Music retailer modernizes inventory tracking
- By Will Kilburn
When Musician's Friend, a catalog- and Web-based music equipment retailer,
wanted to streamline and simplify the flow of items in and out of its 252,000
square foot, 200 employee Kansas City distribution center, development managers
thought expensive changes to the host system would be required. But after
searching for options, the firm found a better way.
The project began when Musician's Friend engineers sought to create a better
way to track and route returned items, which officials described as a daunting
task given the volume of equipment sent back under the company's 45-day
guarantee. In addition to the sheer volume of returned goods, the process is
complicated by the fact that everything needs to be channeled into three
separate resale streams based on the condition of the products when they arrive
at the distribution facility.
''We needed to consolidate a lot of manual steps,'' said DJ Buell, director of
IT at Musician's Friend, explaining that multiple data entry points and systems
needed to be consolidated into a single, Web-based interface. He said the firm
installed the Verastream host integration toolset from WRQ Inc., Seattle, which
can be used to integrate host- and Web-based systems. Thus, he said, the
Verastream software could ''actually perform the updates.'' Now distribution
center workers could track and route returned items ''with one step, via this Web
interface, at the time that they're inspecting the equipment.''
Buell said that even though they initially hadn't planned to use Verastream
beyond its initial application, the return process, it quickly became clear that
the toolset could be applied elsewhere in the inventory stream.
''We got the thing working and immediately found that those inventory
transactions were something we could use in other applications,'' said Buell. ''We
could take a wireless device that had a bar code scanner, Wi-Fi network
connectivity and a browser, and connect up to a Web-based form, and do inventory
moves and adjustments using the same components that we had developed for the
first project. We weren't thinking that far out, but we actually got more
benefit from the wireless connectivity and integration to our host than we did
on the initial returns project.''
This unexpected reusability came about, said representatives at WRQ, because
Musician's Friend implemented the toolset the way it was meant to be used: On a
small project at first, rather than tackling an entire legacy system head
''If you take this service-oriented approach, then you have the ability to do
incremental projects, and to build from project to project,'' said Verastream
marketing manager Prasantha Jayakody, ''rather than having to lay down a bunch of
infrastructure before you can even start your first project.''
Right now, Buell said Musician's Friend uses Verastream to cut down on
shipping costs by combining large and small items within individual orders into
a single box, as well as for file exchange and the integration of a number of
different systems within the company.
''It really is a key component to our architecture strategy. I'm a believer in
trying it first on a small pilot project, rather than committing to doing some
universal type of project,'' said Buell. ''And that's exactly what we discovered
-- that when we do we those small pilots with one specific purpose, it can be
used for other things that we hadn't thought of yet.''