Supply Chain Software: Rocky Brands steps up productivity

When footwear maker Rocky Brands integrated its WMS and WCS, the results were improved visibility, better inventory control, and impressive productivity gains.
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Integrating the WMS and WCS systems has doubled the number of items sorted to the packing stations.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
July 01, 2011 - MMH Editorial

You’ve heard the old phrase: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That phrase certainly applies to the makeover of a 210,000-square-foot distribution center in Logan, Ohio, operated by Rocky Brands, a manufacturer and distributor of work, western and outdoor footwear and apparel brands such as Rocky, Durango, Michelin, Georgia Boot and Mossy Oak.

Working with a systems integrator (EnVista), Rocky Brands redesigned the processes in its primary distribution center in central Ohio. The redesign included a significant upgrade of its warehouse management system (WMS) and the integration of the WMS and the warehouse control system (WCS), which control the existing conveyor and sortation system

Most of the materials handling and software parts were already in place, including the conveyor and sorter. But by rethinking processes, integrating systems and making better use of the available functionality, Rocky Brands has seen significant improvements over the past three years that exceed the sum of the parts, according to Michael Walker, senior vice president of product fulfillment. Those improvements include:

Improved turn times: Prior to the project, the average order turn was 2.8 days. This year, 96.5% of orders ship in 24 hours and 75% ship the same day.

Improved throughput: The facility is running 11,000 pairs of boots through the sorter during an 8-hour shift compared to 4,500 pairs per 8-hour shift in the past with no addition to the head count average—like many suppliers to retailers, the distribution center does have seasonal spikes in temporary labor. Overall throughput has increased from 1.6 million units annually to more than 3 million units per year.

Improved inventory accuracy: Inventory accuracy has improved from less than 95% to more than 98%, with a goal to reach 99.5% accuracy.

Looking forward, the warehouse management and control systems will continue to drive further operational efficiencies in the future. “We’re continuing to look for ways to continue to improve our processes,” says Walker. “We believe software is a major part of how we’re going to do that.”

Just this year, for instance, Rocky Brands implemented slotting to improve picking and wave efficiency. There are also plans to implement each picking functionality in the near future. “That will allow us to pick small order quantities and deliver them directly to their own pack station rather than send them through the sorter,” explains Barbara Sherbourne, manager of direct operations. “That will improve the performance of the sorter.”

Supporting growth
With its headquarters in Nelsonville, Ohio, publicly traded Rocky Brands Inc. designs, develops, manufactures and markets premium-quality rugged outdoor, occupational, and casual footwear, as well as branded apparel and accessories.

The original company was founded in 1932 as the Wm. Brooks Shoe Company by the grandfather of Rocky’s current chairman, Mike Brooks. The Rocky name was established in 1975. With manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and sourcing in Asia, the company’s footwear, apparel and accessories are marketed through several distribution channels under a number of brands including Rocky, Georgia Boot, Lehigh, Durango and the licensed brand Michelin. Most recently, Mossy Oak was added to the slate.

Rocky has also been focused on growing its business. In early 2005, the company acquired one of its major competitors, EJ Footwear, an acquisition that added a number of brands and more than doubled its size. That acquisition led the company to rethink its distribution strategy as well as the technology that supports its order fulfillment operations.

“At the time, we owned this facility and EJ Footwear had a major facility in eastern Pennsylvania. A 3PL location was added a short time later,” says Walker. “We realized that we had a real opportunity to reduce our costs if we could consolidate two facilities into one and eliminate the need for a 3PL.”

There was also an opportunity to improve customer service.

Although Rocky now owned brands manufactured and distributed by EJ Footwear, a customer ordering from multiple brands was still receiving two shipments for one order, because different brands were supported by different facilities.

With one of the most extensive highway networks in the country, the central Ohio location was the preferred location for distribution activities. The facility can service 50% of the U.S. population within five days. However, consolidating facilities would require a redesign of the existing systems and processes. “We simply weren’t designed to handle double our volume,” says Sherbourne.

To accommodate the additional inventory and orders, she adds, the facility needed to:
• increase the throughput of the existing sortation system,
• increase storage capacity in the existing narrow aisle rack system, and
• redesign the existing picking strategies.

Most importantly, Rocky wanted to accommodate additional inventory, brands and throughput without adding to its head count or physical space. 

“We wanted to create a flexible distribution center that could accommodate our new requirements and additional growth in the future,” says Walker.

Redesigning processes
The new design created by Rocky’s system integrator maintained the original layout of the facility, but with some physical changes, says Sherbourne. For instance, to increase storage capacity, the height of the very narrow aisle racking area was extended all the way to the ceiling of the building. A mezzanine area was then installed, primarily to manage an expanding line of apparel.

The most significant improvements, however, were the result of redesigning storage, picking and outbound shipping processes.



About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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