staying in shape

The year was 1909. The United States of America consisted of 46 states, William Howard Taft was president, mailing a letter cost two cents, the Model T was introduced — and Pendleton Woolen Mills shipped its first blanket.

From this humble beginning, Pendleton, headquartered in Portland, OR, has survived fire, flood, the Great Depression, and polyester. Continuity has served the company well; Pendleton has thrived under the direction of its founders, the Bishop family.

Wool shirts for men were largely utility items in the early 20th century. Drab in design and color, they were worn for warmth and protection from the elements by people who worked outdoors. Clarence Morton (C.M.) Bishop envisioned wool shirts in vivid colors and intricate patterns. In 1924, the legendary Pendleton virgin wool men’s shirt was born. Some years later, market research identified a need and an opportunity for branded virgin wool classic sportswear for women. So a new thread, womenswear manufacturing, was woven into the Pendleton corporate cloth in 1949.

The company has maintained a vertical operation since day one. Raw wool is spun, woven, cut, and sewn in company-owned facilities. Today, Pendleton owns and operates 14 manufacturing facilities, 55 retail stores, and consumer-direct catalog and Internet operations — a true multichannel player. Along with a full range of branded merchandise in better sportswear for men and women, the company continues to produce its legendary, authentic Native American wool trading blankets, in addition to a full collection of blankets, bedding, and home accessories. These products are shipped from two distribution centers, one in Portland, OR, and the other in Bellevue, NE. The former is a store replenishment facility for the men’s and blanket divisions and for direct-to-consumer fulfillment; the Bellevue DC is a store replenishment facility for the women’s division.

The old cliché that behind every good man stands a good woman (or vice versa) applies to retail — behind every good retailer stands a strong distribution center. As a critical link in the supply chain, your DC must make a difference in your supply chain. Why? Quite simply, it is a matter of survival. As the industry publication Supply Chain Management Review points out, companies no longer compete, but supply chains do.

A Spanish proverb says, “Experience is not always the kindest of teachers, but it is surely the best.” Ninety-three years of shipping blankets and apparel have provided Pendleton a sound perspective on what works over the long haul. Experience has shown that a flexible physical plant, a flexible warehouse management system (WMS), and most important, a flexible team, are vital to the success of a distribution center.

Physical fitness

Pendleton’s Bellevue facility ably demonstrates the value of flexibility in a changing environment. Sedlak Management Consultants, based in Richfield, OH, designed the plant in 1977 and put in an addition in 1987. Use of the 270,000 square foot facility, which includes a 100,000-sq.-ft. mezzanine and handles peak inventory of about 600,000 units, has evolved a great deal over the past 25 years.

Two external forces that barely existed in 1977, apparel imports and business casual, have dramatically affected receiving and storage requirements within the facility. The nature of the apparel industry compounds product slotting. Because of seasonal fashion changes, the product mix within the Bellevue DC changes three times a year. In meeting past, present, and future needs, the backbone of the facility has been an adaptable rack system designed by Jervis B. Webb Company, headquartered in Farmington Hills, MI. One racking system meets all product storage needs. It is flexible in three ways: (1) To utilize storage cube, the garments-on-hanger (GOH) rail heights can be altered easily; (2) GOH aisles can be converted to shelving for cases; and (3) the racks can be adapted to fit other material handling systems. For example, seasonal product mix changes require frequent GOH rail height adjustments; in the fall and holiday seasons, pants are prominent, whereas in the spring shorts are common. In a matter of minutes, an aisle configured for pants can be reconfigured for shorts or skirts.

In 1977 and throughout the 1980s, 80% of the product stored was GOH, with the balance being flat merchandise (sweaters) stored in cases. But today’s apparel consumer prefers a softer, more casual method of dressing (such as sweaters rather than jackets), requiring a dramatic increase in shelf space. To meet this changing storage requirement, the Bellevue facility features cantilevered shelving. The primary benefit of this system is that it has no shelf partitions; stockers do not need to concern themselves with fitting cases within the confines of a bin.

The shift from domestically produced apparel to offshore product has had an impact on receiving operations as well. Domestic suppliers made frequent small shipments, whereas offshore suppliers make infrequent large shipments. Operationally, the shift required a much larger receiving area with material handling capabilities. Railex Corporation, a New York City-based manufacturer of garment rail systems, provided the optimal solution. By combining the benefits of the Jervis B. Webb and the GOH Railex material handling systems, a dynamic, low-cost solution resulted.

The philosophy that Sedlak applied to the DC design, “to create competitive advantages today while solving logistics and supply chain challenges of tomorrow,” has stood the test of time. The Bellevue facility is as functional today as it was a quarter of a century ago.

On the move

Pendleton’s WMS experience dates back to 1993, when the firm developed a customized WMS application. Order fulfillment was the primary function of this early system. In 1997, as part of a core systems upgrade, the company decided to migrate from its homegrown WMS to a best-of-breed program. The system chosen, PkMS by Manhattan Associates of Atlanta, provides a rich operating environment that is scalable. In a piece-picking setup, facility design is important; critical, however, is how the WMS handles apparel piece-picking and processing. PkMS features that have had the most impact on optimizing DC performance include inventory management, wave management, and full-screen zone picking.

Prior to the PkMS installation, inbound receiving and inventory control amounted to verifying a count against a packing list and then hoping that the received product made it to the designated active or reserve location. The PkMS inbound receiving module has proven to be a disciplined, traceable process, improving accuracy (99% or higher) and productivity. Advance ship notices (ASNs) are entered prior to shipment receipt, creating an expectation. Product is then scanned and received against the ASN into unique traceable cases. As cases move through different processes, their status is updated within the system. System controls and queries can then be employed to manage product in the most efficient manner. Issues such as FIFO or LIFO, immediate needs, quality locks, and inventory accuracy exceeding 99% are all attainable with the inventory control features of PkMS.

Another dynamic feature in PkMS is wave management. Manhattan Associates describes the process as “a group of pick tickets that are released to the floor at the same time. The purpose of selecting a specific group of pick tickets is to increase timeliness, productivity, and work center balancing while complying with wave capacity based on replenishment, material handling, or physical constraints. Benefits to waves include planned replenishment, labor planning at discrete levels, improved productivity, and discrete tracking of groups of orders.”

The Bellevue DC takes advantage of the wave process in a number of ways. Pick tickets that require special handling are isolated for value-added services. Quick-response replenishment orders are waved separately and prioritized ahead of other waves. Additional wave selection criteria include shipping region, start and stop dates, and particular customers. Wave control provides supervisors a powerful tool to focus resources on the appropriate group of orders while maintaining maximum productivity and efficiency.

Pull the plug

Once pick tickets are waved, order picking can begin. With Pendleton’s highly diverse order profile, ever-expanding customer requirements, chargeback avoidance, and use of 32% of the DC’s direct labor in order picking, a dynamic order fulfillment solution is imperative. PkMS provides dozens of picking options; the method of choice for Pendleton has been a pick-pack operation using an industrial notebook computer on a wireless LAN. The wireless full-screen pick-pack method offers several benefits:

  • Communication of special instructions to front-line operators is achieved easily on orders that require value-added services.
  • Full visibility of a work unit provides the operator the necessary information to make a carton size selection.
  • When aisle bottlenecks occur, pickers have extended visibility of forward locations, allowing them to advance easily to a new location that is free of congestion.
  • High productivity — depending on order type, pick rates range from 150 to 500 units per man hour.
  • Pick accuracy is very high, at 99.95%.
  • Carton-level content information can be captured and used for advance ship notices employing EDI.

A flexible WMS will provide the proactive management tools you need to manage your distribution center. If chargebacks, value-added services, diverse order profiles, pick accuracy, and productivity are issues in your order fulfillment operation, the wireless full-screen picking method will provide an optimal solution. It’s the best of both worlds, supplying the benefits of paper on an electronic platform.

Team spirit

When a pallet or carton leaves your dock and an invoice is generated, it wasn’t the building picking the order or the WMS packing the carton; it was your team, your people, completing the task. There are great technological tools at our disposal these days to solve material handling and data management problems, but the key word here is tools. A tool is only as good as the person operating it. Developing a flexible, cohesive team is critical if you are going to fully leverage company assets. In the Bellevue operation, quality-of-life issues have become important factors in team development and morale. Facility managers stress the following:

  • establishing a safe work environment (2,412 days without a lost-time accident);
  • providing flexible hours when family or personal issues arise;
  • cross-training workers to build an understanding of overall operational objectives and reduce job monotony; and
  • creating a relaxed setting in which employees can celebrate successes.

This positive culture has resulted in a harmonious warehouse team that pitches in wherever needed. Problems are solved rapidly and front-line people develop process improvements.

Increased customer expectations, multichannel fulfillment, value-added services, cross-docking, reverse logistics, and staffing are among the many challenges facing today’s distribution facilities. And with each challenge an opportunity exists to make a difference within your supply chain. The Pendleton experience shows how to turn such opportunities into results that differentiate your supply chain processes from those of your competitors.

Steve Dethlefs is distribution center manager at Pendleton Woolen Mills. He can be reached at

Pendleton’s WMS

  • Homegrown WMS installed in 1993
  • Migrated to Manhattan Associates’ PkMS in 1997
  • Current PkMS version is 17.0, operating on Unix 10.2
  • Both inbound and outbound PkMS modules installed
  • Design and implementation services from Sedlak Management Consultants in 1993 and 1997
  • Upgrading to PkMS 2001R1, operating on Unix 11.0, in fall of 2002
  • Version 17 mods 100+, Version 2001R1 mods 10

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