ROBESONIA, Pa. -- Associated Wholesalers Inc. here said a Web-based ordering program rolled out to member retailers last year will be expanded to provide sales history.
The system is designed to fix problems like the one Miller's Food Market faced when 96 cases of frozen pumpkin pies showed up at the store one day.
"I didn't need 96 cases of pumpkin pie. I only needed about 16," recalled Ken Miller, owner of the Manchester, Md., store.
That's the kind of mistake Associated was hoping to eliminate when it introduced the new order management system for Miller's and the roughly 200 other supermarkets it supplies. Unlike the old system, the new Web-based program displays the quantities and description of items being ordered, along with the order history.
In addition to reducing errors, it also shortens order preparation time and helps prevent out-of-stocks, which often are attributable to the ordering process.
"It's very user-friendly," said Miller, who has been using the system for the past few months to order grocery, dairy and frozen promotional goods. "We've had a lot less key-entry errors since then."
The new system, which Associated created in-house and rolled out a year ago, also makes it easier to select delivery dates and adjust orders, said Glenn Kriczky, vice president of information systems for AWI. "Delivery was always an issue," he said. Whereas the old system required retailers to look up the date they wanted to schedule a delivery, the new one "tells them on the fly."
Mike Wetzel, manager of Wetzel's Shurfine Market in Glenrock, Pa., said he's cut his ordering time in half since he began using the system in October. "It's definitely quicker to order, easier to order," he said. As an independent operator competing against Wal-Mart Stores supercenters and Giant Food, Wetzel said he needs all the time he can get.
Improving sales, however, is the ultimate goal for independents facing increased, multi-channel competition; AWI's initiative is a recent example of technological improvements wholesalers have made to help their independent customers compete in an increasingly crowded landscape.
After AWI launched the program in February, starting with Valentine's Day candy, once-flat candy sales ticked up 2% to 4%. Associated hopes to replicate those results throughout the center of the store now that the system allows for all weekly promotional goods. As of last November, about 20% of orders were being placed using its Web-based system.
This year, Associated plans to improve the system further so retailers can see not just order history but sales history, allowing them to adjust future orders accordingly, Kriczky said. For now, retailers can record information that can help them the next time they order.
"As time goes on, especially with a history search, we can be more in-stock in the store. That's going to definitely make us more competitive," Miller said. A Wal-Mart Supercenter is expected to open in his market in 2006, and "we want to be as sharp as we can when that happens," he said.
Order management systems often are a precursor to computer-assisted ordering, where the computer provides sales forecasts for the next few days as well as historical sales, said Barbara Anderson, a San Carlos, Calif.-based replenishment consultant and president of Bvac Inc. AWI said only that computer-assisted ordering is a project for the future.