Holiday Light Maker Finds Peace on Earth with Sales Quoting & Fulfillment App

FileMaker Platform Brings Bright Sparkle to Global Operations at Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday

Holiday light maker's business management system relies on FileMaker for quotes, sales, distribution and EDI integration.

Just as Santa relies on the elves to keep his North Pole toy shop churning, holiday light manufacturer Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday depends on the FileMaker Platform to manage sales and distribution of its bulbous bling.

As the sole manufacturer of all GE-branded holiday lighting products, the company has a ton of items to track. Like toys that come in every variety, shape and size, so do holiday lights. There are energy efficient StayBright® LED lights, random sparkle string sets, color-changing snowflake LEDs and pre-lit Christmas trees. The list goes on and on. “We have 5,000 product SKUs,” said George Krize of Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday.

A few years back, Krize got the jolly idea to upgrade his business management system. For Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday, business management is a big deal because the company sells its merchandise to big box stores like Lowe’s, Costco, Home Depot, Meijer, Michaels Stores and Walmart. It’s a high-volume business where “units” sell in the tens of thousands and accuracy is essential because the company manufactures only what is ordered and must ship an entire season’s worth of product between the end of May and the second week of October.

To manage the business, Krize had cobbled together multiple Microsoft Access databases and Excel spreadsheets. “We were looking for ways to consolidate into one program and have cross-platform compatibility for use with Macs and PCs,” said Krize. He decided the FileMaker Platform was the way to go and hired eXcelisys.

Doug West, eXcelisys VP for product development, took the reins for the project and turned Krize’s business management wish list into a reality. “This is one of the last places you’d eXpect to find a FileMaker database — in big box retail with high-volume product management,” said West. “This is a big business with a big brand. The next time you go to the store and see GE holiday lights, think of FileMaker.”

The new custom business management software system went live in 2017.

We’re still fine-tuning it with different things, but it does everything I want it to do and more,” said Krize. “It’s a work in progress. It’s far from vanilla. It’s so chocolate chip it’s incredible.”

StayBright® Color Choice® LEDs are one of the many products managed by the new FileMaker app (image courtesy of Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday).

Key Customizations Keep Operations Merry & Bright

The new business management system takes care of basic business operations like order entry, generating quote sheets, managing purchase order inventory, generating UPC codes and spitting out custom reports. But where it really eXcels is with customizations that have Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

  • eXcel autofill: When businesses move to the FileMaker Platform, they typically leave eXcel behind. But Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday could not because big box stores require vendors to follow eXplicit guidelines for quote submissions via Excel. “You can’t just give them a PDF,” said West. “You have to fill out a spreadsheet with product details, a summary, photos, etc. They provide an eXcel spreadsheet that asks for specific information with formulas we can’t break. The challenge is we have to feed data into those eXcel workbook files and push it into those cells within the Excel files.” eXcelisys accomplished this feat by mapping the data through a third-party plugin that takes values from FileMaker and writes those into the worksheet cells in Excel.
  • EDI integration: As with most large-scale enterprises, Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday eXchanges business documents (i.e. purchase orders and invoices) with its customers using Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI. As such, the new FileMaker system had to integrate with the EDI platform. eXcelisys accomplished this task by adding a script to deal with flat file imports from EDI. “I never have to type a purchase order,” said Krize. “He can import purchase orders by downloading a data file from the EDI system and clicking a button in FileMaker,” said West. “So it’s not 100% automated but it’s still a serious time-saver.”
  • Product cloning: The cloning feature saves Krize time when adding new (similar) products to the lineup. “A lot of our items come in 10 colors,” said Krize. The clone feature eliminates the need to type out the detailed product description each time similar products are added. Instead, Krize clones the product, gets a new item number and makes the color change.
Random sparkle snowflake lights are another product managed by the new FileMaker business management system (image courtesy of Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday).

Other Favorite Features

✔ FileMaker WebDirect

Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday utilizes multiple overseas factories to manufacture and ship its products. These factories need real-time access to the FileMaker database to look up product specs, shipping requirements, package sizes, etc. By using FileMaker WebDirect, users overseas can open a web browser and connect directly to the FileMaker server located in the company’s Connecticut office. The beauty is that the screen renderings look eXactly the same as they do in FileMaker Pro in the home office and it’s all done with no additional web programming required and with no need to install FileMaker Pro on the overseas workstations. FileMaker WebDirect provides quick, instant access to any user, anywhere in the world.

With FileMaker WebDirect, users at the company’s overseas factories can plug into the FileMaker app through a web browser to access records from the FileMaker server in the Connecticut office. Updates made in the web browser save to the server and the server pushes updates to the web browser automatically (image courtesy of Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday).

✔ Content Management with Auditing

An audit trail on the home page allows Krize to view a list of every change made to any field anywhere in the system. Users at the factories sometimes correct things like weights or cubic volumes for shipping purposes. If an error is made, the audit trail allows Krize to recover the lost value quickly. “I can see what they touched, what the old value was…. It’s handy if someone makes a mistake. I can see what the previous value was, what it was changed to.”

✔ Package Dimension Calculations

For shipping purposes, Christmas Northeast / Nicolas Holiday must figure packing dimensions, weight, container quantities, pallet weight, etc. All of this is automated with the new system. A built-in cube calculator figures the height, width and length for each “case cube” of product. Because the company ships products globally, it needed the flexibility to figure measurements with the metric system and with U.S. customary values.

The Weather Outside is Frightful, but FileMaker is So Delightful as a Business Management System

In the end, Krize is pleased with his new custom business management software (complete with EDI integration!), but he also acknowledges the dark period of development he went through to get there. “It was a long drawn-out process to get it to do what I needed,” Krize said. “We were combining three different programs doing three different things and combining it into one piece. Yes, it was over budget and over time constraints. It was a learning process.”

Krize is also happy he chose the FileMaker Platform, but along the way he realized the platform was only a piece of the puzzle. “FileMaker. It’s a great program, but it’s only as good as the developer. I have nothing but accolades for Doug. He knows what he’s doing. He makes himself available and is never one to avoid a phone call. I would recommend FileMaker and eXcelisys just based on Doug West.”

If all you want for Christmas is a new innovative business solution on the FileMaker Platform, contact us today for a no-charge FileMaker solution consultation analysis and estimate.