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Supply Chain Software: Rocky Brands steps up productivity

When footwear maker Rocky Brands integrated its WMS and WCS, the results were improved visibility, better inventory control, and impressive productivity gains.
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Integrating the WMS and WCS systems has doubled the number of items sorted to the packing stations.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
July 01, 2011

Storage: “To get the storage capacity we needed, we had to completely change the way we stored goods,” says Sherbourne. Under the old system, cases could be stored anywhere there was an open slot or room in a slot. Picking was also done from storage locations. That meant there were often open cases in a location, limiting what could go in any particular spot. In addition, associates needed a cherry picker to pick from higher locations.

With the addition of extra racking, Rocky implemented a reserve storage and active pick strategy. The first 7 feet of space is designated as pick locations for the fastest-moving active SKUs. Those locations can be reached by an associate on foot without any additional equipment. The upper levels of the storage area, which are serviced by cherry pickers, are used for reserve storage only. “There are no open cases in the reserve storage area, which allows us to make full use of the cube in an available space,” says Sherbourne. And, since picking for the fastest-moving SKUs is all near the ground, associates no longer need to go up and down to pick at higher elevations, speeding up the picking process.

Inventory management: Along with creating an active and reserve storage area, storage locations are also now based on the velocity of movement for a SKU. “We have been able to implement an ABC product strategy,” Walker says. The combination of tighter controls over storage and an ABC product strategy, where products are grouped by how fast they move, led to more effective inventory management. 

Outbound shipping: Along with changes to storage and inventory processes, Rocky rearranged its carrier pickup schedule for outbound shipments to create a better flow through the facility.

Picking: One of the outcomes of revamping the outbound pickup schedule is that Rocky began to create order picking waves based on a “ship via” basis; orders are now grouped based on how they will be shipped. “We used to pick our orders by customer or the type of customer,” says Sherbourne. “But how you process something that will ship by small parcel is different from how you pick an order that will go out in a truckload or LTL. By doing ship via waves, we can be much more efficient about how we process the orders after they are picked.”

Software makes the difference
To get the most from these new processes and equipment, Rocky upgraded and integrated its WMS and WCS systems. That combination delivered significant results. “As we worked with our software systems, we had better visibility into our operations than we had in the past,” says Walker. “We also learned that our systems included functionality that we were not taking advantage of.”

The old WMS, for instance, created something called transitional inventory: When the sorter read an item or an associate scanned a bar code label, that item was in transition between processes. The WMS lost visibility of that item until it was read or scanned again at the next step in the process. “If an item was supposed to be sorted to a particular chute but did not arrive, we would not know it was still circulating until we got a report at the end of the day because neither system had visibility,” says Sherbourne. With the integration of the two systems, she adds, both the WMS and WCS are tracking orders and inventory through the distribution center and throughout a process. “We have greatly improved our inventory accuracy and our order fill rates,” she says. 

Upgrading the WMS, meanwhile, enabled the new wave picking strategy. More importantly, the integration of the WMS and WCS improved communication between the picking operations and the automated materials handling equipment. That, in turn, allowed Rocky to increase the speed on the sortation system. “Once they were all speaking the same language, we could sort at much higher speeds,” Sherbourne says. 

Next steps
The new processes and software went live in 2008. A year later, Rocky’s management made a decision to ramp up its e-commerce sales to service direct-to-consumer customers and also to provide better service to its retail customers. “About 25% of our wholesale business is made up of a number of very large key accounts, like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Tractor Supply,” says Walker. “The rest are primarily smaller retailers and some direct-to-consumer.”

As it examined those smaller accounts, Rocky realized that some customers were only ordering once a month to reduce their shipping costs.

That also meant that their shelves might be empty until a replenishment shipment was delivered, costing sales for both the retailer and Rocky. To encourage more frequent deliveries, Rocky rolled out a free freight program for customers that would order a minimum amount of inventory every two weeks. Those customers can also place their orders on-line, making it easier to re-order. “That motivated them to place smaller and more frequent orders,” Walker explains.

While the change has driven more business, it has also changed Rocky’s order profile: Prior to 2008, 80% of orders were full cartons and 20% were mixed cartons. Today, those numbers have reversed, with only 17% of orders going out as full cartons.

The new system has been able to easily accommodate that change in strategy. “We have gone from sorting 4,500 pairs of boots per 8-hour shift to 11,000 pairs with the same number of associates,” Walker says. This was the result of managing to service delivery expectations, aligning processes and infrastructure and re-aligning associate roles. “These were subsequently supported by upgrading the WMS and WCS,” he adds.

More evolutionary changes are planned going forward, including directed putaway and crossdocking. The company will also continue to enhance its e-fulfillment processes as e-commerce continues to grow.

“The market is changing,” Walker says. “If we want to stay competitive, we have to offer more to our customers and we have to do everything quicker. Our distribution systems and software are what’s going to allow us to do that.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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