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Vera Bradley: Designed for multi-channel distribution

Vera Bradley makes the most of pick-to-light and put-to-light methodologies to optimize order fulfillment.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
September 01, 2013

Vera Bradley Designs; Fort Wayne, Ind.
Size
: 400,000 square feet of distribution space
Products: Women’s handbags and accessories, luggage and travel items, eyewear, stationery and gifts.
Throughput: Each fulfillment channel is measured differently.
Direct-to-consumer: Averages 6,000 to 7,000 cartons shipped per day. Peak was 27,000 cartons shipped.
Store replenishment: Averages 50,000 to 60,000 units shipped per day for retail and specialty partners. Peak was 191,000 units shipped.
Employees: 375 full-time and temporary associates, fluctuates seasonally
Shifts per day/days per week: 3 shifts, 5.5 days per week (3:30 p.m. through midnight on Sunday).

Vera Bradley’s expanded distribution center was designed to manage the company’s traditional wholesale and retail replenishment sales channels while accommodating the growth of its Internet fulfillment. The facility brings together conveyor and sortation technology along with both pick-to-light and put-to-light technologies.

Read more about Vera Bradley’s multi-channel success.

Receiving: Product is received from two different sources.

Vera Bradley receives an advance ship notification (ASN) when sea containers from off-shore manufacturers arrive in Long Beach or Seattle. Containers travel by rail to an inland port in Chicago and then by truck to Indiana. At the receiving docks (1), the process begins with a receipt against the ASN in the warehouse management system (WMS). Cartons are manually palletized in the receiving area (2) where they are built into unit loads. The WMS creates a license plate bar code label to associate the SKU and quantity to a pallet. Once pallets are ready for storage, product is inspected for quality control and pallets are staged (2) for storage.

Domestically manufactured product arrives (1) at the facility on pallets. They are unloaded by lift truck, and staged (2) for put away into storage.

Storage: A lift truck operator scans the license plate bar code on a staged pallet and is directed to a drop-off location for the very narrow aisle reserve storage area (3). There, the pallet will be picked up by a wire-guided turret truck. That operator will be directed to a storage location in the reserve storage area. The product is now available to fill orders.

Picking: Vera Bradley uses two picking processes.

Pick-to-light for fast-moving SKUs: The fastest-moving SKUs are stored in two three-level pick modules (4). Within the pick modules, product is stored in both pallet flow and carton flow racks. Associates are directed by pick-to-light technologies and can fill orders from any sales channel. Orders for retail partners, corporate stores and Key Accounts are picked to a shipping carton. Web orders are batch picked to a tote that will be sent to a packing station. When a carton or tote is inducted onto the conveyor system, it is scanned and diverted to a pick zone. Once it reaches a zone, an associate scans the license plate bar code label. Lights illuminate the locations where items for that container are stored and indicate the quantities to be picked. The associate presses the pick light to confirm the pick and places them in the carton. The container or tote is then conveyed to the next pick location until the order is complete. It is then conveyed to the next step in the process.

RF scanning for slow moving SKUs: Slower moving SKUs are stored in a one-level module (5) that includes carton flow and conventional deck rack for storage. Any order with a SKU from this module initiates there. The picking process is similar to the process in the three-level pick modules, except that orders are sent to the associate’s mobile RF computer and picks are confirmed by scanning a bar code label. Once all of the picks are complete, the container is either conveyed to one of the three-level pick modules (4) or to the next step in the process.

Value-added processing for Key Accounts: Value-added processes are performed in an 18,000-square-foot mezzanine area (6). Items requiring value-added services can be conveyed from one of the slow- or fast-moving pick modules. Or, during busy selling seasons, those items can be picked from a carton-flow area located within the mezzanine to improve the order flow in other picking areas. Once the value-added processes are complete, the products are conveyed to an outbound order consolidation and staging area (7). There, they are palletized, stretch-wrapped and staged for pickup and shipping (8). 

Packing: Direct-to-consumer orders are sorted to one of two pack-out areas. Totes picked for single unit, e-commerce orders, which represent about 35% of the direct-to-consumer orders, go to one area (9). Items are scanned to initiate the packing process. They are then wrapped in tissue paper with embossed logo sticker and placed in a special shipping box along with an invoice folio and gift card if the consumer desires. Customers may also request a special two-piece gift box. Once the process is complete, the carton is sealed and conveyed directly into a parcel carrier trailer (10).

Multi-unit orders are conveyed to a special put wall area (11). When a tote arrives, an associate scans the label on the tote and begins scanning the UPC bar codes on items in the tote. When a UPC bar code is scanned, the system lights up the location that will receive the item from that tote. That process is repeated with each unit in a tote until all of the items for an order have been put to a bin. At that point a light on the other side of the put wall will indicate that the order is ready for packing. An associate will remove items from the bin and pack the order similar to a single-unit order. The order is then conveyed directly into a parcel carrier trailer (10). 

Shipping: Some cartons are complete coming out of a pick module. They require neither value-added processing nor packing and convey to a carton sealing area and then to the shipping dock. In route, the cartons pass over an inline scale which audits (12) the actual weight of the carton to the projected weight. If the weight is correct, the carton is taped (13) and sorted (14) to a shipping lane (8).

System suppliers
Systems integrator and warehouse control system: Forte Industries, forte-industries.com
Lift trucks: Raymond
Conveyor: Dematic; Intelligrated
Sortation: Dematic
WMS: Manhattan Associates
Pick-to-light: Lightning Pick Technologies
Mobile computing and bar code scanning: Motorola Solutions
Rack: Ridg-U-Rak

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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