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General Tool & Supply
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New WMS Drives Sales Growth for Becker Electric Supply
Becker’s management team knew they had to do more to increase productivity and order accuracy if they wanted to stay ahead of the competition. The answer was adopting Latitude WMS.
How does a mid-sized distributor in a crowded marketplace balance a commitment to outstanding service with the business necessity of remaining competitive? For Ohio-based Becker Electric Supply, one key to its longevity and growth has been the company’s willingness to adapt.
Becker Electric Supply is a third-generation, family-owned wholesale electrical distributor with eight locations across Ohio, Indiana and Georgia, serving the MRO, OEM and contractor markets. Founded in 1920, the company is fiercely proud of its fast and friendly customer service. Becker is known for its depth of inventory and the availability of many hard-to-find items. The largest branch is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has over 12,000 stocked SKUs. Becker’s management team knew they had to do more to increase productivity and order accuracy if they wanted to stay ahead of the competition. Their answer was to implement a warehouse management system (WMS).
Becker already had an ERP system in place, but needed to add a warehouse management system (WMS) that would provide more control over warehouse functions. Most ERP systems excel at functions such as order entry and reporting, but do not provide the depth of warehouse and inventory management made possible by Latitude.
Becker relied on a manual, paper-based warehouse inventory solution that made processes slow and cumbersome when compared to Latitude.
“We used to do bin stocking manually,” said Chris Cunningham, vice president of inventory and operations at Becker. “A salesperson would visit a customer’s premises with a notebook to write down all of the items and quantities needed. They would hand the inside sales person the paper and the order was manually entered into the ERP system. Now we use the Latitude Vendor Managed Inventory module and the sales person uses a hand-held computer to scan a barcode and then transmit the order to the ERP system. The internal sales person receives an e-mail from Latitude that basically says there is an order waiting to be approved. The sales person approves the order and it goes to Latitude to be picked, packed and shipped. This new process saves a tremendous amount of time.”
The picking process was previously done with paper pick tickets, which was inefficient and made error tracking more time consuming. “When there was an error, someone would have to search for it in the ERP system,” Cunningham continued. “You’d have to hope that the warehouse guy remembered to put his initials on the pick ticket, then track down the individual to try to fix the problem.”
Another key issue for Becker was wire management. As an electrical distributor, Becker kept large quantities of copper and aluminum wire in stock. Since most wire has a high cost, management wanted to control inventory and reduce waste as much as possible. The Becker’s ERP system only showed the sales team how much total wire was in stock. Salespeople had no idea if the wire was in one continuous length or cut into multiple pieces. If a customer was interested in ordering a length of wire, the salesperson had to call the warehouse and have an employee physically check if an appropriate length of wire was available.
“We constantly had employees sorting through big piles of cut wire, hoping they would find the specific length they needed,” explained Cunningham.
Trying something new
To solve these problems and increase overall accuracy and productivity, Becker deployed PathGuide’s Latitude WMS, starting with the Cincinnati location. The official “go-live” date was set for the day after the company’s annual inventory count. At PathGuide’s suggestion, Becker began well in advance by creating new bin nomenclature and instituting new barcode labels that were scanned into the system.
Approximately three months before the inventory count, the company phased the hand-held RF terminals into the receiving process and asked warehouse employees to practice picking and shipping using Latitude in their free time.
Assistant warehouse manager and self-titled Latitude expert Nick Ruscher acknowledges that comprehensive training is vital to a successful rollout. “We learned a lot from that first implementation,” he said. “It’s critical that any company installing a WMS assigns a ‘champion’ or a dedicated ‘go-to’ person to manage the transition.”
The warehouse team was able to adapt to the new system quickly, and subsequent training time for employees dropped dramatically. “With Latitude, we can train a new person on receiving in a week, and after two or three weeks, they are awesome at it. With our old system, it would take staff a couple of months to become productive,” Ruscher explained.
Since the Cincinnati rollout, Becker has installed Latitude WMS in its Dayton and Columbus warehouses, and the ramp-up process has improved with each successive implementation. Ruscher estimates that the Cincinnati branch installation took six months of on-and-off preparation.
The training process went more smoothly with the Dayton and Columbus warehouses. And having real-time access to any inventory or order related inquiry, including wire lengths and status of customer orders, all Latitude locations are running smoother than they ever did in the past.
Latitude has introduced many tangible benefits for Becker. The business uses a lot less paper, it is more efficient and accurate, it has grown without additional manpower and it has a streamlined employee training program. “We’ve often asked our guys if they would ever go back to the old system,” Ruscher noted. “Their answer? ‘Absolutely not.’”
Fast delivery for Will Call
Becker offers a unique counter service at every warehouse, a competitive differentiator that they were able to improve by integrating with Latitude. When a customer places an order by phone or online, he or she has an option to select “Will Call,” indicating that the order will be picked up in person. Using Latitude, that order is now automatically moved to the top of the picking queue. Any time a will call order gets entered, the handheld RF terminal beeps to let pickers know that a priority order needs to be fulfilled right away. Will call orders can now be ready for pickup in under an hour, a speed that wasn’t tenable using a paper system.
Putting stats on the big screen
Cunningham and Ruscher are also pleased with the ability of the Latitude WMS to track errors and employee performance metrics. To encourage friendly competition among employees, they set up a large monitor inside the warehouse that displays picking and receiving metrics on individual employees. Throughout the day, the display updates to show remaining orders. The employees find this snapshot very helpful, because it lets them know exactly how much work they have left to do.
Doing more with less
The results using Latitude have been outstanding. Order accuracy and overall productivity have improved, and increased visibility into inventory has helped Becker control wire stock much more effectively. The biggest improvements, according to Cunningham and Ruscher, have been:
“The efficiency of batch picking tickets in Latitude versus picking one ticket at a time using our old system is tremendous,” said Cunningham. “Employees can pick five orders in the time it would take to pick one ticket using the paper system.”
Becker’s sales have increased 35 percent since installing Latitude, but the increase in efficiency means it has been able to reduce the need for warehouse workers in the Cincinnati branch from 18 to 12. “We’re doing more work with fewer people,” said Cunningham.
"Our picking errors dropped to single digits,” added Ruscher. “We ship 15,000 lines a month from the Cincinnati branch with an average of five errors per month. Before Latitude it was probably closer to 10 or 20 per month. Latitude has helped pay for itself even in the amount of wasted wire we’ve been able to save.”
About Latitude WMS
Latitude is an enterprise-grade Warehouse Management System that automates warehousing and distribution to provide real-time online information about inventory. Latitude automates all operations from inbound transportation management, receiving and order picking, to manifesting and truck route/stop management with delivery confirmation, all while integrating seamlessly with major ERP business systems. In addition to providing deep warehouse functionality, Latitude is flexible enough to accommodate each customer’s unique business practices while ensuring that basic and advanced tasks are performed efficiently and accurately.
About PathGuide Technologies
PathGuide Technologies, Inc., a privately held company founded in 1989, is a leading provider of warehouse management solutions for wholesalers and industrial distributors across North America, Canada, and abroad. PathGuide’s software and services help suppliers increase productivity and order accuracy, improve customer service and lower labor costs, ultimately driving greater profitability.