Design Time: Leveraging a WMS to Furnish Homes Sustainably
By offering minimalist, modern design and quality materials, home furnishing company Oliver Space has grown to more than 100 employees over the past three years, expanding from its headquarters in San Francisco to serve six cities along the West Coast and in southwestern United States. Along the way, it has helped furnish thousands of homes.
Oliver Space sells premium, curated furniture sourced from top manufacturers designed for quality and durability. Customers can request a delivery date for as soon as three days after ordering. The Oliver Space team delivers, assembles, and places the furniture.
SnapFulfil, offered by Synergy North America, based in Broomfield, Colorado, is a cloud-based, flexible, Tier 1 warehouse management system that is highly configurable and can adapt to meet evolving fulfillment demands.
Since mid-2022, Oliver Space has also offered customers the option to purchase not only its new items, but also products other customers have returned and that have been professionally cleaned and refurbished. These are sold at lower prices than the new items, enabling customers to watch both their budgets and the environment.
At the same time, handling and tracking returned items presents numerous supply chain challenges. To manage them, Oliver Space turned to SnapFulfil, a cloud-based, Tier-1, flexible warehouse management system (WMS).
“Oliver Space is building a circular economy for furniture,” says David Guckian, the company’s product manager.
Along with its curated catalog displaying modern furniture and accessories, Oliver Space works with customers who’ve decided to trade in the gently used furniture they’ve purchased from the company. It then deploys its white-glove service to pick up the items, after which technicians clean and refurbish them, employing the company’s nine-point refurbishment process. Customers who return furniture receive credit toward future orders.
Once the products have been refurbished, Oliver Space offers them for sale on its website. About 60% of the company’s catalog is currently offered in both new and refurbished condition.
Reducing Furniture Waste
“We’re aiming to disrupt the furniture shopping experience by reducing the tremendous amount of waste,” Guckian says. In 2018, more than 9.6 million tons of furniture ended up in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Over the past six months, Oliver Space’s initiatives have kept nearly 200,000 pounds of furniture out of landfills.
At the same time, offering new and refurbished items adds complexity to the company’s business model. “We are constantly shipping out a variety of products, while trying to manage the returns and refurbishment in our circular ecosystem,” Guckian says.
For example, the company’s warehouse might hold a single stock-keeping unit (SKU) in several different conditions. “The process involves not only ensuring accurate stock counts, but also recording the right condition of the products,” he adds.
Another challenge is determining where best to house items in different stages of refurbishment, which requires insight into the products’ condition, along with more standard information, such as the rate at which they’re selling.
“We manage a tremendous number of elements, and we want to make sure we continue to create products our consumers favor, at conditions they want,” Guckian says.
Even as Oliver Space shifted to its purchase/trade model over the past year, its logistics systems remained largely the same as when the company launched.
Before working with SnapFulfil, Oliver Space relied on an internally developed enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This solution allowed Guckian and his team to track inventory counts at different locations, but didn’t provide the detail necessary to implement a digital inventory management system. For example, managers wouldn’t know that a specific pillow was located in Aisle A, Row 10.
“We used spreadsheets to bridge the gap, but as we grew, managing became more difficult,” Guckian says. He and his team considered whether to build an updated system or look at what was available in the market.
Oliver Space’s research led them to the SnapFulfil warehouse management system. SnapFulfil says its solutions deliver cutting-edge technology, flexibility, and increased picking and shipping accuracy. It’s available as a subscription model, with pricing based on the number of users, and can be licensed in perpetuity.
Along with helping business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies rapidly grow, SnapFulfil also works with logistics providers.
The company typically completes its implementations in no more than 45 days. Once up and running, the SnapFulfil solution can be configured to meet evolving fulfillment demands, allowing companies to meet service level agreements, including during peak periods.
SnapFulfil’s customer roster includes e-commerce retailers, as well as healthcare, pharmaceutical, and agriculture firms, among others.
“We can help any operation that requires visibility, traceability, and resource management and efficiency,” says Charles Thompson, project manager. Everyone on the SnapFulfil leadership team brings warehouse experience and an understanding of supply chain pain points, he adds.
Configurable, Flexible, Transparent
The configurability of SnapFulfil’s solutions allows clients to efficiently onboard new customers, launch new products, or enter new markets. “Our main objectives are to give customers highly configurable, flexible, and transparent software,” Thompson says. The company also offers rapid and remote deployment and training.
If a client’s functionality requirements change, the SnapFulfil system can readily adapt, Thompson says, noting that the system’s configurability provides flexibility. Customers can handle some configuration themselves, adding even more flexibility.
The software also provides transparency, letting clients know where their products are and in what stages. For instance, a company can look up an order and see that it’s being picked and will be out the door in minutes.
When working with customers, the SnapFulfil team takes a collaborative, hands-on approach. “We consider our customers our partners, and we’re all there for one goal,” Thompson says.
Implementation typically starts with a kick-off meeting in which requirements and pain points are identified and used to inform the solution scope, design, and configuration. Generally, the more the solution can be leveraged right out of the box, the shorter the implementation timeline.
Prior to working with SnapFulfil, Oliver Space hadn’t gone outside to look for a warehouse management system. Company leaders recognized from the outset that they might not find a purchased solution that met their unique business needs.
To determine if that would be the case, Oliver Space employees outlined the key WMS components they felt were critical. Then, they initiated an in-depth request-for-proposal process and began evaluating several dozen externally developed tools.
A Meticulous Approach
“We took a meticulous approach,” Guckian says. He and his team considered different use cases and then checked how various solutions would handle them, requesting that each provider offer a demonstration or detailed steps outlining how it would handle the challenge.
For instance, if an item was received into the warehouse and technicians completed the professional refurbishment work process, Oliver Space would need to assign a condition code and stock status to that product before putting it in a storage location. So, Guckian and his team asked potential vendors how they would assign an item a specific condition attribute in their WMS and whether Oliver Space would be able to view stock counts by this attribute.
They also asked if the vendor could walk them through the process of assigning this attribute on both the web view and radio-frequency (RF) devices. “The process of assigning should be a seamless flow for our team using the RF devices,” Guckian says.
In addition, as an early-stage company that’s moving rapidly, Oliver Space also was looking for a partner that could flex and grow as it expanded its product lines and markets. Guckian and his team wanted a system that was easy to customize without engaging external parties. They also compared the cost of purchasing a system to building one internally.
After these exercises, only a few companies could meet about 90% of the items on the list. “In terms of implementation, scalability, and price, SnapFulfil was the best option,” Guckian says.
While SnapFulfil didn’t necessarily have every feature Guckian and his colleagues identified at the outset, the vendor offered to configure its system to meet Oliver Space’s needs, including a fast speed-to-value implementation.
“They didn’t cut corners or create operational challenges for our team,” he says. In addition, Oliver Space’s internal IT team is able to easily build different features into the SnapFulfil system.
Oliver Space began implementation in spring 2022 and completed integration with its ERP system in about six weeks.
User acceptance testing (UAT) was conducted in a non-live environment, although Oliver Space ran through all the scenarios as if it was live. Once testing was complete, Oliver Space cut over to its production environment, and then to its operational environment.
“This allowed us to switch the flip over the weekend. We came in on Monday and were operating at full capacity,” Guckian says.
Much of the implementation was handled remotely, due to COVID travel restrictions at the time.
The SnapFulfil system has increased inventory accuracy during cycle counts and dramatically reduced out-of-stock occurrences during order picking. Another significant benefit has been the ability to shift from laptops and spreadsheets and automate the tracking of returned products as they are refurbished, while also increasing accuracy.
This is key, given that the warehouse contains both finished goods and those that are actively being refurbished. “We’re constantly changing the statuses of these pieces,” Guckian notes. “Now, it’s all updated in our WMS and ERP, and reflected on our website. It’s been a huge time improvement.”
In addition, warehouse workers now can use handheld, touch-screen RF devices, rather than try to juggle laptops.
Oliver Space currently uses this system in its San Francisco warehouse and plans to roll it out to its other warehouses. “We’re expanding it meticulously, step-by-step,” Guckian says.
Casebook Study: Furnishing an Inventory Solution
Oliver Space needed to find a solution to accurately and efficiently track and record inventory, including returned and refurbished items.
Remotely implement SnapFulfil’s flexible and configurable warehouse management system.
Increased accuracy during inventory cycle counts, fewer out-of-stocks, automated tracking of returned products, and more efficient warehouse processes.
Self-implement the solution to additional warehouses.