How HOJ Engineering Helped Another Outdoor Industry Leader -Big Agnes- Design and Open a New Distribution Center
Based in the Colorado Rockies (Steamboat Springs, CO), Big Agnes creates innovative tents, sleeping pads, bags, camping accessories, and apparel for outdoor adventures in specialty backpacking stores, with an end goal of helping people get outside and have fun. Known as the Mother of Comfort, Big Agnes likes to sleep in the dirt and is outfitting dirt bags everywhere.
Big Agnes launched into their 17th year having taken some scary leaps. They moved into new headquarters along with their sister company Honey Stinger, located just minutes from Nordic and alpine skiing, sweet single track, and swimming in the Yampa River. They opened a larger shipping warehouse to meet the growing demand for products and inventory. Both were monumental projects requiring massive amounts of energy and resources.
Chris Tamucci, Director of Operations for Big Agnes shared how the challenges of growth were handled with the help of HOJ Engineering, from Salt Lake City, UT. The solution involved key software, WarehouseOS® in a NetSuite environment, along with all Hoj’s material handling equipment.
Tamucci shared, “We identified that available warehouse space and the cost of space were not sustainable to meet business objectives. In 2016, we made the decision to move our warehouse to Salt Lake City. So, this project was for a new distribution center, in a new location, with a new team. Luckily, we had three employees continue from our current operation to help build this new team.”
The top three challenges in this new distribution center project were not unusual. The Big Agnes team needed to determine the amount of space needed and find the right site. Secondly, the company needed to build a new team and implement new technology and business processes to overcome the physical distance. “Our prior distribution center was about two miles from our corporate office,” Tamucci added.
The company explored who offered engineering services in Salt Lake City and Hoj Engineering quickly became the obvious choice, having numerous clients in the outdoor industry.
The Evaluation Process
The Hoj team evaluated the Big Agnes business and provided a range of space needed, including square footage of building, as well as clear height, pallet spaces, and other specifications.
Hoj has focused on helping clients with questions that can be difficult to answer. According to Tim Hoj, CEO of Hoj Engineering, “Our innovations team, led by Robert Lyon, provides consultative solutions, from a basis of data analysis of the stock units that a business is processing. We take annual data, in the form of transaction history, inventory level snap shots, and seasonality to determine a few critical factors, such as the amount of cubic space needed, total pallet capacity, and how will they process the order profiles with the best efficiency.”
Hoj’s data analysis develops reports used to apply the material handling equipment needs of each customer. The result is a custom fit for each client, with a goal to become faster, while improving accuracy.
Why experience matters: Finding the right distribution center solution
Tamucci gave an example of the problem they were up against, “We were originally operating in approximately 25,000 square feet of space for warehousing and distribution in our Colorado facility. The space was spread across multiple buildings and was extremely inefficient. Moving forward, we wanted to plan on having the ability to double our capacity over the next several years and just replicating our current material handling practices would have required 50,000 square feet.”
He then shared the results of the evaluation saying, “We initially looked at several properties in Salt Lake City, one with 37,500 square feet and another with 45,000 square feet. The logistics engineers at Hoj prepared layouts and capacity analysis for both and we were shocked to see how much storage could be fit into those two spaces. Based on this analysis, we focused on looking for smaller properties and were able to find a location with 30,000 square feet. The Hoj engineers prepared layouts for this facility and with their racking designs, they provided a solution which enabled us to double our storage capacity in a much more efficient way.”
One of the most important criteria for Warehouse Management System (WMS) selection was that the user interface (UI) for floor staff was clear and simple.
Faster by design has always been a core value for Hoj Engineering. Hoj’s innovation team recognizes the challenges of warehouse management solutions that are deployed through a traditional RF gun.
“We understood the benefit of using a modern GUI platform, the iPad, that would bring improved visibility, touch screen productivity, pictures of items, and most importantly, a device that almost every worker or temporary workforce can be trained on in 15 minutes,” added Hoj.
With Hoj’s evaluation process, Big Agnes identified impacts as a result of this project, including a 75 percent reduction in fulfillment discrepancies and more efficient replenishment of the pick face.
The new DC went live on January 3, 2017 and WOS (WarehouseOS) went live in May, 2017.
WarehouseOS, a tablet-based Warehouse Operations System, brings technology to warehouses. WarehouseOS and associated apps have been developed to make everything about the warehouse easier and better. Apps allow small or large companies to receive products, manage inventory, perform cycle counting, conduct single picks or do batch picking, verify items picked, and pack them into boxes.
Big Agnes was pleased how the apps of Receive, Putaway, and Pick and Pack are executed by floor staff. Tamucci appreciated that these processes have some flexibility, so that Big Agnes can override normal procedures if a situation dictates the need.
WarehouseOS is a natural software to be integrated with modern platform ERP products, including cloud products. WarehouseOS is also offered as a cloud or server based WMS, integrating into other operations, ecommerce shopping carts, and shipping software products. The suite of 10 apps in the platform handle include all types of warehouse transactions. Some clients start with one or two apps and add more as the operation grows. A value price tag has been a fundamental goal from the beginning. With the cloud subscription model, there is little to no barrier to improving the warehouse technology platform.
Tamucci said, “Even though moving to barcode scanning every pick has impacted throughput as expected, ultimately we feel we’re getting more productivity measured as completed and accurate daily shipments.”
“It was clear Hoj Engineering had the expertise in warehouse operations, but what really stood out was the relationships they have in the outdoor industry. They understood our business, which was super important to us,” added Tamucci.
Lessons Learned and Planning for Future Growth
This project was a new experience for Big Agnes and with so many moving parts to the implementation, it was helpful to have the timeline and invoicing process more structured. “It can be hard to follow exactly when each piece of infrastructure or machinery will be delivered, installed, and invoiced,” explained Tamucci.
Considering the future can be the hardest part in planning a distribution center. What seemed like more space than Big Agnes would ever need when looking at an empty building, now looks like it may get them three years of operation, before needing more.