July 2001 | Case Studies | Casebook

A Fresh Look at the Supply Chain

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If you've ever received a gift basket of prized comice pears, you can appreciate the attention to detail that defines a homegrown supply chain.

Since the 1900s, Bear Creek has been a premier direct marketer of fruit, perishable gift baskets, garden plants, and other quality products. For delivery to wholesale and retail channels and to final destinations, it processes thousands of parcels every day; and its reputation and customer loyalty are directly determined by the satisfaction of each customer.

The corporate name Bear Creek is less familiar than the company's brands, Harry and David and Jackson & Perkins. But its reputation for uncompromising quality has made it a valued customer of high-quality carriers and strikes fear in carriers who cut corners and accept lower standards.

Over the years, Bear Creek has learned to leave nothing for granted. It is a logistically integrated company that manages its supply chain from seeds in the ground to harvested fruit. "We insist on full visibility and control of every aspect of our product from inception to final delivery to a customer," says Doug Meyer, Bear Creek's vice president logistics.

Although Bear Creek now sells to customers through a variety of direct marketing catalogues, the web, and more than 100 retail outlets, the bulk of its business is date-driven to supply gifts at Christmas, Mother's Day, and other holidays. Consequently, the company has perfected the art of storing seasonally harvested products to be at their quality peak when the demand for gifts is highest.

Usually that means positioning inventory at distribution centers closest to markets where demand is most predictable. Bear Creek has several distribution points including warehouses in Medford, Ore., and Hebron, Ohio, and "outside pack" locations throughout the United States. From the pack locations, the company supplies some of its seasonal agricultural products for gifts. Bear Creek personnel manage these locations. For shipment processing, they use portable equipment relocated to various pack locations as needed.

Environments are different at each shipping location but include extreme temperature ranges (cold and dusty, where heaters are used to warm the shipping area to about 55 degrees) and warm, humid, tropical areas. Processing equipment must operate well in any environment.

A software solution created by ScanData, Dublin, Ohio, enables Bear Creek to automate the informational and operational execution requirements of its distribution warehouses and support order fulfillment.

"We want to move product as far as we can along the supply chain so we can control its quality to the last possible moment," explains Meyer. "When we bulk ship to a delivery region in a temperature-controlled environment, we control the product's quality. We get faster delivery than if a packaged carrier handles the full transit from origin to recipient."

Bear Creek chooses some of the highest quality carriers in the industry to move its products. The company looks at on-time delivery performance and information about service failures when selecting its carrier pool. It also focuses on a carrier's willingness to follow Bear Creek's strict quality guidelines.

Bear Creek electronically communicates information significant to a shipment with carriers and expects carriers to immediately report if any package cannot be delivered. And it gives its carriers enough time to anticipate load expectations.

"Our need for carrier support is based on sales, but we provide our carriers with an accurate forecast of peak season demand up to six months in advance, and refine the plan as needed," says Meyer.

To help carriers move products without delays, Bear Creek also works in advance with state agricultural inspection agencies to pre-clear fruit and plant items as they move across state borders. ScanData software stores and manages the special packing and inventory management requirements necessary for exporting fruit and plants across state lines.

"We run an enormous volume of individual packages, especially during holiday seasons," says Meyer. "We have to know that every package will be delivered as promised. There has never been an excuse for almost delivered on time."

The process of shipping bulk to the delivery zone closest to a recipient gives Bear Creek at least two other advantages beyond direct control of the product's quality. First, the highly perishable gift packages are released for final delivery at the closest point in time to the final recipient. Usually this procedure shortens the delivery schedule by one day or more.

Second, products entering a commercial delivery network at a zone closest to their delivery point are able to move at the lowest posted shipping rates. For a company paying for premium delivery service, this is a major consideration.

Also shortening the delivery function is the ScanData system. Bear Creek uses the software for distribution planning, automated induction, and manifesting functionality. Orders are batched, and then run on a series of automatic induction stations where cartons are weighed, scanned, routed and inducted onto outbound trailers.

Once loading is complete, ScanData rates, manifests and generates host/carrier data transactions with complete visibility for management or analysis. Bear Creek has learned to blend supply chain technology with its low-tech, outside pack environment.

"We use the web to accept orders 24 hours a day and to provide immediate response and delivery to customers," says Meyer.

For a company that ships millions of plants and produce every year, Bear Creek intends to reap the fruits of its labor.

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