January 2012 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

The Scoop on Route Accounting Automation

Tags: Logistics I.T.

Ice cream distributor Berliner finds sweet savings with an automated direct store delivery solution.

When your business is delivering ice cream, and order tracking causes drivers to lose their cool, you have a problem. Just ask Hyattsville, Md.-based Berliner Specialty Distributors, whose outdated and burdensome manual route accounting and order-logging system was causing a meltdown.

Launched in 1973, specialty and natural frozen foods distributor Berliner serves Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The company has distributed major brands such as Starbucks, Good Humor, Ben & Jerry's, Breyers, and Klondike.

On an average day, it manages 10 to 15 trucks out of its warehouse, and more than 500 ice cream trucks that distribute to local neighborhoods during the summer.

The company's costs were rising and efficiencies were quickly melting because of antiquated route accounting practices. Delivery drivers were manually recording customer sales histories and pertinent information in six-inch-thick route books.

Typical logs included standing orders, cash receipts, customer balances, delivery notes, customer pricing, route sequencing, and delivery records. Information was perpetually out of date, and there was no means to easily account for historical order information or calculate and print clean, accurate invoices. The billing process was entirely manual.

The Search Begins

Realizing how much money it was leaving on the table, Berliner began its search for an automated solution in 2008. A supplier recommended IntegraSys, a Watchung, N.J.-based mobile solutions provider.

After further investigation, Berliner decided IntegraSys was a fit, offering a combination of route accounting and direct store delivery (DSD) functions. Plus, it had a track record of successful system configurations and implementations in the ice cream industry, working with well-known brands such as Häagen-Dazs.

En Route to Better Processes

Berliner and IntegraSys collaborated on system modifications that could help bring the distributor's business processes to the next level. The most important integration was pairing IntegraSys' DSD Manager route accounting host software and hardware with Media, Pa.-based mobile business solutions company Apacheta's RouteACE, a flexible mobile application for DSD operations that include van sales, presales, and delivery. The combination provided a robust solution that replaced Berliner's dated log books with handheld mobile devices.

DSD Manager automates and streamlines all aspects of route distribution businesses. This functionality fit neatly with Apacheta's mobile software, connecting critical sales information to back-end order fulfillment and distribution.

Defining Needs

The planning stage took several months. Berliner had to define what it needed and how it wanted the system to work.

"After the planning stage, we needed ongoing system training for our staff," says Joe Lopez, COO/general manager, Berliner. "We also had specific requirements when we began transferring data from the old system to the new one.

"It took three months before we could actually roll out the system because of data and record cleanup, and administrative issues," he adds.

The full implementation took a year of working out bugs and adjusting the system to suit Berliner's requirements.

"In March 2012, we will have been using the automated system for four years," Lopez says. "Not only did scheduling improve, but now customers know when deliveries will occur. They know the various promotions and pricing arrangements, which takes the guesswork out of the process. They can plan their budgets more accurately, without any surprises."

Working with IntegraSys, Berliner has transitioned from using paper-based systems to a fully automated mobile sales and delivery solution. Using electronic data interchange, the application communicates daily with suppliers to facilitate ordering and provide full visibility into sales operations.

Data Exchange

In the field, drivers visit customers, enter sales order information on handheld devices, and conduct physical inventories using RouteACE software. The data is then transmitted wirelessly to the DSD Manager back-end route accounting system, which handles the entire order-to-cash cycle, including route accounting, warehouse and inventory management, pricing, promotions, commissions, accounts receivable, and accounts payable.

Orders are then transmitted for packing and distribution, and dispatchers can create routes based on product need. On-site, delivery personnel generate and print invoices, and automatically transmit data to back-end accounting systems, reducing the risk of manual error.

The Results are In

Given these changes, it is little wonder Lopez attributes much of Berliner's business growth in recent years directly to the new route accounting system.

"Every year we get more efficient and grow more profitable," he notes. "By automating our route accounting, pickup and delivery times, and merchandising process, we are seeing benefits across the board."

These returns include:

  • Fewer administrative errors
  • Improved order management
  • Increased sales
  • Improved worker productivity
  • More accurate inventory reporting
  • Shortened billing cycles
  • Fewer inventory returns

With help from both Apacheta and IntegraSys, Berliner continues to adapt and tweak the system to expand its capabilities. The upgrades give Berliner greater freedom to access sales data and plan inventory, while improving customer service and growing the business.

"Some companies make improvements that only help their top customers, while neglecting the needs of the more established or smaller customers," Lopez says. "Customer retention suffers as a result.

"Our new technology and processes enable us to retain customers and attract new business," he adds. "We continue to feed our customer base, and it continues to grow."