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Beaver Street Fisheries Catches RFID

The frozen-seafood dealer may be a small fish in Wal-Mart’s sea
of suppliers, yet it met the retailer’s RFID mandate a year ahead of schedule—and it expects to land internal benefits as well.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Apr 01, 2005—Beaver Street Fisheries, a Jacksonville, Fla., frozen-seafood dealer, was founded in 1950 by the Frisch brothers and their mother as a small retail fresh-fish store on West Beaver Street. The company has expanded to become one of the top seafood suppliers in the United States, importing fish from 50 different countries. Its warehouses and U.S. Department of Commerce- inspected seafood-processing plant take up two city blocks.

For the past 15 years, Beaver Street Fisheries has been a Wal-Mart supplier. Today, the company ships 270,000 cases of frozen lobster tails, snow crab, breaded jumbo shrimp and other seafood products to Wal-Mart each month. Yet, Beaver Street Fisheries is not one of the retailer’s top 100 suppliers, so it doesn’t have to comply with Wal-Mart’s requirement to put RFID tags on pallets and cases shipped to the retailer’s distribution centers until January 2006. (Top 100 suppliers began tagging shipments in January 2005.)

Nevertheless, as of December 2004, Beaver Street Fisheries has been tagging 5,000 cases—including three different product lines—shipped each month to Wal-Mart’s Perishable Foods Distribution Center in Cleburne, Texas. The seafood supplier met Wal-Mart’s mandate one year and one month ahead of schedule.

“We decided to be proactive and jump into it and grab the bull by the horns,” says Howard Stockdale, CIO of Beaver Street Fisheries. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being the value-added supplier. We wanted to provide that additional value not just to Wal-Mart but also to other customers coming down the pike.”

What began as an aggressive project to meet Wal-Mart’s tagging mandate ahead of schedule has evolved into a three-phase plan to deploy RFID throughout Beaver Street Fisheries’ operations. The company realized that it could reap long-term benefits by using RFID data to track and reduce inventory, automate manual shipping and receiving processes, automatically issue bills and bills of lading, reduce theft and gain a better understanding of where the company could reduce overhead and increase profits. “We wanted to be the poster child for small to medium-size businesses as it relates to RFID implementation,” Stockdale says.

In the first phase, Beaver Street Fisheries took a “slap-and-ship” approach to tagging seafood destined to Wal-Mart. The second phase, which began in February, is designed to make the tagging process more efficient and cost-effective. The third phase, which is expected to get under way some time in the next two years, is where the company expects to gain business benefits by using the data generated from a full implementation of RFID throughout its product lines.

The project began in fall 2003 when Jim O’Brien, Beaver Street Fisheries’ COO, brought the Wal-Mart announcement to Stockdale’s attention. The men discussed the upcoming deadlines and concluded that complying earlier could help Beaver Street Fisheries keep—and perhaps increase—its business with Wal-Mart. The two also believed that RFID readiness could help Beaver Street Fisheries gain other business, including contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, which is requiring the use of RFID tags to track pallets and cases in its supply chain, and Albertsons, the second-largest U.S. supermarket chain, which started in March 2004 to solicit volunteer suppliers to implement RFID.

With the support of Beaver Street Fisheries CEO Harry Frisch and his son, Karl, who is executive vice president, Stockdale contacted Wal-Mart CIO Linda Dillman in January 2004 and told her that his company wanted to grow its business in order to one day be in the top-100 echelon. To do that, the company wanted to volunteer to start tagging products ahead of schedule. Dillman, in turn, invited Stockdale to a meeting Wal-Mart was holding near its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to explain its RFID policy to its top 100 suppliers.
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