Like many companies, Ferguson, a wholesale distributor of plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) supplies, is seeing an increase in omnichannel retailing, as more of its customers place orders online and through its mobile app in addition to the traditional methods, such as in person and over the phone.
To accommodate the growing number of clients who want to pick up those online and phone orders at one of its stores, Ferguson has deployed a solution it originally adopted for managing mobile devices in its DCs: smart lockers.
Inside its 10 regional distribution centers, Ferguson uses smart lockers from Apex Supply Chain Technologies for storing mobile devices, such as RF (radio-frequency) scanners, voice picking devices, and hip printers, according to Chris Everett, Ferguson’s director of supply chain strategy. Before each shift, DC associates enter their personal code to check out the devices they need for the day. At the end of their shift, they simply check the devices back into the lockers.
The new system has gone a long way toward streamlining the pickup process, company leaders say. “[Before implementing the lockers,] we were spending a tremendous amount of money on RF devices, voice devices, and tablets, and not only did we not have control of the assets, but we also [lacked] a good mechanism for assigning the devices to folks,” explains Everett. “Now, associates coming into our DCs can very quickly get their device and go about their day. Those seconds add up to minutes, which add up to hours, which—by the end of day—add up to [a lot of] money.”
Working with Apex, Ferguson began exploring the idea of modifying the system it uses for the contactless pickup of assets by DC associates for the pickup of orders by customers.
All of Ferguson’s 1,400 field locations have a “will call” counter, where customers can come in and pick up items ordered online or over the phone. Ferguson believed that by using smart lockers, the company could reduce wait time at the will-call counters while also expanding the time window for pickups.
However, it wasn’t as easy as just installing the same lockers at retail locations. Ferguson’s products come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes—everything from faucets to water heaters to 10-foot pieces of copper pipe. To accommodate the larger items, Apex adapted its smart lockers into “smart cages” that offer more capacity.
Now, when customers place an order, they receive a QR (quick response) code they can use to open the cage or locker and retrieve their merchandise. According to company leaders, this new process is not only more efficient but more flexible as well, as it enables customers to pick up products outside of Ferguson’s normal operating hours.
“It allows our customers to access our breadth and depth of inventory 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Everett says.