Subsequent to its original management buyout (MBO) in July 2003, The Works completed a secondary MBO earlier this year. As part of its latest business plan, it wants to have 400-plus stores within the next five years. The company had previously determined that its existing WMS would not support the company’s growth and expansion plans. Deployment of first class store ordering and replenishment systems for improved customer service levels was critical.
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 throughput 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 knock-on 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 could not provide The Works with reporting to support its KPIs.
The Work’s state-of-the art distribution centre are on the Minworth industrial park in Sutton Coldfield.
The company introduces about 100 new lines to its stores every week and manages 500-plus suppliers. Due to this business volume, it decided to do a comprehensive trawl of the WMS market to find a new solution. The existing solution was largely bespoke and, having been added to many times over the years, 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 its 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. 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.” Only two vendors were considered suitable, including RedPrairie.
The systems in place include Symbol RF, IBM xSeries server and storage, RedPrairie’s DLx Warehouse, Prolog4pay, Aptos and an in-house merchandise management system. The actual switch over was very smooth; various contingencies to cover possible problems did not need to be activated. RedPrairie and The Works achieved a very rapid implementation; the project took only 12 weeks from the decision to go ahead, until go-live. The new WMS handles allocation and replenishment of 230 orders per week, rising to double and more in peak trade.
Chris Maddox, managing director of The Works, says the new WMS has sparked a range of benefits: “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% higher sales than last year.”
Smith adds: “It is early, but already we can say that we have raised picking efficiency by 25%. 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. 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.”
Receiving and allocation of publishers’ returns can now be carried out in a single process, which saves further time. Smith continues: “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. Smith says: “After that, we are interested in taking greater advantage of the wealth of functionality in DLx® Warehouse.”
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 its supply chain.