viaLink: Scanning The Horizon

By Joshua Weinberger  |  Posted 2003-03-01

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.& Company Info">


Reference Checks

Tara Milligan
Director, Marketing
(858) 597-4245
Project: The tuna fish producer came to viaLink at the request of its broker, Crossmark, and regional supermarket chain Winn-Dixie. Implementation is imminent.

John Shreve
National Manager, SBT Development
(510) 601-4455
Project: Tested the SBT concept back in 1999. Also runs viaLink for data synchronization with five retail chains.

Mark Iorio
Strategic Planning
(763) 764-3755
Project: Uses viaLink with only one customer, and chooses to handle UCCnet compliance on its own.

Keith Jelinek
Senior VP, Inventory Management
(248) 463-5125
Project: Of three product-data options the retailer is offering its suppliers in the move to SBT, viaLink is "the preferred choice." Has two major markets up and running, plans for 1450 Big K stores and 60 Super K stores by July.

Joseph Calao
Director, MIS
(201) 703-6250
Project: The household-paper-products manufacturer signed on in fall 2002, and got under way in December. Has received training from viaLink on UCCnet requirements.

Vialink.gif Snyder's of Hanover
Pat Wade
Manager, Customer Service
(717) 632-4477 Ext. 5351
Project: So far, the pretzel-and-snack-food maker connects to three retailers through viaLink.

Wise Foods
Neil Bixler
Director, MIS
(570) 759-4024
Project: The snack maker uses viaLink to maintain accurate retail promotions and pricing information, and for UCCnet services.

The executives listed here are all viaLink customers. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.

Company Info
13155 Noel Road, Suite 700
Dallas, TX 75240
(972) 934-5500


President, CEO
Named CEO in January. Joined viaLink in April 1999 after more than 14 years at EDS. Helped create a virtual-trading network within the food and consumer packaged-goods industry.

CTO, CIO, VP Operations
More than 29 years with the manufacturing, retail and grocery industries. Previously CIO at Unified Western Grocers.

The company's core product, syncLink, is a synchronized database of prices and product attributes. Advanced reporting service distribuLink handles complicated distributions. Scan-based trading (SBT) system sbtLink provides inventory data. Firm also registers products in the retail industry's UCCnet (the Uniform Code Council's not-for-profit data-synchronization subsidiary) and publishes items to UCCnet-enabled partners.