VoiteQ furnishes Marston Mills with optimum WMS solution

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Soft furnishings retailer Marston Mills has sourced VoiteQs LogicMan Warehouse Management System for a more accurate, cost effective and time saving stock and distribution regime.

Marston Mills incorporates Ponden Mill and CW Textiles, which trades as Coloroll and includes such brands as Jeff Banks Home, Life from Coloroll and Ports of Call. Through its Contracts Division it also provides goods and services to the hotel, leisure, care and residential sectors as well as universities and holiday establishments. It also has a Home Furnishing Division servicing independent retailers with luxury linens.

Marston Mills currently operates two distinct retail systems, Tropos and Torex, which are in the process of being merged together onto the companys existing Torex Retail Nova platform. However, even after this software merger, the company recognised that there would be significant challenges and business risks for the company. For example, the system was first introduced over eight years ago to support a network of around 100 outlets, and is therefore not capable of supporting the current business demands for a network in excess of 250+ outlets. In addition, the existing system is paper based, administratively intensive and operates by batched processing that can create bottlenecks. With these issues in mind, the company decided to source a Warehouse Management Solution (WMS) from VoiteQ which is fully voice directed and driven by Vocollect Voice and Talkman T5 wearable voice terminals. 

Manual dependency

Graham Martin, Marston Mills distribution director, outlined the current stock picking methodology: Because everything is so manually driven, everybody is currently dependent on everybody else in the chain doing their job, and frequently this dependency breaks down for one reason or another. As you can imagine with any manual system, the paperwork isnt always where it should be, the individual who should have actioned it hasnt done so, and numerous other problems that can occur. Goods in is a good example; it could take us anything up to three or four days to clear stock through the system. However, with our new VoiteQ WMS, we expect to clear stock through the system within a matter or hours.

In simple terms, continued Martin, an example of inefficiencies being experienced would be that pick lists are out of date even as they are printed. To compensate for this, pickers tend to be allocated specific aisles that they get to know and can easily identify product, which is held away from its correct system location. Unfortunately, a picker who usually works in, for example, curtains will be given a pick list for bedding and his productivity will plummet. As stock turns over and we get busier this situation only gets worse.

WMS objectives

With these constraints in mind, Marston Mills recognised that it had two primary options in moving forward. The first was to keep the existing system. However, it also recognised that the decision to take this route would mean necessary software modifications to what was already an ageing system. The software design and architecture would have to be radically changed at great expense, but would still not support business needs now or in the future, explained Martin. The second option was to invest in a new WMS system. Marston Mills had been in discussions with a number of WMS providers to look at the feasibility of a new system. It also set about defining the benefits they would require from its WMS of choice. The key requirements included: Having access to real time operations and information; improved operational efficiency; optimised space utilisation; the elimination of the majority of current administrative tasks and paperwork; improved productivity and working disciplines; maximised stock availability (cross docking); reduced operational costs; optimise stock traceability; and maximised stock accuracy.

After considering a number of potential WMS solutions, the company chose VoiteQs WMS system on the recommendation of Martin. I had known about the system when working for another company a few years ago, so I knew it could deliver in terms of functionality, Martin explained. One of the main reasons I wanted to source a WMS from VoiteQ was that when discussing anything with them, you know youre talking with people who have actually done the job themselves, and know what needs to be achieved. Theyre sympathetic to whats required on the operational side as well as all the other aspects of the system. And when youre discussing things its a case of operators talking with operators, not operators talking with system developers. This makes a massive difference. Marston Mills sent out a letter of intent in mid February 2007 and the contract for the VoiteQ WMS was signed in early April. Implementation, and integration within the existing Nova system, is expected to be completed by the end of July.

Benefits

Martin outlined the key benefits Marston Mills expects to achieve through its use of VoiteQ WMS: Apart from the obvious hands free and eyes free benefits of the system, it will give us a far tighter control over paperwork and products that were shipping out to the stores, explained Martin. Historically, weve picked the product, shipped it to the stores, physically checked it all and then laboriously updated it via the till onto our stock system. With our new WMS, we will be able to automatically update our store stock files after every dispatch. This will then cut out a huge amount of work at the other end, as well as improve data accuracy. Our store staff are not there to take product in, check it and deal with it; theyre there to assist the customer and sell product. When the WMS goes live, they will get the product delivered to them far quicker, more accurately and also in a more store sympathetic manner. VoiteQs WMS is going to make a huge difference.

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