Associated Wholesale Grocers replaces scanners with voice-directed distribution system

PITTSBURGH - March 9, 2004 - Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG), the second largest grocery cooperative in the nation, implemented Vocollect's voice-directed distribution system, an integrated software and hardware solution, in its 1,000,000 square-foot Kansas City, Kan., facility, replacing both paper pick lists and hand-held scanning terminals in its case-picking operations. The payback was rapid and significant * well under one year's time. Even more impressive to AWG was, that despite the precision of scanners, accuracy results with voice are at least equivalent, and frequently better, with error rates dropping a remarkable 25 percent following the installation.

"AWG has always used technology to improve its operations and provide better service to our retail customers," said Rich Vastine, AWG's corporate director of industrial engineering. "We're very pleased with the results from Vocollect's voice solution. Previously, we went from paper to bar code scanners to increase accuracy rates, but lost productivity. Now, with voice, we get both benefits. A hands and eyes free operation is such a natural way for our associates to work. They're more alert now and working more efficiently - smarter, not harder. After just a few shifts using Vocollect's system, no one wanted to go back to scanners." These impressive results garnered attention from Tompkins Associates, which recently published a white paper highlighting the effectiveness of voice-directed systems over scanning. Visit www.tompkinsinc.com to view the white paper.

AWG's Executive Vice President and CFO, Robert Walker, says the proof is in the payback. "We'll save millions of dollars with the voice installation. Our initial calculations projected an 18-month payback, but it will be quicker than that. Our original figures were based solely on expected accuracy and productivity gains. We hadn't even considered the additional benefits and savings we're getting from reductions in training time, product and equipment damage, and workers' compensation claims. It certainly has been a tremendously successful investment for AWG."

Installed in February 2003, Vocollect's voice-directed distribution application software is configured specifically for AWG's warehouse operation and provides managers with real-time visibility into floor operations so they can react to changing conditions immediately. The system pairs Vocollect's leading, high-performance industrial speech recognition technology with its rugged, built-for-purpose, full-shift wearable Talkman(r) voice computer, running industry standard Microsoft(r) Windows(r) CE and 802.11b WLAN technologies. It readily integrated with AWG's existing technology infrastructure.

AWG's Kansas City warehouse includes dry goods, frozen and perishable items; runs three shifts, seven days a week; and has more than 200 Talkman mobile voice computers in use. The warehouse stocks 25,000 SKUs and ships 450 orders each day to 325 stores in the Midwest, including AWG's PriceMart, Cash Saver, Apple Market, Thriftway, Country Mart, Sun Fresh and PriceChopper store concepts.

AWG also plans to put voice to work for additional applications in its operation, according to Vastine. "Voice is a viable tool that works tremendously well in our environment. Once we implement the Vocollect system for picking in our other facilities, we'll deploy voice in all aspects of the warehouse. We really want to maximize our investment and the payback we're seeing with voice." AWG will then join other Vocollect customers already using voice to improve flow-through, cycle counting, put-away, replenishment, transfers, receiving and loading applications.

"Associated Wholesale Grocers is in the forefront of a trend to replace scanners with voice in the warehouse. It's a demonstrably faster and more accurate approach that drives far higher productivity than scanning alone can provide," said Jack LeVan, president and CEO of Vocollect. "They're among the first of many customers to realize the advantages of the Talkman system over scanning solutions, and it's been a pleasure to work with AWG to expand their use of voice, enhance its functionality in their business and continue to improve their bottom line results."

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