ArcNews Online

Winter 2005/2006

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Small Company Serving East Central Iowa Manages 200 Deliveries a Day

Apex Office Supply Delivers Products More Efficiently with GIS

  click to enlarge
Apex has reported significant improvements and savings by using ArcLogistics Route for its delivery routing.

Apex Office Supply is a small office supply company based in Vinton, Iowa. The company, created in 1996, serves east central Iowa, which has a population of approximately 300,000 and includes two major cities, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. Apex brings products, including copiers, fax machines, and general office supplies, to 1,500 active customers. To accomplish this, it has a delivery radius of approximately 45 miles, running five routes and performing approximately 200 deliveries a day.

When Apex first started, it was easy enough to process orders by hand. The driver manifest was printed after the orders were entered into the system, and it was then up to the drivers and delivery manager to decide how to organize the deliveries. As the company grew, this process took more time and meant sometimes the orders were not delivered in the most efficient manner. Drivers had to find their way to each address, taking time out of their delivery day and wasting fuel when lost. Apex realized it needed a more effective way to deliver its products if it was going to be cost efficient.

The owner, Kurt Karr, knew he needed a software program that would help him plan his delivery routes based on the location of customers. Says Karr, "I knew about Esri and its GIS products by reputation. I did some reading on its logistics package and thought it was the right choice for our company."

Then following a search for a contractor to assist, Apex contacted Pathfinder Logistics Solutions, Inc., an Esri Business Partner and a logistics company based in Springfield, Pennsylvania, to come out for a week and install ArcLogistics Route. "That's all it took," says Jason Hicok, director of Information Technology at Apex. "One week with Don Kushto of Pathfinder Logistics and we knew what we were doing with the product. It was nice to install and learn a software package that fit in so well with our standard business systems and to offer services to our customers that we had never considered before."

Apex uses the same standard office procedures to process delivery orders each day. The difference is that now, instead of placing delivery orders by hand, Apex has created a macro to run the GIS software to create routes and manifests after the company staff has left for the day. Each night, orders are transmitted to the GIS software after they are input into the computer. Routes are created by most optimum delivery, which is the routing of multiple vehicles within a fleet, with many stops, following logical business rules for the vehicles and stops. These business rules include such items as operating times, capacities, driver breaks, and operating costs. ArcLogistics Route also supports business rules for stops, such as order volume, time windows, service time, priority, and preallocation of stops to driver.

Invoices are then printed in order, along with driving instructions including the stop for each truck. "Computerizing our truck deliveries has made us redefine some of our business processes," says Hicok. "We are more efficient than ever."

  photo of a delivery
A delivery from Apex Office Supply (photo: Jim Mayhew).

Now Apex manages the number of vehicles, overtime pay, mileage, and time spent routing, while increasing productivity. The visualization capabilities of GIS also make vital information easily accessible. Visibility of vehicle locations, activities, and costs allows the company to analyze operations quickly and accurately.

Even the process of loading the trucks has become more efficient. Part of the truck loading process is scanning bar codes on the packages that come from their distributor. These bar codes also correspond to the solution presented to Apex by the software. When these orders are scanned, the computer uses voice commands to tell the delivery personnel which truck the scanned package belongs to for that particular day. If there is an error in the scan, the system sounds an alarm to notify the delivery personnel to correct the problem and get the package on the correct truck. Part of the process then is to print out load sheets for the drivers to tell them, in order of delivery, exactly how many items and what styles (box, tube, flat, pack) of items they have for individual stops. Drivers can now find and load products more efficiently.

Apex has reported significant improvements and savings by using a computerized logistics software application for its delivery routing. Comparing the same time period of the previous year before using the software, the company has reduced fuel usage by 4.3 percent, saved 18 percent in labor hours, and cut out 7.4 percent other hours as nonproductive.

The real power of the software is shown when deliveries cannot be made on a day due to inclement weather or other unforeseen problems. Instead of laboriously rerouting all deliveries by hand, the system can easily reroute and include these deliveries in the next day's shipment. "As with any company, we are driven by our customers," says Hicok. "If there is a way to meet our customers' demands, we want to know about it. Routing our trucks has really saved us by helping us meet customer expectations."

Even tough critics like the delivery drivers have come to trust the software. Karr explains that when ArcLogistics Route was first implemented, the drivers were invited to beat the software. "Instead of forcing them to follow the software's manifest, we let them experiment on the computer with attempts to beat the system. They would make changes, then look to the system for the cost difference. They rarely won."

Hicok explains that before this new process, the drivers would count packages before placing them on the truck. "Now, they load according to manifest, saving time. They have no issues with the software, and they trust it."

Apex is confident that expanding its delivery organization can be accommodated easily with the software. "We've been discussing the possibility of adding an off-site delivery facility, a place for a dock and a truck other than at this store," says Hicok. "Adding this to the software application will be easy. It will just be an additional truck with a different start/stop point than the rest of the trucks."

Organizations with large fleets of vehicles have realized significant return on investment by using GIS for fleet management. Such increased efficiency is no longer limited to Fortune 500-sized organizations, as witnessed by Apex. The market has expanded, allowing more small organizations to use GIS-based tools for fleet management assistance. As functionality increases and costs decrease, more organizations will reap significant benefits.

For more information, contact Jason Hicok, Apex Office Supply (e-mail:

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