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New Balance Stepping Up Its Use of RFID

With its first RFID deployment complete, the maker of athletic shoes and clothing is testing whether the technology can improve operations inside New Balance retail outlet stores.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 23, 2007Sales jobs are tough, and when salespeople can't keep track of the things they're selling, the task can become exasperating. But today, the sales representatives who work for New Balance are having an easier time keeping tabs on the sales samples of the athletic appear they hawk, thanks to an RFID system first tested last year (see New Balance Taking First Steps With RFID). "The sales reps aren't having the same problems they were having a year ago," Frank Cornelius, New Balance's RFID project manager, told attendees of the RFID Journal—AAFA Apparel & Footwear Summit in New York City on Wednesday. "We're not hearing the complaints we used to hear about keeping track of samples."

With the sample-tracking application fully deployed, New Balance has now begun a two-stage pilot for tracking athletic shoes sold at the retail outlet inside the company's headquarters in Lawrence, Mass.

The first phase of the project, which began in July and will last until September, involves tagging each pair of the men's version of the 992 model—the company's most popular style shoe—for sale in the store. The women's version is not being tagged so that Cornelius and his team can use the women's inventory and sales levels during the trial as a benchmark to compare the effectiveness of RFID technology and Vue software. The 992s sold in the store are all factory seconds, and the distribution center for all the factory seconds the company sells is located within the same building as the retail outlet, so workers in the DC tag each box of the 992 shoes before sending it to the retail outlet. Avery Dennison is providing the EPC UHF Gen 2 passive tag applied to each box.

RFID interrogators, provided by Motorola, mounted around the doors leading into the store's stock room, read the tags as the shoes arrive at the stock room and are taken from the stock room to the sales floor. The interrogators send all the tag data they collect to software provided by Vue Technology, an RFID solution provider focused on item-level tagging applications in retail environments. The software generates a running inventory, based on the tag read events, of the 992s both on the sales floor and in the stock room. As customers exit the store, Motorola interrogators mounted at the doors read the tag attached to each box of 992s they have purchased, and the Vue software adjusts the store inventory of 992s accordingly.

To check whether the door-mounted interrogators and Vue software are doing an accurate job during the pilot, the store staff use handheld Motorola interrogators to perform a daily count of the tagged boxes of 992s on the sales floor and in the stock room.

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