A private fleet is supposed to provide shippers with the utmost in personal attention and delivery reliability. But what if dumping that expensive asset could lead to cost savings, better control of shipments and improved service?
That was the experience of Caleres Inc., the global footwear company whose brands include such major names as Famous Footwear, Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl’s and Sam Edelman.
Caleres’s retail operation had its own fleet of trucks until 1999. That’s when the company decided to extend its footprint beyond purely regional coverage in favor of a more national approach.
Expanding the fleet to cover the whole country simply wasn’t practical, says director of transportation Terri Reid. “We’re in the business of selling shoes,” she says, “not being a trucking company.”
Caleres proceeded to examine a number of modal options, but it was more than a question of just shifting freight from its own fleet to a private operator. At the same time, the company was determined to improve the delivery experience of its stores, while minimizing reliance on less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers. It wanted more predictability for store associates, driven by improved visibility of the entire shipment cycle, along with the ability to expand the store network with the help of standardized processes.
Caleres reached out to BearWare Inc., a provider of software for managing the relationship between retailers and their logistics providers. BearWare had developed a means of using mobile technology to enable carton-level scanning and tracking from the distribution center to the storefront. The system allowed Caleres to avail itself of a complex network of regional pool distributors, who together could cover the company’s increasingly nationwide store network.
The shift led to a rejiggering of the Caleres distribution layout, as the company went from two D.C.s to three, then back to two as it sought to balance service with the need for network rationalization. Each of the D.C.s is linked to 17 pool points, says Reid, necessitating a broad array of service providers. Their job is to segregate cartons of product by store, and perform “final-mile” delivery.
A Direct Link
The setup got another tweak when Caleres stopped relying on a non-asset-based third party in favor of pursuing direct relationships with pool distributors. In the process, it was able to ensure use of the best partner within each area.
All of this was made possible by the software of BearWare, which was acquired by the transportation and logistics software provider Descartes Systems Group in July 2015. Today, Descartes’ BearWare offering provides Caleres with standardized systems for web-based transportation management and retail claims handling.
The software is multifaceted, but Caleres elected to implement it as a package, says Jeff Berichon, senior vice president of strategy for retail distribution with Descartes. (The BearWare founder and owner came over to Descartes with the acquisition.) The move gave Caleres instant access to the pool providers that were already linked into the system. Because all participants follow one standardized procedure for managing shipments to stores, getting Caleres up and running on BearWare was a relatively easy task, Berichon says. Currently, Descartes has a total of 20 specialty retailers on the system, tied into more than 150 pool distributors covering the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Guam.
Caleres draws on BearWare to service more than 1,100 U.S. stores under the Famous Footwear brand, 84 under Naturalizer, seven under Sam Edelman and 10 Famous Footwear outlets in Canada. In addition to delivering accurate shipments to those stores from D.C.s, it’s able to transfer product between stores, directing items to the areas of greatest consumer demand.
Cartons are scanned at each step of the way, with status data posted to Descartes’ WebTMS portal. “Touch-to-touch” visibility is provided throughout the shipment lifecycle, by trip, pool, store and carton level, according to Reid. Because store associates know exactly what’s on a truck, they’re able to better plan their floor, and determine precisely which resources as needed to process incoming shipments. Caleres draws on the same applications and pool distribution network for returns, utilizing the system’s generic standard operating procedure.
Caleres also uses the Retail Claims System of the Descartes BearWare suite, providing for automatic notification of pending claims and intent to file, an automated process for creating claims, and the reporting of claims for finance and loss prevention.
A Maturing System
Reid says BearWare has improved markedly over the years. Originally it was created to support the processes of pool providers. Then came WebTMS, giving shippers visibility into their distribution chains. Now, Caleres is implementing the vendor’s Retail Payment System, which will reduce paper invoices, allow for faster recognition of expense liability and cut back on labor required to audit expenses.
Under consideration for 2017 is deployment of Descartes’ Off-Site Management System. It gives users the ability to position fast-moving SKUs closer to the store, while relying on offsite locations – in essence, mini-D.C.s – to hold merchandise in anticipation of replenishment, promotions or seasonal spikes. The inventory is visible to the stores, but isn’t clogging up shelves or the backroom, says Berichon. Orders can then be delivered to stores at close of business, to ensure a ready supply of popular merchandise or supplies the next morning.
The system will also help Caleres to manage its growing omnichannel business. Offsite professionals can handle the processing of direct-to-consumer shipments, allowing store associates to focus on selling stock on hand. “They’ll concentrate on increasing the quality of the customer experience in the store,” says Berichon.
Reid says Caleres’s reliance on the BearWare suite has resulted in consistent pool-point and in-store processes, helped to pinpoint losses and process failures, reduced transportation expense, lowered store operating costs and enabled 98.5-percent compliance within two-hour delivery windows. Her goal now is to sharpen visibility of global transportation, regardless of mode, while continuing to improve speed to market.
Berichon says Caleres has been a key partner in efforts to further hone the BearWare suite for specialty retailers. “Terri is one of the leading retailers working to improve the system,” he says. “We love working with them.”
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