Fisheries Supply Keeps Customers Hooked with PathGuide’s WMS
Human error is one of those cringe-worthy problems that puts customer loyalty (and a business’s profitability) at risk. For a company like Fisheries Supply, operating since 1928 in the heart of Seattle’s maritime industry, its management knew they were long overdue to find a replacement for their antiquated paper-based receiving, picking and shipping processes in the warehouse.
“We were at a point where the accuracy of our outgoing shipments to customers was not at an acceptable level,” said Kyle Sutter, VP of Operations for Fisheries Supply. “If customers received incorrect products or incorrect quantities, we would do our best to fix the problem, but the damage was already done. This was not only creating additional overhead for us in terms of freight costs, we were losing customers due to frustration.”
These problems were counter to the company’s core business goals.
“Fisheries Supply is built on great customer service. We aim to be the go-to location for all things boating in the Pacific Northwest,” continued Sutter. “From a competitive standpoint, we want to earn the loyalty and trust of our customers by consistently delivering on our promises and becoming their distributor of choice. A big part of that is accuracy.”
Rising concerns about inaccurate orders peaked in 2010 and led Fisheries Supply in their search to find and implement a Warehouse Management System (WMS). They chose Latitude from PathGuide Technologies and implemented using a phased in strategy that began with the receiving process.
A careful cruise can mean smoother sailing
Continuity is crucial for business operations, so it’s no surprise that this large distributor was apprehensive about any impending disruption or downtime an implementation like this might include. In order to introduce Latitude into the existing workflow, the company chose to take a very cautious path that gave employees time to adapt and learn new habits. This gradual deployment worked well and gave employees a chance to acclimate to new processes.
“I’ve done quite a few large-scale software integrations, and I have to say that Latitude’s was the smoothest of any installs we’ve done,” said Sutter. “That’s partly due to the great relationship we have with PathGuide, but also thanks to the way that Latitude enables stepped, or phased, integrations. I highly recommend this approach for other companies.”
Fisheries Supply introduced Latitude’s functionality in stages to ensure the least amount of disruption. They started with the receiving function. Warehouse teams were selected to use Latitude in a parallel working environment, alongside an existing team using the traditional paper-based method. This gave everyone a chance to rotate through the process and learn how to log in and navigate the menus.
“We utilized the Latitude receiving module for a year until the system had learned 99 percent of our barcodes,” Sutter said. “When we knew we were ready to add picking functionality in 2011, we defined the processes we wanted, and found the tools that best fit our business needs within Latitude. Training was really important for us, so we created a fake warehouse inside our facility and practiced picking with every team for three months before going live. With so many people already knowledgeable about the receiving side of Latitude, we had a lot of built-in experts who could identify issues up front. Today, 40 of our employees have been trained to use the RF scanners on a daily basis.”
Fisheries made it a priority to keep employees involved in the deployment from the early stages.
“People were open to change and were excited about the opportunities that we knew this WMS was going to bring,” continued Sutter. “So we empowered our teams and gave them some pretty broad guidelines to figure out new processes that would directly benefit their jobs. A good example is the way we approached picking LTL (less than truck-load) shipments. We had weekly meetings where we worked with the team to hash out a process and define everything that needed to be done, and they had a vested interest in making sure it was successful.”
A good workflow made even better
“We immediately started to see benefits in going paperless with our first phase in receiving,” said Sutter. “Using our old method, we had to print out a manifest of everything that was supposed to be in an incoming shipment and then manually check off items as we found them. The inherent problem with that process is that we often have multiple boxes of the same product divided over different pallets, so it’s a lot more time consuming and prone to error. Latitude learns all of the product barcodes as we go, so we just scan items as they get pulled off each pallet. In fact, everything can be scanned directly onto a shelf, and Latitude adds it all up. I’d say that Latitude has increased receiving speed by about 25 percent.”
On the picking side, Fisheries Supply appreciated the benefits that Latitude offered in job prioritization. Latitude’s built-in algorithms take a lot of factors into account, such as the importance of each individual order, before choosing which one to be first in queue. This allowed each team to be sure they were picking the most urgent items 100 percent of the time.
Fisheries Supply instantly saw the benefit of this prioritization feature for Will-Calls, which had previously been assigned to a single picker. Now, with paperless prioritization, the Will-Call system looks at the urgency of each order, so it can be picked, packaged and ready for a customer within as little as 15 minutes. Once the pickers have caught up on Will-Call orders, Latitude switches to USPS, UPS and FedEx shipments, and even gets started on next-day orders if there is capacity.
Fish where the fish are
By creating and constantly updating a single queue of orders for picking, Latitude has given Fisheries Supply an efficient means to manage and direct personnel in the warehouse. For example, the system automatically shifts team members to whatever picking job is next in line of priority, without requiring much direct supervision. In the past, managers needed to keep an eye on the queue all day, but Latitude now nominates the jobs in order of importance. This has had some unexpected, but very welcome, results.
“Our teams now have a stronger sense of ownership that has helped to improve productivity,” said Sutter. “By tapping into Latitude’s database, we created a ‘ticker’ that displays the status of open orders on a big screen inside the warehouse. We promise to ship same-day on orders that come in by 2 p.m. on weekdays, so if picking starts to fall behind, everyone knows about it. This lets team members see that they’re not operating in isolation, and it has created a really strong sense of working toward a common goal. If we know, for example, that ten more orders need to go to customers today, our teams have shown that they can kick it into a higher gear.”
Fisheries Supply has benefited from Latitude’s flexibility in other ways, too. As people visit the company’s online store and proceed to the ‘check out’ page, information can be pulled from Latitude to show customers a very accurate picture of shipping costs. The system is even able to handle variables such as hazardous material charges and shipping requirements for things like chemicals, explosives and flares. From Sutter’s perspective, “Having the ability to quote shipping prices to customers upfront through our online store was game-changing for us.”
Leveraging the power of your WMS keeps you on course
“PathGuide is always introducing new features that make Latitude more efficient,” said Sutter. “A good example of that came in a recent update called ‘Tasks’, which has helped us automate many of the RF scanner’s repetitive button presses in receiving and picking cycles. In our experience, to get the most value out of Latitude or any software platform, you need to understand that it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it system. It’s always improving, and that’s a good thing.”
About Fisheries Supply: A family owned business, Fisheries Supply Company opened its doors in 1928 at Pier 55 on Elliott Bay in Seattle, Washington. The company originally served commercial fishermen and canneries in the Pacific Northwest and later expanded its business to serve wholesale and retail customers in the commercial and pleasure boat markets. Located in North Lake Union, a center of Seattle’s maritime industry, Fisheries Supply has become the largest distributor of marine products in the region. With a 36,000 square foot warehouse containing an expansive inventory of tens of thousands of products, the company serves boat dealers, builders and yards, chandleries, commercial fishermen and recreational boaters across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
About Latitude: 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 receiving and order picking, to manifesting and truck route/stop management, and integrates seamlessly with major ERP business systems. While 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.