The ABCs of WMS

Early childhood education company Kaplan chooses a WMS that makes the grade.

If you have children, you likely have spent time searching for books, toys, and educational products that lay a foundation for long-term success. Choices can seem limitless – if you can think of an early childhood educational tool, it’s probably available.

Some companies behind these tools stand apart from the rest due to the quality of products they offer and the commitment they make to helping parents concerned with early childhood development.

One such enterprise is Kaplan Early Learning Company, based in Lewisville, N.C. Kaplan is one of the original developers of early learning tools and has a long track record on which to hang its hat. It also has a long history of supporting various childhood education-related organizations.

Kaplan began its journey in 1951, when Leon Kaplan opened a toy store in Greensboro, N.C. A second store soon followed, and by early 1960 several toy stores operated under the Kaplan banner. During this time, Kaplan sought to provide toys that promoted learning as well as play.

From those early toy stores, Kaplan evolved into Kaplan School Supply in 1968. Today, through publishing and developing curriculum and assessment products, the company has become a leader in the field of early child care and education.

Customers include day care facilities, public and private schools, head start programs, preschools, teachers, and parents. Its products are geared toward children from infancy to fifth grade.

Preparing for the Future

With so many hats to wear, Kaplan is a busy, growing company. A recent partnership with has opened up new markets, and added to the already heavy volume that the company’s distribution centers must manage.

With a main DC measuring 250,000 square feet, and a second 100,000-square-foot facility set aside for overflow, the company plans to add another 150,000 to 200,000 square feet in 2008.

The DCs handle more than 10,000 SKUs between a regular first shift and a small third shift. Some 60 employees are spread out between the two shifts.

As it adapted to its rapid growth, Kaplan knew that it was time to invest in a sophisticated warehouse management system (WMS) to take it into the future.

“In the late 1990s, we determined that a WMS was required to fully meet customer needs and maintain a well-run DC,” says Matthew Marceron, Kaplan’s executive vice president.

“While many of our customers are large schools with sophisticated DCs, we also serve small schools and day care centers,” he adds. “A single, well-organized shipment lets teachers focus on the important part of their business – educating children.”

The system Kaplan previously had in place did not allow it to deliver at the desired customer service level.

“The system functioned, but it was not open,” recalls David Bumgarner, Kaplan’s vice president of operations. “Visibility, cartonization, and putaway logic were limited, as was sophisticated integration with our ERP system.”

After an extensive search for the right WMS, Kaplan turned to Waukesha, Wisc.-based RedPrairie.

“We were looking for a business partner who would support us over the long haul during a time of industry consolidation,” says Bumgarner. “RedPrairie offered integration between our ERP and its WMS. The interface between the systems allowed us to automate many business processes. We gained efficiencies and improved accuracy.”

Implementation of the new WMS was “a major success story,” according to Marceron.

“We had excellent support from RedPrairie’s consultants and trainers, who led us through the system setup and decisions we needed to make. In addition, the implementation was customized to integrate with our existing pick-to-light order fulfillment system and sortation systems.”

To ensure success, Kaplan assembled a team dedicated to the implementation process. Made up of representatives from information technology, purchasing, finance, order entry, receiving, shipping, and inventory control, the team tested warehousing functions as well as ERP integration.

“We completely tested the system several times before we went live to ensure the results were accurate,” notes Marceron. “RedPrairie consultants were on-site during those key test phases.”

When working with Kaplan, RedPrairie kept its methodology flexible.

“We understood Kaplan’s business, built its requirements into the system’s process flows, and configured the software to it,” explains Matt Butler, RedPrairie’s director of implementation services. “We considered Kaplan’s business trends and geared our plan toward the next five to 10 years.”

The partners implemented the WMS, performed the ERP integration, produced the necessary documentation, and trained the staff on the new system.

“When we moved into the ownership phase with Kaplan, we helped facilitate the testing and validate the results,” says Butler. “Kaplan did a great job of taking ownership.”

Smooth Sailing

Several factors helped ensure smooth implementation, according to Bumgarner:

  • Senior management buy-in. “Management was committed to and supported the change,” he says.
  • Selecting the right vendor/partner. “We spent far more time on the RFP and requirements process than on implementation,” Bumgarner notes.
  • A dedicated staff.
  • Being open-minded and limiting customization.
  • Testing, testing, testing.

“In a world where implementations rarely go as planned, this one was an exception,” says Marceron. “It launched on time and on budget, with virtually no disruption to Kaplan’s business.”

By all accounts, the new system has led to a change for the better at Kaplan. “We improved our ability to ship more products in the same time frame while balancing work loads,” says Bumgarner. “We improved inventory accuracy and we have a happy warehouse manager who goes home on time every night.”

Overall efficiency has improved as well, particularly for putaways, replenishments, and picks. “This system provides visibility, and its flexibility makes it easier to deal with exceptions or special customer requests,” Bumgarner says.

The integration between Kaplan’s ERP and its new WMS has been an asset as well. “We have more control over how often we can send orders to the warehouse, while keeping our ERP up to date with our progress,” says Connie Ellis, Kaplan’s project lead for the implementation.

Words to Live By

Having had a positive experience with a WMS implementation, Ellis offers this advice to others looking to do the same:

“Assemble a strong, functional IT team who cares about and understands the business, or is willing to learn. Take your time to clearly define what you expect from a system and its vendor. Be rigorous in developing RFPs, analyzing demos, and conducting reference checks.

“It’s advice that you hear in every project management course,” she adds. “That’s because it’s true.”

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