Beaver Street Fisheries is the prototypical manual-labor shop. Tons of clams, lobster, alligator, octopus and other exotica, from coastal waters in over 50 countrieshard-won catches of hard-edged fishermen and huntersroll in and out of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company's distribution site every day, to be carried by trucks, planes and ships to customers around the world. Beaver Street's more than 400 workers orchestrate a huge and noisy assembly line producing pallets of individually wrapped items for retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and bulk shipments for restaurants. Until recently, very little about Beaver Street's operation gave off the slightest whiff of high technology.
That changed last year, when Wal-Mart issued a much-publicized mandate requiring that by January 2005, its 100 biggest suppliers place radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on most cases and pallets shipped to three of its Dallas-area warehouses. Beaver Street, with $500 million in annual sales, is hardly on Wal-Mart's A-list, but that didn't stop CIO Howard Stockdale from trying to meet the retailer's demand sooner rather than later. As he saw it, the mandate provided Beaver Street with a huge opportunity to cozy up to a customer with more shelf space and deeper pockets than anyone elseand to get there before the competition.
So far the strategy is working. Beaver Street has already spent upward of $75,000 to build a beta system that will test inventory management using RFID equipment. Electronic readers stationed at loading and receiving docks in Jacksonville scan incoming deliveries and outgoing shipments for RFID tags that identify the contents of pallets and then send the data to Beaver Street's ERP program. Once perfected, the system will produce detailed, up-to-the- second reports about which items are in-house and which orders are on their way to retailers.
The system is still experimental, but Beaver Street is racing to have it fully running by next year, perhaps even by Wal-Mart's deadline. Its efforts have caught the attention of the giant retailer, which regularly invites Beaver Street executives to its RFID brainstorming sessions, where they get to rub shoulders with such supplier superstars as Procter & Gamble Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Unilever and Kimberly-Clark Corp.
"We want to nurture and grow our business with Wal-Mart, and one way to do that is to prove that a medium-size business like ours can be just as innovative as a big, wealthy company," says Stockdale. "We also can automate manual tasks with RFID and deliver greater velocity through the supply chain and better inventory management by always knowing where our shipments are."