Leaders at the California-based ag tech company Farmers Business Network (FBN) needed a way to ramp up fulfillment and expand its distribution network as demand for its products soared in 2020. At the time, the farmer-to-farmer network and e-commerce platform shipped seed, farm chemicals, and livestock feed direct to customers from a single distribution center (DC) in Newton, Iowa. The plan was to add a series of DCs throughout the Midwest to speed fulfillment and meet the burgeoning demand.
Automating FBN’s largely paper-based fulfillment process would be a vital step in that direction—but one that was complicated by social distancing requirements and other restrictions that hamstrung businesses in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. To solve the problem, FBN turned to warehouse management software (WMS) provider SnapFulfil, which is known for its remote implementation (RI) program that guides companies through the implementation process and allows them to self-configure its WMS technology. The Newton, Iowa, DC was up and running on SnapFulfil in January 2021, and a slate of other DCs soon followed suit.
SnapFulfil has pioneered and mastered RI, according to company leaders, who say the method produces the same positive results in adoption and use as traditional on-site engagement. The RI program guides managers and staff through the implementation process, allowing onboarding of the WMS from anywhere in the world within a matter of weeks. As part of the program, SnapFulfil provides self-implementation documentation that covers everything from data gathering to configuring the technical infrastructure, user preparation and data migration, and inventory verification. It also provides customized virtual support and training along the way.
FBN employees used the RI process to implement the WMS at the 186,000-square-foot Newton DC and then took it a step further by using that experience as a blueprint for their own, subsequent remote implementations at other greenfield DCs. The automated approach has delivered a standardized and professional process that staff across all sites could easily follow, according to FBN’s System Engineer Darci Fluit, who leads a team of employees who handle all new system rollouts.
“SnapFulfil’s team were strong partners who provided clear instruction and advised me on how best to interview our operational staff about their specific order volume and storage requirements, then map out the intricacies of the processes needed and phased implementation from the very beginning,” Fluit said in a statement describing the project, which included getting a handful of sites up and running early in 2021. “I now consider myself ‘Snap Savvy,’ and with each ‘go live,’ we see increased speed and ease of implementation.
“After the first four DCs were handled remotely, and seamlessly, we’ve since moved on to three simultaneous sites coming on stream—just a week apart—but the program we have in place makes it possible, and the economies-of-scale implications are obvious. We’ve also been able to handle more complex integrations,” she added.
The program allowed FBN to fast-track its expansion plans, with 12 of 15 new DCs fully operational and powered by SnapFulfil in the first nine months of 2021. The company is now expanding operations to Canada and Australia.
FBN has seen the most immediate benefits in the picking process, achieving efficiency and space savings of around 30%, according to John Mifsud, vice president of implementation services at SnapFulfil. The system includes the use of radio-frequency (RF) technology, which Mifsud says has helped speed the process as well as streamline employee training.
“Even newcomers with no previous DC knowledge or experience were picking by the palletload [after] 30 minutes of instruction,” he explains. “The cultural shift at FBN from manual/paper to automated has been swift and embraced by all because of the productivity benefits and savings a global blueprint brings. Their volumes have rocketed exponentially, and that’s down to the micro DC approach, which facilitates much slicker, quicker, and cheaper shipping.”