How Nelson Schoenen optimised four logistical streams with just one machine

Added on March 27th 2019
Nelson Schoenen BV, with its 140 stores (90 proprietary stores and 50 brand stores), is one of the largest shoe retailers in the Netherlands. A central warehouse in Hoofddorp is responsible for supplying all these stores – as well as for stocking the online channels. In this case study, logistics coordinator Arjan Boonstra explains how Nelson Schoenen optimised the logistical processes in this warehouse with the help of an OptiSorter sorting machine.
In 2011, Nelson Schoenen moved to new premises in Hoofddorp. A great opportunity to overhaul the logistical processes, declares Boonstra, who joined the family business at that point: “Our logistics operation consists of four main streams: cross-docking new goods, store replenishments in response to sales, inter-store traffic and return flows from the stores. All these logistical processes now go through our sorting machine.”
Process 1: cross-docking new goods (processing purchase orders)
“When a lorry carrying purchased goods is unloaded here, the sorting machine already knows from the purchase order exactly what’s coming in and which store it needs to go to, right down to the article/colour/size level. Bear in mind that all this used to be done entirely manually. Bought goods would be laid out based on article, colour and size. And after that there would still be counting to do as well as applying stickers and dividing up into stores.”
“Our sorting machine has 146 exit points. At each of these exits there is one roller container in place for one store. There are also warehouse exits where stock for the online channels is sorted. So, we process the incoming stock for both online and the brick-and-mortar stores using this one machine. At the same time, the sorting machine also serves as a counting machine. This means that any mistakes can be corrected immediately.”
Process 2: store replenishments (batch picking)
“In the past, order picking for replenishment was done entirely on a store-by-store basis,” continues Boonstra. “In our three-storey warehouse, an order picker had to start on the ground floor and work his way up to the third floor. All just to replenish the stock of one store.”
And now? “Now all the replenishments for all the stores are heaped together in the system, which translates them into pick orders at product level. This means that an order picker only has to go down one aisle to grab, say, 100 pairs of shoes there. He places everything on the sorting machine and this sends it all to the right exits for the stores. It is a much more efficient process, even during peaks. Three times a year we hold VIP promotions, and then you’re talking about thousands of pairs.” Can you imagine what that would mean for staffing levels if you still had to do all that manually?”
Process 3: inter-store traffic
Inter-store traffic is really important to Nelson, stresses Boonstra: “We do this a lot and we’re very good at it. Because each of our stores has its own pre-programmed exit in the sorting machine, we can process exchanges just as quickly as incoming goods.”
He explains how such a rapid exchange works: “Our stores are on either a Monday-Wednesday-Friday route or a Tuesday-Thursday route. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the driver arrives back from his route and unloads the collected pairs in our warehouse. And in the evening they go into the sorting machine. This enables us to move any pair of shoes from store A to store B within one to two days at any time of the week.”
Process 4: return flows
The arrival of the sorting machine also meant a complete overhaul for return logistics at Nelson Schoenen, says Boonstra: “In the past, stores had to scan their returns out at the checkout first before sending them back to our warehouse in a container. We then had to check these containers manually before we could then store them by article, colour and size. When seasons changed, this would keep five employees busy for some four to five months.”
“By using our sorting machine we can funnel all the returns from 140 stores easily according to article, colour and size, enabling us to store them quickly and easily. The stores no longer have to scan returns themselves. All they have to do now is hand the boxes to our driver in a container. We automatically book everything out from the store and into the warehouse. As a result, we have reduced the processing time from five months to five weeks. And that just on one day a week. Despite processing almost twice as many returns as before!”
The main benefits
“Speed and capacity” is how Boonstra sums up the main advantages of the sorting machine. “Shoe retail is a seasonal business, so peak capacity is very important. During busy periods we can now process 20,000 pairs of shoes in one day if we need to in terms of new goods, inter-store traffic and replenishments. You can do so much more with fewer people on the warehouse floor.”
The investment in a sorting machine has also delivered a boost to quality, he concludes: “In the past, with the manual, store-oriented order picking approach, it would take us two days to notice picking discrepancies. Now it takes less than an hour, so you can correct them immediately. No, we could not go back. In any case, I can’t imagine managing the stock of 140 stores in the old manner still. In that respect, our sorting machine has become the heart of our logistical processes.”

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