Richard Eaton, vice president, fulfillment services of Highlights for Children, and Tom Kirkham, senior consultant for ESYNC International, spoke to Catalog Success a few weeks before Highlights planned to go live with a new warehouse management system (WMS).
Like many catalogers, Highlights for Children’s product-fulfillment operation contends with several distribution channels and myriad product types. Highlights’ in-house distribution center handles fulfillment for three divisions:
- Highlights Catalog, a traditional children’s products catalog;
- Highlights Jigsaw, an educational toy and book supplier offering products through home parties similar to the Tupperware model; and
- a third division that sells business-to-business (b-to-b) educational products.
(Fulfillment for the Highlights for Children magazine is done at a separate location.)
As is the case for many distribution operations, Highlights must deal with different product types and packing configurations, as well as widely differing order cycles. The b-to-b division ships primarily books, a straightforward product that can be packed and shipped using a standard set of carton sizes. Highlights Catalog, on the other hand, sells everything from books to games to pogo sticks. The company’s new WMS had to be able to integrate well with all three divisions, as well as its other in-house accounting and manifest systems. In all, the new system had to interface with five other existing systems.
Time to Make a Change
Highlights had been operating on a home-grown system since 1992. But in 2000 executives recognized their operation would outgrow the system in as little as two years. Says Eaton, “Our DOS-based system quickly was becoming inadequate. We were experiencing frequent system slowdowns and lockups due to high processing volumes.”
Eaton says Highlights originally considered rewriting the current software with similar functionality on a more robust platform. But after looking at the particulars of its expanding and complex fulfillment operation, he says, “It became clear that solution would not meet our needs long term.”