Putting A Shine On Shoe Operations

At Timberland Co., reengineering has unraveled some old assumptions. The Hampton (N.H.) shoemaker had always measured productivity by the size of each delivery, so priority was given to department-store orders rather than those from small retailers. But managers of the $291 million company began to realize that small boutiques were a growing chunk of their business. Two years ago, they set out to change their routine.

Timberland began by scheduling two or more shipments to each customer a week--instead of one big delivery. Scanners automatically track inventory and create shipping bills, so it's as efficient to handle small orders as big ones.

Reengineering is hitting other operations, too. Instead of having one department take orders and another verify credit, the two were merged. Now, orders are sent to manufacturing via a network--faster and with fewer errors.

Timberland is also taking to the electronic highway to reach customers. By letting stores transmit orders automatically to its computers, the company expects to double sales volume for every 25% increase in its sales force. At Timberland, staying a top shoemaker means not sticking to its last--or the past.

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