Projecting Its Voice

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Projecting Its Voice

In November 2006, Convenience Store News ran a feature called "A Matter of Speaking," which highlighted Kwik Trip Inc. of LaCrosse, Wis., using Vocollect Talkman System, a voice-directed software and wearable computer, at its distribution center. Selected to improve accuracy when picking orders for delivery to its more than 300 convenience stores, the company reached 99.85-percent accuracy with the technology as well as an increase in productivity. CSNews checks in as the company expands the system to its bakery and dairy commissaries.

"It was something we thought we would do eventually, and the decision was finally made to bring [the bakery and dairy] into the 21st century, so they could utilize the voice system and gain the efficiency we have gained," said Steve Stoeffler, warehouse supervisor at Kwik Trip Inc.

In May, order selectors at both facilities received the newest model of Vocollect Talkman equipment, featuring wireless headsets half the size of the original units still used at the warehouse facility, which weigh 12 ounces and are worn on a belt. Employees sign onto the system with their voice, and are directed to an area for a specific task.

"They are smaller, faster and newer," Stoeffler said. "We rolled it out at the same time we upgraded the warehouse facility with a new function Vocollect developed for another client."

The new functionality allows for easier pick assignment changes, such as canceling or adding a product. The system now allows for mass distribution of the information.

"Before, we could add or delete products, but we had to enter a new assignment," Stoeffler said. "Now, the system inserts the information into the current assignment and the selector doesn't know the difference."

Additionally, because the network already existed in the distribution center, the bakery and dairy were able to use the existing equipment, saving the company money.

"It all runs through the main computer at the distribution center, which minimized the investment because they can run on our computer in our network and not have to spend $75,000 on equipment," Stoeffler said.

While both the bakery and dairy did have to purchase new headsets, unlike the distribution center -- which uses 60 units for 125 people -- the bakery and dairy only needed approximately 16 or 18 between the operations for a total of 29 people.

"We treat them like three different facilities," Stoeffler said. "They have their own WiFi in their building, but the information comes from the main computer in the distribution center. Since we already invested, we could provide it for the dairy and bakery, and they only needed to pay for the cost of the headsets and the cost of the customizations they wanted in place."

Kwik Trip's dairy produces its own milk line as well as creamers, ice cream and frozen novelties for the stores. The high volume of milk produced at the dairy each day is delivered to the stores 10 times per week and requires picking every day, seven days a week, Stoeffler explained.

As a result, the dairy production facility works differently from the warehouse, and Vocollect met with both facilities to provide the customizations needed, including labels.

"For every stack of milk, we can now produce a label for our selectors so there are no more handwritten labels, which saves a lot of labor for them," Stoeffler said.

The bakery is also benefiting from a customized system, which replaced paper and pen procedures for them. When employees are finished pulling an order and stacking the bakery trays, the system makes the selector verify the number of trays are correct for the route before moving on, Stoeffler explained.

"It was all paper and pen, but now it is all there for them," he said. "They no longer have to do the math in their head, plus the supervisor has a computer screen to check to make sure that what went out of the facility matches what was supposed to go out."

The bakery produces the company's sweet goods, including cookies, doughnuts, bread and buns, which are all made fresh and delivered by 5 a.m. each day. "It is important to pull these products in a timely manner and make sure the count is correct," he said.

After only eight weeks, both facilities saw a time-savings from not having to enter accounts or create tags manually, and the use of labor tracking now allows supervisors to look at the numbers and see efficiencies they have gained.

"Accuracy and taking care of the customer is No. 1, and now the supervisor has a live feed and can see a detailed printout of when something was picked," Stoeffler noted.