Neuville Socks it to Wal-Mart, Sears and Meijer — on time.

Neuville Industries (Hildebran, NC) was having trouble getting complete customer orders out on time. One of the largest makers of socks in the US, family owned and operated Neuville produces socks for such household names as Wrangler Hero™, TimberCreek™, Starter™, Keds® and Dickies® for sale in major retailers including Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Sears, Meijer and Fred Meyer. As partners with these industry leaders, Neuville designs and knits some of the hottest (and coolest) socks in the marketplace — some including innovative features like dirt-resistant and odor-reducing socks for athletics, casual wear and work.

Neuville’s customer orders tend to be large and complex, with many line items (sizes, styles and colors) and rather stringent customer requirements. Getting everything together at the right time is not easy. “It used to take about thirty minutes to 'peg' an order,” says Mike Grandstaff, who runs Neuville's scheduling department. “Chasing down all the items and checking their status, drilling down, took a lot of time and manpower.” Imagine having an order with several hundred line items scheduled to ship tomorrow and trying to determine if all items are either in-hand or to be completed today. Although an ERP system, BPCS in this case, will readily schedule everything and warn of shortages, it doesn't make it easy to find the important needles in the haystack of orders and line items — those (perhaps few) items that might delay an entire shipment.

One of Neuville's employees, Denise Shelton in the purchasing department, had previous experience with a software add-on called OTTO that incorporates a technique for finding the critical items/orders/activities quickly and easily. Denise suggested that Neuville might benefit from what OTTO had to offer.

“We were struggling with scheduling issues,” says company president Jeff Neuville, “trying to understand order requirements. We tried OTTO and found it very useful. It cut down dramatically on labor-intensive reports and searching for information. OTTO eliminated the manual part (of retrieving this information) and told us immediately where we were 100% covered and where things were missing – and what we had to do to satisfy customer requirements.”

“It was a smooth implementation,” he adds. “We saw benefits within two weeks.”

There's a certain amount of seasonality in the sock business with 'back to school' time as the busiest part of the year. “Especially at these busy times,” Mike Grandstaff explains, “it was like we threw all the papers on the floor and turned off the lights. With OTTO it was like somebody turned the lights back on — and then some.”

Neuville bought OTTO as a scheduling tool but soon found that it helped in other ways. OTTO allowed the company to quickly pinpoint problems and take action before they caused late shipments. It was also a great tool for improving customer service. “We could give customer service an accurate date — or warn them if we were going to miss a date — before the customer called asking 'where's my order?'” according to Grandstaff. “We could also confirm a promise date earlier than we could before and with much less time and effort to dig out the information.”

By identifying upcoming problems before they happen, Neuville has been able to prevent those last-minute unpleasant surprises and greatly improve on-time shipping performance.

“We hold a scheduling meeting twice each week,” explains Grandstaff, “with all the managers and supervisors. Everybody comes into that meeting with their OTTO reports. We can get right to specifics and not waste time trying to figure out what we have to do.”

And it's not only the managers that have come to rely on OTTO: “We use it on the shop floor at the department level, and the schedulers use it at the item level.” OTTO gathers data that already exists within the MRP/ERP system, moves it into a separate workspace (data warehouse), and identifies all the relationships between items, orders and the customer requirements they support. This relational data is then made available through a series of action-oriented reports and inquiry screens that instantly show where attention should be focused.

Any technology investment is only as good as the business benefits it helps provide. Jeff Neuville has this to say about his company's investment in OTTO: “Due to the enhanced visibility that OTTO provides us in understanding our customers' order requirements, we've been able to improve our plant throughput time by 20% in the last year. We have also integrated OTTO into our inventory reduction process, where we have reduced our on-hand inventory by 25% while keeping on-time shipments in the 96% to 100% range. Payback is the name of the game and OTTO paid for itself within six months through on-time shipments and efficiency improvements in our planning and scheduling areas.”