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The Secrets of Their Success

Companies that are tagging goods for retailers—and Wal-Mart's Simon Langford—reveal how to turn an RFID mandate into a competitive advantage.
By Jim Morrison
Aug 15, 2006—Two and a half years ago, Howard Stockdale, chief information officer for Beaver Street Fisheries, knew nothing about radio frequency identification when his boss came to him with the news that Wal-Mart was requiring its top 100 suppliers to implement RFID technology.

The Jacksonville, Fla., frozen-seafood dealer wasn't among the top 100 companies that needed to tag pallets and cases by January 2005, nor was Wal-Mart the company's largest account. It could sit back and wait until the next 200 suppliers were required to begin tagging shipments in January 2007. But Wal-Mart was a valuable customer, and other retailers were making noises that they, too, were looking into using the technology. Stockdale began reading everything he could to educate himself.

"Within the first month," he says, "I identified this as not limited to just Wal-Mart and said we need to get serious about executing in this type of supply chain."

The self-proclaimed "proactive" company sprang into action. Not only did Beaver Street Fisheries meet the RFID requirements ahead of schedule—shipping its first 5,000 tagged cases to Wal-Mart in December 2004—it also created a plan that, over time, would allow it to operate its warehouses more efficiently.

While many suppliers are concerned about meeting retailer mandates—they worry about the cost of the tags, the reliability of the system, and their ability to make RFID work with their existing processes—other manufacturers see the tagging requirements as an opportunity. From small and lean companies such as Beaver Street Fisheries, where employees juggle RFID implementation with other tasks, to large companies such as Procter & Gamble (P&G), which have dedicated RFID teams, suppliers have met tagging requirements with a minimum of pain and even found they can gain a competitive advantage.

These companies all have one thing in common: They took the right steps. And they say that other companies can emulate their success if they follow these best practices for complying with retailer mandates: Start early with an interdisciplinary team, analyze business processes and create a plan, test extensively from the beginning, and identify the low-hanging fruit that will begin to earn a return on the RFID investment.
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