Marshall Retail Group: Managing automation in a small footprint

At 64,000 square feet, MRG’s Las Vegas distribution center uses processes and automation typically associated with much larger facilities.

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Marshall Retail Group LLC (MRG)
Las Vegas, Nevada

Size: 64,000 square feet plus 13,000-square-foot mezzanine
Products: Specialty retail and gift items including fashion apparel, accessories, shoes, souvenirs, novelties, candy and news.
Throughput: Average 25,000 to 30,000 units per day
SKUs: MRG manages as many as 500,000 unique SKUs.
Employees: 60
Shifts per day/days per week:
1 shifts per day, 6 days per week

The Marshall Retail Group’s Las Vegas distribution center may be small by some measures, but the specialty retailer deals with the same challenges as retailers managing replenishment from much larger facilities. The result is a facility that packs a lot of automation and throughput in a limited footprint. Here’s how MRG manages inventory and replenishes its stores.

Receiving: The majority of deliveries arrive at receiving (1) from parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx. On average, the facility receives between 500 to 800 cartons per day. They are unloaded onto a flexible conveyor and transported to a staging area (2).

There, the receiving team sorts cartons by purchase order and shipment. The receivers then compare the vendor’s packing list against the buyer’s purchase order. If there are any discrepancies, a buyer inspects the receipt. Once a receipt is approved, the vendor, the product ID and the number of cartons received is entered into the warehouse management system (WMS). Cartons have now been received in the system and are inducted (3) onto the conveyor system. They are sent to a catwalk and then manually diverted to a value-added services (4) area located on the ground floor underneath the mezzanine (5).

Value-added services (VAS): Once a carton arrives in the VAS area (4), it’s sent to a workstation. There, an associate opens the carton and verifies the item count and performs any value-added services, such as putting a garment on a hanger or adding security tags. Items are then put into a tote for storage and inducted back onto the conveyor. At that point, a tote can be conveyed to the reserve storage area (6) or directly to the put-to-light picking area locating on the mezzanine level (5).

Reserve storage: When a tote arrives at reserve storage (6), an associate scans the license plate bar code and transfers the inventory from the receiving warehouse into the reserve stock in the WMS. It is now available for promise. Totes are loaded onto a stockpicker for putaway in a narrow aisle storage area. When an associate scans a tote, the WMS suggests a putaway location. The associate then scans the tote and the storage location to confirm the putaway.

Replenishment: MRG’s merchandising system includes a replenishment metric that determines how many weeks of supply are available in a store. When the stock level reaches its minimum, merchandising system creates distributions, which are passed to the WMS. The WMS creates a workload plan for the distributions that need to be pulled from reserve storage (6) and sent to the put-to-light area (5). Totes are pulled in bulk to a stockpicker and then inducted onto the conveyor. As noted earlier, newly received merchandise required at the stores can also be conveyed directly from the VAS area (4).

Put-to-light: Regardless of the starting point, once a tote arrives in a zone, an associate scans the license plate bar code label on the tote. Each store in the system has a put-to-light location that holds a reusable tote for local stores or a shipping carton for stores in other regions. Lights indicate which locations get items from that tote and in what quantity. Once all the picks have been satisfied in that zone, the tote may be diverted by one of the narrow-belt sorters embedded in the conveyor (7) to another pick zone. Once all of the picks have been satisfied for that tote, it is conveyed back to reserve storage (6). If all of the items for a store have been picked, the associate closes the shipping tote or container and inducts it onto the conveyor system (7). 

Shipping: Outbound shipping totes and containers are sorted to the packing and shipping area (8). They flow down a gravity conveyor to packing where an associate scans the license plate bar code label. The system then prints out a packing list and store label. The store label is applied to the shipping container and the packing slip is placed inside. Out of market containers are loaded onto an outbound FedEx trailer in shipping (9). Totes for the local market are directed to one of three local delivery routes serving the Las Vegas casinos.

System suppliers
System design and integration: DL Neu
WCS: QC Software  
Put-to-light: Lightning Pick Technologies
Conveyor and narrow-belt sorter: TGW Systems  
Spiral conveyor: AmbaFlex  
Extended conveyor: Flexible Material Handling (Nestaflex) 
Bar code scanning: Zebra Technologies (formerly Motorola Solutions)
Case rack: Unex  
Pallet rack: Ridg-U-Rak  
Lift trucks: Toyota Material Handling and Landoll
Overhead fans: Big Ass Solutions

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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