Efficiency is an important part of any business model. As businesses and territories continue to expand their reach and value-added capabilities, they also are looking for ways to ensure that the growth is done efficiently. With the opening of a 605,000-square-foot facility in Cicero, Ill., Wirtz Beverage Illinois, a division of Chicago-based Wirtz Beverage Group, is looking to add value and efficiency for its customers in the Chicagoland area and beyond.

“The new facility serves as Wirtz Beverage Illinois’ hub for sales, wine and spirits distribution, and training programs,” says Julian Burzynski, senior vice president of Wirtz Beverage Illinois. “It is home to 1,000 Illinois employees who have relocated to our Cicero location, condensing our operations in Schaumburg, Wood Dale, Bensenville and Elk Grove Village.

“We think this will bring significant improvements to our organizational culture and operational efficiencies,” he continues. “From our sales, marketing and training programs to our facilities, equipment and infrastructure, it’s taking everything we do and bringing it together under one roof.”

Sizable changes

The two-story facility features corporate offices, conference centers, training facilities and 500,000 square feet of warehouse space, including 25,000 square feet for a temperature-controlled wine storage facility.

“The new [warehouse] can hold 2.5 million cases with the ability for expansion,” says Arthur Wirtz, vice president of operations with Wirtz Beverage Illinois. “It consolidates the company’s Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Wood Dale and Bensenville facilities, which collectively could store 1.6 million cases.”

Wirtz notes that overall, the new facility is a decrease in square footage compared to the combined space from the separate metro buildings it operated out of previously, but it is utilizing its space by scaling upward. The Cicero facility features 45-foot-high ceilings with 42 feet of clear space.

“We’re able to use the total volume and total cube of the building, and you’ll see the racking will go all the way up to the ceiling,” he says. “We’re utilizing everything from a technology standpoint to maximize that footprint.”

The warehouse also features 16 loading docks with the ability to expand to 20, and 19 receiving docks to service the 137 statewide delivery trucks.

Currently still operating out of five metro buildings, Wirtz Beverage Illinois will transition daily operations to the new building in late August or early September.

Top-notch capabilities

In order to ensure a seamless integration of the separate Wirtz Beverage Illinois offices, the company has invested in a number of capabilities including the Illinois division’s first automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS).

“Along with additional pick modules, AS/RS storage and security cameras, the new facility features significant technological advancements such as the latest computers, software and video equipment, to name a few,” Wirtz says.

Featuring both a pick module and AS/RS, Wirtz Beverage Illinois uses hybrid storage and retrieval operations to accommodate the numerous SKUs it houses. The AS/RS will be used to house the company’s top 900 SKUs.

“Typically, [with] AS/RS you might use that just for storage, but here we have storage and pick modules integrated in the racking,” Wirtz says. “… We kind of look at the warehouse as a hybrid; we’ve got theAS/RS, the high-density storage and picking, but then we have more of our traditional pick modules and pallet racking, which will take care of the balance of the 7,000 SKUs that we would have, so that’s more of the look and feel of what we do today from a replenishment standpoint and just everyday workload.”

Wirtz adds that it’s all about getting the cases delivered efficiently, accurately and on time to its customers.

“The warehouse has 39 shipping and receiving bays linked to a computerized conveyor system that sorts and moves cases for delivery,” he says. “We are able to process 10,000 cases per hour. By using a single, automated location, we slash the number of times a case is handled from as many as 15 to just twice. All in all, every technology, every decision was done with our customers in mind.”

Wirtz Beverage Illinois also uses a range of systems and processes for the housing and distribution of its SKUs.

“Warehouse operations are tied into the company-wide [enterprise resource planning (ERP)] system to facilitate product tracking, order tracking and inter-warehouse transfers,” Wirtz says. “All of our warehouse operations are managed by a warehouse management system (WMS). Case pick modules are linked to the WMS for order picking and products are slotted within the modules by the optimization application.

“All of our products are then tracked by assigning unique identifiers to each pallet or case that enters the warehouse and logging this number into the warehouse location assigned to the product,” he continues.

The company applies that same focus on efficiency to its route delivery. Delivery routing and tracking are controlled processes that feature global positioning system-enabled mobile phones for all drivers. The mobile phones are tied into the Roadnet System for improved tracking and route efficiency, Wirtz says.

“Throughout each step, observations are used to evaluate the compliance of all operations,” he adds. “Each point person is trained on the steps and monitored routinely to ensure accuracy, top-of-the-line service and efficiency.”

New training grounds

With a state-of-the-art warehouse to store and distribute its thousands of SKUs, Wirtz Beverage Illinois applied that same innovative spirit to its training facility dubbed the Alchemy Room. At 4,000 square feet, the Alchemy Room features a full-service bar and kitchen to provide a number of value-added opportunities for Wirtz Beverage Illinois customers and partners in the industry.

“The Alchemy Room provides significant added value to our partners,” Burzynski says. “It has a massive granite-topped bar, full-service kitchen, 150-inch LED video screens and high-tech multimedia system controlled by iPads. It is a cutting-edge space like none other.”

Eric Hay, beverage development manager for Wirtz Beverage Illinois, notes that the Alchemy Room offers customers notable advantages.

One example is allowing a new bar or restaurant’s on-site mixologist to come and develop signature cocktails, which he or she might not be able to do at their new location because of construction, he says.

“We can offer this space to them in that capacity so they come and do drink development, use our spirits to come up with cocktails and things like that,” Hay says. “Once they get that all dialed in and they figure out where they need to be for their program, they can invite their entire staff in here and train them.

“What it ends up doing for us is it allows them to get ahead of the game in a natural environment,” he continues. “You’d normally have to do that in your space once it’s erected and ready to be worked in, and until then you’re borrowing space somewhere else or just not doing it. This allows them to get ahead of the curve because that way once they’re ready to go, the bar and restaurant are in place and licensing is done, they can really walk in and say, ‘Hey we’re ready to go; we did all this over at Wirtz.’”

For bars and restaurants that don’t have a designated mixologist, Wirtz Beverage Illinois gives them the opportunity to work with Hay for cocktail development.

“I would create their drink program; I would develop cocktails and then I would have their staff in after the cocktail program has been accepted by the owners to their liking and we would train their staff on how to make these new drinks,” Hay says.

Hay also notes that for established bars and restaurants that do have a designated mixologist, the Alchemy Room can be utilized for beverage development by escaping the day-to-day demands of an establishment.

Beyond the spirit side, the Alchemy Room also can be an opportunity for restaurants and bars to test tasting flights for wine or explore food and wine pairings by utilizing the full-service kitchen.

The space also can be used internally for special event gatherings such as a product launch, cocktail competitions, recipe tastings, educational seminars and training, Wirtz notes.

Wirtz Beverage Group also has a similar training facility at its Wirtz Beverage Nevada division; however, because of its recent introduction, the Wirtz Beverage Illinois Alchemy Room features some upgrades.

“We’re a few years into the future with things available that they didn’t have back then, so we took advantage of every opportunity to make sure we had the latest and greatest,” Hay says.

But the Alchemy Room isn’t the only training facility that the Illinois division features.

“Our training facility has separate training rooms for each of our divisions,” Burzynski says. “We have three major divisions in our company — Regal, Spectrum and Alliance — and then all of those facilities are equipped with sound and video and the acoustics are really good, so that is a big advantage with the training tables and the seating.”

Employee focused

Although much of the Cicero facility was designed with Wirtz Beverage Illinois’ customers in mind, the company also offers some value-added amenities for its employees.

“This is really an employee-centric building,” Burzynski says.

The facility includes a full gym and locker rooms complete with showering facilities.

Employees also can take advantage of the company café, which can accommodate 55 to 60 people, Wirtz says. The café also features outdoor patio seating.

Wirtz Beverage Illinois also took into account its employees when it designed its offices. Knowing that on Thursdays and Fridays the division’s district managers would be in the office, they designed the area to accommodate that additional traffic on the lower level, while the upper level houses customer service, finance, information technology, sales management as well as marketing and trade development teams, Burzynski notes.

By combining all of Wirtz Beverage Illinois’ facilities into one location, Burzynski thinks this will reinforce a unified culture among its employees.

 “When you walk through the building, you’re seeing sales reps and account managers, everyone, and I think that helps reinforce our culture and our identity as a group much more in this one building,” he says. BI