Supplying demand

Features - Technology

Being a grower for a big-box store has its perks, but managing orders and shipping is challenging. That’s why Rambo Nursery utilizes software to handle tracking and inventory.

June 29, 2015
Hilary Daninhirsch

If there’s a downside to being an exclusive supplier to 67 Home Depot stores across Georgia, Alabama and parts of Tennessee, it might be this: keeping up with shipping demands.

Rambo Nursery in Dallas, Georgia, is faced with that challenge seven days a week: shipping multiple truckloads of annuals, perennials, groundcover and roses to their Home Depot customers, some of whom receive as many as five deliveries per week.

That is why the 175-employee company opted to implement a new software system to help manage the operations process, from ordering to inventory control to shipping.

The software, SBI, is designed with big-box growers in mind, so it aims to simplify their processes with its numerous features and functionalities. For example, the Rack Scanning Order Fulfillment Module allows growers to ship high volumes of rack daily, while the Pay By Scan posts inventory to each store as orders are shipped.

Before all of this was in place, Rambo utilized another software, along with many manual applications.

“It’s been a complete overhaul of our entire ordering and shipping processes.

"In the past, all area merchandisers would actually place orders based on needs in store by submitting them, either via email or by calling in orders,” says Aaron Price, Rambo Nursery’s Home Depot account manager. Now, merchandisers can utilize personal tablets, such as iPads, or smartphones, to place orders and track shipments via the SBI software.

“What drew us to SBI was the online ordering process and the opportunity to be able to use smartphone and tablets to not only check inventory levels but to place orders and check sales data from smartphones,” says Price, who added that employees like the ease of use and mobility, partly because there is an app that managers can use anywhere, even without WiFi.

Price added that the app provides store-by-store sales snapshots, including top selling products, current inventory levels and projected delivery dates, all in real time.

With implementation beginning this past January, the software was ready to rollout in the spring, just in time for the busy season. Reps from SBI conducted online and in-person training sessions to help employees get acquainted with the new way of doing things.

Though Price acknowledged that they have had a few kinks, mostly due to becoming acclimated to a new system, he says that the folks at SBI have been readily accessible to help work them out.

The system has helped to keep communications running smoothly within the company, so that every department knows what other departments are doing, which is important because they operate three facilities.

In the past, an order would come in, and they would have to split that and send it to various facilities; now, the system automatically does that by detecting where the inventory is located within the facility.

The Master Pick Module in particular has proven to be one of the software’s primary advantages, as it has helped to drastically improve efficiency when it comes to pulling inventory in bulk, says Price. “The software allows us to take an entire truckload or three truckloads and pull all that product at once.” This is a real time-saver, he said, as you can pull orders in batches and by location and get them ready for shipping much more quickly.

SBI offers more visibility of inventory inside the greenhouses as well, Price says, which allows his distribution team easier access to see where the product is located. “The software tells them which range to go to, even specific sections of the range, where the most retail-ready product is located,” he says.

With the software, Rambo's orders can be allocated and racked by site. “We have three facilities: two operate as distribution centers; we cross dock from that facility. The system allows us to effectively build trucks with this inventory coming from another facility. It takes inventory at one facility and allows us to merge from another, so we cross dock it when it arrives and it ships to the stores,” Price says.

Another important feature is improved capability in routing. “The software uses Google Maps and allows the shipping manager more visibility into the orders that he has to pull. When they need to be delivered, it is easier for him to route his trucks most efficiently with the features of the software than in the past,” Price says.

Shipment notifications are also automatically generated. As long as the order is processed and in transit, employees can see what will be arriving on the next truck.

Though it’s only been fully operational since spring, the company has already seen major enhancements in its overall efficiency, with shipping and other areas. Labor has been drastically reduced and rates of distribution have improved, so products are hitting stores more quickly. “We have a 24-hour turnaround time; we are able to receive orders and ship the very next day with the help of the software. We were able to do it in the past, but now we are able to do it much more cost-effectively, with less labor and less man hours,” Price says.

“My guess would be, we’ve improved our turnaround to stores, from receiving to ordering to having it pulled and ready to go, probably by 40 percent,” he adds, which has the added bonus of improving gross profits.