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    Advancement Continues

    CSNews follows up with R.H. Foster as it upgrades its technology on the way to item-level inventory.

    In December 2004, Convenience Store News reported on R.H. Foster’s implementation of Factor’s pricebook solution, which was centralized at headquarters and completed in 2003. The company had also just begun scanning at its stores.

    How is the company doing today? It is scanning products into the store on the receiving end as well as at the register in all locations -- 10 Mobil On The Run and nine R.H. Foster One Step -- and is starting to use EDI invoicing with it’s largest supplier, McLane Co.

    "We are heading toward item-level inventory so we can track each item," said Lynn Combs, controller at R.H. Foster. "With our old system from TMI, if we had a shortage in cigarettes, we would know cigarettes were missing, but not which type, and Factor's new StoreTrak system will allow us to get there."

    The new software is Web-based and "more tailored to each store," according to Combs. Installed in July, it accepts EDI invoicing, which is sent out and accepted at the home office, and prices all items for each store.

    "We have seven stores up and running EDI with McLane, and once we complete that, we will look at adding other vendors," said Combs.
    The reason behind the two-year wait? The company was "on hold" for Factor to introduce it’s first proprietary back office system, StoreTrak.

    "We knew Factor was working on a module that would let us get further on our goal than we were able to with TMI," noted Combs. "We also use ExecuTrak for our general ledger, and BankTrak, both from Factor and housed at the headquarters."

    StoreTrak now allows the company to do a number of things that were previously impossible, such as creating shelf tags for ordering via handheld devices from McLane, explained Combs. And while TMI could not accept alphanumeric invoice numbers, "driving vendors crazy because we could only use numeric invoices, so they made them up and then nothing would match," StoreTrak fixed this problem. "It was a huge issue for us to try and pay our vendors."

    The new Web-based module also allows for real-time information and a historical log. "Before, we would lose data after 30 days," said Combs. "Now we can create customized reports, and both store managers and sales audit in accounting can access the system using a username and password, where it used to be accessible only to headquarters staff."

    The system also saves time for store managers. "If you were an experienced manager, you daily work would take a half hour and now it only takes 10 minutes," noted Combs. "And if you are not experienced with the system, or not computer literate, the time went from three hours to an hour and a half. It’s a big step for us because managers were always complaining about the amount of time they have away from the floor."

    Factor assisted in the first install, and R.H. Foster took over for the remainder of the stores. "In July, we picked one store, and they took us through the install," said Combs. "They ironed out all the bugs, and then we moved forward. We should have it all done by February."

    The company also sent one experienced store manager to be trained by Factor, and now she has been training other store mangers on the new system. "She stays for the first week with the manger, and they also get two days of instruction at the corporate office along with a manual," she explained.

    Since July, the company already upgraded to StoreTrak version 2.0, and the next step is getting down to item-level inventory, said Combs.

    "Moving towards item-level is an operations decision," she said. "We want better control over our shrink because it has gotten out of control. We tried to move this way with TMI, and we had roadblocks. Factor is responding to the industry and has allowed us to integrate all of our systems together."

    Stay tuned.

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