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Home Run Inn drivers demonstrate their comfort with the company’s new PDA devices.

Mobility Solutions

Home Run Inn Pizza provides how-to case study of successful Direct Store Delivery (DSD) operations which harnesses fast, affordable wireless systems.       By Thomas R. Cutler

The introduction of high-speed, low-cost wireless communications coupled with consumer expectations of around-the-clock service has driven a rise in frozen food manufacturers’ mobility solutions.

Typically, the frozen food business benefits from mobility infrastructure providers are presented in these terms: increased employee productivity; improved responsiveness to customers, business partners, and peers; improved workgroup collaboration, and enhanced employee satisfaction and retention.

While these are laudable goals, they are also very hard to quantify in terms of financial return on investment (ROI) calculations. The benefits are too vague to gauge the success of any project, let alone a mobility frozen foods project. Instead, mobility objectives that are geared toward a single cost benefit can be readily baselined and improvements via the mobile solution easily identified.

Business functions that lend themselves to a clean baseline and clear benefits include:

·         Sales: Account representatives and business development managers can access debtor information, place new orders and query back orders with­out contacting the office. If this project includes capturing sales orders, the payback should be realized within 12 months.

·         Delivery: Scheduling deliveries leads to greater resource utilization but the payback depends on the type of deliveries being undertaken. The main payback in this type of project is in the tracking of deliveries for route optimization, rather than necessarily rerouting during the point-to-point delivery timetable.

·         Field Service: Scheduling jobs and the capturing of completed jobs is significantly enhanced, leading to greater resource utilization. The pay­back on this type of mobility project should be realized within the first 12 months.

·         Timesheets: Electronic timesheet entry improves billing cycles and re-keying errors. The payback on this type of mobility project should be realized within the first six months.

Home Run Inn Pizza’s Journey

Illinois-based Home Run Inn Pizza started their frozen food Direct Store Delivery program about three years ago. According to CFO, Steve Larek, “We had a staggering challenge on our hands: select a system, put it in place and teach people to use it.  Sounds like a normal transition, but ours had to happen in a start-up mode, in less than six months with new employees, unfamiliar equipment, and a staff to develop and implement this who also had their normal duties to perform at the same time. The first vehicles rolled out a week early. That made a huge statement to our new team and made an equally grand impact on the marketplace. We haven’t slowed since.”

One highly successful mobility model that has been put to good effect with frozen food companies like Home Run Inn uses Microsoft Windows Terminal Services (WTS) to drive Pocket PC devices. They use IT architec­tures to provide mobile services to staff. This infrastructure works well in areas with consistent mobile service coverage (such as cities and metro­politan locations) as it requires continual access to the WTS server.

Typically, a digital modem is used to answer wireless modem phone calls so that modem pickup time and data transfer rates are rapid. No informa­tion is retained on the PDA device and secured protocols can be deployed to reduce eavesdropping where the cost of this is deemed appropriate. To further increase security, call line identification can be utilized to force a dial-back to the originating mobile phone so only authorized users can access the system.

This method was developed using PRONTO-Xi which offers the signifi­cant advantage of data input verification. This ensures that screen design, testing and training remains within the paradigm of frozen food manufac­turing Enterprise Resource Planning expertise.

Larek notes that specific functionalities were achieved by using the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Velocity Group Inc. technology. “The sys­tem provided a thorough approach to “field POS,” rendered the invoice at the grocer’s back door, updated inventory on the truck, and posted accounts receivable—all performed in real time.”

Larek admitted the process had its glitches. “Our IT guys had a hard time finding proper cables to hook up the hand-held terminals to the Nextel phones to gain internet access. We finally found someone to build them specifically for us. Connectivity is another challenge. Though we’re with Nextel, there are still dead zones where no signal can be found and some­times connections are abruptly dropped, requiring the sales rep to restart the billing process from scratch.”

Measuring Mobility Satisfaction

Home Run Inn adopted this new system in concert with the launch of a new business. In that environment there was a great strain on capi­tal—acquiring vehicles, facilities, ancillary equipment, etc. The cost of PRONTO-Xi was not insignificant, but according to Larek, “It was greatly favorable to alternatives…The choice of PRONTO was not a penny-wise and pound-foolish selection either; the system was the right choice irrespec­tive of cost. It’s growing with us, and at an affordable cost.”

Under the DSD model, Home Run Inn became the top selling brand at Jewel/Albertsons, the leading chain in Chicago. From the first year as a DSD company, the growth has been about 50% in three years.  Larek is clearly pleased, “The most important part of PRONTO-Xi revolves around our people being mobile sales staff. We have people who pull out of here every morning with a truck full of product but they’re not delivery staff, they are sales staff—they do deals at store level.”  

Thomas R. Cutler is president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) and founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium. He can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com or at ( 954) 486-7562.





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