Magazine Article | December 1, 2001

Wireless Tames DC Wilderness

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

After integrating 2.4 GHz access points and wireless handheld computers into its operations, an outdoor equipment retailer is prepared to manage increased activity in its 1-million-square-foot distribution center.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, December 2001

When your warehouse and stores are as expansive as the great outdoors, you have to efficiently collect and send data without hard wiring your systems and employees into the ground. Bass Pro Shops (Springfield, MO) avoided wires and eliminated its paper-based data collection methods by installing a narrowband wireless network into its DC (distribution center) and stores 10 years ago. "The time it took to update paper-logged inventory information caused delays in communication," said Rob Harris, director of application development at Bass Pro Shops. It would sometimes be half a day before the DC knew that merchandise arrived.

This first wireless technology installment got the retailer hooked on the technology, and the possibilities expanded from there. "We have grown the DC many times in 10 years and each time there was new technology available," Harris said. From narrowband, the retailer installed a spread spectrum network in the mid-1990s, which allowed employees to have wireless network access anywhere in the building. Today Bass Pro Shops operates a 1-million-square-foot facility that records tens-of-thousands of transactions each day. To keep up with the large amount of activity, it worked with Intermec Technologies Corp. to install 2.4 GHz access points into its DCs and stores. "We needed to increase the response time and bandwidth to keep up with the amount of activity our workers were doing," Harris said. Now almost every DC job is tied into one of the retailer's three RF (radio frequency) networks.

Eliminate The Hunt For Missing Labels
Bass Pro Shops uses 200 Intermec RF scanners of various models throughout its DC. The devices' wireless connectivity made the process of tagging soft goods more efficient. Previously, tags were batch printed each morning based on the daily replenishment orders from each of the 14 retail stores. Each tag was attached to the paperwork for that order and passed through the facility until it was applied at the end of the line. By the time the tags were matched with their products, they were often damaged or missing and needed to be reprinted. Thanks to RF technology, tags are both printed and applied in the last step of the process, right before the merchandise is packed on the trucks. When a tote of merchandise is sent down the conveyor line, its contents are identified by the system through a bar code scan. This scan sends the content information to the tag printers, which print either hangtags or labels according to the contents. By generating the tag labels at the last minute, Bass Pro Shops has eliminated errors, damaged labels, and over-prints.

Real Time Creates Real Benefits
Bass Pro Shops headquarters communicates with its stores and DC via a WAN (wide area network). This gives the stores the ability to connect to corporate applications like the ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. "It also allows us to connect the handheld RF devices to the network making them appear like any other PC, thus enabling real-time data communication," Harris said. Once Bass Pro Shops had the improved wireless network and could provide real-time access, the retailer could extend wireless applications such as pricing and shelf labeling to its stores.

The retailer also uses the RF technology to improve employee productivity throughout its DC and stores. The network allows Bass Pro Shops to track productivity by employee and print out regular reports. As the company grows, it plans to install 2.4 GHz technology throughout the entire facility, but Harris was pleased that the company could continue to use the older wireless installations for its less intensive activities throughout the DC.

Questions about this article? E-mail the author at