Boats arrive at Leader Cold Storage every day, yielding big counts of salmon, herring and other species of fresh fish off the coast of British Columbia.

Thousands of fish enter the facility, where they are processed and stored until it becomes time to travel to freezer cases at nearby grocery stores.

In the past, managing inventory in the 85,000-square-foot warehouse and production facility was cumbersome and prone to error. That changed in 2017, when the company, based in Richmond, Canada, purchased software that made their process more efficient, easier to manage and transparent. Enter Abecas Insight V8.9, the latest warehouse management solution (WMS) software from Argos Software, Fresno, Calif.

At first, Leader Cold Storage wanted replacement software. In fact, they hired a consultant to research different companies that could overhaul their WMS and deliver a modern system that fit all their needs for expediency and future growth.

It turned out, the dream system they described was simpler than anticipated. That’s because that dream system was not a replacement—it was an upgrade.

Up to this point, Leader Cold Storage relied on Abecas Insight V.7.1 when a now-former executive decided not to renew the maintenance and support contract.

Sandie Tombu, the company’s logistics coordinator for 18 years, says she was frequently troubleshooting technical problems because she lacked the basic information on how to solve them. It was like she was working in the dark.

Then there were issues that grew as the company’s operating systems and hardware evolved. When she’d print documents, the system told her it was out of memory. The platform often locked her out. She couldn’t receive accurate counts of inventory. It became difficult to add customers to the database.

“Little irritating things were happening. That’s when we decided to get a new program,” Tombu says.

So, in April 2017, the company hired Mike Tsirogiannis, a veteran Sage 300 ERP consultant, to help steer it to new software. At first, Tsirogiannis looked at replacement software from 6-7 other companies. But, when he asked Kelvin Tan, controller for Leader Cold Storage, “Do you like using Abecas Insight?” the answer was a resounding yes. Tsirogiannis realized the real source of the company’s difficulties was not the software itself, but that they were using an outdated version that was no longer compatible with their hardware, operating system and printers.

Accountability and trust

“It was pretty obvious to me from the first phone call that everything was going to go really, really well,” Tsirogiannis says.

In the initial conversation with Argos Software, Tsirogiannis explained his client’s software difficulties, and was assured that his problems would be solved. The first step was to schedule a demonstration. The Argos team presented the latest version of Abecas Insight and assured Leader Cold Storage executives that they would assist during the transition.

“They showed they were very good listeners and communicators. By that, I mean very empathetic, engaged and consistent,” Tsirogiannis says. “When I was told I would get my email or phone call returned, it always happened. Their word is impeccable. That’s not very common.”

There were three things Argos’ team did from the start that convinced Leader Cold Storage that sticking with Abecas Insight was the right choice:

  • They provided personal contact information to establish around-the-clock accessibility and trust. That put the minds of Leader Cold Storage’s top principals at ease knowing that their company was a priority for Argos and their needs would be met.
  • They were available every time they were contacted.
  • They offered a special upgrade price without being asked. “That helped make the difference,” Tsirogiannis says.

Once the project ended, Argos held a follow-up meeting to assure Leader Cold Storage that customer support was available whenever needed.

Capability and support

The company now understands that Argos Software is a partner, not just a supplier to their business. Training for the upgrade took only days, and now, with a current maintenance and support contract, it’s available whenever there are questions.

Tombu says “they respond quickly” when putting in service requests. For items that are low priority, an online library is available to look up questions and receive immediate answers.

A bonus to upgrading rather than replacing their system was not just cost, but time.

“We didn’t have to re-learn a whole new program,” Tombu says.

What she did learn were features she never knew existed. Through the installation process, Tombu discovered that the software had capabilities they weren’t even aware of because they didn’t have the information or proper training.

“When I was going through the training, I was like, ‘Wow, you can do that?’” she says.

Improvements were obvious right after the installation was complete. For example, Tombu says the software now gives them more transparency into inventory counts.

“When we freeze herring, we may have a couple million pounds in there. But, the exact capacity? I didn’t know,” she says. 

Abecas Insight is critical in helping manage the location of inventory and replenishment levels that coincide directly with demand. Inventory status is tracked at all levels, from the pickers to the shippers, which reduces human error and increases the efficiency of its track-and-trace operations.

“From my experience, it’s hard to find a WMS that fits everyone’s needs. Abecas is flexible for what we want it to do. We’ve been able to fit it for whatever we need,” Tan says. “Converting products into storage inventory is very easy with Abecas. Other competitors’ software we looked at involved much more work.” 

Modules keep customers connected and inventory tracked

Leader Cold Storage was up and running with the new upgrade by late summer 2017. In 2018, the company is planning to install two add-on modules—WM Web, an online portal that gives customers the ability to schedule, view and modify orders in real-time and for historical review, and RF (radio frequency), a barcode and scanning module that enables location control and product status.

These modules are expected to give customers accurate inventory counts and the independence to modify shipping scheduling and delivery.

“When we were looking at purchasing new software, putting information on the web was definitely a critical requirement. The industry is shifting to where customers want online access,” Tan says. “Fishing industry hours are very erratic. Someone up at four in the morning may need to know how much inventory they have if they are selling products internationally. So, giving them that access helps us meet our customers’ needs.”

With WM Web, customers enter a username and password into an online portal that gives entry into the full access of their inventory. Once inside, they can schedule shipment dates, organize inventory by weight or quantity and make varying adjustments in real time. The process provides an historical record, which emphasizes accountability.

Before, Leader Cold Storage had to input all this information manually, sending confirmations through emails, faxes or taking calls from customers and making adjustments over the phone with nothing in writing.

Now, all Leader employees can access the portal and see all the information on display. The automated process is transparent, and information is directly input by the customer, which reduces the potential for errors.

The RF module is essential for WM Web, and uses handheld scanners and/or Android devices to confirm that inventory has arrived or shipped. This data is automatically written to Abecas software and instantly accessible via the WM Web module. Leader Cold Storage can now report back to customers that their shipments have either arrived or been dispatched as requested.

Software for a busy season

Leader Cold Storage serves the region’s major customers by distributing fresh fish across a wide variety of industries, from restaurants to supermarkets to seafood distributors. The company also stores bread products, poultry and pre-packaged food like frozen pizzas. With its emphasis on food, freshness and quality are important factors. The company must ensure that product is never sitting around for longer than allowed to ensure human health and safety.

The installation of Abecas Insight V8.9 came at the right time. The New Year marked the beginning of the busy herring season in British Columbia, which meant Leader Cold Storage would be operating at full capacity through April. Large fish counts are wonderful, but knowing how many are in the net — and in the freezer — is even better.