How to create a paperless inventory management system

How to create a paperless inventory management system

Devil Mountain Nursery eliminated bottlenecks by shifting to a paperless system.

February 8, 2018
Matt McClellan

Devil Mountain Nursery, a California-based nursery that exclusively sells to professional landscapers and wholesale, established an enviable reputation for its ability to source virtually any plant thanks to its access to over 100 different growers in California, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon. It offers an extensive range of plant varieties from around the world, including evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, drought-tolerant cactus and succulents, edibles, tropical plants, ornamental grasses, annuals, roses, California natives and more.

The company had doubled its acreage from 60 acres to 120 in the last 10 years. Plus, there were plans to add two new 20-acre nurseries. The growth led to sizeable growing pains, which spurred them to reassess their warehouse/order fulfilling management process and implement tactics and technology that allowed them to go from using 3-4 pieces of paper for each order to completely paperless and eliminate bottlenecks.

Chief operations officer Drew McMillen says the nursery spent years modifying its paper-based system.

“We finally realized we could continue changing it until we were blue in the face, but it would never change to the degree that it needed to for us to continue to grow,” he says.

At that point, the company looked for outside solutions. The bottlenecks of the paper system were well-known. The nursery receives a paper order, sends someone out to go pick it. Then, five minutes later, the customer calls to make changes to that order. The nursery needs to edit the order and get the paperwork to the picker. If they’ve already picked the order, they’ve got to put it back.

“It created a lot of undoing and redoing problems that could have been avoided,” McMillen says. “We knew we needed a more quick, responsive system than the one we had.”

Devil Mountain uses Epicor’s Eagle ERP software system. So their goal was to find an inventory management system that would “play nice” with their existing system, while improving inventory accuracy and directing behavior of employees.

Eventually, Devil Mountain settled on the Latitude warehouse management system, by PathGuide Technologies. There were proven examples of PathGuide Latitude integrating well with Epicor’s Eagle software, which was a point in the software’s favor. Latitude offers a range of substantial inventory tracking enhancements, but the secondary benefit of letting the computer direct the pickers to their next job was the key component for Devil Mountain.

“All the paper orders, the need to have a face-to-face communication about the order, hand the paper to someone, the need to find that person to find out what happened with the order — all that was replaced by the software,” McMillen says. “That, and all the problems that come with that.”

For instance, if that picker had a question or problem that required a return visit and conversation, but the person he or she needed to talk to was busy, that time is wasted. And the picker will have to come back later, which creates even more wasted time.

To interface with the Latitude inventory management software, pickers are outfitted with RF scanning guns. If they’re in the shipping yard, they can send requests for picking jobs or receive orders to pick from the office. The scanners help the pickers do their jobs much more efficiently and effectively, says Valerie Hom, Devil Mountain’s systems implementation manager.

“It’s much more helpful to them instead of having a clipboard full of paper,” she says. “They don’t need to worry about that anymore.”

A salesperson types in an order, sets its priority level, and transfers it to the field. The picker receives directions. Previously, they were responsible for much more of this process, which slowed them down.

“It’s much more, ‘do this, then we’ll give you the next thing to do,’” Hom says. “You’re not prioritizing; you’re not making judgment calls. You don’t have to keep track or remember what you were told. You can look at your gun and say, ‘This is what I have to do right now.’”

Read the full article from our January issue online here.

Photo provided by Devil Mountain Nursery.