Genesco: From the Flintstones to the Jetsons

Genesco’s new paperless, wireless warehouse has doubled output, with a 99.6-percent accuracy rate on shipments.

“In terms of technology and automation, we’re making a quantum leap from the Flintstones to the Jetsons,” says Mark Teegarden, general manager of Genesco Inc.’s new 320,000-square-foot distribution center in Lebanon, Tenn.

Genesco, a retailer and wholesaler of branded footwear and accessories, had outgrown its previous facilities’ capabilities, which were manual operations. The company wanted a new facility that would meet existing as well as future needs.

Teegarden, who had extensive wireless technology experience in a previous employer’s distribution center, was aware that wireless could help Genesco achieve its goals of speed and accuracy. “We knew the technology was out there; we then had to decide what technology was a good fit,” he says.

After months of planning and implementation, the new facility went live in July 2002. Wireless and bar-coding technology—combined with a new warehouse management system from Manhattan Associates—play an integral role throughout the new operation.

Here’s how it works.

Receiving. Receivers use RF guns to document incoming shipments. “We’re in the process of getting all our vendors ASN-compliant so that we can scan the vendor’s bar code, then put the product away,” Teegarden says.

Putaway. A license plate is applied to each pallet. Forklift drivers, who each have an RF gun, scan the license plate, then receive putaway instructions from the system. If the product is needed immediately and room is available, the WMS directs the product to be put away in the forward pick area; if not, it directs the product to be put away in a reserve storage location.

Replenishment. In addition to demand replenishment, Genesco also performs “lean time” replenishment during non-peak hours, scanning in and confirming the movements.

Cycle counting. Four quality control staffers use RF guns when performing cycle counts that are based on pre-determined data. Teegarden is also evaluating whether to outfit cycle counters with wireless printers that they can wear on their waists, enabling them to replace missing or illegible bar codes discovered during the count.

Order picking. Each picker works in a picking zone in a pick module; automated diverting conveyors bring them the cartons. Pickers scan the carton’s bar code, pick and scan the product, and put it in the carton.

“Once the picking is done for that zone, they push the carton back to the middle on the takeaway conveyor,” Teegarden says. The carton then travels via conveyor to pickers in other zones until the order is complete.

Packing. The carton leaves the pick modules via an overhead conveyor, traveling to the taping mezzanines. There, shipping and carton content labels are produced and applied, and a packing slip and dunnage are placed in the carton. The carton then goes through an automatic taping machine, and moves to the shipping dock.

Shipping. Product is diverted to truckload or LTL lanes, where it is loaded on trucks. “One application we’re testing now is to anchor cartons to a pallet,” Teegarden says, so that the system allows cartons for a particular store to be put only on that store’s pallets.

Genesco phased in the new facility, first bringing in product for its children’s division, which serves some 40 stores. Next, a test division of 47 stores was brought into the facility; now it serves 600-plus stores. By September, the DC will be completely operational, shipping to more than 900 stores.

Genesco tapped two consulting firms to help with the project: Fortna, which helped with the material handling technology, and Q4 Logistics, which assisted with the warehouse management system implementation.

The change to a paperless facility with wireless technology, while a significant one, was fairly seamless on the user side, Teegarden says, thanks to a thorough training program.

“We brought employees into the facility and let them walk around and get a taste of the new technology in the training environment,” Teegarden says. This helped alleviate any anxiety related to working with new technology.

After employees completed a half- day orientation and a half day of training on the new technology (in a warehouse within the Genesco warehouse), they were matched with an experienced trainer who worked with them in the DC.

The new facility is achieving the results that Genesco targeted. Between the first and fifth days the company began servicing 600 stores in late January, “we have more than doubled our output,” Teegarden says, and the facility has a 99.6-percent accuracy rate on shipments.

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