Magazine Article | April 1, 2002

Faster Fulfillment

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Find out how a small company uses e-fulfillment to provide large retailers with turnaround times as fast as its giant rivals.

Integrated Solutions, April 2002

IT's role in business is much more than just a guy who's good with computers and keeps servers up and running. The IT role has become intimately connected to using the latest technology to keep the company profitable. This role isn't seen just in large, multibillion dollar enterprises, but in the small- to medium-sized companies as well.

InSTEP, LLC (Mendota Heights, MN) illustrates this principle. InSTEP is a mid-sized manufacturer and distributor of juvenile products such as baby strollers, stroller backpacks, bicycle trailers, and jogging strollers. The company ships products to end users as well as large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, JCPenney, and Sears to locations throughout the world. Most of InSTEP's competitors like Graco, Evenflo, and Kolcraft are many times larger in size. But, that doesn't stop this company from holding its own with big retailers.

Shrinking Shipping Windows
Seven years ago, before InSTEP had developed relationships with larger retailers, it was acceptable to turn around orders within a three-week window. After the company tried getting its product to larger players, it became apparent that that luxury would soon change. "Large retailers require suppliers to send and receive information via EDI (electronic data interchange)," says Tim Galligan, InSTEP CFO. "With this requirement is the understanding that orders will be turned around within three days." InSTEP decided to go ahead with an EDI solution to comply with retailers' needs. When it tried to integrate the software with its MAS 90 accounting system, however, it ran across a significant glitch. "The EDI system wasn't responsive enough," recalls Galligan. "If an order was sent and a sentence on the purchase order didn't have a period, the system wouldn't work." Additionally, the EDI system did not interface with InSTEP's WMS (warehouse management system), causing double data entry with every order. Because of the data redundancy, InSTEP had to allocate two full-time employees to manually enter the orders.

E-Fulfillment To The Rescue
With these challenges before it, InSTEP sought a technology solution that would automate its data entry process, eliminate redundant data entry, and help its EDI solution work more seamlessly with its accounting system. InSTEP selected Pitney Bowes' (Bloomington, MN) Conquest e-fulfillment solution to tackle its IT issues. "The Conquest software was installed and integrated to our EDI and accounting systems with minimal tweaking," recalls Galligan. "The e-fulfillment solution comes with special EDI software modules that are designed for each EDI partner. The kits help our EDI system work more seamlessly with our accounting system and WMS."

Since installing the Conquest solution, InSTEP has been able to automatically print compliant labels for each product it ships. "Our B2B (business-to-business) customers require UCC 128 bar code labels, 4 inches by 6 inches in dimension," says Galligan. "But, which fields they use on the label and how they use it vary. Our e-fulfillment solution is able to accommodate all their various labeling needs without human intervention." According to Galligan, the Conquest solution has replaced the equivalent of two full-time employees because of its integration and automation features, and the solution paid for itself within 12 months of deployment. In addition to being able to print compliant bar code labels, InSTEP can offer its smaller customers, who are not set up to do EDI, an alternative with equal results (e.g. advanced shipping notification and three-day turnaround time). And as far as InSTEP's smaller customers are concerned, offering several flexible methods of doing business is no problem for such an industry giant.