We saw going forward there would be more brewery-based initiatives requiring substantially more power than our PDA's could provide. And there were some things we were already doing where they weren't to the task." We asked Randy to give some examples.
"The xTablet with its larger screen has allowed our workforce to have a lot more functionality in terms of ease of data capture. That's important because the brewery asks us to collect survey and competitive data. It makes our sales job much easier." Krug added.
Aside from improved data capture, we asked Randy what other capabilities of the xTablet made his sales force's job easier.
He replied, "Beyond walking in and taking the order, our investment in this new computer has given us the potential going forward for a quantum leap in sales support capabilities. We will be able to go into a retailer and show them some pretty persuasive, real-time multimedia sales presentations and collateral downloaded directly from the brewery. We can even walk in and show a customer upcoming television spots. And the big, full color screen on the xTablet gives everything much higher impact and our sales force a much more professional appearance. As a result, our salesmen are becoming more effective in their business dealings with their customers. MobileDemand has added a whole new dimension of capability and efficiency to our entire operation."
Dale Lee is currently using the xTablet in their pre-sales force and intends to roll it out to their peddle-sales drivers mid 2005. After speaking to the distributors, we returned to MobileDemand headquarters in Hiawatha, Iowa, to ask Matt Miller about what he saw as his keys to success with the beer wholesaler initiative. "One of the keys, of course, is the power, functionality and versatility of the xTablet. But, of equal importance is the way we do business." Miller said. "If a customer has a hiccup with a unit, we respond quickly to resolve their issue. Or, like the numeric keypad we developed for Kirchhoff, if a customer needs a minor adjustment to the unit, we hire a mechanical engineer and get it done. We do it quickly and at a reasonable cost. We are a very customer service oriented, what-ever-it-takes kind of company. I guess you could sum it up as personalized customer service."
MobileDemand's xTablet systems are currently in use at Anheuser-Busch distributors in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, West Union, and Mason City, IA, Lincoln, NE, Charlotte, NC, Goshen, NY, El Dorado, AR, Knoxville, TN, Tupelo, MS, and Dothan, AL with other sites currently under development.
For more information on the MobileDemand xTablet contact MobileDemand or call 877.774.3496.
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