IRLY Distributors' WMS Roll-out Conquers Recession

Canadian-based co-op of independent hardware and building material retailers moves on from paper-based system with Intermec, PathGuide Technologies


IRLY ultimately selected the Intermec CK3 mobile computers and PM4i label printers, noting that the Intermec products stood out from competitive products in several categories.           

“After a grading and comparison system of multiple hardware options, our test group ultimately chose the Intermec products as their overall preference,” said Cain. “The touch screen, scanning range, ruggedness for outdoor operations and the overall light weight of the CK3 all stood out as key features.”

The CK3 is known for its high adaptability for in-premise applications and a wide range of data-capture and communication needs, including the latest generation of imaging technology and outstanding long-range scanning. This has allowed IRLY warehouse workers to scan larger items, such as lumber, from more than 12-foot distances without leaving their vehicles. The printers are used in both shipping and receiving, and have been especially helpful for labeling larger products without barcodes, noted Cain.

Swift Implementation

Once the system was rolled out, the time from purchase to implementation was a swift six months, with initial staff adoption time taking mere hours.

“We actively spent time training leaders from every department, so that we’d have experts in each area to help with the transition,” said Robinson. “Before, training on the manual system would take anywhere from a month or so for complete proficiency, to now it takes about one day for them to learn the basics of Latitude before we can leave them on their own. They don’t need the 20-some years of insider knowledge because Latitude has it all there ready and waiting for them.”

Staff adoption time was something extremely important to IRLY, not only for proficiency reasons, but for customer and staff satisfaction.         

“In our customers’ eyes, we didn’t want to miss a beat and we worked very hard with PathGuide to make sure the change was transparent to the customer,” said Robinson. “But at the same time we wanted to make sure our senior workforce, some with 27-plus years of service, were happy and willing to make the switch.”

Streamlined Success

After implementation, the company saw increased productivity, reduced training time and overall operations streamline.           

“Everything from our proficiency to our training has streamlined with the new WMS. We’re more accurate, and the electronic system guides us through exactly what we have and what we need to do,” said Harris. “This gives us the opportunity to immediately lower training costs, build good habits and get organized from the get-go.”

In terms of man hours and labor, Harris notes productivity is up between 5-15 percent already in 2010 as a result.           

“Last year we were doing about 2,000-2,500 transactions a day, with a really big, busy day for us maxing at about 2,700,”said Harris. “This summer we are able to handle nearly 3,200 transactions a day with a noticeable reduction in errors.”

The ruggedness of the Intermec product has also performed well in both the warehouse and the outdoor yard.           

“One of the CK3 units was accidentally placed in a bucket with 6 inches of water for more than 20 minutes and it held up just fine,” said Kevin Kearns, Supply Chain Project Manager. “And, outside of this extreme case, on a daily basis we can rely on them to do extremely well indoors or out.”           

Lessons Learned

Robinson cited a few strategic decisions that played a huge role in contributing to the project’s success.           

“At the same time we looked to channel efforts toward improving our WMS, we also chose to beef up our sales force,” said Robinson. “Instead of experiencing great loss during 2008 as most companies did during the low-point in the recession, we didn’t miss a beat and 2009 sales were exactly where they were the previous year,” said Robinson.

Before engaging with PathGuide, Robinson noted that she also asked for partner recommendations from other companies who’d gone through similar WMS and hardware deployments. She says she strongly recommends this step to other businesses.

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