Cross dock fuels growth at Dots

By banking on a combination of cross-docking and flow-through distribution to rapidly provide its customers with the latest fashions at affordable prices, the retailer has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in a highly competitive retail landscape.

VIEW THE SLIDE SHOW and see how the combination of cross-docking and flow-through distribution fuels growth at the Ohio-based fashion retailer Dots

By Maida Napolitano, Contributing Editor
February 24, 2011 - LM Editorial

Since the late 1980s, Dots has been distributing merchandise to its stores from a manual, more conventional facility, three miles from its current location.

Although this older facility afforded the retailer many functional years, by 2005, much of the equipment was nearing the end of its life, putting limitations on operational growth and efficiency. In fact, it took this previous DC three to four days to get a store order out the door.

Vendors communicated via faxes and e-mails, and there was no receiving sorter. All carton-labeling from receiving to shipping was manually applied.

When you boil it down, the company actually had been manually cross docking for years—just nowhere near as fast and as efficient as they’re doing it now in the new DC. “Our previous system had no EDI and limited, outdated automation that restricted our throughput speed and capacity,” recalls Akey. “There was a lot of double and triple handling just to get orders out the door.”

With only one cross dock-capable door, many cross-dock orders would be unloaded, then staged, then put in a queue before actually getting processed—a clear departure from cross docking’s “expedite immediately” philosophy.

To distribute bulk apparel to the individual stores, Dots was using a 10-year-old put-to-light system that they had simply outgrown. “To support the volume demand, we had to go to extended shifts and work a lot of overtime,” notes Akey.

The clock was also ticking because the put-to-light system’s capacity was limited to 500 stores. In 2005, they were already sitting at 350 stores and growing at a rate of 40 new stores per year. “These outdated systems and their inability to support future store growth is what ultimately pushed us to move forward with the process of designing a new distribution system,” says Akey.

Cross docking in the year 2011

 Steve Haskell, VP,
SDI Industries, Inc.

Q: What technological developments have enabled the adoption of cross docking today?
A: “The mechanics for automated cross docking have always been there. It’s just become faster and cheaper. The technological development is more on the IT side than on the mechanical side.  Information capabilities are so amazing now that you can communicate with suppliers easily, quickly, and commonly and that allows you to be able to tell them exactly what you want and when you want it.”

Q: What is the key to successful cross docking?
A: “You have to have good relationships with your trading partners. First, you have to be able to tell them how to pack what you want. Second, the partner has to be able to document what they’ve done and get it to you, so that when you see the product at the door you know what to do with it.”

About the Author

Maida Napolitano
Contributing Editor

Maida Napolitano has worked as a Senior Engineer for various consulting companies specializing in supply chain, logistics, and physical distribution since 1990. She’s is the principal author for the following publications: Using Modeling to Solve Warehousing Problems (WERC); Making the Move to Cross Docking (WERC); The Time, Space & Cost Guide to Better Warehouse Design (Distribution Group); and Pick This! A Compendium of Piece-Pick Process Alternatives (WERC). She has worked for clients in the food, health care, retail, chemical, manufacturing and cosmetics industries, primarily in the field of facility layout and planning, simulation, ergonomics, and statistic analysis. She holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of the Philippines and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, respectively. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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