Necessity: the Mother of Investment

Ware-Pak goes from surviving to thriving after deploying a new warehouse management system


Publishing may be as old as Gutenberg, but industry players today are finding that they must be prepared to invest in modern management systems to compete effectively. In the case of Ware-Pak, a Chicago-based third-party fulfillment company for the publishing industry, investing in a new warehouse management system (WMS) has allowed the 43-year-old business to move from surviving to thriving in this complex, fast-moving market.

The Need for Change

Back in 1999 Ware-Pak was using homegrown systems, combined with a good deal of paper-driven, ad hoc, manual processes, to manage operations in its 170,000-square-foot distribution facility. While these solutions might have been adequate in years past, by the time Keith Shay came onboard the company as president in 1998, the legacy systems and processes were proving unable to keep up with the evolving demands of the company's customers.

The root of the problem lay in the increasingly complex nature of the publishing business. Ware-Pak serves as a distributor for publishers, taking in shipments of goods — books, textbooks, CDs and other materials — from the publishing houses and then repacking and sending them out to retail outlets as necessary. Ware-Pak also handles the disposition of returns coming back in from the retailers, so it must offer its customers a robust reverse logistics capability as well.

In a business with increasingly rapid turnover and an ever-expanding number of stock-keeping units (SKUs), the company's legacy systems and processes couldn't provide Ware-Pak's customers with the accuracy, speed and visibility to inventory they were requiring. "There was just no way we could continue to provide the level of service that our customers were looking for with the system that we had in place at that time," according to Shay. In that light, the business case for investing in a new WMS was quite straightforward. As Shay puts it, "We had to make a change for survival."

Selecting the System

Ware-Pak surveyed the WMS market and came up with an initial list of 20 solution providers offering various systems. Through a series of telephone interviews, the company whittled down the "shortlist" to eight providers, which were then asked to make full presentations of their solutions. Ware-Pak also went on site tours at reference customers to review the different systems in action.

Top requirements for the new system included the ability to handle high volumes with rapid turnover — Ware-Pak handles close to 17 million books a year, with about 2.5 million returns — and the flexibility to handle a variety of picking paradigms — by the unit, case, pallet and truckload — to accommodate different customer requirements within a multi-client warehouse environment. The system also had to allow Ware-Pak to assemble, reliably and accurately, the "kits" that customers require, with books packaged in a specific order for ease of placement on the retail shelf, along with point-of-sale displays or other accompanying promotional materials.

At the end of the selection process, Ware-Pak opted to go with a solution called IRMS from Integrated Warehousing Solutions (IWS), based in suburban Chicago. Shay says that the IRMS system met Ware-Pak's complex requirements, but it also offered a user-friendly interface that could be customized for employees whose first language was not English. In addition, Shay says that a deciding factor for him was the personal approach taken by Carl Brewer, president of IWS. "Frankly, he's the reason that we selected IWS in the beginning," Shay says. "Whenever you deal with him, if there's an issue, he doesn't care what the issue is or who the issue's with, he just wants it fixed and he wants to move forward with things. That's very, very refreshing from an IT vendor."

Implementation and Standardization

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