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The Pathway to Productivity: What’s In a Method?
Imagine that you ask an associate to wear a pedometer for a day as he or she goes about daily task work. What insights might you gain? How much is the associate actually walking? What does this mean in terms of operations?
We had the same questions. My team and I tested this with a specialty retailer to collect some insight!
Let’s call the specialty retailer Products We Love (PWL). During our time with PWL, they struggled to process incoming merchandise to the sales floor in a timely manner. While this was not a serious issue in the past, PWL noticed an impact to their bottom line. Many issues surfaced in their stores as a result, including:
- A 300% increase in door-to-floor merchandising time
- A rise in on-hand inventory costs
- An overall decrease in sales
- A decrease in working space in store backrooms
- An increase in shrink
To compensate, PWL trimmed their store labor budget to the point where many stores consequently ran on minimum coverage. Something needed to change! Although my team studied many aspects of door-to-floor operations, there is one particular process I will focus on – the way in which associates brought product to the sales floor.
This process commenced when associates unboxed incoming product and staged it on large metro racks in the backroom. While unboxing, the associates generally tried to keep similar products together; however, no importance was given to merchandising location on the sales floor. Once a metro rack filled, it was staged at the center of the sales floor since the size of the metro racks was too large to be pushed into aisles. An associate then made trips back and forth throughout the store, carrying product by hand to merchandise.
As you might imagine, this resulted in an enormous amount of walking and back-tracking. In order to evaluate just how much walking occurred, my team set up a series of controlled studies to track the total distance the associate traveled around the store. The results were shocking… on average, the associate walked about one mile in order to merchandise the entire metro rack!
So… what did we advise PWL do about it?
The first area of opportunity we looked at was leveraging baskets most stores already had on hand to sort similar product into. This enabled associates to carry two filled baskets of smaller product from the centrally staged metro cart to individual locations. Next, we identified mini metro racks already on-hand in most stores small enough to push down most aisles closer to stocking locations. Finally, we worked with backroom associates to sort the product onto the metro racks by general location within the store.
Based on the controlled study, the method improvements reduced the associate’s step count by nearly two-thirds to stock the same amount of product to the floor, decreasing the average steps per item from 17 to 6! Better yet, the opportunities identified required no investment, utilizing only available equipment in most stores.
As Industrial Engineers, we have a propensity to get caught up in data and complex solutions, but I have found the simplest solutions can often make the biggest impact. Sometimes, you have to stop and observe how people are actually working to determine how they can work more efficiently.