Alpine Valley Bread Company (Alpine) is a bakery headquartered in Arizona with 14 distributors who deliver products to approximately 200 separate locations of natural food stores and grocery chains, such as Costco. With the distributors visiting a growing number of sites each day, Alpine's manual process for delivering and ordering product was becoming cumbersome and inefficient.
Each distributor is responsible for managing the delivery and ordering of bread at each customer site. The distributor would take an order to a site, remove the stale bread (according to date codes), calculate the sellable amount left on-site, and determine the quantities of each bread for the next order. The distributor would write down the stale bread dollar amount to be credited (the store receives a credit for stale bread) and order information and provide the store with a hand-written credit memo. The distributor also provided the customer with an invoice generated at headquarters prior to delivery. If there were any discrepancies, changes to the invoice had to be made manually. After leaving the store, the distributor would call in to headquarters to relay the order for the next delivery. The call center would complete a written order form and enter the data into Alpine's QuickBooks system for processing.
An apparent inefficiency in Alpine's manual process was the duplication of efforts in ordering. Further, the stale bread data being relayed was only an overall dollar amount to be credited. Knowing what bread is staling at which site would allow Alpine to take measures to lower its stale bread rate, which would increase its profitability. In May of 2006, Ann Wise, COO of Alpine, began looking for a solution to automate the distributor process and eliminate these inefficiencies.
Real-Time Connectivity Increases Mobile Workforce Effectiveness
Wise and a team of decision makers researched four software vendors before deciding on ServQuest and MINIMATE from Prism Visual Software. ServQuest is desktop software, hosted at Alpine's headquarters, which tracks service history, creates invoices, and integrates with the bakery's QuickBooks accounting system. MINIMATE is a handheld application that links the distributors with the headquarters database, displays customer histories, and calculates invoices. "We chose Prism Visual Software because they took more time than the other vendors to understand our business processes and what we were looking for," says Wise. "They became a business partner, rather than making us feel like we were 'just a sale.'" Alpine also chose a Motorola MC70 handheld computer and O'Neil microFlash 8i portable printer for the distributors to use on-site.
Installation began in October of 2006, and currently 30% of the distributors are using it. Alpine decided to phase in the solution to allow time for ample training for each distributor and to ensure a seamless transition for the customers. The first step of the installation was to purchase a server to host the ServQuest application. A local IT company installed the server, and Prism Visual Software loaded the software remotely. Once the software was installed, all customer and item data had to be entered. As each distributor begins using the solution, the software is loaded onto the Motorola MC70 via USB connection at Alpine's headquarters.
After using Prism Visual Software's video training materials to train management on the solution, Alpine management decided to create its own training program for the distributors. The company chose a distributor it felt had a high level of acceptance and understanding of the technology to begin using the solution first and be used as a template for a training manual. "We found out this may not have been the optimal approach," says Wise. "Since this distributor's level of technology comfort and knowledge was so high, we found that this wasn't on par with everyone else's." To compensate, Wise or a sales manager goes into the field with each distributor the first week they use the solution to go over the manual and do hands-on training with them. Alpine has found that the complete training process for each distributor takes approximately two months.
Automate Ordering To Prevent Errors
Now, the delivery and ordering process is automated for the distributors who are using the solution. As a distributor delivers an order of bread, they enter into the handheld the quantity and type of each stale loaf and the quantity of each bread remaining on the shelf. The software automatically generates the next order based on desired quantity at the site and communicates the order directly to the ServQuest application at Alpine headquarters. Using the Motorola MC70 and O'Neil 8i printer, the distributor prints a professional and accurate invoice and credit memo for the customer. With the detailed stale bread information that the solution provides, Alpine has more insight into its stale rates, enabling the company to manage its accounts more closely. For instance, if a distributor is routinely ordering 50 loaves of wheat bread, but 20 are repeatedly going stale, the system indicates the optimal quantity to order based on sales history for the past four weeks. This allows the distributor to adjust the ordering accordingly and prevents mistakes that could occur with the manual process.
With deployment to only 30% of the distributors, Alpine has already reduced its stale rate by 15%. "As a result of increased productivity, our business has grown 60% without the company having to hire any additional office employees," says Wise. Alpine plans to complete deployment of the solution to the entire distributor force over the next year.