NRI takes pride in being a frontrunner in footwear fulfillment, recognizing the industry’s continual growth and the necessity for footwear brands to meet rising demands. To shed light on the specific challenges faced by footwear brands in logistics and how NRI effectively addresses them, we sat down with our VP of Business Development, Ryan Dale-Johnson.
1. What specific challenges do footwear brands face in logistics?
The footwear category is typically rich with brands with a very high SKU count. With so many styles, colors, and sizes, it’s essential to have an efficient and effective physical layout. The basics include sufficient pick faces to match SKU count, with multiple pick faces for high-moving SKUs; as well as nearby overstock for efficient replenishment. Historic on-pallet style storage often used in general warehousing can range from challenging to ineffective when it comes to footwear fulfillment. Another challenge is the ability for operators to understand and be proven efficient at picking across multiple SKUs. Due to the broad layout, the sheer size of warehouses can make it tough to hit fast SLAs, especially during peak season.
When looking at wholesale fulfillment for footwear, the size of each item has an impact. A box of shoes is a bit large when compared to other consumer items such as apparel or accessories. With that size comes the challenge that only a few units will fit in a carton (usually 12 max). This means that, when compared to apparel or smaller items, there is a more frequent building, filling, closing, and labeling of cartons required to hit the total number of units on an order. All these cartons can take up quite a bit of packed order space, and that space need must be considered in building layouts. The fashion-driven, seasonal business element of footwear can be a challenge as well. It’s essential to manage out-of-season stock and dead styles. Cycling non-moving inventory out of prime locations is costly but it creates wins in having the current inventory the most accessible.
2. How can NRI address these challenges effectively?
NRI addresses these challenges by having dedicated facilities designed specifically to handle footwear. All of the above challenges mentioned are addressed in how we design and fixture a facility, and the teams who make it all function smoothly. We typically use dense and tall aisle racking, often called Very-Narrow Aisle. It offers ample pick faces in the lower human-accessible sections, and vertical overstock above to provide quick replenishment of inventory to prime-pick locations. We also implement mezzanine pick-towers and other more mobile storage solutions – but always with density and high-count pick faces as the driver.
By not storing on pallets – which are inefficient to pick multi-SKU items from – we generate quick picking as well as carton replenishment. Our utilization of AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) aids people in picking quickly and efficiently. The AMRs move goods to outbound stations and eliminate the need for handhelds. Hands-free picking and reduced footsteps mean quicker picking which means more orders processed in a day. Our long historic experience in handling footwear means there are very few surprises ever brought to us by a client. Our goals and solutions are based on extensive history, knowledge, and a continuous improvement mindset.
3. Can you elaborate on the key criteria footwear brands should consider when choosing a 3PL partner?
Footwear brands should consider partnering with a 3PL that already handles footwear! Or at least another commodity with a high SKU count and the average unit size like a box of shoes. SKUs + size = space needed. Partner with a 3PL who can show a physical layout and tools that are designed to manage large volumes of footwear – and can describe the purpose and value of those layouts/tools.
Does the partner manage returns? Refurbishment? Do they offer great freight rates? Footwear is a bulky commodity and can be quite freight-sensitive. If a brand is heavy in e-commerce, freight will be the largest cost outside of the cost of goods. 3PLs should provide brands with strong opportunities when it comes to freight. Pay attention to dimensional divisors to ensure you get freight samples that use the dims and weights of your products. A good freight rate with a weak divisor may not be as good as a slightly higher rate with a great divisor.
Those are a couple of top hits that should be front of mind. Additionally, with any commodity, we believe strongly that your 3PL should align with your values and you both be working together as partners. Your 3PL should provide a physical service, but also operational engagement on suggestions for improvements, and cost-saving opportunities, giving you the ability to scale, and get creative with you as you deploy new ideas in your brand’s life cycle.
4. How does NRI cater to the diverse needs of different footwear brands?
We have found a balance among various sales channels serving clients with e-commerce, wholesale, retail, and a combination of all 3. Our expertise in the fulfillment of all channels allows us to help each brand uniquely. In addition to the core fulfillment functions, our 18+ facilities are each equipped with robust value-added services teams and solutions, as well as returns & refurbishment departments to help brands turn returns into cash quickly. We also work with many brands on their sustainability goals – helping with recycling, and redirection of waste materials.
5. In the realm of footwear logistics, what technologies and systems does NRI employ to enhance efficiency and visibility throughout the supply chain and delivery process?
NRI houses a Tier-1 software suite, Aspire. The robust inventory and operating system offers our clients live visibility at the SKU level at any point in time, FIFO tracking, the ability to segregate the same SKU into multiple virtual warehouses (for example: firsts vs seconds quality), and extensive custom reports. We leverage both 6RS/Ocado and Locus AMRs to aid in picking which speeds up throughput and helps in maintaining SLAs even in peak season.
6. What value-added services does NRI offer to ensure a seamless and positive customer experience?
We offer various outbound options such as pre-ticketing for wholesale, gift wrapping for e-commerce, insertion of marketing materials, and additional protective measures such as dust-bags. On the reverse logistics side, we handle services related to returns inclusive of inspection, cleaning, refurbishment, re-boxing, and more. Our VAS and returns services are not a distant second service. They both have prominence in all our facilities with dedicated full-time teams inclusive of supervisors and managers. Additional touches are part of our core offerings.
7. How does NRI stay on top of industry trends and changes (to better support footwear brands in a dynamic market)?
Before anything, we are brand fans, so we are always in tune with the footwear industry across sub-channels (fashion vs fitness, vs outdoor vs casual). We pay attention to what brands promise their customers so we can be prepared to help them deliver on those promises. From a legal standpoint, we pay attention to global trade rulings that may impact imports from certain countries or perhaps allow us to help brands optimize their supply chain and save money by guiding them on certain decisions. We are not just warehouse picking and packing, but experts who can offer many valuable insights based on nearly 30 years in North American footwear fulfillment.
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