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Vera Bradley is a maker of women's fashionable luggage, handbags, accessories, innovative limited-edition collections, and other products, including rugs, lighting, and furniture. These items are sold at more than 3,500 independent retailers nationwide and around the world, in its own retail stores and online through its web site. The high-end accessories company has enjoyed strong revenue growth in recent years.
According to Matt Wojewuczki, vice president of operations for Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Vera Bradley, the company has two major and multiple minor new-product releases per year. Each introduction requires orchestration of sourcing and fulfillment to support marketing and merchandising programs.
Products are designed at its Fort Wayne headquarters. Fabric is imported through a global supply chain, then quilted, cut and sewn in multiple locations throughout the U.S. and abroad. Vera Bradley shipped more than nine million items in 2006, and over 12.5 million items in 2007.
Prior to 2007, Vera Bradley shipped new releases and replenishment orders from its 35,000 square-foot distribution center in Fort Wayne. The rapid increase in order volume clearly showed that the DC was too small and changes were required to meet customer demand.
Other challenges included:
• Cycle times were too long
• Poor visibility of orders in process
• High labor costs due to the manual processes
• Order accuracy challenges, especially in picking
"Quite simply, our manual distribution methods weren't keeping up with the increased throughput requirements in the warehouse," says Wojewuczki. "Our processes involved paper-based, discrete order picking to carts. Items were randomly located throughout our three warehouses, and a significant amount of labor was required after picking to prepare each order for shipping."
Vera Bradley needed to increase throughput, increase capacity and improve accuracy. The company had been effectively utilizing lean principles and Six Sigma within its manufacturing and supply chain operations to meet demand and ensure quality, so it decided to apply those same principals to its distribution processes.
The Vera Bradley project team partnered with the distribution consulting and engineering firm FORTE to improve the facility layout and distribution processes within the existing distribution center, and to design a new 200,00-square-foot operations/distribution center.
"We trusted FORTE's experience with companies in situations similar to ours to help guide the project and successfully meet our needs," says Wojewuczki.
In February of 2007, Vera Bradley simultaneously went online with four major supply chain projects: the opening of our new operations/distribution center, the transition to a new enterprise resource planning system, the implementation of a new best-of-breed warehouse management system, and the commissioning of a material handling system featuring pick-to-light technology, a zone-routed conveyor system, and a shipping sorter. FORTE worked hand in hand with Vera Bradley to help make these projects a success.
FORTE helped the company implement:
• A new WMS: Manhattan Associates' Integrated Logistics Solution
• Directed put-away into very narrow-aisle storage
• Automated cartonization of orders pre-cubed for picking direct to the shipping container
• Conveyor-based picking with automated zone-routed assignments, routing cartons only to zones where a pick is needed
• Pick-to-light paperless order picking
• Automated shipping sortation based on destination with semi-automated carton taping
According to Wojewuczki, FORTE consultants worked collaboratively with his project team to improve key operations and processes. "Our warehouse uses an automated slotting system that identifies fast-moving items and places them at strategic points in the warehouse, avoiding congestion by having all of the fast movers in one area," he says. "We now pick items directly to the shipping container in a zone-pick process, with multiple workers picking portions of the same order." (Prior to picking an order, the WMS uses cartonization technology to "pre-cube" the order and determine how many shipping containers will be needed, and which SKUs will be placed in which containers.)
The cartons are routed to only the zones where a pick must be made. After the picking process is complete, there is only a minimal amount of labor required-after a quick stop at a semi-automated case seal station, each box is automatically sorted to the correct dock door and loaded into a waiting trailer.
Vera Bradley now uses FORTE's automation director warehouse control system to facilitate integration of the material handling system with the WMS and ERP. The facility and its systems were designed for future expandability, fully adaptable to business needs for up to five years.
"Our business continues to prosper, with revenues growing at a steady rate," he says. "With FORTE's assistance, we have transformed our supply chain from a constraint to an enabler of our growth strategy."
Vera Bradley's productivity has improved. Warehouse throughput has grown more than threefold-from 40,000 units per day to over 140,000. At the same time, labor requirements have grown much more slowly than the volume increases. Vera Bradley's achievements include:
• Order fulfillment times reduced from two days to as little as 30 minutes
• Peak order processing increased from 1,500 to 3,000 orders per day
• Visibility of in-process order status available at the item level
• Picking accuracy improved from 89 to 99.5 percent
• Reduced training time for seasonal and temporary help
• Labor productivity increased by 25 percent.
Wojewuczki says the company expects the system to pay for itself in under two years.
"FORTE contributed significantly to the design and implementation of the systems and processes needed for us to achieve these results," he says. "We liked their expertise, experience, creativity and fit with our culture. The project scope and time frame were aggressive and ambitious. We encountered the inevitable challenges associated with implementing new ERP and WMS business systems while designing and implementing sophisticated new material handling systems and processes. FORTE steadfastly worked alongside our team to overcome the complexities associated with our implementation. FORTE met our high expectations from the outset and continues to be a partner in successfully meeting our supply chain objectives."
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