Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, Charter Baking Company, a portfolio company of Charterhouse Group, Inc. and North America's leading supplier of natural and organic bread and baked goods, is dedicated to bringing consumers a variety of the finest natural and organic breads without the use of any artificial ingredients or preservatives. The company distributes branded products from Rudi's Organic Bakery, The Vermont Baking Company, The Baker, and Matthew's Bread to supermarkets, mass retailers and a host of independent natural food stores across the U.S. In order to continue to ensure the freshness of its products, Charter Baking wanted to make sure all products were delivered accurately and on-time to meet its customers' needs. In 2007, Charter reached out to Ross Computers Systems, a leading provider of handheld and host software to the route distribution and food processing industries. The company began its relationship with Ross when it bought Vermont Bakeries, which worked with Ross since the 1990s.
Headquartered in New York City, Ross Computer Systems is a leading provider of route accounting and Direct Store Delivery (DSD) Host and Handheld software to the Food and Beverage industry. Ross offers a full suite of DSD-specific applications as part of a turnkey solution that includes software, hardware, installation, training, post-installation support and custom programming.
"We had been using a variety of disparate route accounting systems in various locales, including manual systems, and we were lacking the real-time visibility of inventory and sales data that could help us plan production for maximum sales, profitability and customer service," said Andy Artzer, CIO of Charter Baking Company.
"Manual transactions at the store delivery level slowed down drivers' productivity and efficiency and were a hindrance to our growth. In addition, the lack of real-time sales/inventory information and sales integration with our back-office planning system made forecasting and production planning a challenge. As a result, we experienced higher return rates in some regions or stores and out-of-stocks in others. Now, with the new system we can do more accurate forecasting by region and by store."
Based on its needs, Charter Baking selected Ross Computer Systems' STORS (Sales Tracking, Ordering, Route Settlement) mobile/wireless Route Accounting/Direct-Store- Delivery solution. Ross' STORS application runs on any Microsoft® Windows Mobile™ device and the Charter Baking implementation utilizes Motorola MC9090 rugged mobile computers with a keypad designed specifically for DSD and Zebra RW 420™ mobile/ wireless receipt printers. Transaction data from each route is uploaded daily into Charter's host system application called "Bakers Dozen"—one of Ross Computer Systems' bakery production and distribution enterprise solutions.
"We specified Zebra's mobile technology as a result of an evaluation our company conducted on mobile printers in the marketplace, in which Zebra ranked highest on its usability, rugged construction, printing quality and superior battery life," explains Artzer. "With the old system it was difficult to decipher the drivers' handwriting. Now, with the mobile printers, all the printouts are clear and legible."
Using Ross' STORS handheld mobile/wireless solution, Charter's drivers can complete delivery route transactions quickly and conveniently. With the mobile computer and printer, Charter's mobile workers can issue invoices, print receipts, collect signatures, enter credits for returns and accept payments on the spot, then communicate these transactions to the host system. Product and quantity data can be entered either by scanning the product's UPC code or entering the number into the handheld.
"Implementing STORS has helped us streamline delivery operations for drivers and provides us with significantly greater accountability and accuracy on product sales across all locations," states Artzer. "As a result, we can identify and optimize sales opportunities and ensure that production, distribution and product placement are done in the most advantageous manner to serve our customers."
Rollout of the new solution at Charter's distribution depots began in April 2007, with each successive set of routes being rolled out every week. "This was an extremely challenging and demanding timetable," Artzer adds. "Achieving full deployment and training of our handheld system—on time and within budget—required the hard work, focus and commitment of our hardware vendors, the Ross installation group, and, most importantly, the Charter sales management and sales operation teams. They were able to combine their respective technology and process expertise to ensure their implementation goals were realized."
Artzer continues, "It's important to avoid the pitfalls of 'scope creep' and process re-engineering, which can add unnecessary complexity and turmoil. While some reengineering may be necessary to leverage the system's strengths, adding unneeded layers of complexity can lead to failure."
Artzer's approach to IT implementation is one of incremental improvement that starts with implementing the system's core capabilities. Then, once the system is delivering value and people are adapting to it, Charter continues to fine-tune functionality and add enhancements over time. For example, Charter did not begin to implement the forecasting function of STORS and Bakers Dozen until the basic STORS system was up and running well.
Kevin Glander, implementation manager at Ross Computer Systems, notes: "This was our first implementation working with the Zebra RW 420 printer and we have been very happy with its quality and performance." On the same topic, Artzer concludes: "We are also pleased with the hardware components. The Motorola handheld computer features larger-than-usual keys to make it easier for drivers to key in data even with gloves on, and the Bluetooth-enabled Zebra mobile printers have proven to be highly stable and reliable with the best battery performance we have ever seen. The system has been running very smoothly since implementation."
"The feature most appreciated by drivers is the DEX capability—or, as we call it, the 'electronic handshake,'" states Artzer. DEX is an electronic data exchange that allows automatic transfer of item (SKU) numbers and pricing without the necessity for manual data entry at the store receiving end.
There are now nine key distribution depots using the system—one in Boulder and others located mainly on the East Coast. Charter operates company owned routes and also contracts with independent delivery fleet operators. As the company grows, each new depot is implemented into the system.
Recently, it rolled out to two new locations in Long Island, NY. Artzer notes, "Users in the field—both drivers and users at Charter distribution depots— are still enthusiastic about the system and the Zebra RW 420 mobile printers. Superior battery life, rugged construction and Bluetooth wireless technology are primary advantages. Our handheld to printer Bluetooth® connectivity is extremely dependable, most of our team members are running over a year without ever requiring a Bluetooth re-association between the Motorola handheld and Zebra printer."