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EDI, Scanning Prove Key to Success at Polo’s Fledgling DC

CHICAGO -- Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.'s distribution center just turned three years old, but Al Adcock, director of engineering and distribution support, said savvy planning is ensuring the facility will remain state of the art for years to...

CHICAGO — Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.’s distribution center just turned three years old, but Al Adcock, director of engineering and distribution support, said savvy planning is ensuring the facility will remain state of the art for years to come.

Adcock outlined the operations of the DC at the recent Quick Response ’94 conference here in a presentation called “Reengineering the Distribution Center.” He said a commitment to electronic data interchange and scanning has allowed Polo to improve service while cutting operating costs.

“Our service time to the customer, within our center, has been reduced by no less than 50 percent,” he said. “Order fulfillment has improved from 92 percent to 99 percent plus, [and] we reduced our cost per unit by 50 percent from 1988 to 1994.”

The 350,000-square-foot Greensboro, N.C., facility serves all Polo’s retail customers along with 48 company-owned stores. Adcock said effectively serving retailers was difficult before the DC opened.

“We had grown to three small warehouses in New Jersey plus two contract warehouses for our wholesale business and one warehouse for the retail business,” he said. “On any given day, it was very possible a customer would receive as many as five shipments from five different locations. Today is a very different situation. We are located in one consolidated facility.”

The distribution center’s success, however, has as much to do with changes in the way Polo deals with suppliers as it does with the physical facility. Polo now requires advance ship notices (ASNs) from all its suppliers and is pushing suppliers to adhere to VICS standards and employ the UCC/EAN-128 bar code for carton marking.

Polo has made allowances for smaller suppliers who are not electronic-data-interchange capable. Rather than transmit ASNs via modem, they can fax the statements to the distribution center. The ASNs, Adcock said, let Polo make sure it is receiving the correct styles in the correct quantities.

He said the ASNs set an automated receiving system into motion at Polo. Once received, they are loaded onto a host computer. When a trailer arrives at the dock, the information is downloaded to the personal computer system that runs a conveyor belt.

“The receiving process becomes very easy at that point,” Adcock said. “It’s a matter of unloading the cartons and making sure the labels face forward. As the cartons pass the scanner, the conveyor system checks in each carton based on the ASN.”

Adcock said the system also sorts cartons based on destination within the DC.

ASN are also generated by Polo for outbound shipments to retailers. Adcock said the ASNs can be transmitted electronically or printed and faxed, depending on the retailer’s ability to receive the information.

He said scanning has also proven “integral” to the operation of the automated DC. The facility relies on fixed sortation scanning on the conveyor belts but also uses hand-held and truck-mounted radio-frequency scanners.

“With our systems, the scanning was one of the largest changes,” Adcock said. “In the past, all these transactions were recorded manually and keyed in at a later time. These old operations led to many errors and lost cartons.”