Founded in 1981, The Works is now one of the UK’s leading retailers of value books and artist materials with an extensive product range that includes, stationery, greeting cards and gift-wrap, music, videos, DVDs, games, puzzles and children’s activities.
The Works Retail mainly trades under its high street brand of The Works, but includes other brands, such as Book Depot, Banana Bookshop, Booksale and Art Depot in factory outlets and other out-of-town locations. The company has an annual turnover of E146m, over 220 stores and concessions, and more than 1,600 employees.
Subsequent to its original management buyout in July 2003, The Works completed a secondary management buyout in the spring of 2005. As part of its latest business plan, the company announced a strategy to grow the business to over 400 stores over the next five years, backed by new store formats, layouts and branding.
The company had previously determined that its existing warehouse management systems would not be able to support the company’s growth and expansion plans. Deployment of first class store ordering and replenishment systems leading to improved customer service levels was critical, and led to the company’s nomination as a finalist in the Customer Service Strategy Award at the UK National Business Awards 2004.
Diane Smith, WMS project manager at The Works, explains, ‘Although the previous system was radio frequency (RF) enabled, we knew that it could not cope with our growth plans. Our increasing through-put in the warehouse resulted in system time-outs and failure of the RF system. This meant we were forced at times to pick using paper lists, which was inefficient and time-consuming.’
Time outs and paper picking could create a knockon effect along the supply chain. Smith’s greatest concern was that replenishment to stores was simply not smooth or quick enough. ‘As well as having to make continuous changes, we had two picking processes and no integration between them, one for allocation and one for new products,’ she says. The previous systems were also unable to provide The Works with reporting to support their much sought after Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s. A solution was required.
The Work’s head office and state-of-the art distribution centre are based on a purpose-built complex on the Minworth industrial park in Sutton Coldfield. The company introduces an average of 100 new lines to its stores every week and manages over 500 suppliers. Due to this business volume, the company decided to do a comprehensive trawl of the warehouse management system market to find a new solution. The existing solution was largely bespoke and had been added to many times over the years, so it was not considered suitable for further upgrading; the company wanted a packaged product that would provide a high percentage of out-of-the-box functions, enabling their team to get started quickly. Smith explains, ‘We created a compatibility model to measure how well vendors’ standard solutions met our functional requirements and timescales.’
In fact, although the company approached a long list of vendors, a number were unable to respond to the invitation to tender because of the short implementation deadline. Smith says, ‘We wanted to be assured that the new system would be ready before October, in time for our peak business period in the build up to Christmas 2004.’
In July 2004, Smith was chosen to project manage a team of ten, comprising managers from all key user groups – regional managers, buying, merchandising, accounts and distribution. Discussions led their team to issue requests for information to ten WMS vendors. On the basis of compatibility, professionalism and knowledge of requirements, only two vendors were considered suitable, one of which was RedPrairie. Smith adds, ‘We felt we had a good personal fit with RedPrairie. We got on well with their project people and found them very responsive to our needs and development requests.’
RedPrairie delivered a flexible warehouse management system that handles allocation and replenishment of 230 orders per week, rising to double and more in peak trade, across 220 stores through a state-of-the art distribution centre, using radio frequency, automated picking and layaway.
The switch over to go live was very smooth; various contingencies to cover possible problems did not need to be activated. Smith says, ‘We all worked together as a team to ensure an easy implementation and we felt confident our extensive planning would prevent hiccups.’
As a result, a very rapid implementation was achieved; the project took only 12 weeks from the decision to go ahead, until go-live. The new flexible warehouse management system handles allocation and replenishment of 230 orders per week, rising to double and more in peak trade.
The Dock Scheduler enables the business to plan the deliveries into the warehouse. Users can see at a glance which deliveries are due by selecting a certain date, and the time at which they are due to arrive. They can also update the schedule with deliveries arriving at short notice and change booked delivery dates.
The incoming selection on the Dock Scheduler lists all of the pre-advices currently in Dispatcher. This is where users select the pre-advice that requires booking in. Once a delivery has been booked, a ‘Y’ will appear in the booked column of the incoming selection.
If users are booking in a delivery of a standard artic trailer, up to 26 pallets, they can allot the supplier a normal 30 minute slot.
However, if the delivery is for more than 26 pallets, two or more trailers, users can choose the number of slots required using the diary details as shown below; in turn, all of the pre-advices due for the week should be booked in with the suppliers, using the line and pallet totals in the Dock Scheduler as a capacity guide.
Smith adds, ‘The dock scheduler will also enable The Works to track supplier performance. By adding a series of questions and marks against a supplier we will be able to build a record of performance against agreed targets.’
Dispatcher will prompt the operator to add scores when the delivery has been completed. By adding a series of questions and marks against a supplier, The Works will be able to build a record of performance against agreed targets. In addition actual delivery times can be measured against scheduled delivery times providing a mechanism to determine whether suppliers are attaining agreed service level agreements.
Pre-advice receiving allows the user to enter inventory on Dispatcher and to match this receipt against a purchase order that has been received from the host system. The user can choose to receive all or part of each line individually or can use the receive-all function. One pre-advice may be received on more than one vehicle over a period of time if required. Once goods are received against a line in full, the line is closed. This facility also allows the receipt of mixed or oversize pallets as with blind receipts.
All warehouse activities can be carried out either by the use of an RF terminal or PC. Tasks such as operation, movement of stock for the purpose of receiving, putaway, picking, stock checking and replenishment are recorded on dispatcher in real time through the use of radio data terminals (RDTs).
If a bar code is not available or unreadable this will be quarantined whilst the merchandiser / buyers are contacted.
Replenishment of pick-face locations is controlled by Dispatcher, which will create move tasks automatically when inventory in the pick face falls below ‘trigger’ level. This would usually be six times pack quantity of the product line but can differ according to SKU.
Stock control staff will have access to the ‘replenish pick’ option on the RDT and there will be a steady flow of replenishments released by Dispatcher one at a time for the replenishment staff to complete.
Chris Maddox, managing director of The Works, says that the new warehouse management system has sparked a range of benefits across the business. He says, ‘The stores are now getting more accurate and timely stock allocations than ever before. Our new approach made a positive contribution to the success of the final quarter of the year, and in particular during Christmas, which produced 30 per cent higher sales than last year.’
Smith adds, ‘It is early, but already we can say that we have raised picking efficiency by 25 per cent. Store replenishment is now more accurate and we have the information necessary to manage our warehouse operation effectively. As the months go by, we will expect even greater returns.’
The Works also reports that training on the new systems is very easy and staff can be up and running very quickly. Employees are directed using screen menus on the RF gun, negating the need for papertraining materials.
Smith adds, ‘We can now benefit from a range of over 100 reports. For instance, we can look at pick rates per member of staff, enabling us to reward those who are fast and spend more time with those that are not. Pickers can also see their own pick rates, providing them with an incentive to be more productive.’
The Works has also made use of performance measurement of publisher’s returns, to analyse how successfully discounted stock is performing in individual stores, which in turn leads to more accurate stock orders. Receiving and allocation of publisher’s returns can now be carried out in a single process, which saves further time.
Smith adds, ‘The new system has in no way constrained how we should work; we have been able to combine our existing best practices with the recommendations of RedPrairie and go on from there to achieve greater efficiencies.’
The Works plans to spend a period of time embedding the new system before embarking on new projects. In fact, the company is already reviewing RedPrairie’s Workforce Performance Management solution to see what further impact this might have on warehouse productivity, as part of a proposed wider review of the company’s supply chain.