How Arizona Iced Tea got over its tech-skeptical past and rolled out 200 iPads

After years of filling orders with paper and pencils, AriZona Iced Tea is expanding its presence in the marketplace by using iPads and a mobile sales team. Credit: AriZona Beverages

In early 2011, the 200 sales people for Arizona Iced Tea in New York and Florida were still taking bottled drink orders from their retail customers using paper and pencils.

It was the way the company had been taking orders since its start in May 1992, when the owners went store to store pushing its new beverage lines. The company's owner preferred the simplicity of paper and pencil order-taking for years, said Andrew Knapp, the IT administrator for Arizona Beverages. Then a new CIO arrived in 2008, with some fresh ideas for employing more modern IT methods, such as the start of an SAP ERP system which is still being deployed to provide better inventory control, said Knapp.

"The new CIO has been pushing more IT changes," said Knapp. One of those ideas was to look at finding a new way for sales people to take and input their drink orders from retailers so the process could be streamlined. "Instead of having the sales people take orders on paper and bring them back for manual entry into an ordering system, the CIO wondered why we couldn't have them do it all by themselves," said Knapp.

Something along that line had been tried back in the mid-2000s with Palm devices, but it was a "train wreck" because Palm OS was so slow at the time, according to Knapp. "Every part of the whole thing was a problem at that time and it was actually losing money instead of making money." After that failed Palm experiment, the sales people went back to their old-fashioned paper ordering system.

The new CIO didn't let the previous failure stop the company, though. Instead, he came up with plans to do it right using newer, more effective technology tools that wouldn't come up short, said Knapp.

Apple's iPads had been for sale for a while and the flashy tablets were catching on well with users who didn't have lots of tech savvy. Some people inside Arizona even had iPads of their own and were gaining useful experience with them.

In the summer of 2011, Arizona ordered 13 iPads and passed them around to several of their local offices in the New York metro area so they could be tested by sales team members, said Knapp.

"We told the sales people that from now on they weren't going to use paper and pencils and would now use the iPads," said Knapp. "Most of the sales people had already used an iOS device already, so we did quick training for those who hadn't and sent them on their way."

To take the orders using the iPads, Arizona's internal web developers created a simple order-taking web page that is perfectly sized for iPads and Apple's Safari browser, said Knapp.

A minor drawback was quickly exposed when the first sales people began testing it, he said. As long as users had a solid Wi-Fi connection, everything worked well. But if a sales person entered a large, dense walk-in beverage cooler to check a retailer's drink inventory, they might lose their Wi-Fi connection and the order they were writing.

That shortcoming was fixed when the developers made some quick changes that allowed the order app to cache the orders and save them in memory until a good Wi-Fi connection was established later.

By late summer of 2011, the pilot project with the 13 iPads was going very smoothly, said Knapp. "The consensus was that it was working well."

With that, the decision was quickly made to buy and deploy iPads and the order-taking app for all of the approximately 200 sales people in New York and Florida who made direct sales to retailers. In other parts of the United States, Arizona beverages are sold through distributors who offer them directly to retailers without the need for a corporate sales team.

The full iPad deployment happened in November 2011.

The company has since checked out competing tablets from other vendors, but is sticking with the iPads based on their ease of use, management and their capabilities, he said.

However, Arizona did quickly find that it needed better enterprise management tools for the iPads and their corporate order data, so they checked with Apple for help, said Knapp. One critical need that Arizona had was a way to allow sales people to store and display product sales brochures, price lists and related information so it could be shown to customers without requiring costly and often-outdated print-outs.

"We wanted a nice, organized way to put all of this stuff in," said Knapp. "The sales people were still walking around with their catalogs of products in their hand, such as sales sheets and folders."

Apple couldn't offer direct help for such a product but referred them to a vendor named AirWatch, which offers a Secure Content Locker application that provide just such a capability.

"We tried out others, too, including MobileIron, but AirWatch seemed one step ahead and was easier to use than the other management tools," said Knapp.

With AirWatch, all of the sales brochures and information could be placed inside a secure repository where it could easily be called up and shown to customers on a convenient tablet. Another benefit was that instead of having to send large email attachments and take up volumes of storage space for the data, it could be placed in the repository once and accessed by everyone in the same spot, according to Knapp.

"So now we can show the items to customers on the iPads," he said. "They can show them right there in the store and they don't have another book, folder or whatever."

It's even helped the company get more salespeople on the street by reducing the need to an in-house telephone sales department. Previously, 12 telephone salespeople were needed to take orders over the phone from other salespeople who were using paper forms. Now only two people are needed to man the phones. The extra 10 phone workers were moved to the street. "That's an efficiency that was gained," said Knapp.

So far, there's no SAP client to tie in the iPads with the ongoing SAP ERP deployment, said Knapp, but that idea remains on the back burner if it becomes feasible later.

The new system has pleased the company's owner, who for years was steadfast in running the business using pencils and paper, said Knapp.

"He was very unsure about it at first, but once he started getting the numbers back, he was happy," said Knapp. "He's even invested more into the project," buying all of the sales people special cases for their iPads so they can be held in place for easier typing. "He's thrilled. Now we're eyeing capabilities for making sales right off the delivery trucks directly. We're looking for the means to do printing and billing from the trucks. That's what we're looking at for in the future."

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