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How World Kitchen Got It Right

The manufacturer of consumer housewares integrated its RFID tagging operation with its back-end systems to keep the cost of complying with mandates low—and to lay the groundwork for a system that could be scaled up and deliver internal benefits.
By Mark Roberti
Aug 01, 2006—The letter to the World Kitchen CEO from Wal-Mart was dated May 25, 2004. It said simply that Wal-Mart planned to deploy a new technology called radio frequency identification in its supply chain beginning in January 2005. Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers would be required to put RFID tags carrying Electronic Product Codes on pallets and cases by that time. The next-largest suppliers, which included World Kitchen, would have to start tagging products in January 2006.

The Wal-Mart letter was followed by one from Target on July 1, asking World Kitchen to start tagging pallets and cases even earlier—June 2005. World Kitchen had one year to learn how to comply with tagging requirements and deploy RFID technology in its supply chain. It met Target's tagging requirements in June 2005 and Wal-Mart's in January 2006. And it was among the first suppliers to integrate its RFID system with its back-end software, making it possible to increase the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) tagged without increasing costs, and paving the way for the company to achieve internal efficiencies as the technology evolves and costs come down.

"The decision to integrate the RFID tagging operation with the company's back-end system came out of team discussions."—Randy Peterson, VP for information technology, World Kitchen
World Kitchen is less than a decade old. In 1998, Corning, a company well known for its CorningWare dishes and Corelle tableware, sold off its consumer products business. A year later, World Kitchen was formed when the former Corning unit was combined with two acquisitions—General Housewares and EKCO Housewares. Today, World Kitchen manufactures bakeware, dinnerware, kitchen and household tools, range-top cookware and cutlery. These are sold under well-known brands, including Baker's Secret, Chicago Cutlery, Corelle, CorningWare, EKCO, Magnalite, OLFA, Pyrex, Revere and Visions.

The company sells its products through mass merchants, department stores, specialty retailers, retail food stores and its World Kitchen Web site. It has manufacturing operations in Asia and the United States, two distribution centers in the United States and one DC in Canada.

World Kitchen ships some 10 million cases to Wal-Mart and 3 million cases to Target annually. So when the company received the letters about RFID tagging requirements, it set off a flurry of activity. Dan Hogan, senior vice president of operations, launched a steering committee consisting of World Kitchen CIO John Conklin, vice president for information technology Randy Peterson and director of distribution Tom Beyeler to research RFID technology and put together a project plan and timeline for how the company would respond to the retailers' requirements.

World Kitchen integrated its RFID tagging operation with its back-end systems to keep the cost of complying with mandates low.
In July 2004, the steering committee set up a six-person team headed by Beyeler to work day to day on meeting the tagging requirements. There were three members from IT (Randy Peterson and two of his staff), two from DC operations and one from the Wal-Mart sales account team. The six began getting educated about RFID technology and the retailer mandates by attending conferences, including seminars for suppliers held by Wal-Mart and Target and an EPCglobal event.

The team members met with a variety of RFID hardware and software vendors that they thought might be able to help World Kitchen achieve its objectives. On Oct. 27, 2004, the steering committee made a presentation to senior management suggesting the company start tagging products at its Monee, Ill., distribution center. The Monee DC had opened in July 2000 and had the newest and best sortation system, and the RFID team felt that it would be easier to implement the process there first. (Both of the company's distribution centers cover the whole United States, but they distribute different product lines.)
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