Focus on Fulfillment
Few people know how difficult and time-consuming warehousing and distributing products can be. Ayal Latz was running a small family-owned toy company in Greensboro, Ga. The business manufactured one product and acted as a distributor for other product lines using its own warehouse and fulfillment service.
Operations consumed valuable time and energy that could have gone into marketing and sales efforts to expand the business.
“As a company, we were likely missing opportunities to penetrate the marketplace because so much of our focus was on the back end,” concedes Latz. “We were also wrestling with the fixed costs associated with leasing space, buying and maintaining equipment, and of course, labor. I knew there had to be a better way.”
The answer was a spinoff – a2b Fulfillment.
“So I thought, why not leverage what I’ve already built, which was a fairly good process, and offer these services to companies just like me,” he says.
a2b Fulfillment quickly picked up its first clients from among other small toy companies that had the same need for scalable product distribution services. Today, a2b processes orders for consumers and retailers of all sizes, including the big-box stores. The company offers order fulfillment services and customer care solutions from an in-house call center along with product refurbishment, light assembly and co-packing, as well as a host of technological solutions such as order management and payment processing.
a2b’s own warehouse reflects the technological advances that have swept across the industry in Georgia. The company employs an advanced and paperless warehouse management system that manages every movement within the facility. Each a2b worker carries a mini-computer either on their arm or mounted to a forklift. They also wear bar code scanners on a finger to ensure full use of both hands.
Customers have access to their products through a customer portal called OpsView, which provides real-time data on inventory both in-house and expected for delivery, according to Latz.
One of the challenges of logistics has long been the quality and availability of data. It was hard for companies to know exactly where their products were in the supply chain and when exactly they might be arriving in the warehouse. That made forecasting demand and how much inventory a company really needed a crap shoot at times.
While the information existed in databases along the supply chain, merging information together typically didn’t happen. A shipper might have information on a package’s delivery, but its owner couldn’t readily access it or really know where it was at any particular time. Now that’s starting to change.
“This is the perfect time to combine the advantages of all those other solutions by making sure that the transactional data from all those different parties is good and is delivered in a way that everyone who needs to see it can see it in the format they need,” says Cindi Hane, vice president of product management with Elemica, which bills itself as a supply chain operating network provider.
Elemica’s cloud-based solutions allow users to access multiple sources of information from systems all along the supply chain.
“And then get that data in a way that everyone can understand it, and you can be confident that the data is of high quality,” says Hane.