Advances in affordable computer scheduling software can make your delivery and service department much more efficient.
Advances in computer technology have impacted one of retailing's major challenges; delivery and service scheduling. This technology can significantly improve your productivity and customer satisfaction. When you consider the number of factors that must be considered in scheduling (see box below) you can appreciate the work involved in achieving a successful delivery. Astute schedulers need to have an amazing knowledge of the geography of your delivery territory as well as the products to be delivered and installed. Today's software boosts their productivity because it combines this human knowledge and expertise with user-friendly computer processing power. This discussion will be mainly about delivery but the systems are equally applicable to service calls, customer returns and backhauls.
You probably have tried one of the trip planning CD's that come with most PC's today. While they will give an introduction to the concept, comparing this software to routing and scheduling software is like comparing a Chevette with a Mercedes. I encourage you to take a demo ride in today's routing software and think about the benefits you could achieve.
Until recently, the price tag was out of reach for most retailers. Recognizing that this is specialized technology, the major retailing software packages are designed to exchange order information with the routing and scheduling system.
HOMEMAKERS: NEXT DAY DELIVERY
Homemakers, a growing Des Moines Iowa furniture retailer with two locations, uses a GERS order processing system and initiated RiMMS routing and scheduling software in mid 1997. This is a product of Lightstone Group whose previous offerings in scheduling software have been used by The New York Times, Whirlpool, Amerigas, home health care providers, and courier services.
Delivery scheduling is a key to Homemakers customer service strategy as they promise next day service on all bedding and in stock furniture. They pre-plan their routes using RiMMS on a Pentium PC using Windows 95 and call each customer to confirm delivery within a two hour window. Drivers have cellular phones in case they are running ahead of schedule or behind, or need to contact dispatch.
Patrick Malloy, Director of Operations, reports that productivity has improved dramatically in the office and for the trucks. Operating 6-7 trucks, each truck is now averaging 15-20 stops per day. Startup went smoothly after a couple days training even though the schedulers did not have computer backgrounds.
Malloy notes "Rimms uses specific parameters from each application to start route planning and production on the day it goes live. We can load variables such as the time required to leave the warehouse in the morning, unload furniture and carry it up to the top floor of a house, have a lunch break, and any changes. It is very user friendly."
Lightstone Group's advertising literature shows pricing starting at $30,000 and there are costs associated with connectivity with the retailer's software. Nevertheless, the payback can be dramatic.
There will be additional competition in the routing optimization marketplace by mid summer. Many companies have used Alk Associates PC*MILER for point to point routing optimization software for years with full connectivity to order processing systems. They recently introduced PC*MILER/STREETS which also runs in a Pentium PC and Windows environment. The software provides optimization within zip codes and has turn by turn driving directions, including recognition of one way streets. It even reflects route restrictions for various size trucks. For instance, trucks over 7,500 pounds can't use the New Jersey Garden State Parkway. It also has user controlled flexibility to favor or avoid various roads.
Cost for the typical PC*MILER/STREETS software will be in the $5,000 to $7,000 range plus charges from your retailing software provider for connectivity. Even if it doesn't have every bell and whistle that comes in the Lightstone offering, PC*MILER appears to offer a practical solution for many furniture retailers.
Bottom line, my recommendation for retailers considering any software is to use standard systems to the maximum degree possible. Your business is rarely that different from existing users and changes can be costly without significant benefits. In addition, better software or standard upgrades will be available in a surprisingly short time frame.
Daniel Bolger, P.E. provides warehousing, transportation and logistics consulting to clients throughout the USA. Questions on this article or any other aspect of transportation, warehousing or logistics can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.