“Big enough to serve you, small enough to know you” is the community-based motto of Canadian-owned and operated IRLY Distributors, a co-op group of independent hardware and building materials retailers. Based in Surrey, British Columbia, IRLY distributes lumber, hardware, building materials, plumbing, power tools and more to customers throughout BC and Western Canada.
IRLY had long been using a paper-based system that largely relied on the company’s lengthy employee tenure, which averaged close to 20 years.
The “tribal knowledge” these long-term employees possessed was invaluable, not only to the company, but to the warehouse’s overall efficiency. However, as technologies advanced and as new employees began to transition in, IRLY looked to implement a full Warehouse Management System (WMS) that would not only fully track all warehouse materials, but provide the technology needed to increase efficiency by 10 percent.
And efficiency is exactly what they saw. After engaging with Mukilteo, Wash.-based PathGuide Technologies to implement their Latitude WMS software, coupled with Intermec CK3 mobile computers and PM4i printers, productivity increased by an average of 10 percent—almost instantly.
More than Experience
“Our long-term goal was to grow the business and be one of the leading suppliers in the industry, and we saw our warehouse system as one of the top areas where we needed to operate at a higher level,” said Steve Cain, IT Manager for IRLY. “We got as far as we could with the paper system—there’s only so much you can do in terms of accuracy—so we knew implementing a full WMS and a new handheld system was one of the building blocks that was required for us to get to the next level.”
While the previous paper-based approach was largely successful because of the experienced staff, the company still ran into problems without a streamlined WMS.
“When we made an error, it was extremely difficult to track, and root-cause analysis was very challenging,” said Susan Robinson, President & CEO of IRLY. “We had no ability to take a snapshot in time to accurately know at every second where our products were located in the warehouse.”
Plus, the company noted the “tribal knowledge” they were relying on took years for a new employee to completely obtain.
“We have a high warehouse labor rate, which is one of the largest expenses in the business,” said Grant Harris, Director of Supply Chain for IRLY. “In terms of the pick process and the lines, it was critical for us to maximize the productivity of each individual to make sure we were able to train faster and not rely on experience for our WMS efficiency.”
After recommendations from colleagues and partners who’d worked with them, IRLY looked to PathGuide Technologies, a leading WMS provider for industrial and retail distributors, for a quick implementation. PathGuide’s Latitude software is known for automating warehousing and distribution to provide real-time information about inventory—streamlining operations for greater efficiency and overall customer service.
Because of the seasonal nature of their industry, IRLY looked to PathGuide to implement the new system during the slower winter season, with roll-out complete in time for the April/May launch of the busy season. The company also strategically chose to implement the new system during the throes of the 2008 recession.
“The whole world was already down 20-30 percent by the end of the year, so we decided while we are down anyway, let’s take advantage of the slow time to increase our efficiency,” said Robinson. “Also, instead of being forced to lay off any of our workforce, we were able to utilize them in the roll-out process and re-allocate their time to this project.”
After PathGuide’s initial warehouse assessment, IRLY brought a handful of employees to PathGuide’s offices for training and consultation, where they began evaluating new handheld computers.