“Industrial filtration is our game. We do HVAC and process air. Part of our job is to keep foreign matter out of the process air stream in critical process areas,” said Darren Herd, Principal of Canterbury Filter Services.

“We also do dust extraction: when they get milk and they atomize it, from liquid to solid matter, they go through a form of pneumatic dust extraction, and we provide the dust socks on a number applications, we do a little bit of liquid filtration, but it would be fair to say our business is predominantly built around HVAC and the dust extraction side of things.”

“Process Air is what we do, wherever critical hygiene is a requirement.”

We provide a service as opposed to being product merchants

We import filter products, carry out some manufacturing of a few of our own products in Christchurch and then wrap a service package around them.

Some time ago we targeted the dairy industry and put together a compliance service. The service involves supplying new filters, replacing filters that have reached the end of their usable lives and giving them an audit trail around that service.

Our business focuses on New Zealand leading dairy companies. We’ve created a service model that has now become something people look for when they go to work for other companies.

We are quite different from our competitors because we provide a significant service component to our products. It gives us our customers a unique advantage through the value we add to our product range

Our customers put us through quite a few hoops before they approved us as suppliers. CFS was able to put together a track record that has stood us in good stead ever since.

In the South Island we are locked into most of the significant manufacturers.

25-30 years ago we used to do most of our manufacturing in New Zealand. As our filter products filter products evolved with our business needs it was necessary to go to the global stage, and align ourselves with suppliers with proven technology and certification; and import what’s needed.

There’s probably 3-4 companies in New Zealand who do similar things, they tend to be product merchants, we tend to be a complete package of product and services.

Keeping up with our customers

“Our customers also present challenges. Dairy is a big part of New Zealand’s exports that competes against the rest of the world. Consequently our clients are often looking for national supply agreements and trying to negotiate prices down.

It’s also a matter of keeping in tune with our clients, they’ve got a lot of resources, they build factories at great speed, and we have to accommodate that within our normal business operations.

So the market here is a good launch pad for building dairy companies. The challenge is to keep up with the industry’s growth. There’s no resting on your laurels.

Our customer service reporting was a logistical nightmare

We had a manual, very tedious way of reporting back to our clients, with the drive to keeping our clients compliant with their regulations. This is what your filters looked like before and this is the way they look now.

We need to do this regularly and doing it through Word and Excel was time consuming. The reports were a mix of text and images. It became a logistical nightmare at the end of the month to produce five reams of reports.”

There’s got to be a better way

“We started thinking there’s got to be a better way to do this in this day and age. So we started looking into it and we were referred to Stratos (who were then called Canterbury Business Solutions). Our own IT contractor also recommended them. It is super to be able to deal with guys on our doorstep.

Through our website we wanted to build a customized sign-in for our clients. They could then access their various sites and plants; and find out what exactly they had on site. This gave them everything they used to get but in a much more expedient way.

They can download the reports and get hard copies. It was particularly useful for the dairy industry because they are on the forefront of being audited by their customers, by MAF Qual, or anyone else coming through.

They can then use our site to show their auditors what steps they are taking to maintain quality and show that these steps are regularly kept up. A lot of emphasis is placed on contractors to assist with this process.”

Software development done right

“We started with a blank sheet of paper and a few expectations. They were very good at breaking the project down into stages, and when we get to this stage, we’ll do this and when we get to that stage, we’ll do that. They kept us in good communication, they pilot tested the system and then it evolved from there.

CFS has been growing with Stratos. They started off with a couple of people and all of a sudden there was a team of people. We were assigned a contact person and she was very good at keeping us informed on what was going on.

I recall there was a time when we needed to transfer all our web pages to the new system and information from three different companies had to come together at once. During the transfer there was a rollover period.

They said let’s go and we’ll deal with the issues as they came up. There were two or three issues that did arise but they got on top of it and defused it very quickly. Overall it was a smooth transition. It was potentially a complex job but for a well structured and honed system it went smoothly.

We are a small company, with around 8-10 staff at best, so cost is a relative thing. At each stage, they were able to talk us through how much that stage would cost, how many hours each stage would go into it. Things turned out very close to the original project plan.

The biggest thing for us is how the project was able to make everyone’s systems talk to each other. This was very important.”

We didn’t stop there, we’ve kept improving it

“We ended up with something that we were very happy with. At the moment we do regular reviews to look at the system with Stratos, to keep it looking modern and also to see what more it could do for us. Stratos get enterprising ideas about not only what we are doing but they bring new ideas along that can lift us up another peg. When we do our monthly reviews they can say “what about this” and that gets me thinking about how we can get ahead. It’s certainly powerful for us because it provides item numbers, makes it easy to reorder stock, because we can quickly do a tally of all our customers to see what they’re using, what the breaks are and the frequency. One of the upgrades included changing the background colour of one of the reports as the part’s condition changed. It would turn from green to yellow and then red. It made them read it. The traffic lights drew their attention, and enabled them to act. It triggered an action. We still use the same project planning framework that they introduced us to, to upgrade the existing system.”

It was easy to see the payback from the new system

“When we were doing it manually, it used to take 3 full days for a couple of people, every month for the duration of the dairy season, which is about 5 months of every year. Now it’s down to one. The payback was easily demonstrated.

The other day we did a bit of a wrap on our work for our dairy season, and we’ve got all our reports done and dusted already. The boys have been doing it on their phones, laptops and iPads and it’s done. The beauty of that is it’s real. It’s not delayed, it’s fresh.

I love the idea that they’re local. In this day and age, there are so many different options in terms of overseas suppliers. Stratos are very professional, they know their business, they’re very supportive, they’re just great to deal with, easy to make contact with, they’re accommodating, cost effective... all the right things. They’ve been a pleasure to deal with. I’d like to say all these things about my own business.”