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Stocking the Supermarkets
An industry veteran incorporates GPS systems and two-way messaging into a mobile solution for tracking distribution
Posted Jul 12, 2000
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Charlie Amorosi needs to know the when and where of thousands of shipments of goods to ShopRite Supermarkets throughout the Northeast. Amorosi, 56, is director of transportation and traffic for Wakefern Food, the marketing and distribution arm of ShopRite--the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United states with more than $6 billion in revenues.

Amorosi has been challenged to implement a cost-effective technology solution to help his fleet remain competitive while improving service to the owners of the 204 ShopRite stores. By integrating a mobile solution that not only tracks drivers in real time but enables two-way wireless text communication, Amorosi and his team are moving light years ahead of the simple onboard computers his drivers have used for the past decade. DestinationCRM editor Matt Purdue spoke with Amorosi about what's driving his enterprise's shift into high gear.

FFA: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Charlie Amorosi: I am responsible for the on-time and efficient delivery of all items that are carried in ShopRite stores from our distribution centers to the retail outlets. I'm also responsible for the implementation of a program that reduces the costs of both the purchase and transportation of the goods that we sell to our member stores.

FFA: So what's the scope of your transportation network?
CA: We manage 370 to 400 tractors and more than 2,000 trailers. On a weekly basis, they move more than 3,000 outbound loads from our five distribution centers.

FFA: Having been in the business for 29 years, you must have seen technology change dramatically.
CA: We got into the first generation of onboard computers in the late 1980s, which was my first exposure to technology in transportation. Our current foray is cutting edge because we've gone from first-generation onboard computers to a sophisticated GPS system with two-way messaging.

FFA: Those first-generation onboard computers couldn't handle that?
CA: No. The real value for us was to monitor the driver's habits while he drove.... We had the rudiments of tracking: It told us how many miles he traveled, not the route he traveled. Now with GPS, we know the minute he accesses the onboard at the start of his day. Every move he makes is chronicled for us, both in real time and at the end of the day.

FFA: Was reducing costs an important factor in implementing your new system?
CA: In order for us to remain competitive, we had to implement company-wide technology projects that would help us keep our costs in line and reduce them. That was the sum and substance of this onboard computing project, as well as our inbound project.

Cost reduction was prime, but it was not the major driver. The major driver was customer service and on-time delivery. The fact that it reduced our costs got us there, but the fact that it improved our customer service is the reason we sold it to our membership. We are not a typical food chain; we are a retailer-owned cooperative. We are the tail and the retailers are the dog.

FFA: And you had it out of the box and running in six weeks?
CA: Yes. We have a Symbol 3140 handheld and a RIM 900 pager enabled with GPS and two-way communication mounted in each tractor. Dynamic Mobile Data integrated our need to capture real-time data and communicate wirelessly, and they wrote the software. The Symbol 3140 gathers all the information on each driver's daily trips. When he comes back, all that data is RF downloaded and we can print a driver report card. We match his actual against our standards to measure his performance.

FFA: What were the biggest challenges during your implementation?
CA: We knew there would be a cultural issue, so we met with all the drivers to let them know that this system... was there to better service our customer in real time. We had to let the drivers know it was not a disciplinary tool--although we can use it for that, and if they gave us a reason, we would.

From a technology standpoint, the challenge was to integrate all three pieces: the Rockwell black box under the seat that collects the data, the Symbol 3140 that stores it and transmits it to us and the RIM pager that allows us, every half hour, to find our drivers through GPS or on demand. The challenge was to get them all in a nice orderly transference--where we got one after another to be successful.

FFA: Who carries your wireless messages?
CA: BellSouth. Their coverage is even superior to any voice coverage. We looked at cellular phones, and the coverage was 73 percent. The two-way pagers? Ninety-eight percent.

FFA: What have been your most pleasant surprises?
CA: It was a lot easier to adapt to our culture than I thought it would be. We never had a confrontation--the drivers and the contract fleets bought into it. The key driver was that we made them a partner in the project rather than an adversary.

FFA: Now let's talk about the most significant benefits you measured.
CA: We have better real-time acknowledgement of where our deliveries are, which has improved customer service and on time ratings. We used to run between 93 and 94 percent on-time. In January 1999, when we installed the pagers with the ability to know where any driver was at any time, I believe they took notice. Our on-time percentage went up to 97 percent.

Another benefit is having real-time communication with our drivers. In the past, drivers had to call us from each stop. We knew if we could contact the drivers whenever we need to with a change in an assignment, we'd save some dollars. About three months ago, we had 10 pickups at a point 200 miles from one of our distribution center and 10 drivers assigned to go there. Then we got a call about a power failure at the pickup point. If we did not have this system, we would have had 10 drivers travel 400 miles for no reason.

FFA: What about cost savings?
CA: We never talk dollars, but if you want a word, let's call it "substantial."

FFA: Any advice for others working on similar projects?
CA: Make sure what your ultimate goal is. Don't think it's cost if it's service, don't think it's service if it's cost. Once you find your ultimate goal, do research and take the time to see what's on the market.

Don't buy the first thing you see, test various systems, then retest them and make a prohibitive evaluation of what's right for your environment. That's what we did. We tested and retested two or three different systems. It took us two years, but we did it.

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