Supply Chain Technology: Zotos’ high-volume WMS

Over the past several years, the hair care manufacturer his tied its core business systems into a WMS that’s allowed it to effectively manage its high-volume shipping operation—and the results have been simply gorgeous.

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By Bridget McCrea · July 1, 2011

Managing a high-volume shipping operation is no easy task, especially when the warehouse floor in question is a bustling operation where employees not only pick-and-pack furiously in order to meet tight deadlines, but they also make and package the products themselves.

That’s exactly what the atmosphere is like at Darien, Conn.-based Zotos International’s distribution center, which serves as a finished goods warehouse. “It’s a very busy and volatile operation,” says Harvey Cohen, manager of information technology for Zotos, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shiseido Cosmetics.

Specializing in products like shampoo, conditioner, color, and perm hair care products, Zotos combines LTL, TL, and parcel shipments when delivering the goods to its end customers, which include beauty salons and beauty supply stores. “In some cases we ship directly to the customers’ DCs,” says Cohen, “and in others we ship right to the individual salons and retail locations.”

The bulk of those shipments are being moved domestically, although Zotos does serve an international audience. About seven years ago, the firm’s warehouse manager decided the existing warehouse management system (WMS) wasn’t meeting the growing manufacturer’s volume needs, nor was it organizing shipments effectively.

Zotos’ WMS at the time was a bolt-on system that was added onto its enterprise-wide IBM MAPICS (now owned by Infor) setup. And while that system allowed the warehouse manager to track the number of daily shipments and pallet loads being moved around, it lacked functionalities and efficiencies that a growing, high-volume shipping enterprise requires.

“We needed a WMS system that could handle TL, LTL, and parcel shipping in very high volumes,” says Cohen. “The setup we were using just wasn’t working for all of the different types of shipping that we do.”

Cohen says Zotos went in search of a WMS that could monitor and track basic functions like the loading and dispatching of trucks, combined with real-time inventory visibility “at a very granular level.” According to Cohen, the latter would allow Zotos to fulfill orders confidently, knowing that the specific hair care products were in stock and ready to load onto tractor-trailers for delivery to the customer.

Hunting for a solution
After putting out an RFP and entertaining bids from various vendors seven years ago, in 2005 Zotos found the WMS it was looking for. Cohen says the RFP that stood out was extremely detailed, covered the high-volume aspect of Zotos’ operations and the manufacturer’s functional requirements in depth, and also laid out the manufacturer’s business process and efficiency goals as they pertained to shipping activities, picking-and-packing, and labor management.

“In the end, RedPrairie scored the highest,” says Cohen, “so we went with that solution.” The WMS, which was subsequently upgraded in 2009, was installed specifically to manage outbound freight that is moved out of Zotos’ DCs as well as to its end customers. “From a model standpoint, we see the WMS as a bolt-on for our core business system,” Cohen explains. “MAPICS runs our entire business—from order entry to production.”

That core business system “passes off” information to the WMS at two critical junctures: when inventory comes off of the production line and moves into the finished goods warehouse; and when a customer service specialist enters an order into the core system and checks inventory against the WMS.

“We know what we have in stock for any part number or SKU because the two systems are in sync, and because they communicate with each other at those two points,” says Cohen. From there, the WMS enables more efficient organization of shipments, and allows employees to aggregate orders into as few deliveries as possible. 

“We do lot of LTL shipments, and the technology allows us to plan everything out and cover multiple customers that are located in the same geographic region,” says Cohen. This function is known as “wave management,” in that it allows the company to send out waves of orders that hit several customers in a single shipment, thus saving on labor, fuel, and truck repairs/maintenance.

The WMS is also active on the warehouse floor, where forklift operations depend on its accuracy and inventory visibility capabilities to enable their movements throughout the day. “They can get right to a specific pallet or case, and bring it back to a staging location where the shipment is put together and loaded onto a truck,” says Cohen. “The WMS then issues the bills of lading and other paperwork, and a truck is dispatched automatically.”

Cohen says that automated process, which involves the WMS and the company’s core business system, was designed by RedPrairie and Zotos. “There is no such interface between MAPICS and RedPrairie, but we’ve designed a rigorous system that gives us control at every stage of the game,” says Cohen. “We’ve been able to ship a larger volume than we’ve ever handled before, and all without adding additional staff.”

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea
Bridget McCrea is a Contributing Editor for Logistics Management based in Clearwater, Fla. She has covered the transportation and supply chain space since 1996, and has covered all aspects of the industry for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She can be reached at [email protected]

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