Case Study: Langston Company
About The Company
Founded in 1946 by Forrest Byron Langston, known to friends and family as Rudy, Langston Companies began its legacy in a 5,000-square foot building across the Mississippi River in Memphis.
Today, Langston still operates the original Memphis plant, but it has expanded significantly over the years across the United States and Mexico. It now runs a major West Memphis plant focused on production of multiwall bags, which accounts for 40 percent of its total business, as well as six other facilities that produce products for the US cotton industry, module covers and FIBC bulk bags. You may not have known it, but chances are you’ve used one of Langston’s multiwall paper bags as they house a huge array of consumer products sold at grocery stores and big box stores across the country, including flour, sugar, rice, charcoal, cat litter and dog food, just to name a few. Langston has a strong focus on customer relationships, something that sets it apart from its competition.
Gain Real-Time Visibility Into Crucial Data
In deciding to implement an ERP system, Langston’s top priority was to have a more direct line of sight into its financial, operational and production data — knowing costs, spotting problems early, identifying where variances are occurring.
“ When you have an older system, you tend to make a lot of broad brush estimates,” said Jim Harris, Langston’s CFO. “Factors are always changing. We needed better data on costs, inventory and raw materials, the ability to make better decisions.”
With Langston’s old system, the data was all there, but they lacked the ability to access it efficiently. Efficiency and service in bag manufacturing depends heavily on forecasts for commodity prices and yield estimates in the farming sector. For example, a bountiful or scant projected cotton harvest dictates production demand. If Langston can’t closely monitor and quickly adjust production as needed, it runs the risk of overstocking — or worse, coming up short and sending customers to its competition. Better data was also the priority for Debbie, part of Langston’s customer service team. “ The main thing I need is to be able to see realtime inventory, being able to check and see if Langston has the materials to run a job right
now.” Debbie said.
Improve Strategic Decision Making
Another key driver for Langston’s decision to adopt ERP was the need for company wide strategic decision making. Langston executives felt held back using disparate systems and manual processes across the company’s many facilities. For example, in order for an inventory manager at the company’s Texas branch to request out of stock materials from its Arizona plant, Arizona needed to effectively sell the materials to Texas as it would finished products to a customer, including creating a work order. Langston wanted its inventories available as a unified resource to better serve the business as a whole, even when it was separated by hundreds of miles.
Langston’s strategic vision includes expanding into new markets, incorporating robotics into its production lines, developing print stock and warehousing services for customers, and experimenting with alternative packaging materials. Langston executives recognized that accomplishing these ambitious goals requires an ERP system that can not only meet their needs today, but grow and change with them into the future.
Enhance Traceability Through Lot Control
Since the introduction of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act in 1997, the federal government has classified packaging materials in the food and beverage sector as food contact substances — for all intents and purposes, an ingredient to the food the package contains.
For a company like Langston, this was a significant change, one that calls for the adoption of advanced lot control to trace bag making materials through the supply chain, document incoming and outgoing goods, and protect downstream partners and end users. Langston needed an ERP system to support that effort by providing traceability for all of its products. With the accuracy goal in mind, Jim wanted the new ERP system to have multi-site, multi-company functionality that gave the ability for a user to, with a single stroke, complete transactions in multiple systems.
Purchasing is another area where improved accuracy was a priority. “ We wanted to be able to determine customer order patterns, being able to predict better and be more proactive in understanding our customers’ purchasing needs,” said Langston’s project coordinator, Lisa Brown. “It will help better manage inventory and prepare for seasonality.”
Get More Out of Supplier Relationships
Improved supplier relationship management was another ERP opportunity for Langston. It relies on several key outsourced materials, such as kraft paper, which is used in all of its paper bags, as well as pellets of resin used to make woven plastic bags and steel used in cotton bale wire ties. These supply chain dependencies expose Langston to greater market volatility, but also provide it with strategic opportunities if managed well. Better reporting through ERP could help Langston actively manage supplier relationships and leverage its purchasing power.
Langston’s selection team saw the relative organization sizes of abas and Langston as a major advantage in the ERP selection. “ We didn’t want to be a small fish in a big pond,” Brad said. Unlike with some of the massive ERP companies like Microsoft or SAP, with abas, Langston would be among the company’s larger clients, ensuring them access to some of abas’ senior-most experts for proof-of-concept demos, process improvement consulting, implementation and training. But Langston decision makers also felt they didn’t need to worry about the software being undersized, a concern they had with other smaller vendors on the market.
Modern ERP System
Another reason abas stood out was because of its modern user interface, browser-based Web UI and mobile apps, such as mobile CRM, which allows sales reps to access their prospect data, create new sales orders and provide quotes. “ abas seemed more modern, a newer offering with better UI, more modern developments and enhancements,” Edward said. “abas is continuously updating the software, as opposed to other vendors which aren’t, investing in technologies like cloud, mobile and IoT.”
No Third Party or VARs
The direct support the abas team provides to Langston was another deciding factor for the selection team. The entire implementation process, including pre-sales, implementation, support and upgrades is handled by in-house abas staff, as opposed to outsourcing to VARs or resellers as most ERP vendors do. This unique aspect of abas shows the company’s dedication to its customers and the Langston project specifically. “ Transformational changes will be more straightforward with abas than with a company that uses a lot of third parties.” Edward said. “ The functionally isn’t piecemealed together from outside vendors. Pretty much everything is developed and executed completely by abas.”
From a more technical perspective, abas ERP’s upgrade-friendly architecture played an important role in Langston’s decision. The software’s multi-tiered architecture, which separates the core hardware and kernel from standard and customer user interface, allows for upgrades from older versions of the software. This means that as business processes change that require mapping to the ERP system, the number of external service days are lower with abas then other ERP systems. In addition, at the time of upgrading there’s no need to rewrite previously developed custom programs, screens, and reports in an older version.
Eye on Future Trends
“ We want to be future proof,” Edward said. He described problems with Langston’s legacy accounting and inventory management systems that are no longer supported or that don’t integrate well between and within business units. The selection team saw abas’ focus on preparing for future trends like robotics, IoT, mobile, and digitization and felt it was a good fit. But equally important was that despite all of the changes brought about by ERP, that Langston would be able to maintain its culture of keeping things personal.
“ The goal of ERP is to free up your people to have more personal interactions with customers, there should be even more of a personal touch” Brad said, and he sees how abas can help them achieve this. “When someone calls, abas can pull up your record right away to give the person real-time data. This allows us to provide better customer service, phenomenal customer service.”
Because of Langston’s spread-out geography and goals of improved data transparency across locations, abas’ support of multi-company and multi-site functionality was crucial. “ This is working well in abas because it’s invisible to the user on the UI side,” Jim said.
“ So far, the hardest part has been merging the data, getting all of the calculations correct. You have to think out of the box to do it,” said Mike Belote, Langston’s operations manager. On the Langston project, some parts of the migration were particularly complex, for example, the migration of legacy Bills of Material costing data into abas. Mike and other Langston employees described the challenge of migration not just in terms of the extraction and uploading of the data itself, but also the change in their way of thinking about the system and accessing the data compared to their older way of doing it.
Data migration is a challenge on all implementation projects, but the abas team has developed a methodology that gives the customer access to tools that help them migrate the data, such as the Company Sync functionality, that allows for ease of standardization. To make this stage easier, abas works closely with the customer every step of the way until they are able to maintain the system on their own.
Unique Specifications Require a Custom Configurator
All businesses have unique aspects of their production processes that need to be considered when starting an ERP implementation, and Langston was no different. “ Langston has 6,000 different unique factors and materials that go into customizing a single multiwall bag, including different printing processes,” Mike said. These 6,000 variables and their related dependencies posed a challenge for the team when it came to the configurator Langston would need. Their previous configurator was a set of hard coded indexes and tables.
“ We wanted something simpler to use,” Mike said. They needed a tool that would allow employees to quickly and accurately map out bag design specifications according to client needs. The configurator that comes standard with abas is the type many manufacturers provide to customers directly through their Websites for selecting the options and associated values they want in their products. But Langston’s vision for the tool was different. Langston wa