Complying With Big-box Retailer Requirements
Complying with big-box retailer regulations is not a one-person job for 3PLs. An integrated team approach is the best way to ensure your company, as a logistics provider, is able to be absolutely reliable to the retailer. Specifically, customer service, compliance, and transportation and operational services equally aid in the assurance of complying with big-box retailer regulations.
Serving big retailers starts upfront with strong information technology infrastructure. An integrated warehouse management system executed by highly trained customer service representatives with the ability to work on a number of different customer software systems will keep retailer orders coming. Whether your company uses RedPrairie, Manhattan or some other robust WMS, valuing and thoroughly training your CSRs are essential actions to build and maintain retailer relationships. CSRs are the first point of contact between a customer and your company, and they need to understand retailer guidelines as or even more intimately than your compliance department. These friendly faces—or voices, if they communicate primarily by phone—of your company help ensure, for example, that boxes with slight mislabeling issues get relabeled in a timely fashion. They move the daily operations of your retailer accounts along smoothly, navigating bumps in the road with ease and a smile, if they are valued, trained and challenged appropriately. They are the human faces behind the efficiency-driving EDI transactions your company relies on to function: order processing, invoicing, pick-up and delivery data.
If you have not hired or assigned a dedicated compliance professional in your company to help with labeling and ensure on-time deliveries and shipping, you're doing it wrong. Often, as a 3PL, you will find the retailer itself is not your customer. Your customer is a small manufacturer or consumer packaged goods company that wants to attract or retain big retail customers. What now? Your dedicated compliance professional—should they be motivated—will find a key retailer contact with whom to build a relationship. This key contact at the retailer can help your 3PL monitor changes in requirements. A key contact can even give your company a heads-up on major transformations, like a sneak peek of the retailer's new supply chain strategy or put in a good word for your 3PL to provide more third-party logistics services.
Similarly, the precise labeling and packaging requirements of large retailers can be daunting. Assigning at least a part-time compliance professional to handle these details will serve your business well. That professional can populate, maintain and update a vendor compliance intranet site, listing all labeling, packing and transport requirements for each retailer. That same person can make sure your company offers detailed tracking. Have the ability to provide box-level detail to your customers and their big-box retailer customers through the use of unique package identification standards from the Uniform Code Council (UCC).
Transportation and Operational Services
Efficiently routing products and meeting big-box retailers' strict must-arrive-by date requirements are essential steps in compliance. At WSI, we like to say, "When your product is delivered to our warehouse, that's where the inspection starts." Item number set-up in our WMS is verified there, the labeling and packaging are inspected and any irregularities are worked out before the product ever is loaded on a truck headed to a retailer. In many of our facilities with retail accounts, the use of advanced warehousing, like RFGen, pick-to-voice and scan audit stations, eases the process of picking and shipping.
"Be extremely detail-oriented and cover all the bases, from customer service to transportation to the labor pool," said Mark Weum, a leading WSI retail account sales manager. "It's a total team effort."
Additionally, being proactive about labor considerations is important. If Walmart gives your hair product customer another $1 million in logistics business because the big-box store is happy with your 3PL performance, make sure you know ahead of time where your company will get the additional people needed to work in the warehouse. Proactive considerations for a tight labor market include offering full-time positions to part-time or temporary warehouse workers with strong performance, and giving those full-time employees benefits.
Finally, if you make mistakes, own up to them. Examine your operational processes and design them with compliance for big-box retailers in mind. If you stick to their requirements—and keep up on them in your frequently updated intranet—your 3PL should be able to challenge chargebacks with detailed historical reports of what you did correctly.
Complying with big-box retailer requirements isn't always easy, but it pays off in the result of a cohesive 3PL team, satisfied employees and continued business.