How A National Tire Retailer Saved Time and Money Through Inventory Management Overhaul

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A large, national tire and wheel retailer planned to roll out SAP, a robust enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, and needed to implement a wireless infrastructure and data collection solution to enable the new software to manage their inventory.

The Problem

A large, national tire and wheel retailer planned to roll out SAP, a robust enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, and needed to implement a wireless infrastructure and data collection solution to enable the new software to manage their inventory. Up to that point, the retailer had been using an outdated, manual process to track inventory quantities and locations that was resulting in significant inventory variance and extreme difficulty in providing optimal customer service. One company executive suggested that the inventory variance was as high as 40% and explained the poor customer experience that was inherent in not knowing where each item in inventory was located, or if it was actually in stock. In an effort to create a more efficient process and realize labor savings, the company determined they needed to code and track their inventory more accurately.

The company went through an extensive request for proposal (RFP) process to determine the best vendor for the project. Three vendors were selected for the proof of concept phase of the project, with the task of installing their proposed solution at three of the company’s locations. At the completion of the proof of concept, Accucode was selected over two large, national corporations and told that the quality of work provided in the proof of concept was above and beyond the two competing companies. After the project was awarded, the customer’s project manager admitted that he initially didn’t think Accucode had a chance to win, but that Accucode’s work was exceptional, especially with regards to professionalism and responsiveness.

The Solution

Accucode provided a complete solution, including hardware, infrastructure, management software, depot services, installation services, project management, and QA testing, that allowed the customer to move to an advanced inventory tracking system using wireless mobile computers that integrated seamlessly with their new ERP system. In order to enable connectivity from the mobile computers to the ERP application servers, a secure, enterprise-grade wireless network was installed at every retail location, warehouse, and distribution center where inventory is stored. Each location is equipped with a unique wireless network, mobile computers, and thermal printers with tire-specific label stock. Cisco Meraki’s Cloud Networking architecture enables Accucode to monitor and troubleshoot each location’s network remotely from one interface.

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Cisco Meraki MR16 wireless access points were installed to provide network coverage throughout the entire retail store, service bays, inventory storage, receiving area, and some parking areas.

The main installation rollout for the project began in September of 2013 and was completed in April of 2014. In under 9 months, Accucode configured and installed a wireless network, mobile computers, and thermal printers at 873 retail locations, 4 distribution centers, and 22 warehouses across the United States. During this time, approximately 2,400 Meraki MR16 access points, 1,900 Motorola (Zebra) MC9190 mobile computers, and 900 Zebra GT800 thermal barcode printers were deployed. At the height of the project, Accucode was successfully completing up to 12 installs per day supported by an internal team of just 6 people.

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This wireless access point is installed on the outside of the building to provide coverage to an external storage unit across the parking lot. The enclosure is weather-proof and secured with a padlock.

To date, Accucode has installed and is supporting the solution at a total of 935 locations across 29 states. Accucode is responsible for monitoring each of the 935 wireless networks, as well as the 2043 individual Cisco Meraki wireless access points. In addition to monitoring the network and access points, Accucode provides ongoing managed services for the customer, such as mobile device management, help desk support, next-day replacement of hardware in the event of failure, warranty administration, and more.

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A Zebra GT800 thermal printer and two Motorola MC9190 mobile computers were installed at each location. The printer uses label stock specifically designed to adhere to tires in the harsh storage environment.

In short, Accucode helped the customer go from a paper-based inventory process to a digital inventory management process with remarkable speed and quality that resulted in increased profit, savings, and efficiency.

Technological Research and Development

Motorola’s wireless planning tool, LANPlanner, provided Accucode with the ability to create a virtual site survey of every location from the floorplan. Accucode’s wireless engineering team used this tool to draw each facility in 3D, then assign wireless attenuation values to material types inside the facility and simulate the wireless propagation pattern for access points. Accucode’s network engineers used LANPlanner to determine the best location for the access points without having to complete an on-site survey prior to installation. This preparation significantly reduced the time necessary to install a wireless network for stores and warehouses, creating efficiencies and ultimately lowering the overall cost.

Additionally, about 10% of the customer’s retail locations require such a large amount of inventory that all of the tires, wheels, and accessories could not all be stored in one building. These retail stores feature external storage solutions specifically designed to accommodate the inventory, including separate buildings, storage units, or metal shipping containers. In order to be able to utilize mobile computers for inventory tracking and management, Accucode needed to determine how to provide network coverage to these external storage solutions. Accucode’s team spent several weeks engineering a solution that enabled the installation of the Meraki MR16 access point on the outside of the main retail building that would provide coverage for the external storage location. The solution includes a NEMA-rated enclosure that is watertight and intended to be used outdoors to protect against weather elements that would damage the access points inside. Thanks to a core team of network engineers and their ingenuity, research, and hands-on experience, Accucode has been able to provide wireless coverage for all of the customer’s inventory storage locations.

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Installation technicians completed an Ekahau wireless post survey to confirm coverage throughout the entire store. This location has excellent coverage throughout the store and some of the parking lot, as indicated by the green and yellow areas. The lack of bright red on the survey validates that there are no dead spots.

Incorporating Technology

In order to enable Accucode’s small project team to manage the rollout, every installation technician was provided with a Samsung Galaxy tablet. The tablet provided Accucode’s support team real-time access to review the technician’s work while he was performing the installation. The tablet was equipped with the standard operating procedures for the installation, as well as the floorplan for each location being installed.

The tablet was also loaded with the Ekahau Wi-Fi Site Survey software, which enabled the technician to complete a post survey after installation of the wireless access points that confirmed the strength of the wireless coverage. Additionally, AirWatch Mobile Device Management was used in conjunction with the tablets, which allowed the Accucode support team to access pictures taken by the technician to confirm the quality of work was up to the customer’s very high standards. Each tablet was enabled with a Verizon WAN-enabled card so the Accucode project manager could send floorplans and other information to the technician and receive completed survey files back from the field. Overall, this use of newly available technology was instrumental in allowing Accucode to monitor, assist, and provide quality control for every installation across the country from company headquarters in Centennial, CO.

Additionally, TrackVia, a business workflow software, was used to track all the installations from start to finish. Accucode used TrackVia to aggregate data from each location, including network information and store manager approval of the work completed. The customer was given access to the TrackVia database so they had real-time visibility of the status of installations at every location.

This combination of hardware and software technology enabled Accucode to complete quality control at a level never before seen in off-site installation management. Accucode collected the deliverables and reviewed pictures of the work before the technician ever left the site. With Accucode’s method of quality control, less than 5% of the locations required a return visit. As a result, the retailer informed Accucode that the bar has been set for all future installation vendors. The customer has repeatedly stated that this project has had the greatest success in the company’s 50+ year history.

The Results

Accucode helped the customer move from a paper-based inventory management process to a digital process that makes the complexity of their massive inventory manageable. The customer now has the ability to track and manage their inventory more efficiently than ever before. Thanks to the solution provided by Accucode, the retailer can be completely confident that they have the right stock, the right equipment, and the right manufacturers’ tires in the right facility, which has resulted in being able to assure their customers that when they place an order, it will be there. Through the integration of a modern ERP/inventory tracking system, this national tire retailer has become a much more efficient organization, which has resulted in massive cost savings and profit enlargement.