When hurricane season arrives, meteorologists and those living along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts rely on sophisticated data tracking and expert monitoring to stay informed and keep safe. To keep pace with an explosive number of SKUs, the beverage industry avoids the “eye of the storm” by equipping field staff with handheld technology and streamlined direct store delivery (DSD) solutions to capture data, track vehicle locations and improve productivity.

Derek Curtis, vice president of sales at Minneapolis-based HighJump, notes that the large volume of data required to effectively manage field operations is far too significant to rely on memory or manual, paper-based solutions.

“Customers want a depth of portfolio worthy of their attention,” Curtis says. “Distributors need efficient operations to meet daily demands. This has led to an increased adoption of mobile solutions across multiple functional areas, such as presales, delivery, data collection, merchandising, etc.

“… A good solution goes beyond managing the memory portion of the SKU portfolio and starts to actively assist the sales cycle with suggested products, quantities or promotion alerts,” he continues. “With readily available and affordable mobile devices to leverage and cloud deployments providing [software as a service] (SaaS) price models, the biggest change is the availability of solutions to smaller-scale operations that can now afford to participate.”

The proliferation of brands and products on store shelves also has made distribution much more complex, says Brian Beans, route and transportation solution specialist at Brother Mobile Solutions, Westminster, Colo.

“Whether loading trucks at the bottling plant or warehouse, or delivering orders to individual stores, drivers responsible for DSD need to plan routes more strategically to ensure delivery of the right products to the right place at the right time,” Beans says. “This has led to widespread adoption of route management and DSD software solutions designed to automate and coordinate warehouse and DSD delivery processes using handheld mobile devices and compact mobile printers.”

He adds that competition, fast processing speeds, a timely and accurate accounting trail, and the consumerization of handheld mobile communications technology are further driving the adoption of DSD software, smart handheld devices and mobile printers.

“As part of their duties, drivers must be prepared to issue a receipt upon delivery and to take new orders,” he explains. “With freshness-dated products, they must also be able to be ready to process any returns for products that have fallen out of date.”

Safety and updates to barcode technology are further driving the efficiency of DSD operations, says Scott Deakins, chief operating officer at Deacom Inc., Chesterbook, Pa.

He points to the addition of GS1-128 barcodes, which capture multiple pieces of information, such as the master lot “license plate number” and shelf-life requirements, into a single, encoded barcode that tracks a pallet’s multiple SKUs, lot numbers and the products’ expiration dates with a single scan, Deakins says.

“When it is scanned through the DSD application, the system determines if the shelf-life requirements of the customer are being met,” he explains. “Utilizing these GS1-128 barcodes improves the accuracy of deliveries, and for companies leveraging master lots with license plate numbers, makes them much more efficient.

“… Additionally, the proliferation and advancement of mobile phone technology has expanded DSD capabilities,” he continues. “The marriage of a mobile phone to a barcode scanner provides the driver with all they need to complete their route.”

A competitive advantage

Matt Talbot, chief executive officer and co-founder of Denver-based GoSpotGo, highlights the role that DSD software plays in marketing and promotions. 

“With trends like flavored whiskey on the rise, brands need to know exactly which competitors are coming out with similar products in real time,” Talbot explains. “Historically, businesses have spent vast amounts of money on in-store collateral without any way of telling how well it’s being executed. With DSD systems, businesses now have intel into how well their product is doing on- and off-premise. They also garner insight regarding successful displays and promotions from competitors that they are able to leverage in the future.

“In addition, DSD software has changed the way beverage brands market their products,” he continues. “The craft movement specifically relies on organic marketing pushes and field teams as opposed to billboards and commercials. With DSD, budding breweries can now map back to exactly what’s working and what’s not to ensure they get the most out of their marketing spend.”

Vehicle geo positioning also is becoming a requirement, according to Optimus Managing Director Hector Negron. “Yes, a vehicle GPS captures where a vehicle is, but the DSD time and transaction stamps can be mapped on top of Google or Bing maps, enabling managers to see the history of the route, where stops were made, what was sold, inventory balance, etc.”

The Miami-based company offers Laceup, a subscription-based licensing model that runs connected or disconnected on iOS, Android and Windows, and facilitates the management of routes, sales, inventory and collections, Negron says.

“We allow try-and-buy, and we help install the software so clients can test in their environments,” he says. “Subscription pricing allows customers to pay a monthly fee that includes the rights to the software, support, maintenance and future versions. So, the old model where clients needed a very large cash outlay to spread over multi-year ROIs is a thing of the past.”

To foster greater communication and responsiveness to customer-driven deadlines, companies are releasing system enhancements in the DSD handheld space. For example, Deacom now offers inventory staging, onsite returns, and end-of-day reports with information on orders, inventory, payments and more, Deakins says.

GoSpotGo offers GoSpotCheck, an easy-to-use, all-encompassing handheld solution in which field teams can access product catalogues and information on the road, making data-driven decision-making easier, Talbot says. Available on iOS and Android operating systems with full offline capabilities, the program includes varying task types, such as count, date, multiple choice, price, scale and signature task, the ability to assign people or teams to locations, and business intelligence capabilities for advanced logic filtering and data sharing.

Highlighting the individual ways in which businesses sell and handle information, New York-based Handshake’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Elmgreen says companies should choose a software provider and hardware to meet current and future needs. They also should carefully consider how the software will be integrated into existing systems, he notes.

“Do they have experience integrating with [enterprise resource planning] (ERP), [warehouse management systems] (WMS) and CRM systems,” Elmgreen asks. “Beverage distributors typically run a variety of different systems, each with their own unique customizations.

“…. Adopting DSD software and mobile solutions gives reps important knowledge at their fingertips, improves accuracy and provides distributors with better insight into sales rep activity through customer visit notes, surveys, photos and GPS monitoring,” he continues. “It’s a win-win for everyone.” BI