Bell makes productivity improvements, staff changes

Bell Recreational Products, based in Eagan, Minn., and its dealer customers now are starting to enjoy the fruits of several major moves made by the company over the last nine months.
In November 2002, Bell moved into a new warehouse facility at its present Eagan location. The 70,000 sq. ft. leased building has 28 ft. high clear stacking and provides more cubic feet of storage space than its old building.
Bell also closed its northern Minnesota sales office in May and consolidated operations in the Eagan facility.
The closing of the Brainerd, Minn., office perhaps is a good example of the moves being made corporatewide across Bell’s three warehouse facilities. It also has warehouses in Germantown, Wisc., and Grand Rapids, Mich. Facilities are being upgraded to increase efficiencies and assignments are being adjusted to increase productivity.
Bell now has a total of 31 sales representatives, including 14 in the Eagan office.
“For many years,” says Rod Sundblad, the divisional vice president, “we operated the service center in Brainerd, but we consolidated it here, in Eagan, for several reasons. The benefit to our customer is that it minimizes the amount of phone time they need to get the job done with us.”
Bell also is developing a new online ordering system that will allow dealers to place orders 24/7. Dealers will be able to check inventory, place orders and check stock allocations, among other capabilities.
The system will be different from most, says Sundblad, because it will operate in a real-time environment instead of uploading information several times daily. The system is slated to go operational this year, possibly in September.
Improved inventory management also is an important goal at Bell, says Sundblad. The recent hiring of Marc Higgins from Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company as director of purchasing of logistics is one major step in that direction.
“We’re working hard to improve our fill rates and to better manage our inventories,” says Sundblad. “Our fill rates are very good—in the aggregate, they’re in the high 90s—but what we’re trying to perfect is to get that high 90s at each branch. Companywide, we’re great. But when you have to cross-ship, your talking additional cost, either to us or to our customers.” Rates are up from about 85% last year, he said.
Bell’s primary market area is the Upper Midwest— Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas. Most customers in this area are served in one day.
Sundblad said the company has been refining its customer mix and now is tailoring its inventory to better fit the changed customer base.
Bell has nearly 5,000 accounts, and that’s after it dropped about 1,000 non-powersports accounts. “Our strategy now is to dedicate ourselves to franchise and franchise-repair operations,” said Sundblad. “(In the past) we deviated and got into a lot of related business—companies who sell this or that. We, like others, let those get in the way of dedicating our service to our dealers in this industry.”
Sundblad said the first six months of 2003 started soft, but gained as the weather improved. Weather will be a big factor for the rest of the year, he said, adding that consumer confidence is “not very strong—there’s been a flattening of the market, but I don’t know how long it will last. And a lot depends on the snow side.”

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