GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Spartan Stores here said it has completed the installation of a new software system designed to increase productivity at its Charlotte, Mich., reclamation center.
The center processes unsaleables.
"We've been very pleased with the results," reclamation center manager Steve Shauver told SN.
"We definitely needed to make a change. We were running three separate stand-alone systems after a couple of consolidations," he said.
"Now the system's running much more efficiently."
The new program is version 4.2 of DART (Direct Automated Returns Tracking) from ReTurn Inc., Wayzata, Minn.
The software is designed to electronically track and report details of Spartan's reverse logistics process, from first scan to final disposition.
Prior to deciding on DART, Shauver said, Spartan ran a test trial of software from Carolina Logistics Services, Winston-Salem, N.C.
"Both systems have similar capabilities, but there are some neat functions with DART that we found advantageous."
One benefit, he said, is "the user-friendliness of the screen itself," with large characters for easy visibility.
Another advantage is "the new state-of-the-art scanner that's part of the system," Shauver added.
"It has an infrared eye that comes out horizontally as well as vertically, so you have the capability to read UPC bar codes from two different angles.
"With our old system you'd sometimes have to scan an item four, five or six times just to read the bar code."
With the new system, slower scanners, in particular, have raised their productivity, he said.
"Some of them have increased their scans by a couple of thousand per day. And our faster scanners have been able to get from 500 to 1,000 more per day."
DART has other benefits in common with similar systems.
"These upgraded software systems allow reclamation centers to provide manufacturers with detailed information, like showing the highest volume return items," said Shauver.
Their reports can also help determine stores that over- or underutilize the reclamation center, he added.
Shauver expects these improvements in performance to continue.
"I don't think these figures are a true reflection of the impact the system's had, just because of what we've had to work through to get up to speed," he said.
"Getting used to any new system is always an issue, and we seem to be running on all cylinders now, so we'll do another analysis in a couple of months."
A stable workforce has helped shorten the period of adjustment.
"In most warehouse settings the turnover is usually high, but we have a lot of employees with 12- or 13-year lengths of service, which is a real benefit," said Shauver. "It may be because Charlotte is isolated, 20 miles from the nearest major city [Lansing]."
This single facility processes returns for the entire company.
Spartan owns and operates 25 discount drug stores (The Pharm) and 102 supermarkets in Michigan and Ohio, including Ashcraft's Markets, Family Fare Supermarkets, Food Town Supermarkets, Glen's Markets, Great Day Food Centers and Prevo's Family Markets.
It also distributes over 40,000 private-label, national brand products to more than 350 independent grocery stores. And it distributes wholesale to 9,600 convenience stores in nine states.
As operations grow more extensive, companies find that software like DART is becoming essential, Shauver said. He didn't reveal the cost of installing the system.
"It's a major expense for a company, but that's where the industry is."
And the long-term benefits can be substantial.
"I'm anticipating that it's probably going to reduce our cost per scan by anywhere from 1 to 2 cents," he said.