B&R was able to meet its customers’ requirement and grow steadily. Then, it hit the jackpot and landed its largest client, a nationwide retail chain of superstores, predominantly selling quality household merchandise and furnishings. Overnight, B&R faced a major challenge: “Everybody wants to have a large customer like that. It’s the crown on your head. But the crown can also be a headache if you’re not prepared to do business the way they want you to do business,” Kulzer says. Like many large retailers, the NASDAQ-traded retailer had instituted a specific electronic data interchange (EDI) system to order products from manufacturers and distributors like B&R, and to receive shipment of those products at the chain’s 800 stores throughout North America. “They asked us to print out shipping barcode labels that they designed for their specific need. They also wanted us to send them advance shipping notifications (ASNs) and invoices in their preferred EDI formats,” says Kulzer. However the biggest challenge for B&R was the retailer’s requirement of direct-to-store shipping its products to every one of its 800 stores nationwide.
“We weren’t prepared,” Kulzer says. This came as a major shock to B&R; after all, it was already using a competitor’s EDI solution, which worked moderately well, as long as the company did not have a major client like the nationwide retailer. But when faced with the challenge of meeting its additional requirements, B&R’s logistical operations virtually ground to a halt. “The other EDI solution allowed us to create labels and ASNs but it was a slow, slow process,” says Kulzer. “I participated in the day-to-day process so I could see what was happening.”
What she found was nothing short of an EDI nightmare. Fulfilling shipments for any given order took seven steps and 20 minutes. Kulzer says she would sit at her desk, drumming her fingers on the desktop while waiting for the software to finish its task. “I couldn’t help but think about all the lost time slipping through my fingertips.” In order to meet this retailer’s requirements, B&R initially hired extra people to sit at a computer, entering orders, printing labels and filling out ASNs all day long. Even then, the company could only ship product to 75 stores a day, less than 10 percent of this premier customer’s total count. And that didn’t even include B&R’s other customers.