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What's already in style at more and more grocery stores is catching on at the top hardware stores--a standards-based product registry that's designed to improve supply-chain operations among manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.
In the next six weeks, Ace Hardware Corp. will begin testing the UCCnet Global Registry with several of its suppliers. Ace Hardware was one of the first hardware and home-improvement companies to endorse the registry, a listing that includes 62 pieces of product data, such as manufacturer, part number, and package size, from standards body UCCnet. Lowe's Companies Inc. and The Home Depot Inc. just recently signed on, as well.
Ace Hardware expects that using the UCCnet Global Registry will cut out many inefficiencies that occur when ordering the tens of thousands of products to stock its 5,000 franchised stores around the country. "When we go to order an item, are we calling it the same as the manufacturer? If not, someone has to go in and decipher the difference," says Greg Lenard, director of inventory control at Ace Hardware. "As much as we are in business together sometimes we can't even agree on price. The manufacturer might list the item at $.98 and we might have it in our system for $1.02. Then we have to scurry around and try to find out who is right and who is wrong."
To eliminate the discrepancies, manufacturers will publish their product descriptions to the UCCnet Global Registry, using the standard format as defined by the UCCnet, and retailers such as Ace Hardware will download the product descriptions and share the data with their back-office systems. The registry already contains information for more than 40,000 products.
It's a time-consuming, IT-intensive project that Lenard says can take as many as six months to work through. But the benefits can be well worth the time. According to a report last year by A.T. Kearney, inefficiencies between retailers' and manufacturers' product data can cost the consumer-goods industry $40 billion annually. At any given time, 30% of the information in the catalogs that retailers use to order products from manufacturers is incorrect, the management-consulting firm says.
It's been reported that Procter & Gamble has saved as much as $5 million in productivity by conserving between 30,000 and 50,000 staff hours in transcription work, and has also reduced out-of-stocks at retailers by 10%.
Lenard says many of Ace Hardware's suppliers are now getting on board, after reading a letter Ace Hardware sent to them back in January explaining the UCCnet Global Registry. Ace Hardware also conducted hour-long seminars with its suppliers to help them understand how the registry will work. Says Lenard, "We're getting very good response from manufacturers."