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Supervalu feasts on yard visibility

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Phase one alone has saved Supervalu’s Lancaster DC more then 80 wasted man hours out in the yard and an additional 40 hours for its logistics and shipping departments—a total of 120 saved hours.

By Bridget McCrea, Contributing Editor
September 01, 2012

With more than 1,100 traditional retail food stores that wear popular names like Acme, Albertsons, and Jewel-Osco under its corporate umbrella, Supervalu, Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn., depends heavily on a smooth-running supply chain to get its food from the warehouse to the customer’s dinner table. The company also operates 397 hard-discount food stores under the Save-A-Lot banner and licenses another 939 Save-A-Lot stores to independent operators.

An integral component of Supervalu’s supply chain sits just outside of the DC door in the yards, where a steady stream of trucks and drivers flow in and out of the company’s gates on a daily basis. “We’re shipping almost 1,000 loads per week here,” says Beth Kroutch, general manager for the company’s 1.7 million-square-foot Lancaster, Pa., distribution center (DC). “That results in a high volume of both inbound and outbound traffic in the yard.”

But up until recently, orchestrating that traffic volume was a manual-intensive process. Over the next few pages we’ll look at how Supervalu turned to technology to streamline its yard operations, improve its docking capabilities, and shave a significant number of man hours from its daily routine.

Managing high freight volumes
From its Lancaster DC, Supervalu services corporate retail customers, independent store chains, and single stores. Orders are submitted electronically and fulfilled with inventory that’s housed in the DC.

“It’s kind of like a grocery list, but on a larger scale,” says Kroutch. Orders are then shipped to the stores in dry or refrigerated vehicles, which are unloaded by the drivers who then return to the DC to pick up new loads. 

Up until last year, Kroutch and the team at SuperValu used a manual process for managing its high volume of traffic and logistical operations that supported this system. Shipping office employees would write out the details about the loads, the trailer sizes and/or numbers, how they needed to be moved, and any other pertinent information by hand, on paper.

The information slips were placed in a mailbox that was situated on the outside of the building. Jockeys drove up, opened the mailbox, accessed the directions, and then decided among themselves who would handle which moves for the day.

While it functioned, the process was both time consuming and labor intensive. Even worse, it provided nearly zero visibility across departments, because the person holding the paper instructions for the day literally held all of the cards. Load movements were often inefficient and issues took a lot of time to correct based on the lack of visibility across the firm’s shipping operations.

“We knew that we needed to get more efficient with our moves, particularly when it came to trucks backing into the doors and timely movement of completed loads away from them,” says Kroutch, adding that size sensitivity—from the trailer perspective—also came into play. “We needed a solution that would help manage drop trailers from vendors, give us visibility over yard assets, and help us become more efficient with its shipments,” she adds.

Finding a solution that addressed all of those needs took about a year, during which time Kroutch, along with the company’s vice president of logistics, its vice president of transportation, and several other decision makers culled through their yard management system (YMS) options. As one of its first steps, the team developed “must have” criteria for the solution, identified its expected ROI, and figured out the system requirements for such solutions.

“We spent roughly a year going through those exercises to ensure that we picked the solution that was right for our operations,” says Kroutch. Key criteria used during the selection process included ease of implementation and the ability to deliver real-time information to and from Supervalu’s yard. After examining solutions from four different YMS vendors, the selection team decided that PINC Solutions’ Advanced Yard Management offering would best fit its needs.

Kroutch says the web-based YMS option made it particularly attractive for Supervalu, which was looking for a quick implementation time and minimal stress for its internal IT staff. The fact that the system would allow the company to extend capabilities to third parties sealed the deal. “

We really liked the fact that the YMS would allow us to grant visibility out to our vendors and help us partner with other carriers,” says Kroutch. “So we’d not only be able to manage within the fence line of the yard, which was our primary goal, but also track equipment outside of that boundary line.”

About the Author

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Bridget McCrea
Contributing Editor

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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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