Tile City Trowels on a WMS to Provide Excellent Customer Service and Improve Inventory Accuracy
Retailer/wholesaler Tile City is one of the largest tile distributors on the West Coast, covering Canada to Mexico, as well as Montana, Idaho and Nevada. Company headquarters include a 50,000 square foot facility in Chico, CA, and the company maintains four of its own showrooms throughout Northern California.
When Tile City changed its business model from being a retail outlet to become a wholesale distributor about nine years ago, the company experienced a dramatic increase in its inventory volume. With that increase came the need for a better system to manage the warehouse, maintain excellent customer service, and streamline operations.
“As inventory grew and we added more space, the warehouse became a paperwork nightmare,” said Russ Raburn, Operations Manager at Tile City. “We had a huge need to automate our processes and gain better inventory control.”
After reviewing various competitive offerings, Tile City chose to make the move to automation with the Latitude Warehouse Management System from PathGuide Technologies. Latitude is a software suite 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. It integrates seamlessly with all major ERP business systems such as Microsoft Dynamics, Activant, J.D. Edwards and Oracle.
In 2005, Tile City went live and immediately moved to a paperless system. While some companies continue to carry packing slips as a “security blanket,” Tile City chose to make the full transition rather than prolong the process and retrain workers twice.
“I was very nervous about the go-live date and I thought we’d have to spend one on one time with each employee to train them on the new system,” continued Raburn. “In reality, the transition was incredibly easy. Our crew literally just grabbed the RF guns and immediately began picking orders. I couldn’t believe it!”
Improved Customer Service with WMS
Tile City immediately noticed significant improvements in customer service as a result of using Latitude. Today, when a customer calls and requests information about an order, everyone in the company has immediate access to real-time information about the status of the order. Before Latitude, customers calling in would be put on hold, or worse, had to wait for a call back while employees tracked down information. “Each time a customer called we’d go on a paper chase looking for paperwork that might very well have been stuck under the tire of a forklift,” continued Raburn.
For customers who walk-in and place orders at the front counter, the order is automatically prioritized in the system and pickers are notified by an audible alert through the RF terminals. By the time the customer makes their way to the will-call area of the warehouse, the order is pulled and waiting, or already in progress.
Greater Accuracy and Control with WMS
Order accuracy has also greatly improved with Latitude. Under the paper-based system there was a higher chance for picking errors to occur. Now, with the use of bar codes and handheld RF terminals, employees are directed to the right color, size, and lot number when pulling material.
Human errors during the order entry process have also been reduced due to a special feature developed by PathGuide for Tile City. PathGuide modified the front counter frame (a wrap-around screen for their host ERP system) that calculates alternate units of measure. While most companies deal with standard pieces and cartons, Tile City also has to deal with square feet per piece, box and pallet. Now, units are converted on the fly and calculated automatically, saving time on order entry and reducing errors.
Due to the nature of the product, Tile City ships all inventory on pallets that can be very heavy! When a new pallet is started for a particular customer it is assigned a unique master load. If a picker then tries to stage product to the wrong master load, Latitude notifies them of the error, virtually eliminating the likelihood of product being shipped to the wrong customer.
Latitude also tracks the weight of orders as they are entered for each delivery route, enabling the crew to determine if more trucks will be needed. “With Latitude there is much more clarity about the manpower and resources that are needed in the warehouse. We know if our truck is overweight before anything is picked,” said Raburn.
As year-end approaches, Tile City appreciates the inventory accuracy it has achieved using Latitude’s cycle count functionality. Following the deployment of Latitude, Tile City made the decision to eliminate the dreaded year-end physical inventory by using daily cycle counts until an accurate inventory baseline was established. Now, Tile City uses standard cycle count practices, and the tools available in Latitude to determine the frequency of their routine cycle count jobs. As a result, the laborious and costly year-end inventory process has been eliminated, while doubling their inventory accuracy
Better Employee Tracking and Training with WMS
Raburn notes that Latitude has also helped the operations team to better manage employees. “With the employee performance tracking in Latitude you can see who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t. It has also provided tremendous productivity and cost savings in the area of training new employees.”
Prior to the automated system, it took 3-6 months to get new employees trained and picking efficiently on their own. “There was a vast amount of memorization required to know where everything was located in the warehouse,” continued Raburn. Now with Latitude and handheld terminals, new employees are picking on their own within 1-2 weeks.
As for future plans, Tile City remains on track for continued growth and Latitude is an integral part of the company’s strategy for increased warehouse efficiencies. The company plans to expand their use of the warehouse management system to automate Tile City’s 30,000 square foot facility in Portland, Oregon.