Warehouse Stationery ships seamlessly with Flow

Written By Flow Software
01 August, 2011

When it decided to close its central distribution center and move to third party logistics, Warehouse Stationery turned to Flow Software to link its web store, distribution hubs and courier deliveries…

Founded in 1991 by Stephen Tindall and Miles Cardale, Warehouse Stationery has grown to become New Zealand’s largest supplier of stationery, office products and related services – with 51 stores nationwide and a plan for ongoing development. Part of that plan has been the continued growth of the chain’s online sales via the company’s web store at www.warehousestationery.co.nz.

An early adopter of online retail, in 2010 Warehouse Stationery decided to close its single national distribution center which had operated using Oracle Warehouse Management Solution, and move to third party logistics.

The plan was simple enough. The web store would take orders as per usual but instead of being picked and dispatched from a central location, orders would instead be sent to one of four strategically selected Warehouse Stationery stores (East Tamaki, Hamilton, Petone and Christchurch), where they would be picked for dispatch then uplifted and delivered by CourierPost. The issue for Warehouse Stationery was that Oracle WMS could not be deployed at store level, and the company needed to find a solution that could seamlessly link its web store with its chosen distribution hub stores and its courier company.

Ultimately, it didn’t need to look any further than Flow Software.

Going with flow
Problems such as those being experienced by Warehouse Stationery are fairly typical says Flow Software’s Jim Stevens, with a system or process change being a common trigger of integration problems. But while in the past this may have meant a complete systems overhaul, today Stevens says there’s a far more cost effective solution. “This is where Flow fits perfectly,” he says. “With Flow you can keep all of your old IT systems [Flow integrates with hundreds of business applications he says]. We can plug into any legacy system and provide an EDI interface so a company can seamlessly take EDI orders from its customers or suppliers and put them back into its own systems.”

Interestingly, Stevens’s claim that Flow can integrate with “any legacy system” is no idle boast, as according to Warehouse Stationery systems manager Kevin Rowland, the existing IT infrastructure at his company was almost singularly unique. Written in the obscure ‘Clipper’ programming language, Warehouse Stationery’s legacy store system is called ‘Black Isle’ Rowland says, and ever since its deployment 16 years ago the person who wrote and designed it (as a vendor) has been working for Warehouse Stationery maintaining it. “Not many people know how to write Clipper,” he says, “and it’s really hard to find someone to support it. So we didn’t have time to try and work all that out – how and if we could – we needed a quick simple solution that did everything we wanted and just worked.”

Although the vendor selection process could easily have been prolonged, Rowland says a trusted colleague’s recommendation of Flow convinced him to jump onboard.

“Normally you’d speak to loads of vendors and come up with lots of different solutions,” he says, “but we basically said ‘let’s suck it and see’. The process and the way that Flow interacted with us was very positive and that’s continued right through. I’m really happy with them as a company.”

Defining the solution
So how does it work? In order to seamlessly integrate Warehouse Stationery’s order pick operation with physical distribution to its customers, Stevens says Flow imports data from the company’s bespoke ERP system and generates address-validated courier labels and packing slips. Creation of manifest reports then complete the connection to the courier company.

The result, he says, is a fully automated process supporting accurate delivery, hand-in-hand with courier compatible integration. Development of the solution was rapid (a matter of weeks) and its deployment was done on a store by store basis to minimise risk. “We prefer a phased approach,” says Stevens. “Initial scoping, then white boarding, then proof of concept to show the process working end to end, then perhaps a roll out to one supplier or location to start – and once we’ve proven everything works as planned we’ll roll it out completely.” But, as Rowland notes, there was little cause for concern. “The initial thing was to get East Tamaki up because that serves Auckland so it was always going to be the biggest,” he says. “So we switched over to East Tamaki from the central distribution centre and then we quickly turned the other stores on as it was going so well.

All we had to do was change the postcodes in the ordering system so that we knew where to get them dispatched from.” With a long history of IT project experience behind him, Rowland says the hassle free Flow deployment and the system’s rock solid stability since then has been rather extraordinary. Although Warehouse Stationery have signed up for Flow’s Gold support agreement he says he’s seldom had to make a support call. “Any issues are few and far between,” he says. “We actually very rarely have to speak to Flow because it’s up all the time and it works. We had one small thing this week which was resolved immediately and that’s been it for months. Basically Flow just works.”

A focus on efficiency
Although from a customer’s perspective, Rowland says nothing much has changed – “they click a button and in a couple of days they get their order” – behind the scenes he says Flow has delivered numerous benefits and a customer service focus to Warehouse Stationery the company did not initially anticipate. “What it has meant is that we manage our first time fulfillment a lot better,” he says. “If I compare the way that we’re managing stock, the cost of picking and all that, I have to say it’s a radically different model and a vast improvement from the customer’s perspective.

[Web store delivery] was managed by logistics before but now it’s managed by operations – by the retail team. We control it better, it’s more closely monitored now. We have far more investigation into any issues and availability and how long it’s taking to supply orders.”

At Flow, Stevens says once Flow is integrated into an organisation’s ERP system, Flow’s built-in reporting engine can access that system’s data and improve reporting across any business. “With such a large operation, alleviating downtime is critical,” he says, “so Flow provides effective monitoring processes to alert users of any operational issues.” The result, says Rowland, probably goes unnoticed by the customer, but at Warehouse Stationery, efficiency is much improved. “The customer may not realise anything is different when they’re on the web site,” he says, “but they are getting a difference in terms of delivery and performance to them – especially when it comes to first time fulfillment.”

Although Warehouse Stationery has no current plans to expand beyond its existing four delivery stores, Rowland says he’s confident Flow would be the solution he’d turn to for any future business connectivity issues. “I can’t see us going to any more sites,” he says. “I don’t think we need it – but if we do there’d be no doubt we’d just stick with Flow.”

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