WAUSEON, Ohio-Sterling Stores, a 37-unit convenience store chain located in Northwestern Ohio, offers a wide range of grocery, dairy, beverage and prepared foods for shoppers on the go. Because of the broad range of items available for purchase, the stores' inventory and stock re-ordering processes had become increasingly cumbersome.

"Each Sterling store had been placing its grocery and dairy orders through a long list of third-party vendors. Our goal was to consolidate ordering and delivery using our own distribution centers," noted Ryan Hayes, network administrator for Nesnah Ventures, LLC, parent company of Sterling Stores. "Part of that change involved revamping the in-store ordering procedure."

Until late 2003, store managers had used a handwritten, paper-based system to place orders. Forms were faxed to the distribution facility where information was manually entered into the computer system for fulfillment.

"This was a pretty antiquated solution. We wanted to speed up the process using handheld data terminals that would scan barcodes on the store shelf," said Hayes. "That's why we contacted Heartland Computers."

Heartland Computers is a leading reseller of both new and refurbished barcode and RF (radio frequency) scanners and handheld computers. Ross Moore, the Heartland regional sales representative who had been in contact with Nesnah, fielded Hayes' request for a cost-effective solution.

"Our initial analysis showed that we could be facing a barcode scanner acquisition cost as high as $3,000 per unit. Ross really focused on lowering that cost by giving us just what we needed-no more," Hayes stated.

"We felt Sterling Stores' needs could be satisfied at a much lower cost. We suggested CipherLab's CPT-8000 portable terminals," said Moore. "These new units could be acquired for much less than what Nesnah had estimated. I told Ryan that our company could also provide custom software that would exactly fit his store's barcode ordering system."

Heartland created a tailored software application that reads the barcoded shelf tags used at each Sterling Store. The plan was to have Sterling Store managers scan the tag for each desired item then enter the needed product quantity using the portable terminal's keypad. Data would be collected in the cell phone-sized unit and uploaded later into a Heartland-supplied "Upload Program" installed on the store's PC for transmission to the distribution center via Wide-Area Network.

The new system was tested in the lab in mid-December 2003 as well as in various Sterling stores. By mid-January of this year, approximately five stores were fitted with the new automated system; one month later the system-wide rollout was complete.

Response to the new equipment from users was immediately positive.

Not only did managers enjoy using the new scanners, but stock ordering time went down considerably. "We've been able to cut the order placement process for our store staff from between 60 and 90 minutes to roughly 20 minutes," Hayes noted. Time efficiencies have been dramatic on the warehouse side as well. "With our old manual data entry system, our warehouse personnel wouldn't get their orders until mid-morning," Hayes adds. "Now orders are ready by 4 or 5 AM each day."

Hayes says that the system specified by Heartland Computers has succeeded on a number of levels. "Ross and his team made it clear that we wouldn't benefit from a more expensive solution. He gave us a system that is relatively inexpensive, yet totally functional," Hayes concluded.

Located in America's heartland in Wauconda, Ill., Heartland Computers Inc. is a leading reseller of new, refurbished, and surplus radio frequency and barcode technology. Heartland specializes in satisfying both the new and legacy equipment needs of its customers, and is a business partner for all leading equipment manufacturers. For more information visit: http://www.heartland-usa.com.