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Along with accurate ordering and stocking of the warehouse comes managing the movement within it, as products get shelved, picked, loaded and, sometimes, returned.

“The most cost, exposure and risk are in labor and inventory levels,” said Elery LeBlanc, president, TurningPoint Systems, Gloucester, MA, who added that security of inventory is also a key focus for distributors.

LeBlanc said the size of the distributor may dictate the type of tools they are seeking. Smaller companies are often seeking ways to handle MSA and tax reporting, while also looking to integrate systems for scanning and picking inventory. Many of these companies service mom-and-pop retailers who come to them on a cash-and-carry basis, so it’s important to be able to accurately stage inventory for those customers who are coming by.

For larger distributors, the platform is more sophisticated, with full automation from receiving through picking. These companies, he said, are looking to capture data for analysis as well as seeking ways to put away and pick orders more efficiently to save on labor costs.

Mark Jackson, a consultant for TurningPoint who also worked as a warehouse manager, said the process basically takes distributors from relying on people who have memorized the warehouse layout to automating it using scanning to track inventory, set up locations for product and more.

“When we go into a go-live situation, the first week may be difficult,” said Jackson, “but by the third week they are rocking and rolling. The accuracy improves, and they are thrilled with the amount of [complaint] calls they don’t have.”

That’s because, said LeBlanc, part of the process is helping distributors set up their physical plant so it’s easier and more efficient to pick. In a scanning versus paper environment, he said, a distributor can have multiple people picking an order, thus providing a better use of resources.

And managers can check a screen that shows them not only who is picking, but where any backlog may be, added Jackson. They also have access to reports that show them lost sales, what was ordered but wasn’t on hand, said Jackson, along with picking and put away productivity.

Having the scanning system be intuitive means new warehouse workers can quickly grasp how it works and quickly become productive, said LeBlanc. “There’s no guessing and trying to remember inventory.”

Source: Convenience Distribution Magazine Q1-2020 p. 64.