Service is always in store.

Nov 10, 2003


What comes to mind when you hear the term "store fixture"?

You may think of glass cases agleam with new jewelry; the upright freezers at your neighborhood grocery where you find your favorite ice cream; or that unusual display that caught your eye last week in an upscale boutique.

According to the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers (NASFM), a store fixture is "any product used to hold or present a product or service in a retail environment." This includes everything from cases, counters and cabinets to gondolas, kiosks, racks, shelves, furniture, and on and on. In 1997, about 2,300 U.S. producers of these products generated an estimated $8.5 billion in associated revenue, a number that has since grown at an annual rate of 5 to 10 percent.

As big and diverse as the store fixture business is, there is one important constant: the need for adept logistics partners. By building a reputation for flexibility and reliability, Atlas is carving a niche as a preferred resource for many of today's most successful retailers.

Consistency Builds Trust

Gary Louderback, Vice President of Special Products with Ace World Wide in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, says the Atlas agency's involvement with store fixtures began in the late 1980s, partly in response to an exodus of electronics manufacturers from the region. Today, Ace nurtures relationships with some of the world's most esteemed designer brands and the retailers they supply.

As part of a total solution, the agency provides a system for inventory control that uses barcodes to monitor every item that comes in and goes out of the warehouse.

"We act as an arm of our client's shipping department," says Gary. "We transfer their inventory from the manufacturing facilities to our warehouse, and then we ship with their documentation attached to ours to ensure pinpoint delivery nationwide."

Crews provide assembly and light installation to give clients a complete service package. "We handle these things so our clients can stay focused on their business," says Gary.

Gary adds that meeting a client's expectations can be trickiest when time frames are compressed. "The last-minute aspect of this work is the most stressful. Sometimes we get a call an hour before a customer wants a truck. Or a truck en route to a destination may have to change directions."

Meeting challenges consistently, Gary believes, has made Ace Atlas a preferred logistics provider for its clients. But he adds that there are no guarantees. His team has to earn its stripes every day with competitive pricing and unfailing service.

"With the support of Atlas, we offer a consistent level of service other carriers may not. This helps us to develop trust with our partners. And trust enables our customers and us to depend on one another."

Added Value Equates to Added Satisfaction

Mark Smith, corporate transportation consultant with A. Walecka & Son, Inc. in West Wareham, Massachusetts, thinks dependability is the primary concern of customers.

"More and more, shippers have come to realize that van lines are much better suited than common carriers to provide the service needed to be successful," says Mark. "Reliability is the most important thing our clients are looking for, and they expect their logistics partners to adapt to whatever need they may have."

Mark has found that living up to expectations can pose challenges, especially when there is little advance notice of a shipment, or when unexpected delays occur in transit.

"Sometimes we encounter factors beyond our control, like the ice storms that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area last year. As a result of that incident, we now have a contract with one client that includes a provision for out-of-route miles to avoid such storms."

Mark and his team keep their preferred status with customers by adding value to service delivery. For example, the agency has earned a reputation for handling last-minute needs at destination, often taking on tasks normally outside the purview of a transportation provider.

"We may answer a call for some last-minute wiring by hiring an electrician, or we might install a mirror or set up the cash wrap," says Mark. "Or maybe the store has been open a short while when management notices a little detail, perhaps as an afterthought, that needs to be changed."

In addition to a can-do disposition, Mark says a new warehouse in Wareham is equipped with cameras to let customers view their inventory over the Internet.

"Now customers can see the inventory they have with us right on their computer screen. This allows a visual reassurance and provides a basic idea of such things as color and size. Our customers love this idea."

Networking Provides an Edge

Phil Wahl, Special Products Fleet Manager, manages an account from Atlas headquarters. He oversees the development and administration of logistical solutions for a clothing retailer's six brands that presently comprise some 3500 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

"Atlas provides a single resource for the account," says Phil. "They send us the schedule for store rollouts, and we act as a transportation resource manager to provide a total solution."

Initially, Phil notes, the client expressed a concern about whether Atlas had the capacity to handle the volume of its burgeoning businesses. For example, a rollout of 200 stores may have to be completed within a mere two weeks, with very specific hours for delivery.

"Capacity has not proven to be an issue," says Phil. "At any given time we may have 160 tractors on hand. But we have access to thousands of pieces through the Atlas system and our more than 400 agents. We have never been unable to find the capacity when we need it."

But it takes more than capacity to serve as a preferred logistics resource for a dynamic and growing retailer. "We have to stay open to ideas, open to finding new ways to get a job done," Phil contends. "You can't always rely on things that have worked in the past."

One important advantage for finding those solutions is the Atlas agent network itself. For example, Phil points to the ability to provide swift service locally with dock sweeps and warehousing.

"We have the agents and resources to help manufacturers get inventory out of their warehouses, which lets them free up needed space," Phil says. "This gives our service a competitive edge."

Just as Phil relies on the Atlas agent network, the agents too acknowledge the valuable role played by Atlas as part of a customer service team.

"Atlas does what they say they are going to do, which not only helps us keep customers, but win new ones," says Gary Louderback. "It's one thing to sell service at a certain price, but if you don't deliver the service, you won't have a customer for long. It's definitely a team effort.

"Atlas has grown as we've grown in this business, and that has only helped us," adds Mark Smith. "Atlas has a good reputation, and that goes hand-in-hand with the service we're trying to sell."




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