A Booth’s-Eye View of NCOF

Aug 01, 2003 9:30 PM  By

THIS PAST APRIL 13-16

I attended the 2003 National Conference on Operations and Fulfillment (NCOF) at Walt Disney World’s Dolphin Resort. Mickey Mouse and friends — including Operations & Fulfillment and the Direct Marketing Association — played host to about 2,000 operations and fulfillment managers and exhibitors. NCOF is the premier forum for operations and is a great event for both experienced professionals and those just starting out; it’s the one show “just for us.” The roster represents many of the leading direct marketers and a “who’s who” of industry consultants and suppliers.

Though I have attended NCOF for the last seven years and consider it a “must” show, for me this year was different. For the first time I helped work the exhibit hall as an exhibitor, representing DM Transportation Management Services (www.dmtrans.com). Let me tell you, it is hard work! I gained new respect for sales reps.

Fortunately, DM Transportation had enough people staffing its exhibit to allow me time to walk around the hall, to learn what’s new, and to network with other exhibitors and attendees. In my travels, I came upon the following new NCOF exhibitors, each offering innovative products and/or services to direct marketers.

WEB-BASED ORDER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

OrderMotion is a Web-based, end-to-end order management system offered by Transaction Smartware. The system is targeted at small to mid-sized direct marketers and offers features generally found only in larger, more expensive systems. OrderMotion integrates real-time management of multichannel orders, fulfillment, marketing campaigns, list management, data mining, inventory, and financial reporting.

Transaction Smartware hosts the application on its own computers, and users access the system through a standard Web browser. No additional hardware or software needs to be purchased or maintained. Pricing for OrderMotion is transaction-based. For more information or a “test drive,” you can contact Transaction Smartware at www.ordermotion.com.

IMPROVE YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

A product called VendorNet (www.vendornet.com) from DirectNet Solutions delivers Web-based supply chain management solutions to multichannel retailers, enabling real-time collaboration with suppliers. The VendorNet technology establishes a foundation for solutions that can improve supply chain processes, reduce costs, and strengthen retailer — supplier relationships. Its open and flexible platform enables retailers to link electronically to suppliers regardless of their level of IT sophistication. VendorNet automates order transmission, order status tracking, shipping, invoicing, and reporting and order lifecycle visibility between merchants and suppliers.

VendorNet’s list of clients includes Levenger, Hammacher Schlemmer, FrontGate, Miles Kimball, Benchmark Brands, and many other multichannel retailers. In my opinion, the introduction of VendorNet was the single best new product/service at this year’s NCOF Exhibit Hall.

SMART RETURNS MANAGEMENT

Operations and fulfillment managers often regard customer returns as a major headache. Processing returns generally has the lowest priority in the fulfillment center. If you could lower costs and improve customer service, would you consider using a third party to help manage your returns? If so, NCOF exhibitor Newgistics (www.newgistics.com) might be just what you’re looking for.

Newgistics provides merchandise returns management to help simplify the return process for customers and reduce costs for multichannel retailers. Newgistics has developed SmartLabel, a patent-pending bar code that embeds customer and order information in the return label. Here is how it works: To return an item, customers simply apply the pre-paid, pre-addressed SmartLabel to their return package and drop it off anywhere in the U.S. postal system. The return shipping charge is later deducted from their refund amount. Newgistics intercepts the package from the USPS, immediately transmits return data, and aggregates and palletizes shipments back to the retailer. The retailer benefits from the increased visibility of the returned item. SmartLabel offers retailers and their customers Web-based tracking of returns in transit. If needed, Newgistics can also outsource your entire returns process.

According to Chuck Zdrojowy, director of operations, SmartLabel has managed millions of packages for direct retailers, including Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Blair, and Eddie Bauer. Together with the U.S. Postal Service, R.R. Donnelley Logistics, and USF Processors, Newgistics has created the most extensive returns management network in the industry. Along with Neiman Marcus and Eddie Bauer, retailers Spiegel Direct and Newport News recently reported that more than 70% of their customers who return merchandise select SmartLabel over other return methods.

My comments here should not be considered product reviews or endorsements. Rather, I urge you to follow up directly with any and all exhibitors of interest. For a complete list of the companies exhibiting at this year’s NCOF, visit www.ncof.com. If you measure success based on what you learn, contacts made, and ideas you can take back to your company, NCOF this year was a big success for me. Hope to see you at the show in Chicago, April 19-21, 2004.

JEFF KLINE, founder and president of Kline Management Consulting, can be reached by phone at (901) 850-0645 and by e-mail at jeff@jklineco.com.