Summit Distributing is a leading beer distributor based in St. Louis, Missouri. Summit distributes over 2,000 beer SKUs to nearly 3,000 retail customers throughout the Midwest United States.
Summit’s Business Objective: How do we stock each of our 3,000 retail customers with the right mix of beer products at the right time?
Multiple-Choice Question: How many multiple-choice questions have you answered in your life?
A. More than you can shake a No. 2 pencil at
B. So many that you dream about filling in bubbles
C. Too many to count, but you’re pretty sure the answer is D
D. All of the above
Answer: D. All of the above.
The challenge: A complex, manual sales process
Several years ago, Summit’s sales reps wrestled with a manual sales process that was difficult to get right. Each rep managed many different customer accounts – and Summit distributed as many as 250 beer SKUs per customer.
To place orders, Summit’s sales reps would have to eyeball the last 3-4 orders for each customer and manually estimate the quantity of each SKU needed for the next delivery.
If reps under- or over-ordered, it hurt Summit’s bottom line. Under-ordering would lead to out-of-stocks, and over-ordering would lead to too much inventory and out-of-date products.
Kim Barrow, Summit’s President and COO, empathized with the complex challenge reps faced. “I don’t know of anyone – photographic memory or not – who’s smart enough to do that math without any data.”
Technology takes the guesswork out of ordering.
“We win or lose at the store level,” Kim explains. “It all comes down to out-of-stocks. Do we have all the products in the right amount?”
To solve this problem, Kim worked with Vermont Information Processing (VIP) to create a tool that analyzes sales data for Summit’s retail customers and calculates the optimal order quantity for every SKU.
The Sales Order System (SOS) that Summit built with VIP takes the guesswork out of the order process. Used correctly, it makes it easy for every rep to place the right order for every account, every time.
“When our guys are doing it right, we don’t have out-of-stocks, period. It’s just simple math,” says Kim.
Training was the missing piece
Summit had built a sophisticated technology tool and developed a proprietary order process that could reduce out-of-stocks to zero. But the missing piece was training. After all, the best tech systems in the world only work if people use them correctly.
That was Summit’s challenge, Kim recounts. “People used to say, ‘This is a nightmare, the system really screwed this up’. But 100 times out of 100, when there was a problem, it was because the person didn’t follow the process correctly.”
For Summit’s new order process to work, reps had to implement it correctly and consistently. That’s hard to manage in an industry with high turnover and a young, inexperienced workforce.
“We needed to get to a point where we had continuity – where everyone was learning the same thing, the same way,” Kim explains. “Before, we had one person teaching one way, another teaching a different way – and they each thought they were right.”
A digital training partnership: Learning Evolution & Learn to Win
That’s when Summit reached out to Learning Evolution, a company with 20 years of CPG training experience, to improve and standardize its training program. Learning Evolution used Learn to Win’s technology platform to convert Summit’s training materials into engaging and scalable digital content. As an added benefit, Summit could use Learn to Win analytics to track employee engagement and performance.
The training materials that Learning Evolution created in Learn to Win were designed to be engaging for Summit’s young workforce. To maximize learner attention, each microlearning took only 3-5 minutes to complete.
“We used to tell people to read a PDF or Word document… but we all know that people don’t actually read them,” says Sam Young, Summit’s Strategic Planning & Analysis Manager. “So it took longer to get people up-to-speed, which is tough in a high-churn industry.”
Summit’s proprietary Sales Order System (SOS) and specific ordering process are perfect examples of Last Mile Knowledge – the company-specific knowledge, processes, and tools that employees need to master to succeed in their jobs.
“The folks who don’t follow this process aren’t going to be here for very long,” Kim explains. “You can’t not learn this – you have to know it!”
Learn to Win makes it easy to convert Summit’s Last Mile Knowledge into short, easy-to-digest learning nuggets that accelerates the speed to competency for Summit’s new team members and prevents expensive mistakes in the field.
“Now, we won’t let a person loose until we can see that they’ve gone through the training modules we’ve built, and they can test positively across all those topics,” Kim says.
Business impact: 96% reduction in out-of stocks
The combination of proprietary software and better training drove a 96% reduction in out-of-stocks for Summit – and significant bottom-line impact.
“We know it works,” Kim says. “Let me give you the proof in the pudding.”
"One of our chains is QuikTrip: 70-stores, 200 SKUs per store. They fax us about out-of-stocks – every store, every day.
After we got this system up and running, we went through the Thanksgiving holiday. If you take their store count and their SKU count, there were about 16,000 potential out-of-stocks over the weekend. But we had less than 50 come through our system that entire weekend. Before this, we would have expected about 1400 (20 per store). So we know it works”
- Kim Barrow, President & Chief Operating Officer
The new sales order process – once fully understood and executed consistently – drove powerful operational benefits. Summit now merchandises stores 83% faster, which has reduced costs by 70%.
“When I started at Summit, I managed sales routing,” Sam explains. “We used to allow 2-3 hours for our grocery store sales reps to write an order. Thanks to the new process, we have that time down to 30 minutes.”
This has unlocked massive cost savings for Summit – a significant competitive edge. “In the past, you couldn’t judge how long guys needed to be out there merchandising,” Kim says. “Now that we have this data, we’re spending on average 30% of what we used to spend – and our team is doing a better job.”