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The nature of food and drink wholesaling has changed dramatically over the last 10–15 years. Faced with a dynamically changing market, escalating competition, increasingly extensive product ranges, and ever-increasing customer demands for better service and more choice, wholesalers have had to become more proactive and innovative in order to survive and succeed. Most have turned to IT, using sophisticated computer systems to handle many activities. Yet still they must be constantly alert to new technologies and developments which may further improve performance and competitive edge.

Radio Frequency technology has been around in the warehouse environment for several years, but is relatively new in the traditional ‘front-of-store’ Cash & Carry operation. This technology offers a real-time link to your IT systems, resulting in significant productivity improvements, minimisation of manual errors, complete product and movement tracking and accurate, real-time stock information.

RF technology involves the use of specialist, mobile, often handheld, terminals, incorporating scanning for fast, accurate data entry. Unlike batch handheld devices which use specialist cradles wired to the main computer for transferring information in ‘batches’, RF terminals communicate directly with the main computer system via an internal radio frequency network. Through immediate transmission, the main system has instant access to collected data, automatically updating its records, while mobile users can access critical ‘real-time’ information necessary to complete tasks quickly, accurately and effectively anywhere within the depot. Transmitted data (item code, PO number, price, etc) can be verified for accuracy, and rejected if necessary, immediately, in real-time, allowing the user to rectify mistakes whilst still in the failing location and not using costly time to return.

Always at the forefront of new technologies, BCP were quick to introduce RF functionality to their Accord Distribution System to allow clients to take full advantage of this new technology. BCP customers now use Accord’s RF modules, to improve the efficiency of Goods Received and Stocktaking activities. Gone are the days of long lists and laborious checking of goods received against purchase orders. Using handheld terminals to scan bar code information this is now a fast, accurate procedure with automatic updating of stock records on the main system, directed put-aways to maximise space utilisation and immediate highlighting of discrepancies and important product information like shelf-life tolerances.

Stocktaking is similarly simplified with Accord’s RF Warehouse Management system, using handheld terminals to enter or scan stock information which can be easily compared with the real-time information stored on the main system.Accord users can keep track in real-time of the thousands of lines in the average warehouse using that accurate inventory information for accurate, timely buying decisions. As the process is so quick and simple BCP customers now undertake stocktaking on a ‘perpetual’ basis, cycle counting a group of products, locations or suppliers, thereby minimising the requirement for more disruptive ‘full’ stock takes.

More recently BCP have extended Accord’s RF functionality, allowing its C&C clients – which include major players like Musgrave, BWG and CJ Lang – to use RF to improve several key “front-of-store” procedures.

As in retail stores so in C&C’s, keeping shelves stocked to optimum level is critical – empty shelves mean lost sales. With Accord’s RF Gap Replenishment module clients can use handheld terminals to scan shelf-edge labels/bar codes where stock on shelves is low, relaying this information immediately to the ‘back office’ or Goods Receiving area so that shelves can be restocked quickly. Highly flexible, the system can be used to relay information individually or in batches to facilitate diverse replenishment methods.

Correct shelf-edge labelling is becoming increasingly important, not only because incorrect labels are a major source of customer irritation, but because they can lead to reduced profits or even possible trading standards intervention. WithAccord’s new RF Price Validation/SEL Production modules operators can use handheld terminals to scan bar codes on shelf-edge labels or on individual product packs, compare these immediately with ‘system’ prices and produce new shelf-edge labels where discrepancies arise or where labels are missing or damaged. The system is faster and more accurate than previous methods using printed lists or batch scanning. Furthermore, where terminals incorporate a portable printer, labels can even be printed and replaced on the spot rather than in the back office.

Investment in the initial RF infrastructure is not insignificant and BCP are now looking at further enhancing Accord’s functionality to deliver additional benefits to provide an even greater return on investment. These include ‘wastage’ management and Emergency EPoS allowing the RF terminal to be used as a temporary checkout at busy periods, thereby reducing queues and increasing customer satisfaction.