Warehouse Overhaul

Preparing to expand from 232 stores to 400 over the next three to five years, The Works put a plan in motion to implement a new warehouse management system (WMS). Although it had recently moved to a new headquarters, with an 85,000 square foot distribution center, the company's WMS was outdated. The impetus for this new plan followed a management buyout of the U.K.-based book and artist material retailer in July 2003.

"Although the move to a larger facility helped to centralize operations and provide the support structure necessary for future growth, the warehouse management system in place was old and becoming rickety, making it difficult to expand the business," explains Diane Smith, WMS project manager at The Works.

One key element the new system had to deliver was the ability to enable the distribution center to fulfill Web orders for twice as many stores as it currently operated. It also had to be implemented during a 12- to 14-week window. "We had to go into peak trading distribution in October, November and December with a stable system," explains Smith. "With our old system we were experiencing time-outs for two and three hours, which resulted in severe production loss and affected shops because we couldn't make deliveries on time."

The Works reached out to 10 providers and narrowed the choices down to two. The retailer chose RedPrairie, based mainly on a conference room pilot and the solution fit. "They answered questions confidently, and gave no hesitation on providing the solution within our required timeframe," says Smith. "Other companies didn't want to take the risk."

As planned, the system went live and rollout was complete in 12 weeks. Following rollout, the warehouse management solution required only minor customization. "The system was exactly what we needed," says Smith. "We raised warehouse picking efficiency by 25 percent in the first few weeks and that number is only increasing."

Smith also notes other benefits gleaned from the new system, such as more accurate store replenishment and more effective warehouse operations. For example, the company has designated 'fast zones' where three pickers can pick several orders. "In the past we were confined to one shop order, one person," explains Smith. "Now we can have six pickers pick one shop order."

The new system also has improved supply returns. "We can buy a pile of stock," explains Smith, "and do blind demand allocation, booking it in from one supplier and out to six shops at the same time."

With the warehouse management solution in place, The Works is looking to leverage all aspects of the new system. "We have labor management in place," says Smith, "but we're using the reports, not the labor management module yet, because we're looking into what benefits it will give us." Smith also is reviewing the entire supply chain to identify room for improvement, particularly in buying and merchandising, to support future growth.

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