ZIFFPAGE TITLEGoodlettsville to Go

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2004-07-20 Print this article Print

Day 4 - Goodlettsville to Go

  • Satellite dish installed

  • Point-of-sale software tested

  • Pricing files downloaded

    As Jersey Shore workers unpack and stock $8 girls dresses and Good Tuff freezer bags ($2 for a box of 45), a Spacenet installer arrives to set up the satellite link.

    Pulling a ladder off his truck, the installer zips up to the roof of the store and mounts a 2.5-foot antenna and a dish that looks like one used at home for satellite television. The indoor equipment is a satellite modem the size of a large dictionary and cables to connect to each IBM register.

    "We connect, make sure our hub in Washington, D.C., sees this dish, it lights up," says Randy Anders, the senior account manager at Spacenet who closed the 10-year, $40-million deal with Dollar General in 2001. The IBM registers are connected to the network, and the stores coordinates are added to Spacenets pre-established connection with Goodlettsville. The work takes three to four hours.

    When the contract was signed, Dollar General had 5,000 stores. But it did the deal for 7,500 stores. "They knew their growth," Anders says.

    Once the satellite network is humming, headquarters can start to send pricing files and product codes to the registers. Spacenet tests each piece of the Triversity point-of-sale applications, such as nightly polling and authorization of payments by bank and welfare debit cards. Also flung over the satellite are weekly payroll hours, uploaded from the registers.

    In Whitesboro, Spacenet doesnt come until Day 5 because of other commitments. Dollar General allows the vendor a two-day window after the IBM delivery.

    Dollar General chose satellite communications after balky dial-up connections and spotty broadband coverage in small towns prevented 5% to 8% of its stores from connecting to headquarters each night for mandatory sales reporting, Anders says.

    The discounter also wants to avoid mixing communications technology, says Bruce Ash, vice president of information and administrative services. "If you have three or four different networks, it takes people with all those skills to manage them," Ash says. "Its been a philosophy here: Do things as simply as possible."

    Day 5 - Embedding Scanners

  • Cashier training begins

  • Satellite network tested

  • Thunderblast stain remover, at last

    With the satellite network in place, Hallstrom begins training Jersey Shores assistant manager and prospective cashiers in how to work the IBM registers. Flatbed scanners from Symbol Technologies are encased in the counters to read product bar codes. The scanners feed data to the registers.

    Prices scan well, but not everything is right. Checkout receipts say the store is in Tennessee, not Pennsylvania. The lines for phone number and managers name contain generic placeholders. That happens sometimes because the registers come preloaded with sales software but not with the identification of the individual store.

    That will be fixed by grand opening the following Saturday, Hallstrom says.

    One key lesson in register work is to scan each item separately, no matter if the customer is buying several of the same. Otherwise Dollar Generals automatic replenishment program will have the distribution center ship the wrong merchandise.

    For example, a clerk sees 10 bottles of Suave shampoo on the counter and punches in "10 @" while scanning one bottle, Hallstrom explains. But five of them might be Suave Fresh Mountain Strawberry and the other five Suave Milk & Honey. "That would mess up inventory," she says. "Every unit that goes out, we have to get back in." In the "10 @" scenario, the stores next delivery would include 10 bottles of Suave shampoo, but five of them would be the wrong scent.

    Meanwhile, a second truck brings another 3,500 to 4,500 cartons of core merchandise such as snacks, candy, paper goods and fast sellers such as Thunderblast stain remover ($2 per bottle).

    Jersey Shore is Koehns 12th opening this year. As at the previous 11, he orchestrates stocking by following a map created by a computer-aided design technician in Goodlettsville a month earlier. The key design point is the stores square footage. Headquarters wants paper towels, cleansers, potting soil, soups and 4,245 other core items in each store, and getting all those in is enough of a puzzle.

    But the layout specialist also includes space for non-core merchandise that, according to daily and monthly operating reports, is selling well at stores nearby. It might be plastic lawn chairs or Chinese knockoffs of popular Bratz dolls. Dollar General warehouses carry 20,000 products at any one time.

    Headquarters allows two basic layouts. Older Dollar General stores sport the traditional plan, where most shelving cuts horizontally across the store in two groups, one on the left side and one along the right. In a "midway" between the groups sit stacks of "red hot buys" and seasonal merchandise—holiday wreaths in winter, kiddie pools in summer.

    New stores are designed front to back. Shelves run vertically, giving cashiers up front a view down each aisle (the better to catch shoplifters). The midway for special merchandise becomes the wide horizontal path between where the shelving ends and the row of checkout lanes begins.

    In Whitesboro, Longway displays 19-inch Brocsonic color televisions in the midway. The $50 sets are this years grand opening special purchase. Each new store gets 50 units of whatever the special is. Last year it was a $35 microwave oven.

    Rambus bought two, one for a gift and one for himself. A $35 microwave? "Its a good microwave," he insists. "I use it all the time."

    Next Page: Tug of war.

    Senior Writer
    Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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