F. Curtis Barry & Company Blog

Using Inventory Best Practices to Manage Your Largest Asset

Inventory.  As you assess your company’s 2014 performance, be sure to include an objective evaluation of how well you used inventory best practices this year?  Was it anywhere close to being optimal (i.e.  acceptable under or overstock levels)?  Did the management of inventory positively service your customer and gain the sale? 

In the last couple of years inventory availability has really become central to how well omnichannel retailers can sell to the customer from a variety channels, stores and distribution centers.  Surveys show that more than 50% of the time the customer starts the selling transaction with an inquiry about inventory availability and/or comparison pricing.  Then the omnichannel delivery mechanisms of ordered on the Internet picked up at the store; or ordered on the Internet and shipped from the store, or shipped from a company DC become crucial.  In order to capitalize on omnichannel, Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus, etc. have made tremendous systems changes to “open up accessibility” of their inventory at both the store, and distribution center level.  Frankly, it’s impressive the inroads they have made. 

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Topics: inventory best practices

The Importance of a Print Catalog Strategy

Written for F. Curtis Barry & Company by Stephen R Lett

For years, critics have been saying the print catalog is dying and being replaced by the Internet.  If the catalog is dying, why did JC Penney decide to bring it back again (Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2015)? Or, why did Dell Computer start mailing again after trying to get out of the catalog business several years ago? And why are companies like J. Crew, with more than 300 retail stores, such big believers in the print catalog? On Thursday, March 18, 2014, CBS This Morning ran a segment on how “Retail Catalogs Make a Comeback in Digital Age”.

Fact is that catalogs are the single largest driver of traffic to the web. We know from post analysis matching back order files to mail tapes that 70% or more of all orders and sales are the direct result of mailing a catalog. Because of the marketing punch they pack, J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, goes over every issue with a fine-tooth comb before it's published. “I’m looking at the color; I’m looking at the clarity of a picture, the newness, the creativity,” Drexler said. Roughly 30 percent of J. Crew's revenue comes from online and catalog sales — the two are tightly intertwined. “Most of our business goes from catalog to online,” Drexler said. “I’m always looking at the turn-on item or category or outfit that will drive them to want to shop at J. Crew instead of the millions of choices out there.” (Excerpted from CNBC, June 2012).

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Topics: catalog industry

Can You Afford to Not Address Your Order Management System Issues?

For many multichannel retailers, this past holiday season brought about many challenges, the least of which were order management system challenges.  These system challenges certainly impacted the overall business flow and processes, but more importantly they negatively affected the customer, company productivity and your company’s profitability. 

With customers having been conditioned to good experiences with other retailers such as Amazon.com, Walmart and Target – you must also compete with them when the customer's expectation is so high.  Now is the time to look back at this past season and reassess these system challenges, and how to set a plan for making changes.

Companies should take this opportunity to evaluate and act on these system issues. By focusing on these systems issues now, retailers can ensure that impactful changes can be implemented and tested. Here are a few ideas to get get the assessment going:

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Topics: order management system

Is Your Customer Service and Distribution Center Working For You?

After 12 years of faithful service, our washing machine gave up the ghost, going the way of all major appliances.

So we did all our initial research on the internet and compared many options, including utilitarian websites with good pictures and information. Then we visited stores, and ended up buying from one of the three largest manufacturers/retailers. The new washer was $700 and had more features than you can imagine. Whatever happened to throw the clothes in, add detergent and push start?

The customer service fiasco that followed made me think about how a company's customer contact and distribution center play a crucial part in delivering customer satisfaction. Here’s my tale of woe.

Our old washer/dryer was stackable to save critical space, and we were told that the new washer would be stackable with the old dryer – no problem! Once here, the delivery person took one look at our setup and loaded it back on the truck; not stackable. After 30 minutes of runaround, the store apologized for a “new employee’s mistake.”

Over the weekend, further research showed that the only way to have stackable units was to buy an entirely new set (more money was not what we wanted to hear). Our decision was to have a carpenter reconfigure the space and use the units side by side. After another call, the retailer delivered the same unit the next week, installed it and now we have tremendous noise issues with the new washer. It can’t be installed correctly.

My frustrated calls to the contact center went like this:

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Topics: distribution center

Is a Cloud-Based Order Management System Worth Looking At?

I was talking with a client recently about his company’s transition over the past three years to cloud processing for order management, warehouse management and POS. He is extremely pleased with the outcome and would never go back to on-premise software.

His company, a B2B and B2C multichannel merchant with $20 million in sales, has evolved from using an older order management system (OMS) to a cloud platform which was a disaster, to one of the cloud-based leaders. Originally, their three cloud apps came from different providers until the OMS firm acquired the warehouse management system (WMS).

Telling you his first cloud-based provider was not effective does not diminish the value of the cloud – in fact, it shows you the strength. In subscription-based models you can move to other providers because you don’t have as much of a front-end investment. Every year we hear from companies that their new ecommerce platform, order management system or warehouse management system doesn'tlive up to the sales hype – whether installed or in the cloud. Fifty percent are not delivered on time and within budget. 

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Topics: order management system

Use Operational Assessment to Set, Report & Improve Productivity Goals

Talking about warehouse productivity, many people look on its “dark side”. Most people want to be in Operational Assessment for Productivity Goalsalignment with your productivity goals as a manager and to contribute in meaningful ways to the success of your business.

As I conduct an operational assessment with companies focusing on benchmarking and productivity, I find many companies do not openly share their warehouse KPIs and results with employees. Many don’t even have a formal, weekly process for capturing and reporting the KPIs. Those that do a good job of the weekly reporting often don’t have department and individual employee productivity goals and don’t publicly publish the results. You can’t improve something you haven’t measured.

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Topics: operational assessment

With Warehouse Layout Think Inside the Box

Think inside the box. Does your warehouse and warehouse layout meet the strategic objectives for your multichannel business? Many older warehouses, distributions centers and locations are obsolete in today’s “point and click” world. Higher volume ecommerce sales and increased competition are quick to expose warehouse inefficiencies. Today, consumers expect fast delivery, which requires automation and technology but with an outdated warehouse layout; operations such as high-rise racking are not an option.

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Topics: warehouse layout

Applying Automation and Material Handling Solutions to Fulfillment


Everyone wants to see how other multichannel and omnichannel companies apply automation and technology to their fulfillment operations. What are the benefits, challenges and the ROI? My panel at Operations Summit 2015 showcases how Cabela's, Crutchfield and Colony Brands (formerly Swiss Colony) have implemented automation and material handling solutions. These fellows are four of the most talented multichannel and omnichannel leaders I know.

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Topics: material handling solutions

How to Take Charge of Your Order Management System Project


IT projects often fail to be delivered on time and within budget. This is an old recurring theme for many system projects whether done internally or trying to implement a packaged order management system. A study conducted a while ago by Dynamic Markets Limited of 800 senior IT managers revealed:

  • 62% of the IT projects failed to meet their schedules
  • 49% experienced budget overruns
  • 47% experienced higher than expected maintenance costs
  • 41% failed to deliver the expected business value and return on investment (ROI)

Although this study is aged, it is consistent with other studies we see published about IT project management.

Why do order management system projects fail such a high percentage of time?

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Topics: order management system

Operational Assessment Shows Cost of an Error to Your Business


Many multichannel businesses are partners with marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and big-box retailers like Sears, Walmart and the like.  With them, you’re not just processing orders, managing inventory and agreeing to performance standards.  Working with one of our clients recently in their call center’s support operations for their marketplaces, we focused our attention on the cost of an error.  

When was the last time you conducted an operational assessment to analyze the cost of various types of errors? Not just the number of times monthly or annually a particular error occurs, but what is the actual cost of that type of fulfillment error?  The types of errors I’m referring to are mis-picks, customers' lost packages by the carrier, packages damaged in transit, etc.  The best place to obviously capture these are in the call center and fulfillment center.  

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Topics: operational assessment