#SgGoesGlobal - Star 360:
Stepping up digital efforts in B2B footwear

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Asics. Nike. Onitsuka Tiger. Ever heard of these footwear brands or own a pair or two? Now imagine you're the distributor behind these brands — plus another 20. In addition to having a grip on a wide range of shoe designs, colours and sizes, you need to be on top of all your distribution points across different countries.

Mr Andy Chaw Photo Credit: SPH Lianhe Zaobao

The most efficient way to manage this is to go digital. Mr Andy Chaw, CEO of Star 360 Holdings seconds this, "The more we know about digital, the more strongly we feel the need to beef up in this area."

Headquartered in Singapore, Star 360 Holdings is a global lifestyle group involved in the retail, wholesale distribution and product development of footwear and apparel, with wholly-owned subsidiaries in 17 markets across the world.

Star 360's digital journey started in 2007, when Mr Chaw saw a need for an online system to streamline the business. "To be a good wholesaler, we must digitalise as we have more than 25 brands and over hundreds of designs and sizes. We need to make use of digital tools to manage our inventory and analyse our data."

"What digitalisation can do for your business is beyond your imagination," Mr Chaw added. With digital tools, he employs just 20 accountants to manage his subsidiaries' finances in foreign markets from Singapore.

To help employees embrace technology, Mr Chaw also ensures that the company provides in-house training for new staff and conducts training online.

"Investing in digitalisation is an ongoing journey that will not stop."

On Star 360's journey of expanding overseas, they worked closely with SPRING Singapore to upgrade their Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management systems to manage multiple companies, locations and currencies. IE Singapore assisted by building Star 360's e-commerce strategy and platform, and connected Mr Chaw to potential partners and product brands.

Citing their digital platform in Japan as an example, Mr Chaw shared "retailers can log in to the digital platform and place their orders directly. This means we only need 30 people to manage orders from 8,000 points of sale. Without the aid of technology, we would've needed about 100 people."

Even with robust systems in place, Mr Chaw is not stopping here. He is constantly thinking of how to continue to refine the systems so that his company's operations can be even more efficient. For example, he would like to track the pace at which his products are sold. “With the data we have collected, we can stock up in advance, know the demand trends, and even go into details like colours, designs and brands. If we can get our systems to generate more useful reports, we can make better business decisions.”

Brick-and-mortar retails shops however will not give away to e-commerce. Mr Chaw believes that brick-and-mortar shops will not become obsolete — at least not for now. More than 90% of his customers are still buying shoes at retail shops. "Will the trend change? We don't know. But one thing is for sure — our retail shopfront is supporting our online business and can serve as pick-up points for customers to collect their shoes."

"The more we know more about digital, the more we feel strongly we need to spend in this area."

With a wealth of digital experience under his belt, Mr Chaw is bracing himself for a new challenge driven by e-commerce — China. "China is a difficult market to penetrate and it took us a long time to find the right brands to partner. Now, we have managed to partner a few good brands and are ready to go into China through e-commerce."

Despite the obvious benefits of digitalisation, Mr Chaw cautions against jumping onto the bandwagon without a clear idea of how it can contribute to one's business. His advice is to "invest gradually; start by driving efficiency and productivity. Look at your own capabilities and decide what can work best for you."

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