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Warehouse On Wheels At Good's Furniture

Furniture World Magazine


Goods simplifies distribution with a 'truck-and-a-pup'. Star Furniture rolls into Austin, Texas.

Bill Ward, VP of Operations for Star Furniture with six stores in Houston, Texas, was able to add the growing Austin market, some 160 miles away, through the use of an innovative warehousing technology.

A special "Rail-Trailer" with twin, modular boxes is parked at Star's central warehouse loading dock in Houston. Pass-through doors allow warehousemen to walk through the rear compartment to fill the front body. Orders from Austin are loaded in delivery order to honor morning and evening delivery commitments. At 5 a.m., a tractor hauls the trailer and its two boxes to Austin, where it arrives by 8 a.m. The filled bodies are lifted off the trailer and placed on two straight trucks, which begin the day's deliveries. The swap-out takes only 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the tractor picks up the empty bodies from the previous day's deliveries and transports them back to Houston, where the process is repeated.

The "Warehouse on Wheels" is a delivery truck outfitted with interchangeable "TruckTainer" bodies which can be detached, or "demounted," from the chassis on an easy-to-operate hydraulic lift. Each body can hold up to 12 tons of furniture, and fits any standard truck. The hydraulic system lifts and lowers the boxes onto retractable legs. The boxes are self-contained and freestanding until the driver backs his truck underneath them to carry them off.

Two bodies can also be staged back-to-back on a semi-trailer. They can be loaded at a central warehouse and long-hauled to a regional distribution center, where smaller straight trucks pick them up and deliver them locally. Inventory does not need to be off-loaded, re-stocked, re-picked, and re-loaded. Next-day delivery is assured, and satellite locations do not need an extensive warehouse. Fewer mistakes occur, less furniture gets scratched, and less lifting means fewer employee injuries, said Rustin Cassway, VP of Demountable Concepts, Inc., the firm which is pioneering the concept.

Star is very image conscious, and did not like the look of large semi-trailers delivering in residential neighborhoods. "Demountables look like regular delivery trucks, have a good turning radius, and local drivers do not have to be DOT-certified.

Demountables also helped Star overcome employee reluctance to expansion. "It's only three hours from Houston to Austin, but that's six hours of drive time and eight hours of delivery, which is too much. We think this is easier on our people," Ward said.

"Furniture is a tough commodity to deliver. We were reluctant to ship to Austin because we thought furniture might move around on the back of a trailer. But the twin boxes create much less movement, and we're experiencing less damage than we thought we would," Ward said.

Good's Furniture, Inc., in New Holland, Pa. Good's uses the modular bodies in another configuration, called a "truck-and-a-pup." There are 36 bodies for 24 delivery trucks. Each night, furniture is shuttled from the central warehouse to six retail stores in a three-state area. On busy nights, the trucks carry one box and pull a second on a trailer; on lighter nights, the trailer isn't needed. The bodies are staged overnight at the stores for next-day delivery. The furniture has to be loaded only once--at the central warehouse. There's no wasteful re-handling, which saves time, money, and reduces damaged goods and delivery mix-ups.

"This system gives us flexibility," said Scott Gill, night shift supervisor for Good's. "If we're heavy we can add an extra box; if we're light we can back off." Good's has used the system since 1990.

"All in all it's a pretty carefree system, and we've had no more maintenance or repairs than with plain trucks. The switch-out time has more than paid off. We don't have capital tied up, or the expenses of hiring drivers for more trucks," Gill added.

Demountable TruckTainer bodies are available in any length from 10' to 26', and can be customized for any need. In only 10 minutes, a truck can be converted from a cargo van to a flatbed trailer.

Furniture companies who use demountables find they reduce their fleet purchase, maintenance and insurance costs. And when a truck breaks down, deliveries aren't left stranded at the side of the road: another truck can pick up the body and be ready to roll in only 10 minutes--without off-loading and re-loading all the furniture.

The system simplifies distribution. Inventory doesn't have to be drop-shipped, off-loaded, restocked, and re-picked, so there are reductions in damage, fewer mistakes, warehouses can be downsized, and deliveries are expedited

For more information on this or other articles by contributing editor Dan Bolger write to dbolger@furninfo.com.


Operations Articles By Dan Bolger

Articles in Operations Articles By Dan Bolger