In 2015, Pitman Creek Wholesale found itself facing the classic growth challenge. Founded in 1978 by Don and Marella Stephens, the Danville, Ky.-based fishing gear company started out as a custom lure manufacturer catering to customers in Central Kentucky. But after James S. Coffey purchased the company in 1993, it evolved into a full-line tackle distributor serving more than 2,000 retail locations in 49 states and several foreign countries.
That kind of growth is great for the bottom line, but it can create problems elsewhere in the organization. In Pitman Creek's case, it was the company's distribution operation that was feeling the strain. The wholesaler, which by then was stocking over 26,000 items from some 240 vendors, had outgrown the piecemeal warehousing system it had patched together over the years. "We were basically building our own warehouse management system with all the different applications [for packing, picking, and receiving]," says John D. Johnson, the company's chief operating officer. "The problem was supporting these applications when we [needed to ramp up operations]." The applications did not have the capability to scale, he explains, which caused the apps to slow down or even crash during peak periods.
On top of that, the lack of a comprehensive inventory tracking system was hindering efforts to receive and put away inbound merchandise promptly. That, in turn, was compromising order pickers' ability to fill orders swiftly. With inventory missing from the pick bins either because it had not been received or had not been restocked, order fill-rates and order accuracy were starting to suffer.
Those slowdowns and delays were unacceptable to Pitman Creek. What makes the company unique in its marketplace is its delivery speed. The company offers same-day shipping to its customers, something its competitors do not, Johnson says. "We do not use a batch system business model. Every live order is live. It's sent directly to the warehouse and immediately picked, packed, and shipped," he explains.
To turn the situation around, Pitman Creek purchased the WarehouseOS solution from Warehouse Mobile Solutions. A tablet-directed bar-code/order fulfillment solution, WarehouseOS enables Pitman Creek to manage the flow of products from the time they are received through putaway, replenishment, picking, and packing. Today, this process involves 70 operators on the floor utilizing iPads that are connected to small Bluetooth scanners. For purposes of putaway and picking, operators simply scan items and locations as directed by the tablet devices.
With the system in place, the company now has the ability to track receipts throughout the facility, whether they're in a temporary home, a back stock area, or the pick/storage locations. The solution also enables Pitman Creek to generate constant restocking reports so it can ensure the home pick locations are always filled, increasing the efficiency and speed of pickers.
On top of that, the WarehouseOS solution has enabled Pitman Creek to run a picking and packing incentive program for personnel based on their production. Following the initial implementation phase, the company launched an incentive base structure for warehouse employees that provided for workers to be paid by the units produced through picking, packing, and putaway, taking into account the accuracy of work as a qualifier. "This has been the single most productive program we have put in place to date," Johnson says. "Our speed to shelf has never been faster, and we are [getting] more orders out than ever before with fewer resources in place."
As for the project's timeline, full implementation of the solution, including the new incentive system, was around three months. Since going live with WarehouseOS in August 2015, Pitman Creek has seen an increase in output, better inventory accuracy, and more effective allocation of resources. Among other gains, picks per minute per operator went from less than six to as high as 9.9 (almost 500 picks per hour), daily fill rates (orders shipped same day) went from 84 percent to more than 92 percent, and output pieces per minute for the overall facility increased from 45 to 110 units of picks per man-hour, resulting in an average of 10,000 pieces per hour.