Problem
Updating an antiquated distribution system

Solution
A system that tracks packages and finds the cheapest way to ship them

Payoff
Reduced costs, efficient tracking, and a shipping-error rate of less than 1%

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In 1989, when Tanya Seckinger became controller of the Atlanta gourmet biscuit maker, the Seckinger Lee Co. (her sister, Beverly, is a co-owner with Lee Bufford), one of her biggest challenges was dealing with an antiquated distribution system. Though the company had grown from shipping 40 cases of biscuits a day to shipping more than 700, the shipping department was still doing everything by hand. It took two people working 8- to 10-hour days to log in orders. Eventually, even UPS told the company it was crazy not to automate.

Seckinger and the company's shipping manager decided to look at shipping systems ("We wanted a pc, not just a computerized scale") and finally chose the TanData Parcel Manifest System (TanData, 800-TAN-DATA). At a cost of about $5,000, the system included a 286 PC (which has since been upgraded to a 486), a scale, and software. Using information provided by various transport companies, the system searches for the cheapest way to ship packages; it also produces reports instantly and eliminates the hundreds of pages of tracking information that had made searching for lost packages a three-hour ordeal. Just months after the new system was installed, Seckinger Lee's shipping-error rate had plummeted from 10% to less than 1%.

Seckinger also is able to see how much inventory is shipped to paying customers and to potential ones. She was shocked, she says, when she realized how much money was going into shipping samples and promotional materials to potential customers, without anyone's having determined just how much potential those customers had.

Now, with sales of about $2.8 million and shipments of more than 1,000 cases of biscuits a day, Seckinger Lee plans to upgrade its system, probably to TanData's Progistics, which not only interfaces with many financial and inventory software packages but also allows users to choose shipping options from among 75 carriers.

-- Sarah Schafer