As members of the younger ‘ap and web’ generation begin to work their way up through wholesale businesses, technology providers are finding their customers are looking to do far more with their equipment.
Martin Beatty, development director of the wholesale and distribution division of IT solution provider Sanderson, says: “In the last three or four years they have been coming into the boardroom and their expectations of technology are different to the previous generation. Also this same generation is coming through on the retail side and there is pressure on wholesalers from their customers to provide accessibility through the web and hand-held devices.”
Beatty says the ways that wholesalers use technology are changing. Most of Sanderson’s customers already have voice picking or RF technology and it is now about using this equipment more efficiently. EDI is another area that wholesalers are making more use of. In addition to sending invoices out they are using it to receive supplier invoicing and then electronically matching these invoices with the goods received information, meaning it is much quicker than a manual system and that problems can be flagged up much earlier.
Wholesalers are also becoming far more sophisticated in the way they use data. It means they can not only examine performance and efficiency of areas within their own Features > Business, but also examine buying patterns of customers and highlight areas where they might benefit from altering their sales mix.
Beatty says wholesalers’ attitudes to their websites have also changed. “Even two or three years ago there was a lot of scepticism, but now many are selling significant amounts through their websites, and it is not just sales migrating to the web because there is incremental business too. A lot of customers are looking for a web presence and if wholesalers don’t offer this facility they risk losing these customers to competitors who do.”
Mobile is the biggest growth area with the ‘ap’ generation expecting computer power and data to be available on hand-held devices. Customers expect reps to have a very sophisticated level of data in their pocket, and Sanderson will be introducing CRM functionality for phones and tablets by the end of June. Beatty says: “The challenge is to provide rich functionality, without compromising security, at affordable prices.”
For Glasgow-based delivered wholesaler JW Filshill, a long-standing partnership with Sanderson has become vital to the strategic direction of the business.
The food and drink supplier is a long-term user of Swords, the delivered wholesale solution from Sanderson, and uses it to deliver ongoing improvements in its business and operational processes. The latest project has seen the introduction of sophisticated voice-directed picking to the warehouse.
Filshill had been using the Swords RF module to manage its order picking and stock control operations; using hand-held units to record stock movements. To increase warehouse efficiency further, Filshill decided to move to voice order picking. The new system features speech recognition technology to enable staff to communicate directly with the warehouse management system, through a wireless headset and microphone.
The system directs the picker to the correct location and the operator gives a sequence of verbal confirmations based on the product code, to ensure accuracy. “The Sanderson system has reduced pick time dramatically by as much as 30% for some products,” says IT manager Andrew Allison.
Productivity is not the only positive result. Allison explains: “The increase in accuracy and reduction in handling damage estimated at pound;10 per error means this project will achieve a return on investment within the first full year of operation.”
Another addition is Business Intelligence, which provides detailed analysis of sales, purchase and stockholding trends, and can be used to evaluate supplier performance.
Sanderson has also developed an online ordering system for Filshill, to further improve the delivery times for Filshill’s customers. Customers scan product barcodes into the system using a key fob scanner at their premises. This data is uploaded directly into Swords and links through to the voice picking technology.
Finance director Fraser Harrison says the latest system advances will boost efficiency and profits: “Access to real-time information is crucial to a busy company like ours. With Swords and the addition of the voice order picking technology, we can have an accurate stock reading at any time. Our investment in voice order picking will lead to faster and more accurate order picking in the warehouse. We’ll be able to see the return on our investment quickly due to a reduction in costly picking errors and an improvement in service levels for our customers.”
Lindsay Pointon, managing director of Signum Solutions, says his company is focused on the delivered wholesale and cash and carry sector and it is dedicated to selling a business management system called SAP Business One.
SAP Business One is developed by the world’s third largest software author and is available through a reseller channel in over 40 countries, he says, and it should not be confused with SAP’s larger systems as it is designed specifically for smaller businesses up to pound;25m turnover.
Pointon says SAP Business One provides a combination of the industry functionality normally associated with the big ticket wholesale systems, but at an affordable price normally associated with generic off-the-shelf packages.
SAP Business One will handle the company accounts, but also offers built-in functionality for CRM, telesales, sales order processing, pricing and offers, route-based picking and delivery, stock control, purchasing and real-time business reporting. For the higher volume Features > Business, it also has add-on modules for advanced warehouse management, wireless bar code scanning and inventory forecasting, and for cash and carries there is an off-the-shelf EPOS solution that can be directly linked to SAP Business One.
Sterling member Hannah Foods is an example of a growing company that has worked with Signum Solutions to implement SAP Business One. It is based in Skelmersdale, west Lancashire, has a turnover of more than pound;9m, and supplies foods to a wide range of predominantly independent catering outlets, including fish and chip shops and pizza retailers, and has recently started offering food services to schools, hospitals and care homes.
The company began looking for a new system when it agreed plans to move to a new, purpose-built warehouse, with a pallet capacity 10 times larger than the existing facilities. Anthony Whiteside, general manager says: “The old system, which was predominantly an accounting package, only had very basic stock control, but people in the warehouse knew where everything was. With so much extra capacity we needed the new system to drive the picking and packing process.”
Since SAP Business One went live,Whiteside says stock control has improved considerably. “We can now obtain reports about stock usage, which enables us to anticipate demand more accurately. I would estimate that we have been able to reduce our stock holding by 30-40%.”
He adds: “Now we are alerted to potential stock shortages before they affect us. The system also automatically provides purchasing with replenishment lists, complete with the supplier contact and pricing details. Previously, this would all have been done manually using spreadsheets.”
He says SAP’s ability to generate business catalogues has increased the telesales team’s productivity. “Our telemarketing team is making around 100 outbound calls a day to customers. Having business catalogues enables us to link products and special offers to each customer, so the telemarketing person has all the information they need available to them when they make the call. It not only means they can work more quickly, but they can also make buying suggestions to the customer.”
He also praises the flexibility of the picking and packing system, saying: “It’s so easy to combine orders for multiple customers onto one vehicle, which is important to us.”
Tim William, distribution division director at BCP, says the company delivers powerful wholesale solutions and Voice-enabled warehouse management systems (WMS) that allow wholesalers to maximise efficiency and customer service. BCP has been a leader in introducing Voice technology to the UK warehousing market, and he says it implemented the first end-to-end Voice WMS in the UK food and drink sector at Spar wholesaler CJ Lang in 2002.
He adds: “Voice technology in the warehouse continues to grow in popularity as food operators become increasingly aware of the benefits it delivers and the rapid return on investment they can realise. What we are starting to see now is some convergence of Voice and barcode scanning technologies to offer solutions which combine the best of both technologies while new financing arrangements are making investment in technology more affordable for smaller companies.”
He says that while CJ Lang claims that implementing Voice WMS was “the best thing we’ve ever done”, other BCP clients in the food and drinks sector have also realised dramatic improvements. At James Hall accuracy levels are 99.99% “way beyond our expectations”, at Appleby Westward error claims have fallen by 97% “representing a saving of pound;2,000 per week”, Bako NW has realised savings of over pound;75,000 a year, while ADM Londis in the Irish Republic is reporting a reduction in warehouse running costs of around 300,000 a year.
Irish wholesaler BWG Foods is the latest BCP client to say it is realising performance improvements exceeding expectations following an investment of more than pound;250,000 in BCP’s Voice Directed WMS.
BWG’s decision to implement Voice technology followed a comprehensive evaluation and BCP’s Accord Voice WMS was chosen following an extensive review of the market.
Voice was initially implemented in BWG’s Wholesale Division, where a new purpose-built foodservice and cash and carry depot at North Road, Dublin, provided the opportunity to deploy Voice WMS from the outset at a green field site.
The system encompassed BCP’s complete Accord Voice Directed WMS, operating with Vocollect’s Talkman T5 terminals and a Motorola RF network, both supplied through Irish specialist Heavey RF.
Following this successful implementation, BWG decided to implement the same solution at its retail distribution centre in Walkinstown.
To ensure customer service did not suffer during the migration to Voice, the implementation was phased in over the course of 9-12 months. As a result, the transition to Voice order assembly was achieved without any disruption to customer service.
“Warehouse utilisation has improved radically,” reports Veronica Sullivan, BWG head of IT. “The system helps us put as much as possible into the warehouse space. We know immediately when a picking slot needs replenishment and exactly where that replenishment should come from.”
“The BWG management team are delighted with its speed, efficiency and the real time visibility of key information in our warehouse,” adds Sullivan.