viaLink: Scanning The Horizon

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

Dossier: The Texas-based bar-coding specialist is expanding its customer base and increasing its market presence. Is it because it's the only game in town?

For retailers, the back room is where margins are made and lost. Inaccurate counts, mislabeled pallets, unauthorized deliveries—it can be one of the supply chain's weakest links. Scan-based trading (SBT), in which payments, prices and products are all tracked by bar code, is seen as the industry's savior. So when Kmart was laying out its SBT strategy last September, it was aiming for more than merely minor improvements. "We weren't just looking for a technology solution," says Keith Jelinek, the chain's senior vice president for inventory management. "We were looking for a better back room."

For viaLink, the vendor Kmart is relying on to bear the heaviest burden in that transition, the vote of confidence probably comes not a moment too soon. Financially listing to one side and delisted from the Nasdaq, viaLink has nevertheless managed to expand its customer base and increase its market presence by leveraging its ability to maintain a stable product-data catalog.

As retailers began to line up behind UCCnet (see Gotcha!, p. 50), small- and medium-sized suppliers—such as card distributor American Greetings (see Case Dissection, p. 42)—needed someone to shepherd their data. ViaLink, with its product-data-and-pricing catalog of 700,000 items, was a ready surrogate. Marcal Paper, for example, has "a very small staff," says Director of Management Information Systems Joseph Calao. "We don't have the time" to deal with the minor changes that are required for each retail outlet, where "every customer has different needs, and different tweaking" to the data fields. Now, he adds,"we won't have to make all those changes. We'll pass viaLink one file, and they'll tailor it to each retailer."

For Tara Milligan, director of marketing at tuna distributor Chicken of the Sea, the promise of that system is enough to get her interested. "When they explained to me what they do, I was, like, 'Where have you people been all our lives?' If they can make sure both sides have the exact same information, hallelujah."

John Shreve, national manager of SBT development at Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, longs to prevent unauthorized deliveries. "A lot of different things affect inventory shrink," he says. "Some are controllable, and some aren't." ViaLink "has given us visibility" to thoroughly track inventory "without a huge investment." Dreyer's maintains control to "make our own [business] decisions, based on our relationship with the retailer, rather than having viaLink make that decision for us." At Snyder's of Hanover, Customer Service Manager Pat Wade is ready to enter the SBT age, and ready to do it with viaLink. "It's a brand-new endeavor for us," she says, "but when I see more companies coming on board—and some big-name ones as well—it reinforces the fact that I think we really made the right decision."

Baseline has collected some White Papers and related downloadables regarding viaLink and Scan-Based Trading. Check them out at our Online Extras page.

This article was originally published on 2003-03-01
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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