Bottler Uncaps Mobile Potential

When Buffalo Rock Co., the nation's largest family-owned Pepsi-Cola bottler, was faced two years ago with upgrading the handheld devices carried by its delivery fleet and salesforce, the company had a couple of distinct advantages: First, its drivers were accustomed to using mobile technology, and convinced of its value; and second, Buffalo Rock had long-established relationships with both its hardware supplier, Intermec Technologies Corp. , and its software provider, GBG.

With 13 distribution centers and 600 delivery routes across Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, the 105-year-old Birmingham, Ala.-based company does more than $400 million in revenues each year and was among the first bottlers to roll out mobile technology across its entire delivery and sales fleet. Buffalo Rock drivers had been using 4500-series handhelds from Norand, now Intermec, for almost a decade -- beyond the devices' suitable lifespan, according to Jim Jernigan, Buffalo Rock's general manager for financial operations.

"The devices were getting less and less reliable," says Jernigan, "and we had a huge issue with malfunctions, the things locking up en route, and all the extra effort and work in manually keying in orders and deliveries. It was past time to upgrade."

For the upgrade, Buffalo Rock chose the 740 and 760 model handheld devices from Intermec, running the Pocket Route Xpress mobile delivery application from Waterloo, Ontario-based GBG, and equipped with wireless connectivity over GPRS networks. The complete rollout cost around $3 million from start to finish, and, when it's completed later this year, will have taken about a year to complete. The benefits became apparent immediately: not only increased reliability but huge time and cost savings thanks to the wireless connection.

“It’s faster, and the drivers don’t have to mess with the handhelds so much," says Mike Cairnes, Buffalo Rock’s Birmingham administrative manager, "which means they can spend more time focusing on the customer.”

The system essentially allows Buffalo Rock mobile salespeople to transmit orders remotely, immediately after calling on the customer, and building an order based on current inventory and prior sales. Buffalo Rock sales agents have the option of transmitting after every order or at the conclusion of a given sales route. In either case, the warehouse is able to receive the order and send it off to the customer in much shorter time frames than before. The benefits can be tallied in numbers (as in units shipped per day) as well as in less tangible ways.

"It's driving huge efficiencies through our whole operation," comments Jernigan. "We see 'soft' savings, such as the warehouse folks being able to to do their jobs earlier. On average we get orders in four hours faster, so people who used to get off at 4 a.m. now get off at midnight -- they're a lot happier campers."

GBG's best-selling mobile application, Route Xpress is one of a family of solutions sold by GBG to the "DSD" (direct-store delivery) industry, including the sales programs Pocket Cooler and Virtual Cooler, which run over PDAs and tablet computers, respectively, and give mobile salespeople more sales tools, such as virtual shelf layouts, onscreen marketing campaigns, and so on.

"We're seeing a switch in the marketplace to selling-based systems [like the Cooler applications]," says GBG VP of products and marketing Bruce McIntyre. "Companies are switching from passively taking orders to more active selling of products in advance of delivery, so more and more they're buying up these selling tools. That's given us some nice competition for Route Xpress."

That demand is coming not only from the bottlers and distributors themselves, but also from their customers.

"We're getting a lot of pressure from our major customers to go to ASN, or advance shipment notification," adds Jernigan "We feel we have to meet those customer requests, which is probably going to mean that within 12 months the remaining 15 percent [of our mobile workforce] will be forced go to wireless technology."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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