comparing apples to … fruit salad …?

I can’t believe it’s been almost a WHOLE MONTH since I last posted a blog and My thoughts…  geez.  But, anyway, I was reading – gee, shocker! – another website (actually, My daily mailing of questions posed on the EDI-L group over on Yahoo!) – and the following question was posed:

“I’m working through a client situation where multiple internal SKUs correspond to a single customer item number. Before I get on my high horse and insist that they always ship a complete customer item in a single shipment I thought that I’d ask if it is possible to send a valid ASN or Invoice in this case.

To be specific:

Client offers internal item numbers P0001a, P0001b and P0001c for sale as A0001. It is murphy inevitable that the shipping department will eventually ship P0001a, P0001b and P0001c in separate shipments (on separate days). Is it even possible to:

send an ASN that 1/3 of unit A0001 shipped on June 16, 2008


send an Invoice that 1/2 of the cost of unit A0001 is now due for that 1/3 A0001″

Now, here’s the thing to consider – how was it ordered…?  If the trading partner sent a PO for 100 of P0001a, 100 of P0001b and 100 of P0001c, then you need to ship 100 of each item.  If the trading partner wants all of them to ship together – then you need to follow the partner’s shipping instructions or requirements. 

And the same can be said for invoicing, as well.  Don’t invoice a partial shipment of a partial product.  Chances are quite good that you won’t be paid until the full shipment of the entire order (especially if it’s a COMPONENT set – more on that below!).  There are some fine lines here that can and may be crossed, but BOTH sides of this TRADING PARTNER RELATIONSHIP need to communicate about what is going on and what is expected.

One of the answers given over on the EDI-L group was about the possibility of ASSORTMENTS and CASE PACKING issues that are relatively common in the apparel industry.  In some cases, it may be called a “MUSICAL PACK” in which you have a single style of something – a shirt, a shoe, shorts, underwear, whatever – in assorted sizes in a single case.  For example, you’d have a case-pack of 24 and that 24 would be broken down by size, all the same style and color:

  • 5 Small
  • 7 Medium
  • 7 Large
  • 5 X-Large

That musical pack (or here’s the concept of assortment) could be broken down by color, instead of size – so that you’re ordering t-shirts, and they’re also packed in cases of 24, but all of a single size, but multiple colors – either pre-set selections or not:

  • 3 Black
  • 3 White
  • 5 Blue
  • 5 Red
  • 4 Green
  • 4 Yellow

Of course, that case could just be “here’s 24 shirts in colors” and whatever the order picker pulls from the shelf is what’s in the box – and it could be ANY quantity of colors – from 23 black and 1 yellow to 12 of a color and … well, you get the idea.

But it all comes back to shipping and invoicing what the trading partner has ordered or requested.  It still all goes back to the relationship (there’s that word again!) you have with the trading partner and what solutions have been worked out to take care of situations like this – either before they happen or on the fly as they occur.

One of the things I mentioned above was the concept of a COMPONENT set.  This CAN happen a LOT in retail – depending on the product line.  For example, in the sporting goods world, it’s quite common to have a weight set – barbells, dumbells, weight plates and so on – be packaged in 3 or 4 boxes.  But it’s a single COMPONENT that the sporting goods retailer sells.  In apparel, you could have a warm-up set (jogging pants & sweatshirt) or even a 3 piece men’s suit (slacks, vest, jacket) and when you order them up from the factory in ________, you order 100 slacks, 100 vests and 100 jackets and you combine them into 100 complete suits.  When you sell these to your trading partner, you sell them as a complete suit.  But someplace along the line (in your own systems, probably) you’ve converted those 3 seperate and unique – although related – items into a single item – a single SKU or UPC or Item Number.

That’s what we do when we’re ordering those previously mentioned weight sets.

Let’s assume that ACME Weights and Bars is selling a 100 pound weight set.  There are 4 five pound plates, 4 ten pound plates and 2 twenty pound plates.  Plus then you have the long and short bars that you hang the weights from and then you have the locking ring or collar that holds them on the bars.  And you package all of this in 4 boxes – 1 box for the collars, 1 for the long bar, 1 for the two short bars and 1 more box for the 10 plates.  Chances are, however, that the collars and the bars are probably universal and you would use them for nearly all of your weight sets – whether 100 lbs, 150 lbs, 200 lbs or whatever.  So you probably don’t limit the item name/number to just be with the 100 lbs set.

Anyway, now Willy’s World of Weights orders ten of your 100 lb sets.  And when they order them, they have to order 10 of item A (100 lb plates), 10 of item B (bars long), 10 of item C (collars) and 10 of item D (bars short).  But when Willy’s World of Weights SELLS those sets, they sell them all under one item number or SKU.  It’s now up to Willy’s World of Weights to convert those 4 different items into 1 item for sale.

That’s what we do when we order weight sets – we order them by four unique SKUs and Item Numbers (which are also 4 unique UPCs).  The vendor ships them – hopefully all at once (more on that below) – and we receive them.  Then we assemble them (virtually) by transferring all of the ordered and received stock of Items A, B, C and D into our single SKU 100 LB Weight set.

Now, one of the other questions or concepts posed by our poster is the concept that it is “inevitable that the shipping department will eventually ship P0001a, P0001b and P0001c in separate shipments (on separate days). ”  This, however, falls on the fault of the vendor.  It then becomes the issue of the vendor (supplier) to be sure to quickly and accurately – and with GREAT COMMUNICATIONS – alert the trading partner to this dilemma.

In the retail world, it’s not such a huge issue if you have parts of a component set ship and have back-orders for the other parts; you just hold on to parts A, B and D until part C arrives and then you can sell them. 

Where this can and WILL cause problems, however, is in the manufacturing sector.  Take a look at the coat or jacket you wore today (or just have hanging around your desk, office or cubicle.  There are probably a few different kinds of material involved – there’s the outer shell (say 100% cotton) and then there is the inner shell or lining (nylon or polyester) and then there may be cuffs and collars (50% cotton, 50% Lycra) and then maybe even more in a liner/filling (50% cotton, 50% polyester).  And then there are the plastic buttons or metal zippers and the possible sewn on decorations….  and then there are the labels and the … again, you’re getting the idea? 

Well, let’s say that Cozy Coat Mfg is making that line of jacket.  And they’re ordering all of the supplies to make that jacket from FM Fabrics and Materials Inc.  Of course, common sense suggests that Cozy Coats isn’t ordering the materials in the just-in-time way of thinking – that they’re going to make 1000 jackets an order the materials – just in time – to put those 1000 jackets into production.  No, chances are they’re going to have mounds of the filling, boxes of buttons, bolts of the fabrics and … z … z … what’s a container that starts with z…?  Anyway, they’re going to have much of it around and in stock to produce what they need.

But still, if they’re ordering enough materials and parts to make their finished product, they’re keeping most of it on hand at any given time to not have any production delays that will result in their Summer 2008 line of jackets getting out late and not being in the stores until November of 2008 – thereby missing the concept of seasons…

But back to partial shipments – and the poster’s question – the answer to his question would be an almost absolute NO – but with some qualifications and possibilities of a “yes”.  It all comes back to communicating the problems – beforehand or as they occur – with your tading partner and coming to an agreement or compromise that benefits both parties.

And watch out for those 20 pound weight plates – they’re killers on the toes!

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
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