Warehouse Hangover Help

For alcohol beverage distributors, warehouse management systems offer a sobering cure.


At Premium Distributing, a San Bernardino, CA-based beer distributor, for example, pre-sales personnel now send their customer orders directly to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution from Beverage Solutions Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, two or three times a day. The ERP processes the order and turns it over to the Distribution and Delivery Engine, a beverage distribution and warehouse management system also from BSI.
Previously, route salesmen and drivers had to wait until the end of the day when they docked their mobile computers to enter orders into the system. Warehouse workers at Premium couldn't start planning loads and routes until all salespeople returned and downloaded their data, leaving only about an eight-hour window to enter and pick orders, plan routes and load trucks. Getting trucks out on time in the morning was a challenge.

"You can only do so much in eight hours. After a point, it doesn't matter how many people you put on the job. Only so many forklifts can fit through a door at one time," says John Stange, director of operations.

By receiving orders throughout the day, though, Premium has opened its processing window to nearly 15 hours. Stange can manage an even workflow throughout the day. "We can balance our work loads better, which makes it easier to run the business," he says.

Balancing the workload throughout the day also produces a healthier bottom line. "We have eliminated about 20 hours a week of overtime during high-volume weeks so far, which has lowered our labor costs. At time-and-a-half, that can save several thousand dollars a month," Stange says.

Time saved also allows Premium Distributing to make more efficient use of its assets. "We can send a single truck instead of two to make deliveries before 10 a.m., which customers really want. "

Picking at Major Brands is typically done at night Monday through Thursday so that trucks can leave the docks early in the morning Tuesday through Friday. "Orders are keyed in by the ordering and sales department, then the WMS builds the loads, sends it down to the warehouse and does all that is needed within minutes," Quinn explains. "The suppliers we serve need to know their products are on the shelves as quickly as possible."

Another benefit of the WMS is that it allows warehouse workers at Major Brands to replenish pick slots while preparing orders. "It used to be crazy at the end of the night because we would be running out of pallet loads at the pick locations and guys would be running around to get products to fill them that they may not really need for the day's orders," says Quinn. Now, with all the ordering, picking and replenishment information on one platform, that's no longer necessary.

At Brown-Forman, the WMS allows the company to pick partial portions a day or two in advance, then set them aside to await the truck. They are staged for the specific truck and assigned a unique barcode. Some might have 20 different items on one pallet, but they are all tied to one barcode, so that when it's time to load the truck, all the operator has to do is scan the one barcode.

"To do that kind of picking while a truck is parked in your dock takes a long time, and likely generates [detention] penalties," says Ford.

Managing Unsaleables
Inventory rotation, something which really became a necessity with things like born-on dating, is also another strength incorporated into most current WMS packages used by beverage distributors.

"Beer and wine now have sell-by dates, and our WMS guarantees first-in-first-out," says Major Brands' Quinn. "Before, we had to have a guy to look around for the oldest stuff in inventory and it took time."

These date stamps have created another concern for warehouse operators in the beverage sector. Major Brands now has in its St. Louis facility a 15,000-square-foot area for refrigerated storage of bottled and canned beer and kegs and a 20,000-square-foot climate-controlled section for some of its more high-endwines. Such areas in the warehouse were never an issue just a few years ago.

Even worse than expired product, though, beverage distributors also often find themselves in the middle of an industry where breakage is a fact of life. As with a mispick, though, each item damaged inside the warehouse could cost a bundle.

Warehouses in the beverage industry have taken extra care to minimize product damage, but, when it does occur, the WMS comes into play. "Breakage is more easily tracked, and we can dispose of it more quickly with our WMS. Because of our WMS, we can give credits to customers for damaged goods, mispicks and errors on the same day," says Quinn.

Because of the way state laws are written, in Missouri customers can't return products to the distributor after three days. "Now, our computer kicks those claims out automatically. There was a lot of time checking orders and delivery dates before," Quinn relates.

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