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“Delivery is extremely critical in the beverage business because the fresher the product, the better it is,” says Dave Webb, operations manager of Elyxir Distributing Inc. (www.elyxir.com), a West Coast distributor of Miller and Coors beer products. “You have to pay attention to dating codes, or you’re going to lose business.”

Locating and monitoring its delivery trucks and its staff of 70 became a critical business issue for Elyxir. With consumers increasingly aware of “born on” dates, Elyxir has seen its 1,600 retail and restaurant customers demand a higher level of on-time service. And that’s meant keeping better track of all shipments at all times.

A couple of years ago Webb looked at acquiring global positioning system (GPS) equipment but felt it too expensive for the company at the time. When problems persisted in knowing just where people and equipment were in real time, Webb decided the time was right for a GPS solution.

Using cellular telephones from Nextel (www.nextel.com) and GPS technology from Xora (www.xora.com), Elyxir’s delivery and merchandising employees punch in a customer number, job start and stop times, and this information is transmitted to a data center, where it’s available to Webb and his staff.

Besides giving Elyxir valid time sheets on employees (the company previously relied on a honor system), the GPS is helpful in solving problems in the field, too. “If we have a problem in a particular area,” says Webb, “we can locate all the employees in that area on the computer, and send over whomever is closest to handle the situation.”

For dispatch, Elyxir uses a transportation management system (TMS) from UPS Supply Chain Solutions (www.ups.com). The TMS provides drivers with a sequenced delivery schedule that also tells how long the routing will take. Elyxir can then match the information from the system with its GPS report.

Webb also gets technology assists from his suppliers, most of whom have their own web-based demand cycle programs. That’s helped simplify Elyxir’s ability to handle roughly 400 different SKUs, from a number of sources.

Similarly, Seattle-based Alaska Distributors Co. (www.adco-wwb.com) has found that something as simple as cellular phone technology can make a major contribution to improving supply chain visibility.

In its western Washington area operations, Alaska Distributors had been using a number of mobile devices for communication, none of which answered all of its needs. The alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage distributor eventually decided to equip its 200 merchandisers and sales representatives with cell phones from Sprint (www.sprintpcs.com), which they now use for voice services, e-mail functions and in-store display details on special web sites.

Sales staff are able to access the web using Windows CE-based handheld devices to send orders and gain visibility into available inventory. Previously they had used public payphones for the work, which negatively impacted their productivity and timeliness.

The challenge for Burris Logistics (www.burrislogisticcs.com) is to move refrigerated and frozen food products quickly, reliably and economically — in other words, it has the same basic logistics challenges facing any company tasked with moving stuff. Burris Logistics operates 14 facilities and about 50 million cubic feet of storage along the East Coast.

The company works in two areas of the refrigerated and frozen food segment of the market. “On one side, we operate as a distributor, buying from manufacturers — taking title to the product, then selling it to retailers,” says Donnie Burris, Burris Logistics’ regional vice president of logistics. “We carry 4,000 different items in our Delaware distribution center — everything you’d see in the frozen section of a grocery store. We also distribute fresh meat and poultry.”

Key to the company’s success, according to Burris, are home-grown technology systems, developed by an IT staff of 20, that help in the proper rotation of product.

The systems allow Burris Logistics to rotate not only at the lot level but at the pallet ID level, as well. Assigned pallet date codes are what drive the rotation, matching pallet ID with customer requirements.

Burris has its own fleet and also works with a group of owner-operators. It runs 100 tractors and 200 trailers.

The other side of Burris Logistics’ business is operated as a public refrigerated warehouse (PRW). “Most PRWs aren’t in the habit of taking title to product and acting as a distributor,” says Burris. “We began as a distributor and moved into the PRW world, which gives us a lot of flexibility. If a PRW customer would like us to take over their distribution by projecting needed inventories, taking ownership of the product, providing order selecting and transportation, it’s not a big deal.”

Burris sees opportunity in consolidated programs. “We take a group of smaller vendors who are typically less-than-truckload (LTL) shippers, and provide them with the ability to ship full truckloads into our warehouses,” he says. “Outbound orders from several vendors or manufacturers are also consolidated into full truckloads, which will be delivered to a retailer’s distribution center. Everyone saves on freight, service levels are improved and the retailer’s inventory is reduced. As a trend, it’s getting a lot of attention right now because it makes good sense.” LT

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October, 2003

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