Improving Distribution Center Operations


Academy Sports


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Introduction & Abstract

Connors Group was brought in to assess the distribution center productivity, team member safety, working environments and service levels to retail stores and e-commerce customers of a national sporting goods, outdoor equipment and apparel retailer. Following the assessment, Connors Group issued a series of recommended improvements.

Connors Group’s reputation for successfully optimizing distribution centers for other retailers, and their expertise in Workforce Management is what led the sporting goods retailer to choose them.

Following a two-day, on-site assessment, the client came away with a series of actionable short-term adjustments to trial, refine and implement. They were also provided with mid-to-long-term recommendations for future-state planning. Combined, these recommendations will help the client operate more efficiently and more safely, benefitting team members and the bottom-line performance.

About the Client

Throughout its 80-plus-year history, this large sporting goods, outdoor equipment and apparel retailer has delivered high-quality, high-performance athletic gear and outdoor essentials to consumers throughout the southern and midwestern United States. They employ more than 17,000 team members across retail, warehouse and corporate spaces.

As a sporting goods retailer, they face stiff competition from various regional, national and global retailers. Through effective leadership and optimizations to processes, they are able to continually hold their place among the top-ranked retailers, pound for pound.

Unlocking Efficiencies

Like the athletes and outdoors enthusiasts it serves, the retailer is always looking for ways to improve. They know every little advantage makes a major difference in ultra-competitive brick-and-mortar and e-commerce landscapes.

In Connors Group, they saw an authority on workforce management, engineered labor standards and process improvement. They sought the advice of subject matter experts who could unlock untapped efficiencies.

Why Choose Connors Group

Some of the largest and most successful companies have trusted Connors Group’s expertise because of the collaborative approach taken with each client. No one knows a company better than the people who comprise it. 

The national outdoor retailer teamed up with Connors Group because of that collaborative focus, for one, but also because of the esteemed reputation and track record of success of the individuals taking part in the collaboration. The Connors Group team is known for its ethos of partnership. And leadership at the national retailer was eager to experience that firsthand.

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The Approach

Connors Group provided a high-level assessment of the Katy, TX distribution center with similar assessments of two additional distribution centers to follow. Over the course of two days, they directly observed operations and conducted interviews with subject matter experts within the distribution center to gain a comprehensive understanding of current operations and to uncover beneficial updates that can be enacted over various timespans.

Connors Group found a number of operational aspects that could be reimagined. The suggestions were broken down by category into:

Material Handling

Process Design

Workforce Management System configuration

Employee Performance Tracking

Material Handling Solutions

Connors Group found that excessive handling and inefficient picking routes were contributing to unnecessary steps for workers, congested aisles and therefore increased opportunities for employee injury.

By reconfiguring aisles that dead end to instead create aisles that connect to adjacent aisles from both ends, congestion can be decreased dramatically. Additionally, using gravity conveyors to move softline product will reduce the amount of handling apparent in sorting and palletizing processes. In the handling of hardlines, for example, there were four touchpoints involved in the picking process: a number that could be minimized through easily achievable improvements.

Process Design Solutions

Inconveniences that are sometimes considered unavoidable parts of the job can add up to sizeable slowdowns in warehouse floor movements, and ultimately arise as downturns in various bottom-line metrics. 

Every racking and picking behavior matters. At the Katy Distribution Center, Connors Group observed racking and picking situations that could be optimized for efficiency as well as increased safety. Among the top priority recommendations, Connors Group suggested:

  • Switching to higher-density racking—rather than having eaches and cases picked from the same location to reduce travel time and congestion.
  • Employing riding pallet jacks—rather than difficult-to-manuever manual jacks to speed up picking and remove strenuous worker activity.
  • Redesigning e-commerce packing stations to drastically cut down on motions and touches. By simply storing frequently used box sizes as close to the operator, almost-immediate gains can be realized in order packing.
  • Shifting to rolling tracks, elevated to a comfortable lifting level, to reduce bending and walking and Improve worker safety in the induction area.

Workforce and Warehouse Management Solutions

As much as distribution centers are associated with the movement of physical goods, the software they rely on to coordinate, streamline and track those goods is as important—if not more so. The current warehouse management system (WMS) is lacking several optimization tools. Additionally, as is the case in any operation in which experience and training levels differ, the WMS is not being used consistently to gain available efficiencies.

Among the drawbacks of the current WMS are weaknesses in product routing, labor performance reporting and slotting. 

For example, although features exist that would allow single-SKU e-commerce orders to skip the put wall and go directly to packing, the use of those features is at the discretion of department leads. Utilizing these available efficiencies more—or in all cases, ideally—will allow for quicker order processing and shipping.

Connors Group also observed areas of improvement in the ability of the current WMS to provide key metrics.

The WMS only provides an average travel time report for a single zone or a group of zones. The more granular the data used to track labor travel, the more apparent opportunities to improve will become.

The system also lacks accurate weights, making it more difficult to estimate the time needed to move units and cases. 

Coordinates for items are also not available. This not only limits the ability to locate items with speed and precision, but it also limits the effectiveness of slotting tools, which are critical in determining if the costs of changes to the re-slotting process are justified.

Solutions to these issues can be found by implementing dynamic labor management and warehouse management systems like LaborPro from Connors Group.

Employee Performance Tracking

With enhancements to the WMS, or the implementation of net new software and systems, the national retailer can gain the invaluable ability to know the coordinates of both item-to-be-picked and the employees. And each employee can gain earning potential.

As many distribution center operators well know, by using dynamic travel models, the distribution center can implement a pay-for-performance plan in which the employee earns more as they perform better. 

This can not only serve to make the warehouse run more efficiently, but it can also contribute to safety by automatically routing employees to their destination without congestion and backtracking. Such tracking can also contribute to employee satisfaction on the basis of their increased earnings.

The Results

For the most accurate view of the impact the observational study and the subsequent recommendations made for the large sporting goods, outdoor equipment and apparel retailer’s distribution center, we can go straight to the source.

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What Can Connors Group Improve for You?

If your company is looking to conduct a similar assessment of workplace operations, Connors Group’s team of experts can cater a plan to your needs. They offer personalized, professional service—including productivity improvement consultation, system implementation, engineered labor standards software and workforce training, among other services, to companies of all shapes, sizes and types.

Along with sharp observation of comprehensive processes and practices, Connors Group can provide the means to implement the necessary changes—essentially adding further efficiency to process improvements on any scale.

If you’re interested in a customized improvement plan for your company contact Connors Group today.