BY DAVID MALONEY, CHIEF EDITOR
AS THE VENERABLE FOOTWEAR RETAILER CLARKS
can attest, shoes are not the easiest products to distribute. For
one thing, each style comes in a wide range of sizes, widths,
and colors. For another, shoes and boots are often bulky. So
it helps to have sophisticated software and handling systems
to help navigate the complexities. That’s exactly what Clarks
Americas now has at its new DC in Hanover, Pa.
British-based Clarks was founded in England in 1825
when brothers Cyrus and James Clark made their first pair
of sheepskin slippers. Today, it has grown into a global corporation that includes the Bostonian and Hanover brands.
It was the Hanover Shoe acquisition in the late 1970s
that first brought Clarks to the small Pennsylvania town of
the same name, where the company already had a factory
and distribution center. Shoe production has since moved
overseas, but distribution for all of Clarks in the Americas
remains in Hanover today, albeit with some modifications.
The company has seen steady growth since that acquisition—growth that eventually would lead to capacity limitations that would take more than just polish to address.
“We were outgrowing the walls there,” recalls Ed Smith,
project manager and facilities engineer. “We knew we could
not get by for long. Plus, we needed to invest in new technologies to replace the old technologies we had that were
simply worn out.”
Clarks did not want to abandon Hanover for a location
closer to interstate highways. It had a long history there, as
well as an experienced and dependable work force. Hanover
is also a short drive from the Port of Baltimore, through
which most of its imports arrive. As it happened, Clarks
found sufficient land to build directly across the street from
the former DC.
Planning for the new
facility began more than a
decade ago, but the Great
Recession put the project on
hold. In many ways, the delay
was fortuitous, as a notable
portion of the company’s
business has since shifted
to the direct-to-consum-er channel. When work on
the facility resumed, Clarks
changed gears and designed a
building that can handle multichannel distribution from a
shared inventory pool. Today,
this includes distribution to more
than 300 Clarks-branded stores, a wholesale channel, and
Another benefit of starting over was that it gave the company the opportunity to “reverse engineer” the design process. That is, it allowed the Clarks team to determine what
technologies would best support the flow of goods and then
design a facility around them. After evaluating a number of
material handling solutions, the Clarks managers decided
to go with automated systems from Knapp.
The facility, which went live in May 2014, serves all of
North and South America. It boasts Knapp’s OSR Shuttle
goods-to-person picking system and a large automated
storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) that stores more than
half a million cases of shoes. Knapp handled the design and
integration, supplied the conveyors and sortation systems,
and installed the warehouse management system (WMS)
There’s no business
like shoe business
With a wide array of styles, sizes, and widths, shoes can
be surprisingly challenging from a distribution perspective.
Clarks solved the problem by rebooting its entire DC
operation with high-speed automated equipment.