- Multi-client inventory management
- Hosted software environment
- Fully operational in about two weeks
- No outlay for hardware, system resources
- EDI availability as needed
- Powerful billing flexibility
- Precise inventory records
- Precise FIFO controls
- Easy cycle counts, as required
- Alerts/notification module
- Outbound shipment coordination
- Customer self-service module (eVista)
- Easy implementation of new 3PL clients
When the Chips Were Down, AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL Software Was Up
Battling a critical implementation window for its first customer, Shamrock Cold Storage
contacted Accellos and got a hosted first-tier 3PL solution in production in two weeks
Seattle-based Aqua Star scours much of the world to source a rich array of seafood products that it markets through club and warehouse outlets, grocery retailers and purveyors to the food service industry. Between the sea and the store, it relies on third party logistics providers to maintain the quality of its inventory and to assure that it gets to the right places at the right times.
Over time, the company’s Canadian subsidiary has employed multiple freezer-cooler warehouses, often operated by multiple 3PL operators, to house its inventory and service its clientele. But in late 2011, recognizing opportunities to reduce costs, streamline operations and better serve its customer base in the eastern half of the country, the company decided to consolidate to a single Toronto-area facility -- if it could find the right fit.
As the course of the search, Aqua Star-Canada personnel revisited a past business relationship with Michael Nother -- a member of a Toronto-area family with deep 3PL operations experience -- laying out its goals and presenting a proposition: if Nother were to establish a facility to manage the storage and distribution of their products in central and eastern Canada he could count on Aqua Star’s business. The challenge: contracts were expiring so timing was critical.
Finding a Facility
Nother took the proposition to his father, a recently retired 3PL industry executive, and on January 1, 2012, Shamrock Cold Storage became the newest entry on the busy Brampton, Ontario third party logistics scene and very soon, one of several in the area that operate their businesses with AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL software. (Two other Nother sons are also in the 3PL business.)
Because the Aqua Star-Canada project was under a tight deadline, there was no time to finance and built a facility. Steering the project as president, John Nother negotiated a lease to occupy 60,000 square feet of secure dedicated freezer space within a new 500,000 square foot warehouse owned by Omaha, Nebraska-based Millard Refrigerated Services, Inc. Importantly, it was almost-new facility and the space was available immediately.
The facility features 40-42 foot ceilings with four-high racking deep enough for two 45-inch pallets per position. It has separate 11-door refrigerated shipping and receiving docks and a 100-pallet cooler section. Under the gross lease, Millard supplied support in setting up the space and even furnished material handling equipment for the new enterprise.
Experience with Accellos
In establishing the new enterprise, the Nothers had no intention of remaining a single-client company, so a powerful and stable 3PL software platform was deemed necessary. In their professional affiliations, both Nothers had long-term, highly positive experience with AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL, which had been in place at logistics firms where both father and son had worked.
AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL is a richly featured modular logistics management solution that integrates all of the management activities of a multi-client warehousing operation, allowing operators to employ as much or a little of the software’s capabilities as they currently need, and to expand it outward as needs arise. It allows concurrent multi-client workflow processes and provides resources for labor planning, revenue management and more. The associated eVista online visibility tool enables customers with around-the-clock access to their inventory records.
With the choice of software solutions not an issue, the challenge was how to get the software up and running under the looming deadline. Accellos Senior Vice President Joe Couto had the answer: Accellos would host the software in its own data center; Shamrock had only to sign up for the off-site service. The new company would establish data lines to the Accellos server farm and implement each customer as it came on board -- just as if the software were residing on site.
To manage the AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL implementation and its subsequent operation, John Nother again called on a past association: Lyn Miles had worked both with him and with the AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL software through its earliest versions at predecessor companies. When Nother explained the situation, Miles jumped at the opportunity, concurring with his vision that smaller could be better as well as more manageable.
Meeting the Deadline
For Shamrock, the key was to have a basic but highly functional solution operational as quickly as possible. With help from Millard personnel, the space was ready for occupancy and connections with the Accellos hosting site were active as of January 30. On February 2, trucks carrying inventory from five different freezer warehouses in the Toronto and Montreal areas began to arrive, followed within days by containers of additional product arriving from the ocean ports.
With the necessary equipment up and running by February 2, Miles worked tirelessly to get the system operational and to configure the software to Shamrock’s requirements. On February 7, she began keying in the first receivings. Billing for inbound inventory commenced on February 13; and the first outbound orders departed on the 15th -- just two weeks from the company’s standing start.
“The hosted solution is great for a small company like ours,” Miles now says. “Operationally, there was little difference between setting up the hosted site and an on-site installation, and there were significant advantages to be gained. It was easier to get started, since there were no system hardware issues.
“We had no concern with I.T. details because Accellos staff manages the system, maintains the software, does the back-ups and so on. We are free to focus on getting product in the doors, building and maintaining the inventory records, placing and storing the product and getting shipments out on time.”
According to Miles, Shamrock uses all of the core documents in the software, from picking and customer service to bills of lading, invoices and customer logo variations. The billing capabilities are especially valuable, she says: “We can use our wildest imagination and set up billing for different customers in any way that works for them -- detailed summaries, weekly, monthly and even daily. The software supports us in maintaining customer inventory records that are accurate and current, and we can conduct cycle counts quickly and easily if customers require them.”
Shamrock will implement directed put-away at some point, but initially, with fewer than 300 products currently in inventory -- 140 of them belonging to Aqua Star -- manual processes are satisfactory, she says. Because of the current relatively small size and simplicity of the operation, inventory locations generally are unassigned. Managing the floor operations, Miles says, is not difficult, pointing out that “. . . a 9,000 pallet-position operation is not hard for experienced personnel to manage.”
The Accellos software makes the recording of put-away locations easy and later on, picking is easy to organize. Each location is labeled and while random storage is currently the rule, there are some exceptions: certain areas are reserved for similar types of products as well as for certain major customers, such as Costco, Loblaw, and Wal-Mart.
Aqua Star-Canada’s inventory is containerized at the points of production and transported via freezer-equipped ships to Canadian ports of entry -- primarily Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. On arrival at the ports, the containers are cleared through customs and Shamrock is notified that the product has landed. Aqua Star releases the shipment, establishes a delivery date, and selects a carrier to transport the container(s) to a Brampton terminal just a few minutes distant from Shamrock’s location. The carriers book appointments for delivery and usually are in and out of the facility in less than a half-hour, Miles says.
When the containers arrive at the Shamrock facility, the contents are removed, palletized and entered into the software inventory records based on the paperwork accompanying the shipment. The Accellos system allocates lot numbers for the products and prints out labels for each pallet or skid with each assigned its own I.D.
“When the product comes off, we know what the ti-high is supposed to be for every product,” Miles says. “When the ti-high is set up, we apply the label, and tell the guys which aisle it goes to. We assign the aisle and they select the slot, put the product in place and give us the rack and bin information that we then input into the records for the respective pallet or skid.”
Most of Aqua Star’s outbound orders are destined for distribution centers. The shipping orders arrive by email, triggering the picking and shipping process and following FIFO controls set up in the Accellos software. “Given the nature of the product, this is very important,” Miles notes. “Accellos allows us to establish very specific data parameters and provides controls that assure that they are not violated.”
When an order is entered, the software generates a pick order and once the order is complete, a finish-pick entry completes the first phase of the process within the system. The Accellos software prints a pallet tag with the product name/identification, the purchase order, date, destination and carrier, and indicates whether it is a full or partial pallet.
Shamrock employs trusted contract carriers to deliver the goods both in the Toronto area and to Points East. When a carrier arrives, the warehouse staff checks and loads the shipment, the drivers sign out and a shipment confirmation is entered into the 3PL software.
Results and Expectations
At start-up, Shamrock took delivery of some 100 truckloads of Aqua Star product in a matter of days, a rate that has since slowed to perhaps a dozen per day, with up to 25 expected at peak season. Besides Aqua Star, Shamrock is also managing inventory for several smaller customers including Baker Street, a Toronto bakery for which it freezes and inventories some 60 freshly baked items for delivery to distribution centers and retail and restaurant outlets.
As of Spring 2012, the facility was about 75 percent occupied and the company was actively seeking to fill up the rest. EDI capabilities were in place via Accellos partner End-to-End -- ready when and if clients opt for direct exchange of documents with the Accellos software. The installation of RF infrastructure is a near-term objective, at which time the company will be able to implement directed put-away and picking. As the end of the three-year lease nears, Nother notes, the company will have to consider building or acquiring its own quarters, but when it does, he will likely opt for multiple small facilities versus a single large one.
“Smaller facilities are easier to control and tend to enable a more flexible and personal level of service,” he says. “We are like a specialty shop; we can provide services that other, larger operations cannot handle.
“Aqua Star achieves significant economies by consolidating its inventory, both in the overall cost of its storage space and the fact that it does not have to carry as much of any given product as it did when using multiple facilities and providers. And if at any time a customer wants to check on its inventory, they can access the up-to-the-minute records on the web through eVista, saving time for them and helping contain our customer service costs.”
Shamrock’s working hours extend from 7:00 to 7:00 but in fact, the company will accommodate its customers’ needs, 24/7. Plans are afoot to provide additional services such as co-packing and reshipping, bringing pallets and cases to facilitate distribution to such venues as schools and institutions; to mix the contents of boxes and combine orders, or to include display materials with shipments to retailers.
“AccellosOne Enterprise 3PL provides us with a lot of options and we think we will end up with some creative warehousing solutions,” Miles says. “And we know that the software has all the capabilities we will ever need to create them.”