Students, faculty develop new inventory system for Dogwood Crafters

March 16, 2012 | Share |

With the help of Western Carolina University students and faculty, Dogwood Crafters has a new inventory system in place and will celebrate that achievement as well as the shop’s new extended hours, at an event Thursday, March 22.

The Dillsboro shop is extending its hours to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and hosting the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” gathering on Thursday, March 22, at 5 p.m.

Dogwood Crafters is a shop featuring handmade crafts that is run by a board of directors and operated by volunteer crafters who sell each other’s items in shifts throughout the week. This work system allows crafters to sell their items without having to maintain their own business and full-time hours.

Initially the shop, which opened in 1976 with 12 crafters, completed inventory and sales reports by hand. In 1994, a local programmer created a customized inventory system for the shop to track thousands of items a year as well as each crafter’s inventory and daily, monthly and annual sales reports. The system, however, used a programming language that does not function with the shop’s newer computers and continued to be run on an older computer.

“We had one computer running our whole (inventory) system and were really concerned about a system failure.” says Chris Behre, chairman of Dogwood Crafters’ board of directors who is also a crafter.

The group sought help from the Dillsboro/WCU partnership, which was established in 2009 to help Dillsboro recover after the downturn in the economy, and began working last year with WCU faculty member Bill Richmond, associate professor within the College of Business, and his students. The program development process lasted a year and involved many meetings about the needs of Dogwood Crafters and brainstorming about how to keep the numbering and identification system that the crafters who work in the shop are used to.

“Dr. Richmond and members of his class became our new best friends,” said Brenda Anders, president of Dogwood Crafters.

In January, the new system was ready to be tested and after Richmond quickly fixed a few small program bugs, the 75 crafters were asked to take their entire inventory home, retag each item and bring them back to be entered into the new system. The shop closed for three weeks to reenter inventory and the first report came out perfectly, said Anders.

The new inventory system works similarly to the old with three benefits, said Richmond. First, the system programming and design were done in Microsoft Access and Visual Basic, programs which are both capable of being transported as computers and software are updated. Second, the system can be run on a modern computer that is much less likely to fail. Third, the design allows Dogwood Crafters to keep its unique way of identifying crafts and keeping inventory.

The creation of a new inventory system not only benefited Dogwood Crafters, but also the students who gained experience working with a real-world client, according to Richmond.

“WCU has been an invaluable asset in bringing new technology and new programming skills into play,” said Behre, who expects Dogwood Crafters to partner with WCU on future projects.

In addition, while closed to reenter inventory, the shop underwent repairs, was updated with new ceiling and carpet, and was rearranged to better allow for rotation of inventory.

“This is a great outcome on so many fronts,” said Betty Farmer, professor of communication and public relations and coordinator of the Dillsboro/WCU partnership. “We’re delighted that the new inventory system is such a success and that it also served as the impetus for the refurbishing and redecorating. One good thing often leads to another, and that appears to be the case in this instance.”

For more information about the Dillsboro/WCU partnership, contact Farmer at bfarmer@wcu.edu or call 828-227-3804.


Maintained by the Office of Public Relations