Sportsman's Warehouse - Wireless
Winning With Wireless: A dynamic wireless network offers real-time inventory management for outdoor retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse
You might not expect Sportsman’s Warehouse, Utah’s premier hunting, fishing, and camping retailer, to be headquartered on a street called High Tech Drive. But the street name is not the only high-tech thing about Sportsman’s Warehouse. You should see the company’s distribution center.
From the outside, the West Jordan distribution center—located about 10 miles southwest of the Midvale corporate offices—seems like nothing special. Just another 364,000 sq. ft. warehouse packed wall-to-wall with fishing poles, camouflage outerwear, rifles, and sleeping bags.
But underlying (or rather overlying) all that outdoor gear is a dynamic wireless network designed by Mountain States Networking
that enables just 250 Sportsman’s Warehouse employees to shelve, pick, and
distribute 150,000 product SKUs for 64 retail locations in 29 states nationwide.
“The average is about 50,000 SKUs per store,” says Brent Dillon, Network Services Manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse. “So you can see that that’s very regional. Each store will carry the products that are specific to that area, depending on what kinds of hunting and fishing go on there.”
The goal of the distribution center is to keep each individual store stocked with the right seasonal and regional merchandise at the right times (hunting season, fishing season, Father’s Day, Christmas). Inventory managers don’t want items in stock too early, occupying expensive warehouse space, or too late, resulting in missed seasonal opportunities.
“We don’t want huge amounts of excess inventory sitting in here not being sold,” Dillon says. “That costs us money. The faster we can turn inventory, the cheaper it is for us.” The timing has to be perfect. And thanks to a smart wireless solution put together by the Sportsman’s Warehouse IT department and the engineers at Mountain States Networking, it is.
Before Mountain States’ involvement, the wireless system was static in its strength and reach. This inflexibility caused problems in a building where the inventory adjusts daily: one week an aisle might be stocked with Dutch ovens, but the next week it will hold floor-to-ceiling canoes. The old wireless access points couldn’t react to the changing dynamics of the building, resulting in both coverage gaps and signal overlap.
The purpose of these wireless access points is to collect and relay signals from the radio frequency guns (RF guns) that warehouse employees use as they travel from aisle to aisle, “pick sheets” in hand, scanning items that need to be removed from inventory and shipped out to stores. The data from the RF guns must then be routed back to headquarters, where buyers and replenishment planners use it in making purchasing decisions.
“The old system wasn’t moving dynamically like we needed it to,” Dillon says. “Plus, these guys were getting kicked off of their RF guns every day. They’d get to an area and lose connectivity and have to sign
back in, and that cost time. Now, they can get stuff out a lot quicker,
because they’re not constantly losing connectivity.”
To set up the new system, Mark Richardson from Mountain States Networking spent two and a half hours walking every aisle in the distribution center, carefully mapping every square inch of space on his Tablet PC. “The guy is brilliant when it comes to wireless,” Dillon says.
Using a state-of-the-art mapping program, Richardson figured out exactly where to place the 75 new wireless access points and how to space out the eight network cabinets mounted high in the rafters, which contain switches that route the collected data to the onsite date center, which is connected to corporate via a DS3 line.
“The way that we set it up, it’s very, very dense as far as the number of access points,” Dillon says. “We also put in wireless controllers back at corporate that control every access point in our entire company.”
The wireless controllers automatically adjust to problems like signal overlap and signal blockage, which is usually due to shifting inventory (like mountains of impenetrable canoes). And they’re constantly adjusting. “It does it all automatically,” Dillon says.
With less network downtime, complete wireless coverage, and faster information relay back to corporate, Sportsman’s Warehouse buyers and replenishment planners can now keep an eye on inventory in real time. This makes for happy corporate buyers, happy local store managers, and ultimately, happy customers. And the warehouse employees are happier too. “They’ve seen a huge increase in the coverage. They don’t get disconnected from the servers—it’s just very solid now,” Dillon says.
Sportsman’s Warehouse has a tagline—“The Great Indoors for people who love the Great Outdoors”—that could also be applied to the big warehouse that keeps all 64 “little” warehouse stores fully stocked. The technology implemented in the great indoors allows Sportsman’s Warehouse to provide unparalleled service and selection
to outdoor enthusiasts nationwide. “And it would be impossible to do this without the system we put in with Mountain States Networking,” Dillon says.
With one solid wireless inventory management system in place, the IT team at Sportsman’s Warehouse can look to the future with confidence. They have plans to roll out another state-of-the-art wireless network in a second, larger distribution center to be built in Kansas, which will service all store locations east of the Rocky Mountains. And the guys on High Tech Drive have the vision and the know-how to make it happen.