The group operates under four principal brands; French Connection (FCUK), designer label Nicole Farhi, mail-order based TOAST and Great Plains. As well as operating its own stores, it supplies department stores and multi-brand fashion stores, and franchise and licensees through its wholesale operations in UK, Europe, the US and the Far East.
IT manager Doug Gardner says: “We were operating at about 85 per cent efficiency in picking and packing, and the process was slow – often so slow that shipments were being dispatched without the proper checks or paperwork being completed.”
FCUK needed a system that would make its staff more efficient and that would drastically improve the speed of its distribution operation if it was to successfully meet its planned growth targets. The group designed and developed some bespoke applications in-house to interface with its AS400 system. Once the architecture had been designed, it set about identifying potential mobile devices that could deliver the advanced functionality of the new applications.
Gardner says: “We needed something that was rugged enough to survive prolonged use in our warehouses but that delivered a high scan quality that could read through the plastic covers on our garments.”
It chose the PSC Falcon 335 RF mobile computer. Technology partner Codeway supplied and installed more than 200 PSC Falcon 335s and Cisco wireless infrastructure covering all three UK warehouses and an additional warehouse in North America.
At the end of 2005, FCUK rationalised its three UK warehouses into one large distribution centre from where it now supplies all stores across the UK and Europe, using the Falcon 335s. The 148,000 sq ft distribution centre has 8,000 pallet locations plus two tier mezzanine flooring that creates an additional 60,000 feet of floor space.
There are more than 10,000 variations of model, size and colours across the clothing range handled by the distribution centre, each one identified as a separate sku, and the distribution centre is capable of handling in excess of 12.5 million items every year.
The distribution centre is now operating at more than 99 per cent accuracy, with the Falcon 335s used in pick and packing operations to scan every item for every order. They are also used for manifesting and invoicing, and will soon be used to scan all factory deliveries too, and the same system is used in the FCUK distribution centre in New Jersey, US.
FCUK recently deployed a new Retail Java Point of Sale system designed by Retail Business Solutions (RBS), and once again turned to Codeway to work with RBS and supply a mobile solution to develop new applications that deliver the required efficiencies in-store. Codeway supplied 200 of the latest PSC Falcon 4220 CE terminals to integrate into the new POS system. Typically, each shop has one or two Falcon 4220 rugged PDAs, which are used in-store in batch mode. The Falcons are used for applications such as stock look-ups, stock transfers, stock takes and cycle counts, and sale mark downs.
The stores have seen marked improvements in terms of accuracy, quality and speed with which they can act. The Falcon’s have reduced by half the time taken to complete sale mark downs and this improvement is reflected in the overall 50 per cent reduction in the time taken to complete all critical tasks. This creates more time for staff to concentrate on providing a better shopping experience for customers.
The next step is to roll out the Falcons in-store across the US and for the larger retail outlets, particularly those with on-site store rooms, to be switched onto in-store real-time RF networks, supplied by Codeway. This will give staff access to information from anywhere within the store.